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us, you will return invigorated to your studies, and
pursue them with the more advantage. In the mean
time you have lost little, in point of season, by be-
ing confined to London. Incessant rains and mea-
dows under water have given to the summer the air
of winter, and the country has been deprived of
half its beauties.

It is time to tell you that we are all well, and
often make you our subject. This is the third meet-
ing that my cousin and we have had in this country,
and a great instance of good fortune I account it in
such a world as this to have expected such a plea-
sure thrice without being once disappointed. Add
to this wonder as soon as you can by making your-
self of the party.

W. C.



TO MRS. KING.*



Au^st 1, 1789.

My dear Madam — The post brings me no letters
that do not grumble at my silence. Had not you,

* Private Correspondence.



118 LIFE OF COWPER.

therefore, taken me to task as roundly as others, I
should have concluded you perhaps more indifferent
to my epistles than the rest of my correspondents ;
of whom one says — " I shall be glad when you have
finished Homer ; then possibly you will find a little
leisure for an old friend." Another says — " I don't
choose to be neglected, unless you equally neglect
every one else." Thus, I hear of it with both ears,
and shall, till I appear in the shape of two great
quarto volumes, the composition of which, I con-
fess, engrosses me to a degree that gives my friends,
to whom I feel myself much obliged for their anx-
iety to hear from me, but too much reason to com-
plain. Johnson told Mr. Martyn the truth, but
your inference from that truth is not altogether so
just as most of your conclusions are. Instead of
finding myself the more at leisure because my long
labour draws to a close I find myself the more oc-
cupied. As when a horse approaches the goal, he
does not, unless he be jaded, slacken his pace, but
quickens it : even so it fares with me. The end is
in view ; I seem almost to have reached the mark,
and the nearness of it inspires me with fresh alacrity.
But, be it known to you, that I have still two books
of the Odyssey before me, and when they are
finished, shall have almost the whole eight-and-forty
to revise. Judge, then, my dear madam, if it is
yet time for me to play or to gratify myself with
scribbling to those I love. No : it is still necessary
that waking I should be all absorbed in Homer, and
that sleeping I should dream of nothing else.

I am a great lover of good paintings, but no con-



LIFE OF COWPER. 119

noisseur, having never had an opportunity to become
one. In the last forty years of my life, I have hardly
seen six pictures that were worth looking at ; for I
was never a frequenter of auctions, having never
had any spare money in my pocket, and the public
exhibitions of them in London had hardly taken
place when I left it. My cousin, who is with us,
saw the gentleman whose pieces you mention, on the
top of a scaffold, copying a famous picture in the
Vatican. She has seen some of his performances
and much admires them.

You have had a great loss, and a loss that admits
of no consolation, except such as will naturally
suggest itself to you^ such, I mean, as the Scripture
furnishes. We must all leave, or be left ; and it is
the circumstance of all others that makes long life
the least desirable, that others go while we stay, till
at last we find ourselves alone, like a tree on a
hill-top.

Accept, my dear madam, mine and Mrs. Unwin's
best compliments to yourself and Mr. King, and
believe me, however unfrequent in telling you that
I am so.

Affectionately yours,

W. C.



TO SAMUEL ROSE, ESQ.



Weston, August 8, 1789.
My dear Friend — Come when you will, or when
you can, you cannot come at a wrong time, but we
shall expect you on the day mentioned.



120 LIFE OF COWPER.

If you have any book that you think will make
pleasant evening reading, bring it with you. I now
read Mrs. Piozzi's * Travels to the ladies after sup-
per, and shall probably have finished them before
we shall have the pleasure of seeing you. It is the
fashion, I understand, to condemn them. But we,
who make books ourselves, are more merciful to
book-makers. I would that every fastidious judge
of authors were himself obliged to write : there
goes more to the composition of a volume than many
critics imagine.! I have often wondered that the
same poet who wrote the " Dunciad," should have
written these lines,

The mercy I to others show, .
That mercy show to me.

Alas ! for Pope, if the mercy he showed to others,
was the measure of mercy he received ! he was the
less pardonable too, because experienced in all the
difficulties of composition.

