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must who is on the verge of sixty.

All the leisure that I have had of late for think-
ing has been given to the riots at Birmingham.
What a horrid zeal for the clrurch, and what a horrid
loyalty to government, have manifested themselves
there ! How little do they dream that they could not
have dishonoured their idol the Establishment more,
and that the great Bishop of souls himself with abhor-
rence rejects their service ! But I have not time
to enlarge ; — breakfast calls me ; and all my post-
breakfast time must be given to poetry. Adieu !
Most truly yours,

W. C.


Wfiston, August 2, 1791.
My dear Friend — I was much obliged, and still
feel myself much obliged, to Lady Bagot for the
visit with which she favoured me. Had it been


possible that I could have seen Lord Bagot too, I
should have been completely happy. For, as it
happened, I was that morning in better spirits than
usual, and, though I arrived late, and after a long
walk, and extremely hot, which is a circumstance
very apt to disconcert me, yet I was not disconcerted
half so much as I generally am at the sight of a
stranger, especially of a stranger lady, and more
especially at the sight of a stranger lady of quality.
When the servant told me that Lady Bagot was in
the parlour, I felt my spirits sink ten degrees, but,
the moment I saw her, at least when I had been a
minute in her company, I felt them rise again, and
they soon rose even above their former pitch. I
know two ladies of fashion now whose manners have
this effect upon me, the lady in question and the
Lady Spencer. I am a shy animal, and want mucii
kindness to make me easy. Such I shall be to my
dying day.

Here sit /, calling myself 5//^, yet have just pub-
lished by the hye, two great volumes of poetry.

This reminds me of Ranger's observation in the
" Suspicious Husband," who says to somebody, I
forget whom, '• There is a degree of assurance in yoii
modest men that we impudent felloivs can never arrive
at." — Assurance indeed ! Have you seen 'em ?
What do you think they are ? Nothing less, I can
tell you, than a translation of Homer, of the sub-
limest poet in the world. That's all. Can I ever
have the impudence to call myself shy again ?

You live, I think, in the neighbourhood of Bir-
mingham. What must you not have felt on the late

u 2


alarming occasion ! You I suppose could see the
fires from your windows. We, who only heard the
news of them, have trembled. Never sure was re-
ligious zeal more terribly manifested or more to the
prejudice of its own cause.t

Adieu, my dear friend, I am, with Mrs. Unwin's

best compliments.

Ever yours,

W. C.


Weston, Aug. 4, 1791.
My dear Madam — Your last letter, which gave
us so unfavourable an account of your health, and
which did not speak much more comfortably of
Mr. King's, affected us with much concern. Of
Dr. Raitt we may say in the words of Milton,

" His long experience did attain
To sometliing like prophetic strain ;"

for as he foretold to you, so he foretold to Mrs.

t The riots at Birmingham originated in the imprudent
zeal of Dr. Priestley, and his adherents, the Unitarian dis-
senters, who assembled together at a public dinner, to com-
memorate the events of the French revolution. Toasts were
given of an inflammatory tendency, and handbills were pre-
viously circulated of a similar character. The town of Bir-
mingham, being distinguished for its loyalty, became deeply
excited by these acts. The mob collected in great multitudes,
and proceeded to the house of Dr. Priestley, wliich they
destroyed vi-ith fire. All his valuable philosophical apparatus
and manuscripts perished on this occasion. We concur with
Cowper in lamenting such outrages.

* Private Correspondence.


Unwin, that, though her disorders might not much
threaten Hfe, tliey would yet cleave to her to the
last ; and she and perfect health must ever be
strangers to each other. Such was his prediction,
and it has been hitherto accomplished. Either
head-ache or pain in the side has been her constant
companion ever since we had the pleasure of seeing
you. As for myself, I cannot properly say that I
enjoy a good state of health, though in general I
have it, because I have it accompanied with fre-
quent fits of dejection, to which less health and
better spirits would, perhaps, be infinitely preferable.
But it pleased God that I should be born in a coun-
try where melancholy is the national characteristic.
To say truth, I have often wished myself a French-

N. B. I write this in very good spirits.

You gave us so little hope in your last that we
should have your company this summer at Weston,
that to repeat our invitation seems almost like teasing
you. I will only say, therefore, that, my Norfolk
friends having left us, of whose expected arrival
here I believe I told you in a former letter, we
should be happy could you succeed them. We now,
indeed, expect Lady Hesketh, but not immediately :
she seldom sees Weston till all its summer beauties
are fled, and red, brown, and yellow, have supplanted
the universal verdure.

