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lock and key, which are numerous. A box, there-
fore, so secured, will be to me an invaluable acqui-
sition. And, since you leave me to my option, what
shall be the size thereof, I of course prefer a folio.
On the back of the book-seeming box, some artist
expert in those matters, may inscribe these words,

Collectanea curiosa,

the English of which is, a collection of curiosities.
A title which I prefer to all others, because if I live,
I shall take care that the box shall merit it, and be-
cause it will operate as an incentive to open that
which being locked cannot be opened : for in these
cases the greater the baulk the more wit is disco-
vered by the ingenious contriver of it, viz. myself.

The General, I understand by his last letter, is
in town. In my last to him I told him news, pos-
sibly it will give you pleasure, and ought for that
reason to be made known to you as soon as possible.
My friend Rowley, who I told you has, after twenty-
five years' silence, renewed his correspondence with
me, and who now lives in Ireland, where he has
many and considerable connexions, has sent to me
for thirty subscription papers.* Rowley is one of
the most benevolent and friendly Creatures in the
world, and will, I dare say, do all in his power to
serve me.

I am just recovered from a violent cold, attended
by a cough, which split my head while it lasted. I
escaped these tortures all the winter, but whose

* For his version of Homer.


constitution, or what skin, can possibly be proof
against our vernal breezes in England ? Mine never
were, nor will be.

When people are intimate, we say they are as
great as two inkle-weavers, on which expression I
have to remark in the first place, that the word great
is here used in a sense which the corresponding term
has not, so far as I know, in any other language,
and secondly, that inkle-weavers contract intimacies
with each other sooner than other people on account
of their juxtaposition in weaving of inkle. Hence it
is that Mr. Gregson and I emulate those happy
weavers in the closeness of our connexion.* We
live near to each other, and while the Hall is empty
are each other's only extraforaneous comfort.
Most truly thine,

w. c.


Weston, May 8, 1788.
Alas ! my library — I must now give it up for a
lost thing for ever. The only consolation belonging
to the circumstance is, or seems to be, that no such
loss did ever befall any other man, or can ever befall
me again. As far as books are concerned I am
Totus teres atque rotundus,

and may set fortune at defiance. The books, which
had been my father's, had, most of them, his arms

• Mr. Gregson was chaplain to Mr. Throckmorton.


on the inside cover, but the rest no mark, neither
his name nor mine. I could mourn for them hke
Sancho for his Dapple, but it would avail me

You will oblige me much by sending me " Crazy
Kate." A gentleman last winter promised me both
her and the '' Lace-maker," but he went to London,
that place in which, as in the grave, " all things are
forgotten," and I have never seen either of them.*

I begin to find some prospect of a conclusion, of
the Iliad at least, now opening upon me, having
reached the eighteenth book. Your letter found
me yesterday in the very fact of dispersing the
whole host of Troy, by the voice only of Achilles.
There is nothing extravagant in the idea, for you
have witnessed a similar effect attending even such
a voice as mine, at midnight, from a garret window,
on the dogs of a whole parish, whom I have put to
flight in a moment.

w. c.

His high sense of the character and qualifications
of Lady Hesketh is pleasingly expressed in the
following letter, where Mrs. Montagu's coteries in
Portman-square are also alluded to.

* He alludfis to engraving's of these two characters, which
had acquired much popularity witli the public, especiallv
Crazy Kate, beginning,

•' There often wanders one, whom better days," &c. &c.



The Lodge, May 12, 1788.

It is probable, my dearest Coz, that I shall not
be able to write much, but as much as I can I will.
The time between rising and breakfast is all that I
can at present find, and this morning I lay longer
than usual.

In the style of the lady's note to you I can easily
perceive a smatch of her character.* Neither men
nor women write with such neatness of expression,
who have not given a good deal of attention to lan-
guage, and qualified tliemselves by study. At the
same time it gave me much more pleasure to ob-
serve, that my Coz, though not standing on the
pinnacle of renown quite so elevated as that which
lifts Mrs. Montagu to the clouds, falls in no degree
short of her in this particular ; so that, should she
make you a member of her academy,f she will do it

* Mrs. Montagu.

t The Blue-stocking Club, or Bas-bleu.