I scratch this between dinner and tea ; a time

* Formerly Mrs. Thrale, the well-known friend of Dr.
Johnson, and resident at Streatham. Her second marriage
was considered to be imprudent. She wrote Anecdotes of Dr.
Johnson, and was also the authoress of the beautiful tale
entitled, " The Three Warnings," beginning,

" The tree of deepest root is found

Unwilling most to leave the ground," &c. &c.

t It cost Lord Lyttelton twenty years to write the Life and
History of Henry IL The historian Gibbon was twelve
years in completing his " Decline and Fall of the Roman
Empire," and Adam Smith occupied ten years in producing
his " Wealth of Nations."



LIFE OF COWPER. 121

when I cannot write much without disordering my
noddle and bringing a flush into my face. You will
excuse me therefore, if, through respect for the two
important considerations of health and beauty, I
conclude myself,

Ever yours,

w. c.



TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ.*

August 12, 1789,
My dear Friend — I rejoice that you and Mrs.
Hill are so agreeably occupied in your retreat.f
August, I hope, will make us amends for the gloom
of its many wintry predecessors. We are now ga-
thering from our meadows, not hay, but muck ;
such stuff as deserves not the carriage, which yet
it must have, that the after-crop may have leave to
grow. The Ouse has hardly deigned to run in his
channel since the summer began.

My Muse were a vixen if she were not always
ready to fly in obedience to your commands. But
what can be done ? I can write nothing in the few
hours that remain to me of this day that will be fit
for your purpose, and unless I could dispatch what
I write by to-morrow's post, it would not reach you
in time. I must add, too, that my friend, the vicar
of the next parish, j: engaged me, the day before

• Private Correspondence.

t At Wargrave, near Henley-on-Thames.

t Olney.



122 LIFE OF COWPER.

yesterday, to furnish him by next Sunday with a
hymn, to be sung on the occasion of his preaching
to the children of the Sunday-school : f of which
hymn I have not yet produced a syllable. 1 am
somewhat in the case of lawyer Dowling, in " Tom
Jones ; " and, could I split myself into as many
poets as there are muses, could find employment
for them all.

Adieu, my dear friend,

I am ever yours,

W. C.



TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON.*

August 16, 1789.
My dear Friend — Mrs. Newton and you are both
kind and just in believing that I do not love you

t We subjoin an extract from this Sunday-school hymn, for
the benefit of our younger readers.

" Hear, Lord, the song of praise and pray'r.
In heaven, thy dwelling-place.
From infants, made the public care,
And taught to seek thy face !

Thanks for thy word, and for thy day.

And grant us, we implore,
Never to waste in sinful play

Thy holy Sabbaths more.

Thanks that we hear — but, oh ! impart

To each desires sincere.
That we may listen with our heart.

And learn, as well as hear.

* Private Correspondence.



LIFE OF COVVPER. 123

less when I am long silent. Perhaps a friend of
mine, who wishes me to have him always in my
thoughts, is never so effectually possessed of the
accomplishment of that wish as when I have been
long his debtor ; for then I think of him not only
every day, but day and night, and all day long.
But I confess at the same time that my thoughts of
you will be more pleasant to myself when I shall
have exonerated my conscience by giving you the
letter so long your due. Therefore, here it comes :
little worth your having, but payment, such as it
is, that you have a right to expect, and that is es-
sential to my own tranquillity.

That the Iliad and the Odyssey should have
proved the occasion of my suspending my corres-
pondence with you, is a proof how little we foresee
the consequences of what we publish. Homer, I
dare say, hardly at all suspected that at the fag-end
of time two personages would appear, "the one
ycleped Sir Newton and the other Sir Cowper, who,
loving each other heartily, would nevertheless suffer
the pains of an interrupted intercourse, his poems
the cause. So, however, it has happened; and
though it would not, I suppose, extort from the old
bard a single sigh, if he knew it, yet to me it sug-
gests the serious reflection above-mentioned. A71
autlior by professio7i Iiad need narrowly to loatch his
pen, lest a line should escape it which by possibility
may do mischief, when he Jms been long dead and
buried. What we have done, when we have written
a book, will never be known till the day of judg-
ment : then the account will be liquidated, and all



124 LIFE OF COWPEK.

the good that it has occasioned, and all the evil,
will witness either for or against us.

