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"Gives not the hawthorn bush a sweeter shade
August 4, 1813.
Somet1mes when I read the lives of men great in intellect and genius, who have been above the ordinary ambitions of the world, and been content to pass their days in humble retirement, or even much of what are called the comforts of a gentilitial station, I sigh, while I admire them, and feel poignant regret and self-abasement at the more ignoble desires, which have by fits stimulated me through a life of difficulty and sorrow.
How much greater was Cowper, in his little cottage at Olney, or at Weston, than Thnrlow, his early friend and companion, even when elevated to the woolsack! Who now would remember Thurlow, were it not for his accomplished and noble-minded nephew, and representative? The lawyer was a man, whose talents and whose duties could easily be supplied. The poet survives for ever with lustre uneclipsed and undiminished! While they lived, did the anxieties of the court or council-board, the intrigues of patronage, or the thwarting interests of rival partizans, permit him whom fortune had lifted into the highest seat of judicature, and the most dignified and powerful office of state, to feel the same pure and sincere enjoyments as the simple hard in the obscurity of the most scanty competence, wandering out on foot, year after year, with the only faithful companion of his adversity; and with no pleasures at his command, but those which the unbought charms of nature afforded?
"The shepherd's homely curds,
His cold thin drink out of the leathern bottle,
His wonted sleep under a fresh tree's shade;
(All which secure and sweetly he enjoys)
Is far beyond a prince's delicates;
His viands sparkling in a golden cup;
His body couched in a curious bed;
When cares, distrust, and treason wait on him."*
Contemplate the gentle author of " The Task" at his beautiful work! Think of the amiable and refined sentiments, and the enchanting array of images which lighted up his mind!
"O blest seclusion from a jarring world,
Abroad, and desolating public life.
When fierce contention, seconded within
By traitor appetite, and arm'd with darts
Temper'd in hell, invades the throbbing breast,
To combat may be glorious, and success
Perhaps may crown us; but to fly is safe..
Had I the choice of sublunary good,
What could I wish, that I possess not here?
Health, leisure, means t' improve it, friendship, peace,
No loose, or wanton, though a wand'ring muse,
And constant occupation without care."
The benevolent poet was anxious to cherish in others a taste which he so virtuously cultivated in himself. Speaking of " The Task," he says in one of his letters:
"My descriptions are all from nature: not one of them second-handed: my delineations of the heart are from my own experience: not one of them borrowed from books, or in the least degree conjectural. In my numbers, which I have varied as much as I could, (for blank-verse, without variety of numbers, is no better than bladder and string,) I have imitated nobody, though sometimes, perhaps, there may be an apparent resemblance; because, at the same time that 1 would not imitate, I have not affectedly differed.
"If the work cannot boast a regular plan, (in which respect, however, I do not think it altogether indefensible) it may yet boast that the reflections are naturally suggested always by the preceding passage, and that except the fifth book, which is rather of a political aspect, the whole has one tendency. To discountenance the modern enthusiasm after a London life, and to recommend rural ease and leisure, as friendly to the cause of piety and virtue."
Again, he says, in another letter,
"My principal purpose is to allure the reader by character, by scenery, by imagery, and such poetical embellishments, to the reading of what may profit him. Subordinately to this, to combat that predilection in favour of a metropolis, that beggars and exhausts the country, by evacuating it of all its principal inhabitants; collaterally, and as far as is consistent with this double intention, to have a stroke at vice, vanity, and folly, wherever I find them."
How much above the selfish toils of the statesman were employments like these! How much above the luxuries of courts must have been the gratifications of such a poet! I ramble with him in his quiet and fragrant walks: I sit by him at his amusements during the winter evenings at home, and find my head illumined by the most gentle and beautiful images; and my heart purified, and softened into charity and delight.
Cowper was of a family of ancient descent, highly allied, and widely connected with the world; and it is well that soured ambition did not sink him into sullen and silent discontent. But the light of the Muse prevailed; and eclipsed the robes of pomp and the splendor of palaces.
'If yon would know whether virtues or vices keep a man farthest from a
court, go to court and learn." Shakesp.
"A court is full of tongues, and ears, and eyes,
August 6, 1813.
If we could call up the worthies of Queen Elizabeth's Court from their graves, and examine them, that we might learn from their own lips which of them had enjoyed the greatest happiness in their earthly career, and in what that happiness mostly consisted, should we not be taught to fix on Sydney and on Sackville, and on those days of their lives which were spent in converse with the Muse?
A man of high talents, and more especially of high fancy and feelings, must be miserable among the intrigues of a Court. The mean ideas, the petty cunning, the degraded sycophancy of a true-bred courtier, must disgust him by their baseness, and enrage him by their success. There is a sort of ungenerous triumph attendant on the good fortune of these groveling minds, which looks with scorn and sarcasm on any other test of ability or worth.
The great Burleigh, eminent as he was, seems in some degree to have partaken of this character.