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as one who

"look'st with high disdain
Upon the dull mechanic train."

When I add that the very same phrase " Fancy, bright aerial maid " occurs
in both, it will, I think, be admitted to be clear that both are by the same
author. And that author is Lloyd. I have, therefore, felt bound to
deprive it of the place it has hitherto held among the works of Cowper,
while giving it with this note that students may form their own opinion
of it.



Shall I begin with Ah, or Oh ?

Be sad? Oh! yes. Be glad? A h /no.
Light subjects suit not grave Pindaric ode,
Which walks in metre down the Strophic road.

But let the sober matron wear

Her own mechanic sober air :


Ah me ! ill suits, alas ! the sprightly jig,
Long robes of ermine, or Sir Cloudesley's wig.

Come, placid Dulness, gently come,

And all my faculties benumb ;
Let thought turn exile, while the vacant mind,
To trickie words and pretty phrase confined,

Pumping for trim description's art,

To win the ear, neglects the heart.
So shall thy sister Taste's peculiar sons,
Lineal descendants from the Goths and Huns,

Struck with the true and grand sublime

Of rhythm converted into rime,
Court the quaint Muse and con her lessons o'er,
Where sleep the sluggish waves by Granta's shore :

There shall each poet pare and trim,

Stretch, cramp, or lop the verse's limb,
While rebel Wit beholds them with disdain,
And Fancy flies aloft, nor heeds their servile chain.

O Fancy, bright aerial maid !

Where have thy vagrant footsteps strayed ?
For, Ah! I miss thee 'midst thy wonted haunt,
Since silent now the enthusiastic chaunt,

Which erst like frenzy rolled along,

Driven by the impetuous tide of song ;
Rushing secure where native genius bore,
Nor cautious coasting by the shelving shore.

Hail to the sons of modern Rime,

Mechanic dealers in sublime,
Whose lady Muse full wantonly is drest,
In light expression quaint, and tinsel vest,

Where swelling epithets are laid

(Art's ineffectual parade)
As varnish on the cheek of harlot light ;
The rest, thin sown with profit or delight,

But ill compares with ancient song,

Where Genius poured its flood along ;
Yet such is Art's presumptuous idle claim,
She marshals out the way to modern fame ;

From Grecian fable's pompous lore,

Description's studied, glittering store,
Smooth, soothing sounds, and sweet alternate rime,
Clinking, like change of bells, iu tingle tangle chime.


The lark shall soar in every Ode,

With flowers of light description strewed ;
And sweetly, warbling Philomel, shall flow
Thy soothing sadness in mechanic woe.

Trim epithets shall spread their gloss,

While every cell's o'ergrown with moss :
Here oaks shall rise in chains of ivy bound,
There mouldering stones o'erspread the rugged ground.

Here forests brown, and azure hills,

There babbling fonts, and prattling rills ;
Here some gay river floats in crisped streams,
While the bright sun now gilds his morning beams,

Or sinking to his Thetis' breast,

Drives in description down the west.
Oh let me boast, with pride-becoming skill,
I crown the summit of Parnassus' hill :

While Taste with Genius shall dispense,

And sound shall triumph over sense ;
O'er the gay mead with curious steps I'll stray ;
And, like the bee, steal all the sweets away ;

Extract its beauty, and its power,

From every new poetic flower,
Whose sweets collected may a wreath compose,
To bind the poet's brow, or please the critic's nose.

P. 1, 1. 6. Hayley, who first prints this poem, gives " bowel-racking."
Southey, Bell, and Benham give " bowel-raking." The alteration seems
quite unnecessary. The Oxford English Dictionary gives " bowel-
racking" and not "bowel-raking." Bruce gives "bowel-racking."

P. 2, 1. 25. Benham gives " froward " for " forward," which is the
word printed originally by Croft. Croft is often plainly wrong, but it
seems safest to follow him when his text is a possible one : for no later
editor has seen the original MSS.

