The Progress Of Error "Unmissed But By His Dogs And By His Groom"

William Cowper

"Unmissed But By His Dogs And By His Groom"

Context: In the opening lines of this moral essay in rhymed couplets, Cowper calls on his Muse to sing the way by which "the serpent, error, twists round human hearts." Then he follows the course of human weaknesses from their start in the search for pleasure to their end in ruin and vanity. To him, vanity was one of man's great sins. Writing out of a deeply religious background and intent on improving man, he characterizes some of his own writing in one couplet of this poem: "The clear harangue, and cold as it is clear/ Falls soporific on the listless ear." But, though sometimes dull, his descriptions of the life of the common people and of the pleasures offered by Nature were practice for the later and greater Nature poetry of The Task. In one section of this poem, he portrays the hunter who carries to excess his pleasures that in moderation are innocent. The man's too-frequent hunts in pursuit of his prey leave him no time for the pursuit of virtue. But the hunter is bound to resent criticism of what he considers his healthy way of life. Yet, when it brings him to his death, he will be missed by none except his animals and the groom who gets him ready for the hunt.

Grey dawn appears; the sportsman and his train
Speckle the bosom of the distant plain;
. . .
For persevering chase and headlong leaps
True beagle as the staunchest hound he keeps.
Charged with the folly of his life's mad scene,
He takes offence, and wonders what you mean;
The joy, the danger, and the toil o'erpays;
'T is exercise, and health, and length of days.
Again impetuous to the field he flies;
Leaps every fence but one, there falls and dies;
Like a slain deer, the tumbrel brings him home,
Unmissed but by his dogs and by his groom.