Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

2

"

Cooper could not be reconciled, and he accordingly published Cursory Remarks on Mr. Warburton's new edition of Pope's Works,' in which remarks his antagonist was not spared. Here the controversy ended, and into the subsequent editions of Pope the obnoxious note was not admitted.

(

The Life of Socrates did not become a popular work, but, in 1754, Cooper gave to the world' Letters on Taste,' which met with a flattering reception. They went through four editions, to the last two of which he added nine essays; on education, the power of habit, good and beauty, self-love, true and false religion, friendship, conjugal love, solitude, and contentment. In the letters he appears rather as a man of genius and fancy than as a philosopher. He delineates better than he analyzes. The manner in which he defines taste is vague and obscure, and to much of his reasoning the same objection may be made. The effect of a good taste (says he) is that instantaneous glow of pleasure which thrills through our whole frame, and seizes upon the applause of the heart, before the intellectual power, reason, can descend from the throne of the mind to ratify its approbation, either when we receive into the soul beautiful images through the organs of bodily senses, or the decorum of an amiable character through the faculties of moral perception; or when we recall, by the imitative arts, both of them through the intermediate power of the imagination. Nor is this delightful and immediate sensation to be excited in an undistempered soul, but by a chain of truths, dependent upon one another, till they terminate in the hand of the divine Composer of the whole.' It is manifest that from this source the reader can derive but little knowledge, with respect to the cause and principles of taste. But he who is satisfied by being amused will not be disappointed by the Letters of Cooper. They deserve the praise which was given to them by

[ocr errors]

Dr. Johnson; a praise the origin of which cannot be suspected, since he who gave it was rather prejudiced against Cooper, and once satirically denominated him 'the Punchinello of literature.' It was his opinion that Cooper's genius seemed to shine more in definition than in description; that he had more of imagery than of speculation; that his imagination was the strongest talent of his mind; and that, if he had not attempted to offer any thing new on the subject of taste, he was always so entertaining, spirited, and splendid in his diction, that the reader who is not instructed by him, cannot fail of being pleased and diverted.'

C

In the following year, 1755, he published The Tomb of Shakespeare, a Vision;' which has the merit of elegant language, musical versification, and appropriate imagery. He also contributed two papers to The World,' which, on the suggestion of Lord Lyttelton, had recently been established by Dodsley and Moore.

The year 1756 presented to the view of Englishmen a disgusting spectacle; that of six thousand Hessians brought over to defend Britain against a threatened invasion from France. It was impossible that this unusual and humiliating sight could be beheld without sorrow, shame, and anger, by any man who possessed courage, and a proper regard for the honour of his country. Cooper was one of those who deeply felt the disgrace of freemen relying upon enslaved mercenaries for the defence of their independence and laws; and his patriotic indignation drew from him a spirited Iambic ode, entitled 'The Genius of Britain,' which, in a strain of dignified compliment, he inscribed to Mr. Pitt.

6

In 1758 he published three Epistles to the Great, from Aristippus in retirement,' and these were soon after followed by a fourth epistle, with the title of "The Call of Aristippus.' The latter was addressed

6

to his friend Dr. Akenside, whose poetical genius it lavishly extolled. That the praise was too highly coloured may be admitted, and will easily be forgiven; for it is the amiable fault of affection to magnify the virtues and talents of a beloved object. But to assert, as one writer has done, that the poem is written in a style of adulation pardonable only to the warmest feelings of friendship,' is surely to go beyond the bounds of liberality, and even of truth, whether we take into consideration the merit of Akenside or the language of Cooper. Nor is there any ground to affirm that Cooper' hated the ruling government.' That he hated despotism, and despised the servile herd of court flatterers, is certain, but there is no reason to believe that he was hostile to a limited monarchy. To the minister who then guided the state he was not an enemy; for that minister was Pitt, to whose patriotism and transcendent abilities he had himself recently borne deliberate and animated testimony.

The last production which Cooper gave to the world was his translation of Gresset's lively poem of 'Ver Vert,' or the Nunnery Parrot, which came from the press in 1759. The poems of Cooper, with the exception of this translation, and the Estimate of Life, were collected into a volume, in 1764, by Dodsley, who published them for his own benefit. 'When (said Dodsley, in his prefatory notice) I requested him to give me a preface, he replied, “ that to those to whom such trifles afforded pleasure, a formal introduction would be unnecessary; that he wrote most of them when he was very young, for his own amusement, and published them afterwards for my profit; and, as they had once answered both those ends, was very little solicitous what would be the fate of them for the future." In this edition, however, numerous corrections were made in the four Epistles of Aristippus, and much to their im

"""

provement. It appears, therefore, that the author was not quite so indifferent, as he affected to be, with respect to his poetical character.

The rest of Cooper's life was passed in elegant retirement, sometimes in the metropolis, but usually in the country, where he is said to have been an active and useful magistrate. By Dr. Kippis, who was acquainted with him, he is described as having been a gentleman of agreeable appearance, of polite address, and accomplished manners." To the bustle of the great world he had a thorough aversion, and the only instance which he ever displayed of ambition, if ambition it may be called, was an attempt to become a vice president of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and ComThis was a situation for which there can be no doubt that he was well qualified. He, nevertheless, failed in his attempt, and was in consequence so much disgusted that he ceased to attend the society. After a tedious and torturing illness, occasioned by the stone, he died, in his forty-sixth year, at his house in May Fair, on the 14th of April, 1769.

merce.

Though Cooper does not belong to that class of poets, of which the characteristic is a masculine vigour of thought, he merits to be placed among the foremost of that class, the individuals of which are distinguished by a lively fancy, and a sprightly elegance of expression. He does not soar heavenward with the pinion of the eagle, but, like the hummingbird, dressed in brilliant plumage, sports in the sunbeam from flower to flower. He himself makes no claims to distinction, but describes his productions as 'Trifles of philosophic pleasure, Composed in literary leisure.'

It is in one of the Epistles of Aristippus that this modest description of his strain occurs. Lightly, however, as he speaks of them, those epistles display

a felicity of diction, a graceful gaiety, and a playfulness and fertility of imagination, in which he has seldom been equaled, and in which, at the period when he wrote, he had certainly no rival. On this occasion he adopted a style of versification often used in light compositions by our Gallic neighbours, but which, I believe, had never before been tried by an English writer, and has since been employed only by Wodhull and one or two others. The peculiarity of it consists principally in the irregular recurrence of the rhymes. It has been objected to this alien metre, that the irregularity of the rhyme is unpleasing to the ear, which expects the return of the sound at stated intervals. I am, however, of opinion, that there is more of cavil than of justice in this objection. When the versification is skilfully managed it has a pleasing effect, and it must be owned that Cooper manages it with infinite dexterity.

"

6

"

The translation of Ver Vert' is in the same kind of metre; and the verse is not less easy and musical than that of the Epistles of Aristippus.' But this is only a small part of the merit of the English Ver Vert.' It is not too much to say that, in spirit, and wit, and archness and sportiveness of allusion, it is fully equal to the original poem. More than one attempt has subsequently been made to transfuse into our language the graces of Gresset; but no one has yet been able to approach to an equality with the first translator.

« ZurückWeiter »