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Charmed with the sight, " The world," I cried,

"Shall hear of this thy deed;"
Mv dog shall mortify the pride

Of man's superior breed.

But chief myself I will enjoin,

Awake at duty's call.
To show a love as prompt as thine

To Him who gives me all."


July 6, 1788.

My dear Friend — " Bitter constraint and sad occa-
sion dear" have compelled me to draw on you for
the sum of twenty pounds, payable to John Higgins,

Esq. or order. The draft bears date July 5th

You will excuse my giving you this trouble, in con-
sideration that I am a poet, and can consequently
draw for money much easier than I can earn it.

I heard of you a few days since, from Walter
Bagot, who called here and told me that you were
gone, I think, into Rutlandshire, to settle the ac-

* Private Corres])ondence,


counts of a large estate unliquidated many years.
Intricacies that would turn my brains are play to
you. But I give you joy of a long vacation at
hand, when I suppose that even you will find it
pleasant, if not to be idle, at least not to be hemmed
around by business.

Yours ever,

W. C.


The Lodge, July 28, 1788.

It is in vain that you tell me that you have no
talent at description, while in fact you describe
better than any body. You have given me a most
complete idea of your mansion and its situation ;
and I doubt not that, with your letter in my hand
by way of map, could I be set down on the spot in
a moment, I should find myself qualified to take my
walks and my pastime in whatever quarter of your
paradise it should please me the most to visit. We
also, as you know, have scenes at Weston worthy of
description ; but, because you know them well, I
will only say, that one of them has, within these
few days, been much improved; I mean the lime
walk. By the help of the axe and the wood-bill,
which have of late been constantly employed in
cutting out all straggling branches that intercepted
the arch, Mr. Throckmorton has now defined it
with such exactness, that no cathedral in the world


can show one of more magnificence or beauty. I
bless myself that I live so near it ; for, were it dis-
tant several miles, it would be well worth while to
visit it, merely as an object of taste; not to mention
the refreshment of such a gloom both to the eyes
and spirits. And these are the things which our
modern improvers of parks and pleasure-grounds
have displaced without mercy; because, forsooth,
they are rectilinear. It is a wonder that they do
not quarrel with the sunbeams for the same reason.
Have you seen the account of five hundred cele-
brated authors now living ? * I am one of them ;
but stand charged with the high crime and misde-
meanour of totally neglecting method ; an accusa-
tion, which, if the gentleman would take the pains
to read me, he would find sufficiently refuted. I
am conscious at least myself of having laboured
much in the arrangement of my matter, and of
having given to the several parts of every book of
" The Task," as well as to each poem in the first
volume, that sort of slight connexion which poetry
demands; for in poetry (except professedly of the
didactic kind) a logical precision would be stiff, pe-
dantic, and ridiculous. But there is no pleasing
some critics ; the comfort is, that I am contented
whether they be pleased or not. At the same time,
to my honour be it spoken, the chronicler of us five
hundred prodigies bestows on me, for aught I know,
more commendations than on any other of my con-
fraternity. May he live to write the histories of as

* A book full of blunders and scandal, and destitute botli of
information and interest.

F 2


many thousand poets, and find me the very best
among them ! Amen !

I join with you, my dearest Coz, in wishing that
I owned the fee simple of all the beautiful scenes
around you, but such emoluments were never de-
signed for poets. Am I not happier than ever poet
was in having thee for my Cousin, and in the ex-
pectation of thy arrival here whenever Strawberry-
hill* shall lose thee?

Ever thine,

W. C.


The Lodge, August 9, 1788.
The Newtons are still here, and continue with
us, I believe, until the 15th of the month. Here is
also my friend, Mr. Rose, a valuable young man,
who, attracted by the effluvia of my genius, found
me out in my retirement last January twelvemonth.
I have not permitted him to be idle, but have made
him transcribe for me the twelfth book of the Iliad.
He brings me the compliments of several of the
literati, with whom he is acquainted in town, and
tells me, that from Dr. Maclain,t whom he saw lately,
he learns that my book is in the hands of sixty dif-
ferent persons at the Hague, who are all enchanted
with it ; not forgetting the said Dr. Maclain him-

* The celebrated seat of Lord Orford, near Richmond,
where Lady Hesketh was then visiting.

t The well-known translater of Mosheim's Ecclesiastical


self, who tells him that he reads it every day, and
is always the better for it. O rare we !

