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Title: The Works of William Cowper
       His life, letters, and poems, now first completed by the
              introduction of Cowper's private correspondence

Author: William Cowper

Editor: T. S. Grimshawe

Release Date: December 27, 2014 [EBook #47790]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8


Produced by Mark C. Orton, Julia Neufeld and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at



Drawn from the Life by Romney 1782.        W. Greatbach.


BORN 1731 DIED 1800.

In one Volume.


J. L. Harding        W. Greatbach

The House in which Cowper was born














The very extensive sale of the former editions of the Works of Cowper, in eight volumes, now comprising an issue of no less than seventy thousand volumes, has led the publishers to contemplate the present edition in one volume 8vo. This form is intended to meet the demands of a numerous class of readers, daily becoming more literary in taste, and more influential in their character on the great mass of our population. At a period like the present, when the great framework of society is agitated by convulsions pervading nearly the whole of continental Europe, and when so many elements of evil are in active operation, it becomes a duty of the highest importance to imbue the public mind with whatever is calculated to uphold national peace and order, and to maintain among us a due reverence for laws, both human and divine. The faculty also and taste for reading now exists to so great an extent, that it assumes a question of no small moment how this faculty is to be directed; whether it shall be the giant's power to wound and to destroy, or like the Archangel's presence to heal and to save? Many readers require to be amused, but it is no less necessary that they should be instructed. To seek amusement and nothing further, denotes a head without wit, and a heart and a conscience without feeling. An author, if he be a Christian and a patriot, will never forget to edify as well as to amuse. There are few writers who possess and employ this happy art with more skill than Cowper. His aim is evidently to interest his reader, but he never forgets the appeal to his heart and conscience. It is strange if amidst the flowers of his poetic fancy, and the sallies of his epistolary humour, the Rose of Sharon does not insinuate its form, and breathe forth its sweet fragrance. No one knows better than Cowper how to interweave the sportiveness of his wit with the gravity of his moral, and yet always to be gay without levity, and grave without[vi] dulness. He is also thoroughly English, in the structure of his mind, in the honest expression of his feelings, in his hatred of oppression, his ardour for true liberty, his love for his country, and for whatever concerns the weal and woe of man. Nor does he ever fail to exhibit National Religion as the only sure foundation for national happiness and virtue. The works of such a writer can never perish. Cowper has earned for himself a name which will always rank him among the household poets of England; while his prose has been admitted by the highest authority to be as immortal as his verse.[1]

In presenting therefore to the class of readers above specified, as well as to the public generally, this edition of the Works of Cowper, in a form accessible to all, the Publishers trust that the undertaking will be deemed to be both seasonable and useful. In this confidence they offer it with the fullest anticipations of its success. It remains only to state that it is a reprint of the former editions without any mutilation or curtailment.

It is gratifying to add that the Portrait, drawn from life by Romney in 1792, and now engraved by W. Greatbach in the first style of art, is esteemed by the few persons living who have a vivid recollection of the person and appearance of the Poet, as the most correct and happy likeness ever given to the public. The Illustrations, too, presented with this edition, are procured without regard to cost, so as to render the entire work, it is hoped, the most complete ever published.

December 3, 1848.




Your Ladyship's peculiar intimacy with the poet Cowper, and your former residence at Weston, where every object is embellished by his muse, and clothed with a species of poetical verdure, give you a just title to have your name associated with his endeared memory.

But, independently of these considerations, you are recorded both in his poetry and prose, and have thus acquired a kind of double immortality. These reasons are sufficiently valid to authorize the present dedication. But there are additional motives,—the recollection of the happy hours, formerly spent at Weston, in your society and in that of Sir George Throckmorton, enhanced by the presence of our common lamented friend, Dr. Johnson. A dispensation which spares neither rank, accomplishments, nor virtues, has unhappily terminated this enjoyment, but it has not extinguished those sentiments of esteem and regard, with which

I have the honour to be,
My dear Lady Throckmorton,
Your very sincere and obliged friend,

Biddenham, Feb. 28, 1835.


In presenting to the public this new and complete edition of the Life, Correspondence, and Poems of Cowper, it may be proper for me to state the grounds on which it claims to be the only complete edition that has been, or can be published.

After the decease of this justly admired author, Hayley received from my lamented brother-in-law, Dr. Johnson, (so endeared by his exemplary attention to his afflicted relative,) every facility for his intended biography. Aided also by valuable contributions from other quarters, he was thus furnished with rich materials for the execution of his interesting work. The reception with which his Life of Cowper was honoured, and the successive editions through which it passed, afforded unequivocal testimony to the industry and talents of the biographer and to the epistolary merits of the Poet. Still there were many, intimately acquainted with the character and principles of Cowper, who considered that, on the whole, a very erroneous impression was conveyed to the public. On this subject no one was perhaps more competent to form a just estimate than the late Dr. Johnson. A long and familiar intercourse with his endeared relative had afforded him all the advantages of a daily and minute observation. His possession of documents, and intimate knowledge of facts, enabled him to discover the partial suppression of some letters, and the total omission of others, that, in his judgment, were essential to the development of Cowper's real character. The cause of this procedure may be explained so as fully to exonerate Hayley from any charge injurious to his honour. His mind, however literary and elegant, was not precisely qualified to present a religious character to the view of the British public, without committing some important errors. Hence, in occasional parts of his work, his reflections are misplaced, sometimes injurious, and often injudicious; and in no portion of it is this defect more visible than where he attributes the malady of Cowper to the operation of religious causes.

It would be difficult to express the painful feeling produced by these facts on the minds of Dr. Johnson and of his friends. Hayley indeed seems to be afraid of exhibiting Cowper too much in a religious garb, lest he should either lessen his estimation, alarm the reader, or compromise himself. To these circumstances may be attributed the defects that we have noticed, and which have rendered his otherwise excellent production an imperfect work. The consequence, as regards Cowper, has been unfortunate. "People," observes Dr. Johnson, "read the Letters with 'the Task' in their recollection, (and vice versâ,) and are perplexed. They look for the Cowper of each in the other, and find him not; the correspondency is destroyed. The character of Cowper is thus undetermined; mystery hangs over it, and the opinions formed of him are as various as the minds of the inquirers." It was to dissipate this illusion, that my lamented friend collected the "Private Correspondence,"[viii] containing letters that had been previously suppressed, with the addition of others, then brought to light for the first time. Still there remains one more important object to be accomplished: viz., to present to the British public the whole Correspondence in its entire and unbroken form, and in its chronological order. Then, and not till then, will the real character of Cowper be fully understood and comprehended; and the consistency of his Christian character be found to harmonize with the Christian spirit of his pure and exalted productions.

Supplemental to such an undertaking is the task of revising Hayley's Life of the Poet, purifying it from the errors that detract from its acknowledged value, and adapting it to the demands and expectations of the religious public. That this desideratum has been long felt, to an extent far beyond what is commonly supposed, the Editor has had ample means of knowing, from his own personal observation, and from repeated assurances of the same import from his lamented friend, the Rev. Legh Richmond.[2]

The time for carrying this object into effect is now arrived. The termination of the copyright of Hayley's Life of Cowper, and access to the Private Correspondence collected by Dr. Johnson, enable the Editor to combine all these objects, and to present, for the first time, a Complete Edition of the Works of Cowper, which it is not in the power of any individual besides himself to accomplish, because all others are debarred access to the Private Correspondence. Upwards of two hundred letters will be thus incorporated with the former work of Hayley, in their due and chronological order.

The merits of "The Private Correspondence" are thus attested in a letter addressed to Dr. Johnson, by a no less distinguished judge than the late Rev. Robert Hall.—"It is quite unnecessary to say that I perused the letters with great admiration and delight. I have always considered the letters of Mr. Cowper as the finest specimen of the epistolary style in our language; and these appear to me of a superior description to the former, possessing as much beauty, with more piety and pathos. To an air of inimitable ease and carelessness they unite a high degree of correctness, such as could result only from the clearest intellect, combined with the most finished taste. I have scarcely found a single word which is capable of being exchanged for a better. Literary errors I can discern none. The selection of[ix] words, and the construction of periods, are inimitable; they present as striking a contrast as can well be conceived to the turgid verbosity which passes at present for fine writing, and which bears a great resemblance to the degeneracy which marks the style of Ammianus Marcellinus, as compared to that of Cicero or of Livy. In my humble opinion, the study of Cowper's prose may on this account be as useful in forming the taste of young people as his poetry. That the Letters will afford great delight to all persons of true taste, and that you will confer a most acceptable present on the reading world by publishing them, will not admit of a doubt."

All that now remains is for the Editor to say one word respecting himself. He has been called upon to engage in this undertaking both on public and private grounds. He is not insensible to the honour of such a commission, and yet feels that he is undertaking a delicate and responsible office. May he execute it in humble dependence on the Divine blessing, and in a spirit that accords with the venerated name of Cowper! Had the life of his endeared friend, Dr. Johnson, been prolonged, no man would have been better qualified for such an office. His ample sources of information, his name, and his profound veneration for the memory of Cowper, (whom he tenderly watched while living, and whose eyes he closed in death,) would have awakened an interest to which no other writer could presume to lay claim. It is under the failure of this expectation, which is extinguished by the grave, that the Editor feels himself called upon to endeavour to supply the void; and thus to fulfil what is due to the character of Cowper, and to the known wishes of his departed friend. Peace be to his ashes! They now rest near those of his beloved Bard, while their happy spirits are reunited in a world, where no cloud obscures the mind, and no sorrow depresses the heart: and where the mysterious dispensations of Providence will be found to have been in accordance with his unerring wisdom and mercy.

It is impossible for the Editor to specify the various instances of revision in the narrative of Hayley, because they are sometimes minute or verbal, at other times more enlarged. The object has been to retain the basis of his work, as far as possible. The introduction of new matter is principally where the interests of religion, or a regard to Cowper's character seemed to require it; and for such remarks the Editor is solely responsible.




The family, birth, and first residence of Cowper1
His verses on the portrait of his mother1
Epitaph on his mother by her niece2
The schools that Cowper attended2
His sufferings during childhood2
His removal from Westminster to an attorney's office3
Verses on his early afflictions4
His settlement in the Inner Temple4
His acquaintance with eminent authors4
His translations in Duncombe's Horace4
His own account of his early life4
Stanzas on reading Sir Charles Grandison4
His verses on finding the heel of a shoe5
His nomination to the office of Reading Clerk in the House of Lords5
His nomination to be Clerk of the Journals in the House of Lords5
To Lady Hesketh. Journals of the House of Lords. Reflection on the singular temper of his mind. Aug. 9, 17635
His extreme dread of appearing in public6
His illness, and removal to St. Alban's6
Change in his ideas of religion7
His recovery7
His settlement at Huntingdon to be near his brother7
The translation of Voltaire's Henriade by the two brothers7
The origin of Cowper's acquaintance with the Unwins7
His adoption into the family8
His early friendship with Lord Thurlow, and J. Hill, Esq8
To Joseph Hill, Esq. Account of his situation at Huntingdon. June 24, 17659
To Lady Hesketh. On his illness and subsequent recovery. July 1, 17659
To Joseph Hill, Esq. Huntingdon and its amusements. July 3, 176510
To Lady Hesketh. Salutary effects of affliction on the human mind. July 4, 176510
To the same. Account of Huntingdon; distance from his Brother, &c. July 5, 176511
To the same. Newton's Treatise on Prophecy; Reflections of Dr. Young, on the Truth of Christianity. July 12, 176512
To the same. On the Beauty and Sublimity of Scriptural Language. Aug. 1, 176512
To Joseph Hill, Esq. Expected excursion. Aug. 14, 176513
To Lady Hesketh. Pearsall's Meditations; definition of faith. Aug. 17, 176514
To the same. On a particular Providence; experience of mercy, &c. Sept. 4, 176514
To the same. First introduction to the Unwin family; their characters. Sept. 14, 176515
To the same. On the thankfulness of the heart, its inequalities, &c. Oct. 10, 176516
To the same. Miss Unwin, her character and piety. Oct. 18, 176516
To Major Cowper. Situation at Huntingdon; his perfect satisfaction, &c. Oct. 18, 176517
To Joseph Hill, Esq. On those who confine all merits to their own acquaintance. Oct. 25, 176518
To the same. Agreement with the Rev. W. Unwin. Nov. 5, 176518
To the same. Declining to read lectures at Lincoln's Inn. Nov. 8, 176518
To Lady Hesketh. On solitude; on the desertion of his friends. March 6, 176619
To Mrs. Cowper. Mrs. Unwin, and her son; his cousin Martin. March 11, 176619
To the same. Letters the fruit of friendship; his conversion. April 4, 176620
To the same. The probability of knowing each other in Heaven. April 17, 176620
To the same. On the recollection of earthly affairs by departed spirits. April 18, 176621
To the same. On the same subject; on his own state of body and mind. Sept. 3, 176622
To the same. His manner of living; reasons for his not taking orders. Oct. 20, 176623
To the same. Reflections on reading Marshall. March 11, 176724
To the same. Introduction of Mr. Unwin's son; his gardening; on Marshall. March 14, 176724
To the same. On the motive of his introducing Mr. Unwin's son to her. April 3, 176725
To Joseph Hill, Esq. General election. June 16, 176727
To Mrs. Cowper. Mr. Unwin's death; doubts concerning Cowper's future abode. July 13, 176726
To Joseph Hill, Esq. Reflections arising from Mr. Unwin's death. July 16, 176726
The origin of Cowper's acquaintance with Mr. Newton.26
Cowper's removal with Mrs. Unwin to Olney.27
To Joseph Hill, Esq. Invitation to Olney. Oct. 10, 176727
His devotion and charity in his new residence.27
To Joseph Hill, Esq. On the occurrences during his visit at St. Alban's. June 16, 176827
To the same. On the difference of dispositions; his love of retirement. Jan. 21, 176927
To the same. On Mrs. Hill's late illness. Jan. 29, 176928
To the same. Declining an invitation. Fondness for retirement. July 31, 176928
His poem in memory of John Thornton, Esq.28
His beneficence to a necessitous child.29
To Mrs. Cowper. His new situation; reasons for mixture of evil in the world. 176929
To the same. The consolations of religion on the death of her husband. Aug. 31, 176930
Cowper's journey to Cambridge on his brother's illness.30
To Mrs. Cowper. Dangerous illness of his brother. March 5, 177030
The death and character of Cowper's brother.31
To Joseph Hill, Esq. Religious sentiments of his brother. May 8, 177031
To Mrs. Cowper. The same subject. June 7, 177032
To Joseph Hill, Esq. Expression of his gratitude for instances of friendship. Sept. 25, 177033
To the same. Congratulations on his marriage. Aug. 27, 177133
To the same. Declining offers of service. June 27, 177233
To the same. Acknowledging obligations. July 2, 177233
To the same. Declining an invitation to London. Nov. 5, 177233
The composition of the Olney Hymns by Mr. Newton and Cowper.34
The interruption of the Olney Hymns by the illness of Cowper35
His long and severe depression35
His tame hares, one of his first amusements on his recovery.35
The origin of his friendship with Mr. Bull.35
His translations from Madame de la Mothe Guion.35
To Joseph Hill, Esq. On Mr. Ashley Cooper's recovery from a nervous fever. Nov. 12, 177636
To the same. On Gray's Works. April 20, 177736
To the same. On Gray's later epistles. West's Letters. May 25, 177736
[vi]To the same. Selection of books. July 13, 177736
To the same. Supposed diminution of Cowper's income. Jan. 1, 177837
To the same. Death of Sir Thomas Hesketh, Bart. April 11, 177837
To the same. Raynal's works. May 7, 177837
To the same. Congratulations on preferment. June 18, 177837
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Disapproving a proposed application to Chancellor Thurlow. June 18, 177837
To the same. Johnson's Lives of the Poets. May 26, 177938
To the same. Remarks on the Isle of Thanet. July, 177938
To the same. Advice on sea-bathing. July 17, 177938
To the same. His hot house; tame pigeons; visit to Gayhurst. Sept. 21, 177939
To Joseph Hill, Esq. With the fable of the Pine-apple and the Bee. Oct. 2, 177939
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Johnson's Biography; his treatment of Milton. Oct. 31, 177940
To Joseph Hill, Esq. With a poem on the promotion of Edward Thurlow. Nov. 14, 177940
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Quick succession of human events; modern patriotism. Dec. 2, 177940
To the same. Burke's speech on reform; Nightingale and Glow-worm. Feb. 27, 178041
To Mrs. Newton. On Mr. Newton's removal from Olney. March 4, 178041
To Joseph Hill, Esq. Congratulations on his professional success. March 16, 178042
To the Rev. J. Newton. On the danger of innovation. March 18, 178042
To the Rev. W. Unwin. On keeping the Sabbath. March 28, 178043
To the same. Pluralities in the church. April 6, 178043
To the Rev. J. Newton. Distinction between a travelled man, and a travelled gentleman. April 16, 178044
To the same. Serious reflections on rural scenery. May 3, 178044
To Joseph Hill, Esq. The Chancellor's illness. May 6, 178045
To the Rev. W. Unwin. His passion for landscape drawing; modern politics. May 8, 178045
To Mrs. Cowper. On her brother's death. May 10, 178046
To the Rev. J. Newton. Pedantry of commentators; Dr. Bentley, &c. May 10, 178046
To Mrs. Newton. Mishap of the gingerbread baker and his wife. The Doves. June 2, 178047
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Cowper's fondness of praise—Can a parson be obliged to take an apprentice?—Latin translation of a passage in Paradise Lost; versification of a thought. June 8, 178047
To the Rev. J. Newton. On the riots in 1780; danger of associations. June 12, 178048
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Latin verses on ditto. June 18, 178049
To the same. Robertson's History; Biographia Britannica. June 22, 178049
To the Rev. J. Newton. Ingenuity of slander; lace-makers' petition. June 23, 178050
To the Rev. W. Unwin. To touch and retouch, the secret of good writing; an epitaph; July 2, 178051
To Joseph Hill, Esq. On the riots in London. July 3, 178051
To the same. Recommendation of lace-makers' petition. July 8, 178051
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Translation of the Latin verses on the riots. July 11, 178052
To the Rev. J. Newton. With an enigma. July 12, 178052
To Mrs. Cowper. On the insensible progress of age. July 29, 178053
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Olney bridge. July 27, 178054
To the Rev. J. Newton. A riddle. July 30, 178054
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Human nature not changed; a modern, only an ancient in a different dress. August 6, 178054
To Joseph Hill, Esq. On his recreations. Aug. 10, 178055
To the Rev. J. Newton. Escape of one of his hares. Aug. 21, 178056
To Mrs. Cowper. Lady Cowper's death. Age a friend to the mind. Aug. 31, 178056
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Biographia; verses, parson and clerk. Sept. 3, 178057
To the same. On education. Sept. 7, 178057
To the same. Public schools. Sept. 17, 178058
To the same. On the same subject. Oct. 5, 178059
To Mrs. Newton. On Mr. Newton's arrival at Ramsgate. Oct. 5, 178060
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Verses on a goldfinch starved to death in his cage. Nov. 9, 178060
To Joseph Hill, Esq. On a point of law. Dec. 10, 178060
To the Rev. John Newton. On his commendations of Cowper's poems. Dec. 21, 178060
To J. Hill, Esq. With the memorable law-case between nose and eyes. Dec. 25, 178061
To the Rev. W. Unwin. With the same. Dec. 178062
To the Rev. John Newton. Progress of Error. Mr. Newton's works. Jan. 21, 178162
To the Rev. W. Unwin. On visiting prisoners. Feb. 6, 178163
To Joseph Hill, Esq. Hurricane in West Indies. Feb. 8, 178163
To the same. On metrical law-cases; old age. Feb. 15, 178164
To the Rev. John Newton. With Table Talk. On classical literature. Feb. 18, 178164
To Mr. Hill. Acknowledging a present received. Feb. 19, 178164
To the Rev. John Newton. Mr. Scott's curacies. Feb. 25, 178165
To the same. Care of myrtles. Sham fight at Olney. March 5, 178165
To the same. On the poems, "Expostulation," &c. March 18, 1781.66
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Consolations on the asperity of a critic. April 2, 178167
To the Rev. John Newton. Requesting a preface to "Truth." Enigma on a cucumber. April 8, 178168
To the same. Solution of the enigma. April 23, 178168
Cowper's first appearance as an author.69
The subjects of his first poems suggested by Mrs. Unwin.69
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Intended publication of his first volume. May 1, 178169
To Joseph Hill, Esq. On the composition and publication of his first volume. May 9, 178170
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Reasons for not showing his preface to Mr. Unwin. May 10, 178170
To the same. Delay of his publication; Vincent Bourne, and his poems. May 23, 178171
To the Rev. John Newton. On the heat; on disembodied spirits. May 22, 178172
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Corrections of his proofs; on his horsemanship. May 28, 178172
To the same. Mrs. Unwin's criticisms; a distinguishing Providence. June 5, 178173
To the same. On the design of his poems; Mr. Unwin's bashfulness. June 24, 178173
Origin of Cowper's acquaintance with Lady Austen.74
Poetical epistle addressed to that lady by him.75
Diffidence of the poet's genius.76
To the Rev. John Newton. His late visit to Olney. Lady Austen's first visit. Correction in "Progress of Error." Intended portrait of Cowper. July 7, 178176
To the same. Humorous letter in rhyme, on his poetry. July 12, 178177
To the same. Progress of the poem, "Conversation." July 22, 1781.77
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Though revenge and a spirit of litigation are contrary to the Gospel, still it is the duty of a Christian to vindicate his right. Anecdote of a French Abbé, A fete champetre. July 29, 178177
To Mrs. Newton. Changes of fashion. Remarks on his poem, "Conversation." Aug. 178178
To the Rev. John Newton. Conversion of the green-house into a summer-parlour. Progress of his work. Aug. 16, 178179
To the same. State of Cowper's mind. Lady Austen's intended settlement at Olney. Lines on cocoa-nuts and fish. Aug. 21, 178180
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Congratulations on the birth of a son. Remarks on his poem, "Retirement." Lady Austen's proposed settlement at Olney. Her character. Aug. 25, 178181
To the Rev. John Newton. Progress of the printing of his poem, "Retirement." Mr. Johnson's corrections. Aug. 25, 178182
To the same. Heat of the weather. Remarks on the opinion of a clerical acquaintance concerning certain amusements and music. Sept. 9, 178182
[vii]To Mrs. Newton. A poetical epistle on a barrel of oysters. Sept. 16, 178183
To the Rev. John Newton. Dr. Johnson's criticism on Watts and Blackmore. Smoking. Sept. 18, 178183
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Thoughts on the sea. Character of Lady Austen. Sept. 26, 178184
To the Rev. John Newton. Religious poetry. Oct. 4, 178185
To the same. Brighton amusements. His projected Authorship. Oct. 6, 178185
To the Rev. John Newton. Disputes between the Rev. Mr. Scott and the Rev. Mr. R. Oct. 14, 178186
To Mrs. Cowper. His first volume. Death of a friend. Oct. 19, 178187
Reasons why the Rev. Mr. Newton wrote the Preface to Cowper's Poems87
To the Rev. John Newton. Remarks on the proposed Preface to the Poems. Mr. Scott and Mr. R. Oct. 22, 178187
To the Rev. W. Unwin. Brighton dissipation. Education of young Unwin. Nov. 5, 178188
To the Rev. John Newton. Cowper's indifference to Fame. Anecdote of the Rev. Mr. Bull. Nov. 7, 178189
To the Rev. Wm. Unwin. Apparition of Paul Whitehead, at West Wycombe. Nov. 24, 178190
To Joseph Hill, Esq. In answer to his account of his landlady and her cottage. Nov. 26, 178190
To the Rev. Wm. Unwin. Origin and causes of social feeling. Nov. 26, 178191
To the Rev. John Newton. Unfavourable prospect of the American war. Nov. 27, 178192
To the same. With lines on Mary and John. Same date92
To Joseph Hill, Esq. Advantage of having a tenant who is irregular in his payments. Sale of chambers. State of affairs in America. Dec. 2, 178193
To the Rev. John Newton. With lines to Sir Joshua Reynolds. Political and patriotic poetry. Dec. 4, 178193
Circumstances under which Cowper commenced his career as an author94
Letter to the Rev. John Newton, Dec. 17, 1781. Remarks on his poems on Friendship, Retirement, Heroism and Ætna; Nineveh and Britain95
To the Rev. William Unwin, Dec. 19, 1781. Idea of a theocracy; the American war96
To the Rev. John Newton; shortest day, 1781. On a national miscarriage; with lines on a flatting-mill96
To the same, last day of 1781. Concerning the printing of his Poems; the American contest97
To the Rev. William Unwin, Jan. 5, 1782. Dr. Johnson's critique on Prior and Pope97
To the Rev. John Newton, Jan. 13, 1782. The American contest98
To the Rev. William Unwin, Jan. 17, 1782. Conduct of critics; Dr. Johnson's remarks on Prior's Poems; remarks on Dr. Johnson's Lives of the Poets; poetry suitable for the reading of a boy99
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Jan. 31, 1782. Political reflections101
To the Rev. John Newton, Feb. 2, 1782. On his Poems then printing; Dr. Johnson's character as a critic; severity of the winter102
To the Rev. William Unwin, Feb. 9, 1782. Bishop Lowth's juvenile verses; acquaintance with Lady Austen102
Attentions of Lady Austen to Cowper103
Letter from him to Lady Austen103
She becomes his next door neighbour103
To the Rev. William Unwin. On Lady Austen's opinion of him; attempts at robbery; observations on religious characters; genuine benevolence104
To the Rev. John Newton, Feb. 16, 1782. Charms of authorship104
To the Rev. William Unwin, Feb. 24, 1782. On the publication of his poems; his letter to the Lord Chancellor105
To Lord Thurlow, Feb. 25, 1782, enclosed to Mr. Unwin105
To the Rev. John Newton, Feb. 1782. On Mr. N.'s Preface to his Poems. Remarks on a Fast Sermon105
To the same, March 6, 1782. Political Remarks; character of Oliver Cromwell106
Decision and boldness of Cromwell107
To the Rev. William Unwin, March 7, 1782. Remonstrance against Sunday routs107
Remarks on the reasons for rejecting the Rev. Mr. Newton's Preface to Cowper's Poems107
To the Rev. John Newton, March 14, 1782. On the intended Preface to his Poems; critical tact of Johnson the bookseller108
To Joseph Hill, Esq., March 14, 1782. On the publication of his Poems108
To the Rev. William Unwin, March 18, 1782. On his and Mrs. Unwin's opinion of his Poems109
Improvements in prison discipline109
To the Rev. John Newton, March 24, 1782. Case of Mr. B. compared with Cowper's110
To the Rev. William Unwin, April 1, 1782. On his commendations of his Poems110
To the same, April 27, 1782. Military music; Mr. Unwin's expected visit; dignity of the Latin language; use of parentheses111
To the same, May 27, 1782. Dr. Franklin's opinion of his poems; remarkable instance of providential deliverance from dangers; effects of the weather; Rodney's victory in the West Indies111
To the same, June 12, 1712. Anxiety of Authors respecting the opinion of others on their works112
Reception of the first volume of Cowper's Poems113
Portrait of the true poet113
Picture of a person of fretful temper113


