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(New Mon. &c.)
PRIVATE CORRESPONDENCE OF WILLIAM COWPER, ESQ.
WITH SEVERAL OF HIS MOST INITIMATE FRIENDS.
Now first published from the Originals in the possession of his kinsman John Johnson, LL. D. PER
ERHAPS no poet of modern times per” is luckily to be found no where
excites a more perfect sympathy but in the title-page of his volumesin the reader than Cowper—there is no the poet being permitted to tell his own one with whom we cherish, and desire story, so far as it suited the views of to cherish, so purely personal a feeling. his friends to let that story appear. But this feeling, though created and The letters to which we now refer, called forth by means of his writings, were, almost immediately on their apdoes not point at them, or even seem pearance,
allowed to take their station to have any necessary connexion with beside the most distinguished producor dependence upon them. It is not tions of any time or country, in the with his writings that we sympathize; class to which they belong. And they so far from it, there are many portions in fact deserve that station; a very of these which we peruse with pain, great proportion of them being models and turn away from not without indig- of the epistolary style, in point of ease, nation. And the parts which we do grace, and unaffected simplicity; and admire, and which unquestionably in- being, moreover, the pure effusions of clude a large proportion of the whole, as gentle and tender a heart as ever do not lay hold of our affections, or fix beat within a human bosom. But themselves upon our memory, as those Cowper's letters as they appeared in of many other poets do. We do not the publication alluded to, were calcudwell and harp upon them, and repeat lated to engender other feelings than them to ourselves, and quote them to those of admiration towards themselves, others, and dream of them, and recur to and affectionate regard towards the them in the midst of other things, with- writer of them. Previously to this out being able to avoid it. He has no time, certain parts of his poetry, which passages that haunt us like a strain of need not now be particularly referred music, and will not be got rid of. We to, had raised suspicions that something are able to lay his poetry down, and take was at work in the writer's mind which it up again, just as we please-to put ought not to have been there. There it on and off like a garment. But it is was occasionally a tone of feeling, and not so with our abstract notion of the a turn of expression, which seemed to
In him, and in all that seems to indicate, either that the writer's views concern him, we feel a personal inter- on the subjects which he treated were est: and after a time we read his writ- unsettled and utterly at variance among ings, not so much for their own sake, themselves, or (what is scarcely possias for his, and because we desire to ble to believe) that they were not put know all his feelings, and the causes forth to the world with that thorough and consequences of them ; we read good faith, without which one of their them as a means, not as an end—as a chief charms would have been wanting. means of reading him.
Now, the letters published by Hayley in This was strikingly the case even 1806 were pretty generally supposed to before the publication of Hayley's Life have explained this apparent inconsisof the poet. But when that took place, tency. They discovered to us, in the the feelings of personal regard which poet of The Task, a being with natural had before been called forth by Cow- qualities and disposition, both of mind per's poetry, became encreased to a and body, calculated to render him pitch of almost painful interest by blest in himself, and a delight and blessmeans of the letters which his biogra- ing to all around him—with an eye pher, with a kind of unconscious judg- prone to discover all natural and moral ment and good taste, substituted in beauty wherever it existed—a heart the place of any other detail of the wri- ever open to receive that beauty, and ter's life : for “ Hayley's Life of Cow. to leap with joy at the acquisition of it
--and a mind gifted with the almost er Hayley was justified in withholding magical power of multiplying that from the world the clue above alluded beauty, and spreading it abroad upon to-supposing that he possessed it ; or all other minds and hearts within its whether, on the other hand, those perreach. But in discovering to us these sons were so justified who afterwardr, natural qualities and dispositions, they in 1815 and 1816, furnished the world also discovered that, from some source with something of the kind, in the or other, a fatal taint had found its way shape of a Posthumous memoir of Cowamong them-a plague spot was every per's early life, written by his own now and then visible, which, if it dit hand. We conceive that these are not spread over and disfigure all. at matters in which the public bave little least announced the presence of an in- or no concern. They, the public, may fluence