The following is the account of the origin of the Blue-
stocking Club, extracted from Boswell's " Life of Johnson :" —
" About this time (1781) it was much the fashion for several
ladies to have evening assemblies, where the fair sex might
participate in conversation with literary and ingenious men,
animated by a desire to please. These societies were denomi-
nated Blue-stocking Clubs, the origin of which title being little
known, it may be worth while to relate it. One of the most
eminent members of these societies, when they first com-
menced, was Mr. Stillingfleet,t whose dress was remarkably

* Mr. Benjamin Stillingfleet, author of tracts relating to
natural history, &c.


honour. Suspect me not of flattering you, for 1
abhor the thought ; neither will you suspect it.
PLCCoUect, that it is an invariable rule with me never
to pay compliments to those I love.

Two days, en suite, I have walked to Gayhurst,*
a longer journey than I have walked on foot these
seventeen years. The first day I went alone, de-
signing merely to make the experiment, and choosing
to be at liberty to return at whatsoever point of my
pilgrimage I should find myself fatigued. For I was
not without suspicion that years, and some other
things no less injurious than years, viz. melancholy
and distress of mind, might by this time have un-
fitted me for such achievements. But I found it
otherwise. I reached the church, which stands, as
you know, in the garden, in fifty-five minutes, and
returned in ditto time to Weston. The next day I
took the same walk with Mr. Powley, having a de-
sire to show him the prettiest place in the country .-]-
I not only performed these two excursions without
injury to my health, but have by means of them
gained indisputable proof that my ambulatory faculty

grave, and in particular it was observed that he wore blue
stockings. Such was the excellence of his conversation, that
his absence was felt as so great a loss, that it used to be said,
' We can do nothing without the blue siockings;' and thus by
degrees the title was established. IVliss Hannah More has
admirably described a Blue-stocking Club, in her ' Bas Bleu,' a
poem in which many of the persons who were most conspi-
cuous there are mentioned."

* A large mansion near Newport Pagnel, forme'-ly belong-
ing to ]\Iiss Wright.

t The Rev. ;\Ir. Powley married .Airs. Unwin's daughter.


is not yet impaired ; a discovery which, considering
that to my feet alone I am hkely, as I have ever
been, to be indebted always for my transportation
from place to place, I find very delectable.

You will find in the last Gentleman's Magazine a
sonnet, addressed to Henry Cowper, signed T. H.
I am the writer of it. No creature knows this but
yourself; you will make what use of the intelligence
)'ou shall see good.

W. C.


The Lodge, May 24, 1788.

My dear Friend — For two excellent prints I re-
turn you my sincere acknowledgments, I cannot
say that poor Kate resembles much the original,
who was neither so young nor so handsome as the
pencil has represented her ; but she has a figure
well suited to the account given of her in " The Task,"
and has a face exceedingly expressive of despairing
melancholy. The Lace-maker is accidentally a good
likeness of a young woman, once our neighbour,
who was hardly less handsome than the picture
twenty years ago ; but the loss of one husband, and
the acquisition of another, have, since that time,
impaired her much ; yet she might still be supposed
to have sat to the artist.*

We dined yesterday with your friend and mine,

* Poor Kate and the Lace-maker were portraits diawn from
real life.


the most companionable and domestic Mr. C-

The whole kingdom can hardly furnish a spectacle
more pleasing to a man who has a taste for true
happiness, than himself, Mrs. C , and their mul-
titudinous family. Seven long miles are interposed
between us, or perhaps I should oftener have an
opportunity of declaiming on this subject.

I am now in the nineteenth book of the Iliad,
and on the point of displaying such feats of heroism
performed by Achilles as make all other achieve-
ments trivial. I may well exclaim, " O for a Muse
of fire !" especially having not only a great host to
cope with, but a great river also ; much, however,
may be done when Homer leads the way. I should
not have chosen to have been the original author of
such a business, even though all the Mine had stood
at my elbow. Time has wonderful effects. We
admire that in an antient, for which Ave should send
a modern bard to Bedlam.

I saw at Mr. C 's a great curiosity — an an-
tique bust of Paris, in Parian marble. You will
conclude that it interested me exceedingly. I
pleased myself with supposing that it once stood in
Helen's chamber. It was in fact brought from the
Levant, and, though not well mended, (for it had
suffered much by time,) is an admirable performance.

