William Cowper.

The correspondence of William Cowper, arranged in chronological order, with annotations online

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At least we are much misinformed if the foregoing
tale be not so. Bright Andrew's son is employed as
church-carpenter instead of Mr. Raban, and another
man has been employed to make sixteen coffins,
though if Mr. Raban had not sold him the boards^
he could not have found materials to make them
with. Besides all this, we have heard a rumour
which at present is so confused and full of obscurity
as not to be quite intelligible, that a storm is
gathering from the Dartmouth quarter, which
threatens both Mr. Robinson and Mr. Raban. It
is said to have been raised by Maurice Smith, whose
quarrel with Mr. Raban is that Mr. Page cannot
preach to please him. It is certain that the said
churchwarden Smith and Tolson the exciseman did

^ Curate, Rev. B. Page ; churchwarden, Maurice Smith ; exciseman,
Mr. Tolson.

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lately repair to the house of Mr. Raban, and there
expostulate with him in very angry and unhandsome
terms upon that subject, which, being equal in zeal
and knowledge, they were well qualified to do. Mr.
Sample, who happened to be there, was Mr. Raban's
second, and had the courage to address himself to
Mr. Smith in these terms : ' 1 11 tell you what, Mr.
Smith, I do really think you are a very meddlesome
fellow I ' What further passed on the occasion we
have not heard, nor perhaps would it be worth
relating, only as it serves as a specimen of that
disorder and confusion into which everything has
been thrown in this parish by Mr. Browne's two
unhappy appointments.


Sept S, 1780.

My dear Friend, — I am glad you are so provi-
dent, and that, while you are yet young, you have
furnished yourself with the means of comfort in old
age. Your crutch and your pipe may be of use to
you (and may they be so) should your years be
extended to an antediluvian date; and for your
present accommodation, you seem to want nothing
but a clerk called Snuffle, and a sexton of the name
of Skeleton, to make your ministerial equipage com-

I think I have read as much of the first volume of
the Biographia ^ as I shall ever read. I find it very
amusing ; more so perhaps than it would have been

\had they sifted their characters with more exactness^


4 Biographia Britanniea of Dr. Andrew Kippig. Only five folio roll,
wer^ finished (1778-93).

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i78o] TO THE REV. W. UN WIN 288

and admitted none but those who had in some way
or other entitled themselves to immortality, by
•deserving well of the public. Such a compilation
would perhaps have been more judicious, though I
confess it would have afforded less variety. The
priests and the monks of earlier, and the doctors of
later days, who have signalised themselves by nothing
but a controversial pamphlet, long since thrown by,
and never to be perused again, might have been
forgotten, without injury or loss to the national
character for learning or genius. This observation
suggested to me the following lines, which may
serve to illustrate my meaning, and at the same
time to give my criticism a sprightlier air : —

Oh fond attempt, to give a deathless lot

To names ignoble, bom to be foigot !

In vain, recorded in historic page.

They court the notice of a future age ;

Those twinkling, tiny lustres of the land

Drop one by one, from Fame's neglecting hand ;

Lethean gulfs receive them as they fall.

And dark oblivion soon absorbs them all.

So when a child (as playful children use)

Has burnt to cinder a stale last year's news.

The flame extinct, he views the roving fire.

There goes my lady, and there goes the squire,

There goes the parson — O illustrious spark !

And there — scarce less illustrious — goes the clerki - - .

Virgil admits none but worthies into the Elysian
Fields; I cannot recollect the lines in which he
•describes them all, but these in particular I well
remember : —

' Quique sui memores alios fec6re merendo,
Inventas aut qui vitam ezcolu^re per artes.'

A chaste and scrupulous conduct like his would

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well become the writer of national biography. But
enough of this. I am called upon by a different
subject Mr. Cawthome writes word that there is a
small piece of land belonging to the estate in Ely,
so bad that it will never pay the expense of draining.
He advises your mother therefore to have it sold,
which with your consent she is willing to do, and to
remit you half the price of it.

Our respects attend Miss Shuttleworth, with many
thanks for her intended present. Some purses derive
all their value from their contents, but these will
have an intrinsic value of their own; and though
mine should be often empty, which is not an
improbable supposition, I shall still esteem it highly
on its own account.

