1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Cowper

Anonymous, in Retrospective Review 1 (1820) 57.



The appearance of Cowper in English poetry, was one of those literary phenomena which betoken the approach of a new age. The taste of the public mind, and the employment of the poetical talent of Britain, had for some time been gradually, and almost unconsciously, from causes upon which we will not here speculate, assuming a new direction; old tastes and prepossessions were melting away; and a poet of eminent abilities only was wanting, to break down formally the barriers of prejudice, and to sign, as it were, the warrant by which coming geniuses might be authorised to develope themselves in a different manner from their predecessors. Cowper has perhaps as good a title as any other writer to the distinction mentioned. His great contemporary Burns may have had much more eventual influence on the poetry of the succeeding generation; but that of Cowper was more ostensible, and, if we may so speak, more palpable. He was not the originator of the present age of poetry; but he was the morning-star which preceded its rising.