I am now in the last book of the Odyssey, yet
have still, I suppose, half a year's work before me.
The accurate revisal of two such voluminous poems
can hardly cost me less. I rejoice, however, that the
goal is in prospect ; for, though it has cost me years
to run this race, it is only now that I begin to have
a glimpse of it. That I shall never receive any
proportionable pecuniary recompence for my long
labours is pretty certain ; and as to any fame that I
may possibly gain by it, that is a commodity that
daily sinks in value, in measure as the consummation
of all things approaches. In the day when the lion
shall dandle the kid, and a little child shall lead
them, the world will have lost all relish for the fa-
bulous legends of antiquity, and Homer and his
translator may budge off the stage together.

Ever yours,

W. C.

Cowper's remarks on the subject of authors, in
the above letter, are truly impressive and demand
attention. If it indeed be true, that authors are
responsible for their writings, as well as for their
personal conduct, (of which, we presume, there can
be no reasonable doubt,) how would the tone of li-
terature be raised, and the pen often be arrested
in its course, if this conviction were fully realized to
the conscience ! Their writings are, in fact, the
record of the operations of their minds, and are
destined to survive, so far as metallic types and li-



LIFE OF COWPER. 125

terary talent can insure durability and success. Nor
is it less true that the character of a nation will
generally be moulded by the spirit of its authors.
Allowing, therefore, the extent of this powerful
influence, we can conceive the possibility of authors,
at the last great day, undergoing the ordeal of a
solemn judicial inquiry, when the subject for inves-
tigation will be, how far their writings have en-
larged the bounds of useful knowledge, or sub-
served the cause of piety and truth. If, instead of
those great ends being answered, it shall appear
that the foundations of religion have been under-
mined, the cause of virtue weakened, and the heart
made more accessible to error ; if, too, a dread
array of witnesses shall stand forth, tracing the
guilt of their lives and the ruin of their hopes to
the fatal influence of the books which they had read,
what image of horror can equal the sensation of
such a moment, save the despair of hearing the ir-
revocable sentence, " Depart from me, ye workers
of iniquity ; I never knew you I "



TO SAMUEL ROSE, ESQ.

Weston, Sept. 24, 1789.
My dear Friend — You left us exactly at the wrong
time : had you stayed till now, you would have had
the pleasure of hearing even my cousin say — "I am
cold," — and the still greater pleasure of being warm
yourself; for I have had a fire in the study ever
since you went. It is the fault of our summers



126 LIFE OF COVVPER.

that they are hardly ever warm or cold enough.
Were they warmer we should not want a fire, and
tvere they colder we should have one.

I have twice seen and conversed with Mr. J ;

he is witty, intelligent, and agreeable beyond the
common measure of men who are so. But it is the
constant effect of a spirit of party to make those
hateful to each other who are truly amiable in them-
selves.

Beau sends his love ; he was melancholy the
whole day after your departure.

w. e.



The power of poetry to embeUish the most sim-
ple incident is pleasingly evinced in the following
letter, by the Homeric muse of Cowper.

TO SAMUEL ROSE, ESQ.

Weston, Oct. 4, 1789.

My dear Friend — The hamper is come, and come
safe; and the contents I can affirm, on my own
knowledge, are excellent. It chanced that another
hamper and a box came by the same conveyance,
all which I unpacked and expounded in the hall,
my cousin sitting meantime on the stairs, spec-
tatress of the business. We diverted ourselves with
imagining the manner in which Homer would have
described the scene. Detailed in his circumstantial
way, it would have furnished materials for a para-
graph of considerable length in an Odyssey.



LIFE OF COWPER. 127

The straw-stuflf'd hamper with his ruthless steel
He open'd, cutting sheer th' inserted cords.
Which bound the lid and lip secure. Forth came
The rustling package first, bright straw of wheat.
Or oats, or barley ; next a bottle green
Throat-full, clear spirits the contents, distill'd
Drop after drop odorous, by the art
Of the fair mother of his friend — the Rose.

And so on.

I should rejoice to be the hero of such a tale in the
hands of Homer.

You will remember, I trust, that, when the state
of your health or spirits calls for rural walks and
fresh air, you have always a retreat at Weston.

We are all well ; all love you, down to the very
dog ; and shall be glad to hear that you have ex-
changed languor for alacrity, and the debility that
you mention for indefatigable vigour.

Mr. Throckmorton has made me a handsome pre-
sent; Villoison's edition of the Iliad, elegantly
bound by Edwards.* If I live long enough, by the
contributions of my friends I shall once more be
possessed of a library.

Adieu !

