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preciate writers of the most opposite char- ought rather to be delivered in a suggestive acter. Here and there it is probable that than a dogmatic tone. The acrimony of the editorship of some one particular poet rival commentators is, however, proverbial. might more advantageously be entrusted to The ineptissime dixit is still the favorite critisome particular living writer whom we might cal formula which expresses the offence of name; but we know no one among our con- an editor who interprets an obscure passage temporaries more likely to do justice to an after a fashion differing from that which edition of English Poets as a whole.
finds favor in the eyes of his critic. But The edition before us is emphatically an these Brunckian amenities are not creditable “ annotated” edition of the English Poets. to our periodical literature. With the editor It in no small measure founds its claims to of such a work as this every literary man popular support upon the accuracy and co- should niake common cause ; all who have piousness of the annotations it contains. The our national literature at heart should enillustrative matter is indeed ample. It is of deavor to assist bis labors, and to contribute two kinds, introductory and marginal. Judg. something towards the completeness of his ing by the volumes now before us, we have work. little hesitation in pronouncing an opinion The edition of Cowper now before us, infavorable to the manner in which this im- cluded in three of Mr. Bell's annotated volportant part of the editor's duty has been umes, may be taken as a fair specimen of the performed. The notes are numerous, but manner in which he is discharging his importnot too numerous. They discharge their ant duties. We do not conceive that the proper functions ; for they explain, they do “bard of Olney” is one to the consideration not encumber the text. That here and there of whose writings, and the illustration of a wrong word may have crept in, or a stop whose career, a mind so constituted as is the may have been misplaced, or a note omitted editor's, is likely to bring so large an amount where one is to be desired, is something of enthusiasm and syınpathy as to other more than a probability-it appears indeed 10 poets whom we could name. But on that us to be a necessity in such a work. It | very account, we believe that in selecting would require, indeed, superhuman intelli- the annotated Cowper for the text of the pregence, and superhuman labor, wholly to sent paper, we are dealing fairly with the prevent the occurrence of such mischances work as a whole. We have no doubt that as these. That they seldom occur in a work better specimens of genial and careful editof such extent, demanding so rare a combi-ing will appear in the series. Indeed, we nation of many qualities in the individual regard the annotated Dryden, with which workman, is honorable to the ability, the the series was commenced, as, on the whole, care, and the conscientiousness of the editor. a better specimen of editorial skill. But we The " annotated" edition of the English cannot hesitate to declare that there is no Poets would be the greatest literary wonder existing edition of Cowper's Poems which we of the age if no errors were discernible in it. so much care to possess, as that which is
To the assaults of that lowest order of now before us. It has one great advantage criticism—the word-catching, wbich lives on over ail others, — that the poems are arsyllables—a work of this kind is sure to be ranged according to the date of their composiexposed. Every critic knows something, or tion, so that we have a complete picture of thinks that he knows something, about Dry: the development of the poetical faculty in dea and Pope, Goldsmith and Cowper. Many William Cowper, and a history of the intelhold opinions of their own, perhaps have lectual activity of the bard, at different pesome peculiar critical tenets, any variance riods of his life, at once in the most authentic from which they regard as an unpardonable and the most interesting shape. The intro. . heresy. Mere difference of opinion consti- ductory notes explanatory of the circumtutes, in their eyes, an offence. They treat stances under which the different poems were as settled points what are often open ques- written, and the influences to which the poet tions; and whilst dogmatically commenting was exposed at the time of their composition, upon another's errors, not seldom illustrate impart a vitality to the collection, which, taktheir own. Doubtless they have a right to ing all the pieces together, carries the reader their opinions, and they have a right freely on from one to another, and raises within to express them. But a large portion of the him, as he advances, those emotions of symcensure which is passed by periodical critics pathy which are inspired by the perusal of a upon such works as this, is, in reality a mere vivid autobiography. It is a common reexpression of a difference of opinion, and mark, that the history of a poet's life is to be
VOL. XXXIV.-N0. I.
