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WILLIAM COW PER
THE REV. T. S. GRIMSHAWE, A.M.
RECTOR OF BURTON, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE, AND VICAR OF
WITH AN ESSAY
ON THE GENIUS AND POETRY OF COWPER.
REV. J. W. CUNNINGHAM, A.M.
VICAK OF HARROW.
GENIUS AND POETRY OF COWPER.
In presenting to the public the first Complete Edition of the Works of Cowper, it is thought desirable to prefix to the Poetical volumes a short dissertation on his Genius and Poetry. It is true that criticisms abound which have nearly the same object. It is true also that some of these criticisms are of a very high order of excellence. But perhaps their very number and merit supply a reason for adding at least one to the catalogue. The observations of the different Reviewers are scattered over so large a number of volumes, and these volumes are many of them, either of so expensive or so ephemeral a character, that an essay which endeavours to collect these criticisms into a focus, and present them at once to the eye of the reader, is far from superfluous. And the present critique pretends to little more than the
ccomplishment of this object. The writer is not ashamed to profit from the labour and genius of his predecessors in the same course, and to let them say for him, what he could not say so well for himself.
With this apology for what might otherwise be deemed a work of supererogation, we enter upon the proposed undertaking.
And here we must begin by observing that it is impossible not to be struck with certain peculiarities in the history of Cowper, as connected with his poetical productions. Although, as it has been truly said of him— “ born a poet, if ever there was one,”—thinking and feeling upon all occasions as none but a poet could, expressing himself in verse with almost incredible facility, it does not appear that Cowper, between the ages of fourteen and thirty-three, produced any thing beyond the most trifling specimens of his art.
The only lines characteristic of his genius and peculiarities as a poet, and which, though composed at a distance of more than thirty years from the publication of “ The Task,” have so intimate a resemblance to it as to seem to be a page out of the same volume, are those written at the age of eighteen, on finding the heel of an old shoe.
“ This ponderous heel of perforated bide,
Compact, with pegs indented, many a row,
A few light and agreeable poems, two hymns written at Huntingdon, with about sixty others composed at Olney, are almost the only known poetical productions of his pen between the years 1749 and 1782, at which last period he committed his volume of poems in rhyme to the press. There are examples in the physical