which was likely to do so dur- be perfectly justified in receiving and ing every moment that it lasted. In applying to their own purposes, what plainer language, if it be needed, the the persons who supply them may letters of Cowper, as published by Mr. have been imprudent or impolitic, or Hayley, discovered to us that, during even grossly unjustifiable, in placing at the whole long period in which they, as their disposal. And on the other hand, well as his poetry, were written, the we do not know that they have any writer of them was labouring under an right to complain of an editor who preintellectual malady, complicated in its fers his views, of letting them know no nature, and in its effects more fatal to more than he wishes them to know, to the sufferer and more pitiable to the be- theirs, of knowing all that is to be holder than perhaps any other of the kuown. Certain it is, however, that, kind on record ;-ihat in fact Cowper, in the case more immediately before us, at those periods when he was not actu- the public are anxious to know the really in a state of mental darkness or al truth ; and it is equally certain that aberration, was perpetually dreading they have not hitherto received the clue the immediate approach of such a state, which will lead them to it. Whether and was at the same time perpetually that clue has not at last been placed in taking the very surest means of bringing their bands, is a question which we that state upon him, by pampering the shall not absolutely determine, except growth of certain religious views which for ourselves—since it involves matters had taken entire and exclusive posses- almost too delicate and at the same sion of his active and susceptible, but time too dangerous for a public joursomewhat timid imagination; and nalist to handle ; but we are greatly which views were utterly at variance mistaken if the unprejudiced reader with the perceptions of his quick and pen- will find any difficulty in making the etrating intellect, and the impulses and decision for himself, after he has pesuggestions of his pure and gentle heart. rused some of the interesting and ai
This is what the letters in question fecting matter to which we now call his disclosed to the sympathizing reader. particular attention. But, if we remember them rightly, this 'The work before us consists of two is all that they disclosed ; thus leaving additional volumes of the private letthe matter still involved in a paintul ters of Cowper to his most intimate and perplexing mystery--leaving lis friends; and it is ushered into the still in doubt as to the relation between world by a Preface explaining the the innate and the external source of views of the editor, Dr. J. Johnson, the Cowper's malady, or whether the one poet's kinsman, in putting it forth, and had any necessary con
onnexion with the the sources from whence it had been other: in short, giving us no clue by obtained ; and adding, what will perwhich to find our way to the beginning haps be considered as unnecessary at of that malady, or to trace its progress; least, the testimony of two of the edi- but only permitting us to see a few tor's friends as to the merit and interest of its wretched consequences, and to of the matter : though we can so easily weep over its fatal end.
excuse the said editor for printing the It is not our present intention to en- elegant eulogy of one of those friends, quire minutely into the question, wheth- that we shall follow his example, and insert it here, as well in justification of latter end of October, I know, generally what we may hereafter have to say in puts an end to your relaxations, such as favour of the work, as to furnish the reading upon sunshiny banks, and contem
plating the clouds,as you lie upon your back. reader with an opinion which he may • Permit it to be one of the aliena negosafely accept as worth more than any tio centum, which are now begioning to anonymous one that is likely to be offer- buzz in your ears, to send me a twenty
pound note by the first opportunity. I beg ed to him.
my affectionate respects to my friends in " It is quite unnecessary that I perused Cook's-court." the letters with great admiration and de- Here is another equally short, and inlight. I have always considered the let. ters of Mr. Cowper as the finest specimen teresting from the literary opinions it of the epistolary style in our language; includes. One of those opinions will and these appear to 'me of a superior des. sound a little startling to the admirers cription to the former, as much beauty of Milton. with more piety and pathos. To an air of inimitable ease and carelessness, they unite
"I have been readiog Gray's Works, a high degree of correctness, such as would and think him the only poet since Shak result only from the clearest intellect, com- speare entitled to the character of sublime. bined with the most finished taste. I have Perhaps you will reinenıber that I once had scarcely found a single word which is ca.
a different opinion of him. I was prejupable of being exchanged for a better.
