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Shall steep me in Elysian reverie,
My mother! when I learn'd that thou wast dead,
Where once we dwelt our name is heard no inore, Children not thine have trod my nursery floor; And where the gardener Robin, day by day, Drew me to school along the public way, Delighted with my bauble coach, and wrapp'd In scarlet mantle warm, and velvet-capt, 'Tis now become a history little known, That once we call'd the pastoral house our own. Short-lived possession! But the record fair, That memory keeps of all thy kindness there, Still outlives many a storm, that has effaced A thousand other themes less deeply traced. Thy nightly visits to my chamber, made That thou mightst know me safe and warmly laid: Thy morning bounties ere I left my home, The biscuit, or confectionary plum; The fragrant waters on my cheeks bestow'd Ву own hand, till fresh they shone and glow'd; All this, and more endearing still than all, Thy constant flow of love, that knew no fall, Ne'er roughend by those cataracts and breaks, That humor interposed too often makes; All this still legible in memory's page, And still to be so to my latest age, Adds joy to duty, makes me glad to pay Such honors to thee as my numbers may; Perhaps a frail memorial, but sincere, Not scorn'd in Heaven, though little noticed here.
Could Time, his flight reversed, restore the hours,
Thou, as a gallant bark from Albion's coast
Cowper's prose works are confined almost exclusively to his letters. These now, without dispute, take the very first rank in Englishı epistolary literature. « There is something in the sweetness and facility of the diction, and more, perhaps, in the glimpse they afford of a pure and benevolent mind, that dif: fuses a charm over the whole collection, and communicates an interest that cannot always be commanded by performances of greater dignity and pre. tension. From them we now know almost as much of Cowper as we do of those authors who have spent their days in the centre and glare of literary or fashionable society; and they will continue to be read long after the curiosity is gratified to which, perhaps, they owed their first celebrity; for the character with which they make us acquainted, will always attract by its rarity, and engage by its elegance. The feminine delicacy and purity of Cowper's manners and disposition, the romantic and unbroken retirement in which his life was passed, and the singular gentleness and modesty of his whole character, disarm him of those terrors that so often shed an atmosphere of repulsion around the persons of celebrated writers, and make us more indulgent to his weaknesses, and more delighted with his excellencies, than if he had been the centre of a circle of wits, or the oracle of a literary confederacy. The interest of this picture is still further heightened by the recollection of that tremendous malady, to the visitations of which he was subject, and by the spectacle of that perpetual conflict which was maintained, through the greater part of his life, between the depression of those constitutional horrors, and the gayety that resulted from a playful imagination, and a heart animated by the mildest affections.'' |
Though it is impossible to have any just conception of the fascination of Cowper's epistolary style without reading a large portion of his letters, yet some faint idea may be formed of its ease, and grace, and charming power, from the following, which are all that our limited space will allow.
To the Rev. WILLIAM Unwin.
September 21, 1779. Be pleased to buy me a glazier's diamond pencil. I have glazed the two panes designed to receive my pine plants; but I cannot mend the kitchen windows, till, by the help of that implement, I can reduce the glass to its proper dimensions. If I were a plumber, I should be a complete glazier; and possibly the happy time may come, when I shall be seen trudging away to the neighboring towns with a shelf of glass hanging at my back. If government should impose another tax upon that commodity, I hardly know a business in which a gentleman might more successfully employ himself. A Chinese, of ten times my fortune, would avail himself of such an opportunity without scruple; and why should not I, who want money as much as any Mandarin in China ? Rousseau would have been charmed to have seen me so occupied, and would have exclaimed with rapture, “ that he had found the Emilius who (he supposed) had subsisted only in his own idea." I would recommend it to you to follow my example. You will presently qualify yourself for the task, and may not only amuse yourself at home, but even exercise your skill in mending the church windows; which, as it would save money to the parish, would conduce, together with your other ministerial accomplishments, to make you extremely popular in the place. I have eight pair of tame pigeons.
