1807 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Cowper

Robert Southey, in Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807) 3:471.



It is impossible to read the life of Cowper, and not to feel towards him the affection of intimacy; while the misfortunes and powers of his mind claim at once our compassion and our admiration. The Melancholy which so frequently embittered his life, being unmixed with the usual petulance of disease, which frequently renders the patient the least sufferer, preyed only on himself, but did not affect the exquisite sweetness of his temper. In the hours of his severest misery, the native goodness of his disposition never deserted him, and this character, whatever be the subject or the manner, is pre-eminent in his works. The TASK, with what faults it has, will remain a monument of more than his genius. — When he paints domestick scenes, it is with the hand of a master who knows how to throw a grace of his own into the most ordinary subjects — there is nothing overdrawn, nothing out of place, no foreign ornament; yet we wonder that anything so homely and so familiar should be so beautiful and so new. His lighter pieces are written with the most lively playfulness, and in a strain so much superiour to the common-placed diction of what is called Poetry, that they preserve a character of their own, and carry the reader beyond the mere subject on which they are founded. — The heart of the author is in all his productions; and they teach us, while we admire his talents and his genius, to esteem him and to love him as a man.