W. C.

Mr. Bull had urged Cowper once more to employ
the powers of his pen, in what he so eminently ex-

* Mr. Chester, of Chicheley, near Newport Pagnel.


celled, the composition of hymns, expressive of resig-
nation to the will of God. It is much to be lamented
that he here declines what would so essentially have
promoted the interests of true religion.


Weston, May 23, 1788.
My dear Friend — Ask possibilities and they shall
be performed ; but ask not hymns from a man suf-
fering by despair as I do. • I could not sing the
Lord's song were it to save my life, banished as I
am, not to a strange land, but to a remoteness from
his presence, in comparison with which the distance
from east to west is no distance, is vicinity and co-
hesion. I dare not, either in prose or verse, allow
myself to express a fi-ame of mind which I am con-
scious does not belong to me ; least of all can I
venture to use the language of absolute resignation,
lest, only counterfeiting, I should for that very reason
be taken strictly at my word, and lose all my re-
maining comfort. Can there not be found among
those translations of Madame Guyon somewhat that
might serve the purpose? I should think there
might. Submission to the will of Christ, my me-
mory tells me, is a theme that pervades them all.
If so, your request is performed already ; and if
any alteration in them should be necessary, I will
with all my heart make it. I have no objection to
giving the graces of the foreigner an English dress,
but insuperable ones to all false pretences and af-
fected exhibitions of what I do not feel.
* Private Correspondence.


Hoping that you will have the grace to be re-
signed most perfectly to this disappointment, which
you should not have suffered had it been in my
power to prevent it, I remain, with our best remem-
brances to Mr. Thornton,

Ever affectionately yours,

w. c.


The Lodge, May 27, 1788.

My dear Coz. — The General, in a letter which
came yesterday, sent me inclosed a copy of my
sonnet ; thus introducing it.

" I send a copy of verses somebody has written
in the Gentleman's Magazine for April last. Inde-
pendent of my partiality towards the subject, I
think the lines themselves are good."

Thus it appears that my poetical adventure has
succeeded to my wish, and I write to him by this
post, on purpose to inform him that the somebody
in question is myself.*

* Mr. Henry Cowper, who was Reading-Clerk in the House
of Lords, was remarkable for the clearness and melody of his
voice. This qualification is happily alluded to by the poet,
in the following lines : —

" Thou art not voice alone, but hast besides
Both heart and head, and could'st with music sweet
Of Attic phrase and senatorial tone.
Like thy renown'd forefathers, t far and wide
Thy fame diffuse, praised, not for utterance meet
Of others' speech, but magic of thy own."

t Lord-chancellor Cowper, and Spencer Cowper, Chief-
justice of Chester.


I no longer wonder that Mrs. Montagu stands at
the head of all that is called learned, and that every
critic vails his bonnet to her superior judgment ; I
am now reading, and have reached the middle of
her Essay on the Genius of Shakspeare; a book
of which, strange as it may seem, though I must
have read it formerly, I had absolutely forgot the

The learning, the good sense, the sound judg-
ment, and the wit displayed in it, fully justify not
only my compliment, but all compliments that either
have been already paid to her talents, or shall be
paid hereafter. Voltaire, I doubt not, rejoiced that
his antagonist wrote in English, and that his coun-
trymen could not possibly be judges of the dispute.
Could they have known how much she was in the
right, and by how many thousand miles the bard of
Avon is superior to all their dramatists, the French
critic would have lost half his fame among them.

I saw at Mr. Chester's a head of Paris ; an antique
of Parian marble. His uncle, who left him the es-
tate, brought it, as I understand, from the Levant :
you may supj)Ose I viewed it with all the enthu-
siasm that belongs to a translator of Homer. It is
in reality a great curiosity, and highly valuable.

* This essay contributed very much to establish the literary
character of Mrs. Montagu, as a woman of taste and learning ;
and to vindicate Shakspeare from the sallies of the wit of
Voltaire, who comprehended his genius as little as the im-
mortal poem of the " Paradise Lost," It is well known how
Young replied to his frivolous raillery on the latter work : —
" Thou art so witty, profligate, and thin.
At once we think thee Milton's Death and Sin."


