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cause every one has witnessed the reality : but few in their win. ter walks have made those remarks on the same bird which dic. tated to Cowper the following lines :
The red-breast warbles still, but is content
That iinkle in the wither'd leaves below. This picture is equally natural with the former, and has the additional merit of furnishing new images to the fancy. It was from such a mature and deliberate study of nature that Mr. White of Selborne derived that store of curious observations, which he has presented in the most entertaining miscellany of natural-his.' tory that was ever composed.
Both of these poets occasionally employ personification, which is a kind of abstract and comprehensive description. To the poet of the Seasons it was an obvious piece of mechanism that each should make its entrance as a living figure; distinguished by some characteristics of that portion of the year of which it was the harbinger; but it cannot be said that in these draughts he has displayed much fancy. The epithet of “etherial Mildness” which he gives to Spring presents no visual image; and it has been justly objected by Miss Seward, that the “ shower of shadowing roses” in which she descends is an usurpation upon the property of Summer. To Summer is assigned nothing more than refulgent youth,” and an
66 ardent look.” Autumn has the common bearings of the sickle and wheaten sheaf, with which he, or she, is oddly said to be “crowned :" and Winter is only marked by the qualities of gloom and surliness. The other sketches of personification in his poem are too slight to merit no. tice.
The case is very different with Cowper. His powerful imagi. nation was equal to those creative exertions which are perhaps the highest triumph of poetry; and though his purpose in the Task did not urge him to frequent attempts of this kind; yet he has exhibited specimens which in grandeur and elegance have scarcely ever been surpassed. His personified figures of Winter and of Evening will justify this assertion to every reader susceptible of the charms of pure poetry; and, I think, clearly es. tablish his claim to a higher seat on Parnassus than that occupied by Thomson.
The descriptive matter in the Seasons is diversified by some lit. tle history-pieces, the subjects of which have a reference to that part of the year in which they are introduced. It is generally admitted that the style of Thomson is little suited to the narra
tive of common life. Destitute of ease, and wholly unlike the lan. guage of real conversation, it proves an awkward vehicle for the dialogue and incidents of story-telling; and though an interest is excited by the pathetic of the circumstances, as in the maid struck by lightning, and the man lost in the snow, it owes nothing to. the manner of narration. Cowper, on the contrary, was a master in this style. He perfectly understood common speech, and could readily accommodate his phraseology to his subject. The touching story of Crazy Kate, and the various passages in which he al. ludes to the melancholy history of his own life, are examples of the true natural mode of narrating ; of which many more instances might be adduced from his other poems.
As the versification of Thomson has been mentioned, it will be proper, by way of comparison, to say something of that of Cow. per. His blank verse is in general the apparently negligent effu. sion of one who, pouring out his thoughts in exuberance, does not long study to put them into measure. But he evidently possessed a musical and practised ear; and his irregularities are not always without design. It is known that in his version of Homer he paid very particular attention to the melody of his lines and its adaptation to the subject; and if, in the Task, his mind was more oć. cupied with the sentiments, there are not wanting passages the flow of which is remarkably harmonious. One example shall suf. fice for a proof of his talent in this respect :
How soft the music of those village bells
Clear and sonorous as the gale comes on. A fine ear is, then, another poetical requisite in which nature seems to have been more liberal to Cowper than to Thomson. It would, perhaps be easy to quote from the latter, instances in which harsh or appaling sounds are happily imitated, for our lan. guage abounds with words which echo tones of that class; but to make English verse discourse eloquent music” is a much more difficult task.
Such appear to me to be the principal characteristics of these two original poets in that delineation of natural objects and the incidents of rural life, for which both are so justly admired, Thomson is so far entitled to the first place, that if his minute style of painting had not obtained admission into English poetry, the descriptions in the Task would probably never have existed : yet Cowper cannot be denominated an imitator in them, since his manner is entirely his own, and the objects he has represented were evidently suggested by individual observation. Between the two poems no comparison can subsist; for while the Seasons is the
completion of an extensive plan, necessarily comprizing a great va. riety of topics, most of which would occur to every poetical mind occupied in the same design; the Task owes nothing to a pre. conceived argument, but is the extemporaneous product of the very singular mind and genius of the author. It had no model, and can have no parallel.
Art VII.-On the different Grounds of Religious Persecution.
In the history of persecution on account of religion, an attentive observer will distinguish two sets of motives which have induced men to inflict upon their fellow-creatures those pains and penalties by which the assertion of private opinion in matters deemed sacred has in almost all countries been restrained. Of these, one set may be denominated purely religious ; that is, they spring from a persuasion of the truth of that system of faith and wor. ship which has been adopted by the state, and which education and habit have consecrated to such a degree, that any dissent from it strikes its vetaries with a perception of impiety. The other set is purely political, arising from an arbitrary connexion between some form of civil polity, and a religious establishment, so that an attack upon the latter is thought to endanger the safety of the former. These motives are so different in their nature, that the persons severally actuated by them will conduct themselves by very different rules; and although they may occasionally concur in certain practical measures, yet, radically differing in their ob. jects, such concurrence will not be general or perpetual. From which of these classes of persecutors the greatest evils have pro. ceeded, and which are the most inveterate foes to the rights of mankind, are enquiries that cannot fail of being interesting and instructive. Let us enter upon them under the guidance of historical fact, and the acknowledged principles of human nature.