I must answer your questions about plums and
pears in my next. Our joint love and affectionate
remembrances attend all the family. — Yours,

W. C.

(P.S. — If you could meet with a second-hand VirgiU
ditto Homer, both lUad and Odyssey, together with
a Clavis, for I have no Leancon, and all tolerably
cheap, I shall be obliged to you if you will make the


Sept. 7, 1780.

My dear Friend, — As many gentlemen as there
are in the world who have children, and heads cap-
able of reflecting on the important subject of their
education, so many opinions there are about it;
many of them just and sensible, though almost all
differing from each other. With respect to the

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i78o] TO THE REV. W. UN WIN 285

education of boys, I think they are generally made
to draw in JLatin and Greek tra mmels too soon.
It is pleasing, no doubt, to a parent, to see his child
already in some sort a proficient in those languages,
at an age when most others are entirely ignorant
of them ; but hence it often happens, that a boy
who could construe a fable i^^sop at six or seven
years of age, having exhausted his little stock of
attention and diligence in making that notable
acquisition, grows weary of his task, conceives a
dislike for study, and perhaps makes but a very
indifferent progress afterwards. The mind and the
body have in this respect a striking resemblance of
each other. In childhood they are both nimble, but
not strong; they can skip and frisk about with
wonderful agility, but hard labour spoils them both.
In maturer years they become less active, but more
vigorous, more capable of a fixed application, and
can make themselves sport with that which a little
earlier would have affected them with intolerable
fatigue. I should recommend it to you therefore
(but, after all, you must judge for yourself) to allot
the two next years of little John's scholarship to writ-
ing jind arithmeJic,J»gether with which, for variety's
sake,ltnd because it is capable of being formed into an
amusement, I would mingle ^gefigrapJby* a science
(which, if not attended to betimes, is seldom made
an object of much consideration) essentially neces-
sary to the accomplishment of a gentleman, yet (as
I know by sad experience) imperfectly, if at all,
inculcated in the schools. Lord Spencer s son, when
he was four years of age, knew the situation of
every kingdom, country, city, river, and remarkable
mountain in the world. For this attainment, which

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I suppose his father had never made, he was indebted
to a plaything; having been accustomed to amuse
himself with those maps which are cut into several
compartments so as to be thrown into a heap of
confusion, that thev may be put together again with
an exact coincidence of all their angles and bearings,
so as to form a perfect whole.

If he begins Latin and Greek at eight, or even at
nine years of age, it is surely soon enough. Seven
years, the usual allowance for those acquisitions, are
more than sufficient for the purpose, especially with
his readiness in learning, for you would hardly wish
to have him qualified for the university before
fifteen, a period, in my mind, much too early for it,
and when he could hardly be trusted there without
the utmost danger to his morals. Upon the whole,
you will perceive that in my judgment the difficulty,
as well as the wisdom, consists more in bridling in,
and keeping back, a boy of his parts, than in pushing
him forward. If, therefore, at the end of the two
next years, instead of putting a grammar into his
hand, you should allow him to amuseliimself with
some agreeable writers upon the subject of natural
philosophy for another year, I think it woul d " answe r
weU. There is a book called Cosmotheoria Puerilis,
there are Derham's^ Physko-y and Astro-Theology^
together with several others, in the same manner,
very intelligible even to a child, and full of useful

Plums and pears in my next. — Your mother's
love and mine attend you alL Wm. Cowper.

1 William Derham (1667-1735), Divine Author of PkyncfhTheohgy, or
a DenunutroHon qf the Being and Attributes qf God from hie Worke qf
Creation (1713), and AHro-Theology, or a DemtmetratUm qf the Being and
AUrihutee qf God from a Survey of the Heavene (1715).

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i78o] TO THE REV. W. UN WIN 287


Sept. 17, 1780.

My dear Friend, — You desire my further
thoughts on the subject of education. I send you
such as had for the most part occurred to me when
I wrote last, but could not be comprised in a single
letter. They are indeed on a different branch of
this interesting theme, but not less important than
the former.