Our friend Sephus* has sent me two prints ; the
Lace-maker and Crazy Kate. These also I have
contemplated with pleasure, having, as you know, a
particular interest in them. The former of them is
not more beautiful than a lace-maker once our
neighbour at Olney; though the artist has assem-
bled as many charms in her countenance as I ever
saw in any countenance, one excepted. Kate is
both younger and handsomer than the original from
which I drew, but she is in a good style, and as mad
as need be.

How does this hot weather suit thee, my dear, in
London ? as for me, with all my colonnades and
bowers, I am quite oppressed by it.

W. C.


The Lodge, June 3, 1788.

My dearest Cousin — The excessive heat of these
last few days was indeed oppressive ; but, excepting
the languor that it occasioned both in my mind and
body, it was far from being prejudicial to me. It
opened ten thousand pores, by which as many mis-
chiefs, the effects of long obstruction, began to
breathe themselves forth abundantly. Then came
an east wind, baneful to me at all times, but follow-
ing so closely such a sultry season, uncommonly
noxious. To speak in the seaman's phrase, not
entirely strange to you, I was taken all aback; and
* Mr. Hill.


the humours which would have escaped, if old Eurus
would have given them leave, finding every door
shut, have fallen into my eyes. But, in a country
like this, poor miserable mortals must be content to
suffer all that sudden and violent changes can inflict ;
and if they are quit for about half the plagues that
Caliban calls down on Prospero, they may say, "We
are well off," and dance for joy, if the rheumatism
or cramp will let them.

Did you ever see an advertisement by one Fowle,
a dancing-master of Newport-Pagnel ? If not, I
will contrive to send it to you for your amusement.
It is the most extravagantly ludicrous affair of the
kind I ever saw. The author of it had the good
hap to be crazed, or he had never produced any
thing half so clever ; for you will ever observe, that
they who are said to have lost their wits have more
than other people. It is therefore only a slander,
with which envy prompts the malignity of persons
in their senses to asperse wittier than themselves.
But there are countries in the world where the
mad have justice done them, where they are revered
as the subjects of inspiration, and consulted as ora-
cles. Poor Fowle would have made a figure there.

W. C.

In the next letter Cowper declines writing further
oil the subject of the slave trade : the horrors con-
nected with it are the reasons assigned for this refusal.
His past efforts in that cause are the best evidence
of his ability to write upon it with powerful effect.


The sensitive mind of Cowper shrunk with terror
from these appaUing atrocities.


Weston Lodge, June 5, 1788.

My dear Friend— It is a comfort to me that you
are so kind as to make allowance for me, in consi-
deration of my being so busy a man. The truth is
that, could I write with both hands, and with both
at the same time, verse with one and prose with the
other, I should not even so be able to dispatch both
my poetry and my arrears of correspondence faster
than I have need. The only opportunities that I
can find for conversing with distant friends are in the
early hour (and that sometimes reduced to half a
one) before breakfast. Neither am I exempt from
hindrances, which, while they last, are insurmount-
able ; especially one, by which I have been occa-
sionally a sufferer all my life. I mean an inflam-
mation of the eyes ; a malady under which I have
lately laboured, and from which I am at this moment
only in a small degree relieved. The last sudden
change of the weather, from heat almost insupport-
able to a cold as severe as is commonly felt in mid-
winter, would have disabled me entirely for all sorts
of scribbling, had I not favoured the weak part a
little, and given my eyes a respite.

It is certain that we do not live far from Olney,
but small as the distance is, it has too often the
effect of a separation between the Beans and us.

* Private Correspondence.


He is a man with whom, when I can converse at all,
I can converse on terms perfectly agreeable to my-
self; who does not distress me with forms, nor yet
disgust me by the neglect of them ; whose manners
are easy and natural, and his observations always
sensible. I often, therefore, wish them nearer

We have heard nothing of the Powleys since they
left us, a fortnight ago, and should be uneasy at their
silence on such an occasion, did we not know that
she cannot write, and that he, on his first return to
his parish after a long absence, may possibly find it
difficult. Her we found much improved in her
health and spirits, and him, as always, affectionate
and obliging. It was an agreeable visit, and, as it
was ordered for me, I happened to have better spi-
rits than I have enjoyed at any time since.

