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of it. To make you amends, I hereby promise to
send you a new edition of it when time shall serve,

* Private Correspondence.



168 LIFE OF COWPER.

delivered from the passages that I dislike in the
first, and in other respects amended. The piece
that I mean, is one entitled — " To Lady Hesketh
on her furnishing for me our house at Weston " —
or, as the lawyers say, words to that amount. I
have, likewise, since I sent you the last packet,
been delivered of two or three other brats, and, as
the year proceeds, shall probably add to the num-
ber. All that come shall be basketed in time, and
conveyed to your door.

I have lately received from a female cousin of
mine in Norfolk, whom I have not seen these five
and thirty years, a picture of my own mother. She
died when I wanted two days of being six years
old; yet I remember her perfectly, find the picture
a strong likeness of her, and, because her memory
has been ever precious to me, have written a poem
on the receipt of it: a poem which, one excepted, I
had more pleasure in writing than any that I ever
wrote. That one was addressed to a lady whom I
expect in a few minutes to come down to break-
fast, and who has supplied to me the place of my
own mother — my own invaluable mother, these six
and twenty years. Some sons may be said to have
had many fathers, but a plurality of mothers is not
common.

Adieu, my dear madam ; be assured that I always
think of you with much esteem and affection, and
am, with mine and Mrs. Unwin's best compliments
to you and yours, most unfeignedly your friend and
humble servant,

w. c.



LIFE OF COWPER. 169



TO MRS. THROCKMORTON.

The Lodge, March 21, 1790.

My dearest Madam — I shall only observe on the
subject of your absence, that you have stretched it
since you went, and have made it a week longer.
Weston is sadly unked* without you; and here are
two of us, who will be heartily glad to see you
again. I believe you are happier at home than any
where, which is a comfortable belief to your neigh-
bours, because it affords assurance that, since you
are neither likely to ramble for pleasure, nor to
meet with any avocations of business, while Weston
shall continue to be your home, it will not often
want you.

The two first books of my Iliad have been sub-
mitted to the inspection and scrutiny of a great
critic of your sex, at the instance of my Cousin, as
you may suppose. The lady is mistress of more
tongues than a few; (it is to be hoped she is single);
and particularly she is mistress of the Greek.f She
returned them with expressions, that, if any thing
could make a poet prouder than all poets naturally
are, would have made me so. I tell you this, be-
cause I know that you all interest yourselves in the
success of the said Iliad.

My periwig is arrived, and is the very perfection
of all periwigs, having only one fault; which is, that

* A common provincialism in Buckinghamsbire, probably a
corruption o( uncouth.
t iMrs. Carter.



170 LIFE OF COWPER.

my head will only go into the first half of it, the
other half, or the upper part of it, continuing still
unoccupied. My artist in this way at Olney has
however undertaken to make the whole of it tenant-
able, and then I shall be twenty years younger than
you have ever seen me.

I heard of your birth-day very early in the
morning; the news came from the steeple.

w. c.



The following letter is interesting as recording
his opinion of the style best adapted to a translation
of Homer.

TO LADY HESKETH.

The Lodge, March 22, 1790.
I rejoice, my dearest Cousin, that my MSS.
have roamed the earth so successfully, and have met
with no disaster. The single book excepted, that
went to the bottom of the Thames, and rose again,
they have been fortunate without exception. I am
not superstitious, but have nevertheless as good a
right to believe that adventure an omen, and a fa-
vourable one, as Swift had to interpret as he did
the loss of a fine fish, which he had no sooner laid
on the bank than it flounced into the water again.
This, he tells us himself, he always considered as a
type of his future disappointments ; and why may
not I as well consider the marvellous recovery of
my lost book from the bottom of the Thames, as
typical of its future prosperity ? To say the truth,
I have no fears now about the success of my trans-



