1786 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Cowper

Somebody, "To the Author of the Task" London Chronicle (23 November 1786) 503.



Your works have pleas'd me much — your spirit more,
I am a stricken deer in many ways,
Yet bounding, with the darts fix'd deep within,
From the superior force of Love divine.
Hence converse with the living and the dead,
With men of genius, of expansive soul,
Who trace from heav'n to earth, from earth to heav'n,
The footsteps of a God — delights me much—
Nor less the friendly intercourse with those—
Too few indeed — who, walking on the beach
Of this wide sea of troubles, drop a tear
Into the briny flood, to see the wrecks
Of souls and bodies, fashion'd like themselves!
But, most of all, joy warms my bruised heart,
To greet, and hold sweet converse with the friends
Of human kind, be they from farthest Ind
Or Barbary, Samaria, or the coast
Where men, mistaken but devout, adore
The golden sun — half Christians in disguise;
So Heathens in disguise adore a Christ—
Let men, however titled, feel as men,
And follow on their feeling to the act,
And be UNEASY, when not doing good,
When not consoling spirits in distress,
Or pouring balm into the wounded limb,
Or dragging the pale unhous'd orphan in,
To taste of food, be cover'd, and be warm'd—
O ye, who have no feeling but for gold—
Who do no good, and do no other harm
Than leaving God's own living images
To die for want of what you cannot eat—
Prevent their miseries — or what account
To their great Maker can you give at last
For all your sins omissive — all they feel,
Whose lives and welfare are no more to you,
Than ev'n the dust, blown careless from your scale.
The gospel teaches nothing else than love—
Here, COWPER, we are friends — long and well known,
Each to the other, tho' in person strange—
Let all your works thus preach the Gospel still—
Thus preach it as a man — tho' out of form,
And out of season thus — 'twill do more good,
If follow'd well in this old-fashion'd stile,
Than if starch'd up into pragmatic shapes,
As various as the fancies of the fools,
Whose motley forms have squeez'd it to a corpse
As lifeless as a King Charles at Charing Cross—
Thus let the bard turn preacher — if inspir'd,
As all the world, religious and prophane,
Account the muse — indulge her proper flight
To the third heav'n — to reach a theme from thence,
And dress it in the language of the God,
Who said — "Let there be light" — and there was light—
Who trod the earth to shew himself the light—
But is not rightly seen, ev'n in his word,
If he shines not within—
The world, when it discerns what you are at,
Will call you mad — because it call'd him so
Who made the world — whose doctrines you profess
Whose cross is your delightful theme — a theme
Our sunshine butterflies and winter saints
Who feel no comfort from the lore, despise,
And, thus despising, bid adieu to heav'n—
Where pleasures — ONLY TO BE FELT — abound!
Of these were we to have no FORETASTE here—
As Christian stoics teach — Farewell to joy—
A God unfelt would be no God to us.—
Then blush not, COWPER, at the grin of fools,
Or those, who wear fools-caps on learned heads;
Let the muse mount where Milton led the way,
Where Young deem'd fanatic by frothy minds,
Ascended too — enough of bards we own,
Whom nature only taught, whose lays debauch'd
And charm'd, like Syrens, all the nations round!
Let Bishops comment on "the Wife of Bath"—
Let modern vestals Farquhar's virtues boast—
Let Dryden please the public taste of sin,—
Let Addison self-murder'd Cato praise—
—What a sad doctrine in a land like this!—
Let Somervile spur madness thro' the land,
And oaths and bawdry shew ev'n Shakespeare weak—
Let other sins from other bards receive
The sanction of the wrong'd, deluded muse,
"Curs'd be the verse, how smooth soe'er it flow,"
Which sense and scripture, fairly weigh'd, condemn!
O may we never join the rampant throng,
To turn, or fix, one mind to moral ill,
Tho' by this great and SINGULAR offence,
We chance to lose an Abbey monument.