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CowPER's Task is a Medley. It consists of six books of admirable blank verse-in which all the main aspects of English life, as it existed in the last century, are brought under review. The good and the true in it are commended; while the vices of the age are lashed with some of the very keenest satire that was ever penned. The principal charm of the whole consists in the truthful simplicity of its description both of nature and domestic life ; and the moral earnestness which it displays in dealing with the most important social questions. The first book of The Task, which is here given entire, will be found admirably adapted in style for analysis—in sentiment for paraphrasing. The notes appended, and the indications in the text, will assist the student in both.
BOOK I.—THE SOFA.
Truth, Hope, and Charity, , and touched with awe
Escaped with pain from that adventurous flight, 2. Truth, Hope, and Charity, the titles of Through utter and through middle darkthree didactic poems of Cowper.
ness borne, 3. And with a trembling hand-Adver- I sung of chaos and eternal night. bial qualification to touched.
I. 13.-My adventurous song,— 4. Escaped, i.e., having escaped. The
That with no middle flight intends to soar Auxiliary Participle is very rarely omitted
Above the Aonian mount. in the Participle Perf. Act. of Intransitive Verbs (as, for instance, Goldsmith's Deserted VII. 3. Village, 309, if to the city sped). Cowper Above the Olympian hill I soar, has followed the example of Milton, Para- Above the flight of Pegasean wing. dise Lost, iii. 14, escaped the Stygian pool.
4. Adventurous flight. Poets rise above The construction is, -I (who lately sang the level of ordinary men. Compare Mil- Truth, Hope, and Charity, and touched the ton's Paradise Lost, iii. 13,
chords with awe and with a trembling hand), Thee (holy light) I revisit now with bolder having escaped with pain from that advenwing,
turous flight, now seek repose upcn an hum. Escaped the Stygian pool, while in my bler theme.
5 Now seek repose upon an humbler theme ;)
The theme though humble,] yet august and proud
Time was, when clothing sumptuous or for use, Save their own painted skins, our sires had none. I 10 As yet black breeches were not ;| satin smooth,
Or velvet soft, or plush with shaggy pile :]
Thrown up by wintry torrents roaring loud,
Those barbarous ages past, succeeded next
6. The theme though humble, yet august and proud the occasion—an elliptical expression, which is easily completed by the addition of the Auxiliary Verbs.
7. The fair. When the Adjective is used Łubstantively, it is either the Singular Number of the Neuter Gender, or the Plural of the Masculine, as, Sofa, 332, Communicative of the good he owns ; line 396, Not such the alert and active ; line 493, The innocent are gay. In the Masc. Sing. we only use Adj. as proper names, e.g., the Almighty. But Cowper by no means always adheres to this general rule. It can hardly be called a license, if he uses the Adj. in the plural as a feminine noun, as lines 73 and 460. But he makes it a masculine noun of the singular, line 89, The nurse sleeps sweetly, hired to watch the sick; and in the passage under consideration, as also in line 472, he actually makes the Adj. a noun Singular Feminine.
8. Clothing sumptuous or for use. Clothing is qualified by the Adj. sumptuous, and by the Preposit. phrase for use, which takes the place of another adjective, useful ; such Preposit. pbrases, which represent Adjectives, always follow the noun they qualify.
9. Save their own painted skins-This does
not bear a strictly logical examination, for skins cannot properly be called clothing. “ Clothing our sires had none,” is equivalent to “ Our sires had no clothing."
"NO" when placed alone becomes "none."
12. Roaring loud—the expression is much weakened by the position of this attribute.
15. Strength. The abstract substantive is very frequently substituted for the concrete by poets, from Homer downwards.Sofa, line 389.
16. Those barbarous ages past. This participial construction, corresponding in use with the Latin Ablat. absolute, is rather frequent in Cowper, Milton, and other English poets, who have endeavoured to imitate in English the complicated and involved periods of their classical models.
16. Succeeded next. This inversion was formerly more common than now. It is a strict rule in German to place the predicate before the subject whenever the sentence is headed by some adverbial qualification, or any word bearing more directly upon the Pred. than the Subj.
