Sidor som bilder

rious operations of that pleasing rural labonr are minutely repre. sented. The following lines are part of the description :

Ev'n stooping age is here, and infant hands
Trail the long rake, or with the fragrant load
O'ercharg'd, amid the kind oppression roll.




[ocr errors]




all in a row Advancing broad, or wheeling round the field,

They spread the breathing harvest to the sun, In the autumnal scene of the hare-hunt, when the poor animal is put up,

she springs amaz'd, and all
The savage soul of game is up at once.
The stag, in similar circumstances,

Gives all his swift aërial soul to flight. When a herd of cattle has taken alarm from the attack of a swarm of gad-flies,

tossing the foam
They scorn the keeper's voice, and scour the plain,

Thro' all the bright severity of noon. All these quotations afford examples of that abstraction or ge. neralization which is one of the distinctions of poetical language, and which, when in unison with the subject and ordinary strain of the diction, often produces a very happy effect. How far it does so in the preceding passages, the reader may determine ac. cording to his own feelings. To me, while the two last appear not only excusable, but worthy of admiration, the former give the perception of turgidity and ill-applied effort.

The following lines in the description of the vintage, afford a singular mixture of vulgar and lofty phraseology :

Then comes the crushing swain, the country floats
And foams unhounded with the mashy food,
That by degrees fermented and refin’d,

Round the rais'd nations pours the cup of joy.
There are few pages

of the Seasons which do not present somea what of this combination of elevated language with common mat. ter, which, whatever critical judgment be passed upon it, must be regarded as characteristic of the author's manner.

Another artifice which he employs to give dignity to a humble -topic, is to annex to it moral sentiment, and, as it were,

humana ize the animal natures concerned in the scene. Thus, where he has perhaps descended the lowest in his description of a spider catching flies in a window, this insect is termed




The villain spider *

* cuoning and fierce, Mixture abhorr'd! He is afterwards called the ruffian; and the victim fly, the dreadless wanderer; and the whole action is minutely told in a tragical style that would suit the murder of a Duncan or a Cla.

In like manner, the bear, seeking his winter retreat, is endowed with a human soul :

* with stern patience, scorning weak complaint, Hardens his breast against așsailing want. Whatever be thought of these particular examples, it is presumed that no reader of sensibility will object to the pleasing details of the passion of the groves, though in some instances the writer may have assigned to his feathered pairs feelings which only belong to human lovers.

The frequent use of compound epithets is another circumstance by which Thompson's diction is strongly marked. These are el. liptical modes of expression, by means of which, qualities or at. tributes are annexed to a subject in the most concise form pos. sible. The effect of this compression is often truly poetical,-a striking idea being excited by a single word, which it would take a line to convey in detail. It is, however, a licence in language, and when arbitrarily framed, with no regard to gramma. tical propriety, is apt to give offence to a correct taste. This is the case when the two parts of the compound have no natural connection, or stand in no relation to each other of substantive and attribute, or of cause and effect. Thus, in the Seasons, blood. happy, meaning happy in the taste of blood; thick-nibbling, standing close and nibbling; pale-quivering, pale and quivering; fair-exposed, fair and exposed; seem examples of harsh and vi. cious formation. In many instances the compounding is effected merely by using an adjective adverbially, as, wild-throbbing for wildly throbbing ; loose-floating for loosely floating ; where too little appears to be gained to justify the licence. Upon the whole, Thomson's employment of this device to render language poetical may justly be termed excessive; and it is so characteristic of his style, that Brown, in his “Pipe of Tobacco," has per. sonated this poet chiefly by his compound epithets :

* forth issue clouds, Thought-thrilling, thirst-inciting clouds around,

And many-mining fires. To speak of Thomson generally as a descriptive poet, it may then be said, that in choice of subjects, he rejects none that can De rendered pleasing and impressive, and that he paints with a circumstantial minuteneness that gives the objects clear and dis.




tinct to the imagination; that with respect to diction, he is usual. ly expressive and energetic, with frequent touches of truly poetic imagery, but occasionally verging to the turgid and cumbrous, particularly when he is desirous of elevating a humble topic by a pomp of phrase. It may be added, that no poet before him ever viewed nature either so extensively or so accurately; and that a benevolent heart, and a soul tutored by philosophy and im. pressed by the sentiments of a pure and enlarged theology, conti. nually animate his pictures of rural life.

of the merit of his versification, different ears have judged very differently. That his lines sometimes move heavily beneath an overweight of matter, and that they are occasionally harsh and unmelodious, is sufficiently perceptible; but, considering the length of his poem, such defects may be excused; and the gene. ral flow of his strain appears to me equal in harmony to that of most composers of blank verse, though rarely attaining excellence. As he is said to have been a very uncouth reader of his own lines, it is probable that his musical perceptions were not remark. ably nice.