LIFE OF COWPER. 171

lation, though in time past I have had many. I
knew there was a style somewhere, could I but find
it, in which Homer ought to be rendered, and which
alone would suit him. Long time I blundered about
it, ere I could attain to any decided judgment on
the matter ; at first, I was betrayed by a desire of
accommodating my language to the simplicity of
his into much of the quaintness that belonged to
our writers of the fifteenth century. In the course
of many revisals I have delivered myself from this
evil, I believe, entirely ; but I have done it slowly,
and as a man separates himself from his mistress
when he is going to marry. I had so strong a pre-
dilection in favour of this style at first, that I was
crazed to find that others were not as much en-
amoured with it as myself. At every passage of
that sort which I obliterated, I groaned bitterly,
and said to myself, I am spoiling my work to please
those who have no taste for the simple graces of
antiquity. But, in measure as I adopted a more
modern phraseology, I became a convert to their
opinion, and, in the last revisal, which I am now
making, am not sensible of having spared a single
expression of the obsolete kind. I see my work so
much improved by this alteration, that I am filled
with wonder at my own backwardness to assent to
the necessity of it, and the more when I consider
that Milton, with whose manner I account myself
intimately acquainted, is never quaint, never twangs
through the nose, but is every where grand and
elegant, without resorting to musty antiquity for
his beauties. On the contrary, he took a long stride



172 LIFE OF COWPER.

forward, left the language of his own day far behind
him, and anticipated the expressions of a century
yet to come.

I have now, as 1 said, no longer any doubt of
the event, but I will give thee a shilling if thou
wilt tell me what I shall say in my Preface. It is
an affair of much delicacy, and I have as many
opinions about it as there are whims in a weather-
cock.

Send my MSS. and thine when thou wilt. In a
day or two I shall enter on the last Iliad ; when I
have finished it I shall give the Odyssey one more
reading, and shall therefore shortly have occasion
for the copy in thy possession, but you see that
there is no need to hurry.

I leave the little space for Mrs. Unwin's use,
who means, I believe, to occupy it,

And am evermore thine most truly,

W. C.

Postscript, in the hand of Mrs. Umvin.
You cannot imagine how much your ladyship
would oblige your unworthy servant, if you would
be so good to let me know in what point I differ
from you. All that at present I can say is, that I
will readily sacrifice my own opinion, unless I can
give you a substantial reason for adhering to it



TO JOHN JOHNSON, ESQ.

Weston, March 23, 1790.
Your MSS. arrived safe in New Norfolk-street,



LIFE OF COWPER. 173

and I am much obliged to you for your labours. Were
you now at Weston, I could furnish you with em-
ployment for some weeks, and shall perhaps be
equally able to do it in summer, for I have lost my
best amanuensis in this place, Mr. George Throck-
morton, who is gone to Bath.

You are a man to be envied, who have never read
the Odyssey, which is one of the most amusing story-
books in the world. There is also much of the finest
poetry in the world to be found in it, notwithstanding
all that Longinus has insinuated to the contrary.*
His comparison of the Iliad and Odyssey to the
meridian and to the declining sun is pretty, but, I
am persuaded, not just. The prettiness of it se-
duced him ; he was otherwise too judicious a reader
of Homer to have made it. I can find in the latter
no symptoms of impaired ability, none of the effects
of age ; on the contrary, it seems to me a certainty,
that Homer, had he written the Odyssey in his youth,
could not have written it better ; and if the Iliad in
his old age, that he would have written it just as
well. A critic would tell me tl.at, instead oiicritten,
I should have said composed. Very likely — but
I am not writing to one of that snarling genera-
tion.

My boy, I long to see thee again. It has hap-
pened some way or other, that Mrs. Unwin and I
have conceived a great affection for thee. That I
should is the less to be wondered at, (because thou

* Longinus compares the Odyssey to the setting sun, and
the Iliad, as more cliaracteristic of the loftiness of Homer's
genius, to the splendour of the rising sun.



174 LIFE OF COWPER.

art a shred of my own mother;) neither is the wonder
great, that she should fall into the same predica-
ment : for she loves every thing that I love. You
will observe that your own personal right to be be-
loved makes no part of the consideration. There is
nothing that I touch with so much tenderness as the
vanity of a young man ; because, I know how ex-
tremely susceptible he is of impressions that might
hurt him in that particular part of his composition.
If you should ever prove a coxcomb,* from which
character you stand just now at a greater distance
than any young man I know, it shall never be said
that I have made you one ; no, you will gam nothing
by me but the honour of being much valued by a
poor poet, who can do you no good while he lives,
and has nothing to leave you when he dies. If you
can be contented to be dear to me on these con-
ditions, so you shall ; but other terms more advan-
tageous than these, or more inviting, none have I to
propose.

Farewell. Puzzle not yourself about a subject
when you write to either of us, every thing is subject
enough from those we love.

w. c.



