Six Spenserians. William Hayley's life-in-letters of his friend William Cowper was published in 1803-04. William Cowper was said to be Bernard Barton's favorite poet, though Cowper wrote nothing in Spenserians and Barton, it almost seems, wrote in no other measure: "A parent's aching heart with anguish own | The truths thy Tirocinium may display, | Still shall the merits of thy verse be known, | Still shall thy Task a pure delight convey, | And Cowper's fame survive though ages pass away."
Literary Panorama: "The modesty of this writer prepossesses us in his favour: had he come forwards too boldly, and demanded — we might have been inclined to tell him, that we had seen more vigorous lines and smarter verses; but a gentleman who has 'printed only a small impression,' has by his candour disarmed criticism. We deem it impolicy to praise only great poets: the art of Poesy, like all other arts, is brought forward by gradual improvements" 12 (November 1812) 808.
Thanks, Hayley, for this portrait of the bard,
Whose sacred strain hath often charm'd mine ear;
Thou need'st not wish a more sublime reward
Than thy own labours have secur'd thee here.
Posterity shall gratefully revere
Thy efforts to increase the poet's fame;
And, while they shed for him the tender tear,
Shall yield thy services the meed they claim,
And style thee Cowper's Friend, a proud and envied name.
Cowper! in virtue's ever sacred cause,
Thy magic harp by power divine was strung,
To vindicate those just, those righteous laws
Once preach'd on earth by more than mortal tongue;
And as thy hand across its cords was flung,
As keen reproof or consolation flow'd,
Vice own'd thy powers, by deep conviction stung;
Reviving virtue lighter felt her load,
With energy divine the christian's bosom glow'd.
But 'tis not in the Bard alone we trace
That peerless merit which we all admire;
Though ruthless time itself can ne'er efface
The well earn'd triumphs of thy sacred lyre.
Those modest charms which timidly retire,
And shun the obtrusive glare of public day,
That winning gentleness which must inspire
With purest rapture friendship's hallow'd sway,
Shed o'er thy private life a mild and sober ray.
Ill-fated Minstrel! though the feverish dream
Of mental anarchy, with dreadful gloom,
Obscur'd the light of hope's celestial beam,
And scarcely left thee at the opening tomb.
Yet let not finite arrogance presume
To doubt the goodness of that gracious God,
Whose wise decree pronounc'd thy early doom,
And bade thee tread the melancholy road,
Which leads through conflict dire to virtue's calm abode.
But while eternal Truth's resistless ray
Extends its pure invigorating light
So long as Hope with sweet, delusive sway,
Can cheer the soul with prospects gay and bright;
While Conversation's social charms invite
To quit Retirement, and to join the throng,
So long shalt thou with undisputed right
Maintain those glorious honours which belong
To Christian Bards alone, and Virtue's awful song.
Expostulation may in vain be given,
Error's deceitful Progress clearly shown,
Presumptuous science strive to scale that heaven
Obtain'd by works of Charity alone;
A parent's aching heart with anguish own
The truths thy Tirocinium may display,
Still shall the merits of thy verse be known,
Still shall thy Task a pure delight convey,
And Cowper's fame survive though ages pass away.