found in his works. But his poems, when each having a large phalanx of supporters collected, are often arranged in so clumsy a eager to condemn the work of his rival. manner, or on so false a system, that they Grimshawe wrote because he was not satisthrow no light at all upon the progress of his fied with Hayley; and Southey wrote beinner life, or the development of his genius. cause he was not satisfied with Grimshawe. Mindful of this, Mr. Bell has, for the first Mr. Bell avoids both extremes. He is more time, printed Cowper's Poems in chronologi. | moderate and candid than his predecessors. cal order; and it is difficult to say how much His sympathies are, perhaps, rather with their interest is enhanced by such an arrange. Southey than with Grimshawe. But he has ment. *
no theory to maintain. He treats of the reIn making frequent use of Cowper's un. sults more than of the causes of Cowper's rivalled correspondence, the annotator has fearful maladies ; and there is very litile in done wisely. But not less wisely in resisting his Memoir or his Notes to offend the prejuthe temptation to a more liberal use of these dices of the most sensitive adherents of either materials for commentary. It would have party. If there be'any thing, it is rather in been easy, with a collection of Cowper's let. | some casual expression than in any studied ters before him, for the editor to have mul- | assertion of opinion. tiplied note upon note. But such multipli- In truth, it is a melancholy subject; but, cation would have encumbered the text, and after all, not so melancholy as some, it seems, expanded the bulk of the work beyond con- would wish to make it. It would be the venient limits. It appears to us that we saddest thing of all to believe that so noble have just sufficient annotation, and no more, a mind was wrecked by that which is the for a work that forms only a small compo- very crown and perfection of human reason, nent part of an extensive series.
and without which the intelligence of man, in The life of William Cowper has been writ- | its sublimest utterance, is but as a sounding ten so often and so amply, that it was hardly / brass and a tinkling cymbal. That William to be expected that Mr. Bell should have Cowper was, at certain periods of his life, much novel matter to introduce into the Me- the victim of some miserable spiritual delumoir which he has prefixed to the poems. It sions, is a painful and undeniable fact. But is a pleasant, a conscientious, and a reliable these delusions were not the cause, but the piece of writing; and, with the introductory effect of the derangement under wbich he notes, affords a very complete picture of the suffered. It has ofien been said that “relilife, the habits, and the character of the gion drove him mad.” But religion never poet. There is a well-known peculiarity in yet drove any man mad. Even Mr. Bell, of the life of Cowper which distinguishes it whose candor we have spoken approvingly, from almost every other subject of biography. seems to have fallen into this old error. People are prone to ask, when a new biogra. Speaking of the composition of the Olney pher or new essayist enters upon it, “which | Hymns, he says, "A devotional labor of this side does he take ?” The subject, indeed, peculiar description, calling him back into has become a sort of literary battle-field- ihe solitude of study and composition, to one, too, in wbich even larger interests than those spiritual meditations which had former. those of literature are concerned. The life ly unsettled his reason, was full of danger to of William Cowper has been written f.om Cowper.” But spiritual meditations did not very different points of view-one biogra- | unsettle Cowper's mind. His mind would pher regarding the views of another, to say have been unsettled had he been an atheist the least of them, as dangerous heresies, and and a blasphemer, The only difference would
have been in the manifestations of his dis• “The Poems,” says Mr. Bell, "are here printed,
ease. for the first time, in chronological order. It is be Had Cowper lived and suffered half a cenlieved that independently of other considerations, lury later, the terrible malady which, during the interest connected with these pieces is mueh enhanced by this arrangement; especially in reference
so many years of his life, overshadowed his to the minor poems, which, being chiefly occasional,
reason, would, in all probability, never have are to a great extent autobiographical. They enter been a mystery, never a subject of contention into the history of Cowper's life ; and a new light between rival biographers and controversial is thrown upon them, by exhibiting them in the essayists. The seat of the disease, whether order of the incidents to which they refer. The particular circumstances connected with their origin
in the brain or the viscera, would have are explained in the introductions, and, wherever
been discovered : and we should have heard it is possible, in Cowper's own words, derived from
nothing of spiritual meditations unsettling his correspondence.
