1825 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Cowper

Henry Mackenzie, Anecdotes and Egotisms, 1825 ca.; ed. Thompson (1927) 165-66.



Cowper did not disdain humour and drollery, and indeed the first thing that brought him into notice was his ballad of John Gilpin; Henderson the actor read it at one of his evening readings, and all the town talked of it. It suited every rank, of which a strong proof is its being pictured in every sign-post betwixt London and Ware. His didactic poems are full of good sense and observation, but frequently prosaic and what I would call husky. He is somewhat like Donne modernised and made more smooth, but still rough in comparison with the improved smoothness of modern poetry. In one of his letters he deprecates making verses smooth at the expense of weakening them. Pope, however overcame this difficulty; his smoothest verses are often the most vigorous.

I was of some little use to Cowper in getting subscriptions to his Homer, for which he was much more grateful than my services deserved. He was first mentioned to me by my friend Samuel Rose, who was very intimate with him. I received from him a pressing invitation to visit him at Weston; but the first time I proposed doing so he was taken ill with a paroxysm of his mental disorder, and I never afterwards found an opportunity of visiting him, which I now exceedingly regret.