1782 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Cowper

Anonymous, in Review of Cowper, Poems; The Critical Review 53 (April 1782) 287-88.



These Poems are written, as we learn from the title-page, by Mr. Cowper, of the Inner Temple, who seems to be a man of a sober and religious turn of mind, with a benevolent heart, and a serious wish to inculcate the precepts of morality; he is not, however, possessed of any superior abilities, or powers of genius, requisite to so arduous an undertaking; his verses are, in general, weak and languid, and have neither novelty, spirit, or animation, to recommend them; that mediocrity so severely condemned by Horace,

Non Dii nor homines, &c.

pervades the whole; and, whilst the author avoids every thing that is ridiculous or contemptible, he, at the same time, never rises to any thing that we can commend or admire. He says what is incontrovertible, and what has already been said over and over, with much gravity, but says nothing new, sprightly, or entertaining; travelling on in a plain, level, flat road, with great composure, almost through the whole long, and rather tedious volume, which is little better than a dull sermon, in very indifferent verse, on Truth, the Progress of Error, Charity, and some other grave subjects. If this author had followed the advice given by Caraccioli, and which he has chosen for one of the mottos prefixed to these Poems, he would never have clothed his indisputable truths in some becoming disguise, and rendered his work much more agreeable. In its present state, we cannot compliment him on its shape or beauty; for as this bard himself "sweetly" sings,

The clear harangue, and cold as it is clear,
Falls soporific on the listless ear.