One of the most important differences among religions with res. pect to their influence on society, is that of their exclusive or their accommodating character ; in other words, whether they assume to be the only true and allowable religion, or concede to others an equal authority and authenticity in the countries which have received them. The religions of heathenism were of the latter de. scription. Each nation, adopting such deities and forms of ado. ration as ancient tradition or later superstition had recommended to it, framed a theological system for itself, as it did a code of aws, without calling in question the right of a neighbour to do
the like. Each would naturally give a preference to its own; but supposing that every religion was best suited to the genius of the country embracing it, no one would feel an inducement to propa. gate its particular tenets beyond the limits of its own territory. Even when dominion was extended by conquest, it was usual for the victors to suffer the vanquished to retain their own rites, un. less when they were made a call to rebellion. These local faiths were, however, implicitly received where they were legally estab. lished, and every instance of open disrespect or disbelief shown towards them was severely animadverted upon; so that liberty of discussion upon theological topics was a principle by no means admitted, at least where it seemed to oppugn the ritual of the state. Socrates, though he always inculcated the obligation of conformity to the national religion, was condemned on the charge of innovating in his lectures on divinity; and there are other examples in the records of Grecian philosophy, of capital punish. ment inflicted upon alleged atheists and freethinkers. These were, indeed, rare and individual instances; for, as compliance with the public forms of worship was by no philosophical sect regarded as criminal, none of them, as sects, were exposed to persecution. On this account, the history of religious persecution among the nations of antiquity is very scanty. The fire of zeal lay dormant for want of fuel; and the extent of its operation on the human mind remained a yet untried experiment. The Jews, indeed, whose purer theology forbade the most distant participation in the rites of idolatry, were sometimes put to severe trials of their fortitude by the pride and tyranny of their conquerors, which they generally went through with the most unyielding firmness; but their pious scruples were more commonly respected by their masters.
The introduction of the Christian religion was the event which gave full scope to the propensity of mankind to inflict, and the capacity to endure, persecution on a religious account. With the exclusive character of Judaism with respect to its doctrines and the object of its worship, it united such powerful motives deriv. ed from a future state of existence, that its votaries were incited by every feeling in the human breast to labour for its propaga. tion. It was no longer a matter of indifference to a friend of mankind who was a Christian, what religion was professed by others; they must either receive his own, or, according to his notions, incur the most dreadful punishment. The greatest possible benefit had been offered to the world, but there had been annexed to it an equal weight of penalty on its rejection. The immediate consequence of this sentiment was an ardent zeal in the new converts to propagate their own religious opinions, and to subvert all the received systems, which, while it rapidly promoted their
cause, exposed them at different times to violent persecutions from the ruling powers. Unable to enter into the scruples of the Christians, indignant at the contempt with which they treated the public rites of their country, and alarmed at their bold attempts to abrogate them, the heathen magistrates regarded these new sec. taries as impious and dangerous innovators, who were to be chas. tised, or even extirpated, by the hand of power. 'The measures consequently adopted were sometimes severe and sanguinary, sometimes more lenient and remiss, according to the temper of the sovereign. These persecutions, however, did not perfectly correspond to the character of religious, at least on the part of those who inflicted them; since their purpose was not to compel the adoption of any particular system of theological faith, but to silence or suppress one which was the assailant of all others.
Christianity at length triumphed over all its opponents, and became allied to supreme power. Thenceforth the object of per. secution was changed, and it assumed its proper and peculiar na. ture. It was first turned, as might be expected, against the van, quished religion; but here it encountered a very unequal adver. sary. There was nothing in the principle of polytheism that could induce its votaries to suffer rather than comply, at least ex. ternally, with new rites enjoined by imperial authority : and af. ter some struggles excited by popular superstition, the whole frame of heathenism silently dissolved away. But in the bosom of Christianity itself soon sprung up antagonists who, animated with a similar spirit, engaged in civil war upon equal terms. From a very early period differences of opinion prevailed among the Christian converts respecting the tenets of their religion; and as enquiry became more curious and refined, these differences mul. tiplied, while each sect and party attached the greatest importance to those points which were at issue between them and their oppo. nents. It was common to them all to hold, that the first of hu. man concerns was the preservation of the purity and unity of the faith--that no considerations relative to this world could stand in any competition with this great object-and that it would be cul. pable lenity to indulge erring brethren in the profession, and still more in the propagation, of heresies endangering the safety of im. mortal souls. From these maxims proceeded that inexhaustible fund of religious contentions which has agitated the Christian world, and which, when power took part in the strife, infallibly produced persecution ; for it was not in human nature that persons possessed of power should refrain from making use of it to give a preponderance to that party which in their opinion was the champion of truths infinitely important to mankind. Although worldly passions and interests soon mixed in these disputes, yet their origin was purely doctrinal. They sprung from different in.