"The Lie That Flatters I Abhor The Most"
Context: In publishing his first collection of poetry, Cowper decided to lead off with the poem "Table Talk," because "it will repel the ordinary reader less than any of the others." He realized that his purpose in writing, to obtain "a monitor's though not a poet's praise" would result in somewhat dull verse. Yet he wrote satires of admonition and sermons in verse, "with a hope to do good." Though "Table Talk" is a dialogue, there seems to be little attempt to differentiate between the two speakers, A and B, and considerable difficulty in discovering the various subjects of their discussion. As far as can be discerned, the main theme is the need of character and integrity in public servants. Beginning with the premise that only the glory built on unselfish principles is admirable, the two speakers agree in admiration of wars fought for justice. This opinion leads to a discussion of the qualities of an ideal king, and what results is obviously a portrait of George III, in which the poet insists that he is speaking sincerely with no purpose of flattery. "The patriotic tribe" uses the word in its eighteenth century political meaning, as Johnson did when saying: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." A patriot was one who upheld the nation, and was opposed to the king or the court. The following is the way B describes the qualities of King George III:
B. His life a lesson to the land he sways;To touch the sword with conscientious awe,Nor draw it but when duty bids him draw;To sheath it in the peace-restoring close,With joy beyond what victory bestows–Blest country, when these kingly glories shine,Blest England, if this happiness be thine!A. Guard what you say: the patriotic tribeWill sneer and charge you with a bribe. B. A bribe?The worth of his three kingdoms I defyTo lure me to the baseness of a lie.And of all lies (be that one poet's boast),The lie that flatters I abhore the most.Those arts be theirs who hate his gentle reign,But he that loves him has no need to feign.