I have been employed this morning in composing
a Latin motto for the king's clock, the embellish-
ments of which are by Mr. Bacon. That gentleman
breakfasted with us on Wednesday, having come
thirty-seven miles out of his way on purpose to see
your Cousin. At his request I have done it, and
have made two, he will choose that which liketh
him best. Mr. Bacon is a most excellent man,
and a most agreeable companion : I would that he
lived not so remote, or that he had more opportu-
nity of travelling.

There is not, so far as I know, a syllable of the
rhyming correspondence between me and my poor
brother left, save and except the six lines of it
quoted in yours. I had the whole of it, but it pe-
rished in the wreck of a thousand other things when
I left the Temple.

Breakfast calls. Adieu !

W. C.


Weston, August 18, 1788.
My dear Friend — 1 left you with a sensible re-
gret, alleviated only by the consideration, that I
shall see you again in October. I was under some
concern also, lest, not being able to give you any
certain directions myself, nor knowing where you
might find a guide, you should wander and fatigue
yourself, good walker as you are, before you could


reach Northampton. Perliaps you heard me whistle
just after our separation; it was to call back Beau,
who was running after you with all speed to intreat
you to return with me. For my part, I took my
own time to return, and did not reach home till
after one, and then so weary that I was glad of my
great chair; to the comforts of which I added a
crust, and a glass of rum and water, not without
great occasion. Such a foot-traveller am I.

I am writing on Monday, but whether I shall
finish my letter this morning depends on Mrs.
Unwin's coming sooner or later down to breakfast.
Something tells me that you set off to day for Bir-
mingham ; and though it be a sort of Irishism to say
here, I beseech you take care of yourself, for the
day threatens great heat, I cannot help it; the wea-
ther may be cold enough at the time when that
good advice shall reach you, but, be it hot
or be it cold, to a man who travels as you tra-
vel, take care of yourself can never be an unsea-
sonable caution. I am sometimes distressed on this
account, for though you are young, and well made
for such exploits, those very circumstances are more
likely than any thing to betray you into danger.

Consule quid valeant planim, quid ferre recusent.

The Newtons left us on Friday. We frequently
talked about you after your departure, and every
thing that was spoken was to your advantage. I
know they will be glad to see you in London, and
perhaps, when your summer and autumn rambles


are over, you will afford them that pleasure. The
Throckmortons are equally well disposed to you,
and them also I recommend to you as a valuable
connexion, the rather because you can only culti-
vate it at Weston.

I have not been idle since you went, having not
only laboured as usual at the Iliad, but composed a
spick and span new piece, called " The Dog and the
Water Lily," which you shall see when we meet
again. I believe I related to you the incident which
is the subject of it. I have also read most of La-
vater's Aphorisms ; they appear to me some of them
wise, many of them whimsical, a ?ew of them false,
and not a iew of them extravagant. Nil illi medium.
If he finds in a man the feature or quality that he
approves, he deifies him ; if the contrary, he is a
devil. His verdict is in neither case, I suppose, a
just one.*

W. C.

* Cowper's strictures on Lavater are rather severe ; in a
subsequent letter we shall find that he expresses himself
almost in the language of a disciple. We believe all men to
be physiognomists, that is, they are guided in their estimate
of one another by external impressions, until they are fur-
nished with better data to determine their judgment. The
countenance is often the faithful mirror of the inward emotions
of the soul, in the same manner as the light and shade on the
mountain's side exhibit the variations of the atmosphere.
In the curious and valuable cabinet of Denon, in Paris, which
was sold in 18'27, two casts taken from Robespierre and
Marat were singularly expressive of the atrocity of their
character. The cast of an idiot, in the same collection, de-
noted the total absence of intellect. But, whatever may bo
our sentiments on this subject, there is one noble act of bens-



August 28, 1788.
My dear Madam — Should you discard me from
the number of your correspondents, you would treat
me as I seem to deserve, though I do not actually
deserve it. I have lately been engaged with com-
pany at our house, who resided with us five weeks,
and have had much of the rheumatism into the
bargain. Not in my fingers, you will say — True.
But you know as well as I, that pain, be it where it
may, indisposes us to writing.