W. C.



TO THE REV. WALTER BAGOT.

My dear Walter — I know that you are too reason-
able a man to expect any thing like punctuality of

* The character of this work is given by Cowper himself in
a subsequent letter to his friend Walter Bagot.



128 LIFE OF COWPER.

correspondence from a translator of Homer, espe-
cially from one who is a doer also of many other
things at the same time ; for I labour hard not only
to acquire a little fame for myself, but to win it also
for others, men of whom I know nothing, not even
their names, who send me their poetry, that by
translating it out of prose into verse, I may make it
more like poetry than it was. Having heard all this,
you will feel yourself not only inclined to pardon my
long silence, but to pity me also for the cause of it.
You may if you please believe likewise, for it is true,
that I have a faculty of remembering my friends
even when I do not write to them, and of loving
them not one jot the less, though I leave them to
starve for want of a letter from me. And now I
think you have an apology both as to style, matter,
and manner, altogether unexceptionable.

Why is the winter like a backbiter ? Because
Solomon says that a backbiter separates between
chief friends, and so does the winter ; to this dirty
season it is owing that I see nothing of the valuable
Chesters, whom indeed 1 see less at all times than
serves at all to content me. I hear of them indeed
occasionally from my neighbours at the Hall, but
even of that comfort I have lately enjoyed less than
usual, Mr. Throckmorton having been hindered by
his first fit of the gout from his usual visits to
Chicheley. The gout however has not prevented his
making me a handsome present of a folio edition of
the Iliad, published about a year since at Venice, by
a literato, who calls himself Villoison. It is possible
that you have seen it, and that if you have it not



LIFE OF COWPER. 129

yourself, it has at least found its way to Lord Bagot's
library. If neither should be the case, when I write
next (for sooner or later I shall certainly write to
you again if I live) I will send you some pretty
stories out of his Prolegomena, which will make
your hair stand on end, as mine has stood on end
already, they so horribly affect, in point of authen-
ticity, the credit of the works of the immortal Homer.
Wishing you and Mrs. Bagot all the happiness
that a new year can possibly bring with it, I re-
main, with Mrs. Unwin's best respects, yours, my
dear friend, with all sincerity,

w. c.

My paper mourns for the death of Lord Cowper,
my valuable cousin, and much my benefactor.



TO THE REV. WALTER BAGOT.

My dear Friend — I am a terrible creature for not
writing sooner, but the old excuse must serve; at
least I will not occupy paper with the addition of
others unless you should insist on it, in which case
I can assure you that I have them ready. Now to
business.

From Villoison I learn that it was the avowed
opinion and persuasion of Callimachus (whose hymns
we both studied at Westminster) that Homer was
very imperfectly understood even in his day ; that
his admirers, deceived by the perspicuity of his
style, fancied themselves masters of his meaning,
when in truth they knew little about it.

Now we know that Callimachus, as I have hinted,

VOL. IV. K



130 LIFE OF COWPER.

was himself a poet, and a good one ; he was also
esteemed a good critic ; he almost, if not actually,
adored Homer, and imitated him as nearly as he could.

What shall we say to this ? I will tell you what
I say to it. Callimachus meant, and he could mean
nothing more by this assertion, than that the poems
of Homer were in fact an allegory ; that under the
obvious import of his stories lay concealed a mystic
sense, sometimes philosophical, sometimes religious,
sometimes moral ; and that the generality either
wanted penetration or industry, or had not been
properly qualified by their studies to discover it.
This I can readily believe, for I am myself an igno-
ramus in these points, and, except here and there,
discern nothing more than the letter. But if Calli-
machus will tell me that even of that I am ignorant,
I hope soon by two great volumes to convince him
of the contrary.

I learn also from the same Villoison, that Pisis-
tratus, who was a sort of Mecaenas in Athens, where
he gave great encouragement to literature, and built
and furnished a public library, regretting that there
was no complete copy of Homer's works in the world,
resolved to make one. For this purpose, he adver-
tised rewards in all the newspapers to those, who,
being possessed memoriter of any part or parcel of
the poems of that bard, would resort to his house,
and repeat them to his secretaries, that they might
write them. Now, it happened that more were de-
sirous of the reward than qualified to deserve it.
The consequence was, that the non-qualified per-
sons, having many of them a pretty knack at versi-



LIFE OF COWPER. 131

fication, imposed on the generous Athenian most
egregiously, giving him, instead of Homer's verses,
which they had not to give, verses of their own in-
vention. He, good creature, suspecting no such
fraud, took them all for gospel, and entered them
into his volume accordingly.

