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honesty, who seems by his countenance to have a

* Mrs. Battison, a relative of Mrs. King's, and at this ad-
vanced age, was in a very declining state of health.


great deal, being equally watcliful to preserve un-
corrupted the honesty of my own.

I am, my dearest madam, with a thousand thanks
for this stroke of friendship, which I feel at my heart,
and with Mrs. Unwin's very best respects, most sin-
cerely yours,

w. c.

p. S. My two hares died little more than two years
since, one of them aged ten years, the other eleven
years and eleven months.*

Our compliments attend Mr. King.


Weston, Sept. 25, 1788.

My dear Friend —

Say what is the thing by my riddle design'd,
Which you earned to London, and yet left behind.

I expect your answer, and without a fee. — The half
hour next before breakfast 1 devote to you. The
moment Mrs. Unwin arrives in the study, be what I
have written much or little, I shall make my bow,
and take leave. If you live to be a judge, as, if I
augur right, you will, I shall expect to hear of a
walking circuit.

I was shocked at what you tell me of : superior

* There is a little memoir of Cowper's hares, written by
himself, which will he inserted in his works.


talents, it seems, give no security for propriety of
conduct; on the contrary, having a natural ten-
dency to nourish pride, they often betray the pos-
sessor into such mistakes as men more moderately
gifted never commit. Ability therefore is not wis-
dom, and an ounce of grace is a better guard against
gross absurdity than the brightest talents in the

I rejoice that you are prepared for transcript
work : here will be plenty for you. The day on
which you shall receive this, I beg you will remem-
ber to drink one glass at least to the success of the
Iliad, which I finished the day before yesterday,
and yesterday began the Odyssey. It will be some
time before I shall perceive myself travelling in
another road; the objects around me are at present
so much the same ; Olympus, and a council of gods,
meet me at my first entrance. To tell you the
truth, I am weary of heroes and deities, and, with
reverence be it spoken, shall be glad for variety's
sake, to exchange their company for that of a

Weston has not been without its tragedies since
you left us; Mrs. Throckmorton's piping bullfinch
has been eaten by a rat, and the villain left nothing
but poor Bully's beak behind him. It will be a
wonder if this event does not at some convenient
time employ my versifying passion. Did ever fair
lady, from the Lesbia of Catullus to the preseiit
day, lose her bird, and find no poet to commemo-
rate the loss ^

w. c.



Cowper here gives an amusing account of the
manner in which he employed his hours of recre-
ation, at different periods of his hfe.


Weston Lodge, Oct. 11, 1788.
My dear Madam — You are perfectly secure from
all danger of being overwhelmed with presents from
me. It is not much that a poet can possibly have
it in his power to give. When he has presented
his own works, he may be supposed to have ex-
hausted all means of donation. They are his only
superfluity. There was a time, but that time was
before I commenced writer for the press, when I
amused myself in a way somewhat similar to yours ; al-
lowing, I mean, for the difference between masculine
and female operations. The scissars and the needle
are your chief implements; mine were the chissel
and the saw. In those days you might have been
in some danger of too plentiful a return for your
favours. Tables, such as they were, and joint-
stools, such as never were, might have travelled to
Perten-hall in most inconvenient abundance. But
I have long since discontinued this practice, and
many others which I found it necessary to adopt,
that I might escape the worst of all evils, both in
itself and in its consequences — an idle life. Many
arts I have exercised with this view, for which na-
ture never designed me; though among them were
some in which I arrived at considerable proficiency,
* Private Correspondence.