P. 3, 1. 1. Croft gives "glassy." All other editors "glossy." But
may not Cowper be thinking of " vitreus," as used by Horace, of whom he
was then a great reader ? There is even something of the same contrast
in " Penelopen vitreamque Circen " (Horace, Odes, i. 17. 20) as there is
here in " Venus' smiles, Diana's mien. 1 ' It may be noted that he uses
the epithet " glassy " of a lake in Truth, 259. Still " glassy locks " is
scarcely a happy phrase, and " glossy " may possibly be right.

P. 4, 1. 2. Croft, followed by Southey and Benham, gives " fluttered " ;
and there seems no sufficient reason for the substitution with Bell and
Bruce of the more obvious " flattered."

P. 4, 1. 3. Croft, " and lovers drowned," a mere misprint.


P. 6, 11. 25 and 34. Croft, whom Bruce follows, gives "from what
source on earth," and, in 1. 34, "shall not wrong." Hayley quoted four
stanzas of this poem in his Life (i. 20), and the readings in the text are
his. They are followed by Southey, Bell, and Benham. Probably both
versions are Cowper's own : there are a good many cases in which alter-
native readings exist which both rest on the authority of the poet.

P. 7, 1. 7. Southey, followed by Bruce, Bell, and Benham, . has
altered the second " there " into " thence." But Croft's original is surely
correct : the two " theres " correspond to the two " nows " : it is a series
of scenes, or pictures.

P. 7, 1. 8. Croft gives " in " her votary's eye, but " on " seems right
It is to be remembered that he is not to be blindly trusted. His book is
very carelessly printed, his readings being frequently impossible. In the
second line of this poem, for instance, he prints " heights " : in the first
line of the Ode on the Marriage of a Friend he prints, " The magic lyre " :
in the fifth line " waters " for " warblings," and on pages 8, 9 " pathless
ray," for " way." And there are many other instances in which he is as
certainly wrong. Still, when his text is not impossible it is right to
remember that he had the original before him, and we have not.

P. 7, 1. 18. Cowper was an admirer of Gray, and it is interesting to
notice the obvious influence of Gray, and, behind Gray, of Dryden, in this

P. 8, 1. 2. Croft, " that tear that dims," and so Southey ; " the tear
that dims," Bell, Bruce, Benham.

P. 8, 1. 25. Robert Lloyd, the poet, joint author with Colman of the
Odes to Obscurity and Oblivion, written in ridicule of Gray and Mason,
was one of Cowper's intimates in his Temple days, and a brother member
of the Nonsense Club. He was editor of the St. James Magazine from 1762
and died in 1764. Hayley (i. 14) says this Epistle was written when
Cowper was twenty-three, that is in 1754. It is, therefore, like the piece
which here follows it, later in date than some of the " Delia " poems, but
it has been thought better, even in defiance of chronological order, to
keep the Delia pieces together as an unbroken series.

P. 9, 1. 1. It is worth noticing that, even at this early age, Cowper's
health already gave what we can now see to be signs of the disease which
was afterwards to hare such terrible effects. And it is curious that then,
as later, he turned to the composition of verse as a cure for melancholy.
P. 9, 1. 18. " pitch-kettled." According to Hayley (i. 16) this was
" a favourite phrase at the time when this Epistle was written, expressive
of being puzzled, or what, in the spectator's time, would have been called

P. 10. To Joseph Hill .-These humorous verses are here printed for
the first time. The original is in the collection of Cowper's letters to
Hill, lately the property of Mr. Edward Jekyll, who kindly allowed me
access to them, and now of the Rev. Canon Cowper Johnson, of Yaxhara


Rectory. The letters which, after being arranged and bound by John
Johnson for Mr. Hill, were made by him an heirloom to go with his
property at Wargrave, came with that property to an ancestor of Mr.
Jekyll who has lately presented them to Canon Johnson, the owner of
the Abbot portrait and other objects of interest connected with Cowper.
I have printed the verses exactly as Cowper wrote them, following, on
this occasion, even his spelling and his curious choice of capital letters.
His punctuation, however, is so evidently arbitrary that I have not
thought it necessary to adhere to it.