volence which has justly endeared the name of Lavater to his
country. We allude to the celebrated Orphan Institution at
Zurich, of which he was the founder. It is a handsome and
commodious establishment, where these interesting objects of
humanity receive a suitable education, and are fitted for future
usefulness. The church is shown where John Caspar Lavater
officiated, surrounded by his youthful auditory ; and an bumble
stone in the churchyard briefly records his name and virtues.
His own Orphan-house is the most honourable monument of
his fame. It is in visiting scenes like these that we feel the
moral dignity of our nature, that the heart becomes expanded
with generous emotions, and that we learn to imitate that
Divine Master, who went about doing good. The Editor
could not avoid regretting that, in his own country, where
charity assumes almost every possible form, the Orphan-house
is of rare occurrence, though abounding in most of the cities
of Switzerland. Where are the philanthropists of Bristol,
Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Norwich, and of our
other great towns? Surely, to wipe away the tear from the
cheek of the orphan, to rescue want from destitution and
unprotected innocence from exposure to vice and ruin, must
ever be considered to be one of the noblest efforts of Christian

* Private Correspondence.


You express some degree of wonder that I found
you out to be sedentary, at least much a stayer
within doors, without any sufficient data for my di-
rection. Now, if I should guess your figure and
stature with equal success, you will deem me not
only a poet but a conjurer. Yet in fact I have no
pretensions of that sort. I have only formed a pic-
ture of you in my own imagination, as we ever do
of a person of whom we think much, though we
have never seen that person. Your height I con-
ceive to be about five feet five inches, which, though
it would make a short man, is yet height enough
for a woman. If you insist on an inch or two more,
I have no objection. You are not very fat, but
somewhat inclined to be fat, and unless you allow
yourself a little more air and exercise, will incur
some danger of exceeding in your dimensions before
you die. Let me, therefore, once more recommend
to you to walk a little more, at least in your garden,
and to amuse yourself occasionally with pulling up
here and there a weed, for it will be an inconve-
nience to you to be much fatter than you are, at a
time of life when your strength will be naturally on
the decline. I have given you a fair complexion, a
slight tinge of the rose in your cheeks, dark brown
hair, and, if the fashion would give you leave to
show it, an open and well-formed forehead. To all
this I add a pair of eyes not quite black, but nearly
approaching to that hue, and very animated. I
have not absolutely determined on the shape of
your nose, or the form of your mouth ; but should
you tell me that I have in other respects drawn a


tolerable likeness, have no doubt but I can describe
them too. I assure you that though I have a great
desire to read him, I have never seen Lavater, nor
have availed myself in the least of any of his rules
on this occasion. Ah, madam ! if with all that
sensibility of yours, which exposes you to so much
sorrow, and necessarily must expose you to it, in a
world like this, I have had the good fortune to make
3^ou smile, I have then painted you, whether with
a strong resemblance, or with none at all, to very
good purpose.'^

I had intended to have sent you a little poem,
which I have lately finished, but have no room to
transcribe it.f You shall have it by another oppor-
tunity. Breakfast is on the table, and my time also
fails, as well as my paper. I rejoice that a cousin
of yours found my volumes agreeable to him, for,
being your cousin, I will be answerable for his good
taste and judgment.

When I wrote last, I was in mourning for a dear
and much-valued uncle, Ashley Cowper. He died
at the age of eighty-six. My best respects attend
Mr. King ; and I am, dear madam,

Most truly yours,

w. c.

* Cowper's fancy was never more erroneously employed.
The portrait he here draws of ]\Irs. King possessed no resem-
blance to the original.

t The Dog aiid the Water Lilv.



Weston Lodge, Sept. 2, 1783.