I think it your happiness, and wish you to think
it so yourself, that you are in every respect qualified
for the task of instructing your son, and preparing
him for the university, without committing him to
the care of a stranger. In my judgment, a domestic
education deserves the preference to a public one on
a himdr^d.a(^ounts, which I huve neither time nor
room to mention. I shall only touch upon two or
three that I cannot but consider as having a right to
your most earnest attention.

In a public school, or indeed in any school, his
morals are sure to be but little attended to, and his
religion not at all. If he can catch the love of
virtue from the fine things that are spoken of it in
;^tiie classics, and the love of holiness from a cus-^^^^
t oTuAiy aliondon ce upon such preaching as he is ^^
likely to hear, it will be well ; but I am sure you
have had too many opportunities to observe the
inefficacy of such means to expect any such advantage
from them. In the meantime, the more powerful
influence of bad example, and perhaps bad company,
will continually counterwork these only preservatives
he can meet with, and may possibly send him home
to you, at the end of five or six years, such as you

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will be sorry to see him. You escaped indeed the
contagion yourself; but a few instances of happy
exemption from a general malady are no sufficient
warrant to conclude that it is therefore not infectious,
or may be encountered without danger.

You have seen too much of the world, and are a
man of too much reflection, not to have observed
that in proportion as the sons of a family approach
to years of maturity, they lose a sense of obligation
to their parents, and seem at last almost divested of
that tender affection which the nearest of all relations
seems to demand from them. I have often observed
it myself, and have always thought I could suffi-
ciently account for it, without laying all the blame
upon the children. While they continue in their
parents' house, they are every day obliged, and
every day reminded how much it is their interest,
as well as duty, to be obliging and affectionate in
return. But at eight or nine years of age the boy
goes to school. From that moment he becomes a
stranger in his father's house. The course of
parental kindness is intercepted. The smiles of his
mother, the tender admonitions, and the solicitous
care of both his parents, are no longer before his
eyes; year after year he feels himself more and
more detached from them, till at last he is so
effectually weaned from the connection as to find
himself happier anywhere than in their company.

I should have been glad of a frank for this letter,
for I have said but little of what I could say upon
the subject, and perhaps I may not be able to catch
it by the end again. If I can, I shall add to it

The land in question consists of eighteen acres.

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1780] TO THE REV. W. UNWIN 289

is fit only to be digged up for turf. Your mother
thanks you for your readiness to join in the sale of
it, and will write to Mr. Cawthome to inquire
whether he thinks it will be worth while to dispose
of it, considering the expense of the title-deed.

The Breda is the best late apricot, and the
Empress or Imperatrice plum is that which your
mother principally recommends. It turns to a fine
dried sweetmeat upon the tree, but must not be
gathered sooner. — ^Yours, W. C.

I thank you for the offer to lend me the books I
mentioned, but borrowing will not serve my purpose.


Oct. 5, 1780.

My dear Friend, — Now for the sequel. You
have anticipated one of my arguments in favour
of a private education, therefore I need say but
little about it. The folly of supposing that the
mother-tc ngiip, in %irm^ respects the most difficult
of all tongues, may be acquired without a teacher,
is predominant in all the public schools that I have
ever heard of. To pronounce it well, to speak and
to isBTte^ttwith flu and elegance, are no easy

attainments; not one in fifty of those who pass
through Westminster and Eton, arrive at any re-
markable proficiency in these accomplishments;
and they that do are more indebted to their own
study and application for it, than to any instruction
received there. In general, there is nothing so
pedantic fls^thc style of a jjghoolboy, if he aims at
any style at all ; and if he does not; lie is of course
inelegant, and perhaps ungrammatical. A defect.