17. IVeak, dull, and clumsy-- Attributes to Invention.
Dull in design, and clumsy to perform. /
Joint-stools were then created ;| on three legs
A massy slab, in fashion square or round. |
And such in ancient halls and mansions drear 25 May still be seen, but perforated sore
And drilled in holes the solid oak is found,
At length a generation more refined Improved the simple plan; made three legs four,] 30 Gave them a twisted form vermicular,]
And o’er the seat with plenteous wadding stuffed
And woven close, or needlework sublime.] 35 There might ye see the peony spread wide,
The full-blown rose, the shepherd and his lass,
Now came the cane from India, smooth and bright 40 With Nature's varnish, severed into stripes |
That interlaced each other, these supplied
18. To perform-Used like the Latin gerund, equivalent to, clumsy in performing.
19. Created-A pompous word, chosen to suit the comico-grotesque narrative.
20. Upborne (Gr. 78 d.) on three legs Firm, for firmly. Three legs . . . roundIs a mere repetition, and has no further syntactical connexion in the sentence.
24. Such-Demonstrative adjective used as a pronoun (Gr. 14, Remark).
25. Perforated, and drilled in holes, a tautological expression, which is not re
lieved by ealing through and through. For their syntax, see Gr. 76, Remark 1.
29. Made . . . four-Gr. 76, 1.
33. Of tapestry-Attrib. to cover. Richly wrought, and woven close, are Attributes to tapestry.
34. Needlework sublime-- Attrib. to cover.
40. Severed is not a simple Attrib. to cane, but a Nom. absolute. Being severed into stripes, these stripes supplied, &c.
44. Restless-Giving (not having) no rest.
45 Distressed the weary loins, that felt no ease ; |
The slippery seat betrayed the sliding part
These for the rich ;] the rest,) whom fate had placed 50 In modest mediocrity, | content
With base materials, sat on well-tanned hides
Or scarlet crewel in the cushion fixed :) 55 If cushion might be called,] what harder seemed |
Than the firm oak] of which the frame was formed. |
Ponderous, and fixed by its own massy weight. 60 But elbows still were wanting ;| these,) some say, |
An alderman of Cripplegate contrived,)
But rude at first, and not with easy slope
And bruised the side] and elevated high
47. Dangling down-Gr. 78, d. 49. These, sc. chairs, Pred. were.
53. With here and there a tuft ... or crewel in the cushion fixed, equal to having a tuft or crewel fixed-Attributive pbrase to hides.
55. If that could be called cushion, which, &c.
56. Firm, frame, formed-an intended Alliteration.
58. Happy-The adjective must be taken in a most specific sense. Happy because of the abundance of timber.
59. Ponderous and fixed-Gr. 78, d.
60. These an alderman contrived. Subst. Sent. to some say, with that omitted.
63. Burly and big-Alliteration.
64-67. The effect of these lines is very comic after the preceding lines, “the alderman, studious of his BASE."
66. Elevated high-Complement to Subj. they.
68. Or e'er-Or is a corruption of ere; or e'er is, therefore, before ever.
69. Though introduces two adverbial sentences, with they were understood.
70 And ill at ease behind. / The ladies first
'Gan murmur,| as became the softer sex.]
Heard the sweet moan with pity,) and devised 75 The soft settee ;] one elbow at each end,
And in the midst an elbow, it received,
And so two citizens] who take the air
But relaxation of the languid frame
The growth of what is excellent,] so hard 85 To attain perfection in this nether world.]
Thus first Necessity invented stools, |
The nurse sleeps sweetly, hired to watch the sick, | 90 Whom snoring she disturbs. / As sweetly he]
Who quits the coach-box at the midnight hour
Sweet sleep enjoys the curate in his desk, 95 The tedious rector drawling o'er his head,
And sweet the clerk below :] but neither sleep
71. 'Gan murmur, i.e., began to murmur; the to being omitted by a poetical license. Became-Impersonal verb with it, understood for Subj.
73. [It is) employed.
75. The order is-It, united, yet divided, twain at once, received one elbow at each end, and an elbow in the midst.
78. Two kings of Brentford. Allusion to
an old custom of chairing mock-kings at Brentford.
83. After slow, supply is ; after hard, is ita 90. (By) snoring—After he supply sleeps.
93. His legs depending-Gr. 78, Observations.
*96. And sweet, scil. sleep—The ellipse is hard, and unusual.