the reason of the unfortunate poet. As it is, we can only grope about in dim twilight. , subjected, in early childhood, to discipline of The solution, it is true, is very easy--reason a very opposite nature. His father, the recand analogy favor it; but at the best, it is tor of Berkbampstead, on the deatb of Mrs. only conjecture. More or less of doubt and Cowper, sent William to school. The deliobscurity must always envelop a subject cate, sensitive boy was " taken,” as he said, upon which, in these days, modern science “ from the nursery, and from the immediate would in all probability have thrown a flood care of a most indulgent' mother," and sent to of light.
vrough it," as best he might, among strangers. The extent to which the diseases of the | Where Bedfordshire abuts into Hertfordbody, both organic and functional, affect the shire, at a point of the great highroad, bemind, is every year becoming better and bet-tween St. Albans and Dunstable, is a long ter understood. Men are often victims of the straggling village or townlet, known by the most horrible delusions under the influence name of Market-street.* Now that the of a mere temporary derangement of the or- North-Western Railway runs at no great disgans of digestion. We have no doubt that tance, almost parallel with this road, the medical experience could citè scores of cases place has a wan, deserted, melancholy apof mental aberration, analogous with that of pearance. But once the now silent "street" Cowper, attended with corresponding symp- continually resounded with the smackings of toms of physical disease. In general terms the post-boy's whip, and the notes of the it is said, and said truthfully, of the poet, coachman's horn, and there was something that from his childhood upwards, he was of bustle and excitement, as there was at constitutionally of a morbid temperament that time in many places, once the great It does not appear that there was any hered- arteries of our traffic, but now almost withitary tendency to which the origin of his out a pulse of life. In this pulseless Marketmalady can be assigned, but that it was con street, there was a school kept by one Dr. stitutional is not to be doubted. “I have | Pitman; and thither, at the age of six, Wilall my life," he frequently said in his letters, liam Cowper, motherless and forlorn, was s been subject to a disorder of my spirits.” sent to “make his way," as it is called, This commenced at a very early period. We | against the “rolling sea" of birch and bulcannot quite follow Mr. Grimshawe in the lies. inference which he draws from some of the And many a boy would have made his well-known lines “ On the receipt of my mo. | way against both. But poor little Cowper ther's picture out of Norfolk,” to the effect could not make his way at all. All the little that even before his mother's death Cowper perve which he carried with him to Marketwas subject to depression of spirits. “That street was battered out of him by a big boy, a morbid temperament," says the biographer, who seems to have made it his especial busi“was the originating cause of his disposition, ness to cow one who needed but little disciis confirmed by an affecting passage in one of plinu of any kind to bring him to a fitting bis poems :
state of subjection. “I had hardships of
different kinds to conflict with," he wrote in “My mother ! when I learnt that thou wast dead,
after life in reference to his early training, Say, wast thou conscious of the tears I shed ? Hovered thy spirit o'er thy sorrowing son,
“ which I felt more sensibly in proportion to Wretch even ihen, life's journey just begun."
| the tenderness with which I had been treated
at home. But my chief afffiction consisted But the meaning of this passage is not in my being singled out from all the other that Cowper was a “wretch” antecedent. boys by a lad about fifteen years of age, as a ly to the death of his mother, but that that proper object on whom he might let loose event made bim a wretch even at the begin the cruelty of his temper. I choose to forning of “ life's journey." His sorrows stem bear a particular recital of the many acts of then to have commenced. There is nothing barbarity with which he made it his business in the passage to lead us to the conclusion continually to persecute me; it will be suffithat they had commenced before.