My Homer is gone forth, and I can devoutly
say, " Joy go with it !" What place it holds in the
estimation of the generality I cannot tell, having
heard no more about it since its publication than if


no such work existed. I must except, however, an
anonymous eulogium from some man of letters,
which I received about a week ago. It was kind in
a perfect stranger, as he avows himself to be, to
relieve me, at so early a day, from much of the
anxiety that I could not but feel on such an occa-
sion. I should be glad to know who he is, only
that I might thank him.

Mrs. Unwin, who is at this moment come down
to breakfast, joins me in affectionate compliments to
yourself and Mr. King ; and I am, my dear madam,
Most sincerely yours,

w. c.


Weston, August 9, 1791.

My dear Sir — I never make a correspondent wait
for an answer through idleness, or want of proper
respect for him ; but if I am silent it is because 1
am busy, or not well, or because I stay till some-
thing occur that may make my letter at least a
little better than mere blank paper. I therefore
write speedily in reply to yours, being at present
neither much occupied, nor at all indisposed, nor
forbidden by a dearth of materials.

I wish always when I have a new piece in hand
to be as secret as you, and there was a time when I
could be so. Then I lived the life of a solitary,
was not visited by a single neighbour, because I had
none with whom I could associate ; nor ever had an


inmate. This was when I dwelt at Olney ; but
since I have removed to Weston the case is dif-
ferent. Here I am visited by all around me, and
study in a room exposed to all manner of inroads.
It is on the ground floor, the room in which we
dine, and in which I am sure to be found by all who
seek me. They find me generally at my desk, and
with my work, whatever it be, before me, unless
perhaps I have conjured it into its hiding-place
before they have had time to enter. This however
is not always the case, and consequently, sooner or
later, I cannot fail to be detected. Possibly you,
who I suppose have a snug study, would find it im-
practicable to attend to any thing closely in an
apartment exposed as mine, but use has made it
familiar to me, and so familiar, that neither servants
going and coming disconcert me ; nor even if a lady,
with an oblique glance of her eye, catches two or
three lines of my MSS., do I feel myself inclined to
blush, though naturally the shyest of mankind.

You did well, I believe, to cashier the subject of
which you gave me a recital. It certainly wants
those ogremens which are necessary to the success
of any subject in verse. It is a curious story, and
so far as the poor young lady was concerned a very
affecting one ; but there is a coarseness in the cha-
racter of the hero that would have spoiled all. In
fact, I find it myself a much easier matter to write,
than to get a convenient theme to write on.

I am obliged to you for comparing me as you go
both with Pope and with Homer. It is impossible
in any other way of management to know whether


the translation be well executed or not, and if well,
in what degree. It was in the course of such a
process that I first became dissatisfied with Pope.
More than thirty years since, and when I was a
young Templar, I accompanied him with his original,
line by line, through both poems. A fellow student
of mine, a person of fine classical taste, joined him-
self with me in the labour. We were neither of us,
as you may imagine, very diligent in our proper

I shall be glad if my reviewers, whosoever they
may be, will be at the pains to read me as you do.
I want no praise that I am not entitled to, but of
that to which I am entitled I should be loth to lose
a tittle, having worked hard to earn it.

I would heartily second the Bishop of Salisbury *
in recommending to you a close pursuit of your
Hebrew studies, were it not that I wish you to
publish what I may understand. Do both, and I
shall be satisfied.

Your remarks, if I may but receive them soon
enough to serve me in case of a new edition, will
be extremely welcome.

w. c.


Weston, Aug, 9, 1791.
My dearest Johnny — The little that 1 have heard
about Homer myself has been equally or more
* Dr. Dougrlas.


flattering than Dr 's intelligence, so that I have

good reason to hope that 1 have not studied the old
Grecian, and how to dress him, so long and so in-
tensely, to no purpose. At present I am idle, both
on account of my eyes and because I know not to
what to attach myself in particular. Many different
plans and projects are recommended to me. Some
call aloud for original verse, others for more trans-
lation, and others for other things. Providence, I
hope, will direct me in my choice, for other guide I
have none, nor wish for another.

