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were I to repeat always, my letters would resemble
the fag-end of a newspaper, where we always find
the price of stocks, detailed with little or no va-

t Author of ' Essay on the Genius of Pope, ' &c. &c.
• Priviite Correspondence.


When January returns, you have your feelings
concerning me, and such as prove the faithfuhiess
of your friendship.* I have mine also concerning
myself, but they are of a cast different from yours.
Yours have a mixture of sympathy and tender soli-
citude, M'hich makes them, perhaps, not altogether
unpleasant. Mine, on the contrary, are of an un-
mixed nature, and consist simply, and merely, of
the most alarming apprehensions. Twice has that
month returned upon me, accompanied by such
horrors as I have no reason to suppose ever made
part of the experience of any other man. I ac-
cordingly look forward to it, and meet it, with a
dread not to be imagined. I number the nights as
they pass, and in the mornirtg bless myself that
another night is gone, and no harm has hap-
pened. This may argue, perhaps, some imbecility
of mind, and no small degree of it ; but it is natural,
I believe, and so natural as to be necessary and
unavoidable. I know that God is not governed by
secondary causes, in any of his operations, and that,
on the contrary, they are all so many agents in his
hand, which strike only when he bids them. I
know consequently that one month is as dangerous
to me as another, and that, in the middle of summer,
.at noon-day, and in the clear sunshine, I am in re-
ality, unless guarded by him, as much exposed as
when fast asleep at midnight, and in mid-winter.
But we are not always the wiser for our knowledge,

* January was a season of the year, when the nervous de-
pression under which Cowper laboured was generally the
most severe.


and I can no more avail myself of mine, than if it
were in the head of another man, and not in my
own. I have heard of bodily aches and ails, that
have been particularly troublesome when the sea-
son returned in which the hurt that occasioned them
was received. The mind, I believe, (with my own,
however, I am sure it is so,) is liable to similar
periodical affection. But February is come, my
terror is passed, and some shades of the gloom that
attended his presence have passed with him. I
look forward with a little cheerfulness to the buds
and the leaves that will soon appear, and say to my-
self, till they turn yellow I will make myself easy.
The year will go round, and January will approach.
I shall tremble again, and I know it ; but in the
mean time I will be as comfortable as I can. Thus,
in respect to peace of mind, such as it is that I en-
joy, I subsist, as the poor are vulgarly said to do,
from hand to mouth ; and, of a Christian, such as
you once knew me, am, by a strange transforma-
tion, become an Epicurean philosopher, bearing
this motto on my mind, — Quid sit futwum eras, fuge

I have run on in a strain that the beginning of
your letter suggested to me, with such impetuosity,
that I have not left myself opportunity to write
more by the present post ; and, being unwilling that
you should wait longer for what will be worth no-
thing when you get it, will only express the great
pleasure we feel on hearing, as we did lately from
Mr. Bull, that Mrs. Newton is so much better.
Truly yours,




The Lodge, Feb. 9, 1790.

I have sent you lately scraps instead of letters,
having had occasion to answer immediately on the
receipt, which ahvays happens while I am deep in

I knew when I recommended Johnson to you,
that you would find some way to serve him, and
so it has happened ; for, notwithstanding your own
apprehensions to the contrary, you have already
procured him a chaplainship :* this is pretty well,
considering that it is an early day, and that you
have but just begun to know that there is such a
man under heaven. I had rather myself be pa-
tronised by a person of small interest, with a heart
like yours, than by the Chancellor himself, if he
did not care a farthing for me.

If I did not desire you to make my acknow-
ledgments to Anonymous, as I believe I did not, it
was because I am not aware that I am warranted
to do so. But the omission is of less consequence,
because, whoever he is, though he has no objection
to doing the kindest things, he seems to have an
aversion to the thanks they merit.

You must know that two odes composed by Ho-
race have been lately discovered at Rome; I
wanted them transcribed into the blank leaves of a
little Horace of mine, and Mrs. Throckmorton per-

* The poet's kinsman was made chaplain to Dr. Spencer
Madan, the Bishop of Peterborough.


formed that service for me ; in a blank leaf, there-
fore, of the same book, I wrote the following.


