Charity "Pelting Each Other For The Public Good"

Len Deighton

"Pelting Each Other For The Public Good"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In this poem Cowper, a very religious man, celebrates the third and greatest of the theological virtues: charity, or love, which he calls "Chief grace below, and all in all above." Early in the poem he praises Captain Cook for the friendliness he bestowed upon the natives of the islands he discovered; the explorer is used as an example of charity in action. As Cowper put it, "While Cook is loved for savage lives he saved,/ See Cortez odious for a world enslaved!" Among his comments about charity, Cowper points out that this virtue does not mean giving alms with a "queazy conscience." Real charity, maintains the poet, intends only another person's good, not one's own.

Cowper suggests that even the satirist, who hopes by his satire to improve mankind, must be careful of his motives; as an example of the satirist gone wrong Cowper cites Jonathan Swift, named in the poem as "St. Patrick's dean," as a satirist who "Too often rails to gratify his spleen." Reform, the object of satire, says the poet, must proceed from love for God or man. Cowper's poem ends with the poet's view of what the world might be if church and state were motivated by charity:
The statesman, skill'd in projects dark and deep,
Might burn his useless Machiavel, and sleep;
His budget, often fill'd yet always poor,
Might swing at ease behind his study door,
No longer prey upon our annual rents,
Nor scare the nation with its big contents:
Disbanded legions freely might depart,
And slaying man would cease to be an art.
No learned disputants would take the field,
Sure not to conquer, and sure not to yield,
Both sides deceived if rightly understood,
Pelting each other for the public good.