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and being a stubborn man as well as a little one, he of the fungus simile had his way. It is equally certain that Theodora wore the willow always and, dying unwed, twenty-four years after William, left behind a long-cherished packet of his love letters. It is interesting to know, too, that Theodora's younger sister, Harriet, who later became Lady Hesketh, who was the one that made for the poet those quaint muslin caps which are as much a part of our memories of the man as the hares he tamed or “John Gilpin's” self. The famous portrait by Romney shows one such on the frail-looking subject's head, and there is the light of madness in the eyes.
After some eighteen months in a private asylum at St. Albans, Cowper, temporarily recovered, went down to Huntingdon, and so (it was then he got religion") began those long years of intimacy with the Unwins, Mrs. Unwin being the “My Mary” of his poems. At Huntingdon, at Olney, and finally at Weston, Cowper spent the remaining thirty-five years of his life, largely supported by the charity of his relatives, filling quiet weeks with raising pineapples and building rabbit hutches, reading aloud to his two companions or turning “silken thread round ivory reels,” and, day after day for twenty years, writing verse. He hated noise and contention but demanded a small and intimate circle of friends, and was himself his own "king of intimate delights, fireside enjoyments, home-born happiness.” He sincerely meant
Oh for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Might never reach me more!
Now stir the fire, and close the shutter fast,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in. At such a moment most truly was “The bard of the hearthstone," as the discriminating Sainte-Beuve dubbed him, liter
ally fulfilling his own best-known line,-"I am monarch of all I survey.
Cowper's affection for Mrs. Unwin was heart deep, as was her love for him, but it was eminently characteristic of the two and of their intimacy that to the end of her days (she died only four years earlier than he), this motherly guardian angel continued to call him “Mr. Cowper." His brief affair with Lady Austen was of a somewhat warmer nature; within the week they were “Anne” and “William." She was pretty and witty, she told him the story of Gilpin and of the loss of the Royal George, and The Task was composed at her order, growing out of her demand that a chronicle of “The Sofa'' be written. She married a French husband soon after her departure from Olney (1784) and so went out of the poet's life, as may have been best for them both, but English letters, none the less, owes her a debt of gratitude.
Of Cowper's career, if it may be so spoken of, there is little to add. Always self-condemning, and inclined to blackest melancholy,-once even writing that he seemed to himself some dark pool on the surface of which the sun might perchance glisten for a moment, with no chance of ever reaching to the depths,-his last moments amounted to madness again. He died on the twenty-seventh of April, 1800, in his sixty-ninth year.
Of his literary remains it is The Task which calls for most notice to-day. Byron spoke of its author as “pious,” and Macaulay wrote that “religion was his Muse," but this tells no more than half the truth, which stout John Wilson announced more completely when he said that Cowper's "library was the Bible and the Book of Nature.” Burns, too, set to paper quite the same opinion, as when writing of The Task he declared it not only "glorious” but compact of a "religion that exalts, that ennobles; the religion of God and Nature.” Surely it is the piece of work most distinctive of the man who produced it. All the world knows John Gilpin infinitely better, but the jeu d'esprit is as uncharacteristic of Cowper as An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog was characteristic of Goldsmith, unique among their verses as both poems were. It is safe to say, too, that
the present day knows more of Cowper's letters than The Task, and certainly they are the easiest written and the easiest read, all five volumes of them, of any in the language; everyone has enjoyed them from Southey on,-witty, loving, sensible, set down in the purest of English, with the sweetest of smiles. The Moral Satires, suggested by Pope, are little more than religious expositions. Cowper's social judgments, with the fewest exceptions, were passed from the wrong point of view, and these more ambitious ones were as deficient in true philosophy as might have been expected of one who knew next to nothing of the great world beyond his sedan-chair-like summer house, surrounded by its blossoming orchard trees, its pinks and roses and honeysuckles.
The Task, on the other hand, is a genuinely great poem, one of the relatively few such, with its undercurrent of didacticism also borne in mind, in all our literature, and especially great in its description of natural scenery. In this sort, indeed, its only true peers are Burns's Cottar's Saturday Night and the Snowbound of our own Whittier. Cowper "had his eye on his subject,” remarked the late Andrew Lang; he saw clearly the actual countryside around and ignored the clipped yews and cropped hedges of Hampton Court inspiration. Southey again caught the inevitable impression, pointing out that here was genuine woodland scenery with formal gardens happily forgot. Written of himself and for himself, to the text “God made the country and man the town," the poem marks a distinct departure from the verse of the Augustan period. There are no Chloes and Strephons here, but real people of flesh and blood : the postman who knocks at the Unwin cottage door is as recognizable and human a fellow as any who punctuates our morning coffee with “news from India." In The Task are no landscapes imported from Holland or Italy, but true English lanes and meadowlands, sharp in outline, finished in detail. The least happening is enough to suggest some such picture; a buxom country lass, a loaded wain rumbling behind the sweating horses and between dusty hedgerows, a streamlet chuckling along over the blue pebbles, - these and a hundred other similar trifles suggest to the man the canvas which a prosy world
sees only when such as he lifts the cloth that covers it. He was as keenly alive to rural sounds, also, as he was to rural sights; the Milton of L'Allegro did not catch more clearly the plowman's whistle two fields off, or the rasp of the whetstone on the scythe blade, or the subdued conversation of barnyard fowls. Finally, Cowper's country seldom sets him moralizing; it is just plain country, real country!
Take, almost at random, these few lines from Book V, “The Winter's Morning Walk":
The slanting ray
The verdure of the plain lies buried deep
Shaggy and lean and shrewd, with pointed ears,
The sparrows peep, and quit the sheltering eaves
Here is no such "return to nature" as was to be found in Wordsworth, but if Cowper did not see into nature as did that later, greater master, yet here is amplest proof that he saw nature. It was more than had been done by his predecessors for a full hundred and fifty years.
Burns loved The Task. Jowett was brought up on the poem. Hazlitt wrote of it: “With its pictures of domestic comfort and social refinement, it can hardly be forgotten but with the
language itself.“ It enjoyed an immense popularity for twenty years and more after its appearance, and even when in the eyes of the early nineteenth-century world it was eclipsed by Scott's northern troopers and Byron's romantic pirates, hundreds of the sober, reliable, middle-class Englishmen yet read the book by their firesides for a century more.
Was it not the vivacious Marianne Dashwood, in Sense and Sensibility, who found it so hard to choose between the rival charms of Cowper and Walter Scott?
To us to-day The Task is most valuable because in it we see that poetry has again become lifelike. Here are emotions, not mere words. It may lack passion and vitality, but there is no least trace of "classic" affectation in its lines. Certainly it does not betoken a fiery talent, but as surely does it show a talent pure and tender and genuine, the talent of a man who was possessed of an observing eye; a man of personal charm, sweet and human, interested and interesting.
WARWICK JAMES PRICE. Philadelphia, Pa.