To the Rev. Wm. Bull, June 22, 1782. Poetical epistle on Tobacco114
To the Rev. Wm. Unwin, July 16, 1782. Remarks on political affairs; Lady Austen and her project114
To the same, August 3, 1782. On Dr. Johnson's expected opinion of his Poems; encounter with a viper; Lady Austen; Mr. Bull; Madame Guion's Poems116
The Colubriad, a poem117
Lady Austen comes to reside at the parsonage at Olney117
Songs written for her by Cowper117
His song on the loss of the Royal George118
The same in Latin118
Origin of his ballad of John Gilpin118
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Sept. 6, 1782. Visit of Mr. Small119
To the Rev. Wm. Unwin, Nov. 4, 1782. On the ballad of John Gilpin; on Mr. Unwin's exertions in behalf of the prisoners at Chelmsford; subscription for the widows of seamen lost in the Royal George119
To the Rev. William Bull, Nov. 5, 1783. On his expected visit120
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Nov. 11, 1782. On the state of his health; encouragement of planting; Mr. P——, of Hastings120
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Nov. 1782. Thanks for a present of fish; on Mr. Small's report of Mr. Hill and his improvements121
To the Rev. William Unwin, Nov. 18, 1782. Acknowledgments to a beneficent friend to the poor of Olney; on the appearance of John Gilpin in print121
To the Rev. William Unwin. No date. Character of Dr. Beattie and his poems; Cowper's translation of Madame Guion's poems122
To Mrs. Newton, Nov. 23, 1782. On his Poems; severity of the winter; contrast between a spendthrift and an Olney cottager; method recommended for settling disputes122
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Dec. 7, 1782. Recollections of the coffee-house; Cowper's mode of spending his evenings; political contradictions123
To the Rev. William Unwin, Jan. 19, 1783. His occupations; beneficence of Mr. Thornton to the poor of Olney124
To the Rev. John Newton, Jan. 26, 1783. On the anticipations of peace; conduct of the belligerent powers124
To the Rev. Wm. Unwin, Feb. 2, 1783. Ironical congratulations on the peace; generosity of England to France125
To the Rev. John Newton, Feb. 8, 1783. Remarks on the peace125
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Feb. 13, 1783. Remarks on his poems126
To the same. Feb. 20, 1783. With Dr. Franklin's letter on his poems126
To the same. No date. On the coalition ministry; Lord Chancellor Thurlow127
Neglect of Cowper by Lord Thurlow127
Lord Thurlow's generosity in the case of Dr. Johnson, and Crabbe, the poet127
To the Rev. John Newton, Feb. 24, 1783. On the peace127
To the Rev. William Bull, March 7, 1783. On the peace; Scotch Highlanders at Newport Pagnel128
[viii]To the Rev. John Newton, March 7, 1783. Comparison of his and Mr. Newton's letters; march of Highlanders belonging to a mutinous regiment128
To the same. April 5, 1783. Illness of Mrs. C.; new method of treating consumptive cases129
To the same. April 20, 1783. His occupations and studies; writings of Mr. ——; probability of his conversion in his last moments129
To the Rev. John Newton, May 5, 1783. Vulgarity in a minister particularly offensive130
To the Rev. William Unwin, May 12, 1783. Remarks on a sermon preached by Paley at the consecration of Bishop L.130
Severity of Cowper's strictures on Paley131
Important question of a church establishment131
Increase of true piety in the Church of England131
Language of Beza respecting the established church132
To Joseph Hill, Esq., May 26, 1783. On the death of his uncle's wife132
To the Rev. John Newton, May 31, 1783. On Mrs. C.'s death132
To the Rev. William Bull, June 3, 1783. With stanzas on peace133
To the Rev. William Unwin, June 8, 1783. Beauties of the green-house; character of the Rev. Mr. Bull133
To the Rev. John Newton, June 13, 1783. On his Review of Ecclesiastical History; the day of judgment; observations of natural phenomena133
Extraordinary natural phenomena in the summer of 1783134
Earthquakes in Calabria and Sicily134
To the Rev. John Newton, June 17, 1783. Ministers must not expect to scold men out of their sins135
Tenderness an important qualification in a minister135
To the Rev. John Newton, June 19, 1783. On the Dutch translation of his "Cardiphonia"135
To the same, July 27, 1783. A country life barren of incident; Cowper's attachment to his solitude; praise of Mr. Newton's style as an historian136
Remarks on the influence of local associations136
Dr. Johnson's allusion to that subject137
To the Rev. William Unwin, August 4, 1783. Proposed inquiry concerning the sale of his Poems; remarks on English ballads; anecdote of Cowper's goldfinches137
To the same, Sept. 7, 1783. Fault of Madame Guion's writings, too great familiarity in addressing the Deity 138
To the Rev. John Newton, Sept. 8, 1783. On Mr. Newton's and his own recovery from illness; anecdote of a clerk in a public office; ill health of Mr. Scott; message to Mr. Bacon138
To the same, Sept. 15, 1783. Cowper's mental sufferings139
To the same, Sept. 23, 1783. On Mr. Newton's recovery from a fever; dining with an absent man; his niche for meditation139
To the Rev. William Unwin, Sept. 29, 1783. Effect of the weather on health; comparative happiness of the natural philosopher; reflections on air balloons140
To the Rev. John Newton, Oct. 6, 1783. Religious animosities deplored; more dangerous to the interests of religion than the attacks of its adversaries; Cowper's fondness for narratives of voyages141
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Oct. 10, 1783. Cowper declines the discussion of political subjects; epitaph on sailors of the Royal George142
To the Rev. John Newton, Oct. 13, 1783. Neglect of American loyalists; extraordinary donation sent to Lisbon at the time of the great earthquake; prospects of the Americans142
To the same, Oct. 20, 1783. Remarks on Bacon's monument of Lord Chatham143
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Oct. 20, 1783. Anticipations of winter144
Cowper's winter evenings144
The subject of his poem, "The Sofa," suggested144
Circumstances illustrative of the origin and progress of "The Task"144
Extracts from letters to Mr. Bull on that subject144
Particulars of the time in which "The Task" was composed145
To the Rev. John Newton, Nov. 3, 1783. Fire at Olney described145
To the Rev. William Unwin, Nov. 10, 1783. On the neglect of old acquaintance; invitation to Olney; exercise recommended; fire at Olney146
To the Rev. John Newton, Nov. 17, 1783. Humorous description of the punishment of a thief at Olney; dream of an air-balloon147
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Nov. 23, 1783. On his opinion of voyages and travels; Cowper's reading148
To the Rev. William Unwin, Nov. 24, 1783. Complaint of the neglect of Lord Thurlow; character of Josephus's History148
To the Rev. John Newton, Nov. 30, 1783. Speculations on the employment of the antediluvians; the Theological Review149
To the same, Dec. 15, 1783. Speculations on the invention of balloons; the East India Bill150
To the same, Dec. 27, 1783. Ambition of public men; dismissal of ministers; Cowper's sentiments concerning Mr. Bacon; anecdote of Mr. Scott151
To the Rev. William Unwin, no date. Account of Mr. Throckmorton's invitation to see a balloon filled; attentions of the Throckmorton family to Cowper and Mrs. Unwin152
Circumstances which obliged Cowper to relinquish his friendship with Lady Austen153
Hayley's account of this event153
To the Rev. William Unwin, Jan. 3, 1784. Dearth of subjects for writing upon at Olney; reflections on the monopoly of the East India Company154
To Mrs. Hill, Jan. 5, 1784. Requesting her to send some books155
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Jan. 18, 1784. On his political letters; low state of the public funds155
To the Rev. John Newton, Jan. 18, 1784. Cowper's religious despondency; remark on Mr. Newton's predecessor156
To the Rev. William Unwin, Jan. 1784. Proposed alteration in a Latin poem of Mr. Unwin's; remarks on the bequest of a cousin; commendations on Mr. Unwin's conduct; on newspaper praise156
To the Rev. John Newton, Jan. 25, 1784. Cowper's sentiments on East India patronage and East India dominion157
State of our Indian possessions at that time158
Moral revolution effected there158
Latin lines by Dr. Jortin, on the shortness of human life158
Cowper's translation of them158
To the Rev. John Newton, Feb. 1784. On Mr. Newton's "Review of Ecclesiastical History;" proposed title and motto; Cowper declines contributing to a Review158
To the same, Feb. 10, 1784. Cowper's nervous state; comparison of himself with the ancient poets; his hypothesis of a gradual declension in vigour from Adam downwards159
To the same, Feb. 1784. The thaw; kindness of a benefactor to the poor of Olney; Cowper's politics, those of a reverend neighbour; projected translation of Caraccioli on self-acquaintance160
To the Rev. William Bull, Feb. 22, 1784. Unknown benefactor to the poor of Olney; political profession160
To the Rev. William Unwin, Feb. 29, 1784. On Mr. Unwin's acquaintance with Lord Petre; unknown benefactor to the poor of Olney; diffidence of a modest man on extraordinary occasions161
To the Rev. John Newton, March 8, 1784. The Theological Miscellany; abandonment of the intended translation of Caraccioli161
To the same, March 11, 1784. Remarks on Mr. Newton's "Apology;" East India patronage and dominion162
To the same, March 15, 1784. Cowper's habitual despondence; verse his favourite occupation, and why; Johnson's "Lives of the Poets"162
To the same, March 19, 1784. Works of the Marquis Caraccioli; evening occupations162
To the Rev. William Unwin, March 21, 1784. Cowper's sentiments on Johnson's "Lives of the Poets;" characters of the poets163
To the Rev. John Newton, March 29, 1784. Visit of a candidate and his train to Cowper; angry preaching of Mr. S164
To the same, April 14, 1784. Remarks on divine wrath; destruction in Calabria165
Effects of the earthquakes, and total loss of human lives165
To the Rev. William Unwin, April 5, 1784. Character of Beattie and Blair; speculation on the origin of speech166
[ix]To the same, April 15, 1784. Further remarks on Blair's "Lectures;" censure of a particular observation in that book167
To the same, April 25, 1784. Lines to the memory of a halybutt167
To the Rev. John Newton, April 26, 1784. Remarks on Beattie and on Blair's "Lectures;" economy of the county candidates, and its consequences168
To the Rev. William Unwin, May 3, 1784. Reflections on face-painting; innocent in Frenchwomen, but immoral in English168
To the same, May 8, 1784. Cowper's reasons for not writing a sequel to John Gilpin, and not wishing that ballad to appear with his Poems; progress made in printing them170
To the Rev. John Newton, May 10, 1784. Conversion of Dr. Johnson; unsuccessful attempt with a balloon at Throckmorton's170
Circumstances attending Dr. Johnson's conversion171
To the Rev. John Newton, May 22, 1784. On Dr. Johnson's opinion of Cowper's "Poems;" Mr. Bull and his refractory pupils171
To the same, June 5, 1784. On the opinion of Cowper's "Poems" attributed to Dr. Johnson171
To the Rev. John Newton, June 21, 1784. Commemoration of Handel; unpleasant summer; character of Mr. and Mrs. Unwin172
To the Rev. William Unwin, July 3, 1784. Severity of the weather; its effects on vegetation172
To the Rev. John Newton, July 5, 1784. Reference to a passage in Homer; could the wise men of antiquity have believed in the fables of the heathen mythology? Cowper's neglect of politics; his hostility to the tax on candles173
To the Rev. William Unwin, July 12, 1784. Remarks on a line in Vincent Bourne's Latin poems; drawing of Mr. Unwin's house; Hume's "Essay on Suicide"174
To the same, July 13, 1784. Latin Dictionary; animadversions on the tax on candles; musical ass174
To the Rev. John Newton, July 14, 1784. Commemoration of Handel175
Mr. Newton's sermon on that subject175
To the Rev. John Newton, July 19, 1784. The world compared with Bedlam176
To the same, July 28, 1784. On Mr. Newton's intended visit to the Rev. Mr. Gilpin at Lymington; his literary adversaries176
To the Rev. William Unwin, Aug. 14, 1784. Reflections on travelling; Cowper's visits to Weston; difference of character in the inhabitants of the South Sea islands; cork supplements; franks177
Original mode of franking, and reason for the adoption of the present method178
To the Rev. John Newton, August 16, 1784. Pleasures of Olney; ascent of a balloon; excellence of the Friendly islanders in dancing178
To the Rev. William Unwin, Sept. 11, 1784. Cowper's progress in his new volume of poems; opinions of a visitor on his first volume178
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Sept. 11, 1784. Character of Dr. Cotton179
To the Rev. John Newton, Sept. 18, 1784. Alteration of franks; Cowper's green-house; his enjoyment of natural sounds179
To the Rev. William Unwin, Oct. 2, 1784. Punctuation of poetry; visit to Mr. Throckmorton180
To the Rev. John Newton, Oct. 9, 1784. Cowper maintains not only that his thoughts are unconnected, but that frequently he does not think at all; remarks on the character and death of Captain Cook181
To the Rev. William Unwin, Oct. 10, 1784. With the manuscript of the new volume of his Poems, and remarks on them182
To the same, Oct. 20, 1784. Instructions respecting a publisher, and corrections in his Poems182
To the Rev. John Newton, Oct. 22, 1784. Remarks on Knox's Essays183
To the same. Oct. 30, 1784. Heroism of the Sandwich islanders; Cowper informs Mr Newton of his intention to publish a new volume184
To the Rev. William Unwin, Nov. 1, 1784. Cowper's reasons for not earlier acquainting Mr. Newton with his intention of publishing again; he resolves to include "John Gilpin"184
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Nov. 1784. On the death of Mr. Hill's mother; Cowper's recollections of his own mother; departure of Lady Austen; his new volume of Poems185
To the Rev. John Newton, Nov. 27, 1784. Sketch of the contents and purpose of his new volume185
To the Rev. William Unwin, Olney, 1784. On the transmission of his Poems; effect of medicines on the composition of poetry185
To the Rev. William Unwin, Nov. 29, 1784. Substance of his last letter to Mr. Newton186
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Dec. 4, 1784. Aërial voyages188
To the Rev. John Newton, Dec. 13, 1784. On the versification and titles of his new Poems; propriety of using the word worm for serpent188
Passages in Milton and Shakespeare in which worm is so used189
To the Rev. William Unwin, Dec. 18, 1784. Balloon travellers; inscription to his new poem; reasons for complimenting Bishop Bagot189
To the Rev, John Newton, Christmas-eve, 1784. Cowper declines giving a new title to his new volume of Poems; remarks on a person lately deceased190
General remarks on the particulars of Cowper's personal history190
Remarks on the completion of the second volume of Cowper's Poems190
Gibbon's record of his feelings on the conclusion of his History191
Moral drawn from the evanescence of life191
To the Rev. John Newton, Jan. 5, 1785. On the renouncement of the Christian character; epitaph on Dr. Johnson191
To the Rev. William Unwin, Jan. 15, 1785. On delay in letter-writing; sentiments of Rev. Mr. Newton; Cowper's contributions to the Gentleman's Magazine; Lunardi's narrative192
Explanations respecting Cowper's poem, entitled "The Poplar Field"192
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Jan. 22, 1785. Breaking up of the Frost; anticipations of proceedings in Parliament193
To the Rev. William Unwin, Feb. 7, 1785. Progress of Cowper's second volume of Poems; his pieces in the Gentleman's Magazine; sentiments of a neighbouring nobleman and gentleman respecting Cowper193
To the Rev. John Newton, Feb. 19, 1785. An ingenious bookbinder; poverty at Olney; severity of the late winter194
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Feb. 27, 1785. Inquiry concerning his health, and account of his own195
To the Rev. John Newton, March 19, 1785. Uses and description of an old card table; want of exercise during the winter; petition against concessions to Ireland195
To the Rev. William Unwin, March 20, 1785. Remarks on a Nobleman's eye; progress of his new volume; political reflections; celebrity of "John Gilpin"196
To the Rev. John Newton, April 9, 1785. On the prediction of a destructive earthquake, by a German ecclesiastic197
To the Rev. John Newton, April 22, 1785. On the popularity of "John Gilpin"197
To the Rev. William Unwin, April 30, 1785. On the celebrity of "John Gilpin;" progress of Cowper's new volume; Mr. Newton's sentiments in regard to him; mention of some old acquaintances; discovery of a bird's nest in a gate-post198
To the Rev. John Newton, May, 1785. Sudden death of Mr. Ashburner; remarks on the state of Cowper's mind; reference to his first acquaintance with Newton199
To the Rev. John Newton, June 4, 1785. Character of the Rev. Mr. Greatheed; completion of Cowper's new volume; Bacon's monument to Lord Chatham200
To Joseph Hill, Esq., June 25, 1785. Cowper's summer-house; dilatoriness of his bookseller200
To the Rev. John Newton, June 25, 1785. Allusion to the mental depression under which Cowper laboured; Nathan's last moments; complaint of Johnson's delay; effects of drought; tax on gloves201
To the Rev. John Newton, July 9, 1785. Mention of letters in praise of his Poems; conduct of the Lord Chancellor and G. Colman; reference to the commemoration of Handel; cutting down of the spinney202
To the Rev. William Unwin, July 27, 1785. Violent thunder-storm; courage of a dog; on the love of Christ203
To the Rev. John Newton, Aug. 6, 1785. Feelings on the subject of authorship; reasons for introducing John Gilpin in his new volume204
[x]To the Rev. John Newton, Aug. 17, 1785. Reasons for not writing to Mr. Bacon; Dr. Johnson's Diary; illness of Mr. Perry205
Character of Dr. Johnson's Diary206
Extracts from it207
Arguments for the necessity of conversion207
Johnson's neglect of the Sabbath207
Testimony of Sir William Jones respecting the Holy Scriptures208
To the Rev. William Unwin, Aug. 27, 1785. Thanks for presents; his second volume of Poems; remarks on Dr. Johnson's Journal; claims of who and that208
To the Rev. John Newton, Sept. 24, 1785. Recollections of Southampton; recovery of Mr. Perry; proposed Sunday School209
Origin of Sunday Schools210
Their utility210
Sentiments of the late Rev. Andrew Fuller on the Bible Society and on Sunday Schools210
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Oct. 11, 1785. Cowper excuses himself for not visiting Wargrave; on his printed epistle to Mr. Hill210
Renewal of Cowper's intimacy with his cousin, Lady Hesketh211
To Lady Hesketh, Oct. 12, 1785. Recollections revived by her letter; account of his own situation; allusion to his uncle's health; necessity of mental employment for himself211
To the Rev. John Newton, Oct. 16, 1785. On the death of Miss Cunningham; expected removal of the Rev. Mr. Scott from Olney; Mr. Jones, steward of Lord Peterborough, burned in effigy212
To the Rev. William Unwin, Oct. 22, 1785. Progress of his translation of Homer; course of reading recommended for Mr. Unwin's son213
To the Rev. John Newton, Nov. 5, 1785. On his tardiness in writing; remarks on Mr. N.'s narrative of his life; strictures on Mr. Heron's critical opinions of Virgil and the Bible; lines addressed by Cowper to Heron214
Remarks on Heron's "Letters on Literature"215
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Nov. 7, 1785. On the interruptions experienced by men of business from the idle215
To Lady Hesketh, Nov. 9, 1785. Reference to his poems; he signifies his acceptance of her offer of pecuniary aid; his translation of Homer; description of his person215
To the same, without date. His feelings towards her allusion to his translation of Homer217
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, Nov. 9, 1785. On Bishop Bagot's Charge217
To the Rev. John Newton, Dec. 3, 1785. Causes which led him to undertake the translation of Homer; visit from Mr. Bagot; renewal of his correspondence with Lady Hesketh; complains of indigestion217
To the same, Dec. 10, 1785. On the favourable reports of his last volume of poems; censure of Pope's Homer218
To the Rev. William Unwin, Dec. 24, 1785. On his translation of Homer219
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Dec. 24, 1785. On his translation of Homer219
To the Rev. William Unwin, Dec. 31, 1785. On his negotiation with Johnson respecting the Translation of Homer; want of bedding among the poor of Olney220
To Lady Hesketh, Jan. 10, 1786. His consciousness of defects in his poems; on his Translation of Homer221
To the Rev. William Unwin, Jan. 14, 1786. On Mr. Unwin's introduction to Lady Hesketh; specimen of Cowper's translation of Homer, sent to General Cowper; James's powder; what is a friend good for? unreasonable censures221
To the Rev. John Newton, Jan. 14, 1786. On his translation of Homer222
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, Jan. 15, 1786. Explanation of the delay in the publication of his proposals; allusion to Bishop Bagot222
To the same, Jan. 23, 1786. Dr. Maty's intended review of "The Task;" Dr. Cyril Jackson's opinion of Pope's Homer223
To Lady Hesketh, Jan. 31, 1786. Acknowledgment of presents from Anonymous; state of his health; progress of his translation of Homer; correspondence with General Cowper223
To the same, Feb. 9, 1786. Anticipations of a visit from her; description of the vestibule of his residence224
To the same, Feb. 11, 1786. He announces that he has sent off to her a portion of his translation of Homer; effect of criticisms on his health; promise of Thurlow to Cowper225
To the Rev. John Newton, Feb. 18, 1786. On their correspondence; his translation of Homer; proposed mottoes226
To Lady Hesketh, Feb. 19, 1786. Preparations for her expected visit; character of Homer; criticism on Cowper's specimen226
To the Walter Bagot, Feb. 27, 1786. Condolence on the death of his wife227
To Lady Hesketh, March 6, 1786. On elisions in his Homer; progress of the work227
To the Rev. W. Unwin, March 13, 1786. Character of the critic to whom he had submitted his Homer229
To the Rev. John Newton, April 1, 1786. Expected visitors229
To Joseph Hill, Esq., April 5, 1786. Reasons for declining to make any apology for his translation of Homer229
Motives which induced Cowper to undertake a new version230
To Lady Hesketh, April 17, 1786. Description of the vicarage at Olney, where lodgings had been taken for her; Mrs. Unwin's sentiments towards her; letter from Anonymous; his early acquaintance with Lord Thurlow230
To Lady Hesketh, April 24, 1786. On her letters; anticipations of her coming; General Cowper231
To the same, May 8, 1786. On Dr. Maty's censure of Cowper's translation of Homer; Colman's opinion of it; Cowper's stanzas on Lord Thurlow; invitation to Olney; specimen of Maty's animadversions; recommendation of a house at Weston; blunder of Mr. Throckmorton's bailiff; recovery of General Cowper232
To the same, May 15, 1786. Anticipations of her arrival at Olney; proposed arrangements for the occasion; presumed motive of Maty's censures; confession of ambition233
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, May 20, 1786. His translation of Homer; reasons for not adopting Horace's maxim about publishing, to the letter235
Secret sorrows of Cowper235
To the Rev. John Newton, May 20, 1786. Cowper's unhappy state of mind; his connexions236
Remarks on Cowper's depression of spirit237
Delusion of supposing himself excluded from the mercy of God237
Religious consolation recommended in cases of disordered intellect237
To Lady Hesketh, May 25, 1786. Delay of her coming; visit to a house at Weston; the Throckmortons; anecdote of a quotation from "The Task;" nervous affections238
To the same, May 29, 1786. Delay of her coming; preparations for it; allusion to his fits of dejection239
To the same, June 4 and 5, 1786. Cowper rallies her on her fears of their expected meeting; dinner at Mr. Throckmorton's240
To Joseph Hill, Esq., June 9, 1786. Relapse of the Lord Chancellor; renewal of correspondence with Colman; the Nonsense Club; expectation of Lady Hesketh's arrival241
Arrival of Lady Hesketh at Olney241
Influence of that event on Cowper241
Extract from a letter from him to Mr. Bull241
Description of a thunder-storm, from a letter to the same242
Cowper's House at Olney242
His intimacy with Mr. Newton242
His pious and benevolent habits242
He removes from Olney to the Lodge at Weston242
His acquaintance with Samuel Rose, Esq. and the late Rev. Dr. Johnson242
To Joseph Hill, Esq., June 19, 1786. His intended removal from Olney242
To the Rev. John Newton, June 22, 1786. His employments; interruption given to them by Lady Hesketh's arrival; Newton's Sermons243
To the Rev. Wm. Unwin, July 3, 1786. Lady Hesketh's arrival and character; state of his old abode and description of the new one at Weston; books recommended for Mr. Unwin's son243
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, July 4, 1786. Particulars relative to the translation of Homer244
[xi]To the Rev. John Newton, Aug. 5, 1786. His intended removal from Olney; its unhealthy situation; his unhappy state of mind; comfort of Lady Hesketh's presence245
Cowper's spirits not affected apparently by his mental malady246
To the Rev. William Unwin, Aug. 24, 1786. Progress of his Translation; the Throckmortons246
To the same, (without date.) His lyric productions; recollections of boyhood246
Extract of a letter to the Rev. Mr. Unwin247
Lines addressed to a young lady on her birth-day247
Proposed plan of Mr. Unwin for checking sabbath-breaking and drunkenness247
To the Rev. Wm. Unwin, (no date.) Cowper's opinion of the inutility of Mr. Unwin's efforts247
Exhortation to perseverance in a good cause248
Hopes of present improvement248
To the Rev. William Unwin, (no date.) State of the national affairs248
To the Rev. William Unwin, (no date.) Character of Churchill's poetry249
To the same, (no date.) Cowper's discovery in the Register of poems long composed and forgotten by him250
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, Aug. 31, 1786. Defence of elisions; intended removal to Weston250
To the Rev. John Newton, Sept. 30, 1786. Defence of his and Mrs. Unwin's conduct251
Explanatory remarks on the preceding letter251
Amiable spirit and temper of Newton251
To Joseph Hill, Esq. Oct. 6, 1786. Loss of the MS. of part of his translation251
Cowper's removal to Weston251
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, Nov. 17, 1786. On his removal from Olney; invitation to Weston253
To the Rev. John Newton, Nov. 17, 1786. Excuse for delay in writing; his new residence; affection for his old abode253
To Lady Hesketh, Nov. 26, 1786. Comforts of his new residence; the cliffs; his rambles254
Unexpected death of the Rev. Mr. Unwin254
To Lady Hesketh, Dec. 4, 1786. On the death of Mr. Unwin255
To the same, Dec. 9, 1786. On a singular circumstance relating to an intended pupil of Mr. Unwin's255
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Dec. 9, 1786. Death of Mr. Unwin; Cowper's new situation at Weston256
To the Rev. John Newton, Dec. 16, 1786. Death of Mr. Unwin; forlorn state of his old dwelling256
To Lady Hesketh, Dec. 21, 1786. Cowper's opinion of praise; Mr. Throckmorton's chaplain257
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, Jan. 3, 1787. Reason why a translator of Homer should not be calm; praises of his works; death of Mr. Unwin257
Cowper has a severe attack of nervous fever258
To Lady Hesketh, Jan. 8, 1787. State of his health; proposal of General Cowper respecting his Homer; letter from Mr. Smith, M.P. for Nottingham; Cowper's song of "The Rose" reclaimed by him258
To the Rev. John Newton, Jan. 13, 1787. Inscription for Mr. Unwin's tomb; government of Providence in his poetical labours258
To Lady Hesketh, Jan. 18, 1787. Suspension of his translation by fever; his sentiments respecting dreams; visit of Mr. Rose259
To Samuel Rose, Esq., July 24, 1787. On Burns' poems260
Remarks on Burns and his poetry260
Passages from his poems261
To Samuel Rose, Esq., Aug. 27, 1787. Invitation to Weston; state of Cowper's health; remarks on Barclay's "Argenis," and on Burns261
To Lady Hesketh, August 30, 1787. Improvement in his health; kindness of the Throckmortons262
To the same, Sept. 4, 1787. Delay of her coming; Mrs. Throckmorton's uncle; books read by Cowper262
To the same, Sept. 15, 1787. His meeting with her friend, Miss J——; new gravel-walk263
To the same, Sept. 29, 1787. Remarks on the relative situation of Russia and Turkey263
To the Rev. John Newton, Oct. 2, 1787. Cowper confesses that for thirteen years he doubted Mr. N.'s identity; acknowledgments for the kind offers of the Newtons; preparations for Lady Hesketh's coming263
To Samuel Rose, Esq., Oct. 19, 1787. State of his health; strength of local attachments264
To the Rev. John Newton, Oct. 20, 1787. His miserable state during his recent indisposition; petition to Lord Dartmouth in behalf of the Rev. Mr. Postlethwaite264
To Lady Hesketh, Nov. 10, 1787. On the delay of her coming; Cowper's kitten; changes of weather foretold by a leech265
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Nov. 16, 1787. On his own present occupation266
To Lady Hesketh, Nov. 27, 1787. Walks and scenes about Weston; application from a parish clerk for a copy of verses; papers in "The Lounger;" anecdote of a beggar and vermicelli soup266
To Lady Hesketh, Dec. 4, 1787. Character of the Throckmortons267
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, Dec. 6, 1787. Visit to Mr. B.'s sister at Chichely; Bishop Bagot; a case of ridiculous distress267
To Lady Hesketh, Dec. 10, 1787. Progress of his Homer; changes in life268
To Samuel Rose, Esq., Dec. 13, 1787. Requisites in a translator of Homer268
To Lady Hesketh, Jan. 1, 1788. Extraordinary coincidence between a piece of his own and one of Mr. Merry's; "The Poet's New Year's Gift;" compulsory inoculation for small-pox269
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, Jan. 5, 1788. Translation of the commencing lines of the Iliad, by Lord Bagot; revisal of Cowper's translation; the clerk's verses270
To Lady Hesketh, Jan. 19, 1788. His engagement with Homer prevents the production of occasional poems; remarks on a new print of Bunbury's270
To the Rev. John Newton, Jan. 21, 1788. Reasons for not writing to him; expected arrival of the Rev. Mr. Bean; changes of neighbouring ministers; narrow escape of Mrs. Unwin from being burned271
To Lady Hesketh, Jan. 30, 1788. His anxiety on account of her silence272
To the same, Feb. 1, 1788. Excuse for his melancholy; his Homer; visit from Mr. Greatheed272
Causes of Cowper's correspondence with Mrs. King273
To Mrs. King, Feb. 12, 1788. Reference to his deceased brother; he ascribes the effect produced by his poems to God273
To Samuel Rose, Esq., Feb. 14, 1788. A sense of the value of time the best security for its improvement; Mr. C——; brevity of human life illustrated by Homer273
Commencement of the efforts for the abolition of the slave trade274
To Lady Hesketh, Feb. 16, 1788. On negro slavery; Hannah More's poem on the Slave Trade; extract from it; advocates of the abolition of slavery; trial of Warren Hastings274
To Lady Hesketh, Feb. 22, 1788. Remarks on Burke's speech impeaching Warren Hastings, and on the duty of public accusers276
To the Rev. John Newton, March 1, 1788. Excuse for a lapse of memory in regard to a letter of Mr. Bean's276
To the same, March 3, 1788. Arrival of Mr. Bean at Olney; Cowper's correspondence with Mrs. King276
To Mrs. King, March 3, 1788. Brief history of his own life277
To Lady Hesketh, March 3, 1788. Catastrophe of a fox-chace; Cowper in at the death278
To the same, March 12, 1788. Remarks on Hannah More's works, and on Wilberforce's book; the Throckmortons278
Cowper is solicited to write in behalf of the negroes279
To General Cowper. 1788. Songs written by him on the condition of negro slaves279
"The Morning Dream," a ballad279
Efforts for the abolition of the Slave Trade280
Wilberforce, the Liberator of Africa280
Cowper's ballads on Negro slavery280
The Negro's Complaint280
The question why Great Britain should be the first to sacrifice interest to humanity answered by Cowper280
Lines from Goldsmith's "Traveller," on the English character281
Exposition of the cruelty and injustice of the slave trade, by Granville Sharp281
Proof of the slow progress of truth281
Extracts from Cowper's poems on Negro slavery282
Case of Somerset, a slave, and Lord Mansfield's judgment282
Final abolition of slavery by Great Britain, and efforts making for the religious instruction of the Negroes282
Probability that Africa may be enlightened by their means283
[xii]Cowper's lines on the blessings of spiritual liberty283
Letter to Mrs. Hill, March 17, 1788. Thanks for a present of a turkey and ham; Mr. Hill's indisposition; inquiry concerning Cowper's library284
To the Rev. John Newton, March 17, 1788. With a Song, written at Mr. N.'s request, for Lady Balgonie284
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, March 19, 1788. Coldness of the spring; remarks on "The Manners of the Great;" progress of his Homer284
To Samuel Rose, Esq., March 29, 1788. He expresses his wonder that his company should be desirable to Mr. R.; Mrs. Unwin's character; acknowledges the receipt of some books; Clarke's notes on Homer; allusion to his own ballads on Negro slavery285
To Lady Hesketh, March 31, 1788. He makes mention of his song, "The Morning Dream;" allusion to Hannah More on the "Manners of Great"286
Character of and extracts from Mrs. More's work286
To Mrs. King, April 11, 1788. Allusion to his melancholy, and necessity for constant employment; improbability of their meeting286
To the Rev. John Newton, April 19, 1788. Remarks on the conduct of government in regard to the Slavery Abolition question287
To Lady Hesketh, May 6, 1788. Smollett's Don Quixote; he thanks her for the intended present of a box for letters and papers; renewal of his correspondence with Mr. Rowley; remarks on the expression, "As great as two inkle weavers"288
To Joseph Hill, Esq., May 8, 1788. Lament for the loss of his library; progress of his Homer288
To Lady Hesketh, May 12, 1788. Mrs. Montagu and the Blue-Stocking Club; his late feats in walking288
To Joseph Hill, Esq., May 24, 1788. Thanks for the present of prints of the Lacemaker and Crazy Kate; family of Mr. Chester; progress of Homer; antique bust of Paris289
To the Rev. William Bull, May 25, 1788. He declines the composition of hymns, which Mr. B. had urged him to undertake290
To Lady Hesketh, May 27, 1788. His lines on Mr. Henry Cowper; remarks on Mrs. Montagu's Essay on the Genius of Shakespeare; antique head of Paris; remarks on the two prints sent him by Mr. Hill290
To the same, June 3, 1788. Sudden change of the weather; remarks on the advertisement of a dancing-master of Newport-Pagnell291
To the Rev. John Newton, June 5, 1788. His writing engagements; effect of the sudden change of the weather on his health; character of Mr. Bean; visit from the Powleys; he declines writing further on the slave-trade; invitation to Weston; verses on Mrs. Montagu291
To Joseph Hill, Esq., June 8, 1788. On the death of his uncle, Ashley Cowper292
To Lady Hesketh, June 10, 1788. On the death of her father, Ashley Cowper292
To the same, June 15, 1788. Recollections of her father293
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, June 17, 1788. Coldness of the season; reasons for declining to write on slavery; contrast between the awful scenes of nature and the horrors produced by human passions293
To Mrs. King, June 19, 1788. He excuses his silence on account of inflammation of the eyes; sudden change of weather; reasons why we are not so hardy as our forefathers; his opinion of Thomson, the poet294
To Samuel Rose, Esq., June 23, 1788. Apology for an unanswered letter; providence of God in regard to the weather; visitors at Weston; brevity of human life294
To the Rev. John Newton, June 24, 1788. Difficulties experienced by Mr. Bean in enforcing a stricter observance of the Sabbath at Olney; remarks on the slave trade295
To Lady Hesketh, June 27, 1788. Anticipations of her next visit; allusion to Lord Thurlow's promise to provide for him; anecdote of his dog Beau; remarks on his ballads on slavery296
The Dog and the Water Lily297
To Joseph Hill, Esq, July 6, 1788. He gives Mr. H. notice that he has drawn on him; allusion to an engagement of Mr. H.'s297
To Lady Hesketh, July 28, 1788. Her talent at description; the lime-walk at Weston; remarks on the "Account of Five Hundred Living Authors"297
To the same, August 9, 1788. Visitors at Weston; motto composed by Cowper for the king's clock298
To Samuel Rose, Esq., August 18, 1788. Circumstances of their parting; he recommends Mr. R. to take due care of himself in his pedestrian journeys; strictures on Lavater's Aphorisms298
Remarks on physiognomy, and on the merits of Lavater as the founder of the Orphan House at Zurich. Note299
To Mrs. King, August 28, 1788. He playfully guesses at Mrs. King's figure and features299
To the Rev. John Newton, Sept. 2, 1788. Reference to Mr. N.'s late visit; his own melancholy state of mind; Mr. Bean's exertions for suppressing public houses300
To Samuel Rose, Esq., Sept. 11, 1788. Remarkable oak; lines suggested by it; exhortation against bashfulness300
To Mrs. King, Sept. 25, 1788. Thanks for presents; invitation to Weston301
To Samuel Rose, Esq., Sept. 25, 1788. A riddle; superior talents no security for propriety of conduct; progress of Homer; Mrs. Throckmorton's bullfinch302
To Mrs. King, Oct. 11, 1788. Account of his occupations at different periods of his life302
To the Rev. John Newton, Nov. 29, 1788. Declining state of Jenny Raban; Mr. Greatheed303
To Samuel Rose, Esq., Nov. 30, 1788. Vincent Bourne; invitation to Weston303
To Mrs. King, Dec. 6, 1788. Excuse for not being punctual in writing; succession of generations; Cumberland's "Observer"304
To the Rev. John Newton, Dec. 9, 1788. Mr. Van Lier's Latin MS.; Lady Hesketh and the Throckmortons; popularity of Mr. C. as a preacher304
To Samuel Rose, Esq., Jan. 19, 1789. Local helps to memory; Sir John Hawkins' book305
To the same, Jan. 24, 1789. Accidents generally occur when and where we least expect them305
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, Jan. 29, 1789. Excuse for irregularity in correspondence; progress of Homer; allusion to political affairs305
To Mrs. King, Jan. 29, 1789. Thanks for presents; Mrs. Unwin's fall in the late frost; distress of the Royal Family on the state of the King, and anecdote of the Lord Chancellor306
To the same, March 12, 1789. Excuse for long silence, and for not having sent, according to promise, all the small pieces he had written; his poem on the King's recovery306
To the same, April 22, 1789. He informs Mrs. K. that he has a packet of poems ready for her; his verses on the Queen's visit to London on the night of the illuminations for the King's recovery; disappointment on account of her not coming to Weston; Twinings' translation of Aristotle307
To the same, April 30, 1789. Thanks for presents; his brother's poems308
To Samuel Rose, Esq., May 20, 1789. Reference to his lines on the Queen's visit; character of Hawkins Brown309
To Mrs. King, May 30, 1789. He acknowledges the receipt of a packet of papers; reference to his poem on the Queen's visit309
To Samuel Rose, Esq., June 5, 1789. He commissions Mr. R. to buy him a cuckoo-clock; Boswell's Tour to the Hebrides; Hawkins' and Boswell's Life of Johnson309
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, June 16, 1789. On his marriage; allusion to his poem on the Queen's visit310
To Samuel Rose, Esq., June 20, 1789. He expresses regret at not receiving a visit from Mr. R.; acknowledges the arrival of the cuckoo-clock; remark on Hawkins' and Boswell's Life of Johnson310
To Mrs. Throckmorton, July 18, 1789. Poetic turn of Mr. George Throckmorton; news concerning the Hall310
To Samuel Rose, Esq., July 23, 1789. Importance of improving the early years of life; anticipations of Mr. R.'s visit311
To Mrs. King, August 1, 1789. Grumbling of his correspondents on his silence; his time engrossed by Homer; he professes himself an admirer of pictures, but no connoisseur311
To Samuel Rose, Esq., August 8, 1789. Mrs. Piozzi'sTravels; remark on the author of the "Dunciad"312
To Joseph Hill, Esq., August 12, 1789. Unfavourable weather and spoiled hay; multiplicity of his engagements; Sunday school hymn312
To the Rev. John Newton, August 16, 1789. Excuse for long silence; progress of Homer313
Remarks on Cowper's observation that authors are responsible for their writings313
[xiii]To Samuel Rose, Esq., Sept. 24, 1789. Coldness of the season313
To the same, Oct. 4, 1789. Description of the receipt of a hamper, in the manner of Homer314
To the Rev. Walter Bagot (without date). Excuse for long silence; why winter is like a backbiter; Villoison's Homer; death of Lord Cowper314
To the Rev. Walter Bagot (without date). Remarks on Villoison's Prolegomena to Homer314
Note on the reveries of learned men315
To the Rev. John Newton, Dec. 1, 1789. Apology for not writing; Mrs. Unwin's state of health; reference to political events315
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Dec. 18, 1789. Political reflections316
Character of the French Revolution316
Burke on the features which distinguish the French Revolution from that of England in 1688316
Political and moral causes of the French Revolution317
Origin of the Revolution in America317
The Established Church endangered by resistance to the spirit of the age318
To Samuel Rose, Esq., Jan. 3, 1790. Excuses for silence; inquiry concerning Mr. R.'s health; laborious task of revisal318
To Mrs. King, Jan. 4, 1790. His anxiety on account of her long silence; his occupations; Mrs. Unwin's state319
To the same, Jan. 18, 1790. He contradicts a report that he intends to quit Weston; reference to his Homer319
Commencement of Cowper's acquaintance with his cousin the Rev. John Johnson320
To Lady Hesketh, Jan. 22, 1790. Particulars concerning a poem of his cousin Johnson's; anticipations of the Cambridge critics respecting his Homer320
To Samuel Rose, Esq., Feb. 2, 1790. He impugns the opinion of Bentley that the last Odyssey is spurious320
To the Rev. John Newton, Feb. 5, 1790. Account of his painful apprehensions in the month of January321
To Lady Hesketh, Feb. 9, 1790. Service rendered by her to his cousin Johnson; Cowper's lines on a transcript of an Ode of Horace by Mrs. Throckmorton321
To the same, Feb. 26, 1790. He promises to send her a specimen of his Homer for the perusal of a lady; his delight at being presented by a relative with his mother's picture322
To Mrs. Bodham, Feb. 27, 1790. He expresses his delight at receiving his mother's picture from her; lines written by him on the occasion; recollections of his mother; invitation to Weston; remembrances of other maternal relatives323
To John Johnson, Esq., Feb. 28, 1790. He refers to the present of his mother's picture; he mentions his invitation of the family of the Donnes to Weston; inquires concerning Mr. J.'s poem324
To Lady Hesketh, March 8, 1790. On Mrs. —— opinion of his Homer; his sentiments on the Test Act; passage from his poems on that subject; ill health of Mrs. Unwin324
To Samuel Rose, Esq., March 11, 1790. On the state of his health: he condemns the practice of dissembling indispositions325
To Mrs. King, March 12, 1790. On her favourable opinion of his poems; his mother's picture and his poem on the receipt of it325
To Mrs. Throckmorton, March 21, 1790. He regrets her absence from Weston; Mrs. Carter's opinion of his Homer; his new wig326
To Lady Hesketh, March 22, 1790. His opinion of the style best adapted to a translation of Homer326
To John Johnson, Esq., March 23, 1790. Character of the Odyssey; Cowper professes his affection for Mr. J.327
To the same, April 17, 1790. Remark on an innocent deception practised by Mr. J.; Cowper boasts of his skill in physiognomy, and recommends the study of Greek328
To Lady Hesketh, April 19, 1790. His revisal of Homer; anecdote of a prisoner in the Bastile, and lines on the subject328
To the same, April 30, 1790. Message to Bishop Madan; remarks on General Cowper's approbation of his picture verses328
To Joseph Hill, Esq., May 2, 1790. On the approaching termination of his employment with Homer329
To Mrs. Throckmorton, May 2, 1790. Humorous account of a boy sent with letters to her in Berkshire; Cowper's adventure with a dog329
To Lady Hesketh, May 28, 1790. He declines the offer of her services to procure him the place of poet laureat329
To the same, June 3, 1790. He is applied to by a Welshman to get him made poet laureat330
To John Johnson, Esq., June 7, 1790. Advice to Mr. J. on his future plans and studies; with remarks on Cowper's strictures on the University of Cambridge330
Remarks on Cowper's exhortation respecting the divinity of the glorious Reformation330
To Samuel Rose, Esq., June 8, 1790. Congratulations on his intended marriage; proposed riddle331
To Mrs. King, June 14, 1790. His literary occupations; state of Professor Martyn's health; ill health of Mrs. Unwin331
To Lady Hesketh, June 17, 1790. Grievance of going a-visiting; his envy of a poor old woman; inscriptions for two oak plantations332
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, June 22, 1790. Snakes and ants of Africa; Bishop Bagot and his mutinous clergy333
To Mrs. Bodham, June 29, 1790. Anticipations of a visit from her333
To Lady Hesketh, July 7, 1790. State of Mrs. Unwin; remarks on the abolition of ranks by the French334
To John Johnson, Esq., July 8, 1790. Recommendation of music as an amusement; expected visit from Mr. J. and his sister334
To Mrs. King, July 16, 1790. On their recent visit to Weston; reference to his own singularities; regrets for the distance between them334
To John Johnson, Esq., July 31, 1790. Warning against carelessness and shyness; proposed employments and amusements335
To the Rev. John Newton, Aug. 11, 1790. On the state of Mrs. Newton's health; he refers to his own state, and declines the offer of trying the effect of animal magnetism336
To Mrs. Bodham, Sept. 9, 1790. He informs her of the termination of his labours with Homer, and the conveyance of his translation to London by Mr. Johnson336
To Samuel Rose, Esq., Sept. 13, 1790. On his marriage; Cowper's preface to his Homer; solution of the riddle in a former letter to Mr. R.337
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Sept. 17, 1790. On the list of subscribers to his Homer337
To Mrs. King, Oct. 5, 1790. On her illness; allusion to a counterpane which she had presented to him; reference to the list of subscribers to his Homer, and the time of publication338
To the Rev. John Newton, Oct. 15, 1790. On the death of Mrs. Scott; translation of Van Lier's letters; concern for Mrs. Newton's sufferings338
To the same, Oct. 26, 1790. His instructions to Johnson, the bookseller, to affix to the first volume of his poems the preface written for it by Mr. N.; fall of the leaves a token of the shortness of human life338
On Christian submission to the divine will in regard to life and death339
To Mrs. Bodham, Nov. 21, 1790. Character of her nephew, Mr. Johnson; Mrs. Hewitt340
To John Johnson, Esq., Nov. 26, 1790. On the study of jurisprudence; visit from the Dowager Lady Spencer340
To Mrs. King, Nov. 29, 1790. On the praises of friends; his obligations to Professor Martyn; progress in printing his Homer341
To Samuel Rose, Esq., Nov. 30, 1790. On his professional exertions in behalf of a friend; revisal of proofs of his Homer341
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, Dec. 1, 1790. He retorts the charge of long silence, and boasts of his intention to write; progress in printing his Homer; his reasons for not soliciting the laureatship341
To the Rev. John Newton, Dec. 5, 1790. Dying state of Mrs. Newton341
Remarks on the doubts and fears of Christians342
To John Johnson, Esq., Dec. 18, 1790. Cambridge subscription for Homer; progress in printing the work342
To Mrs. King, Dec. 31, 1790. Thanks for the present of a counterpane; his own indisposition; his poetical operations342
Cowper's verses on the visit of Miss Stapleton to Weston343
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, Jan. 4, 1791. On his own state of health; on the quantity of syllables in verse343
To the Rev. John Newton, Jan. 20, 1791. On the death of Mrs. N.344
[xiv]To John Johnson, Esq., Jan. 21, 1791. He urges Mr. J. to come to Weston; caution respecting certain singularities344
To Samuel Rose, Esq., Feb. 5, 1791. Thanks for subscriptions from Scotland, and for the present of Pope's Homer344
To Lady Hesketh, Feb. 13, 1791. Influence of a poet's reputation on an innkeeper345
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, Feb. 26, 1791. He playfully gives Mr. B. leave to find fault with his verses; his sentiments respecting blank verse345
To John Johnson, Esq., Feb. 27, 1791. Progress in printing Homer; neglect of his work by Oxford346
To Mrs. King, March 2, 1791. Apology for forgetting a promise, owing to his being engrossed by Homer; success of his subscription at Cambridge; the Northampton dirge346
To Joseph Hill, Esq., March 6, 1791. Progress in Printing his Homer346
Commencement of Cowper's acquaintance with the Rev. James Hurdis347
To the Rev. James Hurdis, March 6, 1791. He compliments Mr. H. on his poetical productions; thanks him for offers of service; excuses himself from visiting him, and invites him to Weston347
To Joseph Hill, Esq., March 10, 1791. Simile drawn from French and English prints of subjects in Homer347
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, March 18, 1791. On Dr. Johnson's taste for poetry; aptness of Mr. B.'s quotations; Mr. Chester's indisposition347
To John Johnson, Esq., March 19, 1791. On the poems of Elizabeth Bentley, an untaught female of Norwich348
To Samuel Rose, Esq., March 24, 1791. On his application to Dr. Dunbar relative to subscriptions to Cowper's Homer348
To Lady Hesketh, March 25, 1791. Slight of Horace Walpole; a night alarm and its effects; remarks on a book sent by Lady H.349
To the Rev. John Newton, March 29, 1791. Recollections of past times; difference between dreams and realities; reasons why the occasional pieces which he writes do not reach Mr. N.; expected visit of his maternal relations; his mortuary verses349
To Mrs. Throckmorton, April 1, 1791. On the failure of an attempt in favour of his subscription at Oxford; remarks on a pamphlet by Mr. T.350
To John Johnson, Esq., April 6, 1791. Thanks for Cambridge subscriptions350
To Samuel Rose, Esq., April 29, 1791. Subscriptions to his Homer351
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, May 2, 1791. Progress in printing Homer; visit from Mr. B.'s nephew; Milton's Latin poems351
Dr. Johnson's remark on Milton's Latin poems351
To the Rev. Mr. Buchanan, May 11, 1791. On a poem of Mr. B.'s352
To Lady Hesketh, May 18, 1791. Complaint of her not writing; letter from Dr. Cogswell, of New York, respecting his poems352
To John Johnson, Esq., May 23, 1791. On his translation of the Battle of the Frogs and the Mice352
The Judgment of the Poets, a poem, by Cowper, on the relative charms of May and June352
To Lady Hesketh, May 27, 1791. Tardiness of the printer of his Homer353
To John Johnson, Esq., June 1, 1791. He congratulates Mr. J. on the period of his labours as a transcriber353