Thomson still bore the palm of descriptive poetry, and his manner was the principal object of imitation, when Cowper, who had failed of exciting attention by a volume of poems displaying abundant genius, but in a repulsive garb, burst on the public with his Task. This work, without professed subject or plan, consists of a mixture of description, chiefly rural, and of moral and religious sentiment, each introduced as it seems to have suggested itself to the mind of the author, with no other connection than casual association. Educated at a public school, and after, wards initiated in the school of the world ; of a temper frank and undisguised; naturally inclined to hilarity, but with great ine. quality of spirits, which at length plunged him into a morbid me. lancholy, and rendered him the victim of a gloomy and appaling system of religion; kind and benevolent in his feelings, but con. verted by principle to a keen and caustic censor of life and man. ners; long consigned to a retirement in which his chief employ. ment and solace was the contemplation of nature; Cowper brought a very extraordinary assemblage of qualities, moral and intel. lectual, to give direction to a genius of the first order. A free converse with men of the world, and an abhorrence of every thing like affectation, in language as well as in manners, had formed him to a style purely English, not disdaining a mixture of common words, and rendered poetical, not by a lofty cant, but by expressions warmed with the vivid imagery that played before his fancy. Equally minute and circumstantial with Thomson in his mode of description, and by no means fastidious in his choice of subjects, in which he was partly influenced by a strong relish


for humour, as well as a taste for the beautiful and sublime, he sometimes paints in a manner resembling the Dutch or Flemish school, but always with touches of the true picturesque. When his subject is low, he is content to leave it so, without any effort to raise it by the ambitious ornaments of artificial diction, secure of interesting his reader by the truth and liveliness of his delineation. Thus in his picture of the Woodman, which has been happily transferred to canvas, not a word is employed that rises above the matter, yet the language could present no other terms equally expressive :

Shaggy, and lean, and shrewd, with pointed ears,
And tail cropt short, half-lurcher and half-cur,
His dog attends him. Close behind his heel
Now creeps he slow, and now with many a frisk
Wide-scampering, snatches up the drifted snow
With ivory teeth, or pleughs it with his snout,
Then shakes his powder'd coat, and barks for joy.
Heedless of all his pranks, the sturdy chur!
Moves right toward the mark, nor stops for aught
But now and then, with pressure of his thumb,
T'adjust the fragrant charge of a short tube
That fumes beneath his nose. The trailing cloud

Streams far behind him, scenting all the air.
The Carrier, in a snow-storm,

With half-shut eyes, and pucker'd cheeks, and teeth

Presented bare against the storing is a draught of the same kind, something more bordering on the Dutch style, but perfect as a copy of reality. In both these pas. sages, words are found which could not have suggested them. selves to Thomson, or if they had, would scarcely have been admitted ; yet what reader of true taste would change them ? This masculine vigour of vernacular diction, which is characteristic of Cowper's style, and in which it resembles that of Dryden, by no means precludes (any more than it did in that poet) the highest degree of grace and elegance when those qualities are congenial with the subject. What can surpass in gracefulness of language, as well as in beauty of imagery, his enumeration of plants in the flowering-shrubbery - The tall guelder-rose

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

If the passage in which these lines are contained be compared with a resembling one in Thomson describing the flower that blow from early Spring to Summer, it will appear, that whilst the latter poet attempts little more than to annex to each some mark of distinction properly belonging to it, the former associates with the subject of his description some idea of the imagination which enhances its effect by parallelism. Nothing denotes the mind of a poet so much as this operation of the fancy when objects are presented to the external senses.

That Thomson was in general an exact, as well as a minute, observer of nature is evinced in almost every page of the Seasons ; yet there are some instances in which Cowper, touching upon the same circumstances with him, has displayed superior correctness. Thus, where Thomson, with a truly picturesque selection of in. cidents, represents the effects of a hard frost, he augments the real wonders of the scene by painting a cascade as if it were congealed into ice at the instant of falling:

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

But this is an impossibility, and is regarded as such by Cowper, who has formed a beautiful frost-picture from the opposite appearances. Speaking of a stream stealing away beneath its frozen surface, he says,

Not so, where scornful of a check, it leaps
The mill-dam, dashes on the restless wheel,
And wantons in the pebbly gulf below.
No frost can bind it there: its utinost force
Can but arrest the light and smokey mist

That in its fall the liquid sheet throws wide. In this passage, too, Cowper is more accurate in the silent stealthy flow of the frost-bound stream, than Thomson, who, pro. bably for the sake of poetical effect, represents it as indignantly murmuring at its chains :

The whole imprison'd river growls below. Cowper's exactness was probably owing to his having been, from his situation, an observer of nature at an advanced period of life, when the novelty of common objects being exhausted, the rural solitary is reduced to pry more closely into surrounding scenes, in order to excite a new interest in them. Hence, his observations are commonly of a more curious and recondite kind than those of Thomson, who usually takes what lies obvious upon the surface of things. Every reader of the Seasons has ad- . mired the pleasing description of the red-breast, "paying to trust. ed man his annual visit :" it is recognized for perfect nature, bem




« FöregåendeFortsätt »