by mere dint of the most heroic perseverance.
There is not a 'squire in all this country who can
boast of having made better squirrel-houses, hutches
for rabbits, or bird-cages, than myself; and in the
article of cabbage-nets, I had no superior. I even
had the hardiness to take in hand the pencil, and
studied a vt^hole year the art of drawing. Many
figures were the fruit of my labours, which had, at
least, the merit of being unparalleled by any pro-
duction either of art or nature. But, before the
year was ended, I had occasion to wonder at the
progress that may be made, in despite of natural
deficiency, by dint alone of practice ; for I actually
produced three landscapes, which a lady thought
worthy to be framed and glazed. I then judged it
high time to exchange this occupation for another,
lest, by any subsequent productions of inferior
merit, I should forfeit the honour I had so fortu-
nately acquired. But gardening was, of all em-
ployments, that in which I succeeded best; though
even in this I did not suddenly attain perfection.
I began with lettuces and cauliflowers: from them
I proceeded to cucumbers; next to melons. I then
purchased an orange tree, to which, in due time, 1
added two or three myrtles. These served me
day and night with employment during a whole se-
vere winter. To defend them from the frost, in a
situation that exposed them to its severity, cost me
much ingenuity and much attendance. I contrived
to give them a fire heat ; and have waded night
after night through the snow, with the bellows un-
der my arm, just before going to bed, to give the


latest possible pufF to the embers, lest the frost
should seize them before the morning. Very minute
beginnings have sometimes important consequences.
From nursing two or three little evergreens, I be-
came ambitious of a green-house, and accordingly
built one ; which, verse excepted, afforded me
amusement for a longer time than any expedient of
all the many to which I have fled for refuge from
the misery of having nothing to do. When I left
Olney for Weston, I could no longer have a green-
house of my own; but in a neighbour's garden I
find a better, of which the sole management is con-
signed to me.

I had need take care, when I begin a letter, that
the subject with which I set off be of some im-
portance ; for before I can exhaust it, be it what it
may, I have generally filled my paper. But self is
a subject inexhaustible, which is the reason that
though I have said little, and nothing, I am afraid,
worth your hearing, I have only room to add that I
am, my dear madam.

Most truly yours,

w. c.


The Lodge, Nov. 29, 1788.
My dear Friend — Not to fill my paper with apo-
logies, I will only say that you know my occupation,
and how little time it leaves me for other employ-
ments; in which, had I leisure for them, I could
* Private Correspondence.


take much pleasure. Letter-writing would be one
of the most agreeable, and especially writing to

Poor Jenny Raban is declining fast toward the
grave, and as fast aspiring to the skies. I expected
to have heard j^esterday of her death; but learned,
on enquiry, that she was better. Dr. Kerr has
seen her, and, by virtue I suppose of his prescrip-
tions, her fits, with which she was frequently
troubled, are become less frequent. But there is
no reason, I believe, to look for her recovery. Her
case is a consumption, into which I saw her sliding
swiftly in the spring. There is not much to be la-
mented, or that ought to be so, in the death of
those that go to glory.

If you find many blots, and my writing illegible,
you must pardon them, in consideration of the
cause. Lady Hesketh and Mrs. Unwin are both
talking as if they designed to make themselves
amends for the silence they are enjoined while I sit
translating Homer. Mrs. Unwin is preparing the
breakfast, and, not having seen each other since
they parted to go to bed, they have consequently a
deal to communicate.

I have seen Mr. Greatheed, both in his own
house and here.* Prosperity sits well on him, and
I cannot find that this advantageous change in his
condition has made any alteration either in his
views or his behaviour. The winter is gliding mer-
rily away, while my cousin is with us. She annihi-

* Mr. Greatheed was now residing at Newport Pagnel, >nd
exercising Lis ministry there.


lates the difference between cold and heat, gloomy
skies and cloudless. I have written I know not
what, and with the dispatch of legerdemain; but,
with the utmost truth and consciousness of what I
say, assure you, my dear friend, that I am
Ever yours,

W. C.


Weston, Nov. 30, 1788.

My dear Friend — Your letter, accompanying the
books with which you have favoured me, and for
which I return you a thousand thanks, did not ar-
rive till yesterday. I shall have great pleasure in
taking now and then a peep at my old friend Vin-
cent Bourne ; the neatest of all men in his versifica-
tion, though, when I was under his ushership at
Westminster, the most slovenly in his person. He
was so inattentive to his boys, and so indifferent
whether they brought him good or bad exercises,
or none at all, that he seemed determined, as he
was the best, so to be the last Latin poet of the
Westminster line ; a plot which, I believe, he exe-
cuted very successfully, for I have not heard of any
who has deserved to be compared with him.