Observations on Cowper's version of Homer353
Reasons of his failure in that work to satisfy public expectation354
Comparative specimens of Pope's and Cowper's versions354
To the Rev. Mr. Hurdis, June 13, 1791. Completion of his Homer; their mutual fondness for animals; a woman's character best learned in domestic life355
To Samuel Rose, Esq., June 15, 1791. Man an ungrateful animal; visit from Norfolk relations356
To Dr. James Cogswell, June 15, 1791. Acknowledgement of a present of books; his translation of Homer; books sent by him to Dr. C.356
To the Rev. John Newton, June 24, 1791. Exhortation to more frequent correspondence; affectionate remembrance of Mr. N.; on the recent loss of his wife; value of Homer357
To Mrs. Bodham, July 7, 1791. Apology for having omitted to send a letter which he had written; he declines visiting Norfolk; state of health of her relatives then at Weston358
To the Rev. John Newton, July 22, 1791. His engagement in making corrections for a new edition of Homer; decline of the Rev. Mr. Venn; reference to the riots at Birmingham359
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, Aug. 2, 1791. Visit of Lady Bagot; riots at Birmingham359
To Mrs. King, Aug. 4, 1791. State of her health; his own and Mrs. Unwin's; invitation to Weston; publication of his Homer360
To the Rev. Mr. Hurdis, Aug. 1791. His study being liable to all sorts of intrusions, he cannot keep his operations secret; reason for his dissatisfaction with Pope's Homer; recommendation of Hebrew studies360
To John Johnson, Esq., Aug. 9, 1791. Causes for his being then an idle man361
Cowper undertakes the office of editor of Milton's works361
Regret expressed that he did not devote to original composition the time given to translation361
Origin of Cowper's acquaintance with Hayley362
To Samuel Rose, Esq., Sept. 21, 1791. He informs him of his new engagement as editor of Milton362
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, Sept. 21, 1791. Pleasure afforded by Lord Bagot's testimony in favour of his Homer; inquiry concerning persons alluded to in an elegy of Milton's362
To the Rev. Mr. King, Sept. 23, 1791. On Mrs. K.'s indisposition363
To Mrs. King, Oct. 22, 1791. Congratulation on her recovery; he contends that women possess much more fortitude than men; he acquaints her with his new engagement on Milton363
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, Oct. 25, 1791. Visit of Mr. Chester; poem of Lord Bagot's; condemnation of a remark of Wharton's respecting Milton364
To John Johnson, Esq., Oct. 31, 1791. His delight to hear of the improved health of Mr. J. and his sister; his own state of health; his new engagement364
To Joseph Hill, Esq., Nov. 14, 1791. On compound epithets; progress in his translation of Milton's Latin poems365
To the Rev. John Newton, Nov. 16, 1791. Apology for not sending a poem which Mr. N. had asked for; Mr. N.'s visit to Mrs. Hannah More; her sister's application for Cowper's autograph; Cowper regrets that he had never seen a mountain; his engagement on Milton365
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, Dec. 5, 1791. Expectation of a new edition of his Homer; he defends a passage in it; his engagement upon Milton366
To the Rev. Mr. Hurdis, Dec. 10, 1791. His engagement upon Milton366
To Samuel Rose, Esq., Dec. 21, 1791. Sudden seizure of Mrs. Unwin366
Cowper's affliction on occasion of Mrs. Unwin's attack367
To Mrs. King, Jan. 26, 1792. He describes the circumstances of Mrs. Unwin's alarming seizure; he asserts that women surpass men in true fortitude; his engagements367
To the Rev. Walter Bagot, Feb. 14, 1792. On the indisposition of Mr. B. and his children; he professes his intention to avail himself of all remarks in a new edition of his Homer; course which he purposes to pursue in regard to Milton; his correspondence with the Chancellor368
To Thomas Park, Esq., Feb. 19, 1792. Acknowledgment of the receipt of books sent by him; he signifies his acceptance of the offer of notices relative to Milton368
To the Rev. John Newton, Feb. 20, 1792. Lines written by him for Mrs. Martha More's Collection of Autographs; his reply to the demand of more original composition; remarks on the settlement at Botany Bay, and African colonization369
To the Rev. Mr. Hurdis, Feb. 21, 1792. Reasons for deferring the examination of Homer; progress made in Milton's poems369
To the Rev. Mr. Hurdis, March 2, 1792. He expresses his obligations for Mr. H.'s remarks on Homer; he permits the tragedy of Sir Thomas More to be inscribed to him370
To the Rev. John Newton, March 4, 1792. Departure of the Throckmortons from Weston; his dislike of change370
To Mrs. King, March 8, 1792. On her late indisposition; testimonies concerning his Homer371
[xv]To Thomas Park, Esq., March 10, 1792. On Mr. P.'s professional pursuits; he disclaims a place among the literati; and asks for a copy of Thomson's monumental inscription371
To John Johnson, Esq., March 11, 1792. He mentions having heard a nightingale sing on new year's day, departure of Lady Hesketh; expected visit of Mr. Rose372
Verses addressed to "The Nightingale which the author heard on new year's day, 1792"372
To the Rev. John Newton, March 18, 1792. He assures Mr. N. that, though reduced to the company of Mrs. Unwin alone, they are both comfortable372
To the Rev. Mr. Hurdis, March 23, 1792. Remarks on Mr. H.'s Tragedy of Sir Thomas More373
To Lady Hesketh, March 25, 1752. Cause of the delay of a preceding letter to her; detention of Mr. Hayley's letter to Cowper, at Johnson the bookseller's373
To Thomas Park, Esq., March 30, 1792. Remarks on a poem of Mr. P.'s374
To Samuel Rose, Esq., March 30, 1792. Spends his mornings in letter writing374
To the same, April 5, 1792. Vexatious delay of printers; supposed secret enemy374
To William Hayley, Esq., April 6, 1792. Expected visit of Mr. H.; Cowper introduces Mrs. Unwin, and advises him to bring books with him, if he should want any375
To the Rev. Mr. Hurdis, April 8, 1792. Apology for delay in writing; reference to Mr. H.'s sisters; and to an unanswered letter375
To Joseph Hill, Esq., April 15, 1792. Thanks for a remittance; satirical stanzas on a blunder in his Homer; progress in Milton376
To Lady Throckmorton, April 16, 1792. Lady thieves; report of his being a friend to the slave trade; means taken by him to refute it376
Sonnet addressed to William Wilberforce, Esq., and published by Cowper in contradiction of the report above-mentioned377
Remarks on a report respecting Cowper's sentiments relative to the Slave Trade377
Reflections on Popularity377
Letter to the Rev. J. Jekyll Rye. April 16, 1792. Cowper asserts the falsehood of a report that he was friendly to the Slave Trade377
To the Printers of the Northampton Mercury; on the same subject, with a Sonnet addressed to Mr. Wilberforce378
Remarks on the relative merits of rhyme and blank verse, with reference to a translation of Homer378
Cowper's sentiments on the subject, and on translation in general379
To the Lord Thurlow. On the inconvenience of rhyme in translation379
Lord Thurlow to William Cowper, Esq. On the value of rhyme in certain kinds of poems; on metrical translations; close translation of a passage in Homer380
To the Lord Thurlow. Vindication of Cowper's choice of blank verse for his translation of Homer; his version of the passage given by Lord T.381
Lord Thurlow to William Cowper, Esq. On his translation of Homer382
To the Lord Thurlow. On the same subject382
Passages from Cowper's translation382
Facts respecting it383
To Mr. Johnson, the bookseller. Feb. 11, 1790. Cowper acknowledges his obligations to Mr. Fuseli, for his remarks on his translation of Homer383
To the same. Sept. 7, 1790. On the same subject383
Indignant remonstrance of Cowper's, addressed to Johnson on the alteration of a line in one of his poems384
To Thomas Park, Esq. April 27, 1792. Remarks on some Poems of Mr. P.'s, and on his own literary engagements384
Marriage of Mr. Courtenay to Miss Stapleton385
To Lady Hesketh. May 20, 1792. On the marriage of Mr. Courtenay; Dr. Madan's promotion to a Bishopric; complimentary Sonnet produced by Cowper, addressed to Mr. Wilberforce; Lines to Warren Hastings, Esq.385
To John Johnson, Esq. May 20, 1792. On the postponement of his Ordination, &c.386
Hayley's visit to Cowper, and his account of it386
Sonnet addressed by Cowper to Mrs. Unwin386
Mrs. Unwin's paralytic attack386
Kind attentions of Hayley387
To Lady Hesketh. May 24, 1792. Seizure and state of Mrs. Unwin387
To the same. May 26, 1792. State of Mrs. Unwin387
Lines addressed to Dr. Austen388
To Mrs. Bodham. June 4, 1792. On the postponement of Mr. Johnson's Ordination388
To William Hayley, Esq. June 4, 1792. State of Mrs. Unwin388
To the same. June 5, 1792. On the same subject388
To the same. June 7, 1792. On the same subject389
To the same. June 10, 1792. On the same subject; Lines addressed to Dr. Darwin389
Origin of Darwin's Poem of the "Botanic Garden"389
To Lady Hesketh. June 11, 1792. On his growing correspondence; improvement in Mrs. Unwin's health; events of the past two months; arrival of Mr. Johnson390
To William Hayley, Esq. June 19, 1792. State of Mrs. Unwin; Ice-islands and cold summers; proposed visit to Hayley at Eartham390
Remarks on a supposed change in the climate, with passages from Cowper's translation of a Poem of Milton's on that subject391
To William Hayley, Esq. June 27, 1792. Intended journey to Eartham; Catharina, on her marriage to George Courtenay, Esq.391
To the same. July 4, 1792. Suspension of his literary labours; his solicitude for Mrs. Unwin; his visit to Weston Hall392
To the same. July 15, 1792. On the proposed journey to Eartham; translations from Milton; portrait of Cowper by Abbot392
To Thomas Park, Esq. July 20, 1792. On the obstacles to his literary engagements; reference to Cowper's drawings, and to the Olney Hymns392
To William Hayley, Esq. July 22, 1792. Preparations for the journey to Eartham393
To the Rev. William Bull. July 25, 1792. On his sitting to Abbot for his portrait; his intended journey to Eartham393
To William Hayley, Esq. July 29, 1792. His terror at the proposed journey; resemblance of Abbot's portrait394
To the Rev. John Newton. July 30, 1792. State of Mrs. Unwin; intended journey to Eartham; recollections awakened by Mr. N.'s visit to Weston394
To the Rev. Mr. Greatheed. Aug. 6, 1792. Account of his journey to Eartham, and situation there395
To Mrs. Courtenay. Aug. 12, 1792. Particulars of the journey to Eartham, and description of the place395
To Samuel Rose, Esq. Aug. 14, 1792. Invitation to Eartham396
To the same. Aug. 18, 1792. Cowper wishes him to join the party at Eartham396
To Mrs. Courtenay. Aug. 25, 1792. Epitaph on Fop; arrangements for the return to Weston; state of himself and Mrs. Unwin396
To the Rev. Mr. Hurdis. Aug. 26, 1792. On the death of his sister; invitation to Eartham397
To Lady Hesketh. Aug. 26, 1792. Company at Eartham; his own state and Mrs. Unwin's; portrait of Cowper by Romney397
To Mrs. Charlotte Smith. Sept. 1792. Sympathy of himself and Hayley in her misfortunes: remark on an expression in her letter; state of Mrs. Unwin398
To Lady Hesketh. Sept. 9, 1792. Reasons for preferring Weston to Eartham; state of Mrs. Unwin; arrangements for their return; character of Mr. Hurdis398
Cowper's occupations at Eartham399
Account of Andreini's Adamo, which suggested to Milton the design of his Paradise Lost399
To Mrs. Courtenay. Sept. 10, 1792. Reference to the French Revolution; state of Mrs. Unwin; remembrances to friends at Weston400
Departure from Eartham400
To William Hayley, Esq. Sept. 18, 1792. Cowper's feelings on his departure400
To the same. Sept. 21, 1792. Particulars of his journey and arrival at Weston401
To the same. Oct. 2, 1792. Unsuccessful attempt at writing401
To the same. Oct. 13, 1792. Cowper's impatience for the arrival of Hayley's portrait; his intention of paying a poetical tribute to Romney401
To Mrs. King. Oct. 14, 1792. Reference to the visit to Eartham402
[xvi]To the Rev. John Newton. Oct. 18, 1792. His employments at Eartham; and indisposition at Weston, urged as an excuse for not writing; reference to his visit to Hayley402
To John Johnson, Esq. Oct. 19, 1792. On his expected visit; Cowper's unfitness for writing403
To John Johnson, Esq. Oct. 22, 1792. Reflections on J.'s sitting for his picture403
To William Hayley, Esq. Oct. 28, 1792. Cowper complains of his unfitness for literary labour, and the grievance that Milton is to him; sonnet addressed to Romney403
To John Johnson, Esq. Nov. 5, 1792. Cowper's opinion of his Homer404
To Samuel Rose, Esq. Nov. 9, 1792. Hindrances to his literary labours; Mrs. Unwin's situation and his own depression of spirits; he consents to the prefixing his portrait to a new edition of his poems404
To the Rev. John Newton. Nov. 11, 1792. Apology for not writing to him; his gloomy state of mind405
To John Johnson, Esq. Nov. 20, 1792. Thanks him for his verses; his engagement to supply the new clerk of Northampton with an annual copy of verses; reference to his indisposition405
To William Hayley, Esq. Nov. 25, 1792. Acknowledgment of his friendship; his acceptance of the office of Dirge-writer to the new clerk of Northampton405
To the Rev. John Newton. Dec. 9, 1792, Reasons for not being in haste with Milton; injurious effect of the season on his spirits406
To Joseph Hill, Esq. Dec. 16, 1792. Political reflections with reference to the question of Parliamentary Reform, reformation of the Church, and the rights of Catholics and Dissenters406
First agitation of the question of Parliamentary Reform407
To Thomas Park, Esq. Dec. 17, 1792. Obstacles to his writing while at Mr. Hayley's, and since his return home; on Johnson's intention of prefixing his portrait to his poems407
Anecdote of Mrs. Boscawen407
To William Hayley, Esq. Dec. 26, 1792. The year '92 a most melancholy one to him408
To Thomas Park, Esq. Jan. 3, 1793. Introduction of Mr. Rose to him; Cowper refers to a remedy recommended by Mr P. for inflammation of the eyes; his share in the Olney Hymns408
To William Hayley, Esq. Jan. 20, 1793. Cowper's solicitude respecting his welfare; arrival of Hayley's picture408
To the same. Jan. 29, 1793. On the death of Dr. Austen409
To John Johnson, Esq. Jan. 31, 1793. Thanks for pheasants, and promises of welcome to a bustard409
To Samuel Rose, Esq. Feb. 5, 1793. Revisal of Homer409
To Lady Hesketh. Feb. 10, 1793. Necessity for his taking laudanum; he rallies her on her political opinions410
To Samuel Rose, Esq. Feb. 17, 1793. Remarks on a criticism on his Homer in the Analytical Review410
To the Rev. Mr. Hurdis. Feb. 22, 1793. He congratulates Mr. H. on the prospect of his being elected Poetry Professor at Oxford; observations in natural history410
To William Hayley, Esq. Feb. 24, 1793. Complains of inflamed eyes as a hindrance to writing; revisal of Homer; dream about Milton411
Milton's Vision of the Bishop of Winchester411
To the Rev. Walter Bagot. March 4, 1793. His ailments and employments; reference to the French Revolution411
Letter from Thomas Hayley (son of William Hayley, Esq.) to William Cowper, Esq. containing criticisms on his Homer412
To Mr. Thomas Hayley. March 14, 1793. In answer to the preceding413
To William Hayley, Esq. March 19, 1793. Complains of being harassed by a multiplicity of business; his progress in Homer; reference to Mazarin's epitaph413
Last moments of Cardinal Mazarin413
To Samuel Rose, Esq. March 27, 1793. On the conclusion of an engagement with Johnson for a new edition of his Homer413
To Joseph Hill, Esq. March 29, 1793. Reference to his pecuniary circumstances; preparations for a new edition of his Homer; remarks on an intended canal414
To John Johnson, Esq. April 11, 1793. On sending his pedigree to the Herald's College; liberality of Johnson the bookseller; on Mr. J.'s determination to enter the church414
Illustrious ancestry of Cowper414
To William Hayley, Esq. April 23, 1793. His engagement in writing notes to Homer415
To the Rev. John Newton. April 25, 1793. He urges business as an excuse for the unfrequency of his letters; his own and Mrs. Unwin's state; his exchange of books with Dr. Cogshall of New York; reference to the epitaph on the Rev. Mr. Unwin415
To the Rev. Walter Bagot. May 4, 1793. On the death of Bishop Bagot416
To Samuel Rose, Esq. May 5, 1793. Apology for silence; his engagement in writing notes to his Homer; intended revisal of the Odyssey416
To Lady Hesketh. May 7, 1793. His correspondence prevented by Homer; Whigs and Tories416
To Thomas Park, Esq. May 17, 1793. Chapman's translation of Homer; Cowper's horror of London and dislike of leaving home; epitaph on the Rev. Mr. Unwin; his poems on Negro Slavery417
To William Hayley, Esq. May 21, 1793. Employment of his time; insensible advance of old age; "Man as he is" attributed erroneously to the pen of Hayley; notes on Homer417
To Lady Hesketh. June 1, 1793. Desiring her to fix a day for coming to Weston; lines on Mr. Johnson's arrival at Cambridge418
To the Rev. Mr. Hurdis. June 6, 1793. Uses of affliction; suspension of his literary labours; proposed revisal of his Homer418
To the Rev. John Newton. June 12, 1793. State of Mrs. Unwin's and his own health; reference to a new work of Mr. N.'s418
To William Hayley, Esq. June 29, 1793. Sonnet addressed to Mr. H.; Cowper declines engaging in a work proposed by Mr. H.; "The Four Ages"419
To the same. July 7, 1793. He promises to join Mr. H. in the production of "The Four Ages;" reference to his oddities; embellishments of his premises419
Antique bust of Homer presented to Cowper by Mr. Johnson420
Cowper's poetical Tribute for the gift420
To Thomas Park, Esq. July 15, 1793. Chapman's translation of the Iliad; Hobbes's translation; Lady Hesketh; his literary engagements420
To Mrs. Charlotte Smith. July 25, 1793. On her poem of "The Emigrants," which was dedicated to Cowper421
To the Rev. Mr. Greatheed. July 27, 1793. He thanks Mr. G. for the offer of part of his house; reasons for declining it; promised visits421
To William Hayley, Esq. July 27, 1793. Anticipations of a visit from Mr. H.; head of Homer and proposed motto for it; question concerning the cause of Homer's blindness; garden shed422
To the Rev. John Johnson. Aug. 2, 1793. On his ordination; Flaxman's designs to the Odyssey423
To Lady Hesketh. Aug. 11, 1793. Miss Fanshaw; present from Lady Spencer of Flaxman's designs423
Explanation respecting Miss Fanshaw; verses by her; Cowper's reply; his lines addressed to Count Gravina423
To William Hayley, Esq. Aug. 15, 1793. Epigram on building; inscription for an hermitage; Flaxman's designs; plan of an Odyssey illustrated by them; inscription for the bust of Homer423
To Mrs. Courtenay. Aug. 20, 1793. Story of Bob Archer and the fiddler; Flaxman's designs to Homer424
To Samuel Rose, Esq. Aug. 22, 1793. Allusion to scenery on the south coast of England; his literary occupations425
To William Hayley, Esq. Aug. 27, 1793. Question respecting Homer's blindness; Flaxman's illustrations of Homer; recollections of Lord Mansfield; erection of Homer's bust425
To Lady Hesketh. Aug. 29, 1793. On her intended visit to Weston; Miss Fanshaw425
To the Rev. Mr. Johnson. Sept. 4, 1793. His agreeable surprise on the appearance of a sun-dial, a present from Mr. J.; revisal of his Homer426
To William Hayley, Esq. Sept. 8, 1793. Flaxman's designs to Homer; anticipations of Mr. H.'s visit426
To Mrs. Courtenay. Sept. 15, 1793. His improvements at Weston; the sun-dial; Pitcairne427
To the Rev. Mr. Johnson. Sept. 29, 1793. Visits devourers of time; expected visiters at Weston427
[xvii]To William Hayley, Esq. Oct. 5, 1793. Demands upon his time; expected visiters; reference to H.'s Life of Milton427
To the same. Oct. 18, 1793. Anticipations of his visit to Weston428
To the Rev. John Newton. Oct. 22, 1793. Apology for not writing; reference to a late journey of Mr. N.'s; thanks for his last publication428
To the Rev. J. Jekyll Rye. Nov. 3, 1793. Thanks for his support of Mr. Hurdis; reference to the application of the clerk of Northampton428
Hayley's second visit to Weston429
Invitation to Cowper and his guests from Lord Spencer to Althorpe, to meet Gibbon the historian, declined by him429
To Mrs. Courtenay. Nov. 4, 1793. He complains of being distracted with business; Hayley's visit; epidemic fever; Mrs. Unwin429
State of Cowper and Mrs. Unwin as described by Hayley429
To Joseph Hill, Esq. Nov. 5, 1793. Lady Hesketh's visit to Wargrave; his house at Weston, and prospects from it430
To the Rev. Walter Bagot. Nov. 10, 1793. Thanks him for his support of Mr. Hurdis; reference to the French Revolution430
To the Rev. Mr. Hurdis. Nov. 24, 1793. Congratulations on his election to the professorship of poetry at Oxford; Hayley's visit; his Life of Milton; revisal of his Homer; invitation to Weston430
To Samuel Rose, Esq. Nov. 29, 1793. Expected visit from him and Mr. (the late Sir Thomas) Lawrence; subject from Homer proposed by the latter for his pencil; a companion to it suggested by Cowper; intention of Lawrence to take Cowper's portrait for engraving431
To the same. Dec. 8, 1793. Thanks him for books; history of Jonathan Wild; character of "Man as he is"432
To William Hayley, Esq. Dec. 8, 1793. Inquiries concerning his Life of Milton; his own literary occupations432
Suspension of Cowper's literary labours, and decline of his mental powers432
Results of Cowper's literary labours on the works of Milton432
Specimens of his translation of the Latin poem addressed by Milton to his father433
Hayley's remarks on that poem434
Passages from Cowper's notes on Milton434
Fuseli's Milton Gallery436
Origin of Hayley's acquaintance with Cowper436
Hayley's first letter, with a sonnet addressed to Cowper436
To Joseph Hill, Esq. Dec. 10, 1793. On a sprain received by Mr. H.; revisal of Homer; inquiry concerning Lord Howe's fleet436
The idea of the projected poem of "The Four Ages," suggested by Mr. Buchanan437
To the Rev. Mr. Buchanan. May 11, 1793. Complimenting Mr. B. on the sketch which he furnished for the poem437
Increasing infirmities of Mrs. Unwin, and their effect on Cowper437
His affecting situation at this period437
Dissatisfaction of Lord Thurlow with a passage in Cowper's Homer, and his and Hayley's attempts to improve upon it438
To William Hayley, Esq. Dec. 17, 1793. With a new version of the passage above mentioned; criticisms on their performances; his own notions of the principles of translation438
To the same. Jan. 5, 1794. New translation of the before-mentioned passage; remarks on translation, and particularly of Homer438
To the same, from the Rev. William Greatheed. April 8, 1794. He acquaints Mr. H. with the alarming situation of Cowper, and urges his coming to Weston439
Hayley repairs to Weston440
Lady Hesketh obtains the advice of Dr. Willis440
Grant of a pension of 300l. per annum, by his Majesty, to Cowper440
Plan for the removal of Cowper and Mrs. Unwin to Norfolk441
Cowper's sensations on leaving Weston441
Lines "To Mary," the last original production composed by him at Weston441
Journey from Weston to North Tuddenham, in Norfolk441
Stay at Tuddenham441
Removal to Mundsley, a village on the coast442
Letter from Cowper to the Rev. Mr. Buchanan, describing his present situation, and soliciting news of Weston442
Cowper becomes settled at Dunham Lodge, near Swaffham442
He is induced by the appearance of Wakefield's edition of Pope's Homer, to engage in the revisal of his own version443
Death of Mrs. Unwin443
Her Funeral and Inscription443
Cowper's malady renders him insensible to her loss443
Successful effort of Mr. Johnson to engage him to return to the revisal of Homer, which he had discontinued444
Hayley's testimony to the affectionate offices rendered to Cowper by Mr. Johnson444
Trial of the effect of frequent change of place444
Visit from Dowager Lady Spencer445
Attempts of Mr. Johnson to amuse him445
Letter from Cowper to Lady Hesketh, referring to his melancholy situation445
He finishes the revisal of his Homer445
"The Cast-away," his last original production445
His removal to Dereham446
His translations of Latin and Greek epigrams, and of some of Gay's Fables into Latin446
New version of a passage in his Homer, being the last effort of his pen446
Appearance of dropsy446
His last illness446
His death447
His burial, and inscription by Hayley447
Remarks on the mental delusion under which he laboured to the last447
Memoir of the early Life of Cowper, written by himself449
Remarks on the preceding Memoir460
Death of Cowper's friend, Sir William Russel461
Cowper's attachment to his Cousin, Miss Theodora Jane Cowper461
Nervous attacks, and their presumed causes462
Distinguishing features in his malady462
His depression did not prevent the free exercise of his mental powers462
It was not perceptible to others463
It was not inconsistent with a rich vein of humour463
His own picture of his mental sufferings463
His religious views not the occasion of his wretchedness, but a support under it464
Sketch of the character, and account of the last illness of the late Rev. John Cowper, by his brother465
Narrative of Mr. Van Lier474
Notices of Cowper's friends474
The Rev. W. Cawthorne Unwin474
Joseph Hill, Esq.475
Samuel Rose, Esq.475
Lady Austen476
Rev. Walter Bagot476
Sir George Throckmorton477
Rev. Dr. Johnson477
Rev. W. Bull477
Particulars concerning the person and character of Cowper477
Cowper's personal character illustrated by extracts from his Works478
Poetical portraits drawn by him479
His poem on the Yardley Oak481
Description of the Tree481
Original poem on the subject, by the late Samuel Whitbread, Esq.481
Cowper's moderation amidst literary fame482
Anecdote of Dr. Parr482
Cowper's sensibility to unjust censure482
Letter to John Thornton, Esq. on a severe criticism of his first volume of poems in the "Analytical Review"482
His excellence as an epistolary writer482
Character of his Latin poems483
The Wish, an English version by Mr. Ostler483
Sublime piety and morality of Cowper's works483
Beneficial influence of his writings on the Church of England485
Concluding remarks486
Essay on the genius and poetry of Cowper, by the Rev. J. W. Cunningham, A.M.489