Joseph Hill, with whom Cowper had the most unbroken, and, perhaps,
the most affectionate of all his friendships, was his adviser and sometimes,
as may be seen in the letters printed for the first time in this edition,
more than his adviser, in all his pecuniary affairs from the time that he
left the St. Albaus Asylum till his death. Cf. the Epistle to Joseph Hill,
Esq., p. 363.

P. 11, 1. 23. For my Father consenteth

To make me the Flower of the Age.

I do not know what this can refer to. Cowper took chambers in the
Middle Temple in 1752, was called to the Bar in 1754, lost his father in
1756 and moved to the Inner Temple in 1759. What it was, then, to
which his father had consented in 1755, it is probably impossible now to
say. " G. Berk.," the address from which he writes, is, of course, his
father's Rectory of Great Berkhampstead.

P. 12. Of Himself : This most characteristic piece has been placed
immediately before the Delia poems, as its last words almost make it one
of them.

P. 12, 1. 36. I have ventured to substitute "e'en" for "e'er" on my
own conjecture, which I see had also occurred to Bruce, who suggests it
in a note. All other editions follow Croft's "e'er."

P. 13, 1. 1. To Delia : For the story of the poet's love of Delia
(Theodora Cowper), see Introduction to this edition, p. xii.

P. 13, 1. 20. Catfield, spelt Cutfield by Croft, is a village in Norfolk
of which Roger Donne, Cowper's mother's brother, was Rector. Donne's
daughter Catharine was the mother of John Johnson, in whose house the
poet died.

P. 13, 1. 33. Bruce suggested " yes ! " in place of "yet" and is
followed by Benham. Southey and Bell rightly follow Croft. "Yet"
refers to Delia's refusal, the sense being " yet, though she now refuses my
request, if I can persuade her and gain one single hair, she will admit,
when age comes upon her, that that one hair, and that alone, has preserved
its youth."

P. 14, 1. 35. "gains" is Bruce's conjecture for Croft's "joins."
Bruce is followed by Benham.

P. 15, 1. 9. Benham substitutes " love " for "loved," but the change,
however plausible, seems unnecessary.


P. 18. On her Endeavouring, etc. :-The last two stanzas of this piece

have a special interest as showing how early Cowper's attitude towards the

indulgence of human emotion makes it, appearance. It is one of entire

Datura ness, frankness, and simplicity, equally far removed from the dis-

ainful repression of the feelings which had been the ideal of the Stoics,

and from the luxury of tears which was so soon to become a fashion all

over Europe.

P. 19, 1. 13. Where or what New Burns is I do not know. The name
seems unknown to the Gazetteers and is protlably that of a house

P. 20, 1. 21, and p. 21, 1. 15. R.S.S. I do not know what these
letters mean.

P. 21, 1. 32. All editors follow Croft, who prints " There borne aloft : "
but I cannot help thinking Cowper wrote "then" and have ventured to
substitute it.

P. 24. Hayley (i. 12) says that these lines were originally part of a
letter to one of Cowper's "female relations," no doubt Lady Hesketh, and
that the letter having been destroyed, the verses owe their preservation
to her memory. They refer to the death of his friend Sir William Russell,
who was drowned in 1757, and, of course, to his separation from Theodora

P. 24, 1. 36. Hayley prints "distant," a sufficient proof that he is no
more to be implicitly trusted than Croft. Southey follows him, but the
correction " destined " is certainly right. Bruce, who is less complete in
his record of various readings for these Early Poems than for the Task
and the later poems, prints " destined " without comment.