TO JOHN JOHNSON, ESQ.

Weston, April 17, 1790,
Your letter, that now lies before me, is almost

* No man ever possessed a liappier exemption, throughout
life, from such a title.



LIFE OF COWPEK. 175

three weeks old, and therefore of full age to receive
an answer, which it shall have without delay, if
the interval between the present moment and
that of breakfast should prove sufficient for tlie
purpose.

Yours to Mrs. Unwin was received yesterday, for
which she will thank you in due time. I have also
seen, and have now in my desk, your letter to Lady
Hesketh ; she sent it thinking that it would divert
me ; in which she was not mistaken. I shall tell
her when I write to her next, that you long to receive
a line from her. Give yourself no trouble on the
subject of the politic device you saw good to recur
to, when you presented me with your manuscript ;"
it was an innocent deception, at least it could harm
nobody save yourself; an effect which it did not
fail to produce; and, since the punishment followed it
so closely, by me at least, it may very well be forgiven.
You ask, how I can tell that you are not addicted
to practices of the deceptive kind ? And certainly,
if the little time that I have had to study you were
alone to be considered, the question would not be
unreasonable ; but in general a man who reaches my
years finds

" That long experience does attain
To something like prophetic strain."

I am very much of Lavater's opinion, and per-
suaded that faces are as legible as books, only with
these circumstances to recommend them to our

* The poem on Audley End, alluded to in a former letter
to Ladv Hesketh.



176 LIFE OF COWPER.

perusal, that they are read in much less time, and
are much less likely to deceive us. Yours gave me
a favourable impression of you the moment I beheld
it, and, though I shall not tell you in particular what
I saw in it, for reasons mentioned in my last, I will
add, that I have observed in you nothing since that
has not confirmed the opinion I then formed in your
favour. In fact, I cannot recollect that my skill in
physiognomy has ever deceived me, and I should
add more on this subject had I room.

When you have shut up your mathematical books,
you must give yourself to the study of Greek ;
not merely that you may be able to read Homer
and the other Greek classics with ease, but the
Greek Testament and the Greek fathers also. Thus
qualified, and by the aid of your fiddle into the
bargain, together with some portion of the grace of
God (without which nothing can be done) to enable
you to look well to your flock, when you shall get
one, you will be set up for a parson. In which
character, if I live to see you in it, I shall expect
and hope that you will make a very different figure
from most of your fraternity.*

Ever yours,

w. c.

* Cowper is often very sarcastic upon the clergy. We
trust that these censures are not so merited in these times of
reviving piety.



LIFE OF COWPER. 177



TO LADY HESKETH.



The Lodge, April 19, 1790.

My dearest Coz. — I thank thee for my cousin
Johnson's letter, which diverted me. I had one
from him lately, in which he expressed an ardent
desire of a line from you, and the delight he would
feel in i-eceiving it. I know not whether you will
have the charity to satisfy his longings, but mention
the matter, thinking it possible that you may. A
letter from a lady to a youth immersed in mathe-
matics must be singidarly pleasant.

I am finishing Homer backward, having begun at
the last book, and designing to persevere in that
crab-hke fashion till I arrive at the first. This may
remind you perhaps of a certain poet's prisoner in
the Bastille (thank Heaven ! in the Bastille now no
more) counting the nails in the door, for variety's
sake, in all directions.* I find so little to do in the
last revisal, that I shall soon reach the Odyssey, and
soon want those books of it which are in thy pos-
session ; but the two first of the Iliad, which are
also in thy possession, much sooner ; thou mayst

* We subjoin the lines to which Cowper refers : —
" To wear out time In numb 'ring to and fro
The studs, that thick emboss his iron door ;
Then downward and then upward, then aslant
And then alternate ; with a sickly hope
By dint of change to give his tasteless task
Some relish ; 'till the sum, exactly found
In all directions, he begins again."

Book V. — Winter Morning's Walk.
VOL. IV. N



178 MFE OF COWPER.

therefore send them by the first fair opportunity. I
am in high spirits on this subject, and think that I
have at last hcked the clumsy cub into a shape that
will secure to it the favourable notice of the public.

Let not retard me, and I shall hope to get it

out next winter.