I shall rejoice if your friend Mr. Philips, influ-
enced by what you told him of my present engage-
ments, shall wave his application to me for a poem
on the slave trade. I account myself honoured by
his intention to solicit me on the subject, and it
would give me pain to refuse him, which inevitably
I shall be constrained to do. The more I have con-
sidered it, the more I have convinced myself that
it is not a promising theme for verse. General cen-
sure on the iniquity of the practice will avail
nothing. The world has been overwhelmed with
such remarks already, and to particularize all the
horrors of it were an employment for the mind both
of the poet and his readers, of which they would
necessarily soon grow weary. For my own part, I


cannot contemplate the subject very nearly without
a degree of abhorrence that affects my spirits, and
sinks them below the pitch requisite for success in
verse. Lady Hesketh recommended it to me some
months since, and then I declined it for these
reasons, and for others which need not be mentioned

I return you many thanks for all your intelligence
concerning the success of the gospel in far coun-
tries, and shall rejoice in a sight of Mr. Van Lier's
letter,* which, being so voluminous, I think you
should bring with you, when you take your flight to
Weston, rather than commit to any other convey-

Remember that it is now summer, and that the
summer flies fast, and that we shall be happy to see
you and yours as speedily and for as long a time as
you can afford. We are sorry, truly so, that Mrs.
Newton is so frequently and so much indisposed.
Accept our best love to you both, and believe me,
my dear friend,

Affectionately yours,

W. C.

After what I have said on the subject of my
v/riting engagements, I doubt not but you will ex-
cuse my transcribing the verses to Mrs. Montagu,-}-

* Mr. Van Lier was a Dutch minister, to whom the perusal
of Mr. Newton's works had been made eminently useful. VVe
sliall have occasion to allude to this subject in its proper

"I These verses " On Mrs, Montagu's Feather Hangings "


especially considering that my eyes are weary with
what I have written this morning already. I feel
somewhat like an impropriety in referring you to
the next " Gentleman's Magazine," but at the pre-
sent juncture I know not how to do better.

are characterised by elegant taste and a delicate turn of com-
pliment. We insert an extract from tbem, as descriptive of
her evening parties in Portman-square, the resort of cultivated
wit and fashion, and so frequently alluded to in the interesting
Memoirs of Mrs. More.

To the same patroness resort,

Secure of favour at her court,

Strong- genius, from whose forge of thought

Forms rise, to quick perfection wrought.

Which, though new-born, with vigour move.

Like Pallas, springing armed from Jove —

Imagination, scattering round

Wild roses over furrow'd ground,

Which Labour of his frowns beguile,

And teach Philosophy a smile —

Wit, flashing on Religion's side.

Whose fires, to sacred Truth applied.

The gem, though luminous before.

Obtrude on human notice more.

Like sun-beams on the golden height

Of some tall temple playing bright —

Well-tutor'd Learning, from his books

Dismiss'd with grave, not haughty, lookc.

Their order, on his shelves exact,

Not more harnionious or compact

Than that, to which he keeps confined

The various treasures of his mind —

All these to Montagu's repair.

Ambitious of a shelter there.


The death of Ashley Cowper, the father of Lady
Hesketh and of Miss Theodora Cowper, the object
of the poet's fond and early attachment, occurred
at this period, and is the subject of the following
letters. His reflections on this occasion are inte-
resting and edifying.


Weston, June 8, 1788.

My dear Friend — Your letter brought me the
very first intelligence of the event it mentions. My
last letter from Lady Hesketh gave me reason
enough to expect it, but the certainty of it was un-
known to me till I learned it by your information.
If gradual decline, the consequence of great age,
be a sufficient preparation of the mind to encounter
such a loss, our minds were certainly prepared to
meet it : yet to you I need not say that no prepa-
ration can supersede the feelings of the heart on
such occasions. While our friends yet live inha-
bitants of the same world with ourselves, they seem
still to live to tis ; we are sure that they sometimes
think of us ; and, however improbable it may seem,
it is never impossible that we may see each other
once again. But the grave, like a great gulf,
swallows all such expectations, and, in the moment
when a beloved friend sinks into it, a thousand
tender recollections awaken a regret that will be felt

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