« السابقةمتابعة »
faney; for he esteemed both the intelligence, and the integrity of the person, who was to conduct the business; and he was animated with a fervent desire to promote the glory of his favorite poet. Yet such was the genuine modesty, with which Cowper used to contemplate his own extraordinary mental powers, that his native difhdence induced him at first to decline the invitation. A letter that he wrote to Ar. Johnson, after thinking more deliberately on the subject, contains the following expressions.
“ Weston, Sept. 6, 1791.
“ I have at length brought myself to something like a hope, that I may perhaps prove equal to this business, and in consequence have resolved to attempt it : but must depend on you for my implements. Newton's edition I have, but have nothing more."
Writing to his friend, Mr. Rose, in the same month, he thus completely explains the extent of his new undertaking.
“ The Lodge, Sept. 14, 1791.
“ You, who know how necessary it is for me to be employed, will be glad to hear, that I huve been called to a new literary engagement, and that I have not refused it. A Milton, that is
to rival, and if possible to exceed in splendor Boydell's Shakespeare, is in contemplation ; and I am in the editor's office. Fuseli is the painter, My business will be to select notes from others, and to write original notes ; to translate the Latin and Italian poems, and to give a correct text. I shall have years allowed me to do it in."
Although the translator seems, in this letter, to have taken some pleasure in reflecting, that a great length of time was to be allowed for his performance, he had a mind naturally fervent, that loved to grapple itself, without delay, to a laudable enterprize, and not to recede from its work, while any part of it remained unfinished. With this spirit he immediately began his translations; and in November 1791, he thus informed his friend Mr. Hill how he advanced in the work.
“ I have made a considerable progress in the translation of Milton's Latin poems. I give them, as opportunity offers, all the variety of measure, that I can. Some I render in heroic rhyme, some in stanzas, some in seven, and some in eight syllable measure, and some in blank verse. They will altogether, I hope, make an agreeable miscellany for the English reader. They are cer
tainly good in themselves, and cannot fail to please but by the fault of the translator.”
Cowper proceeded so chearfully in his work, . that although he did not begin the series of his translations till towards the middle of September, 1791, he had nearly completed the whole before the end of that year.
On the 10th of December, he gave the following account of himself, and his advancing performance, to his friend Mr. Hurdis.
“ I am much obliged to you for wishing that I were employed in some original work, rather than in translation. To tell the truth, I am of your mind; and unless I could find another Homer, I shall promise (I believe) and vow, when I have done with Milton, never to translate again. But my veneration for our great countryman is equal to what I feel for the Grecian; and consequently I am happy, and feel myself honorably employed whatever I can do for Milton. I am now translating his Epitaphium Damonis ; a pastoral, in my judgement, equal to any of Virgil's bucolics, but of which Dr. Johnson (so it pleased him) speaks as I remember contemptuously. But he, who never saw any beauty in a rural scene,
2D els not likely to have much taste for a pastoral. ---In pace quiescat!"
It appears probable from a subsequent letter to the same friend, that the whole series of Cowper's translations from Milton was completed in February 1792, for in that month, he said to Mr. Hurdis :
“ Milton at present engrosses me altogether. His Latin pieces I have translated, and have begun with the Italian: These are few and will not detain me long. I shall then proceed immediately to deliberate upon, and to settle, the plan of my commentary, which I have hitherto had but little time to consider.”
Letters written before my first acquaintance with Cowper, have supplied the preceding account of the origin, and progress, of this posthumous publication; what I have yet to add concerning it will chiefly consist of a few particulars, that I learned in the course of my own intimacy with Cowper.
That intimacy commenced in consequence of my writing to him in February, 1792, on hearing, that we had been represented as rival biographers.
His reply to my first letter was liberal, and friendly, in so high a degree, that I shall indulge an honest pride in transcribing the following passage:
“ I rejoice that you are employed to do justice to the character of a man, perhaps the chief of all, who have ever done honour to our country, and whose very name I reverence. Here we shall not clash, or interfere with each other, for a Life of Milton is no part of my bargain. In short we will cope with each other in nothing, but that affection, which you avow for me, unworthy of it as I am, and which your character and writings, and especially your kind letter have begotten in my heart for you.
“Every remark of yours on Milton will be highly valued by me.”
- The kindness of Cowper made me anxious to afford him all the encouragement, and assistance, in his new undertaking, that sympathy and friendship could supply. As Milton was to each of us an object of constant admiration, and at this time of immediate study, for different purposes, we mutually took a pleasure in animating each other to the prosecution of our respective works. In the summer of 1792, when Cowper was my guest in Sussex, our attention was doubly devoted to Milton, for after fulfilling my promise of imparting to my