I am glad that thou hast sent the General those
verses on my mother's picture. They will amuse
him — only I hope that he will not miss my mother-
in-law, and think that she ought to have made a
third. On such an occasion it was not possible to
mention her with any propriety. I rejoice at the
General's recovery ; may it prove a perfect one.

W. C.



TO LADY HESKETH.

Weston, April 30, 1790.

To my old friend. Dr. Madan,* thou couldst not
have spoken better than thou didst. Tell him, I
besirech you, that I have not forgotten him ; tell
him also, that to my heart and home he will be al-
ways welcome ; nor he only, but all that are his.
His judgment of my translation gave me the highest
satisfaction, because I know him to be a rare old
Grecian.

The General's approbation of my picture verses

gave me also much pleasure. I wrote them not

without tears, therefore I presume it may be that

they are felt by others. Should he offer me my

* Tlie Bishop of Peterborough,



LIFE OF COWPEU. 179

father's picture I shall gladly accept it. A melan-
choly pleasure Is better than none, nay, verily, better
than most. He had a sad task imposed on him, but
no man could acquit himself of such a one with more
discretion or with more tenderness. The death of
the unfortunate young man reminded me of those
lines in Lycidas,

" It was that fatal and perfidious bark,
Built in th' eclipse, and rigg'd with curses dark.
That sunk so low that sacred head of thine ! "

How beautiful I

W. C.



TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ.*

The Lodge, May 2, 1790.

My dear Friend — I am still at the old sport —
Homer all the morning, and Homer all the evening.
Thus have I been held in constant employment, I
know not exactly how many, but I believe these six
years, an interval of eight months excepted. It is
now become so familiar to me to take Homer from
my shelf at a certain hour, that I shall no doubt
continue to take him from my shelf at the same
time, even after I have ceased to want him. That
period is not far distant. I am now giving the last
touches to a work, which, had I foreseen the diffi-
culty of it, I should never have meddled with ; but
which, having at length nearly finished it to my mind,
I shall discontinue with regret.

* Private Correspondence.

n2



180 LIFE OF COWPER.

My very best compliments attend Mrs. Hill, whom
I love, " unsight unseen," as they say, but yet truly.

Yours ever,

w. c.



TO MRS. THROCKMORTON.

The Lodge, May 10, 1790,
My dear Mrs. Frog* — You have by this time (I
presume) heard from the Doctor, whom I desired
to present to you our best affections, and to tell you
that we are well. He sent an urchin, (I do not
mean a hedgehog, commonly called an urchin in old
times, but a boy, commonly so called at present,)
expecting that he would find you at Buckland's,
whither he supposed you gone on Thursday. He
sent him charged with divers articles, and among
others with letters, or at least Avith a letter : which
I mention, that, if the boy should be lost, together
with his dispatches, past all possibility of recovery,
you may yet know that the Doctor stands acquitted
of not writing. That he is utterly lost (that is to
say, the boy — for, the Doctor being the last ante-
cedent, as the grammarians say, you might other-
wise suppose that he was intended) is the more
probable, because he was never four miles from his
home before, having only travelled at the side of a
plough-team ; and, when the Doctor gave him his
direction to Buckland's,t he asked, very naturally,

* The sportive title generally bestowed by Cowpe*- on his
amiable friends the Throckmortons.

f The residence of the Throckmorton family in Berkshire.



LIFE OF COWPER. 181

if that place was in England. So, what has become
of him Heaven knows !

I do not know that any adventures have presented
themselves since your departure worth mentioning,
except that the rabbit that infested your wilderness
has been shot for devouring your carnations ; and
that I myself have been in some danger of being
devoured in like manner by a great dog, viz. Pear-
son's. But I wrote him a letter on Friday, (I mean
a letter to Pearson, not to his dog, which I mention
to prevent mistakes— for the said last antecedent
might occasion them in this place also,) informing
him, that, unless he tied up his great mastiff in the
day-time, I would send him a worse thing, commonly
called and known by the name of an attorney.
When I go forth to ramble in the fields, I do not
sally (like Don Quixote) with a purpose of encoun-
tering monsters, if any such can be found ; but am
a peaceable, poor gentleman, and a poet, who mean
nobody any harm, the fox-hunters and the two uni-
versities of this land excepted.

