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purified from every blemish, and beaming with the radiance of wisdom! I weep for joy to think, that good men have from the beginning survived the ruins of corporeal nature; that they will continue to exist when ages are lost in eternity; that they will live for ever blessed in thy presence, for ever dignified with thy friendship, O thou King Eternal!
Wrapt by the exalting contemplation, I rejoice more particularly in the permanent effulgence of those splendid luminaries that have shone in long succession upon earth, darting the rays of knowledge and of virtue through different periods. I rejoice at the recollection, that those rays have not been quenched in the shades of death; and that by thy good Providence we enjoy at this day the accumulated instruction of generations. Look with pity on the ignorant and the slothful; who, having such" a price put into their hands, have not a heart to make use of it." Rouse them, I beseech thee, to a sense of their folly; and give them grace to redeem their past neglect, by their future diligence.
I praise thee, the God of thy late servant, that "being dead he yet speaketh," in those lasting productions which abound with the purest morality: where the conclusions of experience are added to the researches of learning, and to the fruits of meditation; where the secret recesses of the heart are explored, imagination is rendered ministerial to reason, and the reluctant passions compelled to acknowledge the claims of religion; where the conscious reader is turned inward upon himself, and blushes at the sight of his imbecility and guilt laid open before him with resistless evidence. Grant, O Lord, that we may profit by those severe but salutary instructions, and in the spirit of meekness learn from so able a teacher "the things that belong to our peace.' Let not the graver dictates of his pen be lost in levity or forgetfulness. Nor yet let us rest with the transitory and ineffectual admiration of
truth, when we behold it embellished by his vivid wit and glowing fancy; but may we follow its guidance with faithfulness and pleasure!
686. Cowper on Johnson's Life of Dr. Watts. (1)
I have no objection in the world to your conveying a copy of my poems to Dr. Johnson; though I well know that one of his pointed sarcasms, if he should happen to be displeased, would soon find its way into all companies, and spoil the sale. He writes, indeed, like a man that thinks a great deal, and that sometimes thinks religiously: but report informs me, that he has been severe enough in his animadversions upon Dr. Watts; who was, nevertheless, if I am in any degree a judge of verse, a man of truly poetical ability; careless, indeed, for the most part, and inattentive too to those niceties which constitute elegance of expression, but frequently sublime in his conceptions, and masterly in his execution. Pope, I have heard, had placed him once in the "Dunciad;" but, on being advised to read before he judged him, was convinced that he deserved other treatment, and thrust somebody's blockhead into the gap, whose name, consisting of a monosyllable, happened to fit it. Whatever faults, however, I may be chargeable with as a poet, I cannot accuse myself of negligence; I never suffer a line to pass till I have made it as good as I can; and though my doctrines may offend this king of critics, he will not, I flatter myself, be disgusted by slovenly inaccuracy, either in the numbers, rhymes, or language. Let the rest take its chance. It is possible he may be pleased; and if he should, I shall have engaged on my side one of the best trumpeters in the kingdom. Let him only speak as favourably of me as he has spoken of Sir
(1) This and the three following are from Cowper's "Private Correspondence," 2 vols. 8vo. 1824.]
Richard Blackmore, (who, though he shines in his poem called "Creslion," has written more absurdities in verse than any writer of our country,) and my success will be secured. (Letter to Newton, Sept. 18. 1781.)
I am glad to be undeceived respecting the opinion I had been erroneously led into on the subject of Johnson's criticism on Watts. Nothing can be more judicious, or more characteristic of a distinguishing taste, than his observatious upon that writer; though I think him a little mistaken in his notion, that divine subjects have never been poetically treated with success. A little more Christian knowledge and experience would perhaps enable him to discover excellent poetry, upon spiritual themes, in the aforesaid little Doctor. I perfectly acquiesce in the propriety of sending Johnson a copy of my productions; and I think it would be well to send it in our joint names, accompanied with a handsome card, and such an one as may predispose him to a favourable perusal of the book, by coaxing him into a good temper; for he is a great bear, with all his learning and penetration. (Letter to Newton, Oct. 4. 1781.)
687. Cowper on the "Lives of the Poets."
Last night I made an end of reading Johnson's Prefaces. I am very much the biographer's humble admirer. His uncommon share of good sense, and his forcible expression, secure to him that tribute from all his readers. He has a penetrating insight into character, and a happy talent of correcting the popular opinion upon all occasions where it is erroneous; and this he does with the boldness of a man who will think for himself, but, at the same time, with a justness of sentiment that convinces us he does not differ from others through affectation, but because he has a sounder judgment. This remark, however, has his narrative for its object, rather than his critical performance. In the
latter, I do not think him always just, when he departs from the general opinion. He finds no beauties in Milton's Lycidas. He pours contempt upon Prior, to such a degree, that were he really as undeserving of notice as he represents him, he ought no longer to be numbered among the poets. These, indeed, are the two capital instances in which he has offended me. There are others less important, in which I am less confident that he is wrong. (Letter to Unwin, March 21. 1784.)
688. Cowper's Epitaph on Dr. Johnson.
The graceful vehicle of virtue's thought;
Whose verse may claim, grave, masculine, and strong,
Oh! man immortal by a double prize,
689. Dr. King on Johnson's English. (1)
It is a great defect in the education of our youth in both the Universities that they do not sufficiently apply themselves to the study of their mother tongue. By this means it happens, that some very learned men and polite scholars are not able to express themselves with propriety in common conversation, and that when they are discoursing on a subject which they understand perfectly well. I have been acquainted with three persons only who spoke English with that eloquence and propriety, that if all they said had been immediately committed to writing, any judge of the English language
(1) [From Dr. William King's "Anecdotes of his Own Times," 8vo. 1819.]
would have pronounced it an excellent and very beautiAtterbury, the exiled bishop of Rochester; Dr. Gower, provost of Worcester College; and Samuel
690. Gray on "London."
"London" is one of those few imitations that have all the ease and all the spirit of the original. The same man's verses at the opening of Garrick's Theatre are far from bad. (Letter to Walpole.)
691. Richardson and Fielding.
Gray was much pleased with an answer which Dr. Johnson once gave to a person on the different and comparative merits of Fielding and Richardson. "Why, Sir, Fielding could tell you what o'clock it was; but, as for Richardson, he could make a clock or a watch." (Matthias's Gray.)
692. Johnsor on Newton.
One of the most sagacious men in this age, who continues, I hope, to improve and adorn it, Samuel Johnson, remarked in my hearing, that if Newton had flourished in ancient Greece, he would have been worshipped as a divinity. How zealously then would he be adored, if his incomparable writings could be read and comprehended by the Pundits of Cashmere or Benares! (Sir William Jones, 1785.)
693. Dugald Stewart on the "Lives of the Poets.” (1)
It is a melancholy fact with respect to artists of all classes;-painters, poets, orators, and eloquent writers; —that a large proportion of those who have evinced the scundest and the purest taste in their own productions, have yet appeared totally destitute of this power, when they have assumed the office of critics
(1) [From the Philosophical Essays.]