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Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
What a grand simile is that contained in the closing lines!
Remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow,
Or by the lazy Scheld, or wandering Po;
Eternal blessings crown my earliest friend,
Laugh at the jests or pranks that never fail,
Gray, who, when dying, had the Deserted Village read to him, exclaimed, "That man is a poet." Among the peculiarities of Goldsmith was his thirst for notoriety: wherever he went, he was desirous of being the object of attention. On a summer's excursion to the Continent, he accompanied a lady and her two beautiful
daughters, and often expressed a little displeasure at perceiving that more attention was paid to them than to himself. On their entering the town of Antwerp, the populace surrounded the door of the hotel at which they alighted, and expressed a desire to welcome the ladies in a demonstrative manner; and on their appearing at the balcony to acknowledge the compliment, the poet went with them. He soon discovered, however, that it was at the shrine of beauty the people did homage.
The characteristic excellence of Goldsmith's poetry is its truthfulness to nature, and it is this all-pervading charm that has embalmed his memory in the common heart. "The new spirit which had penetrated all departments of human thought and action, and which was evoked with the opening of the present century, told more immediately on poetry than on any other kind of literature, and recast it into manifold and more original forms. The breadth and volume of that poetic outburst can only be fully estimated by looking back to the narrow and artificial channels in which English poetry, since the days of Milton, had flowed. In the hands of Dryden and Pope, that which was a natural, free-wandering river, became a straight-cut, uniform canal. Or, without figure, poetry. was withdrawn from country life, and made to live exclusively in town and affect the fashion. Forced to appear in courtly costume, it dealt with the artificial manners and outside aspects of men, and lost sight of the one human heart, which is the proper haunt and main region of song."
Pass we now from the poet of nature to the poet of the affections, CowPER,-the poet who "has brought the muse, in her most attractive form, to sit down by our hearths, and has breathed a sanctity over the daily economy of our existence." He not only restored natural emotion and the language of life to song; but his poetry "influences the feelings as a summer-day affects the bodyand the reader has a sense of enjoyment, calm, pure, and lasting :
1 North British Review.
the tasteful read him for his grace, the serious for his religion." Physically feeble and sensitive, he never engaged in the active pursuits of life, but early devoted himself to his muse. Although constitutionally predisposed to melancholy, he yet possessed a vivid perception of the ludicrous, as his inimitable John Gilpin sufficiently attests. Not merely a humorist, he was eminently a master of pathos; witness his exquisite lines to his Mother's Portrait,lines so familiar to us all, but so choice as to extort from Southey the confession that he would willingly barter all he had written— and that was not little, as the world knows-for its authorship. "I would forgive a man for not reading Milton," once said Charles Lamb, "but I would not call that man my friend who should be offended with the divine chit-chat of Cowper."
What grace and harmony are combined in the following passage from The Task, descriptive of the scenery of the River Ouse :
Nor rural sights alone, but rural sounds,
The tone of languid nature.
That sweep the skirt of some far-spreading wood
To soothe and satisfy the human ear.
Ten thousand warblers cheer the day, and one
But cawing rooks, and kites that swim sublime
O Winter! ruler of the inverted year,
Thy scattered hair with sleet like ashes filled,
A sliding car, indebted to no wheels,
But urged by storms along its slippery way,
I love thee, all unlovely as thou seem'st,
And dreaded as thou art!
Cowper's poetry is replete with sententious gems of thought: such as the following:
Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much;
The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown.
'Tis pleasant, through the loop-holes of Retreat,
To peep at such a world:
To see the stir of the great Babel, and not feel the crowd:
At a safe distance, where the dying sound
Falls a soft murmur on th' uninjured ear.
That favourite poem, The Sofa, owes its existence to Lady Austen's suggestion, as she and the poet were conversing together on the sofa. It presents a variety both of subject and style, without the violation of order and harmony, while it breathes a spirit of the purest and most exalted morality. Campbell says, It glides like a river, which, rising from a playful little fountain, gathers beauty and magnitude as it proceeds.
While the sweet melodies of Cowper were filling English hearts and homes with music, a rustic peasant in the North was tuning his reed to A Mountain Daisy, or singing his love-plaints to some fairyfooted nymph beside a Scottish stream. The minstrelsy of BURNS