God bless you, my dearest Johnny,

W. C

The active mind of Cowper, and the necessity of
mental exertion, in order to arrest the terrible incur-
sions of his depressing malady, soon led him to con-
tract a new literary engagement. A splendid edition
of Milton was at that time contemplated, intended
to rival the celebrated Shakspeare of Boydell ; and
to combine all the adventitious aid that editorial
talent, the professional skill of a most distinguished
artist, and the utmost embellishment of type could
command, to insure success. Johnson, the book-
seller, invited the co-operation of Cowper, in the
responsible office of Editor. For such an undertak-
ing he was unquestionably qualified, by his refined
critical taste and discernment, and by his profound
veneration for this first of modern epic poets. Cow-
per readily entered into this project, and by hisadniir-


able translations of the Latin and Italian poems of
Milton, justly added to the fame which he had
already acquired. But to those who know how to
appreciate his poetic powers, and his noble ardour
in proclaiming the most important truths, it must
ever be a source of unfeigned regret that the hours
given to translation, and especially to Homer, were
not dedicated to the composition of some original
work. Who would not have hailed with delight
another poem, rivalling all the beauties and moral
excellencies of " The Task," and endearing to the
mind, with still higher claims, the sweet poet of
nature, and the graceful yet sublime teacher of
heavenly truth and wisdom !

The grief is this — that, sunk in Homer's mine,
I lose my precious years, now soon to fail,

Handling his gold, which, howsoe'er it shine,

Proves dross when balanc'd in the Christian scale.*

It was this literary engagement that first laid the
foundation of that intercourse, which commenced
at this time between Cowper and Hayley ; an in-
tercourse which seems to have ripened into subse-
quent habits of friendship. As their names have
been so much associated together, and Hayley
eventually became the poet's biographer, we shall
record the circumstances of the origin of their
intimacy in Hayley's own words.

" As it is to Milton that I am in a great measure
indebted for what I must ever regard as a signal
blessing, the friendship of Cowper, the reader

* See verses addressed to John Johnson, Esq.


will pardon me for dwelling a little on the circum-
stances that produced it : circumstances which
often lead me to repeat those sweet verses of my
friend, on the casual origin of our most valuable
attachments :

Mysterious are his ways, whose power
Brings forth that unexpected hour,
When minds that never met before.
Shall meet, unite, and part no more :
It is th' allotment of the skies.
The hand of the Supremely Wise,
That guides and governs our affections.
And plans and orders our connexions.

These charming verses strike with peculiar force on
my heart, when I recollect, that it was an idle en-
deavour to make us enemies which gave rise to our
intimacy, and that I was providentially conducted
to Weston at a season when my presence there
afforded peculiar comfort to my affectionate friend
under the pressure of a domestic affliction, which
threatened to overwhelm his very tender spirits.*

"TheeAtreaty of many persons, whom I wished to
oblige, had engaged me to write a Life of Milton,
before I had the slightest suspicion that my work
could interfere with the projects of any man ; but I
was soon surprised and concerned in hearing that I
was represented in a newspaper as an antagonist of

" I immediately wrote to him on the subject, and
our correspondence soon endeared us to each other
in no common degree. "

* An alarming attack with which Mrs. Unwin was visited.


We give credit to Hayley for the kind and amiable
spirit which he manifested on this dehcate occasion ;
and for the address with which he converted an
apparent collision of interests into a magnanimous
triumph of literary and courteous feeling.

The succeeding letters will be found to contain
frequent allusions both to his past and newly con-
tracted engagement.


The Lodge, Sept. 14, 1791.

My dear Friend — Whoever reviews me will in
fact have a laborious task of it, in the performance
of which he ought to move leisurely, and to exercise
much critical discernment. In the mean time, my
courage is kept up by the arrival of such testimonies
in my favour as give me the greatest pleasure ;
coming from quarters the most respectable. I
have reason, therefore, to hope that our periodical
judges will not be very averse to me, and that
perhaps they may even favour me. If one man of
taste and letters is pleased, another man so qualified
can hardly be displeased ; and if critics of a dif-
ferent description grumble, they will not however
materially hurt me.

