William Cowper of the Inner Temple, Esq: A Study of His Life and Works to the Year 1768

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VII
WRITING

The Comic Spirit . . . is the daylight aide of the night half-obscuring Cowper. GEORGE MEREDITH, An Essay on Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit

I am glad you love Cowper. I could forgive a man for not enjoying Milton, but I would not call that man my friend, who should be offended with the 'divine chit-chat of Cowper'.

CHARLES LAMB to S. T. COLERIDGE1

THOUGH there is no one poem or piece of prose that is in itself unusually important, the early works of Cowper nevertheless contain passages which adumbrate almost everything he did later. His genius developed late, yet in his first writings the variety of his individual abilities is shown, and small fragments of each type of mood and verse in which he was later to excel are clearly created. The humour characteristic of ' John Gilpin' is there, and the mockheroic of The Task. So is his tenderness, his particular description of nature, his mild but firm rebellion against the Augustan mode. There is at times the terror of 'The Castaway'. The poetry is largely impromptu, and lacking the real occasion for poetry it remains polite but undistinguished armchair verse. It follows in the Cowper family tradition, and seems many times to be no better than that which any well-tutored, moderately sensitive gentleman could write. And then, suddenly, there comes a line which is a foretaste of his very best poetry of twenty or thirty years later.

In one of his earliest poems Cowper tells what is, perhaps,

____________________
1
Lamb to Coleridge, 5 Dec. 1796, Lamb's Letters, ed. E. V. Lucas ( New Haven, 1935), I, 66. Coleridge originated the phrase 'divine chit-chat of Cowper': see I, 73, and Coleridge to John Thelwall, 17 Dec. 1796, Coleridge's Letters, ed. E. L. Griggs ( Oxford, 1956), I, 279.

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William Cowper of the Inner Temple, Esq: A Study of His Life and Works to the Year 1768
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Plates viii
  • Short Titles and Abbreviations ix
  • Preface xiii
  • I - Berkhamsted 1
  • II - Westminster 14
  • III - The Boys 36
  • IV - Reading 55
  • V - The Temple 64
  • VI - The Geniuses 78
  • VII - Writing 102
  • VIII - Theadora 119
  • IX - The Defect 135
  • X - Failure 145
  • XI - The Saints 158
  • A - Uncollected Letters And Essays: 1750-67 177
  • B - Uncollected Poems: Early And Late 226
  • C - Uncollected Contributions To Magazines: 1789-93 246
  • Notes on Cowper's Relatives And Friends 261
  • Index 267
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