1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Cowper

Bryan Waller Procter, in Effigies Poeticae, or, the Portraits of the British Poets (1824) 106.



From a Picture by Jackson, in the Collection of Lord Cowper.

This is incomparably the finest head that we ever saw of the poet Cowper. There is an odd mixture of melancholy and humour in the face; a satirical character in the mouth, and the eye is full of insanity. Altogether it is so admirable a portrait, that we think it quite needless to recommend it to the reader. We are not violent admirers of Cowper's poetry; but we think that he did great service to the cause of poetry. He was a shrewd thinker, and an unaffected, and decidedly a more strait forward writer, (if we may be allowed to use the term) than any of his immediate predecessors. In his blank verse, particularly, harsh and even humble as it often is, he spurned many of the common places which had grown round, and threatened to obscure the flower of poetry. He stripped verse bare; but made it shrewd, sensible, even picturesque — substituting truth in all things (sometimes prosaic truth) in room of the glossy unmeaning phrases, which were in use when he first rose into notice. We believe in all his descriptions and opinions. The first which, however, are often too minute and precise for poetry, have the character of individual likenesses, and are undoubted; and the last even in their saddest times wear a gloomy look of sincerity. His humorous verse is very pleasant, and his satire sometimes piquant and even strong: and that he is not wanting in tenderness his "Lines on his mother's picture" and other poems amply testify.