We have had hardly any rain or snow since you left
as; the roads are accordingly as dry as in the middle
of summer, and the opportunity of walking much
more favourable. We have no season, in my mind,
so pleasant as such a winter ; and I account it par-


ticularly fortunate, that such It proves, my Cousin
bemg with us. She is in good health, and cheerful,
so are we all ; and this I say, knowing you will be
glad to hear it, for you have seen the time when this
could not be said of all your friends at Weston. We
shall rejoice to see you here at Christmas ; but I
recollect, when 1 hinted such an excursion by word
of mouth, you gave me no great encouragement to
expect you. Minds alter, and yours may be of the
number of those that do so ; and, if it should, you
will be entirely welcome to us all. Were there no
other reason for your coming than merely the plea-
sure it will afford to us, that reason alone would be
sufficient : but, after so many toils, and with so many
more in prospect, it seems essential to your well-
being that you should allow yourself a respite, which
perhaps you can take as comfortably (I am sure as
quietly) here as any where.

The ladies beg to be remembered to you with all
possible esteem and regard; they are just come
down to breakfast, and, being at this moment ex-
tremely talkative, oblige me to put an end to my
letter. Adieu.

W. C.


The Lodge, Dec 6, 1788.

My dear Madam — It must, if you please, be a
point agreed between us, that we will not make

* Private Correspondence.


punctuality in writing the test of our regard for
each other, lest we should incur the danger of pro-
nouncing and suffering by an unjust sentence, and
this mutually. I have told you, I believe, that the
half hour before breakfast is my only letter-writing
opportunity. In summer I rise rather early, and
consequently at that season can find more time for
scribbling than at present. If I enter my study
now before nine, I find all at sixes and sevens ; for
servants will take, in part at least, the liberty
claimed by their masters. That you may not sup-
pose us all sluggards alike, it is necessary, however,
that I should add a word or t^^o on this subject, in
justification of Mrs. Unwin, who, because the days
are too short for the important concerns of knitting
stockings and mending them, rises generally by
candle-light ; a practice so much in the style of all
the ladies of antiquity who were good for anything,
that it is impossible not to applaud it.

Mrs. Battison being dead, I began to fear that
you would have no more calls to Bedford ; but the
marriage, so near at hand, of the young lady you
mention with a gentleman of that place, gives me
hope again that you may occasionally approach us
as heretofore, and that on some of those occasions
you will perhaps find your way to Weston. The
deaths of some and the marriages of others make a
new world of it every thirty years. Within that
space of time, the majority are displaced, and a new
generation has succeeded. Here and there one is
permitted to stay a little longer, that there may not
be wanting a few grave Dons like myself, to make


the observation. This thought struck me very for-
cibly the other day, on reading a paper called the
County Chronicle, which came hither in the pack-
age of some books from London. It contained news
from Hertfordshire, and informed me, among other
things, that at Great Berkhampstead, the place of
my birth, there is hardly a family left of all those
with whom, in my early days, I was so familiar.
The houses, no doubt, remain, but the inhabitants
are only to be found now by their grave-stones ;
and it is certain that I might pass through a town,
in which I was once a sort of principal figure, un-
knowing and unknown. They are happy who have
not taken up their rest in a world fluctuating as the
sea, and passing away with the rapidity of a river.
I wish to my heart that yourself and Mr. King may
long continue, as you have already long continued,
excei^tions from the general truth of this remark.
You doubtless married early, and the thirty-six
years elapsed may have yet other years to succeed
them. I do not forget that your relation Mrs.
Battison lived to the age of eighty-six. I am glad
of her longevity, because it seems to afford some
assurance of yours ; and I hope to know you better
yet before you die.

I have never seen the Observer, but am pleased
with being handsomely spoken of by an old school-
fellow. Cumberland* and I boarded together in
the same house at Westminster. He was at that
time clever, and I suppose has given proof sufficient

* Author of the " Observer,'' " the West Indian/' and of
several dramatic pieces.


to the world that he is still clever: but of all that
he has written, it has never fallen in my way to read
a syllable, except perhaps in a magazine or review,
the sole sources, at present, of all my intelligence.
Addison speaks of persons who grow dumb in the
study of eloquence, and I have actually studied
Homer till I am become a mere ignoramus in every
other province of literature.