I cannot learn from any creature whether the
Turnpike Bill is alive or dead — so ignorant am I,
and by such ignoramuses surrounded. But, if I
know little else, this at least I know, that I love
you, and Mr. Frog; that I long for your return, and
that I am, with Mrs. Unwin's best affections,

Ever yours,

W. C.



182 LIFE OF COWPER.



TO LADY HESKETH.



The Lodge, May 28, 1790.
My dearest Coz. — I thank thee for the offer of
thy best services on this occasion. But Heaven
guard my brows from the wreath you mention,
whatever wreath beside may hereafter adorn them !
It would be a leaden extinguisher clapped on all the
fire of my genius, and I should never more produce
a line worth reading. To speak seriously, it would
make me miserable, and therefore I am sure that
thou, of all my friends, wouldst least wish me to
wear it.*

Adieu !

Ever thine — in Homer-hurry,

W. C.



TO LADY HESKETH.

Weston, June 3, 1790.
You will wonder, when I tell you, that I, even I,
am considered by people, who live at a great dis-
tance, as having interest and influence sufficient to
procure a place at court, for those who may happen
to want one. I have accordingly been applied to
within these few days by a Welchman, with a wife
and many children, to get him made Poet Laureat

* Lady Hesketh made the offer of her services to procure
the situation of Poet Laureat for Cowper, which he thus
declines.



LIFE OF COWPER. 183

as fast as possible. If thou wouldst wish to make
the world merry twice a year, thou canst not do
better than procure the office for him. I will pro-
mise thee that he shall afford thee a hearty laugh
in return every birth-day and every new year. He
is an honest man.

Adieu !

W. C.



The poet's kinsman, having consulted him on the
subject of his future plans and studies, receives the
following reply. The letter is striking, but admits
of doubt as to the justness of some of its sentiments.

TO JOHN JOHNSON, ES(i.

Weston, June 7, 1790.
My dear John — You know my engagements, and
are consequently able to account for my silence. I
will not therefore waste time and paper in mention-
ing them, but will only say, that, added to those
with which you are acquainted, I have had other
hindrances, such as business and a disorder of my
spirits, to which I have been all my life subject.
At present I am, thank God ! perfectly well both in
mind and body. Of you I am always mindful,
whether I write or not, and very desirous to see
you. You will remember, I hope, that you are
under engagements to us, and, as soon as your Nor-
folk friends can spare you, will fulfil them. Give
us all the time you can, and all that they can spare
to us I



184 LIFE OF COWPER.

You never pleased me more than when you told
me you had abandoned your mathematical pursuits.
It grieved me to think, that you were wasting your
time merely to gain a little Cambridge fame, not
worth your having. I cannot be contented, that
your renown should thrive nowhere but on the
banks of the Cam. Conceive a nobler ambition,
and never let your honour be circumscribed by the
paltry dimensions of a university ! It is well that
you have already, as you observe, acquired sufficient
information in that science to enable you to pass
creditably such examinations as I suppose you must
hereafter undergo. Keep what you have gotten,
and be content. More is needless.*



* To Cowper's strictures on the University of Cambridge,
and his remark that the fame there acquired is not worth
having, we by no means subscribe. We think no youth ought
to be insensible to the honourable ambition of obtaining its
distinctions, and that they are not unfrequently the precursors
of subsequent eminence in the Church, the Senate, and at the
Bar. We have been informed that, out of fifteen judges
recently on the bench, eleven had obtained honours at our
two Universities. Whether the system of education is not
susceptible of much improvement is a subject worthy of deep
consideration. There seems to be a growing persuasion that,
at the University of Cambridge, the mode of study is too ex-
clusively mathematical; and that a more comprehensive plan,
embracing the various departments of general knowledge and
literature, would be an accession to the cause of learning.
We admit that the University fully affords the means of ac-
quiring this general information, but there is a penalty at-
tached to the acquisition which operates as a prohibition,
because the prospect of obtaining honours must, in that case,
be renounced. By adopting a more comprehensive system.



LIFE OF COWPER. 185

You could not apply to a worse than I am to ad-
•vise you concerning your studies. I was never a
regular student myself, but lost the most valuable
years of my life in an attorney's office and in the
Temple. I will not therefore give myself airs, and
affect to know what I know not. The affair is of
great importance to you, and you should be directed
in it by a wiser than I. To speak however in very
general terms on the subject, it seems to me that
your chief concern is with history, natural philo-
sophy, logic, and divinity. As to metaphysics, I


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