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Three years later his second volume appeared, containing among others the author's two best-known productions, “The Task” and “The Diverting History of John Gilpin,” both of which were inspired by Lady Austen, a fascinating person with whom Cowper had lately become acquainted. These volumes, and especially the second, had a powerful effect upon the literary tastes of the time, and mark the beginning of a new order in English poetry. In them love of nature, romanticism, naturalness, and spontaneity once more assert themselves, and the Pope-Dryden school was doomed.
In 1786 Lady Hesketh, a cousin, took Lady Austen's place in the poet's life. Through her influence he translated Homer (published in 1791), one of his most noteworthy achievements. Later she took him and Mrs. Unwin to live at Weston, where he continued his writing. But sorrow and misfortune now came upon him. In 1791 Mrs. Unwin, who had cared for him so tenderly in his illnesses and whom he loved devotedly, was taken with a lingering sickness, from which she died in 1796. He grew feeble in body and dejected in mind, and another attack of insanity seemed imminent. Yet in the midst of this gloom his pen was still active, and some of his best short poems were produced, among them “Lines on the Receipt of my Mother's Picture," "To Mary,
“To Mary,” and “The Castaway." In 1794 a pension of £300 was granted him by the government in recognition of his contribution to English letters; but it came too late to be of any real service, for death was near at hand. He died at East Dereham, Norfolk, on April 25, 1800, and was buried in St. Edmund's Chapel in
that village. On his monument the following stanza is inscribed :
Ye who with warmth the public triumph feel
The great merit of this writer (Cowper) appears to us to consist in the boldness and originality of his compositions, and in the fortunate audacity with which he has carried the dominion of poetry into regions that had been considered as inaccessible to her ambition.
He took as wide a range in language, too, as in matter; and shaking off the tawdry incumbrance of that poetical diction which had nearly reduced the art to the skilful collocation of a set of appointed phrases, he made no scruple to set down in verse every expression that would have been admitted in prose, and to take advantage of all the varieties with which our language could supply him.
- LORD JEFFREY, Edinburgh Review for April, 1803.
His language has such a masculine, idiomatic strength, and his manner, whether he rises into
grace or falls into negligence, has so much plain and familiar freedom, that we read no poetry with a deeper conviction of its sentiments having come from the author's heart, and of the enthusiasm, in whatever he describes, having been unfeigned and unexaggerated. He impresses us with the idea of a being whose fine spirits had been long enough in the mixed society of the world to be polished by its intercourse, and yet withdrawn so soon as to retain an unworldly degree of simplicity and purity.
Of Cowper, how shall I express myself in adequate terms of admiration? The purity of his principles, the tenderness of his heart, his unaffected and zealous piety, his warmth of devotion, the delicacy and playfulness of his wit, and the singular felicity of his diction, all conspire by turns,
“ To win the wisest, warm the coldest heart.” Cowper is the poet of a well-educated and wellprincipled Englishman. “Home, sweet home" is the scene-limited as it may be imagined - in which he contrives to concentrate a thousand beauties, which others have scattered far and wide upon objects of less interest and attraction. His pictures are, if I may so speak, conceived with all the tenderness of Raffaelle, and executed with all the finish and sharpness of Teniers. No man, in such few words, tells his tale, or describes his scene, so forcibly and so justly. The popularity of Cowper gains strength as it gains age: and, after all, he is the poet of our study, our cabinet, and our alcove.
DR. THOMAS F. DIBDIN.
As a poet, Cowper was a man of great genius, and, in a day when poetry was more read than at present, enjoyed a popularity almost unexampled. The strain of his writing was familiar even to homeliness. He drew from his own resources only; throwing off all affectation and reserve, he made his readers acquainted with all his sentiments and feelings, and did not disguise his weaknesses and sorrows. His views of nature were drawn from personal observation; all his readers could remember, or at any time see, those which precisely resembled the subjects of his description. He associated no unusual trains of thought, no feelings of peculiar refinement, with the grand and beautiful of nature, while at the same time the strain of his sentiment was pure, manly, and exalted. By addressing himself to the heart universal, and using language such as could be understood by the humble as well as the high, he influenced a wider circle than any poet who went before him; and by inspiring a feeling of intimacy, a kind of domestic confidence in his readers, he made his works household words. -W. B. 0. PEABODY, North American Review
for January, 1834.
BIOGRAPHY AND CRITICISM
BIOGRAPHY. William Cowper,
Cowper, by Robert Southey; William Cowper, by Goldwin Smith, in English Men of Letters; William Cowper, by Henry Malden, in Biographies of Eminent Men; William Cowper, by William M. Rossetti, in Lives of Famous Poets; William Cowper, by Alexander Chalmers, in
Works of the English Poets; William Cowper, by
CRITICISM. - William Cowper, in Studies in Letters and Life by. George E. Woodberry; Lectures on the Life, Genius, and Insanity of William Cowper, by George B. Cheever; William Cowper, by Stopford Brooke, in Theology in the English Poets; William Cowper, by Augustine Birrell, in Res Judicatæ: Papers and Essays; William Cowper, by William Hazlitt, in Miscellaneous Works; William Cowper, by Walter Bagehot, in Literary Studies.