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no doubt, in great measure owing to the want of
cultivation ; for the same lad that is often com-
/mended for his Latin frequently would deserve to
ipe whipped for his English, if the fault were not
linore his master's than his own. I know not where
i^is evil is so likely to be prevented as at home, —
supposing always, nevertheless (which is the case
jin your instance), that the boy's parents, and their
iacquaintance, are persons of elegance and taste
themselves. For to converse with those who con-
verse with propriety, and to be directed to such
authors as have refined and improved the language
\hjy their productions, are advantages which he can-
not elsewhere enjoy in an equal degree. And
i^hough it requires some time to regulate the taste,
/and fix the judgment, and these efiects must be
^gradually wrought even upon the best understand-
ing, yet I suppose much less time will be necessary
for the purpose than could at first be imagined,
\because the opportunities of improvement are con-

J promised to say little on this topic, and I have
said so much, that if I had not a frank I must bum
my letter and begin again.

A public education is often recommended as the
most effectual remedy for that bashful and awkward
constraint, so epidemical among the youth of our
country. But I verily believe that instead of being
a cure, it is often the cause of it. For seven or
eight years of his life, the boy has hardly seen or
conversed with a man, or a woman, except the
maids at his boarding house. A gentleman or a
lady are consequently such novelties to him, that
he is perfectly at a loss to know what sort of

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i78o] TO THE REV. W. UNWIN 241

behaviour he should preserve before him. He
plays with his buttons, or the strings of his hat, he
blows his nose, and hangs down his head, is con-
scious of his own deficiency to a degree that makes
him quite unhappy, and trembles lest any one
should speak to him, because that would quite
overwhelm him. Is not all this miserable shyness
evidently the efiect of his education? To me it
appears to be so. If he saw good company every
day, he would never be terrified at the sight of it,
and a room full of ladies and gentlemen would
alarm him no more than the chairs they sit on.
Such is the e£fect of custom.

I need add nothing further on this subject, be-
cause I believe little John is as likely to be
exempted from this weakness as most young gentle-
men we shall meet with. He seems to have his
father's spirit in this respect, in whom I could never
discern tiie least trace of bashfulness, though I
have often heard him complain of it Under your
management, and the influence of your example,
I think he can hardly fail to escape it. If he does,
he escapes that which makes many a man uncom-
fortable for life; and has ruined not a few, by
forcing them into mean and dishonourable company,
where only they could be free and cheerful.

Connections formed at school are said to be last-
ing, and often beneficial. There are two or three
stories of this kind upon record, which would not
be so constantly cited as they are, whenever this
subject happens to be mentioned, if the chronicle
that preserves their remembrance had many besides
to boast of. For my own part, I found such friend-
ships, though warm enough in their commencement,


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surprisingly liable to extinction ; and of seven or
eight, whom I had selected for intimates out of
about three hundred, in ten years time not one was
left me. The truth is, that there may be, and often
is, an attachment of one boy to another, that looks
very like a friendship ; and while they are in circum-
stances that enable them mutually to oblige and
to assist each other, promises well, and bids fair to
be lasting. But they are no sooner separated from
each other, by entering into the world at large, than
other connections, and new employments, in which
they no longer share together, efface the remem-
brance of what passed in earlier days, and they
become strangers to each other for ever. Add to
this, that the man frequently differs so much from
the hoy — his principles, manners, temper, and con-
duct undergo so great an alteration — ^that we no
longer recognise in him our old pla3rfellow, but find
him utterly unworthy and unfit for the place he
once held in our affections.

To close this article, as I did the last, by applying
myself immediately to the present concern — Uttle
John is happily placed above all occasion for de-
pendence upon such precarious hopes, and need not
be sent to school in quest of some great man in
embryo, who may possibly make his fortune.

I have just left myself room to return Miss
Shuttleworth our very sincere thanks for our respec-
tive purses, and to assure her that we shall value as
we ought her obliging present, and wear them to
the last thread.

Your mother sends her love, and hopes you will
remember the franks. Mine with hers to all at
Stock. — Yours, my dear friend, W. C.

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1780] TO MRS. NEWTON 248


Oct. 5, 1780.