My letter-writing time is spent, and I must now
to Homer. With my best respects to Mr. King, I
remain, dear madam,

Most affectionately yours,

W. C.

P. S. When I wrote last, I told you, I believe,
that Lady Hesketh was with us. She is with us
now, making a cheerful winter for us at Weston.
The acquisition of a new friend, and, at a late day,
the recovery of the friend of our youth, are two of
the chief comforts of which this life is susceptible.


The Lodge, Dec. 9, 1788.
My dear Friend — That I may return you the
Latin manuscript as soon as possible,! I take a short

* Private Correspondence.

t VVe have already alluded to Mr. Van Lier, a Dutch mi-
nister of the Reformed Church, to whom the perusal of Mr.
Newton's writings was made instrumental in leading his mind
to clear and saving impressions of divine truth. He commu-


opportunity to scratch a few hasty Hnes, that it may
not arrive alone. I have made here and there an
alteration, which appeared to me for the better;
but, on the whole, I cannot but wonder at your
adroitness in a business to which you have been
probably at no time much accustomed, and which,
for many years, you have not at all practised. If,
when you shall have written the whole, you shall
M'ish for a corrector of the rest, so far as my own skill
in the matter goes, it is entirely at your service.

Lady Hesketh is obliged to you for the part of
your letter in which she is mentioned, and returns
her compliments. She loves all my friends, and
consequently cannot be indifferent to you. The
Throckmortons are gone into Norfolk, on a visit to
Lord Petre. They will probably return this day
fortnight. Mr. F is now preacher at Raven-
stone. Mr. C still preaches here. The latter

is warmly attended. The former has heard him,
having, I suppose, a curiosity to know by what
charm he held his popularity ; but whether he has
heard him to his own edification, or not, is more
than I can say. Probably he wonders, for I have
heard that he is a sensible man. His successful
competitor is wise in nothing but his knowledge of
the gospel.

nicated to Mr. Newton an interesting account of tbis spiritual
change of mind, in the Latin manuscript here mentioned,
which was transmitted to Cowper, and afterwards translated
by hira, and finally published by Mr. Newton. It is entitled
" The Power of Grace illustrated," and will be more particu-
larly adverted to in a subsequent part of this book.


I am summoned to breakfast, and am, my dear
friend, with our best love to Mrs. Newton, Miss
Catlett, and yourself,

Most aflPectionately yours,

w. c.

I have not the assurance to call this an answer
to your letter, in which were many things deserving
much notice : but it is the best that, in the present
moment, I am able to send you.


The Lodge, Jan. 19, 1789.

Dear Sir — I have taken since you went away
many of the walks which we have taken together,
and none of them I believe without thoughts of you.
I have, though not a good memory in general, yet
a good local memory, and can recollect, by the help
of a tree or stile, what you said on that particular
spot. For this reason I purpose when the summer
is come, to walk with a book in my pockets : what
I read at my fire-side I forget, but what I read
under a hedge, or at the side of a pond, that pond
and that hedge will always bring to my remem-
brance ; and this is a sort of memoria technica,
which I would recommend to you, if I did not kjiow
that you have no occasion for it.

I am reading Sir John Hawkins, and still hold
the same opinion of his book as when you were


here.* There are in it undoubtedly some awkward-
nesses of phrase, and which is worse, here and there,
some unequivocal indications of a vanity not easily
pardonable in a man of his years ; but on the whole
I find it amusing, and to me at least, to whom every
thing that has passed in the literary world within
these five-and-twenty years is new, sufficiently re-
plete with information. Mr. Throckmorton told
me about three days since, that it was lately recom-
mended to him by a sensible man, as a book that
would give him great insight into the history of
modern literature, and modern men of letters, a
commendation which I really think it merits. Fifty
years hence, perhaps, the world will feel itself
obliged to him.

W. C.


The Lodge, Jan. 24, 1789.