On her beautiful Transcript of Horace's Ode,


IVIaria, could Horace have guess'd

What honours awaited his ode.
To his own little volume address'd.

The honour which you have bestow'd ,
Who have trac'd it in characters here,

So elephant, even, and neat;
He had laugh'd at the critical sneer,

Which he seems to have trembled to meet.

And sneer, if you please, he had said,

Hereafter a nymph shall arise,
Who shall give me, when you are all dead.

The glory your malice denies,
Shall dignity give to my lay.

Although but a mere bagatelle;
And even a poet shall say,

Nothing ever was written so well.


The Lodge, Feb. 'J6, 1790.

You have set my heart at ease, my Cousin, so far
as you were yourself the object of its anxieties.
What other troubles it feels can be cured by God
alone. But you are never silent a week longer than
usual, without giving an opportunity to my imagi-
nation (ever fruitful in flowers of a sable hue) to


tease me with them day and night. London is
indeed a pestilent place, as you call it ; and I would,
with all my heart, that thou hadst less to do with it :
were you under the same roof with me, I should
know you to be safe, and should never distress you
with melancholy letters.

I feel myself well enough inclined to the measure
you propose, and will show to your new acquaint-
ance, with all my heart, a sample of my translation,
but it shall not be, if you please, taken from the
Odyssey. It is a poem of a gentler character than
the Iliad, and, as I propose to carry her by a coup de
main, I shall employ Achilles, Agamemnon, and the
two armies of Greece and Troy in my service. I
will accordingly send you in the box that I received
from you last night the two first books of the Iliad
for that lady's perusal ; to those I have given a third
revisal ; for them therefore I will be answerable,
and am not afraid to stake the credit of my work
upon the^n with her, or with any living wight, es-
pecially one who understands the original. 1 do not
mean that even they are finished, for I shall exa-
mine and cross-examine them yet again, and so you
may tell her, but 1 know that they will not disgrace
me ; whereas, it is so long since I have looked at
the Odyssey that I know nothing at all about it.
They shall set sail from Olney on Monday morning
in the diligence, and will reach you, I hope, in the
evening. As soon as she has done with them I shall
be glad to have them again, for the time draws near
when I shall want to give them the last touch.


I am delighted with Mrs. Bodham's * kindness in
giving me the only picture of my mother that is to
be fomid, I suppose, in all the world. I had rather
possess it than the richest jewel in the British crown,
for I loved her with an affection that her death,
fifty-two years since, has not in the least abated. I
remember her too, young as I was when she died,
well enough to know that it is a very exact resem-
blance of her, and as such it is to me invaluable.
Every body loved her, and, with an amiable cha-
racter so impressed upon all her features, every body
was sure to do so.

I have a very affectionate and a very clever letter
from Johnson, who promises me the transcript of
the books entrusted to him in a few days. I have
a great love for that young man ; he has some drops
of the same stream in his veins that once animated
the original of that dear picture.f

vv. c.


Weston, Feb. 27, 1790.
My dearest Rose j — Whom I thought withered

* Mrs. Bodham was a cousin of Cowper's, connected with
him by his maternal family, the Donnes.

t The manner in which Cowper speaks of his kinsman is
uniformly the same — kind, affectionate, endearing.

i Mrs. Bodham was always addressed by Cowper in this
playful and complimentary style, though ber Christian name
was Ann.


and fallen from the stalk, but whom I find still alive :
nothing could give me greater pleasure than to know-
it, and to learn it from yourself. I loved you dearly
when you were a child, and love you not a jot the
less for having ceased to be so. Every creature that
bears any affinity to my mother is dear to me, and
you, the daughter of her brother, are but one remove
distant from her : I love you therefore, and love you
much, both for her sake and for your own. The
world could not have furnished you with a present
so acceptable to me as the picture which you have
so kindly sent me. I received it the night before
last, and viewed it with a trepidation of nerves
and spirits somewhat akin to what I should have
felt, had the dear original presented herself to my
embraces. I kissed it, and hung it where it is the
last object that I see at night, and, of course, the
first on which I open my eyes in the morning. She
died when I had completed my sixth year, yet I re-
member her well, and am an ocular witness of the
great fidelity of the copy. I remember too a mul-
titude of the maternal tendernesses which I received
from her, and which have endeared her memory to
me beyond expression.* There is in me, I believe,