My dear Friend — I rejoice that you and yours
reached London safe, especially when I reflect that
you performed the journey on a day so fatal, as I
understand, to others travelling the same road. I
found those comforts in your visit which have for-
merly sweetened all our interviews, in part restored.
I knew you ; knew you for the same shepherd who
was sent to lead me out of the wilderness into the
pasture where the chief Shepherd feeds his flock,
and felt my sentiments of affectionate friendship
for you the same as ever.f But one thing was still
wanting, and that thing the crown of all. I shall
And it in God's time, if it be not lost for ever.
When I say this, I say it trembling ; for at what
time soever comfort shall come, it will not come
without its attendant evil ; and, whatever good thing
may occur in the interval, I have sad forebodings of
the event, having learned by experience that I was
born to be persecuted with peculiar fury, and assu-
redly believing, that, such as my lot has been, it

* Private Correspondence.

t It was a singular delusion under which Cowper laboured,
and seems to be inexplicable ; but it is not less true that, for
many years, he doubted the identity of INIr. Newton. When
we see the powers of a great mind liable to such instances of
delusion, and occasionally suffering an entire eclipse, how
irresistibly are we led to exclaim, " Lord, what is man ! "


will be so to the end. This belief is connected in
my mind with an observation I have often made, and
is perhaps founded in great part upon it : that there
is a certain style of dispensations maintained by Pro-
vidence in the dealings of God with every man,
which, however the incidents of his life may vary,
and though he may be thrown into many different
situations, is never exchanged for another. The
style of dispensation peculiar to myself has hitherto
been that of sudden, violent, unlooked-for change.
When I have thought myself falling into the abyss,
I have been caught up again ; when I have thought
myself on the threshold of a happy eternity, I have
been thrust down to hell. The rough and the smooth
of such a lot, taken together, should perhaps have
taught me never to despair ; but, through an unhappy
propensity in my nature to forebode the worst, they
have on the contrary operated as an admonition to
me never to hope. A firm persuasion that I can
never durably enjoy a comfortable state of mind,
but must be depressed in proportion as I have been
elevated, withers my joys in the bud, and, in a
manner, entombs them before they are born : for I
have no expectation but of sad vicissitude, and ever
believe that the last shock of all will be fatal.

Mr. Bean has still some trouble with his parish-
ioners. The suppression of five public-houses is
the occasion.* He called on me yesterday morning

* The late Rev. H. Colbourne Ridley, the excellent vicar
of Hambleden, near Henley-on-Thames, distinguished for his
parochial plans and general devotedness to his professional
duties, once observed that tlie fruit of all his labours, during


for advice ; though, discreet as he is himself, he has

little need of such counsel as I can give him. ,

who is subtle as a dozen foxes, met him on Sunday,
exactly at his descent from the pulpit, and proposed to
him a general meeting of the parish in vestry on the
subject. Mr. Bean, attacked so suddenly, consented,
but afterward repented that he had done so, as-
sured as he was that he should be out-voted. There
seemed no remedy but to apprise them beforehand
that he would meet them indeed, but not with a
view to have the question decided by a majority :
that he would take that opportunity to make his al-
legations against each of the houses in question,
which if they could refute, well ; if not, they could
no longer reasonably oppose his measures. This
was what he came to submit to my opinion. I could
do no less than approve it ; and he left me with a
purpose to declare his mind to them immediately.

I beg that you will give my affectionate respects
to Mr. Bacon, and assure him of my sincere desire
that he should think himself perfectly at liberty
respecting the mottoes, to choose one or to reject
both, as likes him best. I wish also to be remem-
bered with much affection to Mrs. Cowper, and
always rejoice to hear of her well-being.

Believe me, as I truly am, my dear friend, most
affectionately yours,

W. C.

a residence of five-and-twentj years, was destroyed in one
single }'ear by the introduction of beer-houses, and their de-
moralizing effects.



Weston, Sept. 11, 1788.

My dear Friend — Since your departure I have
twice visited the oak, and with an intention to push
my inquiries a mile beyond it, where it seems I
should have found another oak, much larger and
much more respectable than the former ; but once I
was hindered by the rain, and once by the sultriness
of the day. This latter oak has been known by the
name of Judith many ages, and is said to have been
an oak at the time of the Conquest.* If I have not
an opportunity to reach it before your arrival here,
we will attempt that exploit together, and, even if 1
should have been able to visit it ere you come, I

* This celebrated oak, which is situated in Yardley Chase,
near Lord Northampton's residence at Castle Ashby, has fur-
nished the muse of Covrper with an occasion for displaying
all the graces of his rich poetical fancy. The poem will be
inserted in a subsequent part of the work. In the mean time,
we extract the following lines from " The Task," to show how
the descriptive powers of Cowper were awakened by this fa-
vourite and inspiring subject.

