Older Masters: Essays and Reflections on English and American Literature

By Donald Davie | Go to book overview

16
The Critical Principles of William Cowper

After Ben Jonson, Cowper is the most neglected of our poets. It was Hayley's Life and Letters that set the fashion; ever since, no poet has been surrendered so frequently, and with so little compunction, to the tender mercies of the biographer. Such criticism as there is has labelled Cowper 'Romantic precursor'; and it seems that we read his poems only to discover in them things that have been done better since, by Wordsworth or some other. No one will deny that the Wordsworthian and other potentialities are there, but they are surely not the most important things in Cowper's poetry. His work is far more the consummation of one tradition than the prelude to another. 'What is salt in Cowper you can taste only when you have detected that by a stroke of madness he missed, or barely missed, being our true English Horace, that almost more nearly than the rest he hit what the rest had been seeking.'1 He was very consciously and deliberately a neo-classical poet.

He was, if anything, a defiant rearguard. Already, by the time he wrote, the neo-classical austerity was rare, and the taste was all for florid diction, the sublime, a syrupy metrical smoothness, and melting sensibility. His critical conservatism is apparent enough in the poems that are not read, such as 'Truth', 'Table-talk' and 'Retirement'. It is also apparent in the letters, along with the famous (and genuine) charm; but criticism in the letters is sparse and scattered, and it is only when a number of random judgements are put together, that one sees the consistency of Cowper's conservatism:

For a first exhibit, we may take the lines on Johnson:

Here Johnson lies — a sage by all allow'd,
Whom to have bred may well make England proud;
Whose prose was eloquence, by wisdom taught,
The graceful vehicle of virtuous thought;

____________________
1
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, "On the Lineage of English Literature". On the Art of Writing, ( London, 1916), p.127.

-214-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Older Masters: Essays and Reflections on English and American Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this book
  • Bookmarks
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
/ 328

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.