diced. He did not belong to our Thorsday “ Literary errors I can discern none. society, and was an Eton man, which low. The selection of the words and the struc
ered him prodigiously in our esteein. I ture of periods are inimitable; they present could be written; but I like Gray's better.
once thought Swifi's Letters the best that as striking a contrast as can well be conceived, to the turgid verbosity which passes His humour, or his wit, or whatever it is to at present for fine writing, and which bears be called, is never ill-natured or offensive, a great resemblance to the degeneracy and yet, I think, equally poignant with the which marks the style of Ammianus Mar. Dean's.” cellinus, as compared to that of Cicero or There is something very touching in of Livy. A perpetual effort and struggle the following reflections on Mr. Newish and dazzling colours are substituted ton's quitting Olney ; and they are exfor chaste ornament, and the hideous dis. pressed with a sweet simplicity :tortions of weakness for native strength.
" You have observed in common converIn my humble opinion, the study of Cowper's prose may, on this account, be as use.
sation, that the man who coughs the oftensul io forming the taste of young people as
est, (I mean it he has not a cold) does it his poetry."
Extract of a letter to the Edi. because he has nothing to say. Even so it tor from the Rev. R. Hall, of Leicester.
is in letter-writing: a long preface such as
mine, is an ugly symptom, and always fore. The first volume commences with bodes gicat sterility in the following pages. several short, but most agreeable let- “ The vicarage-house became a melan. ters to Mr. Joseph Hill, of the Temple; choly object, as soon as Mr. Newton had the only male friend, except Hayley, melancholy : now it is actually occupied by
left it ; when you left it, it became more not decidedly devoted to religious par- another family, even I cannot look at it suits, with whom Cowper kept up any without being shocked. As I walked in connexion or correspondence after his the garden this evening, I saw the smoke retirement into the country. Some of issue from the study chimney, avd said to these letters are delightful specimens of Newton was there; but it is so no longer.
myself, That used to be a sign that Mr. that easy gayety of heart which, not- The walls of the house know nothing of the withstanding all the adventitious gloom change that has taken place; the bolt of with which it was so fatally blended, the chamber-door sounds just as it used to was, after all, the only natural turn of for’aught I know, or ever shall know, the
do; and when Mr. P- goes up stairs, Cowper's disposition. There are ma- tall of his foot could hardly,
perhaps, be ny others throughout the volumes ad- distinguished from that of Mr. Newton. dressed to the same person, and of the But Mr. Newton's foot will never be heard same character. For the sake of vari- tions, and such as these, occurred to me
upon that staircase again. These reflecety, however, we shall extract as we upon the occasion ; * *****. If I were go. Was there ever seen so graceful a in a condition to leave Olney too, I cermode of asking for a remittance, as the tainly would not stay in it. It is no at
tachment to the place that binds me here, following short note presents ?
but an unfitness for every other. I lived “ By this time, I presume, you are re- in it once, but now I am buried in it, and turned to the precincts of the law. The have no business with the world on the
outside of my sepulchre ; my appearance very diverting. I am merry that I may de would startle them, and theirs would be coy people into my company, and grave shocking to me."
that they may be the better for it. Now The first part of the following is ad- and then I put on the garb of a philosopher, mirably expressed. It seems to refer and take the opportunity that disguise pro
cures me, to drop a word in favour of relito a solicitation which he had received gion. In short, there is some froth, and from his friend Mr. Newton, to reply to bere and there a bit of sweetmeat, which some pamphlet which had just appear- seems to entitle it justly to the name of a ed on a religious controversy in which certain dish the ladies call a trifle. I did
not choose to be more facetions, lest I should his friend was engaged. But we consult the taste of my readers at the engive the extract chiefly on account pense of my own approbation: por more of the last passage, which is full of a serious than I have been, lest I should forwild pathos that is affecting in the higli- has a difficult part to act : One minute est degree.