You, who know how necessary it is to me to be
employed, will be glad to hear that I have been
called to a new literary engagement, and that I
have not refused it. , A Milton, that is to rival, and,
if possible, to exceed in splendour, Boydell's Shak-


speare, is in contemplation, and I am in the editor's
office. Fuseli is the painter. My business will be
to select notes from others, and to write original
notes ; to translate the Latin and Italian poems,
and to give a correct text. I shall have years al-
lowed me to do it in.

w. c.


Weston, Sept 21, 1791.
My dear Friend — Of all the testimonies in favour
of my Homer that I have received, none has given
me so sincere a pleasure as that of Loi-d Bagot. It
is an unmixed pleasure, and without a drawback ;
because I know him to be perfectly, and in all re-
spects, whether erudition or a fme taste be in ques-
tion, so well qualified to judge me, that I can neither
expect nor wish a sentence more valuable than

iiffoK avT/x}i

'Ey (TrridetTfft fxeuet, Kal fiot (pika yavaT opupei.

I hope by this time you have received your
volumes, and are prepared to second the applauses
of your brother — else, woe be to you ! I wrote to
Johnson immediately on the receipt of your last,
giving him a strict injunction to dispatch them to you
without delay. He had sold some time since a hun-
dred of the unsubscribed-for copies.

I have not a history in the world except Baker's


Chronicle, and that I borrowed three years ago from
Mr. Throckmorton. Now the case is this : I am
translating Milton's third Elegy — his Elegy on the
death of the Bishop of Winchester.* He begins it
with saying, that, while he was sitting alone, dejected,
and musing on many melancholy themes, first, the
idea of the Plague presented itself to his mind, and
of the havoc made by it among the great. Then
he proceeds thus :

Turn memiui clarique ducis, fratrisque verendi

Intempestivis ossa cremata rogis ;
Et memini Heroum quos vidit ad aethera raptos

Flevit et amissos Belgia tota duces.

I cannot learn from my only oracle, Baker, who
this famous leader, and his reverend brother were.
Neither does he at all ascertain for me the event
alluded to in the second of these couplets. I am
not yet possessed of Warton, who probably ex-
plains it, nor can be for a month to come. Consult
him for me if you have him, or, if you have him
not, consult some other. Or you may find the
intelligence perhaps in your own budget ; no matter
how you come by it, only send it to me if you
can, and as soon as you can, for I hate to leave
unsolved difficulties behind me.f In the first year
of Charles the First, Milton was seventeen years of

* McEStus eram, et tacitus nullo comitante sedebam ;
Heerebantque animo tristia plura meo : &c. &c.

t Warton informs us that the distinguished brothers alluded
to in Milton's elegy are the Duke of Brunswick and Count
Mansfelt, who fell in the war of the Palatinate, that fruitful


age, and then wrote this elegy. The period there-
fore to which I would refer you, is the two or three
last years of James the First.

Ever yours,

w. c.


Weston, Sept. 23, 1791.

Dear Sir — We are truly concerned at your ac-
count of Mrs. King's severe indisposition ; and,
though you had no better news to tell us, are much
obliged to you for writing to inform us of it, and to
Mrs. King for desiring you to do it. We take a
lively interest in what concerns her. I should never
have ascribed her silence to neglect, had she neither
written to me herself nor commissioned you to
write for her. I had, indeed, for some time ex-
pected a letter from her by every post, but ac-
counted for my continual disappointment by sup-
posing her at Edgeware, to which place she intended
a visit, as she told me long since, and hoped that
she would write immediately on her return.

Her sufferings will be felt here till we learn that
they are removed ; for which reason we shall be
much obliged by the earliest notice of her recovery,
which we most sincerely wish, if it please God, and

scene of warlike operations. The two latter are the Earls of
Oxford and Southampton, who died at the siege of Pireda, in
the year 1625.

* Private Correspondence.


which will not fail to be a constant subject of prayer
at Weston.

