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Is even Pope's version farther from the spirit of Homer than these verses? It may be, of course, that Cowper, while not trying to reproduce the original word-order of any particular passage, felt that the general use of inversions and of adjectives for adverbs would give the effect of the Greek; but in reality they produce an impression entirely unlike Homer's by destroying his simple directness, naturalness, and rapidity. The explanation is probably to be found in Cowper's desire to give his translation epic dignity, in his love for Paradise Lost, and in the false taste of the period with which he was inevitably tainted.
When the poet's friends, and the reviewers (who were of a younger generation), objected strongly to these excessive Miltonisms, the translator himself insisted they were not there. "With respect to inversions in particular," he wrote, "I know that they do not abound. Once they did, and I had Milton's example for it. But on Fuseli's remonstrance against them, I expunged the most, and in my new edition have fewer still. I know that they give dignity, and am sorry to part with them."2 In the "new edition" to which he refers, though he introduced some additional inversions and other Miltonisms, he undoubtedly did remove many of the old ones, and thus made the translation more simple and flowing if less spirited. In that version, published two years after his death, two of the passages given above run thus:
I spake, whose praises of his son, the ghost
Soon as he beheld
He knew me, and in sorrow thus began.3
The Task and the translation of Homer had done so much to dispel the gloom which was never far from the unfortunate poet that as
1 The diction is often equally objectionable: e. g., "coetaneous," "stridulous," "dismissed" (of a spear), "salutiferous," "expressed" (of juice), "retracting" (of a cord), "impressed" (of wounds), “"in peculiar," "promulge," "revulsed," "conflicted" (as a verb), "acuminated," "afflictive," "necessitous," "chode," "grumous” (Iliad, i. 315; ii. 268; iii. 422, and vii. 320, xi. 459, 685, etc.; v. 469, 1074; viii. 374, 472; ix. 119; ix. 123 and x. 356; xii. 481; xiii. 830; xv. 585; xvi. 15, 1021; xvii. 520; xxiii. 872). 2 Letter to Samuel Rose, Feb. 17, 1793.
Odyssey, xi. 657-60, 746-7. It is the first edition that Southey reprinted, following the advice of all with whom he consulted; likewise it is the first edition of Cowper's Odyssey that appears in Everyman's library. Cowper also translated some of the Aeneid and a few of Milton's Latin poems into blank verse. As might be expected, these translations show more influence from Paradise Lost than does The Task. The humorous unrimed skit, To the Immortal Memory of the Halibut (written 1784), is also slightly Miltonic.
soon as the Odyssey was finished he and his friends cast about for a subject of a new poem to occupy his attention. Some one suggested The Four Ages of Man, and he seems himself to have thought of Yardley Oak; but, although he began each poem (both, it should be observed, in blank verse), he carried neither beyond a few pages. The Four Ages is not unlike the dull parts of The Task; but Yardley Oak achieves a much loftier strain, "a combination of massiveness and 'atmosphere"" which Mr. Saintsbury finds unmatched, outside of Spenser and Shakespeare, by any earlier English poet.1 At any rate, no writer of the century composed any nobler piece of blank verse. Nor did the giants of the following age often do better, for Yardley Oak is not unworthy of Wordsworth, whose Yew-Trees it prefigures. Superficial Miltonisms, such as "excoriate forks deform," "fostering propitious," "I would not curious ask," "the heat Transmitting cloudless," "by the tooth Pulverized of venality,' are less marked in Yardley Oak than in the Homer; but there is a full-toned largeness of utterance in such lines as these that make them more profoundly Miltonic than any others Cowper wrote:
Time made thee what thou wast, king of the woods,
Of girth enormous, with moss-cushioned root
1 Peace of the Augustans, 341. I cannot, however, agree with this eminent critic when he says (ib. 339) that “what Cowper might have been as a poet is perhaps only shown" in this piece and The Castaway; for, short as Yardley Oak is, it is not sustained. There are dull passages (e. g., lines 29-32, 45-9, 120-24, 137–61), unrhythmical lines (57, 94, 123), and objectionable diction (5, 66, 110). The latter part, and particularly the concluding lines, show such a decided falling-off both in contents and in expression that it looks as if Cowper abandoned the poem because his inspiration had fled, because he found he had nothing to say and could not sustain the lofty tone with which he began. 2 Lines 5, 39, 42, 74, 123.
* Lines 50-68. Lines 14-16 contain a reference to Paradise Lost, ix. 1084-1100; and some of the diction is perhaps Miltonic, e. g., "meed" (13, cf. Lycidas, 14), "with vegetative force instinct" (34, cf. P. L., ii. 937, vi. 752), “globose" (66, cf. P. L., vii. 357, etc.), and such Latinisms as "latitude of boughs" (21) and “impulse” of the wind (84). Strangely enough, J. C. Bailey, in his excellent edition of Cowper (1905, p. lvi),
In 1791, while Cowper was visiting William Hayley, the two men, one of whom was editing Milton and the other writing a life of him, translated the Adamo of Andreini, a probable source of Paradise Lost. Like the original, the translation (by no means a masterpiece) is in short lines, generally of irregular length and without rime. The diction and style, as might be expected of a poem in which God, Satan, angels, Adam and Eve, are the characters, frequently though never strongly recall Paradise Lost. Some idea of the work may be gathered from these lines:
Adam, awake! and cease
To meditate in rapturous trance profound
And the deep secrets of the Trinal Lord.'