obliged to bridle his bumour, if he has aov, "If I had strength of mind, I have not and the next, to clap a spur to the sides of strength of body for the task which, you it: Now ready to weep from a sense of tbe say, some would impose upon me. I can. importance of his subject, and on a suddea pot bear much thinking. The ineshes of constrained to laugh, lest his gravity should that fine net-work, the brain, are composed be mistaken for dulness. If this be pat of such mere spinners' threads in me, that violent exercise for the mind, I know not when a long thought finds its way into what is; and if any man doubt it, let him them, it buzzes, and twangs, and bustles try. Whether all this management and about at such a rate as scems to threaten contrivance be necessary, I do not know, the whole contexture. No-I must needs but am inclined to suspect that if my Muse refer it again to you.
was to go forth clad in Quaker colour, “ My enigma will probably find you out, without one bit of riband to enliven ber and you will find out my enigma, at some appearance, she might walk from one end future time. I am not in a humour to tran- of Loudon to the other, as little noticed as scribe them now. Indeed I wonder that a if she were one of the sisterhood indeed." sportive thought should ever knock at the Here is another passage similar to door of my intellects, and still more that it
one of the preceding : should gain admittance. It is as if harle. quin should intrude himself into the gloo. " If a Board of Enquiry were to be es my chamber where a corpse is deposited in tablished, at which no poets were to under state. His antic gesticulations would be go an examination respecting the motives unseasonable at any rate, but more espe. that induced them to publish, and I were to cially so if they should distort the features be summoned to attend, that I might give of the mournful attendants into laughter. an account of mine, I think I could truly But the mind long wearied with the same. say, what perhaps few poets could, that ness of a dull, dreary prospect, will gladly though I have no objection to lucrative confix its eyes on any thing that may make a sequences, if any such should follow, they little variety in its contemplations, though are not my aim ; much less is it my ambi. it were but a kitten playing with her tail." tion to exhibit myself to the world as a geThe following passages are exceeding
nius. What then, says Mr. President, can
possibly be your motive? I answer with a ly interesting : one on account of the bow-Amusement. There is nothing but sight it gives us into the use to which this-no occupation within the compass of the poet applied his art; and the other my small sphere, Poetry excepted—that as explaining his own views on one of can do much towards diverting that train
of melancholy thoughts, which, when I am his principal works :
not thus employed, are for ever pouring " At this season of the year, and in this themselves in upon me. And if I did not gloomy uncomfortable climate, it is no easy publish what I write, I could not interest matter for the owner of a miod like mine, myself sufficiently in my own success, to to divert it from sad subjects, and fix it up- make an amusement of it." on such as may administer to its amuse
We have hinted that Cowper's natument. Poetry, above all things, is useful to me in this respect. While I am held in ral disposition was of a joyous characpursuit of pretty images, or a pretty way ter. It was so to a pitch of boyishness. of expressing them, I forget every thing He was, in fact, as pure and innocent that is irksome, and like a boy that plays truant, determine to avail myself of the
as a child, and might have been as present opportunity to be amused, and to happy-sporting away bis pleasant put by the disagreeable recollection that I hours like a bird. How he delighted must,after all, go home and be whipt again." to make little riddles, and send them to
“* I send you Table Talk. It is a medley his friends, and listen to their wrong of many things, some that may be useful, and some that, for a!. ht I know, may be solutions of them, and then send them
the right! We have several instances were good for nothing. They contained of this in these volumes, and most af- nothing but a putrid liquor with a round secting ones they are, occurring as they much resembled tallow, and was of the size
white lump, which in taste and substance do in the midst of a gloom deep and of a small walnut. Nor am I the less indeadly as that of the grave !
debted to your kindness for the fish, though
none is yet come. -.. " I have at last read the second volume
Cocoa-nut naught of Mr.-'s work, and had some hope that
Fish too dear, I should prevail with myself to read the first
None must be brought likewise. I began this book at the latter
For us that are here. end, because the first part of it was engaged
No lobster on earth,
That ever I saw, when I received the second ; but I had not
To me would be worth so good an appetite as a soldier of the
Sixpence a claw. Guards, who, as I was informed when I liv.