* Soutbey, in his life of Cowper, has been at some He might truly date his sorrows from that
pains to show the conflictiog testimonies of different melancholy epoch. It is not improbable, in writers, regarding the geographical position of Dr. deed, that he owed them all to his untimely be Pitman's school some having placed it in Bedfordreavement. He was a child of a delicate shire, and some in Hertfordshire ; and says truly organization, and he required, therefore, the
enough, that the poet was only at one private school,
A glance at the maps of the two counties might gentlest treatment and the most watchful care, Way
ent and the most watchrui care, | bave assured him of the cause of the seeming diam Instead of enjoying these advantages, he was crepancy.
cient to say, that he had, by his savage | influence over this branch of internal discitreatment of me, impressed such a dread of pline ; but in such establishments as Dr. his figure on my mind, that I well remember Pitman's nothing can be easier. The master being afraid to lift up my eyes upon him, has nothing more to do, when a young and higher than his knees, and that I knew him tender child is entrusted to his care, than to by his shoe-buckles better than any other place him immediately under the protection part of his dress.” Commenting upon this of one of the elder boys. The more openly, passage, a portion of which Mr. Bell quotes coram populo, it is done, the better. Such a in his introductory memoir, he observes, tbat trust is sure not to be betrayed. We have to the brutality of this boy's character, and known the happiest results to attend such a the general impression left upon Cowper's | practice as this. The chivalrous feelings of mind by the tyranny he had undergone at the elder boy are stimulated by such an Dr. Pitman's, may be referred “the unfavor- appeal to his manliness. He is proud of the able opinion he entertained respecting schools, charge. He rejoices in the confidence reso forcibly expressed in the poem entitled posed in him by his master ; and he studies to Tirocinium, or a Review of Schools.'” prove bimself worthy of it. He soon learns
Of this there is no doubt: but might not how much pleasanter it is to protect and to something more have been added-might cherish than to domineer and to oppress; not something more have been referred to and he has bis reward in the almost filial rethe tyranny of the big bully at Dr. Pitman's ? / verence and affection with which he is looked It would be hardly possible for a child of up to and leaned upon by his youthful delicate organization to undergo such treat-client. ment as little William Cowper was subjected Such kindly, judicious management as this to at the bad school in Market-street, with might have saved poor Cowper. As it was, out some abiding consequences affecting his we can hardly doubt that during his resipbysical or moral health-or both. What dence at Dr. Pitman's the seeds of his terthe precise nature of this treatment was does rible malady were sown. From the school not appear. But no one knowing the many in Market-street he was removed to the forms which school-boy cruelty assumes can house of an oculist, where he remained for doubt for a moment that it is quite sufficient some time, under treatment for a disease of to sow broadcast, in such a constitution as the eyes. A dreary time, in all probability, little Cowper's, the seeds of that melancholy it was- with nothing strengthening or redisease which overshadowed so many of the freshing in the environments of his position, best years of his life. We are sorry to say, but much to enervate and depress. From that there are many cases on record of simi- this isolation he was thrown at once into the lar evil treatment, attended with effects of tumult of a public school. At the age of the same melancholy nature.
nine he went to Westminster. "At twelve Not, however, that we regard such an in- or thirteen" he was “ seized with the smallstance of tyranny on the one side, and suffering pox," "severely handled by the disease, on the other, as any thing more than an ex- and in imminent danger." The virulence of ceptional case. There has been more than a the disorder cured the complaint in bis eyes, common outcry of late against “fagging but left behind what Cowper believed to be systems," “ monitorial systems," and other symptoms of consumption.* That it very kinds of schoolboy domination. But we much increased the irritability under which have no disposition to swell the chorus. We he suffered, and still further weakened an suspect that there are not many men, whe- already weakly constitution, is not to be ther educated at public or private schools, questioned. At this time, he says, he was who are not willing to speak feelingly, affec | “struck with a lowness of spirits very untionately, gratefully, of the kindness shown towards them by older boys. There is some- * In the Memoir of Cowper's early life, written thing almost parental in the tender care and by himself, these apprehensions of a consumptive chivalrous protection which we have seen
habit are mentioned before the appearance of the
small-pox. But the narrative of his school days is extended to the young and helpless at the
written in very general language, and the allusion scholastic institutions which Cowper con- | to the consumptive symptoms may belong to any ceived to be nurseries of vice and hot-beds of period of his Westminster career. As the attack of oppression. When the result is different, it small-pox occurred at the age of twelve or thiris for the most part to be attributed to the teen, and he says, with reference to the “intimais for the most part to be attributed to the
tions of a consumptive habit," that he had skill unfitness of the preceptor. In large public enough to understand their meaning, they are more schools it may be difficult to exercise a direct I likely to have occurred after than before that age.