Preface to the Poems499
Table Talk501
[xviii]The Progress of Error507
The Task, in Six Books:—
Book I. The Sofa547
     II. The Time-Piece553
     III. The Garden559
     IV. The Winter Evening566
     V. The Winter Morning Walk572
     VI. The Winter Walk at Noon579
Epistle to Joseph Hill, Esq.587
Tirocinium; or, a Review of Schools587
The Yearly Distress, or Tithing Time at Stock, in Essex594
Sonnet addressed to Henry Cowper, Esq.595
Lines addressed to Dr. Darwin595
On Mrs. Montagu's Feather Hangings595
Verses supposed to be written by Alexander Selkirk, during his solitary Abode in the Island of Juan Fernandez596
On observing some Names of little note in the Biographia Britannica596
Report of an adjudged Case597
On the Promotion of Edward Thurlow, Esq. to the Lord High Chancellorship of England597
Ode to Peace597
Human Frailty597
The Modern Patriot598
On the Burning of Lord Mansfield's Library, &c.598
On the same598
The Love of the World Reproved598
On the Death of Mrs. (now Lady) Throckmorton's Bullfinch599
The Rose599
The Doves599
A Fable600
Ode to Apollo600
A Comparison600
Another, addressed to a Young Lady601
The Poet's New Year's Gift601
Pairing-time anticipated601
The Dog and the Water Lily601
The Winter Nosegay602
The Poet, the Oyster, and the Sensitive Plant602
The Shrubbery602
Mutual Forbearance necessary to the Married State603
The Negro's Complaint603
Pity for Poor Africans604
The Morning Dream604
The Diverting History of John Gilpin604
The Nightingale and Glow-worm607
An Epistle to an afflicted Protestant Lady in France607
To the Rev. W. Cawthorne Unwin607
To the Rev. Mr. Newton608
The Moralizer corrected608
The Faithful Bird609
The Needless Alarm609
On the Receipt of my Mother's Picture out of Norfolk611
On a mischievous Bull, which the Owner of him sold at the Author's instance614
Annus memorabilis, 1789. Written in Commemoration of his Majesty's happy recovery614
Hymn for the use of the Sunday School at Olney615
Stanzas subjoined to a Bill of Mortality for the year 1787615
The same for 1788616
The same for 1789616
The same for 1790616
The same for 1792617
The same for 1793617
On a Goldfinch starved to Death in his Cage617
The Pineapple and the Bee618
Verses written at Bath, on finding the Heel of a Shoe618
An Ode, on reading Richardson's History of Sir Charles Grandison618
An Epistle to Robert Lloyd, Esq.619
A Tale, founded on a Fact, which happened in Jan. 1779619
To the Rev. Mr. Newton, on his Return from Ramsgate620
Love Abused620
A Poetical Epistle to Lady Austen620
The Colubriad621
Song. On Peace621
Song—"When all within is Peace"622
Verses selected from an occasional Poem entitled "Valediction"622
Epitaph on Dr. Johnson622
To Miss C——, on her Birthday622
Lines composed for a Memorial of Ashley Cowper, Esq.623
On the Queen's Visit to London623
The Cockfighter's Garland624
To Warren Hastings, Esq.625
To Mrs. Throckmorton625
To the Immortal Memory of the Halibut, on which I dined625
Inscription for a Stone erected at the sowing of a Grove of Oaks625
To Mrs. King625
In Memory of the late John Thornton, Esq.626
The Four Ages626
The Retired Cat626
The Judgment of the Poets627
Yardley Oak628
To the Nightingale which the Author heard sing on New Year's Day629
Lines written in an Album of Miss Patty More's629
Sonnet to William Wilberforce, Esq.629
Epigram on Refining Sugar630
To Dr. Austin, of Cecil Street, London630
Catharina: on her Marriage to George Courtenay, Esq.630
Epitaph on Fop, a dog belonging to Lady Throckmorton630
Sonnet to George Romney, Esq.630
Mary and John630
Epitaph on Mr. Chester, of Chicheley630
To my Cousin, Anne Bodham631
Inscription for a Hermitage in the Author's Garden631
To Mrs. Unwin631
To John Johnson, on his presenting me with an antique Bust of Homer631
To a young Friend631
On a Spaniel called Beau, killing a young bird631
Beau's Reply631
To William Hayley, Esq.632
Answer to Stanzas addressed to Lady Hesketh, by Miss Catharine Fanshawe632
On Flaxman's Penelope632
To the Spanish Admiral Count Gravina632
Inscription for the Tomb of Mr. Hamilton632
Epitaph on a Hare632
Epitaphium Alterum633
Account of the Author's Treatment of his Hares633
A Tale634
To Mary635
The Castaway635
To Sir Joshua Reynolds636
On the Author of "Letters on Literature"636
The Distressed Travellers; or, Labour in Vain636
Stanzas on Liberties taken with the Remains of Milton637
To the Rev. William Bull637
Epitaph on Mrs. Higgins638
Sonnet to a Young Lady on her Birth-day638
On a Mistake in his Translation of Homer638
On the Benefit received by his Majesty from Sea-bathing638
Addressed to Miss —— on reading the Prayer for Indifference638
From a Letter to the Rev. Mr. Newton639
The Flatting Mill639
Epitaph on a free but tame Redbreast640
Sonnet addressed to W. Hayley, Esq.640
An Epitaph640
On receiving Hayley's Picture640
On a Plant of Virgin's Bower640
On receiving Heyne's Virgil640
Stanzas by a Lady641
Cowper's Reply641
Lines addressed to Miss T. J. Cowper641
To the same641
On a sleeping Infant641
Inscription for a Moss-house in the Shrubbery at Weston641
Lines on the Death of Sir William Russel642
On the high price of Fish642
To Mrs. Newton642
Verses printed by himself on a flood at Olney642
[xix]Extract from a Sunday-school Hymn642
On the receipt of a Hamper (in the manner of Homer)643
On the neglect of Homer643
Sketch of the Life of the Rev. John Newton643


Preliminary Remarks on the Olney Hymns652
 Hymn     I.Walking with God656
 II.Jehovah-Jireh. The Lord will provide656
 III.Jehovah-Rophi. I am the Lord that healeth thee656
 IV.Jehovah-Nissi. The Lord my Banner657
 V.Jehovah-Shalom. The Lord send Peace657
 VII.Vanity of the World657
 VIII.O Lord, I will praise thee658
 IX.The contrite Heart658
 X.The future Peace and Glory of the Church658
 XI.Jehovah our Righteousness658
 XII.Ephraim repenting659
 XIII.The Covenant659
 XV.Praise for the Fountain opened659
 XVI.The Sower659
 XVII.The House of Prayer660
 XVIII.Lovest thou me?660
 XX.Old Testament Gospel661
 XXII.Praying for a Blessing on the Young661
 XXIII.Pleading for and with Youth661
 XXIV.Prayer for Children661
 XXVI.On opening a Place for social Prayer662
 XXVII.Welcome to the Table662
 XXVIII.Jesus hasting to suffer662
 XXIX.Exhortation to Prayer663
 XXX.The Light and Glory of the Word663
 XXXI.On the Death of a Minister663
 XXXII.The shining Light663
 XXXIII.Seeking the Beloved663
 XXXIV.The Waiting Soul664
 XXXV.Welcome Cross664
 XXXVI.Afflictions sanctified by the Word664
 XXXVIII.Looking upwards in a Storm664
 XXXIX.The Valley of the Shadow of Death665
 XL.Peace after a Storm665
 XLI.Mourning and Longing665
 XLIII.Prayer for Patience666
 XLV.The happy Change666
 XLVII.The hidden Life667
 XLVIII.Joy and Peace in Believing667
 XLIX.True Pleasures667
 L.The Christian667
 LI.Lively Hope and Gracious Fear668
 LII.For the Poor668
 LIII.My Soul thirsteth for God668
 LIV.Love constraining to Obedience668
 LV.The Heart healed and changed by Mercy668
 LVI.Hatred of Sin669
 LVII.The new Convert669
 LVIII.True and false Comforts669
 LIX.A living and a dead Faith669
 LX.Abuse of the Gospel669
 LXI.The narrow Way670
 LXIII.Not of Works670
 LXIV.Praise for Faith670
 LXV.Grace and Providence670
 LXVI.I will praise the Lord at all times671
 LXVII.Longing to be with Christ671
 LXVIII.Light shining out of darkness671


Brief Account of Madame Guion, and of the Mystic Writers672
The Nativity677
God neither known nor loved by the World679
The Swallow679
The Triumph of Heavenly Love desired679
A Figurative Description of the Procedure of Divine Love679
A Child of God longing to see him beloved680
Aspirations of the Soul after God680
Gratitude and Love to God680
Happy Solitude—Unhappy Men680
Living Water680
Truth and Divine Love rejected by the World681
Divine Justice amiable681
The Soul that Loves God finds him everywhere682
The Testimony of Divine Adoption682
Divine Love endures no rival682
The Acquiescence of Pure Love683
Repose in God683
Glory to God alone683
Self-Love and Truth incompatible684
The Love of God, the End of Life684
Love faithful in the Absence of the Beloved684
Love pure and fervent684
The entire Surrender685
The perfect Sacrifice685
God hides his People685
The Secrets of Divine Love are to be kept685
The Vicissitudes experienced in the Christian Life686
Watching unto God in the Night Season687
On the same688
On the same688
The Joy of the Cross689
Joy in Martyrdom689
Simple Trust689
The necessity of Self-Abasement690
Love increased by Suffering690
Scenes favourable to Meditation691


Elegy I.To Charles Deodati691
II.On the Death of the University Beadle at Cambridge692
III.On the Death of the Bishop of Winchester692
IV.To his Tutor, Thomas Young693
V.On the Approach of Spring694
VI.To Charles Deodati695
VII. 696
 Epigrams. On the Inventor of Guns697
 To Leonora singing at Rome697
 To the same697
 The Cottager and his Landlord. A Fable697
 To Christina, Queen of Sweden, with Cromwell's Picture697
 On the Death of the Vice-Chancellor, a Physician697
 On the Death of the Bishop of Ely698
 Nature unimpaired by Time698
 On the Platonic Idea as it was understood by Aristotle699
 To his Father699
 To Salsillus, a Roman poet, much indisposed700
 To Giovanni Battista Manso, Marquis of Villa701
 On the Death of Damon701
 An Ode, addressed to Mr. John Rouse, Librarian of the University of Oxford704
 Sonnet—"Fair Lady! whose harmonious name"705
 Sonnet—"As on a hill-top rude, when closing day"705
 Canzone—"They mock my toil"705
 Sonnet—To Charles Deodati705
 Sonnet—"Lady! it cannot be but that thine eyes"705
 Sonnet—"Enamour'd, artless, young, on foreign ground"705
 Simile in Paradise Lost706
 Translation of Dryden's Epigram on Milton706


The Glowworm706
The Jackdaw706
The Cricket706
The Parrot707
The Thracian707
Reciprocal Kindness the Primary Law of Nature707
A Manual more ancient than the Art of Printing708
An Enigma—"A needle, small as small can be"708
Sparrows self-domesticated in Trinity Coll. Cambridge708
Familiarity dangerous709
[xx]Invitation to the Redbreast709
Strada's Nightingale709
Ode on the Death of a Lady who lived one hundred years709
The Cause won710
The Silkworm710
The Innocent Thief710
Denner's Old Woman710
The Tears of a Painter710
The Maze711
No Sorrow peculiar to the Sufferer711
The Snail711
The Cantab711


From the Greek of Julianus712
On the same by Palladas712
An Epitaph712
By Callimachus712
On Miltiades712
On an Infant712
By Heraclides712
On the Reed712
To Health712
On Invalids713
On the Astrologers713
On an Old Woman713
On Flatterers713
On a true Friend713
On the Swallow713
On late acquired Wealth713
On a Bath, by Plato713
On a Fowler, by Isidorus713
On Niobe713
On a good Man713
On a Miser713
On Female Inconstancy714
On the Grasshopper714
On Hermocratia714
From Menander714
On Pallas bathing, from a Hymn of Callimachus714
To Demosthenes714
On a similar Character714
On an ugly Fellow714
On a battered Beauty714
On a Thief714
On Pedigree715
On Envy715
By Moschus715
By Philemon715


Lepus multis Amicus715
Avarus et Plutus716
Papilio et Limax716


On one ignorant and arrogant716
Prudent Simplicity716
To a Friend in Distress716
"When little more than Boy in Age"717
Sunset and Sunrise717


The Salad, by Virgil717
Translation from Virgil, Æneid, Book VIII. Line 18718
Ovid. Trist. Book V. Eleg. XII.721
Hor. Book I. Ode IX.722
Hor. Book I. Ode XXXVIII.722
Hor. Book II. Ode X.722
A Reflection on the foregoing Ode722
Hor. Book II. Ode XVI.723
The Fifth Satire of the First Book of Horace723
The Ninth Satire of the First Book of Horace725
Translation of an Epigram from Homer726


Montes Glaciales, in Oceano Germanico natantes726
On the Ice Islands seen floating in the German Ocean727
Monumental Inscription to William Northcot727
In Seditionem Horrendam727
Motto on a Clock, with Translation by Hayley728
A Simile Latinised728
On the Loss of the Royal George728
In Submersionem Navigii, cui Georgius Regale Nomen inditum728
In Brevitatem Vitæ Spatii Hominibus concessi728
On the Shortness of Human Life729
The Lily and the Rose729
Idem Latine redditum729
The Poplar Field729
Idem Latine redditum730
Translation of Prior's Chloe and Euphelia730
Verses to the Memory of Dr. Lloyd730
The same in Latin730
Papers, by Cowper, inserted in "The Connoisseur"731



The family of Cowper appears to have held, for several centuries, a respectable rank among the merchants and gentry of England. We learn from the life of the first Earl Cowper, in the Biographia Britannica, that his ancestors were inhabitants of Sussex, in the reign of Edward the Fourth. The name is found repeatedly among the sheriffs of London; and William Cowper, who resided as a country gentleman in Kent, was created a baronet by King Charles the First, in 1641.[3] But the family rose to higher distinction in the beginning of the last century, by the remarkable circumstance of producing two brothers, who both obtained a seat in the House of Peers by their eminence in the profession of the law. William, the elder, became Lord High Chancellor in 1707. Spencer Cowper, the younger, was appointed Chief Justice of Chester in 1717, and afterwards a Judge in the Court of Common Pleas, being permitted by the particular favour of the king to hold those two offices to the end of his life. He died in Lincoln's Inn, on the 10th of December, 1728, and has the higher claim to our notice as the immediate ancestor of the poet. By his first wife, Judith Pennington (whose exemplary character is still revered by her descendants), Judge Cowper left several children; among them a daughter, Judith, who at the age of eighteen discovered a striking talent for poetry, in the praise of her contemporary poets Pope and Hughes. This lady, the wife of Colonel Madan, transmitted her own poetical and devout spirit to her daughter Frances Maria, who was married to her cousin Major Cowper; the amiable character of Maria will unfold itself in the course of this work, as the friend and correspondent of her more eminent relation, the second grandchild of the Judge, destined to honour the name of Cowper, by displaying, with peculiar purity and fervour, the double enthusiasm of poetry and devotion. The father of the subject of the following pages was John Cowper, the Judge's second son, who took his degrees in divinity, was chaplain to King George the Second, and resided at his Rectory of Great Berkhamstead, in Hertfordshire, the scene of the poet's infancy, which he has thus commemorated in a singularly beautiful and pathetic composition on the portrait of his mother.

Where once we dwelt our name is heard no more;
Children not thine have trod my nursery floor:
And where the gard'ner Robin, day by day,
Drew me to school along the public way,
Delighted with my bauble coach, and wrapt
In scarlet mantle warm, and velvet-capt,
'Tis now become a history little known,
That once we call'd the past'ral house our own.
Short-liv'd possession! but the record fair
That memory keeps of all thy kindness there,
Still outlives many a storm, that has effac'd
A thousand other themes less deeply traced.
Thy nightly visits to my chamber made,
That thou might'st 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 bestowed
By thy 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 roughen'd by those cataracts and breaks
That humour interpos'd 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 honours to thee as my numbers may.

The parent, whose merits are so feelingly recorded by the filial tenderness of the poet, was Ann, daughter of Roger Donne, Esq., of Ludham Hall, in Norfolk. This lady, whose family is said to have been originally from Wales, was married in the bloom of youth to Dr. Cowper: after giving birth to several[2] children, who died in their infancy, and leaving two sons, William, the immediate subject of this memorial, born at Berkhamstead on the 26th of November, 1731, and John (whose accomplishments and pious death will be described in the course of this compilation), she died in childbed, at the early age of thirty-four, in 1737. Those who delight in contemplating the best affections of our nature will ever admire the tender sensibility with which the poet has acknowledged his obligations to this amiable mother, in a poem composed more than fifty years after her decease. Readers of this description may find a pleasure in observing how the praise so liberally bestowed on this tender parent, at so late a period, is confirmed (if praise so unquestionable may be said to receive confirmation) by another poetical record of her merit, which the hand of affinity and affection bestowed upon her tomb—a record written at a time when the poet, who was destined to prove, in his advanced life, her most powerful eulogist, had hardly begun to show the dawn of that genius which, after many years of silent affliction, rose like a star emerging from tempestuous darkness.

The monument of Mrs. Cowper, erected by her husband in the chancel of St. Peter's church at Berkhamstead, contains the following verses, composed by a young lady, her niece, the late Lady Walsingham.

Here lies, in early years bereft of life,
The best of mothers, and the kindest wife:
Who neither knew nor practis'd any art,
Secure in all she wish'd, her husband's heart.
Her love to him, still prevalent in death,
Pray'd Heav'n to bless him with her latest breath.
Still was she studious never to offend,
And glad of an occasion to commend:
With ease would pardon injuries receiv'd,
Nor e'er was cheerful when another griev'd;
Despising state, with her own lot content,
Enjoy'd the comforts of a life well spent;
Resign'd, when Heaven demanded back her breath,
Her mind heroic 'midst the pangs of death.
Whoe'er thou art that dost this tomb draw near,
O stay awhile, and shed a friendly tear;
These lines, tho' weak, are as herself sincere.

The truth and tenderness of this epitaph will more than compensate with every candid reader the imperfection ascribed to it by its young and modest author. To have lost a parent of a character so virtuous and endearing, at an early period of his childhood, was the prime misfortune of Cowper, and what contributed perhaps in the highest degree to the dark colouring of his subsequent life. The influence of a good mother on the first years of her children, whether nature has given them peculiar strength or peculiar delicacy of frame, is equally inestimable. It is the prerogative and the felicity of such a mother to temper the arrogance of the strong, and to dissipate the timidity of the tender. The infancy of Cowper was delicate in no common degree, and his constitution discovered at a very early season that morbid tendency to diffidence, to melancholy and despair, which darkened as he advanced in years into periodical fits of the most deplorable depression.

The period having arrived for commencing his education, he was sent to a reputable school at Market-street, in Bedfordshire, under the care of Dr. Pitman, and it is probable that he was removed from it in consequence of an ocular complaint. From a circumstance which he relates of himself at that period, in a letter written in 1792, he seems to have been in danger of resembling Milton in the misfortune of blindness, as he resembled him, more happily, in the fervency of a devout and poetical spirit.

"I have been all my life," says Cowper, "subject to inflammations of the eye, and in my boyish days had specks on both, that threatened to cover them. My father, alarmed for the consequences, sent me to a female oculist of great renown at that time, in whose house I abode two years, but to no good purpose. From her I went to Westminster school, where, at the age of fourteen, the small-pox seized me, and proved the better oculist of the two, for it delivered me from them all: not however from great liableness to inflammation, to which I am in a degree still subject, though much less than formerly, since I have been constant in the use of a hot foot-bath every night, the last thing before going to rest."

It appears a strange process in education, to send a tender child, from a long residence in the house of a female oculist, immediately into all the hardships attendant on a public school. But the mother of Cowper was dead, and fathers, however excellent, are, in general, utterly incompetent to the management of their young and tender offspring. The little Cowper was sent to his first school in the year of his mother's death, and how ill-suited the scene was to his peculiar character is evident from the description of his sensations in that season of life, which is often, very erroneously, extolled as the happiest period of human existence. He has been frequently heard to lament the persecution he suffered in his childish years, from the cruelty of his schoolfellows, in the two scenes of his education. His own forcible expressions represented him at Westminster as not daring to raise his eye above the shoe-buckle of the elder boys, who were too apt to tyrannize over his gentle spirit. The acuteness of his feelings in his childhood, rendered those important years (which might have produced, under tender cultivation, a[3] series of lively enjoyments) mournful periods of increasing timidity and depression. In the most cheerful hours of his advanced life, he could never advert to this season without shuddering at the recollection of its wretchedness. Yet to this perhaps the world is indebted for the pathetic and moral eloquence of those forcible admonitions to parents, which give interest and beauty to his admirable poem on public schools. Poets may be said to realize, in some measure, the poetical idea of the nightingale's singing with a thorn at her breast, as their most exquisite songs have often originated in the acuteness of their personal sufferings. Of this obvious truth, the poem just mentioned is a very memorable example; and, if any readers have thought the poet too severe in his strictures on that system of education, to which we owe some of the most accomplished characters that ever gave celebrity to a civilized nation, such readers will be candidly reconciled to that moral severity of reproof, in recollecting that it flowed from severe personal experience, united to the purest spirit of philanthropy and patriotism.