Now, let him believe the story who can. That
Homer's works were in this manner corrected, I can
believe ; but, that a learned Athenian could be so
imposed upon, with sufficient means of detection at
hand, I cannot. Would he not be on his guard ?
Would not a difference of style and manner have
occurred ? Would not that difference have excited
a suspicion ? Would not that suspicion have led to
inquiry, and would not that inquiry have issued in
detection ? For how easy was it in the multitude
of Homer-conners to find two, ten, twenty, possessed
of the questionable passage, and, by confronting
him with the impudent impostor, to convict him.
Abeas ergo in malam rem cum istis tuis hallucina-
tionibiis, Villoisone ! *

Yours, W, C.

* The reveries of learned men are amusing, but injurious
to true taste and sound literature. Bishop Warburton's la-
boured attempt to prove that the descent of yEneas into hell,
in the 6th book of the ^neid, is intended to convey a repre-
sentation of the Eleusinian mysteries, is of this description ;
when it is obviously an imitation of a similar event, recorded
of Uiysses. Genius should guard against a fondness for specu-
lative discursion, which often leads from the simplicity of truth
to the establishment of dangerous errors. We consider specu-
lative inquiries to form one of the features of the present
times, against which we have need to be vigilantly on our
guard.

K 2



132 LIFE OF COWPER.



TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON.*

Weston, Dec. 1, 178P.

My dear Friend — On this fine first of December,
under an unclouded sky, and in a room full of sun-
shine, I address myself to the payment of a debt
long in arrear, but never forgotten by me, however
I may have seemed to forget it. I will not waste
time in apologies. I have but one, and that one
will suggest itself unmentioned. I will only add,
that you are the first to whom I write, of several to
whom I have not written many months, who all have
claims upon me ; and who, I flatter myself, are all
grumbling at my silence. In your case, perhaps, I
have been less anxious than in the case of some
others ; because, if you have not heard from myself,
you have heard from Mrs. Unwin. From her you
have learned that I live, that I am as well as usual,
and that I translate Homer : — three short items, but
in which is comprised the whole detail of my present
history. Thus I fared when you were here ; thus I
have fared ever since you were here ; and thus, if
it please God, I shall continue to fare for some time
longer : for, though the work is done, it is not
finished : a riddle which you, who are a brother of
the press, will solve easily .f I have also been the
less anxious, because I have had frequent opportu-
nities to hear of you ; and have always heard that

* Private Correspondence.

■\- Revision is no small part of tbe literary labours oF an
author.



LIFE OF COWPER. 133

you are in good health and happy. Of Mrs. Newton,
too, I have heard more favourable accounts of late,
which have given us both the sincerest pleasure.
Mrs. Unwin's case is, at present, my only subject of
uneasiness, that is not immediately personal, and
properly my own. She has almost constant head-
aches ; almost a constant pain in her side, which
nobody understands ; and her lameness, within the
last half year, is very little amended. But her spirits
are good, because supported by comforts which de-
pend not on the state of the body ; and I do not
know that, with all these pains, her looks are at all
altered since we had the happiness to see you here,
unless, perhaps, they are altered a little for the better.
I have thus given you as circumstantial an account
of ourselves as I could ; the most interesting matter,
I verily believe, with which I could have filled my
paper, unless I could have made spiritual mercies to
myself the subject. In my next, perhaps, I shall
find leisure to bestow a few lines on what is doing
in France, and in the Austrian Netherlands ; *
though, to say the truth, I am much better qualified
to write an essay on the siege of Troy than to descant
on any of these modern revolutions. I question if,
in either of the countries just mentioned, full of
bustle and tumult as they are, there be a single

* The French revolution, that great event which exercised
so powerful an influence not only on European governments
but on the world at large, and the effects of which are expe-
rienced at the present moment, had just commenced. The
Austrian Netherlands had also revolted, and Brussels and
most of the principal towns and cities were in the hands of the
insurgents.



134 LIFE OF COWPER.

character whom Homer, were he living, would deign
to make his hero. The populace are the heroes
now, and the stuff of which gentlemen heroes are
made seems to be all expended.


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