Dear Madam, — When a lady speaks it is not
civil to make her wait a week for an answer. — I
received your letter within this hour, and, foreseeing
that the garden will engross much of my time for
some days to come, have seized the present oppor-
tunity to acknowledge it I congratulate you on
Mr. Newton's safe arrival at Ramsgate, making no
doubt but that he reached the place without diffi-
culty or danger, the road thither from Canterbury
being so good as to afford room for neither. He
has now a view of the element, with which he was
once so &miliar, but which I think he has not seen
for many years. The sight of his old acquaintance
will revive in his mind a pleasing recollection of past
deliverances, and when he looks at him from the
beach, he may say — *You have formerly given me
trouble enough, but I have cast anchor now where
your billows can never reach me.' — It is happy for
him that he can say so.

Mrs. Unwin returns you many thanks for your
anxiety on her account. Her health is considerably
mended upon the whole, so as to afford us a hope
that it will be established.

Our love attends you. — ^Yours, dear madam,

W. C.


Nor. 9, 1780.

I WROTE the following last summer. The tragical
occasion of it really happened at the next house to
ours. I am glad when I can find a subject to work

^ For letter from Newton to Cowper (Sept. 30, l7B0)ieeBnll'» Letters hy the
Rev, John Newton, Newton signs himself ' Your most affectionate Achates. '

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upon ; a lapidary I suppose accounts it a laborious
part of his business to rub away the roughness of
the stone ; but it is my amusement, and if after all
the polishing I can give it, it discovers some little
lustre, I think myself well rewarded for my pains.


Time was, etc.

I shall charge you a hal^enny a-piece for every
copy I send you, the short as well as the long.
This is a sort of afterclap you little expected, but
I cannot possibly afford them at a cheaper rate. If
this method of raising money had occurred to me
sooner, I should have made the bargain sooner ; but
am glad I have hit upon it at last. It will be a
considerable encouragement to my muse, and act
as a powerful stimulus to my industry. If the
American war should last much longer, I may be
obliged to raise my price ; but this I shall not do
without a real occasion for it: — it depends much
upon Lord North's pretty conduct in the article of
supplies. If he imposes an additional tax on any
thing that I deal in, the necessity of this measure,
on my part, will be so apparent, that I dare say you
wiU not dispute it.

Your mother desires me to add her love to mine,
which waits on you all as usual. She is much
pleased with your desire to hear from her, but
having such an industrious secretary in me, she
thought it the less necessary. She will use her own
hand, however, when her nerves, which are seldom
well strung, and which this turbulent weather par-
ticularly discomposes, will pve her leave. — Yours,
my dear friend, Wm. Cowper.

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i78o] TO JOSEPH HILL 245


Probabbf Nov. or Dec. 1780.

My dear Friend, — I thank you much for your
letter, which, without obliging me to travel to War-
grave at a time of year when journeying is not very
agreeable, has introduced me in the most commo-
dious manner to a perfect acquaintance with your
neat little garden, your old cottage, and above all
with your most prudent and sagacious landlady. As
much as I admire her, I admire much more the
philosophical temper with which you seem to treat
her : for I know few characters more provoking, to
me at least, than the selfish, who are never honest ;
especially if while they determine to pick your
pocket, they have not ingenuity enough to conceal
their purpose. But you are perfectly in the right,
and act just as I would endeavour to do on the same
occasion. You sacrifice everything to a retreat you
admire ; and, if the natural indolence of my dispo-
sition did not forsake me, so would I.

You might as well apologise for sending me forty
pounds as for writing about yourself Of the two
ingredients I hardly know which made your letter
the most agreeable — (observe, I do not say the most
acceptable). The draft indeed was welcome; but
though it was so, yet it did not make me laugh. I
laughed heartily at the account you gave of yourself
and your landlady. Dame Saveall, whose picture
you have drawn, though not with a flattering hand,
yet I dare say with a strong resemblance. As to
you, I have never seen so much of you since I was
in London, where you and I so often have made
ourselves merry witii each other's humour, yet never

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gave each other a moment's pain by doing so. We
are both humourists, and it is well for your wife and
my Mrs. Unwin that they have alike found out the
way to deal with us.

More thanks to Mrs, Hill for her intentions. She
has the true enthusiasm of a gardener, and therefore,
I can pity her under her disappointment, having so
large a share of that commodity myself.

Online LibraryWilliam CowperThe correspondence of William Cowper, arranged in chronological order, with annotations → online text (page 17 of 34)