The relative merits of public and private education is a question that has long agitated the world. Each has its partizans, its advantages, and defects; and, like all general principles, its application must greatly depend on the circumstances of rank, future destination, and the peculiarities of character and temper. For the full development of the powers and faculties of the mind—for the acquisition of the various qualifications that fit men to sustain with brilliancy and distinction the duties of active life, whether in the cabinet, the senate, or the forum—for scenes of busy enterprize, where knowledge of the world and the growth of manly spirit seem indispensable; in all such cases, we are disposed to believe, that the palm must be assigned to public education.

But, on the other hand, if we reflect that brilliancy is oftentimes a flame which consumes its object, that knowledge of the world is, for the most part, but a knowledge of the evil that is in the world; and that early habits of extravagance and vice, which are ruinous in their results, are not unfrequently contracted at public schools; if to these facts we add that man is a candidate for immortality, and that "life" (as Sir William Temple observes) "is but the parenthesis of eternity," it then becomes a question of solemn import, whether integrity and principle do not find a soil more congenial for their growth in the shade and retirement of private education? The one is an advancement for time, the other for eternity. The former affords facilities for making men great, but often at the expense of happiness and conscience. The latter diminishes the temptations to vice, and, while it affords a field for useful and honourable exertion, augments the means of being wise and holy.

We leave the reader to decide the great problem for himself. That he may be enabled to form a right estimate, we would urge him to suffer time and eternity to pass in solemn and deliberate review before him.

That the public school was a scene by no means adapted to the sensitive mind of Cowper is evident. Nor can we avoid cherishing the apprehension that his spirit, naturally morbid, experienced a fatal inroad from that period. He nevertheless acquired the reputation of scholarship, with the advantage of being known and esteemed by some of the aspiring characters of his own age, who subsequently became distinguished in the great arena of public life.

With these acquisitions, he left Westminster at the age of eighteen, in 1749; and, as if destiny had determined that all his early situations in life should be peculiarly irksome to his delicate feelings, and tend rather to promote than to counteract his constitutional tendency to melancholy, he was removed from a public school to the office of an attorney. He resided three years in the house of a Mr. Chapman, to whom he was engaged by articles for that time. Here he was placed for the study of a profession which nature seemed resolved that he never should practise.

The law is a kind of soldiership, and, like the profession of arms, it may be said to require for the constitution of its heroes,

"A frame of adamant, a soul of fire."

The soul of Cowper had indeed its fire, but fire so refined and ethereal, that it could not be expected to shine in the gross atmosphere of worldly contention. Perhaps there never existed a mortal, who, possessing, with a good person, intellectual powers naturally strong and highly cultivated, was so utterly unfit to encounter the bustle and perplexities of public life. But the extreme modesty and shyness of his nature, which disqualified him for scenes of business and ambition, endeared him inexpressibly to those who had opportunities to enjoy his society, and discernment to appreciate the ripening excellences of his character.

Reserved as he was, to an extraordinary and painful degree, his heart and mind were yet admirably fashioned by nature for all the refined intercourse and confidential enjoyment both of friendship and love: but, though apparently formed to possess and to communicate an extraordinary portion of moral felicity, the incidents of his life were such, that, conspiring with the peculiarities of his nature, they rendered him, at different times, the victim of sorrow. The variety and depth of his[4] sufferings in early life, from extreme tenderness of feeling, are very forcibly displayed in the following verses, which formed part of a letter to one of his female relatives, at the time they were composed. The letter has perished, and the verses owe their preservation to the affectionate memory of the lady to whom they were addressed.

Doom'd, as I am, in solitude to waste
The present moments, and regret the past;
Depriv'd of every joy I valued most,
My friend torn from me, and my mistress lost;
Call not this gloom I wear, this anxious mien,
The dull effect of humour or of spleen!
Still, still, I mourn, with each returning day,
Him[4] snatch'd by fate in early youth away;
And her[5]—thro' tedious years of doubt and pain,
Fix'd in her choice, and faithful—but in vain!
O prone to pity, generous, and sincere,
Whose eye ne'er yet refus'd the wretch a tear;
Whose heart the real claim of friendship knows,
Nor thinks a lover's are but fancied woes;
See me—ere yet my destin'd course half done,
Cast forth a wand'rer on a world unknown!
See me neglected on the world's rude coast,
Each dear companion of my voyage lost!
Nor ask why clouds of sorrow shade my brow,
And ready tears wait only leave to flow!
Why all that soothes a heart from anguish free,
All that delights the happy—palls with me!

Having concluded the term of his engagement with the solicitor, he settled himself in chambers in the Inner Temple, as a regular student of law; but, although he resided there till the age of thirty-three, he rambled (according to his own colloquial account of his early years) from the thorny road of his austere patroness, Jurisprudence, into the primrose paths of literature and poetry. During this period, he contributed two of the Satires in Duncombe's Horace, which are worthy of his pen, and indications of his rising genius. He also cultivated the friendship of some literary characters, who had been his schoolfellows at Westminster, particularly Colman, Bonnell Thornton, and Lloyd. Of these early associates of Cowper, it may be interesting to learn a brief history. Few men could have entered upon life with brighter prospects than Colman. His father was Envoy at the Court of Florence, and his mother was sister to the Countess of Bath. Possessed of talents that qualified him for exertion, with a classical taste perceptible in his translation of Horace's Art of Poetry, and of the works of Terence, he relinquished the bar, to which he had been called, and became principally known for his devotedness to theatrical pursuits. His private life was not consistent with the rules of morality; and he closed his days, after a protracted malady, by dying in a Lunatic Asylum in Paddington, in the year 1794.

To Bonnell Thornton, jointly with Colman, we owe the Connoisseur, to which Cowper contributed a few numbers. Thornton also united with Colman and Warner in a translation of Plautus. But his talents, instead of being profitably employed, were chiefly marked by a predilection for humour, in the exercise of which he was not very discreet; for the venerated muse of Gray did not escape his ridicule, and the celebrated Ode to St. Cecilia was made the occasion of a public burlesque performance, the relation of which would not accord with the design of this undertaking. He who aims at nothing better than to amuse and divert, and to excite a laugh at the expense of both taste and judgment, proposes to himself no very exalted object. Thornton died in the year 1770, aged forty-seven.

Lloyd was formerly usher at Westminster School, but feeling the irksomeness of the situation, resigned it, and commenced author. His Poems have been repeatedly re-published. His life presented a scene of thoughtless extravagance and dissipation. Overwhelmed with debt, and pursued by his creditors, he was at length confined in the Fleet Prison, where he expired, the victim of his excesses, at the early age of thirty-one years.

We record these facts,—1st. That we may adore that mercy which, by a timely interposition, rescued the future author of the Task from such impending ruin:—2ndly, To show that scenes of gaiety and dissipation, however enlivened by flashes of wit, and distinguished by literary superiority, are perilous to character, health, and fortune; and that the talents, which, if beneficially employed, might have led to happiness and honour, when perverted to unworthy ends, often lead prematurely to the grave, or render the past painful in the retrospect, and the future the subject of fearful anticipation and alarm.

Happily, Cowper escaped from this vortex of misery and ruin. His juvenile poems discover a contemplative spirit, and a mind early impressed with sentiments of piety. In proof of this assertion, we select a few stanzas from an ode written, when he was very young, on reading Sir Charles Grandison.

To rescue from the tyrant's sword
The oppress'd;—unseen, and unimplor'd,
To cheer the face of woe;
From lawless insult to defend
An orphan's right—a fallen friend,
And a forgiven foe:
These, these, distinguish from the crowd,
And these alone, the great and good,
The guardians of mankind.
Whose bosoms with these virtues heave,
Oh! with what matchless speed, they leave
The multitude behind!
Then ask ye from what cause on earth
Virtues like these derive their birth?
Derived from Heaven alone,
Full on that favour'd breast they shine,
Where faith and resignation join
To call the blessing down.
Such is that heart:—but while the Muse
Thy theme, O Richardson, pursues,
Her feebler spirits faint:
She cannot reach, and would not wrong,
That subject for an angel's song,
The hero, and the saint.

His early turn to moralize on the slightest occasion will appear from the following verses, which he wrote at the age of eighteen; and in which those who love to trace the rise and progress of genius will, I think, be pleased to remark the very promising seeds of those peculiar powers, which unfolded themselves in the richest maturity at a remoter period, and rendered that beautiful and sublime poem, The Task, the most instructive and interesting of modern compositions. Young as the poet was when he produced the following lines, we may observe that he had probably been four years in the habit of writing English verse, as he has said in one of his letters, that he began his poetical career at the age of fourteen, by translating an elegy of Tibullus. I have reason to believe that he wrote many poems in his early life; and the singular merit of this juvenile composition is sufficient to make the friends of genius regret that an excess of diffidence prevented him from preserving the poetry of his youth.



Fortune! I thank thee: gentle goddess! thanks!
Not that my Muse, though bashful, shall deny
She would have thank'd thee rather hadst thou cast
A treasure in her way; for neither meed
Of early breakfast, to dispel the fumes
And bowel-racking pains of emptiness,
Nor noon-tide feast, nor evening's cool repast,
Hopes she from this—presumptuous, tho', perhaps,
The cobbler, leather-carving artist, might.
Nathless she thanks thee, and accepts thy boon
Whatever, not as erst the fabled cock,
Vain-glorious fool! unknowing what he found,
Spurn'd the rich gem thou gav'st him. Wherefore ah!
Why not on me that favour (worthier sure)
Conferr'dst thou, goddess? Thou art blind, thou say'st;
Enough—thy blindness shall excuse the deed.
Nor does my Muse no benefit exhale
From this thy scant indulgence!—even here,
Hints, worthy sage philosophy, are found;
Illustrious hints, to moralize my song!
This pond'rous heel of perforated hide
Compact, with pegs indented, many a row,
Haply,—for such its massy form bespeaks,—
The weighty tread of some rude peasant clown
Upbore: on this supported, oft he stretch'd,
With uncouth strides along the furrow'd glebe,
Flatt'ning the stubborn clod, 'till cruel time,
(What will not cruel time?) on a wry step,
Sever'd the strict cohesion; when, alas!
He who could erst with even, equal pace,
Pursue his destin'd way with symmetry
And some proportion form'd, now, on one side,
Curtail'd and maim'd, the sport of vagrant boys,
Cursing his frail supporter, treacherous prop!
With toilsome steps, and difficult, moves on.
Thus fares it oft with other than the feet
Of humble villager. The statesman thus,
Up the steep road where proud ambition leads,
Aspiring, first uninterrupted winds
His prosp'rous way; nor fears miscarriage foul,
While policy prevails, and friends prove true:
But that support soon failing, by him left
On whom he most depended, basely left,
Betray'd, deserted: from his airy height
Headlong he falls, and, through the rest of life,
Drags the dull load of disappointment on.

Of a youth, who, in a scene like Bath, could produce such a meditation, it might fairly be expected that he would

"In riper life, exempt from public haunt,
Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing."

Though extreme diffidence, and a tendency to despond, seemed early to preclude Cowper from the expectation of climbing to the splendid summit of the profession he had chosen; yet, by the interest of his family, he had prospects of emolument in a line of life that appeared better suited to the modesty of his nature and to his moderate ambition.

In his thirty-first year he was nominated to the offices of Reading Clerk and Clerk of the private Committees in the House of Lords—a situation the more desirable, as such an establishment might enable him to marry early in life; a measure to which he was doubly disposed by judgment and inclination. But the peculiarities of his wonderful mind rendered him unable to support the ordinary duties of his new office; for the idea of reading in public proved a source of torture to his tender and apprehensive spirit. An expedient was devised to promote his interest without wounding his feelings. Resigning his situation of Reading Clerk, he was appointed Clerk of the Journals in the same House of Parliament. Of his occupation, in consequence of this new appointment, he speaks in the following letter to a lady, who will become known and endeared to the reader in proportion to the interest he takes in the writings of Cowper.


The Temple, August 9, 1763.

My dear Cousin,—Having promised to write to you, I make haste to be as good as my word.[6] I have a pleasure in writing to you at any time, but especially at the present, when my days are spent in reading the Journals, and my nights in dreaming of them; an employment not very agreeable to a head that has long been habituated to the luxury of choosing its subject, and has been as little employed upon business as if it had grown upon the shoulders of a much wealthier gentleman. But the numscull pays for it now, and will not presently forget the discipline it has undergone lately. If I succeed in this doubtful piece of promotion, I shall have at least this satisfaction to reflect upon, that the volumes I write will be treasured up with the utmost care for ages, and will last as long as the English constitution—a duration which ought to satisfy the vanity of any author, who has a spark of love for his country. Oh, my good Cousin! if I was to open my heart to you, I could show you strange sights; nothing I flatter myself that would shock you, but a great deal that would make you wonder. I am of a very singular temper, and very unlike all the men that I have ever conversed with. Certainly I am not an absolute fool: but I have more weaknesses than the greatest of all the fools I can recollect at present. In short, if I was as fit for the next world as I am unfit for this, and God forbid I should speak it in vanity, I would not change conditions with any saint in Christendom.

My destination is settled at last, and I have obtained a furlough. Margate is the word, and what do you think will ensue, Cousin? I know what you expect, but ever since I was born I have been good at disappointing the most natural expectations. Many years ago, Cousin, there was a possibility that I might prove a very different thing from what I am at present. My character is now fixed, and riveted fast upon me, and, between friends, is not a very splendid one, or likely to be guilty of much fascination.

Adieu, my dear Cousin! so much as I love you, I wonder how it has happened I was never in love with you. Thank Heaven that I never was, for at this time I have had a pleasure in writing to you, which in that case I should have forfeited. Let me hear from you, or I shall reap but half the reward that is due to my noble indifference.

Yours ever, and evermore,
W. C.

It was hoped from the change of his station that his personal appearance in parliament might not be required, but a parliamentary dispute made it necessary for him to appear at the bar of the House of Lords, to entitle himself publicly to the office.

Speaking of this important incident in a sketch, which he once formed himself, of passages in his early life, he expressed what he endured at the time in these remarkable words: "They whose spirits are formed like mine, to whom a public exhibition of themselves is mortal poison, may have some idea of the horrors of my situation—others can have none."

His terrors on this occasion arose to such an astonishing height, that they utterly overwhelmed his reason; for, although he had endeavoured to prepare himself for his public duty, by attending closely at the office for several months, to examine the parliamentary journals, his application was rendered useless by that excess of diffidence, which made him conceive that, whatever knowledge he might previously acquire, it would all forsake him at the bar of the House. This distressing apprehension increased to such a degree, as the time for his appearance approached, that, when the day so anxiously dreaded arrived, he was unable to make the experiment. The very friends who called on him for the purpose of attending him to the House of Lords, acquiesced in the cruel necessity of his relinquishing the prospect of a station so severely formidable to a frame of such singular sensibility.

The conflict between the wishes of honourable ambition and the terrors of diffidence so entirely overwhelmed his health and faculties, that, after two learned and benevolent divines (Mr. John Cowper, his brother, and the celebrated Mr. Martin Madan, his first cousin) had vainly endeavoured to establish a lasting tranquillity in his mind by friendly and religious conversation, it was found necessary to remove him to St. Alban's, where he resided a considerable time, under the care of that eminent physician, Dr. Cotton, a scholar and a poet, who added to many accomplishments a peculiar sweetness of manners, in very advanced life, when I had the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with him.

The misfortune of mental derangement is a topic of such awful delicacy, that I consider it to be the duty of a biographer rather to sink, in tender silence, than to proclaim, with circumstantial and offensive temerity, the minute particulars of a calamity to which all human beings are exposed, and perhaps in proportion as they have received from nature those delightful but dangerous gifts, a heart of exquisite tenderness and a mind of creative energy.

This is a sight for pity to peruse,
Till she resembles, faintly, what she views;
Till sympathy contracts a kindred pain,
Pierc'd with the woes that she laments in vain.
This, of all maladies, that man infest,
Claims most compassion, and receives the less.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
But with a soul that ever felt the sting
Of sorrow, sorrow is a sacred thing.
[7] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
'Tis not, as heads that never ache suppose,
Forgery of fancy, and a dream of woes.
Man is a harp, whose chords elude the sight,
Each yielding harmony, disposed aright;
The screws revers'd, (a task, which, if He please,
God, in a moment, executes with ease),
Ten thousand, thousand strings at once go loose;
Lost, till He tune them, all their power and use.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
No wounds like those a wounded spirit feels;
No cure for such, till God, who makes them, heals.
And thou, sad sufferer, under nameless ill,
That yields not to the touch of human skill,
Improve the kind occasion, understand
A Father's frown, and kiss the chast'ning hand!

It is in this solemn and instructive light, that Cowper himself teaches us to consider the calamity of which I am now speaking; and of which, like his illustrious brother of Parnassus, the younger Tasso, he was occasionally a most affecting example. Providence appears to have given a striking lesson to mankind, to guard both virtue and genius against pride of heart and pride of intellect, by thus suspending the affections and the talents of two most tender and sublime poets, who resembled each other, not more in the attribute of poetic genius than in the similarity of the dispensation that quenched its light and ardour.

From December, 1763, to the following July, the sensitive mind of Cowper appears to have laboured under the severest suffering of morbid depression; but the medical skill of Dr. Cotton, and the cheerful, benignant manners of that accomplished physician, gradually succeeded, with the blessing of Heaven, in removing the indescribable load of religious despondency, which had clouded the faculties of this interesting man. His ideas of religion were changed from the gloom of terror and despair to the brightness of inward joy and peace.

This juster and happier view of evangelical truth is said to have arisen in his mind, while he was reading the third chapter of Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans. The words that rivetted his attention were the following:

"Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God." Rom. iii. 25.

It was to this passage, which contains so lucid an exposition of the Gospel method of salvation, that, under the divine blessing, the poet owed the recovery of a previously disordered intellect and the removal of a load from a deeply oppressed conscience—he saw, by a new and powerful perception, how sin could be pardoned, and the sinner be saved—that the way appointed of God was through the great propitiation and sacrifice upon the cross—that faith lays hold of the promise, and thus becomes the instrument of conveying pardon and peace to the soul.

It is remarkable how God, in every age, from the first promulgation of the Gospel to the present time, and under all the various modifications of society, barbarian, Scythian, bond or free, has put his seal to this fundamental doctrine of the Gospel.

Whether we contemplate man amid the polished scenes of civilized and enlightened Europe, or the rude ferocity of savage tribes—whether it be the refined Hindoo, or the unlettered Hottentot, whose mind becomes accessible to the power and influences of religion, the cause and the effect are the same. It is the doctrine of the cross that works the mighty change. The worldly wise may reject this doctrine,—the spiritually wise comprehend and receive it. But, whether it be rejected, with all its tremendous responsibilities, or received with its inestimable blessings, the truth itself still remains unchanged and unchangeable, attested by the records of every church and the experience of every believing heart—"the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." 1 Cor. i. 18.

It is impossible not to admire the power, and adore the mercy, that thus wrought a double deliverance in the mind of Cowper by a process so remarkable. Devout contemplation became more and more dear to his reviving spirit. Resolving to relinquish all thoughts of a laborious profession, and all intercourse with the busy world, he acquiesced in a plan of settling at Huntingdon, by the advice of his brother, who, as a minister of the Gospel, and a fellow of Bene't College, Cambridge, resided in that University; a situation so near to the place chosen for Cowper's retirement, that it afforded to these affectionate brothers opportunities of easy and frequent intercourse. I regret that all the letters which passed between them have perished, and the more so as they sometimes corresponded in verse. John Cowper was also a poet. He had engaged to execute a translation of Voltaire's Henriade, and in the course of the work requested, and obtained, the assistance of William, who translated, as he informed me himself, two entire cantos of the poem. This fraternal production is said to have appeared in a magazine of the year 1759. I have discovered a rival, and probably an inferior translation, so published, but the joint work of the poetical brothers has hitherto eluded all my researches.

In June, 1765, the reviving invalid removed to a private lodging in the town of Huntingdon, but Providence soon introduced him into a family, which afforded him one of the most singular and valuable friends that ever watched[8] an afflicted mortal in seasons of overwhelming adversity; that friend, to whom the poet exclaims in the commencement of the Task,

And witness, dear companion of my walks,
Whose arm, this twentieth winter, I perceive
Fast locked in mine, with pleasure, such as love,
Confirmed by long experience of thy worth,
And well tried virtues, could alone inspire;
Witness a joy, that thou hast doubted long!
Thou knowest my praise of Nature most sincere;
And that my raptures are not conjured up
To serve occasions of poetic pomp,
But genuine, and art partner of them all.

These verses would be alone sufficient to make every poetical reader take a lively interest in the lady they describe; but these are far from being the only tribute which the gratitude of Cowper has paid to the endearing virtues of his female companion. More poetical memorials of her merit will be found in these volumes, and in verse so exquisite, that it may be questioned if the most passionate lover ever gave rise to poetry more tender or more sublime.

Yet, in this place, it appears proper to apprize the reader, that it was not love, in the common acceptation of the word, which inspired these admirable eulogies. The attachment of Cowper to Mrs. Unwin, the Mary of the poet, was an attachment perhaps unparalleled. Their domestic union, though not sanctioned by the common forms of life, was supported with perfect innocence, and endeared to them both, by their having struggled together through a series of sorrow. A spectator of sensibility, who had contemplated the uncommon tenderness of their attention to the wants and infirmities of each other in the decline of life, might have said of their singular attachment,

L'Amour n'a rien de si tendre,
Ni l'Amitié de si doux.

As a connexion so extraordinary forms a striking feature in the history of the poet, the reader will probably be anxious to investigate its origin and progress.—It arose from the following little incident.

The countenance and deportment of Cowper, though they indicated his native shyness, had yet very singular powers of attraction. On his first appearance in one of the churches of Huntingdon, he engaged the notice and respect of an amiable young man, William Cawthorne Unwin, then a student at Cambridge, who, having observed, after divine service, that the interesting stranger was taking a solitary turn under a row of trees, was irresistibly led to share his walk, and to solicit his acquaintance.

They were soon pleased with each other, and the intelligent youth, charmed with the acquisition of such a friend, was eager to communicate the treasure to his parents, who had long resided in Huntingdon.

Mr. Unwin, the father, had for some years been master of a free school in the town; but, as he advanced in life, he quitted the laborious situation, and, settling in a large convenient house in the High-street, contented himself with a few domestic pupils, whom he instructed in classical literature.

This worthy divine, who was now far advanced in years, had been lecturer to the two churches at Huntingdon, before he obtained from his college at Cambridge the living of Grimston. While he lived in expectation of this preferment, he had attached himself to a young lady of lively talents, and remarkably fond of reading. This lady, who, in the process of time, and by a series of singular events, became the friend and guardian of Cowper, was the daughter of Mr. Cawthorne, a draper in Ely. She was married to Mr. Unwin, on his succeeding to the preferment that he expected from his college, and settled with him on his living of Grimston; but, not liking the situation and society of that sequestered scene, she prevailed on her husband to establish himself in Huntingdon, where he was known and respected.

They had resided there many years, and, with their two only children, a son and a daughter, they formed a cheerful and social family, when the younger Unwin, described by Cowper as

"A friend,
Whose worth deserves the warmest lay
That ever Friendship penn'd,"

presented to his parents the solitary stranger, on whose retirement he had benevolently intruded, and whose welfare he became more and more anxious to promote. An event highly pleasing and comfortable to Cowper soon followed this introduction; he was affectionately solicited by all the Unwins to relinquish his lonely lodging, and to become a part of their family.

We are now arrived at that period in the personal history of Cowper, when we are fortunately enabled to employ his own descriptive powers in recording the events and characters that particularly interested him, and in displaying the state of his mind at a remarkable season of his chequered life. The following are among the earliest letters of this affectionate writer, which the kindness of his friends and relatives has supplied towards the execution and embellishment of this work.

Among his juvenile intimates and correspondents, he particularly regarded two gentlemen, who devoted themselves to different branches of the law, the first Lord Thurlow,[9] and Joseph Hill, Esq., whose name appears in Cowper's Poems, prefixed to a few verses of exquisite beauty, a brief epistle, that seems to have more of the genuine ease, spirit, and moral gaiety of Horace, than any original epistle in the English language. From these two confidential associates of the poet, in his unclouded years, we might have expected materials for the display of his early genius; but, in the torrent of busy and splendid life, which bore the first of them to a mighty distance from his less ambitious fellow-student of the Temple, the private letters and verses that arose from their youthful intimacy have perished.

The letters to Mr. Hill are copious, and extend through a long period of time, and although many of them were of a nature not suited to publication, yet many others will illustrate and embellish this volume. The steadiness and integrity of Mr. Hill's regard for a person so much sequestered from his sight gives him a particular title to be distinguished among those whom Cowper has honoured, by addressing to them his highly interesting and affectionate letters. Many of these, which we shall occasionally introduce in the parts of the narrative to which they belong, may tend to confirm a truth, not unpleasing to the majority of readers, that the temperate zone of moderate fortune, equally removed from high and low life, is most favourable to the permanence of friendship.


Huntingdon, June 24, 1765.

Dear Joe,—The only recompence I can make you for your kind attention to my affairs, during my illness, is to tell you that, by the mercy of God, I am restored to perfect health, both of mind and body. This, I believe, will give you pleasure, and I would gladly do anything from which you could receive it.

I left St. Alban's on the 17th, and arrived that day at Cambridge, spent some time there with my brother, and came hither on the 22nd. I have a lodging that puts me continually in mind of our summer excursions; we have had many worse, and except the size of it (which however is sufficient for a single man) but few better. I am not quite alone, having brought a servant with me from St. Alban's, who is the very mirror of fidelity and affection for his master. And, whereas the Turkish Spy says, he kept no servant because he would not have an enemy in his house, I hired mine because I would have a friend. Men do not usually bestow these encomiums on their lackeys, nor do they usually deserve them, but I have had experience of mine, both in sickness and in health, and never saw his fellow.

The river Ouse, I forget how they spell it, is the most agreeable circumstance in this part of the world; at this town it is, I believe, as wide as the Thames at Windsor; nor does the silver Thames better deserve that epithet, nor has it more flowers upon its banks, these being attributes which, in strict truth, belong to neither. Fluellin would say, they are as like as my fingers to my fingers, and there is salmon in both. It is a noble stream to bathe in, and I shall make that use of it three times a week, having introduced myself to it for the first time this morning.

I beg you will remember me to all my friends, which is a task will cost you no great pains to execute—particularly remember me to those of your own house, and believe me

Your very affectionate
W. C.


Huntingdon, July 1, 1765.

My dear Lady Hesketh,—Since the visit you were so kind to pay me in the Temple (the only time I ever saw you without pleasure), what have I not suffered? And, since it has pleased God to restore me to the use of my reason, what have I not enjoyed? You know, by experience, how pleasant it is to feel the first approaches of health after a fever; but, oh! the fever of the brain! To feel the quenching of that fire is indeed a blessing which I think it impossible to receive without the most consummate gratitude. Terrible as this chastisement is, I acknowledge in it the hand of an infinite justice; nor is it at all more difficult for me to perceive in it the hand of an infinite mercy likewise: when I consider the effect it has had upon me, I am exceedingly thankful for it, and, without hypocrisy, esteem it the greatest blessing, next to life itself, I ever received from the divine bounty. I pray God that I may ever retain this sense of it, and then I am sure I shall continue to be, as I am at present, really happy.

I write thus to you, that you may not think me a forlorn and wretched creature; which you might be apt to do, considering my very distant removal from every friend I have in the world—a circumstance which, before this event befell me, would undoubtedly have made me so; but my affliction has taught me a road to happiness, which, without it, I should never have found; and I know, and have experience of it every day, that the mercy of God, to him who believes himself the object of it, is more than sufficient to compensate for the loss of every other blessing.

You may now inform all those whom you[10] think really interested in my welfare, that they have no need to be apprehensive on the score of my happiness at present. And you yourself will believe that my happiness is no dream, because I have told you the foundation on which it is built. What I have written would appear like enthusiasm to many, for we are apt to give that name to every warm affection of the mind in others which we have not experienced in ourselves; but to you, who have so much to be thankful for, and a temper inclined to gratitude, it will not appear so.

I beg you will give my love to Sir Thomas, and believe that I am obliged to you both for inquiring after me at St. Alban's.

Yours ever,
W. C.


Huntingdon, July 3, 1765.

Dear Joe,—Whatever you may think of the matter, it is no such easy thing to keep house for two people. A man cannot always live like the lions in the Tower; and a joint of meat, in so small a family, is an endless incumbrance. In short, I never knew how to pity poor housekeepers before; but now I cease to wonder at that politic cast which their occupation usually gives to their countenance, for it is really a matter full of perplexity.

I have received but one visit since here I came. I don't mean that I have refused any, but that only one has been offered. This was from my woollen-draper; a very healthy, wealthy, sensible, sponsible man, and extremely civil. He has a cold bath, and has promised me a key of it, which I shall probably make use of in the winter. He has undertaken, too, to get me the St. James's Chronicle three times a-week, and to show me Hinchinbrook House, and to do every service for me in his power; so that I did not exceed the truth, you see, when I spoke of his civility. Here is a card-assembly, and a dancing-assembly, and a horse-race, and a club, and a bowling-green; so that I am well off, you perceive, in point of diversions; especially as I shall go to 'em, just as much as I should if I lived a thousand miles off. But no matter for that; the spectator at a play is more entertained than the actor; and in real life it is much the same. You will say, perhaps, that if I never frequent these places, I shall not come within the description of a spectator; and you will say right. I have made a blunder, which shall be corrected in the next edition.

You are old dog at a bad tenant; witness all my uncle's and your mother's geese and gridirons. There is something so extremely impertinent in entering upon a man's premises, and using them without paying for 'em, that I could easily resent it if I would. But I rather choose to entertain myself with thinking how you will scour the man about, and worry him to death, if once you begin with him. Poor wretch! I leave him entirely to your mercy.

My dear Joe, you desire me to write long letters. I have neither matter enough nor perseverance enough for the purpose. However, if you can but contrive to be tired of reading as soon as I am tired of writing, we shall find that short ones answer just as well; and, in my opinion, this is a very practicable measure.

My friend Colman has had good fortune: I wish him better fortune still; which is, that he may make a right use of it. The tragedies of Lloyd and Bensley are both very deep. If they are not of use to the surviving part of the society, it is their own fault.

I was debtor to Bensley seven pounds, or nine, I forget which. If you can find out his brother, you will do me a great favour if you will pay him for me; but do it at your leisure.