My dear Sir — We have heard from my Cousin
in Norfolk-street ; she reached home safely, and in
good time. An observation suggests itself, which,
though I have but little time for observation making,
I must allow myself time to mention. Accidents,
as we call them, generally occur when there seems
least reason to expect them ; if a friend of ours

* Sir John Hawkins is known as the author of four quarto
volumes on fhe general History of Music, and by a Life of
Johnson. The former is now superseded by Barney's, and
the latter by Boswell's.


travels far in different roads, and at an unfavourable
season, we are reasonably alarmed for the safety of
one in whom we take so much interest, yet how
seldom do we hear a tragical account of such a
journey ! It is, on the contrary, at home, in our
yard, or garden, perhaps in our parlour, that disaster
finds us ; in any place, in short, where we seem
perfectly out of the reach of danger. The lesson
inculcated by such a procedure on the part of Pro-
vidence towards us seems to be that of perpetual

Having preached this sermon, I must hasten to a
close ; you know that I am not idle, nor can I afford
to be so ; I would gladly spend more time with you,
but by some means or other this day has hitherto
proved a day of hindrance and confusion.

W. C.


Weston, Jan. 29, 1789.

My dear Friend — I shall be a better, at least a
more frequent, correspondent when I have done
with Homer. I am not forgetful of any letters that
I owe, and least of all forgetful of my debts in that
way to you; on the contrary, I live in a continual
state of self-reproach for not writing more punc-
tually ; but the old Grecian, whom I charge myself
never to neglect, lest I should never finish him,
has at present a voice that seems to drown all other
demands, and many to which I could listen with


more pleasure than even to his Os rotundum. I
am now in the eleventh book of the Odyssey, con-
versing with the dead. Invoke the muse in my
behalf, that I may roll the stone of Sisyphus with
some success. To do it as Homer has done it is,
I suppose, in our verse and language, impossible,
but 1 will hope not to labour altogether to as little
purpose as Sisyphus himself did.

Though I meddle little with politics, and can find
but little leisure to do so, the present state of things
unavoidably engages a share of my attention. But,
as they say, Archimedes, when Syracuse was taken,
was found busied in the solution of a problem, so,
come what may, I shall be found translating Homer.
Sincerely yours,



The Lodge, Jan. 29, 1789.

My dear Madam — This morning I said to Mrs.
Unwin, " I must write to Mrs. King : her long si-
lence alarms me— something has happened." These
words of mine proved only a prelude to the arrival
of your messenger with his most welcome charge,
for which I return you my sincerest thanks. You
have sent me the very things I wanted, and which
I should have continued to want, had not you sent
them. As often as the wine is set on the table, I
have said to myself, " This is all very well ; but I
have no bottle-stands :" and myself as often replied,
• Private Correspondence,



" No matter ; you can make shift without them."
Thus 1 and myself have conferred together many a
day ; and you, as if you had been privy to the con-
ference, have kindly supplied the deficiency, and
put an end to the debate for ever.

Wlien your messenger arrived I was beginning to
dress for dinner, being engaged to dine with my
neighbour Mr. Throckmorton, from whose house I
am just returned, and snatch a few moments before
supper to tell you how much I am obliged to you.
You will not, therefore, find me very prolix at pre-
sent ; but it shall not be long before you shall hear
further from me. Your honest old neighbour sleeps
under our roof, and will be gone in the morning
before I shall have seen him.

I have more items than one by which to remember
the late frost : it has cost me the bitterest uneasi-
ness. Mrs. Unwin got a fall on the gravel-walk
covered with ice, which has confined her to an
upper chamber ever since. She neither broke nor
dislocated any bones ; but received such a contusion
below the hip, as crippled her completely. She
now begins to recover, after having been helpless
as a child for a whole fortnight, but so slowly at
present, that her amendment is even now almost

Engaged, however, as I am with my own private
anxieties, I yet find leisure to interest myself not
a little in the distresses of the royal family, espe-
cially in those of the Queen.* The Lord-Chancellor

* The unfortunate malady of George III. is here alluded
to, Avhich first occurred, after a previous indisposition, October


called the other morning on Lord Stafford : entering
the room, he threw his hat into a sofa at the fire-
side, and, clasping his hands, said, " I have heard of
distress, and I have read of it ; but I never saw dis-
tress equal to that of the Queen." This I know
from particular and certain authority.

My dear madam, I have not time to enlarge at

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Online LibraryWilliam CowperThe life and works of William Cowper (Volume 4) → online text (page 7 of 23)