* No present could possibly have been more acceptable to
Cowper than the receipt of bis mother's picture. He com-
posed the beautiful verses, on this occasion, so tenderly de-
scriptive of the impression made on his youthful imagination
by the remembrance of her virtues. We extract the following

My mother! when I learn'd that thou wast dead,
Say, wast thou conscious of the tears I shed ?


more of the Donne than of the Cowper, and though
I love all of both names, and have a thousand rea-
sons to love those of my own name, yet I feel the
bond of nature draw me vehemently to your side.
I was thought, in the days of my childhood, much
to resemble my mother, and in my natural temper,
of which at the age of fifty-eight I must be sup-
posed a competent judge, can trace both her and
my late uncle, your father.' Somewhat of his irri-
tability, and a little I would hope both of his and

of her , I know not what to call it, without

seeming to praise myself, which is not my intention,

Hover'd thy spirit o'er thy sorrowing son,

Wretch even then, life's journey just begun?

Perhaps thou gavest me, though unfelt, a kiss ;

Perhaps a tear, if souls can weep in bliss —

Ah, that maternal smile! it answers — Yes.

I heard the bell toll'd on thy burial day,

I saw the hearse that bore thee slow away.

And, turning from my nursery window, drew

A long, long sigh, and wept a last adieu !

But was it such ? — It was. Where thou art gone,

Adieus and farewells are a sound unknown.

May I but meet thee on that peaceful shore.

The parting word shall pass my lips no more !

Thy maidens, grieved themselves at my concern,

Oft gave me promise of thy quick return.

What ardently I wish'd, I long believ'd.

And, disappointed still, was still deceiv'd ;

By expectation every day beguil'd,

Dupe of to-morrow, even from a child.

Thus many a sad to-morrow came and went.

Till, all my stock of infant sorrow spent,

I learn'd at last submission to my lot.

But, though 1 less deplored thee, ne'er forgot.


but speaking to you, 1 will even speak out, and say
good nature. Add to all this, I deal much in poetry,
as did our venerable ancestor, the Dean of St.
Paul's,* and I think I shall have proved myself a
Donne at all points. The truth is, that whatever I
am, I love you all.

I account it a happy event that brought the dear
boy, your nephew, to my knowledge, apd that,
breaking through all the restraints which his natural
bashfulness imposed on him, he determined to find
me out. He is amiable to a degree that I have sel-
dom seen, and I often long with impatience to see
him again.

My dearest Cousin, what shall I say in answer to
your affectionate invitation ? I must say this, I
cannot come now, nor soon, and I wish with all my
heart I could. But I will tell you what may be done,
perhaps, and it will answer to us just as well : you
and Mr. Bodham can come to Weston, can you not ?
The summer is at hand, there are roads and wheels to
bring you, and you are neither of you translating
Homer. I am crazed that I cannot ask you alto-
gether for want of house-room, but for Mr. Bodham
and yourself we have good room, and equally good
for any third in the shape of a Donne, whether
named Hewitt,f Bodham, Balls, or Johnson, or by
whatever name distinguished. Mrs. Hewitt has
particular claims upon me ; she was my playfellow
at Berkhamstead, and has a share in my warmest

* Ur. John Donne, an eminent and learned divine whose
life is written by Tzaak Walton. Born \hT3>, died 1631.
t The Rev, J. Johnson's sister.


affections. Pray tell her so ! Neither do I at all for-
get my cousin Harriet. She and I have been many a
time merry at Catfield, and have made the parson-
age ring with laughter : — give my love to her. As-
sure yourself, my dearest Cousin, that I shall receive
you as if you were my sister, and Mrs. Unwin is,
for my sake, prepared to do the same. When she
has seen you she will love you for your own.

I am much obliged to Mr. Bodham for his kind-
ness to my Homer, and with my love to you all,
and with Mrs. Unwin's kind respects, am.
My dear, dear Rose,

Ever yours,

W. C.

P. S. — I mourn the death of your poor brother
Castres, whom I should have seen had he lived, and
should have seen with the greatest pleasure. He
was an amiable boy, and I was very fond of him.