Yours and theirs,[7]
W. C.


Huntingdon, July 4, 1765.

Being just emerged from the Ouse, I sit down to thank you, my dear cousin, for your friendly and comfortable letter. What could you think of my unaccountable behaviour to you in that visit I mentioned in my last? I remember I neither spoke to you nor looked at you. The solution of the mystery indeed followed soon after, but at the same time it must have been inexplicable. The uproar within was even then begun, and my silence was only the sulkiness of a thunder-storm before it opens. I am glad, however, that the only instance in which I knew not how to value your company was when I was not in my senses. It was the first of the kind, and I trust in God it will be the last.

How naturally does affliction make us Christians! and how impossible it is, when all human help is vain, and the whole earth too poor and trifling to furnish us with one moment's peace—how impossible is it then to avoid looking at the Gospel! It gives me some concern, though at the same time it increases my gratitude, to reflect, that a convert made in Bedlam is more likely to be a stumbling-block to others than to advance their faith. But, if it has that effect upon any, it is owing[11] to their reasoning amiss, and drawing their conclusions from false premises. He who can ascribe an amendment of life and manners and a reformation of the heart itself to madness, is guilty of an absurdity that in any other case would fasten the imputation of madness upon himself; for, by so doing, he ascribes a reasonable effect to an unreasonable cause, and a positive effect to a negative. But, when Christianity only is to be sacrificed, he that stabs deepest is always the wisest man. You, my dear cousin, yourself, will be apt to think I carry the matter too far, and that, in the present warmth of my heart, I make too ample a concession in saying, that I am only now a convert. You think I always believed, and I thought so too, but you were deceived, and so was I. I called myself indeed a Christian, but He who knows my heart, knows that I never did a right thing, nor abstained from a wrong one, because I was so. But, if I did either, it was under the influence of some other motive. And it is such seeming Christians, such pretending believers, that do most mischief to the cause, and furnish the strongest arguments to support the infidelity of its enemies: unless profession and conduct go together, the man's life is a lie, and the validity of what he professes itself is called in question. The difference between a Christian and an unbeliever would be so striking, if the treacherous allies of the church would go over at once to the other side, that I am satisfied religion would be no loser by the bargain.

I reckon it one instance of the providence that has attended me throughout this whole event, that, instead of being delivered into the hands of one of the London physicians—who were so much nearer, that I wonder I was not—I was carried to Dr. Cotton. I was not only treated by him with the greatest tenderness while I was ill, and attended with the utmost diligence, but when my reason was restored to me, and I had so much need of a religious friend to converse with, to whom I could open my mind upon the subject without reserve, I could hardly have found a fitter person for the purpose. My eagerness and anxiety to settle my opinions upon that long-neglected point made it necessary, that while my mind was yet weak, and my spirits uncertain, I should have some assistance. The doctor was as ready to administer relief to me in this article likewise, and as well qualified to do it as in that which was more immediately his province. How many physicians would have thought this an irregular appetite and a symptom of remaining madness! But if it were so, my friend was as mad as myself, and it is well for me that he was so.

My dear cousin, you know not half the deliverances I have received; my brother is the only one in the family who does. My recovery is indeed a signal one, but a greater, if possible, went before it. My future life must express my thankfulness, for by words I cannot do it.

I pray God to bless you, and my friend Sir Thomas.

Yours ever,
W. C.


Huntingdon, July 5, 1765.

My dear Lady Hesketh,—My pen runs so fast you will begin to wish you had not put it in motion, but you must consider we have not met, even by letter, almost these two years, which will account, in some measure, for my pestering you in this manner; besides my last was no answer to yours, and therefore I consider myself as still in your debt. To say truth, I have this long time promised myself a correspondence with you as one of my principal pleasures.

I should have written to you from St. Alban's long since, but was willing to perform quarantine first, both for my own sake, and because I thought my letters would be more satisfactory to you from any other quarter. You will perceive I allowed myself a very sufficient time for the purpose, for I date my recovery from the 25th of last July, having been ill seven months, and well twelve months. It was on that day my brother came to see me; I was far from well when he came in; yet, though he only stayed one day with me, his company served to put to flight a thousand deliriums and delusions which I still laboured under, and the next morning found myself a new creature. But to the present purpose.

As far as I am acquainted with this place, I like it extremely. Mr. Hodgson, the minister of the parish, made me a visit the day before yesterday. He is very sensible, a good preacher, and conscientious in the discharge of his duty. He is very well known to Dr. Newton, Bishop of Bristol, the author of the Treatise on the Prophecies, one of our best bishops, and who has written the most demonstrative proof of the truth of Christianity, in my mind, that ever was published.

There is a village, called Hertford, about a mile and a half from hence. The church there is very prettily situated upon a rising ground, so close to the river that it washes the wall of the churchyard. I found an epitaph there the other morning, the two first lines of which being better than any thing else I saw there, I made shift to remember. It is by a widow on her husband.

"Thou wast too good to live on earth with me,
And I not good enough to die with thee."

The distance of this place from Cambridge is the worst circumstance belonging to it. My brother and I are fifteen miles asunder, which,[12] considering that I came hither for the sake of being near him, is rather too much. I wish that young man was better known in the family. He has as many good qualities as his nearest kindred could wish to find in him.

As Mr. Quin very roundly expressed himself upon some such occasion, "here is very plentiful accommodation, and great happiness of provision." So that if I starve, it must be through forgetfulness rather than scarcity.

Fare thee well, my good and dear cousin.

Ever yours, W. C.


July 12, 1765.

My dear Cousin,—You are very good to me, and if you will only continue to write at such intervals as you find convenient, I shall receive all that pleasure which I proposed to myself from our correspondence. I desire no more than that you would never drop me for any length of time together, for I shall then think you only write because something happened to put you in mind of me, or for some other reason equally mortifying. I am not, however, so unreasonable as to expect you should perform this act of friendship so frequently as myself, for you live in a world swarming with engagements, and my hours are almost all my own. You must every day be employed in doing what is expected from you by a thousand others, and I have nothing to do but what is most agreeable to myself.

Our mentioning Newton's treatise on the Prophecies brings to my mind an anecdote of Dr. Young, who you know died lately at Welwyn. Dr. Cotton, who was intimate with him, paid him a visit about a fortnight before he was seized with his last illness. The old man was then in perfect health; the antiquity of his person, the gravity of his utterance, and the earnestness with which he discoursed about religion, gave him, in the doctor's eye, the appearance of a prophet. They had been delivering their sentiments upon this book of Newton, when Young closed the conference thus:—"My friend, there are two considerations upon which my faith in Christ is built as upon a rock: the fall of man, the redemption of man, and the resurrection of man, the three cardinal articles of our religion, are such as human ingenuity could never have invented, therefore they must be divine; the other argument is this. If the prophecies have been fulfilled (of which there is abundant demonstration), the Scripture must be the word of God, and if the Scripture is the word of God, Christianity must be true."

This treatise on the prophecies serves a double purpose; it not only proves the truth of religion, in a manner that never has been, nor ever can be controverted; but it proves likewise, that the Roman Catholic is the apostate, and the anti-Christian church, so frequently foretold both in the Old and New Testaments. Indeed so fatally connected is the refutation of Popery with the truth of Christianity, when the latter is evinced by the completion of the prophecies, that, in proportion as light is thrown upon the one, the deformities and errors of the other are more plainly exhibited. But I leave you to the book itself; there are parts of it which may possibly afford you less entertainment than the rest, because you have never been a school-boy, but in the main it is so interesting, and you are so fond of that which is so, that I am sure you will like it.

My dear cousin, how happy am I in having a friend, to whom I can open my heart upon these subjects! I have many intimates in the world, and have had many more than I shall have hereafter, to whom a long letter upon these most important articles would appear tiresome at least, if not impertinent. But I am not afraid of meeting with that reception from you, who have never yet made it your interest that there should be no truth in the word of God. May this everlasting truth be your comfort while you live, and attend you with peace and joy in your last moments! I love you too well not to make this a part of my prayers; and when I remember my friends on these occasions, there is no likelihood that you can be forgotten.

Yours ever,
W. C.

P.S.—Cambridge. I add this postscript at my brother's rooms. He desires to be affectionately remembered to you, and if you are in town about a fortnight hence, when he proposes to be there himself, will take a breakfast with you.


Huntingdon, August 1st, 1765.

My dear Cousin,—If I was to measure your obligation to write by my own desire to hear from you, I should call you an idle correspondent if a post went by without bringing a letter, but I am not so unreasonable; on the contrary, I think myself very happy in hearing from you upon your own terms, as you find most convenient. Your short history of my family is a very acceptable part of your letter; if they really interest themselves in my welfare,[13][8] it is a mark of their great charity for one who has been a disappointment and a vexation to them ever since he has been of consequence enough to be either. My friend the major's behaviour to me, after all he suffered by my abandoning his interest and my own, in so miserable a manner, is a noble instance of generosity and true greatness of mind: and, indeed, I know no man in whom those qualities are more conspicuous; one need only furnish him with an opportunity to display them, and they are always ready to show themselves in his words and actions, and even in his countenance, at a moment's warning. I have great reason to be thankful—I have lost none of my acquaintance, but those whom I determined not to keep. I am sorry this class is so numerous. What would I not give that every friend I have in the world were not almost but altogether Christians? My dear cousin, I am half afraid to talk in this style, lest I should seem to indulge a censorious humour, instead of hoping, as I ought, the best for all men. But what can be said against ocular proof, and what is hope when it is built upon presumption? To use the most holy name in the universe for no purpose, or a bad one, contrary to his own express commandment; to pass the day, and the succeeding days, weeks, and months, and years, without one act of private devotion, one confession of our sins, or one thanksgiving for the numberless blessings we enjoy; to hear the word of God in public, with a distracted attention, or with none at all; to absent ourselves voluntarily from the blessed Communion, and to live in the total neglect of it, though our Saviour has charged it upon us with an express injunction—are the common and ordinary liberties which the generality of professors allow themselves; and what is this but to live without God in the world? Many causes may be assigned for this Anti-christian spirit, so prevalent among Christians, but one of the principal I take to be their utter forgetfulness that they have the word of God in their possession.

My friend, Sir William Russel, was distantly related to a very accomplished man, who, though he never believed the Gospel, admired the Scriptures as the sublimest compositions in the world, and read them often. I have been intimate myself with a man of fine taste, who has confessed to me that, though he could not subscribe to the truth of Christianity itself, yet he never could read St. Luke's account of our Saviour's appearance to the two disciples going to Emmaus without being wonderfully affected by it, and he thought that, if the stamp of divinity was any where to be found in Scripture, it was strongly marked and visibly impressed upon that passage. If these men, whose hearts were chilled with the darkness of infidelity, could find such charms in the mere style of the Scripture, what must they find there whose eye penetrates deeper than the letter, and who firmly believe themselves interested in all the valuable privileges of the Gospel? "He that believeth on me is passed from death unto life," though it be as plain a sentence as words can form, has more beauties in it for such a person than all the labours antiquity can boast of. If my poor man of taste, whom I have just mentioned, had searched a little further, he might have found other parts of the sacred history as strongly marked with the characters of divinity, as that he mentioned. The parable of the prodigal son, the most beautiful fiction that ever was invented; our Saviour's speech to his disciples, with which he closes his earthly ministration, full of the sublimest dignity, and tenderest affection; surpass every thing that I ever read, and, like the Spirit by which they were dictated, fly directly to the heart. If the Scripture did not disdain all affectation of ornament, one should call these, and such as these, the ornamental parts of it, but the matter of it is that upon which it principally stakes its credit with us, and the style, however excellent and peculiar to itself, is the only one of those many external evidences by which it recommends itself to our belief.

I shall be very much obliged to you for the book you mention; you could not have sent me any thing that would have been more welcome, unless you had sent me your own meditations instead of them.

W. C.


August 14th, 1765.

Dear Joe,—Both Lady Hesketh and my brother had apprized me of your intention to give me a call; and herein I find they were both mistaken. But they both informed me, likewise, that you were already set out for Warwickshire; in consequence of which latter intelligence, I have lived in continual expectation of seeing you, any time this fortnight. Now, how these two ingenious personages (for such they are both) should mistake an expedition to French Flanders for a journey to Warwickshire, is more than I, with all my ingenuity, can imagine. I am glad, however, that I have still a chance of seeing you, and shall treasure it up amongst my agreeable expectations. In the mean time, you are welcome to the British shore, as the song has it, and I thank you for your epitome of your travels. You don't tell me how you escaped the vigilance of the custom-house officers, though[14] I dare say you were knuckle-deep in contrabands, and had your boots stuffed with all and all manner of unlawful wares and merchandizes.

You know, Joe, I am very deep in debt to my little physician at St. Alban's, and that the handsomest thing I can do will be to pay him le plutôt qu'il sera possible, (that is vile French, I believe, but you can, now, correct it.) My brother informs me that you have such a quantity of cash in your hands on my account, that I may venture to send him forty pounds immediately. This, therefore, I shall be obliged if you will manage for me; and when you receive the hundred pounds, which my brother likewise brags you are shortly to receive, I shall be glad if you will discharge the remainder of that debt, without waiting for any further advice from your humble servant.

I am become a professed horseman, and do hereby assume to myself the style and title of the Knight of the Bloody Spur. It has cost me much to bring this point to bear; but I think I have at last accomplished it. My love to all your family.

Yours ever,
W. C.


Huntingdon, August 17, 1765.

You told me, my dear cousin, that I need not fear writing too often, and you perceive I take you at your word. At present, however, I shall do little more than thank you for your Meditations, which I admire exceedingly; the author of them manifestly loved the truth with an undissembled affection, had made great progress in the knowledge of it, and experienced all the happiness that naturally results from that noblest of all attainments. There is one circumstance which he gives us frequent occasion to observe in him, which I believe will ever be found in the philosophy of every true Christian. I mean the eminent rank which he assigns to faith among the virtues, as the source and parent of them all. There is nothing more infallibly true than this; and doubtless it is with a view to the purifying and sanctifying nature of a true faith, that our Saviour says "He that believeth in me hath everlasting life," with many other expressions to the same purpose. Considered in this light, no wonder it has the power of salvation ascribed to it. Considered in any other, we must suppose it to operate like an oriental talisman, if it obtains for us the least advantage; which is an affront to Him, who insists upon our having it, and will on no other terms admit us to his favour. I mention this distinguishing article in his Reflections, the rather because it serves for a solid foundation to the distinction I made in my last, between the specious professor and the true believer, between him whose faith is his Sunday suit and him who never puts it off at all—a distinction I am a little fearful sometimes of making, because it is a heavy stroke upon the practice of more than half the Christians in the world.

My dear cousin, I told you I read the book with great pleasure, which may be accounted for from its own merit, but perhaps it pleased me the more because you had travelled the same road before me. You know there is no such pleasure as this, which would want great explanation to some folks, being perhaps a mystery to those whose hearts are a mere muscle, and serve only for the purposes of an even circulation.

W. C.


Sept. 4th, 1765.

Though I have some very agreeable acquaintance at Huntingdon, my dear cousin, none are so agreeable as the arrival of your letters. I thank you for that which I have just received from Droxford and particularly for that part of it, where you give me an unlimited liberty upon the subject I have already so often written upon. Whatever interests us deeply, as naturally flows into the pen as it does from the lips, when every restraint is taken away, and we meet with a friend indulgent enough to attend to us. How many, in all that variety of characters with whom I am acquainted, could I find, after the strictest search, to whom I could write as I do to you? I hope the number will increase: I am sure it cannot easily be diminished. Poor ——! I have heard the whole of his history, and can only lament what I am sure I can make no apology for. Two of my friends have been cut off, during my illness, in the midst of such a life as it is frightful to reflect upon, and here am I, in better health and spirits than I can almost remember to have enjoyed before, after having spent months in the apprehension of instant death. How mysterious are the ways of Providence! Why did I receive grace and mercy? Why was I preserved, afflicted for my good, received, as I trust, into favour, and blessed with the greatest happiness I can ever know, or hope for, in this life, while these were overtaken by the great arrest, unawakened, unrepenting, and every way unprepared for it? His infinite wisdom, to whose infinite mercy I owe it all, can solve these questions, and none besides him. If a freethinker, as many a man miscalls himself, could be brought to give a serious answer to them, he would certainly say, "Without[15] doubt, Sir, you were in great danger; you had a narrow escape; a most fortunate one, indeed." How excessively foolish, as well as shocking! As if life depended upon luck, and all that we are or can be, all that we have or hope for, could possibly be referred to accident. Yet to this freedom of thought it is owing that He, who, as our Saviour tells us, is thoroughly apprized of the death of the meanest of his creatures, is supposed to leave those, whom he has made in his own image, to the mercy of chance: and to this therefore it is likewise owing, that the correction which our Heavenly Father bestows upon us, that we may be fitted to receive his blessing, is so often disappointed of its benevolent intention, and that men despise the chastening of the Almighty. Fevers and all diseases are accidents, and long life, recovery at least from sickness, is the gift of the physician. No man can be a greater friend to the use of means upon these occasions than myself, for it were presumption and enthusiasm to neglect them. God has endued them with salutary properties on purpose that we might avail ourselves of them, otherwise that part of his creation were in vain. But to impute our recovery to the medicine, and to carry our views no further, is to rob God of his honour, and is saying in effect that he has parted with the keys of life and death, and, by giving to a drug the power to heal us, has placed our lives out of his own reach. He that thinks thus, may as well fall upon his knees at once, and return thanks to the medicine that cured him, for it was certainly more instrumental in his recovery than either the apothecary or the doctor. My dear cousin, a firm persuasion of the superintendence of Providence over all our concerns is absolutely necessary to our happiness. Without it, we cannot be said to believe in the Scripture, or practise any thing like resignation to his will. If I am convinced that no affliction can befall me without the permission of God, I am convinced likewise that he sees and knows that I am afflicted; believing this, I must, in the same degree, believe that if I pray to him for deliverance he hears me; I must needs know likewise, with equal assurance, that if he hears he will also deliver me, if that will upon the whole be most conducive to my happiness; and, if he does not deliver me, I may be well assured that he has none but the most benevolent intention in declining it. He made us, not because we could add to his happiness, which was always perfect, but that we might be happy ourselves; and will he not, in all his dispensations towards us, even in the minutest, consult that end for which he made us? To suppose the contrary, is (which we are not always aware of) affronting every one of his attributes; and, at the same time, the certain consequence of disbelieving his care for us is that we renounce utterly our dependence upon him. In this view it will appear plainly that the line of duty is not stretched too tight, when we are told that we ought to accept every thing at his hands as a blessing, and to be thankful even while we smart under the rod of iron, with which he sometimes rules us. Without this persuasion, every blessing, however we may think ourselves happy in it, loses its greatest recommendation, and every affliction is intolerable. Death itself must be welcome to him who has this faith, and he who has it not must aim at it, if he is not a madman. You cannot think how glad I am to hear you are going to commence lady, and mistress of Freemantle.[10] I know it well, and could go to it from Southampton blindfold. You are kind to invite me to it, and I shall be so kind to myself as to accept the invitation, though I should not, for a slight consideration, be prevailed upon to quit my beloved retirement at Huntingdon.

Yours ever,
W. C.


Huntingdon, Sept. 14, 1765.

My dear Cousin,—The longer I live here, the better I like the place, and the people who belong to it. I am upon very good terms with no less than five families, besides two or three odd scrambling fellows like myself. The last acquaintance I made here is with the race of the Unwins, consisting of father and mother, son and daughter, the most comfortable, social folks you ever knew. The son is about twenty-one years of age, one of the most unreserved and amiable young men I ever conversed with. He is not yet arrived at that time of life when suspicion recommends itself to us in the form of wisdom, and sets every thing but our own dear selves at an immeasurable distance from our esteem and confidence. Consequently, he is known almost as soon as seen, and, having nothing in his heart that makes it necessary for him to keep it barred and bolted, opens it to the perusal even of a stranger. The father is a clergyman, and the son is designed for orders. The design however is quite his own, proceeding merely from his being, and having always been, sincere in his belief and love of the Gospel. Another acquaintance I have lately made is with a Mr. Nicholson, a north-country divine, very poor, but very good, and very happy. He reads prayers here twice a day, all the year round, and travels on foot to serve two churches every Sunday through the year, his journey out and home again being sixteen miles. I supped with him last night.[16] He gave me bread and cheese, and a black jug of ale of his own brewing, and doubtless brewed by his own hands. Another of my acquaintance is Mr. ——, a thin, tall, old man, and as good as he is thin. He drinks nothing but water, and eats no flesh, partly (I believe) from a religious scruple (for he is very religious), and partly in the spirit of a valetudinarian. He is to be met with every morning of his life, at about six o'clock, at a fountain of very fine water, about a mile from the town, which is reckoned extremely like the Bristol spring. Being both early risers, and the only early walkers in the place, we soon became acquainted. His great piety can be equalled by nothing but his great regularity; for he is the most perfect timepiece in the world. I have received a visit likewise from Mr. ——. He is very much a gentleman, well-read, and sensible. I am persuaded, in short, that if I had had the choice of all England where to fix my abode, I could not have chosen better for myself, and most likely I should not have chosen so well.

You say, you hope it is not necessary for salvation to undergo the same afflictions that I have undergone. No! my dear cousin, God deals with his children as a merciful father; he does not, as he himself tells us, afflict willingly the sons of men. Doubtless there are many, who, having been placed by his good providence out of the reach of any great evil and the influence of bad example, have, from their very infancy, been partakers of the grace of his Holy Spirit, in such a manner as never to have allowed themselves in any grievous offence against him. May you love him more and more, day by day, as every day, while you think upon him, you will find him more worthy of your love; and may you be finally accepted by him for his sake whose intercession for all his faithful servants cannot but prevail!

Yours ever,
W. C.


Huntingdon, Oct. 10, 1765.

My dear Cousin,—I should grumble at your long silence, if I did not know that one may love one's friends very well, though one is not always in a humour to write to them. Besides, I have the satisfaction of being perfectly sure that you have at least twenty times recollected the debt you owe me, and as often resolved to pay it: and perhaps, while you remain indebted to me, you think of me twice as often as you would do if the account was clear. These are the reflections with which I comfort myself under the affliction of not hearing from you; my temper does not incline me to jealousy, and, if it did, I should set all right by having recourse to what I have already received from you.

I thank God for your friendship, and for every friend I have; for all the pleasing circumstances here; for my health of body, and perfect serenity of mind. To recollect the past, and compare it with the present, is all I have need of to fill me with gratitude; and to be grateful is to be happy. Not that I think myself sufficiently thankful, or that I ever shall be so in this life. The warmest heart perhaps only feels by fits, and is often as insensible as the coldest. This at least is frequently the case with mine, and oftener than it should be. But the mercy that can forgive iniquity will never be severe to mark our frailties; to that mercy, my dear cousin, I commend you, with earnest wishes for your welfare, and remain your ever affectionate

W. C.


Huntingdon, Oct. 18, 1765.

I wish you joy, my dear cousin, of being safely arrived in port from the storms of Southampton. For my own part, who am but as a Thames' wherry, in a world full of tempest and commotion, I know so well the value of the creek I have put into, and the snugness it affords me, that I have a sensible sympathy with you in the pleasure you find in being once more blown to Droxford. I know enough of Miss Morley to send her my compliments, to which, if I had never seen her, her affection for you would sufficiently entitle her. If I neglected to do it sooner, it is only because I am naturally apt to neglect what I ought to do; and if I was as genteel as I am negligent, I should be the most delightful creature in the universe. I am glad you think so favourably of my Huntingdon acquaintance; they are indeed a nice set of folks, and suit me exactly. I should have been more particular in my account of Miss Unwin, if I had had materials for a minute description. She is about eighteen years of age, rather handsome and genteel. In her mother's company she says little, not because her mother requires it of her, but because she seems glad of that excuse for not talking, being somewhat inclined to bashfulness. There is the most remarkable cordiality between all the parts of the family, and the mother and daughter seem to doat upon each other. The first time I went to the house, I was introduced to the daughter alone; and sat with her near half an hour before her brother came in, who had appointed me to call upon him. Talking is necessary in a tete-a-tete, to distinguish the persons of the drama from the chairs they sit on: accordingly, she talked a great deal, and extremely well; and, like the[17] rest of the family, behaved with as much ease and address as if we had been old acquaintance. She resembles her mother in her great piety, who is one of the most remarkable instances of it I have ever seen. They are altogether the cheerfullest and most engaging family-piece it is possible to conceive. Since I wrote the above, I met Mrs. Unwin in the street, and went home with her. She and I walked together near two hours in the garden, and had a conversation which did me more good than I should have received from an audience of the first prince in Europe. That woman is a blessing to me, and I never see her without being the better for her company. I am treated in the family as if I was a near relation, and have been repeatedly invited to call upon them at all times. You know what a shy fellow I am; I cannot prevail with myself to make so much use of this privilege as I am sure they intend I should, but perhaps this awkwardness will wear off hereafter. It was my earnest request, before I left St. Alban's, that, wherever it might please Providence to dispose of me, I might meet with such an acquaintance as I find in Mrs. Unwin. How happy it is to believe, with a stedfast assurance, that our petitions are heard, even while we are making them!—and how delightful to meet with a proof of it in the effectual and actual grant of them! Surely it is a gracious finishing given to those means which the Almighty has been pleased to make use of for my conversion. After having been deservedly rendered unfit for any society, to be again qualified for it, and admitted at once into the fellowship of those whom God regards as the excellent of the earth, and whom, in the emphatical language of Scripture, he preserves as the apple of his eye, is a blessing, which carries with it the stamp and visible superscription of divine bounty—a grace unlimited as undeserved; and, like its glorious Author, free in its course, and blessed in its operation!

My dear cousin! health and happiness, and, above all, the favour of our great and gracious Lord attend you! while we seek it in spirit and in truth we are infinitely more secure of it than of the next breath we expect to draw. Heaven and earth have their destined periods; ten thousand worlds will vanish at the consummation of all things; but the word of God standeth fast, and they who trust in him shall never be confounded.

My love to all who inquire after me.
Yours affectionately,
W. C.


Huntingdon, Oct. 18, 1765.

My dear Major,—I have neither lost the use of my fingers nor my memory, though my unaccountable silence might incline you to suspect that I had lost both. The history of those things which have, from time to time, prevented my scribbling would not only be insipid, but extremely voluminous, for which reasons they will not make their appearance at present, nor probably at any time hereafter. If my neglecting to write to you were a proof that I had never thought of you, and that had been really the case, five shillings apiece would have been much too little to give for the sight of such a monster! but I am no such monster, nor do I perceive in myself the least tendency to such a transformation. You may recollect that I had but very uncomfortable expectations of the accommodations I should meet with at Huntingdon. How much better is it to take our lot where it shall please Providence to cast it without anxiety! had I chosen for myself, it is impossible I could have fixed upon a place so agreeable to me in all respects. I so much dreaded the thought of having a new acquaintance to make, with no other recommendation than that of being a perfect stranger, that I heartily wished no creature here might take the least notice of me. Instead of which, in about two months after my arrival, I became known to all the visitable people here, and do verily think it the most agreeable neighbourhood I ever saw.

Here are three families who have received me with the utmost civility, and two in particular have treated me with as much cordiality as if their pedigree and mine had grown upon the same sheep-skin. Besides these, there are three or four single men, who suit my temper to a hair. The town is one of the neatest in England; the country is fine for several miles about it; and the roads, which are all turnpike, and strike out four or five different ways, are perfectly good all the year round. I mention this latter circumstance chiefly because my distance from Cambridge has made a horseman of me at last, or at least is likely to do so. My brother and I meet every week, by an alternate reciprocation of intercourse, as Sam Johnson would express it; sometimes I get a lift in a neighbour's chaise, but generally ride. As to my own personal condition, I am much happier than the day is long, and sunshine and candle-light alike see me perfectly contented. I get books in abundance, as much company as I choose, a deal of comfortable leisure, and enjoy better health, I think, than for many years past. What is there wanting to make me happy? Nothing, if I can but be as thankful as I ought, and I trust that He, who has bestowed so many blessings upon me, will give me gratitude to crown them all. I beg you will give my love to my dear cousin Maria, and to everybody at the Park. If Mrs. Maitland is with[18] you, as I suspect by a passage in Lady Hesketh's letter to me, pray remember me to her very affectionately. And believe me, my dear friend, ever yours,

W. C.


October 25, 1765.

Dear Joe,—I am afraid the month of October has proved rather unfavourable to the belle assemblée at Southampton, high winds and continual rains being bitter enemies to that agreeable lounge which you and I are equally fond of. I have very cordially betaken myself to my books and my fireside; and seldom leave them unless for exercise. I have added another family to the number of those I was acquainted with when you were here. Their name is Unwin—the most agreeable people imaginable; quite sociable, and as free from the ceremonious civility of country gentle-folks as any I ever met with. They treat me more like a near relation than a stranger, and their house is always open to me. The old gentleman carries me to Cambridge in his chaise. He is a man of learning and good sense, and as simple as Parson Adams. His wife has a very uncommon understanding, has read much, to excellent purpose, and is more polite than a duchess. The son, who belongs to Cambridge, is a most amiable young man, and the daughter quite of a piece with the rest of the family. They see but little company, which suits me exactly; go when I will, I find a house full of peace and cordiality in all its parts, and am sure to hear no scandal, but such discourse instead of it as we are all better for. You remember Rousseau's description of an English morning;[11] such are the mornings I spend with these good people, and the evenings differ from them in nothing, except that they are still more snug and quieter. Now I know them, I wonder that I liked Huntingdon so well before I knew them, and am apt to think I should find every place disagreeable that had not an Unwin belonging to it.

This incident convinces me of the truth of an observation I have often made, that when we circumscribe our estimate of all that is clever within the limits of our own acquaintance (which I at least have been always apt to do) we are guilty of a very uncharitable censure upon the rest of the world, and of a narrowness of thinking disgraceful to ourselves. Wapping and Redriff may contain some of the most amiable persons living, and such as one would go to Wapping and Redriff to make acquaintance with. You remember Gray's stanza,

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The deep unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a rose is born to blush unseen,
And waste its fragrance on the desert air.

Yours, dear Joe,
W. C.


Nov. 5, 1765.

Dear Joe,—I wrote to you about ten days ago,

Soliciting a quick return of gold,
To purchase certain horse that likes me well.

Either my letter or your answer to it, I fear, has miscarried. The former, I hope; because a miscarriage of the latter might be attended with bad consequences.

I find it impossible to proceed any longer in my present course without danger of bankruptcy. I have therefore entered into an agreement with the Rev. Mr. Unwin to lodge and board with him. The family are the most agreeable in the world. They live in a special good house, and in a very genteel way. They are all exactly what I would wish them to be, and I know I shall be as happy with them as I can be on this side of the sun. I did not dream of this matter till about five days ago: but now the whole is settled. I shall transfer myself thither as soon as I have satisfied all demands upon me here.

Yours ever, W. C.


Nov. 8, 1765.

