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close as possible to his horse's back, until Providence should interpose in his behaif. With this view be dropped his whip, and with his right hand laid fast hold of the pommel, contracting every muscle of his body to secure himself in the seat, and grinning most formidably in consequence of this exertion. In this attitude he was hurried on a considerable way, when all of a sudden his view was comforted by a five-bar gate that appeared before him, as he never doubted that there the career of his bunter must necessarily end. But alas ! he reckoned without his host. Far from balting at this obstruction, the horse sprang over with amazing agility, to the utter confusion and disorder of his owner, who lost his hat and periwig in the leap, and now began to think in good earnest that he was actually mounted on the back of the devil. He recommended himself to God, his reflection forsook him, his eyesight and all his other senses failed, he quitted the reins, and fastening by instinct on the main, was in this condition conveyed into the midst of the sportsmen, who were astonished at the sight of such an apparition. Neither was their surprise to be wondered at, if we reflect on the figure that presented itself to their view." ;
Smollett delights in practical jokes, fighting, and violent language. Sometimes we are almost in danger of the dagger. He rejoices in fun, in such scenes as that of Random fighting Captain Weasel with the roasting-spit, and what he says in “Humphrey Clinker” of the ladies, at a party in Bath, might better apply to his own dialogues. “Some cried, some swore, and the tropes and figures of Billingsgate were used without reserve in all their native rest and flavour.”
Cowper-Lady Austen's Influence—“John Gilpin”—“The
Task” – Goldsmith — "The Citizen of the World” – Humorous Poems-Quacks—Baron Münchausen.
I TUMOUR seems to have an especial 1 1 claim upon us in connection with the name of Cowper, inasmuch as but for it we should never have become acquainted with his writings. Many as are the charms of his works, they would never have become popularly known without this addition. In 1782 he published his collection of poems, but it only had an indifferent sale. Although friends spoke well of them, reviews gave forth various and uncertain opinions, and there was no sufficient inducement to lead the public to buy or read. Cowper was upon the verge of sinking into the abyss of unsuccessful authors, when a bright vision crossed his path. Lady Austin paid a visit to Olney. She had lived much in France, and was overflowing with good humour and vivacity. She came to reside at the Vicarage at the back of his house, and they
became so intimate that they passed the days alternately with each other. “ Lady Austin's
rsation had,” writes Southey, “as happy an effect on the melancholy spirit of Cowper, as the harp of David had upon Saul.”
It is refreshing to turn from cynicism and prurience, to gentle and more harmless pleasantry. Cowper was very sympathetic, and easily took the impression of those with whom he consorted. Most of his pieces were written at the suggestion of others. Mrs. Unwin was of a melancholy and serious turn of mind, and tended to repress his lighter fancies, but his letters show that playfulness was natural to him ; and in his first volume of poems we find two pieces of a decidedly humorous cast. We have “The Report of an Adjudged Case not to be found in any of the books.” “ Between nose and eyes a strange contest arose, The spectacles set them unhappily wrong, The point in dispute was, as all the world knows, To which the said spectacles ought to belong."
We know the Chief Baron Ear, finally gave his decision“ That whenever the nose put his spectacles on
By daylight or candlelight, eyes should be shut.”
“Thus says the prophet of the Turk,
May taste, whate'er his inclination
Mahometans eat up the hog." The moral follows, pointing out that each one makes an exception in favour of his own besetting sin.
These touches of humour which had hitherto appeared timidly in his writings were encouraged by Lady Austen. “A new scene is opening,” he writes, “which will add fresh plumes to the wings of time.” She was his bright and better genius. Trying in every way to cheer his spirits, she told him one day an old nursery story she had heard in her childhood—the “ History of John Gilpin.” Cowper was much taken with it, and next morning he came down to breakfast with a ballad composed upon it, which made them laugh till they cried. He sent it to Mr. Unwin, who had it inserted in a newspaper. But little was thought of it, until Henderson, a
well-known actor introduced it into his readings.* From that moment Cowper's fame was secured, and his next work “The Task,” also suggested by Lady Austen, had a wide circulation.
After this success, Lady Austen set Cowper a “Task,” which he performed excellently and secured his fame. He was at first at a loss how to begin it—« Write on anything,” she said, “on this sofa.” He took her at her word, and proceeded “The nurse sleeps sweetly, hired to watch the sick,
Whom snoring she disturbs. As sweetly he
Cowper lived in the country, and wrote many poems on birds and flowers. In his first volume there are “ The Doves,” “ The Raven's
* This introduction to popularity reminds us of the poet Lover, who would never have been so well known had not Madame Vestris, when in want of a comic song, selected “Rory O'More,” which afterwards became so famous. The celebrated enigma on the letter H was also produced by a suggestion accidentally made overnight, and developed before morning by Miss Fanshawe into beautiful lines formerly ascribed to Byron.