So, dear Madam, wait ed in London, would for a small matter eat
Till fish can be got up a cat alive, beginning at her tail and
At a reas'nable rate,
Whether lobster or not; finishing with her whiskers." .
Till the French and the Dutch “ I send a cucumber, not of my own
Have quitted the seas, raising, and yet raised by me.
And then send as much
And as oft as you please.”
..." I forgot to mention that Johnson That are not downright puzzle-proof, And eat it for your pains.
uses the discretion my poetship has allowed " It is worth while to send you a riddle, him, with much discernment. He has sugyou make such a variety of guesses, and gested several alterations, or rather markturn and tumble it about with such an in
ed several defective passages, which I have dustrious curiosity. The solution of that corrected much to the advantage of the poquestion is-let me see; it requires some
ems. In the last sheet he sent me, he noted consideration to explain it, even though I three such, all which I have reduced into
better order. made it. I raised the seed that produced sented to his criticisms in some instances,
In the foregoing sheer, I asthe plant that produced the fruit, that pro and chose to abide by the original expresduced the seed that produced the fruit ! sion in others. Thus we jog on together sent you. This latter seed I gave to the comfortably enough; and perhaps it would gardener of Terningbam, who brought me the cucumber you mention. Thus you see
be as well for authors in general, if their I raised it--that is to say I raised it virtu- allowed, though not to tinker the work
booksellers, when men of some taste, were yet I did not raise it, because the identical themselves, yet to point out the flaws, and seed from which it grew was raised at a
humbly to recommend an improvement.”.. distance. You observe I did not speak
« To Mrs. Newton. rashly, when I spoke of it as dark enough
“September 16, 1781. to pose an Edipus; and have no need to A noble theme demands a noble verse, call your own sagacity in question for fal. In such I thank you for your fine oysters. ling short of the discovery."
The barrel was magnificently large, « Whoever means to take my phiz will
But being sent to Olney at free charge,
Was not inserted in the driver's list, find himself sorely perplexed in seeking for And therefore overlook'd, forgot or miss'd; a fit occasion. That I shall not give him For when the messenger whom we dispatch'd one, is certain ; and if he steals one, he Enquir’d for oysters, Hob his poddle scratch'd ;
Denying that his waggon or his wain must be as cunning and quick-sighted a
Did any such commodity contain. thief as Autolycus himself. His best course In consequence of which, your welcome boon will be to draw a face, and call it mine, at
Did not arrive till yesterday at noon; a venture. They who have not seen
In consequence of which some chanced to die,
Add some, though very sweet, were very dry. these twenty years will say, it may be a Now Marlam says (and what sbe says must still striking likeness now, though it bears no Deserve attention, say she what she will.) resemblance to what he was: tine makes
That which we call the Diligence, be-case
It goes to London with a swifter pace, great alterations. They who know me bet
Would better suit the carriage of your gift, ter will say perhaps, Though it is not per- Returning downward with a pace as swift; fectly the thing, yet there is somewhat of And therefore recommends it with this aimthe cast of his countenance. If the nose
To save at least three days,--the price the same ;
For though it will not carry or convey was a little longer, and the chin a little For less than twelve pence, send whate'er you may, shorter, the eyes a little smaller, and the For oysters bred upon the salt sea shore, forehead a little more protuberant, it would
Pack'd in a barrel, they will charge no more. be just the man. And thus, without seeing
News have I none that I can deign to write, me at all, the artist may represent me to
Save that it rain'd prodigiously last night;
And that ourselves were, at the seventh hour, the public eye, with as much exactness as Caught in the first beginning of the show'r; yours has bestowed upon you, though, I But walking, running, and with much ado, suppose, the original was full in his view
Got home-just time enough to be wet through. when he made the attempt.”
Yet both are well, and, wond'rous to be told,
Soused as we were, we yet have caught no cold ; “ We felt ourselves not the less obliged And wishing just the same good hap to you, to you for the cocoa-nuts, though they
We say, good Madam, and good Şir, Adieu "