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The brilliant, wide, celestial scene to view;
With ardent, curious mind, and eagle eye,
To mark th’ erratic planet's course on high,
AT THE CLOSE OF THE YEAR.
U VIRTUE fair! my bosom warm ;
To eternal scenes of day;
And all my work begiraise and love,
Public Chara&ters of 1799-1800. Hurst. gs. in boards. THE former volume of this work, entitled British
1 Characters, has been already noticed by us; and we now bring forward this publication in connection with it. The biography of living characters is attended with considerable difficulties, and we felt them in the perusal of the production before us. To reprobate their vices would be unsafe, and to praise their virtues would subject the writer to the suspicion of adulation. There are some sketches in this collection extravagantly panegyrical, particularly that of Mr. Godwin, who, according to this account, may be deemed the paragon of perfection ! Surely it is not possible for human credulity to be thus abused. Eccentricity and, irreligion are not the objects of our admiration. We must be excused the new light has not yet poured upon us its sovereign conviction.
The characters delineated are, Earl St. Vincent, Sheridan, Erskine, Dr. Parr, Dr. Hutton, Lord Hawksbury, Dean Milner, Bishop of Meath, Reve. rend Mr. Farish, Sir Francis Bourgeois, Duke of Richmond, Mrs. Abington, Mr. Saurin, Dr. Arnold, Lord Bridport, Marquis of Lansdown, Sir John Parnell, Mr. Southey, Dr. Duigenan, Mr. Ponsonby, Mr. Granville Sharpe, Mr. Pelham, Duke of Grafton, Mr. Secretary Cooke, Major Cartwright, Duke of Leinster, Mrs. Inchbald, Earl Fitzwilliam, Mr. Godwin, VOL. VIII.
Reverend Mr. Graves, Mr. Shield, Sir G. Younge, Dr. Garnett, Lord Dillon, Lord Caftlereagh, Dr. Adam Ferguson, Mr. Hayley, Countess of Derby, Mr. Pratt, Dr. Harrington, Duchess of Gordon, Dr. Currie, Duke of Bedford, Mr. Cowper, Miss Linwood, Mr. Hastings, and Lord Kenyon. Such is the bill of fare; and we confess that, in several respects, we have been gratified.
As an agreeable specimen, we fhall select the me. moir of Mr. Cowper, with whose original poetry we have all been delighted :
MR. COWPER. WITH SOME ORIGINAL PIECES OF HIS POETRY.
It has been frequently observed, that the life of a man of genius is marked by few incidents. The mind, which grows up amidit the privacies of study, and the character, which is framed by solitary meditation, belong, in a great degree, to a world of their own, from which the passions and events of ordinary life are equally excluded. There is, therefore, nothing very remarkable in the life of the poet to whom these pages are devoted. But in the history of those who have done honour to the English nation, and added richness to the English language, no circumstance is trifling, and no incident unworthy of record; especially, as there is a sort of sanctity attached to these men, which diffuses itself to the minutest transaction, in which they have been concerned.
“ Mr. Cowper was born at Berkhamstead, in Buckinghamthire, his father being the incumbent of the living of that place. Our poet is descended from the first Earl Cowper, Lord Chancellor of England, his grandfather, being one of the children of that nobleman.
« Mr. Cowper received, his education at Westminster school; and a place of considerable profit, that of the clerk. thip to the House of Lords, a patent office, and which had been a considerable time in the family, was reserved for him. But upon his quitting school and entering into the Temple, he found himself reluctant to undertake a function of activity * and business. His native love of retirement, a conftitutional
* imidiey timidity of mind, and the languor of a very weak and precarious state of health, discouraged him from undertaking the duties of a fituation, which required the most unremitting at. tention and diligence.
" About this time he lived in habits of close and familiar communication with Dr. Cotton, the elegant and ingenious aus thor of the Fire-fide. His intimacy with this gentleman must, in no inconsiderable degree, have contributed to his inclination for poetry, by the instructions and example of his friend. But the first foundation of his poetic excellence was laid by his familia arity with the best and most unaffected authors of antiquity.
“ At Huntingdon, a place in which he resided for a few years, he contracted a strong friendship with the Rev. Mr. Unwin, and on the death of that gentleman, accompanied his widow to Olney. It was in this village, and about this period of his life, that Mr. Cowper produced the earliest compositions that are traced to his pen. The poems he wrote upon this oca casion, were hymns published in a collection, called the Olney Hymns, and distinguished by the letter C. They bear internal evidence of a cultivated understanding, and an original genius. His time was now wholly dedicated to that literary leisure, in which the mind, left to its own operations, pursues that line of pursuit which is the most congenial to its taste, and the moft adapted to its powers. In his garden, in his library, and in his daily walks, he seems to have disciplined bis mufe to the picturesque and vivid habits of description, which will always distinguish Cowper among our nationa} poets. No writer with the exception only of Thomson, feems to have studied nature with more diligence, and to have copied her with more fidelity. An advantage which he has gained over other men, by his disdaining to study her “ through the spectacles of books,” as Dryden calls it, and hy his pursuing her through her haunts, and watching her in all her attitudes, with the eye of a philosopher as well as of a poet.
“ Mr. Cowper had no propensity for public life; it was not, therefore, fingular that he should have neglected the study of the law, on which he had entered. That knowledge of active life, which is so requisite for the legal profession, would scarcely be acquired in lonely wanderings on the banks of the Ouse, and in filent contemplations of the beauties of natuie. Mm 2
In this retreat, he exchanged, for the society and converse of the muses, the ambition and tumult of a forensic life; dedicating his mind to the cultivation of poetry, and storing it with those images, which he derived from the inexhaustible treasury of a rich and varied scenery in a most beautiful and romantic country.
« The first volume of poems, wbich he published, confifts of various pieces, on various subjects. It seems that he had been assiduous in cultivating a turn for grave and argumentative versification, on moral and ethical topics. Of this kind is the Table Talk, and several other pieces in the collection. He, who objects to these poems as containing too great a nego lect of harmony in the arrangement of his words, and the use of expreffions too prosaic, will condemn him on principles of criticism, which are by no means just, if the object and style of the fubject be considered. Horace apologized for the carelessness of his own satires, which are, strictly speaking, only ethical and moral discourses, by observing that those to. pics required the pedestrian, and familiar di&tion, and a form of expression, not elevated to the heights of poetry. But, if the reader will forego the delight of smooth versification, and recollect that poetry does not altogether confift in even and polished metre, he will remark in these productions no ordinary depth of thinking and of judgment, upon the most important objects of human concernment; and he will be occafionally struck with lines, not unworthy of Dryden for their strength and dignity..
“The lighter poems are well known. Of these, the verses supposed to be written by Alexander Selkirk, on the island of Juan Fernandez, are in the most popular estimation. There is great originality in the following stanza
I am out of humanity's reach;
I must finish my journey alone;
I start at the sound of my own. It would be absurd to give one general character of the pieces that were published in this volume : yet this is true concerning Mr. Cowper's productions; that in all the varieties of his style there may still be discerned the likeness and impression