I beg you, sir, to present Mrs. Unwin's and my
affectionate remembrances to Mrs. King, in which
you are equally a partaker, and to believe me, with
true esteem and much sincerity,


W. C.


Weston, Oct. 21, 1791.

My dear Friend — You could not have sent me
more agreeable news than that of your better health,
and I am greatly obliged to you for making me the
first of your correspondents to whom you have given
that welcome intelligence. This is a favour which
I should have acknowledged much sooner, had not
a disorder in my eyes, to which I have always been
extremely subject, required that I should make as
little use of my pen as possible. I felt much for
you, when I read that part of your letter in which
you mention your visitors, and the fatigue which,
indisposed as you have been, they could not fail to
occasion you. Agreeable as you would have found
them at another time, and happy as you would have
been in their company, you could not but feel the
addition they necessarily made to your domestic
attentions as a considerable inconvenience. But I

* Private Correspondence.


have always said, and shall never say otherwise,
that if patience under adversity, and submission to
the afflicting hand of God, be true fortitude — which
no reasonable person can deny — then your sex
have ten times more true fortitude to boast than
ours ; and I have not the least doubt that you car-
ried yourself with infinitely more equanimity on
that occasion than I should have done, or any he of
tny acquaintance. Why is it, since the first offender
on earth was a woman, that the women are never-
theless, in all the most important points, superior to
the men ? That they are so I will not allow to be
disputed, having observed it ever since I was capa-
ble of making the observation. I believe, on recol-
lection, that, when I had the happiness to see you
here, we agitated this question a little ; but I do
not remember that we arrived at any decision of it.
The Scripture calls you the weaker vessels; and
perhaps the best solution of the difficulty, there-
fore, may be found in those other words of Scrip-
ture — My strength is perfected in weakness. Unless
you can furnish me with a better key than this, I
shall be much inclined to believe that I have found
the true one.

I am deep in a new literary engagement, being
retained by my bookseller as editor of an intended
most magnificent publication of Milton's Poetical
Works. This will occupy me as much as Homer
did for a year or two to come; and when I have
finished it, I shall have run through all the degrees
of my profession, as author, translator, and editor.



I know not that a fourth could be found ; but if a
fourth can be found, I dare say I shall find it.

I remain, my dear madam, your affectionete
friend and humble servant,

w. c.


Weston, Oct. 2.5, 1791.

My dear Friend — Your unexpected and transient
visit, like every thing else that is past, has now the
appearance of a dream, but it was a pleasant one,
and I heartily wish that such dreams could recur
more frequently. Your brother Chester repeated
his visit yesterday, and I never saw him m better
spirits. At such times he has, now and then, the
very look that he had when he was a boy, and
when 1 see it I seem to be a boy myself, and en-
tirely forget for a short moment the years that have
intervened since I was one. The look that I mean
is one that you, I dare say, have observed. — Then
we are at Westminster again. He left with me
that poem of your brother Lord Bagot's which was
mentioned when you were here. It was a treat to
me, and I read it to my cousin Lady Hesketh and
to Mrs. Unwin, to whom it was a treat also. It has
great sweetness of numbers and much elegance of
expression, and is just such a poem as I should be
happy to have composed myself about a year ago,
when I was loudly called upon by a certain noble-


man -• to celebrate the beauties of his villa. But I
had two insurmountable difficulties to contend with.
One was that I had never seen his villa, and the
other, that I had no eyes at that time for any thing
but Homer. Should I at any time hereafter under-
take the task, I shall now at least know how to go
about it, which, till I had seen Lord Bagot's poem,
I verily did not. I was particularly charmed with
the parody of those beautiful lines of Milton :

The song was partial, but the harmony

(What could it less, when spirits immortal sing !)
Suspended hell, and took with ravishment
The thronging audience."

There's a parenthesis for you ! The parenthesis it
seems is out of fashion, and perhaps the moderns
are in the right to proscribe what they cannot
attain to. I will answer for it that had we the art
at this day of insinuating a sentiment in this grace-
ful manner, no reader of taste would quarrel with
the practice. Lord Bagot showed his by selecting
the passage for his imitation.

I would beat Warton, if he were living, for sup-

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Online LibraryWilliam CowperThe life and works of William Cowper (Volume 4) → online text (page 19 of 23)