P. 25. On reading the " Prayer for Indifference " : Most of the editors
have followed Southey in heading these lines "Addressed to Miss
Macartney," the author of the " Prayer " : but it seems more natural to
regard them as a protest against the " Prayer," addressed not to its author
but to the " fair maid " of the fifth stanza who, unlike the writer of the
" Prayer," knows the joys of sympathy. John Johnson, who first printed
it in his edition of the poems, 1815, gives the title "Addressed to Miss

on reading the ' Prayer for Indifference ' (1762) " ; and speaks of

it in his Preface as the " interesting poem addressed by Cowper to an
unknown lady on reading the 'Prayer for Indifference.'" I have had
before me a correspondence between him and Charles Cowper, another
cousin of the poet, as to the person addressed. One would have
guessed Theodora Cowper, and so it appears Hayley and Johnson had con-
jectured ;ibut Charles Cowper says in one of his letters : " to Mrs. Theodora
Cowper it was certainly not addressed, for she had never heard of the Poem,
till my sister showed it her from Mr. Madan's copy." Charles Cowper
argues that the verses are addressed to the authoress of the " Prayer," and
that their point is an appeal from her poem to her heart ; and some con-
firmation for this view may be found in the phrase "amid your silent
hours " in the fifth stanza. There is no doubt from the correspondence


that Johnson printed it as he found it in his MS., which was, as he tells
us in the Preface, a copy transcribed from her father's commonplace book
by the daughter of Cowper's "highly-valued and affectionate relative"
Martin Madan. The fact, then, that the MS. gives Cowper's verses as

" Addressed to Miss ," when taken in connection with the fact that

the poem to which he replies is headed in the Annual Register for 1702

" A^Prayer for Indifference. By Mrs. G ," would seem conclusive

against the theory that Cowper was addressing its authoress. But this
Charles Cowper endeavours to meet by arguing that Cowper either saw
the poem before it was printed and while its authoress was Miss Macartney,
or that his verses, though addressed as verses to Mrs. Greville, were sent
as a letter or present to a young lady to whom he was writing, and so
came to be inscribed by mistake to her. But both these are pure assump-
tions, so far as I know.

Perhaps, however, the conclusion of the whole matter is best given in
a remark he makes in the course of his argument : " however the thing in
question seems scarcely worth half the thoughts wasted upon it."

Johnson, who has been generally followed, placed inverted commas
before the stanza which begins " Oh ! if my Sovereign author" and after
the end of the next stanza, and, again, before the stanza beginning "Still
may my melting bosom " and after the end of the next : but it seems best
to omit them. If any stanza is part of the prayer, it must surely be that
which includes the line " Oh grant kind Heaven to me " ; and, on the
whole, the probability seems to be that Cowper did not distinguish clearly
between the prayer and the rest of the poem.

P. 27, 1. 30. Croft, " which fly." Southey corrected to " thick fly,"
and has been followed by all editors.

P. 29, 1. 15. Lines written under the Influence of Delirium : These
terrible Sapphics were written in the interval between his attempt at suicide
in the Temple, and his removal to St. Albans. (Southey i. 141.) Southey
says lines 15 and 19 ("if vanquished" and "fed with judgment") are
" evidently corrupt." But there seems no sufficient reason for thinking so.
" Vanquished " refers to the struggle with spiritual enemies in which he
conceived himself to be involved, and "fed with judgment" is no very
obscure metaphor; It may possibly allude to the fact that during these
attacks he loathed food, as he says in the fourth stanza of the poem which
follows ; his life, he seems to say, was death, and his food judgment.

The verses were first printed in 1822, in the Autobiographical Memoir,
in which Cowper relates his illness and recovery.