This brief examination of Cowper's writings shows that both in the bulk and in the importance of the poems affected the influence of Milton looms large. The Verses on Finding the Heel of a Shoe, The Task, the poem to the halibut, the Four Ages, Yardley Oak, the sonnets, the translations of Homer, Virgil, Andreini, and of Milton's Italian and Latin poems, — these pieces, which make up the most considerable and the most important part of Cowper's work, are all unmistakably Miltonic. Yet in one of his letters he speaks of "having imitated no man," and continues: "Milton's manner was peculiar. So is Thomson's. He that should write like either of them, would, in my judgment, deserve the name of a copyist, but not of a poet." Cowper was no copyist. The Task and Yardley Oak are entirely his own in style no less than in subject-matter; no one else could have written them. His relations to Milton were like those we bear to our father and mother. We do not deliberately imitate our parents; we love them, and are in constant close association with them through the years when we receive our deepest impressions, and thus our ideals, our opinions, our acts, are affected by them in a hundred ways of which we are not conscious. So Cowper, who had read the elder poet enthusiastically since his fourteenth year and reremarks that the poem "stands alone among his works in being rather akin to Shakespeare than to Milton"!
1 Cowper's Works (ed. Southey), x. 251. The Italian is,
Sueglisi Adamo, e lasci
Di fruir in bel rapto alte, e Diuine
E del Trino Signor profondi arcani.
Not a little of the diction which seems to be Miltonic is derived from the original.
* For the influence of Milton on Cowper's sonnets, see p. 510 below.
3 To John Newton, Dec. 13, 1784.
garded him as "this great man, this greatest of men, your idol and mine," 1 came to feel that blank verse and Paradise Lost were inseparable, that non-Miltonic blank verse was a contradiction in terms. Among the requisites of blank verse he mentions "a style in general more elaborate than rhime requires, farther removed from the vernacular idiom both in the language itself and in the arrangement of it."2 Since these qualities are neither distinctive of blank verse nor essential to it, is not this equivalent to declaring that good blank verse must be Miltonic?
Another requirement that Cowper repeatedly stressed as a sine qua non of unrimed poetry was the pause, or pauses, within the line and the necessity of constantly shifting them about, a device to which, as he pointed out, Milton's "numbers" were "so much indebted both for their dignity and variety." These pauses were to be commended, he held, even when they produced an occasional rough line, because such roughness "saves the ear the pain of an irksome monotony. Milton," he continued, "whose ear and taste were exquisite, has exemplified in his Paradise Lost the effect of this practice frequently." In these matters, and indeed in his entire theory and practice of prosody, Cowper seems to have been strongly influenced by his favorite poem. He wrote to a friend, "The unacquaintedness of modern ears with the divine harmony of Milton's numbers, and the principles upon which he constructed them, is the cause of the quarrel that they have with elisions in blank verse." And a little earlier he had said: "The practice of cutting short a The is warranted by Milton, who of all English poets that ever lived, had certainly the finest ear. Dr. Warton, indeed, has dared to say that he had a bad one; for which he deserves, as far as critical demerit can deserve it, to lose his own." 5
Yet it was not simply in prosody but in diction as well that Milton was the final authority. Seven times in the course of his Homer Cowper justifies his use of a word by quoting from Milton, whereas to the language of all other English poets he acknowledges but four
1 Letter to Hayley, Nov. 22, 1793.
2 Preface to his Homer. If the Thunder Storm - which first appeared in Wright's Life (1892, p. 177) but which Bailey rejects both because of insufficient external evidence and because, as he justly observes, it does not sound like Cowper—is really by the poet of Olney, it shows that even his unpremeditated and unrevised verse was clearly Miltonic.
Preface to his Homer.
To Walter Bagot, Aug. 31, 1786.
Letter to Lady Hesketh, March 6, 1786.
• Iliad, v. 641, xv. 168, xxiii. 195; Odyssey, i. 178, xi. 19, 139, xxiv. 43.
obligations. Indeed, he had come to regard Paradise Lost as a wellnigh perfect poem, one that furnished in all matters the model of good taste and the standard of good usage. "I am filled with wonder," he wrote to Lady Hesketh when he decided to drop from his Homer "the quaintness that belonged to our writers of the fifteenth century," "I am filled with wonder at my own backwardness to assent to the necessity of it, and the more when I consider that Milton, with whose manner I account myself intimately acquainted, is never quaint, never twangs through the nose, but is every where grand and elegant, without resorting to musty antiquity for his beauties.' With Cowper, as with Wordsworth, the first and last question was usually, "What was Milton's usage?" To employ his own words, "The Author of the Paradise Lost [furnishes] an example inimitable indeed, but which no writer of English heroic verse without rhyme can neglect with impunity." He intended neither to neglect nor servilely to follow this inimitable example, and he did neither; but he little realized how subtlely, how variously, and how extensively his admiration for his "idol" had affected his writings.
1 Iliad, vii. 167 (Dryden); Odyssey, viii. 324 (Gray); x. 161, xxiv. 5, 11 (Shakespeare).
2 March 22, 1790. "Borrowing," he wrote to Thomas Park, Feb. 19, 1792, “seems to imply poverty, and of poverty I can rather suspect any man than Milton."
Preface for a second edition of his Homer.