Still another P. S. — I find on consulting Mrs.
Unwin, that I have underrated our capabilities, and
that we have not only room for you and Mr. Bodham,
but for two of your sex, and even for your nephew
into the bargain. We shall be happy to have it all
so occupied.

Your nephew tells me that his sister, in the qua-
lities of the mind, resembles you ; that is enough
to make her dear to me, and I beg you will assure
her that she is so. Let it not be long before I hear
from you.



Weston, Feb. 28, 1790.

My dear Cousin John — I have much wished to
hear from you, and, though you are welcome to write
to Mrs. Unwin as often as you please, I wish myself
to be numbered among your correspondents.

I shall find time to answer you, doubt it not !
Be as busy as we may, we can always find time to
do what is agreeable to us. By the way, had you
a letter from Mrs. Unwin ? I am witness that she
addressed one to you before you went into Norfolk,
but your mathematico-poetical hedd forgot to ac-
knowledge the receipt of it.

I was never more pleased in my life than to learn,
and to learn from herself, that my dearest Rose * is
still alive. Had she not engaged me to love her by
the sweetness of her character when a child, she
would have done it effectually now by making me the
most acceptable present in the world, my own dear
mother's picture. I am perhaps the only person
living who remembers her, but I remember her
well, and can attest on my own knowledge the truth
of the resemblance. Amiable and elegant as the
countenance is, such exactly was her own ; she was
one of the tenderest parents, and so just a copy of
her is therefore to me invaluable.

I wrote yesterday to my Rose, to tell her all this,
and to thank her for her kindness in sending it -

]l * Mrs. Ann Bodham.


Neither do I forget your kindness, who intimated to
her that I should be happy to possess it.

She invites me into Norfolk, but, alas ! she might
as well invite the house in which I dwell ; for, all
other considerations and impediments apart, how is
it possible that a translator of Homer should lumber
to such a distance ! But, though I cannot comply
with her kind invitation, I have made myself the
best amends in my power, by inviting her and all
the family of Donnes to Weston. Perhaps we could
not accommodate them all at once, but in succession
we could, and can at any time find room for five,
three of them being females, and one a married
one. You are a mathematician ; tell me then how
five persons can be lodged in three beds (two males
and three females) and I shall have good hope that
you will proceed a senior optime ? It would make
me happy to see our house so furnished. As to
yourself, whom I know to be a suhscalarian, or a
man that sleeps under the stairs,* I should have no
objection at all, neither could you possibly have any
yourself to the garret, as a place in which you
might be disposed of with great felicity of accom-

I thank you much for your services in the tran-
scribing way, and would by no means have you
despair of an opportunity to serve me in the same
way yet again ; — write to me soon, and tell me
when I shall see you.

* This expression alludes to the situation of the rooms oc-
cupied by him at Caius College, Cambridge.


I have not said the half that I have to say, but
breakfast is at hand, which always terminates my

What have you done with your poem ? The
trimming that it procured you here has not, I hope,
put you out of conceit with it entirely ; you are
more than equal to the alteration that it needs.
Only remember that in writing, perspicuity is always
more than half the battle : the want of it is the
ruin of more than half the poetry that is pub-
lished. A meaning that does not stare you in the
face is as bad as no meaning, because nobody will
take the pains to poke for it. So now adieu for the
present. Beware of killing yourself with problems,
for, if you do, you will never live to be another Sir

Mrs. Unwin's affectionate remembrances attend
you ; Lady Hesketh is much disposed to love you ;
perhaps most who know you have some little ten-
dency the same way.


The Lodge, March 8, 1790.
My dearest Cousin— I thank thee much and oft,
for negociating so well this poetical concern with

Mrs. , and for sending me her opinion in her

own hand. I should be unreasonable indeed not to
be highly gratified by it, and I like it the better for
being modestly expressed. It is, as you know, and

M 2


it shall be some months longer, my daily business
to polish and improve what is done, that when the
whole shall appear she may find her expectations
answered. I am glad also that thou didst send her
the sixteenth Odyssey, though, as I said before, I
know not at all at present whereof it is made ; but
I am sure that thou wouldst not have sent it, hadst
thou not conceived a good opinion of it thyself, and
thought that it would do me credit. It was very
kind in thee to sacrifice to this Minerva on my ac-

For my sentiments on the subject of the Test
Act, I cannot do better than refer thee to my poem,
entitled and called " Lxpostulation." I have there
expressed myself not much in its favour, considering
it in a religious view, and in a political one, I like
it not a jot the better.* I am neither Tory nor high

* The following is the passage alluded to.