" The oak

Thrives by the rude concussion of the storm :

He seems indeed indignant, and to feel

The impression of the blast vi-ith proud disdain.

Frowning, as if in his unconscious arm

He held the thunder ; but the monarch owes

His firm stability to what he scorns.

More fixed below, the more disturb'd above.

The Sofa.


shall yet be glad to do so, for the pleasure of extra-
ordinary sights, like all other pleasures, is doubled
by the }>articipation of a friend.

You wish for a copy of my little dog's eulogium,
which I will therefore transcribe, but by so doing I
shall leave myself but scanty room for prose.

I shall be sorry if our neighbours at the Hall
should have left it, when we have the pleasure ot
seeing you. I want you to see them soon again,
that a little consuetudo may wear off restraint ; and
you may be able to improve the advantage you have
already gained in that quarter. I pitied you for the
fears which deprived you of your uncle's company,
and the more having suffered so much by those fears
myself. Fight against that vicious fear, for such it
is, as strenuously as you can. It is the worst enemy
that can attack a man destined to the forum — it
ruined me. To associate as much as possible with
the most respectable company, for good sense and
good breeding, is, I believe, the only, at least 1 am
sure it is the best remedy. The society of men of
pleasure will not cure it, but rather leaves us more
exposed to its influence in company of better per-

Now for the " Dog and the Water Lily." *

w. c.

* Tliis lias already been inserted.



Weston Lodo;e, Sept. 25, 1788.
My dearest Madam — How surprised was I this
moment to meet a servant at the gate, who told me
that he came from you ! He could not have been
more welcome unless he had announced yourself. I.
am charmed with your kindness and with all your
elegant presents ; so is Mrs. Unwin, who begs me
in particular to thank you warmly for the housewife,
the very thing she had just begun to want. In the
fire-screen you have sent me an enigma which at
present I have not the ingenuity to expound ; but
some muse will help me, or I shall meet with some-
body able to instruct me. In all that I have seen
besides, for that I have not yet seen, I admire both
the taste and the execution. A toothpick case I
had ; but one so large, that no modern waistcoat
pocket could possibly contain it. It was some years
since the Dean of Durham's, for whose sake I va-
lued it, though to me useless. Yours is come op-
portunely to supply the deficiency, and shall be my
constant companion to its last thread. The cakes
and apples we will eat, remembering who sent them,
and when I say this, I will add also, that when we
have neither apples nor cakes to eat, we will still re-
member you. — What the MS. poem can be, that you
suppose to have been written by me, I am not able
to guess ; and since you will not allow that I have

* Private Correspondence.


guessed your person well, am become shy of exer-
cising conjecture on any meaner subject. Perhaps
they may be some mortuary verses, which I wrote
last year, at the request of a certain parish-clerk.
If not, and you have never seen them, I will send
you them hereafter.

You have been at Bedford. Bedford is but twelve
miles from Weston. When you are at home we are
but eighteen miles asunder. Is it possible that such
a paltry interval can separate us always ? I will
never believe it. Our house is going to be filled by
a cousin of mine and her train, who will, I hope,
spend the winter with us. I cannot, therefore, re-
peat my invitation at present, but expect me to be
very troublesome on that theme next summer. I
could almost scold you for not making Weston in
your way home from Bedford. Though I am nei-
ther a relation, nor quite eighty-six years of age,*
believe me, I should as much rejoice to see you and
Mr. King, as if I were both.

I send you, my dear madam, the poem I pro-
mised you, and shall be glad to send you any thing
and every thing I write, as fast as it flows. Behold
my two volumes I which, though your old acquaint-
ance, . I thought, might receive an additional recom-
mendation in the shape of a present from myself.

What I have written I know not, for all has been
scribbled in haste. I will not tempt your servant's

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Online LibraryWilliam CowperThe life and works of William Cowper (Volume 4) → online text (page 6 of 23)