1 Edinburgh Review, vol. Iv., page 273.
When I first enter the garden in the morning, I find them perched upon a wall, waiting for their breakfast ; for I feed them always upon the gravel walk. If your wish should be accomplished, and you should find yourself furnished with the wings of a dove, I shall undoubtedly find you amongst them. Only be so good, if that should be the case, to announce yourself by some means or other. For I imagine your crop will require something better than tares to fill it.
Your mother and I last week made a trip in a post-chaise to Gayhurst, the seat of Mr. Wright, about four miles off. He understood that I did not much affect strange faces, and sent over his servant on purpose to inform me, that he was going into Leicestershire, and that if I chose to see the gardens, I might gratify myself without danger of seeing the proprietor. I accepted the invitation, and was delighted with all I found there. The situation is happy, the gardens elegantly disposed, the hothouse in the most flourishing state, and the orange-trees the most captivating creatures of the kind I ever saw. A man, in short, had need have the talents of Cox or Langford, the auctioneers, to do the whole scene justice.
Our love attends you
WRITING UPON ANY THING,
To the Rev. WILLIAM Uxwix.
August 6, 1780. You like to hear from me: this is a very good reason why I should write. But I have nothing to say ; this seems equally a good reason why I should not. Yet, if you had alighted from your horse at our door this morning, and at this present writing, being five o'clock in the afternoon, had found occasion to say to me, —“Mr. Cowper, you have not spoken since I came in ; have you resolved never to speak again?” it would be but a poor reply, if, in answer to the summons, I should plead inability as my best and only excuse. And this, by the way, suggests to me a seasonable piece of instruction, and reminds me of what I am very apt to forget, when I have any epistolary business in hand, that a letter may be written upon any thing or nothing, just as any thing or nothing happens to occur. A man that has a journey before him, twenty miles in length, which he is to perform on foot, will not hesitate and doubt whether he shall set out or not, because he does not readily conceive how he shall ever reach the end of it; for he knows, that by the simple operation of moving one foot for. ward first, and then the other, he shall be sure to accomplish it. So it is in the present case, and so it is in every similar case. A letter is written as a conversation is maintained, or a journey performed; not by preconcerted, or premeditated means, a new contrivance, or an invention never heard of before,—but merely by maintaining a progress, and resolving as a postilion does, having once set out, never to stop till we reach the appointed end. If a man may talk without thinking, why may he not write upon the same terms? A grave gentleman of the last century, a tie-wig, square-toe, Steinkirk figure, would say, “My good sir, a man has no right to do either.” But it is to be hoped that the present century has nothing to do with the mouldy opinions of the last ; and so, good Sir Launcelot, or Sir Paul, or whatever be your name, step into your picture frame again, and look as if you thought for another century, and leave us moderns, in the meantime, to think when we can, and to write whether we can or not, else we might as well be dead, as you are.
When we look back upon our forefathers, we seem to look back upon the people of another nation, almost upon creatures of another species. Their vast rambling mansions, spacious halls, and painted casements, the Gothic porch smothered with honeysuckles, their little gardens and high walls, their box-edging, balls of holly, and yew-tree statues, are become so entirely unfashionable now, that we can hardly believe it possible, that a people who resembled us so little in their tastes, should resemble us in any thing else. But in every thing else, I suppose, they were our counterparts exactly; and time, that has sewed up the slashed sleeve, and reduced the large trunk hose to a neat pair of silk-stockings, has left human nature just where it found it. The inside of the man, at least, has undergone no change. His passions, appetites, and aims, are just what they ever were. They wear, perhaps, a handsome disguise than they did in days of yore ; for philosophy and literature will have their effect upon the exterior; but in every other respect a modern is only an ancient in a different dress.
AN EPISTLE IN RHYME.
To the Rev. Joun Newton.'
July 12, 1781. I am going to send, what when you have read, you may scratch your head, and say, I suppose, there's nobody knows, whether
1 " Cowper, in one of his letters, complained to Mr. Newton of the wanderings of his mind; Is friend acknowledged a similar weakness;- Yes,' replied the poet, .but you have always a serious thought standing at the door, like a justice of peace, with the riot-act in his hand, ready to disperse the mob.' Cowper's correspondence with Newton presents few specimens of this delightful badt uage. He loved and respected, but he also feared his friend."-Willmott.