Hast thou by statute shoved from its design

The Saviour's feast, liis own blest bread and wine,

And made the symbols of atoning grace

An office-key, a picklock to a place 1

That infidels may prove tlieir title good.

By an oath dipp'd in sacramental blood ?

A blot that will be still a blot, in spite

Of all that grave apologists may write :

And, though a bishop toil to cleanse the stain.

He wipes and scours the silver cup in vain

And hast thou sworn on every slight pretence.

Till perjuries are common as bad pence,

While thousands, careless of the damning sin.

Kiss the book's outside, who ne'er look'd within''

The Test Act is now repealed.


Churchman, but an old Whig, as my father was
before me ; and an enemy, consequently, to all ty-
rannical impositions.

Mrs. Unwin bids me return thee many thanks for
thy inquiries so kindly made concerning her health.
She is a little better than of late, but has been ill
continually ever since last November, Every thing
that could try patience and submission she has had,
and her submission and patience have answered in
the trial, though mine, on her account, have often
failed sadly.

I have a letter from Johnson, who tells me that
he has sent his transcript to you, begging at the
same time more copy. Let him have it by all
means ; he is an industrious youth, and I love him
dearly. I told him that you are disposed to love
him a little. A new poem is born on the receipt of
my mother's picture : — thou shalt have it.

w. c.


The Lodge, March 11, 1790.

My dear Friend — I was glad to hear from you,
for a line from you gives me always much pleasure,
but was not much gladdened by the contents of
your letter. The state of your health, which I have
learned more accurately perhaps from my Cousin,
except in this last instance, than from yourself, has
alarmed me, and even she has collected her infor-


mation upon that subject more from your looks
than from your own acknowledgments. To com-
plain much and often of our indispositions does not
always insure the pity of the hearer, perhaps some-
times forfeits it ; but to dissemble them altogether,
or at least to suppress the worst, is attended ulti-
mately with an inconvenience greater still ; the
secret will out at last, and our friends, unprepared
to receive it, are doubly distressed about us. In
saying this, I squint a little at Mrs. Unwin, who
will read it; it is with her, as with you, the only
subject on which she practises any dissimulation at
all ; the consequence is that, when she is much in-
disposed, I never believe myself in possession of the
whole truth, live in constant expectation of hearing
something worse, and at the long run am seldom
disappointed. It seems therefore, as on all other
occasions, so even in this, the better course on the
whole to appear what we are ; not to lay the fears
of our friends asleep by cheerful looks, which do
not probably belong to us, or by letters written as
if we were well, when in fact we are very much
otherwise. On condition however that you act
differently toward me for the future, I will pardon
the past, and she may gather from my clemency
shown to you some hopes, on the same conditions,
of similar clemency to herself.

w. c.



Weston, March 12, 1790.

My dear Madam — I live in such a nook, have so
kw opportunities of hearing news, and so little time
to read it, that to me to begin a letter seems al-
ways a sort of forlorn hope. Can it be possible, I
say to myself, that I should have any thing to com-
municate ? These misgivings have an ill effect, so
far as my punctuality is concerned, and are apt to
deter me from the business of letter-writing, as from
an enterprise altogether impracticable.

I will not say that you are more pleased with my
trifles than they deserve, lest I should seem to call
your judgment in question; but I suspect that a
little partiality to the brother of my brother, enters
into the opinion you form of them. No matter,
however, by what you are influenced, it is for my
interest that you should like them at any rate, be-
cause, such as they are, they are the only return I
can make you for all your kindness. This conside-
ration will have two effects; it will have a tendency
to make me more industrious in the production of
such pieces, and more attentive to the manner in
which I write them. This reminds me of a piece
in your possession, which I will entreat you to com-
mit to the flames, because I am somewhat ashamed

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Online LibraryWilliam CowperThe life and works of William Cowper (Volume 4) → online text (page 11 of 23)