common at bis age.” As time advanced, He went back to town, gave himself up to however, his position at Westminster neces- society, and what he afterwards, perhaps in sarily improved. The most reserved and somewhat overstrained language of self-reretiring boy cannot spend nine years at a I proach, described as “an uninterruptel public school without acquiring some confi- course of sinful indulgence." This kind of dence in himself. As he grew older, and life, however, could not have had a verv necessarily more respected by reason of his beneficial effect upon his nerves. He was seniority, he became more self-possessed. disappointed, too, in his affections. He was He formed many friendships. He took part tenderly attached to his cousin, Theodora in the active recreations of the school. Cowper; and the passion was reciprocated. These social enjoyments exercised a salutary | But the prudent parents, influence upon both his body and his mind.
With a little board of maxims preaching down a It does not appear that during the latter
daughter's heart, years of his residence at Westminster he was otherwise than healthy and happy.
forbade the union; and the cousins remained At the age of eighteen he was “taken single until death. Whether this “ disapfrom Westminster, and, having spent about pointment,” which he made the subject of a nine months at home, was sent to acquire poem, had any abiding effect upon his spirits, the practice of the law with an attorney." does not very clearly appear. Mr. Southey On attaining his majority, he took a set of and Mr. Bell both think that it did not chambers in the Temple, and was "complete quoting in confirmation of this opinion a master of himself.” Here, according to his | Latin letter written subsequently to the failown statement, he commenced “a rash and ure of his suit, in which he speaks of “a ruinous career of wickedness." Who could lovely and beloved little girl" of sixteen, doubt the effect of dissipation upon his irri- who had bewitched him at Greenwich. In table constitution ? Not long after his set our estimation, however, the argument based tlement in the Temple he was “struck with upon this passage is of no weight. The such a dejection of spirits as none but they Latin letter appears to us to be nothing who have felt the same can have the least more than a bit of amusing badinage. Sureconception of.” “Day and night,” he said, ly his account of the “amabilis et amata “I was upon the rack, lying down in horror puellula," whose departure left behind so and rising up in despair.” In this state he many “lachrymas et suspiria,” was never “continued near a twelvemonth, when, hav- meant to be received as the expression of a ing experienced the inefficacy of all human serious passion. Considering that he admeans, he at lengtly betook himself to God dressed his correspondent, a brother Temin prayer.” He had not, however, tried the plar, as “ Deliciæ et lepores mei !" it is not effect of “all human means." Change of very difficult to make allowance for the air and scene was subsequently recommended classical bombast wherein he speaks of his him, and he went to Southampton with a female friend. The Latin letter is curious party of friends, and spent several months at and amusing, but it throws no light upon that pleasant watering-place. It need not the real character of Cowper's love. His be said that the change had a prodigious disappointment was, probably, one of many. effect upon his health and his spirits. One aggravatiog causes, which tended to increase clear, calm, sun-shiny morning, as he sat on his nervous irritability at this time; and we a bill-side, and looked down upon the beau- have little doubt, that if the issue had been tiful expanse of sea and land beneath him, different-if he had been united to a sensible, the burden which had so long oppressed him an amiable, and a sprightly woman, the was suddenly removed, and he felt an elation clouds would not have gathered over him in of spirit so delicious that he could have wept such appalling density. for joy. This is no unwonted phenomenon. A crisis was now, indeed, rapidly apNor is it a bit more strange that, finding proaching. Cowper's little patrimony was bimself so much better in health and lighter fast melting away under the influence of a in mood, he should have ceased from those life of continued idleness. In this emergency spiritual exercises to which he had betaken he remembered that he had some influential himself in a season of sickness and despond friends; and he bethought himself of the ency. These mutations are so common possibility of obtaining a situation under that they bave passed into a proverb, con Government. The office of clerk of the tained in a somewhat irreverent distich, to journals of the House of Lords was in the which we need not more particularly allude. I gift of his kinsman, Major Cowper. The