P. 30. This song appears now for the first time in a Collected Edition
of Cowper. It has, however, been previously printed, in an article by Mrs.
D'Arcy Collyer in the Universal Review for June, 1890, and in Mr. Thomas
Wright's Unpublished and Uncollected Poems of William Cowper. Mr.
Wright heads it, correctly in all probability, but, so far as I know, without
authority, " written at St. Albans in 17G4 after the poet's recovery." I


have printed it from the original MS. in Cowper's hand, kindly lent to
me by the owner, my friend Mr. E. P. Ash. It will be observed by those
who compare the text here given with Mr. Wright's that the alternative
refrain occurs after every stanza, and is not omitted twice as it is in his
book. I have also thought right to follow the poet in a small detail,
though it is probably due only to carelessness. He writes "the grace that
I have found " in the last line of the first stanza, but in the fifth and the
eleventh, the only other cases in which he writes the refrain in full, he
has substituted "which" for "that."

P. 32. Die ultimo, 1774 : Mr. Thomas Wright, who prints these lines
in his Unpublished and Uncollected Poems of William Cowper, says that the
original was written on the same sheet of paper as the English Sapphics
" Hatred and Vengeance." If this be so it would tend to connect them
with the poet's attack of insanity, during which the English lines were
written. But in the 1835 edition of what is called the Autobiography of
Cowper, where the Alcaics were first printed, the date " die ultimo, 1774," is
added, and they are expressly said to be printed from a MS. And the
Welborne copy, from which I have printed them, which is in John
Johnson's handwriting, gives at the foot the same date : and, at the top,
Johnson has written : " The following verses were found in the handwriting
of Cowper by Sam Roberts in an old paper book where he used to keep
his accounts. They were sent to me by Mr. Courtenay, March 8, 1810."
On the whole this must be held conclusive. Sam Roberts (the poet's
servant) remained in Weston after Cowper's departure, and Mr. Courtenay
was Cowper's friend, who lived at Weston Hall.

The point has some interest : because, if the earlier date were correct,
the reference in the second stanza would necessarily be to Theodora
Cowper, while the date 1774 allows the possibility of an allusion to the
abandoned marriage with Mrs. Unwin. On the whole, I think the poet is
going back in memory to his first love, the only love he ever spoke of with
passion, and the only one whose loss is naturally connected, as he here
connects it, with the loss of his early home and friends. At the end of
1774 he was still under the shadow of the depression which began in
January, 1773, and only began to lift in May, 1774. No letters exist
between November, 1772, and May, 1776. Probably when the gloomy
spirit was on him, during these years, he could remember no hope of
happiness since the catastrophe of 1763 and could believe in no love but
Theodora's. I am unable to give any authority for " vescor " in the sense
in which Cowper plainly uses it, i.e., " I live."

P. 33. For the Oluey Hymns, see Introduction, p. xxxiii. Cowper's
Hymns are in the original edition distinguished from Newton's by having
a C affixed to them.

The original title page of the book, perhaps the most extreme instance
on record of the eighteenth-century passion for Virgilian quotations in and
out of season, is as follows :


" Olney Hymns, in three Books.
Book I. On Select Texts of Scripture.
II. On occasional Subjects.
HI. On the Progress and Changes of the Spiritual Life.

Cantabitis, Arcades, inquit,
Montibus haec vestris ; soli cantare periti
Arcades. O mihi turn quant molliter ossa quiescant,
Vestra meos olim si fistula dicat amores !

Virgil, Eel. x. 31.

And they sang as it were a new song before the throne; and no man
could learn that song but tJte redeemed from the earth.

Rev. xiv. 3.
As sorrowful yet always rejoicing.

2 Cor. vi. 10.

London. Printed and Sold by W. Oliver, No. 12 Bartholomew Close. Sold
also by J. Buckland, No. 57 Paternoster Row ; and J. Johnson, No. 72
St. PauFs Churchyard. MDCCLXXIX."

