« ZurückWeiter »
"The paths of glory lead but to the grave'
must have seemed at such a moment fraught with mournful meaning. At the close of the recitation, Wolfe added, 'Now, gentlemen, I would rather be the author of that than take Quebec!'"*
Of Gray, and Goldsmith, and Cowper this is also to be remembered that they have enriched the literature with prose as attractive as their poetry. It would be hard to say in which respect Goldsmith is most agreeably and affectionately remembered as the author of " The Deserted Village," or of "The Vicar of Wakefield." Besides, the letters of Gray, our epistolary literature received its largest contributions in these two collections, equally characteristic of the writers, and very different in their tone-the letters of Horace Walpole, covering more than half a century, filled with political and private gossip, and sparkling with the wit of an acute man of the world, in the midst of the world's busiest society-and the letters of Cowper, partly by virtue of his exquisite English, and partly by the purity and earnestness of his character, and his gentle humour, giving a charm that is indescribable to the simple incidents and occupations of his secluded life, and that places his letters with the most agreeable reading in English literature. The historical literature of the century I reserve for a connection in which I propose to speak of it hereafter.
In the revival of English poetry which I have been
* History of England, vol. iv. p. 163. One of Mr. Reed's modest literary labours was an American edition, with notes, of Lord Mahon's early volumes. The notes were illustrative, and very judicious. Had his life been spared, he would probably have completed the edition.
W. B. R.
speaking of, an auxiliary influence was exerted by the restoration of the early minstrelsy in Percy's Reliques. That popular poetry was made familiar to reading men, and its simple power helped English poetry to recover not only its natural graces, but the best freedom and variety of its music. Cowper caught the free movement of verse in his well-known comic ballad of John Gilpin, and not less in the tragic one-that simple and noble Dirge, on the remarkable casualty of the sinking of the Royal George at her moorings:
"Toll for the brave!
The brave that are no more!
Fast by their native shore!
Eight hundred of the brave,
Whose courage well was tried,
Had made the vessel keel,
And laid her on her side.
A land-breeze shook the shrouds,
Down went the Royal George,
Toll for the brave!
Brave Kempenfelt is gone;
It was not in the battle;
No tempest gave the shock;
She sprang no fatal leak;
She ran upon no rock.
His sword was in the sheath;
When Kempenfelt went down
Weigh the vessel up,
Once dreaded by our foes!
The tear that England owes.
Her timbers yet are sound,
And she may float again,
Full charged with England's thunder,
And plough the distant main.
But Kempenfelt is gone,
His victories are o'er;
And he, and his eight hundred,
Shall plough the wave no more."
No poet of the last century did as much as Cowper for the restoration of the admirable music of the then neglected blank verse. When Cowper died, in the year 1800, exactly one hundred years after the death of Dryden, English poetry was again in possession of all its varied endowment of verse. In a course of lectures which I delivered here some ten years ago, I concluded a lecture on Cowper by quoting a poem then new and little known -the stanzas entitled "Cowper's Grave," by Elizabeth Browning, then known by her maiden name of Barrett. While I have avoided, as far as possible, repetitions from my former courses, I am tempted to repeat the stanzas now, because on the former occasion they made, as I have been informed, an impression that was not lost. The merit of the poem is not only in the happy allusions to Cowper's character and career of checkered cheerfulness and gloom, but also in its depth of passion and imagination.
It is a place where poets crowned
May feel the heart's decaying-
Yet let the grief and humbleness,
As low as silence, languish ;
Earth surely now may give her calm
O poets! from a maniac's tongue
And now, what time ye all may read
And darkness on the glory
And how, when, one by one, sweet sounds And wandering lights departed,
He wore no less a loving face,
Because so broken-hearted
He shall be strong to sanctify
And bow the meekest Christian down
In meeker adoration:
Nor ever shall he be in praise
By wise or good forsaken :
Named softly, as the household name
With quiet sadness, and no gloom,
To God whose heaven hath won himWho suffered once the madness-cloud,
To his own love to blind him;
But gently led the blind along
Where breath and bird could find him: