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I will endeavour that my next letter shall not
follow this so tardily as this has followed the last ;
and, with our joint affectionate remembrances to
yourself and Mrs. Newton, remain as ever,
Sincerely yours,

W. C.


Weston, Dec. 18, 1789.
My dear Friend — The present appears to me a
wonderful period in the history of mankind. That
nations so long contentedly slaves should on a sudden
become enamoured of liberty, and understand as
suddenly their own natural right to it, feeling them-
selves at the same time inspired with resolution to
assert it, seems difficult to account for from natural
causes. With respect to the final issue of all this,
I can only say that if, having discovered the value
of liberty, they should next discover the value of
peace, and lastly the value of the word of God, they
will be happier than they ever were since the rebel-
lion of the first pair, and as happy as it is possible
they should be in the present life.

Most sincerely yours,

w. c.


The French Revolution, to which we have now
been led by the correspondence of Cowper, whe-
ther we consider its immediate or ultimate conse-
• quences, was one of the most extraordinary events
recorded in the history of modern Europe. It
fixed the contemplation of the politician, the phi-
losopher, and the moralist. By the first, it was
viewed according to the political bias which marks
the two great divisions of party established in this
country. Mr. Fox designated it as one of the
noblest fabrics ever erected by human liberty for
the happiness of mankind. Mr. Burke asserted
that it was a system of demolition, and not of
reparation. The French Revolution might pos-
sibly have merited the eulogium of Mr. Fox, if its
promoters had known when to pause, or how to
regulate its progress. But unhappily the spirit of
democracy was let loosed and those who first en-
gaged in the work (influenced no doubt by the
purest motives) were obliged to give way to men
of more turbulent passions ; demagogues, who were
willing to go all lengths ; who had nothing to lose
and every thing to gain ; and in whose eyes mode-
ration was a crime, and the fear of spoliation and
carnage an act of ignoble timidit3% Contending fac-
tions succeeded each other like the waves of the
sea, and were borne along with the same irresistible
power, till their fury was spent and exhausted.

The sequel is well known. Property was confis-
cated. Whatever was venerable in virtue, splendid
in rank, or sacred in religion, became the object of
popular violence. The throne and the altar were


overturned ; and an amiable and inoffensive monarch,
whose only crime was the title that he sustained, was
led in triumph to the scaffold, amidst the acclama-
tions of his people ; and, as if to make death more
terrible, the place selected for his execution was in
view of the very palace which had been the scene
of his former greatness.*

The features which distinguish the Revolution in
France from that of England in 1688 are thus
finely drawn by Mr. Burke.

" In truth, the circumstances of our Revolution
(as it is called) and that of France are just the re-
verse of each other in almost every particular, and
in the whole spirit of the transaction. With us it
was the case of a legal monarch attempting arbi-
trary power. In France it is the case of an arbi-
trary monarch, beginning, from whatever cause, to
legalize his authority. The one was to be resisted,
the other was to be managed and directed ; but in
neither case was the order of the state to be
changed, lest government might be ruined, which
ought only to be corrected and legalized.

" What we did was, in truth and substance, and in a
constitutional light, a revolution, not made, but pre-
vented. We took solid securities; we settled doubt-
ful questions; we corrected anomalies in our law.
In the stable, fundamental parts of our constitution

* Hajc finis Priami fatorum; hie exitus ilium

Sorte tulit, Trojam incensam et prolapsa videntem
Pergama; tot quondam populis, terrisque, superbum
Regnatorem Asi^e. Jacet ingens littore truncus,
Avulsumque liumeris caput, et sine nomine corpus.


we made no revolution; no, nor any alteration at
all. We did not impair the monarchy.

" The nation kept the same ranks, the same
orders, the same privileges, the same franchises,
the same rules for property, the same subordina-
tions, the same order in the law, in the revenue,
and in the magistracy; the same lords, the same
commons, the same corporations, the same electors." *

That we should have been so graciously pre-
served in such a period of political convulsions, will
ever demand our gratitude and praise. We owe it
not to our arms, or to our councils, but to the good-
ness and mercy of God. We heard the loud echo
of the thunder, and the bowlings of the storm. We
even felt some portion of the heavings of the earth-
quake ; but we were spared from falling into the
abyss ; we survived the ruin and desolation. We
trust we shall still be preserved, by the same super-
intending Providence, and that we may say in the
language of Burke, —

" We are not the converts of Rousseau; we are
not the disciples of Voltaire; Helvetius has made
no progress amongst us. Atheists are not our
preachers ; madmen are not our lawgivers."

But, if history be philosophy teaching by ex-
ample, what we may ask were the political and
moral causes of that extraordinary convulsion in
France, of which we are speaking? They are to
be traced to that spirit of ambition and conquest,
which, however splendid in military prowess, ultimate-
ly exhausted the resources of the state, and oppressed
* Burke's Reflections on tlie Revolution in France.


the people with imposts and taxation. They are to
be found in the system of peculation and extrava-
gance that pervaded every department of the
government; in the profligacy of the court; in the
luxurious pomp and pride of the noblesse ; and in
the universal corruption that infected the whole
mass of society. To the above may be added the
zeal with which infidel principles were propagated,
and the systematic attempts to undermine the whole
fabric of civil society, through the agency of the
press. The press became impious toward God,
and disloyal toward kings; and unfortunately the
Church and the State, being enfeebled by corrup-
tion, opposed an ineffectual resistance. Religion
had lost its hold on the public mind. Men were
required to believe too much, and believed nothing.
The consequences were inevitable. When men
have once cast off the fear of God, it is an easy
transition to forget reverence to the authority of
kings, and obedience to the majesty of law. It is
curious to observe how the effects of this antisocial
conspiracy were distinctly foreseen and predicted.
" / hold it impossible, said Rousseau, " that the
great monarchies of Europe can subsist much
longer.'' " The high may be reduced low, and the
rich become poor, and even the monarch dwindle
into a szibject."* The train was laid, the match
alone was wanting, to produce the explosion.

The occasion was at length presented. The im-

* In his " Eniile." The memorable remark of Madame de
Pompadour will not soon be forgotten; " Apres nous le De-
iucfp," " After us, tlie Deluge."


mediate cause of the French Revohitlon must be
sought in the plains of America. When Great
Britain was involved with her American colonies,
France ungraciously interposed in the quarrel. She
paid the price of her interference, in a manner that
she little anticipated. The Marquis de la Fayette
there first acquired his ardour for the cause of liberty ;
and, crossing the Atlantic, carried back with him
the spirit into France, and in a short time lighted
up a flame, which has since spread so great a con-

But whence sprung the Revolution m America?

To solve this momentous question, we must over-
look the more immediate causes, and extend our
inquiry to the political and religious discussions of
the times of James I. and Charles I. and II. It is
in that unfortunate period of polemical controversy
and excitement, that the foundation of events was
laid which have not even yet spent their strength ;
a^d that the philosophical inquirer, whose sole
object is the attainment of truth, will find it.

The Puritans proposed to carry forth the principle
of the Reformation to a still further extent. The
proposition was rejected, their views were impugned,
and the freedom of religious' inquiry was impeded
by vexatious obstructions. They found no asylum at
home; they sought it abroad, and on the American
continent planted the standard of civil and religious
liberty. The times of Charles I. followed. There
was the same spirit, and the same results. The
Star Chamber and the High Commission Court
supplied new victims to swell the tide of angry


feeling beyond the Atlantic. It was persecution
that first peopled America. Time alone was want-
ing to mature the fruits. The reign of Charles II.
completed the eventful crisis. The Act of Uniformity
excluded, in one day, two thousand ministers,
(many of whom were distinguished for profound
piety and learning) from the bosom of the Church
of England ; and thus, by the acts of three succes-
sive reigns, the spirit of independence was estab-
lished in America, and dissent in England, from
which such mighty results have since followed.

We have indulged in these remarks, because we
wish to show the tendency of that high feeling,
which originating, as we sincerely believe, in a
cordial attachment to our Church, endangers, by
mistaking the means, the stability of the edifice
which it seeks to support. We think this feeling,
though abated in its intenseness, still exists ; and,
cast as we now are into perilous times, when
Churches and States are undergoing a most scruti-
nizing inquiry, we are deeply solicitous that the
past should operate as a beacon for the future. If
the Church of England is to be preserved as a com-
ponent part of our institutions, and in its ascend-
ancy over the public mind, the members of that
Church must not too incautiously resist the spirit
of the age, but seek to guide what they cannot
arrest. Let the value and necessity of an Esta-
blished Church be recognized by the evidence of
its usefulness ; let the pure doctrines of the
Gospel be proclaimed in our pulpits; and a noble
ardour and co-operation be manifested in the pro-



sperity of our great Institutions, — our Bible, Mis-
sionary, and Jewish societies. She will then attract
the favour, the love, and the veneration of the poor,
and diffuse a holy and purifying influence among
all classes in the community. Her priests will thus be
clothed with righteousness, and her saints shout for
joy. To her worshippers we may then exclaim,
with humble confidence and joy, " Walk about
Zion, and go round about her; tell the towers
thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her
palaces, that ye may tell it to the generation fol-
lowing. For this God is our God for ever and
ever; he will be our guide even unto death." *

We now resume the Correspondence of Cowper.


The Lodge, Jan. 3, 1790.

My dear Sir — I have been long silent, but you
have had the charit)^ I hope and believe, not to
ascribe my silence to a wrong cause. The truth is,
I have been too busy to write to any body, having
been obliged to give my early mornings to the re-
visal and correction of a little volume of Hymns for
Children, written by I know not whom. This task
I finished but yesterday, and while it was in hand
wrote only to my Cousin, and to her rarely. From
her, however, 1 knew that you would hear of my

* Psiilm xlv 12—14.


well being, which made me less anxious about my
debts to you than I could have been otherwise.

I am almost the only person at Weston known to
you who have enjoyed tolerable health this winter.
In your next letter give us some account of your
own state of health, for I have had many anxieties
about you. The winter has been mild; but our
winters are in general such, that, when a friend
leaves us in the beginning of that season, I always
feel in my heart a perhaps, importing that we have
possibly met for the last time, and that the robins
may whistle on the grave of one of us before the
leturn of summer.

I am still thrumming Homer's lyre ; that is to
say, I am still employed in my last revisal ; and, to
give you some idea of the intenseness of my toils, I
will inform you that it cost me all the morning
yesterday, and all the evening, to translate a single
simile to my mind. The transitions from one mem-
ber of the subject to another, though easy and natural
in the Greek, turn out often so intolerably awkward
in an English version, that almost endless labour
and no little address are requisite to give them
grace and elegance. I forget if I told you that your
German Clavis has been of considerable use to me.
I am indebted to it for a right understanding of the
manner in which Achilles prepared pork, mutton,
and goat's flesh, for the entertainment of his friends,
fn the night when they came deputed by Agamem-
non to negociate a reconciliation. A passage of
which nobody in the world is perfectly master, my-
self only, and Slaukenbergius excepted, nor ever
was, except when Greek was a live language.


I do not know whether my Cousin has told you
or not how I brag in my letters to her concerning
my Translation; perhaps her modesty feels more
for me than mine for myself, and she would blush
to let even you know the degree of my self-conceit
on that subject. I will tell you, however, expressing
myself as decently as my vanity will permit, that it
has undergone such a change for the better in this
last revisal, that I have much warmer hopes of suc-
cess than formerly


w. c.


The Lodge, Jan. 4, 1790.
My dear Madam — Your long silence has occa-
sioned me to have a thousand anxious thoughts about
you. So long it has been, that, whether I now
write to a Mrs. King at present on earth, or already
in heaven, I know not. I have friends whose silence
troubles me less, though I have known them longer ;
because, if I hear not from themselves, I yet hear
from others that they are still living, and likely to
live. But if your letters cease to bring me news of
your welfare, from whom can I gain the desirable
intelligence ? The birds of the air will not bring it,
and third person there is none between us by whom
it might be conveyed. Nothing is plain to me on
this subject, but that either you are dead, or very
much indisposed ; or, which would affect me with
perhaps as deep a concern, though of a different
* Private Correspondence,


kind, very much offended. The latter of these
suppositions I think the least probable, conscious as
I am of an habitual desire to offend nobody, espe-
cially a lady, and especially a lady to whom I have
many obligations. But all the three solutions above
mentioned are very uncomfortable ; and if you live,
and can send me one that will cause me less pain
than either of them, I conjure you, by the charity
and benevolence which I know influence you upon
all occasions, to communicate it without delay.

It is possible, notwithstanding appearances to the
contrary, that you are not become perfectly indif-
ferent to me, and to what concerns me. I will
therefore add a word or two on a subject which
once interested you, and which is, for that reason,
worthy to be mentioned, though truly for no other —
meaning myself. I am well, and have been so,
(uneasiness on your account excepted,) both in"
mind and body, ever since I wrote to you last. I
have still the same employment. Homer in the
morning, and Homer in the evening, as constant as
the day goes round. In the spring I hope to send
the Iliad and Odyssey to the press. So much for
me and my occupations. Poor Mrs. Unwin has
hitherto had but an unpleasant winter ; unpleasant
as constant pain, either in the head or side, could
make it. She joins me in affectionate compliments
to yourself and Mr. King, and in earnest wishes that
you will soon favour me with a line that shall re-
lieve me from all my perplexities,

I am, dear INIadam,

Sincerely yours,

w. c.



The Lodge, Jan. 18, 1790.

My dear Madam — The sincerest thanks attend
you, both from Mrs. Unvvin and myself, for many
good things, on some of which I have ah-eady re-
galed with an affectionate remembrance of the giver.

The report that informed you of inquiries made
by Mrs. LInwin after a house at Huntingdon was un-
founded. We have no thought of quitting Weston,
unless the same Providence that led us hither should
lead us away. It is a situation perfectly agreeable
to us both ; and to me in particular, who write
much and walk much, and consequently love silence
and retirement, one of the most eligible. If it has
a fault, it is that it seems to threaten us with a
certainty of never seeing you. But may we not
hope that, when a milder season shall have improved
your health, we may yet, notwithstanding the dis-
tance, be favoured with Mr. King's and your com-
pany ? A better season will likewise improve the
roads, and, exactly in proportion as it does so, will,
in effect, lessen the interval between us. I know
not if Mr. Martyn be a mathematician, but most
probably he is a good one, and he can tell you that
this is a proposition mathematically true, though
rather paradoxical in appearance.

I am obliged to that gentleman, and much obliged
to him for his favourable opinion of my translation.
What parts of Homer are particularly intended by

* Private Correspondence.


the critics as those in which I shall probably fall
short, I know not ; but let me fail where I may, I
shall fail no where through want of endeavours to
avoid it. The under parts of the poems (those I
mean which are merely narrative) I find the most
difficult. These can only be supported by the dic-
tion, and on these, for that reason, I have bestowed
the most abundant labour. Fine similes and fine
speeches take care of themselves ; but the exact
process of slaying a sheep, and dressing it, it is not
so easy to dignify in our language, and in our mea-
sure. But I shall have the comfort, as I said, to
reflect, that, whatever may be hereafter laid to my
charge, the sin of idleness will not. Justly, at least,
it never will. In the mean time, my dear madam,
I whisper to you a secret ; — not to fall short of the
original in every thing is impossible.

I send you, I believe, all my pieces that you have
never seen. Did I not send you " Catharina ? " If
not, you shall have it hereafter. I am, dear madam,
ever, ever in haste.

Sincerely yours,

w. c.

We are here first introduced to the notice of the
Rev. John Johnson, the cousin of Cowper, by the
maternal line of the Donnes. The poet often used
familiarly to call him " Johnny of Norfolk." His
name will frequently appear in the course of the
ensuing Correspondence. It is to his watchful and
affectionate care that the poet was indebted for all
the solace that the most disinterested regard, and


highly conscientious sense of duty, could administer,
under circumstances the most afflicting. Nor did
he ever leave his beloved bard, till he had closed
his eyes in death, and paid the last sad offices, due
to departed w^orth and genius. His acquaintance
with Cowper commenced about this time, by a
voluntary introduction, on his own part. He has
recorded the particulars of this first interview and
visit in a poem, entitled " Recollections of Cowper."
We trust that his estimable widow may see fit to
communicate it to the public, who we have no
doubt will feel a lively interest in a subject, issuing
from the kinsman of Cowper.


The Lodge, Jan. 22, 1790.
My dear Coz. — I had a letter yesterday from the
wild boy Johnson, for whom I have conceived a
great affection. It was just such a letter as I like,
of the true helter-skelter kind; and, though he
writes a remarkably good hand, scribbled with such
rapidity that it was barely legible. He gave me a
droll account of the adventures of Lord Howard's
note, and of his own in pursuit of it. The poem
he brought me came as from Lord Howard, with
his Lordship's request that I would revise it. It is
in the form of a pastoral, and is entitled " The
Tale of the Lute, or the Beauties of Audley End."
I read it attentively, was much pleased with part
of it, and part of it I equally disliked. I told him
so, and in such terms as one naturally uses when

L 2


there seems to be no occasion to qualify or to alle-
viate censure. I observed him afterwards some-
what more thoughtful and silent, but occasionally
as pleasant as usual ; and in Kilwick-wood, where
we walked the next day, the truth came out —
that he was himself the author, and that Lord
Howard not approving it altogether, and several
friends of his own age, to whom he had shown it,
differing from his Lordship in opinion, and being
highly pleased with it, he had come at last to a
resolution to abide by my judgment; a measure to
which Lord Howard by all means advised him. He
accordingly brought it, and will bring it again in
the summer, when we shall lay our heads together
and try to mend it.

I have lately had a letter also from Mrs. King,
to whom I had written to inquire whether she
were living or dead : she tells me the critics expect
from my Homer every thing in some parts, and
that in others I shall fall short. These are the
Cambridge critics ; and she has her intelligence
from the botanical professor, Martyn. That gen-
tleman in reply answers them, that I shall fall short
in nothing, but shall disappoint them all. It shall
be my endeavour to do so, and I am not without
hope of succeeding.

W. C.



The Lodge, Feb. 2, 1790.
My dear Friend — Should Heyne's* Homer ap-
pear before mine, which I hope is not probable, and
should he adopt in it the opinion of Bentley, that
the whole of the last Odyssey is spurious, I will
dare to contradict both him and the Doctor. I am
only in part of Bentley's mind (if indeed his mind
were such) in this matter, and, giant as he was in
learning, and eagle-eyed in criticism, am per-
suaded, convinced, and sure (can I be more posi-
tive?) that, except from the moment when the
Ithacans began to meditate an attack on the cot-
tage of Laertes, and thence to the end, that book
is the work of Homer. From the moment afore-
said, I yield the point, or rather have never, since
1 had any skill in Homer, felt myself at all inclined
to dispute it. But I believe perfectly at the same
time that. Homer himself alone excepted, the
Greek poet never existed, who could have written
the speeches made by the shade of Agamemnon,
in which there is more insight into the human heart
discovered, than I ever saw in any other work, un-
less in Shakspeare's. I am equally disposed to
fight for the whole passage that describes Laertes,
and the interview between him and Ulysses. Let
Bentley grant these to Homer, and I will shake
hands with him as to all the rest. The battle with

• A German critic, distinguished by his classical erudition
and profound learning.


which the book concludes is, I think, a paltry bat-
tle, and there is a huddle in the management of it
altogether unworthy of my favourite, and the fa-
vourite of all ages.

If you should happen to fall into company with
Dr. Warton f again, you will not, I dare say, forget
to make him my respectful compliments, and to
assure him that I felt myself not a little flattered
by the favourable mention he was pleased to make
of me and my labours. The poet who pleases a
man like him has nothing left to wish for. I am
glad that you were pleased with my young cousin
Johnson; he is a boy, and bashful, but has great
merit in respect both of character and intel-
lect. So far at least as in a week's knowledge of
him I could possibly learn, he is very amiable and
very sensible, and inspired me with a warm wish to
know him better.

W. C.


The Lodge, Feb. 5, 1790.
My dear Friend — Your kind letter deserved a
speedier answer, but you know my excuse, which

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Online LibraryWilliam CowperThe life and works of William Cowper (Volume 4) → online text (page 10 of 23)