Dear 'Sephus,—Notwithstanding it is so agreeable a thing to read law lectures to the students of Lyons' Inn,[14] especially to the reader himself, I must beg leave to waive it. Danby Pickering must be the happy man; and I heartily wish him joy of his deputyship. As to the treat, I think if it goes before the lecture, it will be apt to blunt the apprehension of the students; and, if it comes after, it may erase from their memories impressions so newly made. I could wish therefore, that, for their benefit and behoof, this circumstance were omitted. But, if it be absolutely necessary, I hope Mr. Salt, or whoever takes the conduct of it, will see that it be managed with the frugality and temperance becoming so learned a body. I shall be obliged to you if you will present my respects to Mr. Treasurer Salt, and express my concern at the same time that he had the trouble of sending me two letters upon this occasion. The first of them never came to hand.

I shall be obliged to you if you will tell me[19] whether my exchequer is full or empty, and whether the revenue of last year is yet come in, that I may proportion my payments to the exigencies of my affairs.

My dear 'Sephus, give my love to your family, and believe me much obliged to you for your invitation. At present I am in such an unsettled condition, that I can think of nothing but laying the foundation of my future abode at Unwin's. My being admitted there is the effect of the great good nature and friendly turn of that family, who, I have great reason to believe, are as desirous to do me service as they could be after a much longer acquaintance. Let your next, if it comes a week hence, be directed to me there.

The greatest part of the law-books are those which Lord Cowper gave me. Those, and the very few which I bought myself, are all at the major's service.

Stroke Puss's back the wrong way, and it will put her in mind of her master.

Yours ever,
W. C.


Huntingdon, March 6, 1766.

My dear Cousin,—I have for some time past imputed your silence to the cause which you yourself assign for it, viz. to my change of situation; and was even sagacious enough to account for the frequency of your letters to me while I lived alone, from your attention to me in a state of such solitude as seemed to make it an act of particular charity to write to me. I bless God for it, I was happy even then; solitude has nothing gloomy in it if the soul points upwards. St. Paul tells his Hebrew converts, "Ye are come (already come) to Mount Sion—to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant." When this is the case, as surely it was with them, or the Spirit of Truth had never spoken it, there is an end of the melancholy and dulness of life at once. You will not suspect me, my dear cousin, of a design to understand this passage literally. But this however it certainly means, that a lively faith is able to anticipate, in some measure, the joys of that heavenly society which the soul shall actually possess hereafter.

Since I have changed my situation, I have found still greater cause of thanksgiving to the Father of all Mercies. The family with whom I live are Christians, and it has pleased the Almighty to bring me to the knowledge of them, that I may want no means of improvement in that temper and conduct which he is pleased to require in all his servants.

My dear cousin, one half of the Christian world would call this madness, fanaticism, and folly: but are not these things warranted by the word of God, not only in the passages I have cited, but in many others? If we have no communion with God here, surely we can expect none hereafter. A faith that does not place our conversation in heaven; that does not warm the heart and purify it too; that does not, in short, govern our thought, word, and deed, is no faith, nor will it obtain for us any spiritual blessing here or hereafter. Let us see therefore, my dear cousin, that we do not deceive ourselves in a matter of such infinite moment. The world will be ever telling us that we are good enough, and the world will vilify us behind our backs. But it is not the world which tries the heart, that is the prerogative of God alone. My dear cousin, I have often prayed for you behind your back, and now I pray for you to your face. There are many who would not forgive me this wrong, but I have known you so long and so well that I am not afraid of telling you how sincerely I wish for your growth in every Christian grace, in every thing that may promote and secure your everlasting welfare.

I am obliged to Mrs. Cowper for the book, which, you perceive, arrived safe. I am willing to consider it as an intimation on her part, that she would wish me to write to her, and shall do it accordingly. My circumstances are rather particular, such as call upon my friends, those, I mean, who are truly such, to take some little notice of me, and will naturally make those who are not such in sincerity, rather shy of doing it. To this I impute the silence of many with regard to me, who, before the affliction that befel me, were ready enough to converse with me.

Yours ever,
W. C.


Huntingdon, March 11, 1766.

My dear Cousin—I am much obliged to you for Pearsall's Meditations, especially as it furnishes me with an occasion of writing to you, which is all I have waited for. My friends must excuse me if I write to none but those who lay it fairly in my way to do so. The inference I am apt to draw from their silence is, that they wish me to be silent too.

I have great reason, my dear cousin, to be thankful to the gracious Providence that conducted me to this place. The lady, in whose house I live, is so excellent a person, and regards me with a friendship so truly Christian, that I could almost fancy my own mother restored[20] to life again, to compensate to me for all the friends I have lost, and all my connexions broken. She has a son at Cambridge, in all respects worthy of such a mother, the most amiable young man I ever knew. His natural and acquired endowments are very considerable, and as to his virtues, I need only say that he is a Christian. It ought to be a matter of daily thanksgiving to me that I am admitted into the society of such persons, and I pray God to make me and keep me worthy of them.

Your brother Martin has been very kind to me, having written to me twice in a style which, though it was once irksome to me, to say the least, I now know how to value. I pray God to forgive me the many light things I have both said and thought of him and his labours. Hereafter I shall consider him as a burning and a shining light, and as one of those who, having turned many to righteousness, shall shine hereafter as the stars for ever and ever.

So much for the state of my heart: as to my spirits, I am cheerful and happy, and, having peace with God, have peace with myself. For the continuance of this blessing I trust to Him who gives it, and they who trust in Him shall never be confounded.

Yours affectionately,
W. C.


Huntingdon, April 4, 1766.

My dear Cousin,—I agree with you that letters are not essential to friendship, but they seem to be a natural fruit of it, when they are the only intercourse that can be had. And a friendship producing no sensible effects is so like indifference, that the appearance may easily deceive even an acute discerner. I retract however all that I said in my last upon this subject, having reason to suspect that it proceeded from a principle which I would discourage in myself upon all occasions, even a pride that felt itself hurt upon a mere suspicion of neglect. I have so much cause for humility, and so much need of it too, and every little sneaking resentment is such an enemy to it, that I hope I shall never give quarter to any thing that appears in the shape of sullenness or self-consequence hereafter. Alas! if my best Friend, who laid down his life for me, were to remember all the instances in which I have neglected him, and to plead them against me in judgment, where should I hide my guilty head in the day of recompence? I will pray therefore for blessings upon my friends, though they cease to be so, and upon my enemies, though they continue such. The deceitfulness of the natural heart is inconceivable; I know well that I passed upon my friends for a person at least religiously inclined, if not actually religious, and, what is more wonderful, I thought myself a Christian, when I had no faith in Christ, when I saw no beauty in him that I should desire him; in short, when I had neither faith, nor love, nor any Christian grace whatever, but a thousand seeds of rebellion instead, evermore springing up in enmity against him. But blessed be God, even the God who is become my salvation, the hail of affliction and rebuke for sin has swept away the refuge of lies. It pleased the Almighty, in great mercy, to set all my misdeeds before me. At length, the storm being past, a quiet and peaceful serenity of soul succeeded, such as ever attends the gift of living faith in the all-sufficient atonement, and the sweet sense of mercy and pardon purchased by the blood of Christ. Thus did he break me and bind me up, thus did he wound me and his hands made me whole. My dear Cousin, I make no apology for entertaining you with the history of my conversion, because I know you to be a Christian in the sterling import of the appellation. This is however but a very summary account of the matter, neither would a letter contain the astonishing particulars of it. If we ever meet again in this world, I will relate them to you by word of mouth; if not, they will serve for the subject of a conference in the next, where I doubt not I shall remember and record them with a gratitude better suited to the subject.

Yours, my dear Cousin, affectionately,
W. C.


Huntingdon, April 17, 1766.

My dear Cousin,—As in matters unattainable by reason and unrevealed in the Scripture, it is impossible to argue at all; so, in matters concerning which reason can only give a probable guess, and the Scripture has made no explicit discovery, it is, though not impossible to argue at all, yet impossible to argue to any certain conclusion. This seems to me to be the very case with the point in question——reason is able to form many plausible conjectures concerning the possibility of our knowing each other in a future state, and the Scripture has, here and there, favoured us with an expression that looks at least like a slight intimation of it; but because a conjecture can never amount to a proof, and a slight intimation cannot be construed into a positive assertion, therefore, I think, we can never come to any absolute conclusion upon the subject. We may, indeed, reason about the plausibility of our conjectures, and we may discuss, with great industry and shrewdness of argument,[21] those passages in the Scripture which seem to favour the opinion; but still, no certain means having been afforded us, no certain end can be attained; and, after all that can be said, it will still be doubtful whether we shall know each other or not.

As to arguments founded upon human reason only, it would be easy to muster up a much greater number on the affirmative side of the question than it would be worth my while to write or yours to read. Let us see, therefore, what the Scripture says, or seems to say, towards the proof of it; and of this kind of argument also I shall insert but a few of those, which seem to me to be the fairest and clearest for the purpose. For, after all, a disputant on either side of this question is in danger of that censure of our blessed Lord's, "Ye do err, not knowing the Scripture, nor the power of God."

As to parables, I know it has been said in the dispute concerning the intermediate state that they are not argumentative; but, this having been controverted by very wise and good men, and the parable of Dives and Lazarus having been used by such to prove an intermediate state, I see not why it may not be as fairly used for the proof of any other matter which it seems fairly to imply. In this parable we see that Dives is represented as knowing Lazarus, and Abraham as knowing them both, and the discourse between them is entirely concerning their respective characters and circumstances upon earth. Here, therefore, our Saviour seems to countenance the notion of a mutual knowledge and recollection; and, if a soul that has perished shall know the soul that is saved, surely the heirs of salvation shall know and recollect each other.

In the first epistle to the Thessalonians, the second chapter, and nineteenth verse, Saint Paul says, "What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and our joy."

As to the hope which the apostle had formed concerning them, he himself refers the accomplishment of it to the coming of Christ, meaning that then he should receive the recompence of his labours in their behalf; his joy and glory he refers likewise to the same period, both which would result from the sight of such numbers redeemed by the blessing of God upon his ministration, when he should present them before the great Judge, and say, in the words of a greater than himself, "Lo! I and the children whom thou hast given me." This seems to imply that the apostle should know the converts and the converts the apostle at least at the day of judgment, and, if then, why not afterwards?

See also the fourth chapter of that epistle, verses 13, 14, 16, which I have not room to transcribe. Here the apostle comforts them under their affliction for their deceased brethren, exhorting them "not to sorrow as without hope;" and what is the hope, by which he teaches them to support their spirits? Even this, "That them which sleep in Jesus shall God bring with him." In other words, and by a fair paraphrase surely, telling them they are only taken from them for a season, and that they should receive them at their resurrection.

If you can take off the force of these texts, my dear cousin, you will go a great way towards shaking my opinion: if not, I think they must go a great way towards shaking yours.

The reason why I did not send you my opinion of Pearsall was, because I had not then read him; I have read him since, and like him much, especially the latter part of him; but you have whetted my curiosity to see the last letter by tearing it out; unless you can give me a good reason why I should not see it, I shall inquire for the book the first time I go to Cambridge. Perhaps I may be partial to Hervey for the sake of his other writings, but I cannot give Pearsall the preference to him, for I think him one of the most scriptural writers in the world.

W. C.


Huntingdon, April 18, 1766.

My dear Cousin,—Having gone as far as I thought needful to justify the opinion of our meeting and knowing each other hereafter, I find upon reflection that I have done but half my business, and that one of the questions you proposed remains entirely unconsidered, viz. "Whether the things of our present state will not be of too low and mean a nature to engage our thoughts or make a part of our communications in heaven."

The common and ordinary occurrences of life, no doubt, and even the ties of kindred and of all temporal interests, will be entirely discarded from amongst that happy society, and, possibly, even the remembrance of them done away. But it does not therefore follow that our spiritual concerns, even in this life, will be forgotten, neither do I think, that they can ever appear trifling to us, in any the most distant period of eternity. God, as you say, in reference to the Scripture, will be all in all. But does not that expression mean that, being admitted to so near an approach to our heavenly Father and Redeemer, our whole nature, the soul, and all its faculties, will be employed in praising and adoring him? Doubtless, however, this will be the case, and[22] if so, will it not furnish out a glorious theme of thanksgiving to recollect "the rock whence we were hewn, and the hole of the pit whence we were digged?"—to recollect the time, when our faith, which, under the tuition and nurture of the Holy Spirit, has produced such a plentiful harvest of immortal bliss, was as a grain of mustard seed, small in itself, promising but little fruit, and producing less?—to recollect the various attempts that were made upon it, by the world, the flesh, and the devil, and its various triumphs over all, by the assistance of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ! At present, whatever our convictions may be of the sinfulness and corruption of our nature, we can make but a very imperfect estimate either of our weakness or our guilt. Then, no doubt, we shall understand the full value of the wonderful salvation wrought out for us: and it seems reasonable to suppose that, in order to form a just idea of our redemption, we shall be able to form a just one of the danger we have escaped; when we know how weak and frail we were, surely we shall be more able to render due praise and honour to his strength who fought for us; when we know completely the hatefulness of sin in the sight of God, and how deeply we were tainted by it, we shall know how to value the blood by which we were cleansed as we ought. The twenty-four elders, in the fifth of the Revelations, give glory to God for their redemption out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation. This surely implies a retrospect to their respective conditions upon earth, and that each remembered out of what particular kindred and nation he had been redeemed, and, if so, then surely the minutest circumstance of their redemption did not escape their memory. They who triumph over the Beast, in the fifteenth chapter, sing the song of Moses, the servant of God; and what was that song? A sublime record of Israel's deliverance and the destruction of her enemies in the Red Sea, typical, no doubt, of the song, which the redeemed in Sion shall sing to celebrate their own salvation and the defeat of their spiritual enemies. This again implies a recollection of the dangers they had before encountered, and the supplies of strength and ardour they had, in every emergency, received from the great Deliverer out of all. These quotations do not, indeed, prove that their warfare upon earth includes a part of their converse with each other; but they prove that it is a theme not unworthy to be heard, even before the throne of God, and therefore it cannot be unfit for reciprocal communication.

But you doubt whether there is any communication between the blessed at all, neither do I recollect any Scripture that proves it, or that bears any relation to the subject. But reason seems to require it so peremptorily, that a society without social intercourse seems to be a solecism and a contradiction in terms; and the inhabitants of those regions are called, you know, in Scripture, an innumerable company, and an assembly, which seems to convey the idea of society as clearly as the word itself. Human testimony weighs but little in matters of this sort, but let it have all the weight it can. I know no greater names in divinity than Watts and Doddridge: they were both of this opinion, and I send you the words of the latter.

"Our companions in glory may probably assist us by their wise and good observations, when we come to make the providence of God here upon earth, under the guidance and direction of our Lord Jesus Christ, the subject of our mutual converse."

Thus, my dear cousin, I have spread out my reasons before you for an opinion, which, whether admitted or denied, affects not the state or interest of our soul. May our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, conduct us into his own Jerusalem, where there shall be no night, neither any darkness at all, where we shall be free, even from innocent error, and perfect in the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Yours faithfully,
W. C.


Huntingdon, Sept. 3, 1766.

My dear Cousin,—It is reckoned, you know, a great achievement to silence an opponent in disputation, and your silence was of so long a continuance, that I might well begin to please myself with the apprehension of having accomplished so arduous a matter. To be serious, however, I am not sorry that what I have said concerning our knowledge of each other in a future state has a little inclined you to the affirmative. For though the redeemed of the Lord shall be sure of being as happy in that state as infinite power employed by infinite goodness can make them, and therefore it may seem immaterial whether we shall, or shall not, recollect each other hereafter; yet our present happiness at least is a little interested in the question. A parent, a friend, a wife, must needs, I think, feel a little heart-ache at the thought of an eternal separation from the objects of her regard: and not to know them when she meets them in another life, or never to meet them at all, amounts, though not altogether, yet nearly to the same thing. Remember them, I think she needs must. To hear that they are happy, will indeed be no small addition to her own[23] felicity; but to see them so will surely be a greater. Thus, at least, it appears to our present human apprehension; consequently, therefore, to think that, when we leave them, we lose them for ever; that we must remain eternally ignorant whether they that were flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone, partake with us of celestial glory, or are disinherited of their heavenly portion, must shed a dismal gloom over all our present connexions. For my own part, this life is such a momentary thing, and all its interests have so shrunk in my estimation, since, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, I became attentive to the things of another; that, like a worm in the bud of all my friendships and affections, this very thought would eat out the heart of them all had I a thousand; and were their date to terminate with this life, I think I should have no inclination to cultivate and improve such a fugitive business. Yet friendship is necessary to our happiness here, and, built upon Christian principles, upon which only it can stand, is a thing even of religious sanction—for what is that love which the Holy Spirit, speaking by St. John, so much inculcates, but friendship?—the only love which deserves the name—a love which can toil, and watch, and deny itself, and go to death for its brother. Worldly friendships are a poor weed compared with this, and even this union of spirit in the bond of peace would suffer, in my mind at least, could I think it were only coeval with our earthly mansions. It may possibly argue great weakness in me, in this instance, to stand so much in need of future hopes to support me in the discharge of present duty. But so it is: I am far, I know, very far, from being perfect in Christian love or any other Divine attainment, and am therefore unwilling to forego whatever may help me in my progress.

You are so kind as to inquire after my health, for which reason I must tell you, what otherwise would not be worth mentioning, that I have lately been just enough indisposed to convince me that not only human life in general, but mine in particular, hangs by a slender thread. I am stout enough in appearance, yet a little illness demolishes me. I have had a severe shake, and the building is not so firm as it was. But I bless God for it, with all my heart. If the inner man be but strengthened, day by day, as I hope, under the renewing influences of the Holy Ghost, it will be, no matter how soon the outward is dissolved. He who has, in a manner, raised me from the dead, in a literal sense, has given me the grace, I trust, to be ready at the shortest notice to surrender up to him that life which I have twice received from him. Whether I live or die, I desire it may be to his glory, and it must be to my happiness. I thank God that I have those amongst my kindred to whom I can write, without reserve, my sentiments upon this subject, as I do to you. A letter upon any other subject is more insipid to me than ever my task was when a school-boy, and I say not this in vain glory, God forbid! but to show you what the Almighty, whose name I am unworthy to mention, has done for me, the chief of sinners. Once he was a terror to me, and his service, O what a weariness it was! Now I can say, I love him and his holy name, and am never so happy as when I speak of his mercies to me.

Yours, dear Cousin,
W. C.


Huntingdon, Oct. 20, 1766.

My dear Cousin,—I am very sorry for poor Charles's illness, and hope you will soon have cause to thank God for his complete recovery. We have an epidemical fever in this country likewise, which leaves behind it a continual sighing, almost to suffocation: not that I have seen any instance of it, for, blessed be God! our family have hitherto escaped it, but such was the account I heard of it this morning.

I am obliged to you for the interest you take in my welfare, and for your inquiring so particularly after the manner in which my time passes here. As to amusements, I mean what the world calls such, we have none: the place indeed swarms with them; and cards and dancing are the professed business of almost all the gentle inhabitants of Huntingdon. We refuse to take part in them, or to be accessaries to this way of murdering our time, and by so doing have acquired the name of Methodists. Having told you how we do not spend our time, I will next say how we do. We breakfast commonly between eight and nine; till eleven, we read either the Scripture, or the sermons of some faithful preacher of those holy mysteries; at eleven, we attend divine service, which is performed here twice every day; and from twelve to three we separate, and amuse ourselves as we please. During that interval I either read in my own apartment, or walk, or ride, or work in the garden. We seldom sit an hour after dinner, but if the weather permits adjourn to the garden, where, with Mrs. Unwin and her son, I have generally the pleasure of religious conversation till tea time. If it rains, or is too windy for walking, we either converse within doors, or sing some hymns of Martin's collection, and, by the help of Mrs. Unwin's harpsichord, make up a tolerable concert, in which our hearts, I hope, are the best and most musical performers. After tea we sally forth to walk in good earnest. Mrs. Unwin is a[24] good walker, and we have generally travelled about four miles before we see home again. When the days are short, we make this excursion in the former part of the day, between church-time and dinner. At night we read and converse, as before, till supper, and commonly finish the evening either with hymns or a sermon; and, last of all, the family are called to prayers. I need not tell you that such a life as this is consistent with the utmost cheerfulness; accordingly, we are all happy, and dwell together in unity as brethren. Mrs. Unwin has almost a maternal affection for me, and I have something very like a filial one for her, and her son and I are brothers. Blessed be the God of our salvation for such companions, and for such a life, above all for a heart to like it!

I have had many anxious thoughts about taking orders, and I believe every new convert is apt to think himself called upon for that purpose; but it has pleased God, by means which there is no need to particularize, to give me full satisfaction as to the propriety of declining it; indeed, they who have the least idea of what I have suffered from the dread of public exhibitions will readily excuse my never attempting them hereafter. In the mean time, if it please the Almighty, I may be an instrument of turning many to the truth, in a private way, and hope that my endeavours in this way have not been entirely unsuccessful. Had I the zeal of Moses, I should want an Aaron to be my spokesman.

Yours ever, my dear Cousin,
W. C.


Huntingdon, March 11, 1767.

My dear Cousin,—To find those whom I love, clearly and strongly persuaded of evangelical truth, gives me a pleasure superior to any this world can afford me. Judge, then, whether your letter, in which the body and substance of a saving faith is so evidently set forth, could meet with a lukewarm reception at my hands, or be entertained with indifference! Would you know the true reason of my long silence? Conscious that my religious principles are generally excepted against, and that the conduct they produce, wherever they are heartily maintained, is still more the object of disapprobation than those principles themselves, and remembering that I had made both the one and the other known to you, without having any clear assurance that our faith in Jesus was of the same stamp and character, I could not help thinking it possible that you might disapprove both my sentiments and practice; that you might think the one unsupported by Scripture, and the other whimsical, and unnecessarily strict and rigorous, and consequently would be rather pleased with the suspension of a correspondence, which a different way of thinking upon so momentous a subject as that we wrote upon was likely to render tedious and irksome to you.

I have told you the truth from my heart; forgive me these injurious suspicions, and never imagine that I shall hear from you upon this delightful theme without a real joy, or without prayer to God to prosper you in the way of his truth, his sanctifying and saving truth. The book you mention lies now upon my table. Marshall[16] is an old acquaintance of mine; I have both read him and heard him read, with pleasure and edification. The doctrines he maintains are, under the influence of the Spirit of Christ, the very life of my soul and the soul of all my happiness; that Jesus is a present Saviour from the guilt of sin, by his most precious blood, and from the power of it by his Spirit; that, corrupt and wretched in ourselves, in Him, and in Him only, we are complete; that being united to Jesus by a lively faith, we have a solid and eternal interest in his obedience and sufferings to justify us before the face of our heavenly Father, and that all this inestimable treasure, the earnest of which is in grace, and its consummation in glory, is given, freely given, to us of God; in short, that he hath opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers: these are the truths which, by the grace of God, shall ever be dearer to me than life itself; shall ever be placed next my heart, as the throne whereon the Saviour himself shall sit, to sway all its motions, and reduce that world of iniquity and rebellion to a state of filial and affectionate obedience to the will of the most Holy.

These, my dear cousin, are the truths to which by nature we are enemies: they debase the sinner, and exalt the Saviour, to a degree which the pride of our hearts (till almighty grace subdues them) is determined never to allow. May the Almighty reveal his Son in our hearts, continually, more and more, and teach us to increase in love towards him continually, for having given us the unspeakable riches of Christ.

Yours faithfully,
W. C.


March 14, 1767.

My dear Cousin,—I just add a line, by way of postscript to my last, to apprize you of the arrival of a very dear friend of mine at the[25] Park, on Friday next, the son of Mr. Unwin, whom I have desired to call on you in his way from London to Huntingdon. If you knew him as well as I do, you would love him as much. But I leave the young man to speak for himself, which he is very able to do. He is ready possessed of an answer to every question you can possibly ask concerning me, and knows my whole story from first to last. I give you this previous notice, because I know you are not fond of strange faces, and because I thought it would, in some degree, save him the pain of announcing himself.

I am become a great florist and shrub-doctor. If the major can make up a small packet of seeds, that will make a figure in a garden, where we have little else besides jessamine and honeysuckle; such a packet I mean as may be put into one's fob, I will promise to take great care of them, as I ought to value natives of the Park. They must not be such, however, as require great skill in the management, for at present I have no skill to spare.

I think Marshall one of the best writers, and the most spiritual expositor of Scripture I ever read. I admire the strength of his argument, and the clearness of his reasonings, upon those parts of our most holy religion which are generally least understood (even by real Christians), as masterpieces of the kind. His section upon the union of the soul with Christ is an instance of what I mean, in which he has spoken of a most mysterious truth, with admirable perspicuity and with great good sense, making it all the while subservient to his main purport, of proving holiness to be the fruit and effect of faith.

I subjoin thus much upon that author, because, though you desired my opinion of him, I remember that in my last I rather left you to find it out by inference than expressed it, as I ought to have done. I never met with a man who understood the plan of salvation better, or was more happy in explaining it.

W. C.


Huntingdon, April 3, 1767.

My dear Cousin,—You sent my friend Unwin home to us charmed with your kind reception of him, and with every thing he saw at the Park. Shall I once more give you a peep into my vile and deceitful heart? What motive do you think lay at the bottom of my conduct, when I desired him to call upon you? I did not suspect, at first, that pride and vain-glory had any share in it, but quickly after I had recommended the visit to him, I discovered in that fruitful soil the very root of the matter. You know I am a stranger here; all such are suspected characters; unless they bring their credentials with them. To this moment, I believe, it is matter of speculation in the place whence I came and to whom I belong.

Though my friend, you may suppose, before I was admitted an inmate here, was satisfied that I was not a mere vagabond, and has, since that time, received more convincing proofs of my sponsibility, yet I could not resist the opportunity of furnishing him with ocular demonstration of it, by introducing him to one of my most splendid connexions; that when he hears me called, "That fellow Cowper," which has happened heretofore, he may be able, upon unquestionable evidence, to assert my gentlemanhood, and relieve me from the weight of that opprobrious appellation. O Pride! Pride! it deceives with the subtlety of a serpent, and seems to walk erect, though it crawls upon the earth. How will it twist and twine itself about, to get from under the cross, which it is the glory of our Christian calling to be able to bear with patience and good will! They who can guess at the heart of a stranger, and you especially, who are of a compassionate temper, will be more ready, perhaps, to excuse me, in this instance, than I can be to excuse myself. But, in good truth, it was abominable pride of heart, indignation, and vanity, and deserves no better name. How should such a creature be admitted into those pure and sinless mansions, where nothing shall enter that defileth, did not the blood of Christ, applied by the hand of faith, take away the guilt of sin, and leave no spot or stain behind it? Oh what continual need have I of an Almighty, All-sufficient Saviour! I am glad you are acquainted so particularly with all the circumstances of my story, for I know that your secrecy and discretion may be trusted with any thing. A thread of mercy ran through all the intricate maze of those afflictive providences, so mysterious to myself at the time, and which must ever remain so to all who will not see what was the great design of them; at the judgment-seat of Christ the whole shall be laid open. How is the rod of iron changed into a sceptre of love!

I thank you for the seeds; I have committed some of each sort to the ground, whence they will spring up like so many mementoes to remind me of my friends at the Park.

W. C.


June 16, 1767.

Dear Joe,—This part of the world is not productive of much news, unless the coldness of the weather be so, which is excessive for the season. We expect, or rather experience a warm contest between the candidates for the[26] county; the preliminary movements of bribery, threatening, and drunkenness, being already taken. The Sandwich interest seems to shake, though both parties are very sanguine. Lord Carysfort is supposed to be in great jeopardy, though as yet, I imagine, a clear judgment cannot be formed; for a man may have all the noise on his side and yet lose his election. You know me to be an uninterested person, and I am sure I am a very ignorant one in things of this kind. I only wish it was over, for it occasions the most detestable scene of profligacy and riot that can be imagined.

Yours ever,
W. C.


Huntingdon, July 13, 1767.

My dear Cousin,—The newspaper has told you the truth. Poor Mr. Unwin, being flung from his horse as he was going to his church on Sunday morning, received a dreadful fracture on the back part of the skull, under which he languished till Thursday evening, and then died. This awful dispensation has left an impression upon our spirits which will not be presently worn off. He died in a poor cottage, to which he was carried immediately after his fall, about a mile from home, and his body could not be brought to his house till the spirit was gone to him who gave it. May it be a lesson to us to watch, since we know not the day, nor the hour, when our Lord cometh!

The effect of it upon my circumstances will only be a change of the place of my abode. For I shall still, by God's leave, continue with Mrs. Unwin, whose behaviour to me has always been that of a mother to a son. We know not where we shall settle, but we trust that the Lord, whom we seek, will go before us and prepare a rest for us. We have employed our friend Haweis,[18] Dr. Conyers,[19] of Helmsley, in Yorkshire, and Mr. Newton, of Olney, to look out a place for us, but at present are entirely ignorant under which of the three we shall settle, or whether under either. I have written to my aunt Madan, to desire Martin to assist us with his inquiries. It is probable we shall stay here till Michaelmas.

W. C.


July 16, 1767.

Dear Joe,—Your wishes that the newspaper may have misinformed you are vain. Mr. Unwin is dead, and died in the manner there mentioned. At nine o'clock on Sunday morning he was in perfect health, and as likely to live twenty years as either of us, and before ten was stretched speechless and senseless upon a flock bed, in a poor cottage, where (it being impossible to remove him) he died on Thursday evening. I heard his dying groans, the effect of great agony, for he was a strong man, and much convulsed in his last moments. The few short intervals of sense that were indulged him he spent in earnest prayer, and in expressions of a firm trust and confidence in the only Saviour. To that stronghold we must all resort at last, if we would have hope in our death; when every other refuge fails, we are glad to fly to the only shelter to which we can repair to any purpose; and happy is it for us, when, the false ground we have chosen for ourselves being broken under us, we find ourselves obliged to have recourse to the rock which can never be shaken: when this is our lot, we receive great and undeserved mercy.

Our society will not break up, but we shall settle in some other place, where, is at present uncertain.

W. C.

These tender and confidential letters describe, in the clearest light, the singularly peaceful and devout life of this amiable writer, during his residence at Huntingdon, and the melancholy accident which occasioned his removal to a distant county. Time and providential circumstances now introduced to the notice of Cowper, the zealous and venerable friend who became his intimate associate for many years, after having advised and assisted him in the important concern of fixing his future residence. The Rev. John Newton, then curate of Olney, in Buckinghamshire, had been requested by the late Dr. Conyers (who, in taking his degree in divinity at Cambridge, had formed a friendship with young Mr. Unwin, and learned from him the religious character[27] of his mother) to seize an opportunity, as he was passing through Huntingdon, of making a visit to that exemplary lady. This visit (so important in its consequences to the future history of Cowper) happened to take place within a few days after the calamitous death of Mr. Unwin. As a change of scene appeared desirable both to Mrs. Unwin and to the interesting recluse whom she had generously requested to continue under her care, Mr. Newton offered to assist them in removing to the pleasant and picturesque county in which he resided. They were willing to enter into the flock of a pious and devoted pastor, whose ideas were so much in harmony with their own. He engaged for them a house at Olney, where they arrived on the 14th of October, 1767. He thus alludes to his new residence in the following extract of a letter to Mr. Hill.


Olney, October 20, 1767.