P. 50. Hymn XXVI. This beautiful hymn was written on the occasion
of the first prayer-meeting held at a house in Olney called the Great
House. In the letter of November 30, 1793 to John Johnson printed for
the first time in the appendix to the Introduction, Cowper says that
writing on a " Sabbath " morning makes him go back to the time when
" on Sabbath mornings in winter I|rose before day, and by the light of a
lanthorn trudged with Mrs. Unwin, often through snow and rain, to
a prayer meeting at the Great House, as they call it, near the church at
Olney. There I always found assembled forty or fifty poor folks, who
preferred a glimpse of the light of God's countenance and favour to the
comforts of a warm bed," etc.

P. 51, 1. 12. "And bring all heaven before our eyes." From Milton's
II Penseroso, line 166. Milton influenced Cowper more than any other
poet, but it is curious to find a line borrowed from him occurring in this
very un-Miltonic Hymn.

P. 54, 1. 8. In the MS. of this Hymn in the Ash Collection, this line
is written "Should soon be made his own." The original edition of
Olney Hymns gives " would," and it has seemed safer to follow this
for the reasons given in the note on Hymn LIII.

P. 66. Hymn XXXV. Greatheed (Memoirs of Cowper, 32) says that
Cowper "conceived some presentiment" of the attack of 1773 "as it drew
near, and during a solitary walk in the fields composed that Hymn of the
Olney collection beginning ' God moves in a mysterious way.' "

See also Rev. J. Bull's article in The Sunday at Home for 180G,
p. 392, one of a series which give much interesting information about
Cowper and Newton.

P. 64. Hymn XLVII. According to Mr. Wright (Life of Cowper,
120), this hymn was written when Cowper was leaving the St Albans


Asylum in 1705, and is a reflection of his decision to spend the rest of his
life in retirement in the country.

P. 69. Hymn LIII. Among the Ash MSS. is one of this Hymn. It
reads, in line 3, "an angel of the Lord " ; in line 13, " Delights far richer";
in line 17, " your troubles bring " ; in line 19, " Supply is sure while he is

This is evidently not a series of cases in which the text has been mis-
printed, but an alternative version, and it may be assumed that the one
Newton printed is Cowper's final choice.

Benham's "as he said " in line 11 must be a misprint.

P. 74. Hymn LXI. This Hymn also occurs among the Ash MSS. In
the last line of the third stanza the MS. reads " Oh where's the Gospel's
seal ? " For the rest, it agrees with the printed text.

P. 79. Anti-Thelyphthora : For this poem see Introduction, p. xxxv.
Madan's book, against which it is directed, was called Thelyphthora (corrup-
tion of women), his idea being that the polygamy he advocated would
prevent prostitution. Among the Welborne MSS. is the copy of a letter
to Newton, dated December 21. 80. This copy includes an unpublished
passage as follows :

"If Anti (i.e., Anti-Thelyphthora) should live through a second impres-
sion, I have four lines by me that I think might be added with some advan-
tage, though I have never taken the trouble to mark the place where they
might be inserted. That, however, might be easily found. Having given
one hero a spear, I would give the other a shield as thus :
' His shield with Hebrew lore was scribbled round
But, snatching it impatient from the ground
And slinging it reversed upon his arm,
He changed it to a Cabbalistic charm.' "

As Cowper did not himself decide how these lines were to be inserted
in the poem, it is clearly best for his editors not to do so.

Anti-Thelyphthora was published anonymously. The original title-page
is as follows :

"Anti-Thelyphthora. A tale in Verse.

Ah miser
Quanta laborabas in Charybdi.

Hor. Lib. i. Ode 27.
London: Printed for J. Johnson, 1781."

Martin Madan (1726-1790), whose mother was Judith Cowper, sister of
the poet's father, was " converted " by hearing Wesley preach, took orders,
and became a celebrated preacher at the Lock Hospital. Part of the modern
forms of the hymns " Lo He comes " and " Hark the herald angels sing "
were written by him. His private character was excellent, but the scandal
caused by the publication of his book Thelyphthora, which advocated

Online LibraryWilliam CowperThe poems of William Cowper → online text (page 58 of 65)