I have no map to consult at present, but, by what remembrance I have of the situation of this place in the last I saw, it lies at the northernmost point of the county. We are just five miles beyond Newport Pagnell. I am willing to suspect that you make this inquiry with a view to an interview, when time shall serve. We may possibly be settled in our own house in about a month, where so good a friend of mine will be extremely welcome to Mrs. Unwin. We shall have a bed and a warm fire-side at your service, if you can come before next summer; and if not, a parlour that looks the north wind full in the face, where you may be as cool as in the groves of Valombrosa.

Yours, my dear 'Sephus,
Affectionately ever,
W. C.

It would have been difficult to select a situation apparently more suited to the existing circumstances and character of Cowper than the scene to which he was now transferred. In Mr. Newton were happily united the qualifications of piety, fervent, rational, and cheerful—the kind and affectionate feelings that inspire friendship and regard—a solid judgment, and a refined taste—the power to edify and please, and the grace that knows how to improve it to the highest ends. He lived in the midst of a flock who loved and esteemed him, and who saw in his ministrations the credentials of heaven, and in his life the exemplification of the doctrines that he taught.

The time of Cowper, in his new situation, seems to have been chiefly devoted to religious contemplation, to social prayer, and to active charity. To this first of Christian virtues, his heart was eminently inclined, and Providence very graciously enabled him to exercise and enjoy it to an extent far superior to what his own scanty fortune allowed means. The death of his father, 1756, failed to place him in a state of independence, and the singular cast of his own mind was such, that nature seemed to have rendered it impossible for him either to covet or to acquire riches. His happy exemption from worldly passions is forcibly displayed in the following letter.


Olney, June 16, 1768.

Dear Joe,—I thank you for so full an answer to so empty an epistle. If Olney furnished any thing for your amusement, you should have it in return, but occurrences here are as scarce as cucumbers at Christmas.

I visited St. Alban's about a fortnight since in person, and I visit it every day in thought. The recollection of what passed there, and the consequences that followed it, fill my mind continually, and make the circumstances of a poor, transient, half-spent life, so insipid and unaffecting, that I have no heart to think or write much about them. Whether the nation is worshipping Mr. Wilkes, or any other idol, is of little moment to one who hopes and believes that he shall shortly stand in the presence of the great and blessed God. I thank him, that he has given me such a deep, impressed, persuasion of this awful truth as a thousand worlds would not purchase from me. It gives me a relish to every blessing, and makes every trouble light.

Affectionately yours,
W. C.

In entering on the correspondence of the ensuing year, we find the following impressive letter addressed to Mr. Hill.


Olney, Jan. 21, 1769.

Dear Joe,—I rejoice with you in your recovery, and that you have escaped from the hands of one from whose hands you will not always escape. Death is either the most formidable, or the most comfortable thing we have in prospect, on this side of eternity. To be brought near to him, and to discern neither of these features in his face, would argue a degree of insensibility, of which I will not suspect my friend, whom I know to be a thinking man. You have been brought down to the side of the grave, and you have been raised again by Him who has the keys of the invisible world; who opens and none can shut, who shuts and none can open. I do not forget to return thanks to Him on your behalf, and to[28] pray that your life, which he has spared, may be devoted to his service. "Behold! I stand at the door and knock," is the word of Him, on whom both our mortal and immortal life depend, and, blessed be his name, it is the word of one who wounds only that he may heal, and who waits to be gracious. The language of every such dispensation is, "Prepare to meet thy God." It speaks with the voice of mercy and goodness, for, without such notices, whatever preparation we might make for other events, we should make none for this. My dear friend, I desire and pray that, when this last enemy shall come to execute an unlimited commission upon us, we may be found ready, being established and rooted in a well-grounded faith in His name, who conquered and triumphed over him upon his cross.

Yours ever,
W. C.


Olney, Jan. 29, 1769.

My dear Joe,—I have a moment to spare, to tell you that your letter is just come to hand, and to thank you for it. I do assure you, the gentleness and candour of your manner engages my affection to you very much. You answer with mildness to an admonition, which would have provoked many to anger. I have not time to add more, except just to hint that, if I am ever enabled to look forward to death with comfort, which, I thank God, is sometimes the case with me, I do not take my view of it from the top of my own works and deservings, though God is witness that the labour of my life is to keep a conscience void of offence towards Him. He is always formidable to me, but when I see him disarmed of his sting, by having sheathed it in the body of Christ Jesus.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, July 31, 1769.

Dear Joe,—Sir Thomas crosses the Alps, and Sir Cowper, for that is his title at Olney, prefers his home to any other spot of earth in the world. Horace, observing this difference of temper in different persons, cried out a good many years ago, in the true spirit of poetry, "How much one man differs from another!" This does not seem a very sublime exclamation in English, but I remember we were taught to admire it in the original.

My dear friend, I am obliged to you for your invitation: but, being long accustomed to retirement, which I was always fond of, I am now more than ever unwilling to revisit those noisy and crowded scenes, which I never loved, and which I now abhor. I remember you with all the friendship I ever professed, which is as much as ever I entertained for any man. But the strange and uncommon incidents of my life have given an entire new turn to my whole character and conduct, and rendered me incapable of receiving pleasure from the same employments and amusements of which I could readily partake in former days.

I love you and yours, I thank you for your continued remembrance of me, and shall not cease to be their and your

Affectionate friend and servant,
W. C.

Cowper's present retirement was distinguished by many private acts of beneficence, and his exemplary virtue was such that the opulent sometimes delighted to make him their almoner. In his sequestered life at Olney, he ministered abundantly to the wants of the poor, from a fund with which he was supplied by that model of extensive and unostentatious philanthropy, the late John Thornton, Esq., whose name he has immortalized in his Poem on Charity, still honouring his memory by an additional tribute to his virtues in the following descriptive eulogy, written immediately on his decease, in the year 1790.

Poets attempt the noblest task they can,
Praising the Author of all good in man;
And next commemorating worthies lost,
The dead, in whom that good abounded most.
Thee therefore of commercial fame, but more
Fam'd for thy probity, from shore to shore—
Thee, Thornton, worthy in some page to shine
As honest, and more eloquent than mine,
I mourn; or, since thrice happy thou must be,
The world, no longer thy abode, not thee;
Thee to deplore were grief misspent indeed;
It were to weep that goodness has its meed,
That there is bliss prepared in yonder sky,
And glory, for the virtuous when they die.
What pleasure can the miser's fondled hoard
Or spendthrift's prodigal excess afford,
Sweet as the privilege of healing woe
Suffer'd by virtue combating below!
That privilege was thine; Heaven gave thee means
To illumine with delight the saddest scenes,
Till thy appearance chased the gloom, forlorn
As midnight, and despairing of a morn.
Thou hadst an industry in doing good,
Restless as his who toils and sweats for food.
Av'rice in thee was the desire of wealth
By rust unperishable, or by stealth.
And, if the genuine worth of gold depend
On application to its noblest end,
Thine had a value in the scales of heaven,
Surpassing all that mine or mint have given:
And though God made thee of a nature prone
To distribution, boundless, of thy own;
And still, by motives of religious force,
Impell'd thee more to that heroic course;
[29] Yet was thy liberality discreet,
Nice in its choice, and of a temp'rate heat;
And, though in act unwearied, secret still,
As, in some solitude, the summer rill
Refreshes, where it winds, the faded green,
And cheers the drooping flowers, unheard, unseen.
Such was thy charity; no sudden start,
After long sleep of passion in the heart,
But stedfast principle, and in its kind
Of close alliance with th' eternal mind;
Traced easily to its true source above,
To Him, whose works bespeak his nature, love.
Thy bounties all were Christian, and I make
This record of thee for the Gospel's sake;
That the incredulous themselves may see
Its use and power exemplified in thee.

This simple and sublime eulogy was a just tribute of respect to the memory of this distinguished philanthropist; and, among the happiest actions of this truly liberal man, we may reckon his furnishing to a character so reserved and so retired as Cowper the means of enjoying the gratification of active and costly beneficence; a gratification in which the sequestered poet had delighted to indulge, before his acquaintance with Mr. Newton afforded him an opportunity of being concerned in distributing the private, yet extensive, bounty of an opulent and exemplary merchant.

Cowper, before he quitted St. Alban's, assumed the charge of a necessitous child, to extricate him from the perils of being educated by very profligate parents; he sent him to a school at Huntingdon, transferred him, on his removal, to Olney, and finally settled him as an apprentice at Oundle, in Northamptonshire.

The warm, benevolent, and cheerful piety of Mr. Newton, induced his friend Cowper to participate so abundantly in his parochial plans and engagements, that the poet's time and thoughts were more and more engrossed by devotional objects. He became a valuable auxiliary to a faithful parish priest, superintended the religious exercises of the poor, and engaged in an important undertaking, to which we shall shortly have occasion to advert.

But in the midst of these pious duties he forgot not his distant friends, and particularly his amiable relation and correspondent, of the Park-house, near Hertford. The following letter to that lady has no date, but it was probably written soon after his establishment at Olney. The remarkable memento in the postscript was undoubtedly introduced to counteract an idle rumour, arising from the circumstance of his having settled himself under the roof of a female friend, whose age and whose virtues he considered to be sufficient securities to ensure her reputation as well as his own.


My dear Cousin,—I have not been behindhand in reproaching myself with neglect, but desire to take shame to myself for my unprofitableness in this, as well as in all other respects. I take the next immediate opportunity, however, of thanking you for yours, and of assuring you that, instead of being surprised at your silence, I rather wonder that you or any of my friends have any room left for so careless and negligent a correspondent in your memories. I am obliged to you for the intelligence you send me of my kindred, and rejoice to hear of their welfare. He who settles the bounds of our habitations has at length cast our lot at a great distance from each other, but I do not therefore forget their former kindness to me, or cease to be interested in their well being. You live in the centre of a world I know you do not delight in. Happy are you, my dear friend, in being able to discern the insufficiency of all it can afford to fill and satisfy the desires of an immortal soul. That God who created us for the enjoyment of himself, has determined in mercy that it shall fail us here, in order that the blessed result of our inquiries after happiness in the creature may be a warm pursuit and a close attachment to our true interests, in fellowship and communion with Him, through the name and mediation of a dear Redeemer. I bless his goodness and grace that I have any reason to hope I am a partaker with you in the desire after better things than are to be found in a world polluted with sin, and therefore devoted to destruction. May He enable us both to consider our present life in its only true light, as an opportunity put into our hands to glorify him amongst men by a conduct suited to his word and will. I am miserably defective in this holy and blessed art, but I hope there is at the bottom of all my sinful infirmities a sincere desire to live just so long as I may be enabled, in some poor measure, to answer the end of my existence in this respect, and then to obey the summons and attend him in a world where they who are his servants here shall pay him an unsinful obedience for ever. Your dear mother is too good to me, and puts a more charitable construction upon my silence than the fact will warrant. I am not better employed than I should be in corresponding with her. I have that within which hinders me wretchedly in every thing that I ought to do, and is prone to trifle, and let time and every good thing run to waste. I hope however to write to her soon.

My love and best wishes attend Mr. Cowper, and all that inquire after me. May God be with you, to bless you and to do you good by[30] all his dispensations; do not forget me when you are speaking to our best Friend before his mercy seat.

Yours ever,
W. C.

N.B. I am not married.

In the year 1769, the lady to whom the preceding letters are addressed was involved in domestic affliction; and the following, which the poet wrote to her on the occasion, is so full of genuine piety and true pathos, that it would be an injury to his memory to suppress it.


Olney, Aug. 31, 1769.

My dear Cousin,—A letter from your brother Frederick brought me yesterday the most afflicting intelligence that has reached me these many years. I pray to God to comfort you, and to enable you to sustain this heavy stroke with that resignation to his will which none but Himself can give, and which he gives to none but his own children. How blessed and happy is your lot, my dear friend, beyond the common lot of the greater part of mankind; that you know what it is to draw near to God in prayer, and are acquainted with a throne of grace! You have resources in the infinite love of a dear Redeemer which are withheld from millions: and the promises of God, which are yea and amen in Jesus, are sufficient to answer all your necessities, and to sweeten the bitterest cup which your heavenly Father will ever put into your hand. May He now give you liberty to drink at these wells of salvation, till you are filled with consolation and peace in the midst of trouble. He has said, "When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee."[23] You have need of such a word as this, and he knows your need of it, and the time of necessity is the time when he will be sure to appear in behalf of those who trust in him. I bear you and yours upon my heart before him night and day, for I never expect to hear of distress which shall call upon me with a louder voice to pray for the sufferer. I know the Lord hears me for myself, vile and sinful as I am, and believe, and am sure, that he will hear me for you also. He is the friend of the widow, and the father of the fatherless, even God in his holy habitation; in all our afflictions he is afflicted, and chastens us in mercy. Surely he will sanctify this dispensation to you, do you great and everlasting good by it, make the world appear like dust and vanity in your sight, as it truly is, and open to your view the glories of a better country, where there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor pain; but God shall wipe away all tears from your eyes for ever. Oh that comfortable word! "I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction;"[24] so that our very sorrows are evidences of our calling, and he chastens us because we are his children.

My dear cousin, I commit you to the word of his grace, and to the comforts of his Holy Spirit. Your life is needful for your family: may God, in mercy to them, prolong it, and may he preserve you from the dangerous effects which a stroke like this might have upon a frame so tender as yours. I grieve with you, I pray for you; could I do more I would, but God must comfort you.

Yours, in our dear Lord Jesus,
W. C.

In the following year the tender feelings of Cowper were called forth by family affliction that pressed more immediately on himself; he was hurried to Cambridge by the dangerous illness of his brother, then residing as a fellow in Bene't College. An affection truly fraternal had ever subsisted between the brothers, and the reader will recollect what the poet has said, in one of his letters, concerning their social intercourse while he resided at Huntingdon.

In the first two years of his residence at Olney, he had been repeatedly visited by Mr. John Cowper, and how cordially he returned that kindness and attention the following letter will testify, which was probably written in the chamber of the invalid.


March 5, 1770.

My brother continues much as he was. His case is a very dangerous one—an imposthume of the liver, attended by an asthma and dropsy. The physician has little hope of his recovery, I believe I might say none at all, only, being a friend, he does not formally give him over by ceasing to visit him, lest it should sink his spirits. For my own part, I have no expectation of his recovery, except by a signal interposition of Providence in answer to prayer. His case is clearly beyond the reach of medicine; but I have seen many a sickness healed, where the danger has been equally threatening, by the only Physician of value. I doubt not he will have an interest in your prayers, as he has in the prayers of many. May the Lord incline his ear and give an answer of peace. I know it is good to be afflicted. I trust that you have found it so, and that under the[31] teaching of God's own Spirit we shall both be purified. It is the desire of my soul to seek a better country, where God shall wipe away all tears from the eyes of his people; and where, looking back upon the ways by which he has led us, we shall be filled with everlasting wonder, love, and praise.

I must add no more.
Yours ever,
W. C.

The sickness and death of his learned, pious, and affectionate brother, made a very strong impression on the tender heart and mind of Cowper—an impression so strong, that it induced him to write a narrative of the remarkable circumstances which occurred at the time. He sent a copy of this narrative to Mr. Newton. The paper is curious in every point of view, and so likely to awaken sentiments of piety in minds where it may be most desirable to have them awakened, that Mr. Newton subsequently communicated it to the public.[25]

Here it is necessary to introduce a brief account of the interesting person whom the poet regarded so tenderly. John Cowper was born in 1737. Being designed for the church, he was privately educated by a clergyman, and became eminent for the extent and variety of his erudition in the university of Cambridge. The remarkable change in his views and principles is copiously displayed by his brother, in recording the pious close of his life. Bene't College, of which he was a fellow, was his usual residence, and it became the scene of his death, on the 20th of March, 1770. Fraternal affection has executed a perfectly just and graceful description of his character, both in prose and verse. We transcribe both as highly honourable to these exemplary brethren, who may indeed be said to have dwelt together in unity.

"He was a man" (says the poet in speaking of his deceased brother) "of a most candid and ingenuous spirit; his temper remarkably sweet, and in his behaviour to me he had always manifested an uncommon affection. His outward conduct, so far as it fell under my notice, or I could learn it by the report of others, was perfectly decent and unblamable. There was nothing vicious in any part of his practice, but, being of a studious, thoughtful turn, he placed his chief delight in the acquisition of learning, and made such proficiency in it, that he had but few rivals in that of a classical kind. He was critically skilled in the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages; was beginning to make himself master of the Syriac, and perfectly understood the French and Italian, the latter of which he could speak fluently. Learned however as he was, he was easy and cheerful in his conversation, and entirely free from the stiffness which is generally contracted by men devoted to such pursuits."

"I had a brother once:
Peace to the memory of a man of worth!
A man of letters, and of manners too!
Of manners sweet, as virtue always wears,
When gay good humour dresses her in smiles!
He grac'd a college, in which order yet
Was sacred, and was honoured, lov'd, and wept
By more than one, themselves conspicuous there!"

Another interesting tribute to his memory will be found in the following letter.


Olney, May 8, 1770.

Dear Joe,—Your letter did not reach me till the last post, when I had not time to answer it. I left Cambridge immediately after my brother's death.

I am obliged to you for the particular account you have sent me * * * * He, to whom I have surrendered myself and all my concerns has otherwise appointed, and let his will be done. He gives me much which he withholds from others, and if he was pleased to withhold all that makes an outward difference between me and the poor mendicant in the street, it would still become me to say, his will be done.

It pleased God to cut short my brother's connexions and expectations here, yet not without giving him lively and glorious views of a better happiness than any he could propose to himself in such a world as this. Notwithstanding his great learning, (for he was one of the chief men in the university in that respect,) he was candid and sincere in his inquiries after truth. Though he could not come into my sentiments when I first acquainted him with them, nor, in the many conversations which I afterward had with him upon the subject, could he be brought to acquiesce in them as scriptural and true, yet I had no sooner left St. Alban's than he began to study, with the deepest attention, those points in which we differed, and to furnish himself with the best writers upon them. His mind was kept open to conviction for five years, during all which time he laboured in this pursuit with unwearied diligence, as leisure and opportunity were afforded. Amongst his dying words were these: "Brother, I thought you wrong, yet wanted to believe as you did. I found myself not able to believe, yet always thought I should be one day brought to do so." From the study of books he was brought, upon his death-bed, to the study of himself, and there learned to renounce his righteousness and[32] his own most amiable character, and to submit himself to the righteousness which is of God by faith. With these views he was desirous of death. Satisfied of his interest in the blessing purchased by the blood of Christ, he prayed for death with earnestness, felt the approach of it with joy, and died in peace.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.

It is this simple yet firm reliance on the merits of the Saviour, and on his atoning blood and righteousness, that can alone impart true peace to the soul. Such was the faith of patriarchs, prophets, and apostles; and such will be the faith of all who are taught of God. Works do not go before, but follow after; they are not the cause, but the effect; the fruits of faith, and indispensable to glorify God, to attest the power and reality of divine grace, and to determine the measure of our everlasting reward.

Cowper's feelings on this impressive occasion are still further disclosed in the following letter.


Olney, June 7, 1770.

My dear Cousin,—I am obliged to you for sometimes thinking of an unseen friend, and bestowing a letter upon me. It gives me pleasure to hear from you, especially to find that our gracious Lord enables you to weather out the storms you meet with, and to cast anchor within the veil.

You judge rightly of the manner in which I have been affected by the Lord's late dispensation towards my brother. I found in it cause of sorrow that I had lost so near a relation, and one so deservedly dear to me, and that he left me just when our sentiments upon the most interesting subject became the same, but much more cause of joy, that it pleased God to give me clear and evident proof that he had changed his heart, and adopted him into the number of his children. For this, I hold myself peculiarly bound to thank him, because he might have done all that he was pleased to do for him, and yet have afforded him neither strength nor opportunity to declare it. I doubt not that he enlightens the understandings, and works a gracious change in the hearts of many, in their last moments, whose surrounding friends are not made acquainted with it.

He told me that, from the time he was first ordained, he began to be dissatisfied with his religious opinions, and to suspect that there were greater things concealed in the Bible than were generally believed or allowed to be there. From the time when I first visited him, after my release from St. Alban's, he began to read upon the subject. It was at that time I informed him of the views of divine truth which I had received in that school of affliction. He laid what I said to heart, and began to furnish himself with the best writers upon the controverted points, whose works he read with great diligence and attention, comparing them all the while with the Scripture. None ever truly and ingenuously sought the truth, but they found it. A spirit of earnest inquiry is the gift of God, who never says to any, Seek ye my face, in vain. Accordingly, about ten days before his death, it pleased the Lord to dispel all his doubts, to reveal in his heart the knowledge of the Saviour, and to give him firm and unshaken peace, in the belief of his ability and willingness to save. As to the affair of the fortune-teller, he never mentioned it to me, nor was there any such paper found as you mention. I looked over all his papers before I left the place, and, had there been such a one, must have discovered it. I have heard the report from other quarters, but no other particulars than that the woman foretold him when he should die. I suppose there may be some truth in the matter, but, whatever he might think of it before his knowledge of the truth, and however extraordinary her predictions might really be, I am satisfied that he had then received far other views of the wisdom and majesty of God, than to suppose that he would entrust his secret counsels to a vagrant, who did not mean, I suppose, to be understood to have received her intelligence from the fountain of light, but thought herself sufficiently honoured by any who would give her credit for a secret intercourse of this kind with the prince of darkness.

Mrs. Unwin is much obliged to you for your kind inquiry after her. She is well, I thank God, as usual, and sends her respects to you. Her son is in the ministry, and has the living of Stock in Essex. We were last week alarmed with an account of his being dangerously ill; Mrs. Unwin went to see him, and in a few days left him out of danger.

W. C.

The letters of the poet to this amiable relative afford a pleasing insight into the recesses of his pious and sympathizing mind; and, if they have awakened the interest which they are so calculated to excite, the reader will feel concerned to find a chasm of ten years in this valuable correspondence; the more so as it was chiefly occasioned by a cause which it will soon be our painful office to detail in the course of the ensuing passages. In the autumn of the year in which he sustained the loss of his excellent brother, he wrote the following letter to Mr. Hill.



Olney, Sept. 25, 1770.

Dear Joe,—I have not done conversing with terrestrial objects, though I should be happy were I able to hold more continual converse with a Friend above the skies. He has my heart, but he allows a corner in it for all who shew me kindness, and therefore one for you. The storm of sixty-three made a wreck of the friendships I had contracted in the course of many years, yours excepted, which has survived the tempest.

I thank you for your repeated invitation. Singular thanks are due to you for so singular an instance of your regard. I could not leave Olney, unless in a case of absolute necessity, without much inconvenience to myself and others.

W. C.

The next year was distinguished by the marriage of his friend Mr. Hill, to a lady of most estimable character, on which occasion Cowper thus addressed him.


Olney, August 27, 1771.

Dear Joe,—I take a friend's share in all your concerns, so far as they come to my knowledge, and consequently did not receive the news of your marriage with indifference. I wish you and your bride all the happiness that belongs to the state; and the still greater felicity of that state which marriage is only a type of. All those connexions shall be dissolved; but there is an indissoluble bond between Christ and his church, the subject of derision to an unthinking world, but the glory and happiness of all his people.

I join with your mother and sisters in their joy upon the present occasion, and beg my affectionate respects to them and to Mrs. Hill unknown.

Yours ever,
W. C.

We do not discover any further traces of his correspondence in the succeeding year than the three following letters. The first proves his great sense of honour and delicate feeling in transactions of a pecuniary nature.


Olney, June 27, 1772.

My dear Friend,—I only write to return you thanks for your kind offer—Agnosco veteris vestigia flammæ. But I will endeavour to go on without troubling you. Excuse an expression that dishonours your friendship; I should rather say, it would be a trouble to myself, and I know you will be generous enough to give me credit for the assertion. I had rather want many things, any thing, indeed, that this world could afford me, than abuse the affection of a friend. I suppose you are sometimes troubled upon my account. But you need not. I have no doubt it will be seen, when my days are closed, that I served a Master who would not suffer me to want any thing that was good for me. He said to Jacob, I will surely do thee good; and this he said, not for his sake only, but for ours also, if we trust in him. This thought relieves me from the greatest part of the distress I should else suffer in my present circumstances, and enables me to sit down peacefully upon the wreck of my fortune.

Yours ever, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, July 2, 1772.

My dear Friend,—My obligations to you sit easy upon me, because I am sure you confer them in the spirit of a friend. 'Tis pleasant to some minds to confer obligations, and it is not unpleasant to others to be properly sensible of them. I hope I have this pleasure—and can, with a true sense of your kindness, subscribe myself,

W. C.


Olney, Nov. 5, 1772.

Believe me, my dear friend, truly sensible of your invitation, though I do not accept it. My[34] peace of mind is of so delicate a constitution, that the air of London will not agree with it. You have my prayers, the only return I can make you for your many acts of still-continued friendship.

If you should smile, or even laugh, at my conclusion, and I were near enough to see it, I should not be angry, though I should be grieved. It is not long since I should have laughed at such a recompence myself. But, glory be to the name of Jesus, those days are past, and, I trust, never to return!

I am yours, and Mrs. Hill's,
With much sincerity,
W. C.

The kind and affectionate intercourse which subsisted on the part of Cowper and his beloved pastor, has already been adverted to in the preceding history. It was the commerce of two kindred minds, united by a participation in the same blessed hope, and seeking to improve their union by seizing every opportunity of usefulness. Friendship, to be durable, must be pure, virtuous, and holy. All other associations are liable to the caprice of passion, and to the changing tide of human events. It is not enough that there be a natural coincidence of character and temperament, a similarity of earthly pursuit and object; there must be materials of a higher fabric, streams flowing from a purer source. There must be the impress of divine grace stamping the same common image and superscription on both hearts. A friendship founded on such a basis, strengthened by time and opportunity, and nourished by the frequent interchange of good offices, is perhaps the nearest approximation to happiness attainable in this chequered life.

Such a friendship is beautifully portrayed by Cowper, in the following passage in his Poem on Conversation; and it is highly probable that he alludes to his own feelings on this occasion, and to the connexion subsisting between himself and Newton.

True bliss, if man may reach it, is compos'd
Of hearts in union mutually disclos'd;
And, farewell else all hope of pure delight!
Those hearts should be reclaim'd, renew'd, upright:
Bad men, profaning friendship's hallow'd name,
Form, in its stead, a covenant of shame:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
But souls, that carry on a blest exchange
Of joys they meet with in their heavenly range,
And, with a fearless confidence, make known
The sorrows sympathy esteems its own;
Daily derive increasing light and force
From such communion in their pleasant course;
Feel less the journey's roughness and its length,
Meet their opposers with united strength,
And, one in heart, in interest, and design,
Gird up each other to the race divine.

It is to the friendship and intercourse formed between these two excellent men, that we are indebted for the origin of the Olney Hymns. These hymns are too celebrated in the annals of sacred poetry not to demand special notice in a life of Cowper, who contributed to that collection some of the most beautiful and devotional effusions that ever enriched this species of composition. They were the joint production of the divine and the poet, and intended (as the former expressly says in his preface) "as a monument to perpetuate the remembrance of an intimate and endeared friendship." They were subsequently introduced into the parish church of Olney, with the view of raising the tone and character of church psalmody. The old version of Sternhold and Hopkins, previously used, and still retained in many of our churches, was considered to be too antiquated in its language, and not sufficiently imbued with the characteristic features of the Gospel dispensation, to be adapted to the advancing spirit of religion. It was to supply this defect that the above work was thus introduced, and the acceptance with which it was received fully justified the expectation. Viewed in this light, it is a kind of epoch in the history of the Established Church. Other communities of Christians had long employed the instrumentality of hymns to embody the feelings of devotion; but our own church had not felt this necessity, or adopted the custom; prejudice had even interposed, in some instances, to resist their introduction, till the right was fully established by the decision of law.[29] The prejudices of past times are, however, at length, rapidly giving way to the wishes and demands of modern piety; and we can now appeal to the versions of a Stewart, a Noel, a Pratt, a Bickersteth, and many others, as a most suitable vehicle for this devotional exercise. The Olney Hymns are entitled to the praise of being the precursors of this improved mode of psalmody, jointly with the Collection of the Rev. M. Madan, at the Lock, and that of Mr. Berridge, at Everton.

But, independently of this circumstance, they present far higher claims. They portray the varied emotions of the human heart in its conflicts with sin, and aspirations after holiness. We there contemplate the depression of sorrow and the triumph of hope; the terrors inspired by the law and the confidence awakened by the Gospel; and, what may be considered as the genuine transcript of the poet's own mind, especially in the celebrated hymn, ("God moves in a mysterious way," &c.,) we see depicted, in impressive language, the struggles of a faith[35] trying to penetrate into the dark and mysterious dispensations of God, and at length reposing on his unchangeable faithfulness and love. These sentiments and feelings, so descriptive of the exercises of the soul, find a response in every awakened heart; and the church of Christ will never cease to claim its property in effusions like these till the Christian warfare is ended, and the perceptions of erring reason and sense are exchanged for the bright visions of eternity.

The undertaking commenced about the year 1771, though the collection was not finally completed and published till 1779. The total number contributed by Cowper was sixty-eight hymns. They are distinguished by the initial letter of his name. It was originally stipulated that each should bear their proportion in this joint labour, till the whole work was accomplished. With this understanding, the pious design was gradually proceeding in its auspicious course, when, by one of those solemn and mysterious dispensations from which neither rank, nor genius, nor moral excellence can claim exemption, it pleased Him whose "way is in the deep," and whose "footsteps are not known," and of whom it is emphatically said, "that clouds and darkness are round about him," though "righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne," to suspend the powers of this interesting sufferer, and once more to shroud them in darkness.

In contemplating this event, in the peculiarity of its time, character, and consequences, well may we exclaim, "Lord, what is man!" and, while the consciousness of the infinite wisdom and mercy of God precludes us from saying, "What doest Thou?" we feel that it must be reserved for eternity to develop the mysterious design of these dispensations.

It was in the year 1773 that this afflicting malady returned. Cowper sank into such severe paroxysms of religious despondency, that he required an attendant of the most gentle, vigilant, and inflexible spirit. Such an attendant he found in that faithful guardian, whom he had professed to love as a mother, and who watched over him during this long fit of a most depressing malady, extended through several years, with that perfect mixture of tenderness and fortitude which constitutes the characteristic feature of female services. I wish to pass rapidly over this calamitous period, and shall only observe that nothing could surpass the sufferings of the patient or excel the care of the nurse. Her unremitting attentions received the most delightful of rewards in seeing the pure and powerful mind, to whose restoration she had so greatly contributed, not only gradually restored to the common enjoyments of life, but successively endowed with new and marvellous funds of diversified talents, and a vigorous application of them.

The spirit of Cowper emerged by slow degrees from its deep dejection; and, before his mind was sufficiently recovered to employ itself on literary composition, it sought and found much relief and amusement in domesticating a little group of hares. On his expressing a wish to divert himself by rearing a single leveret, the good-nature of his neighbours supplied him with three. The variety of their dispositions became a source of great entertainment to his compassionate and contemplative spirit. One of the trio he has celebrated in the Task, and a very animated and minute account of this singular family, humanized, and described most admirably by himself in prose, appeared first in the Gentleman's Magazine, and was subsequently inserted in the second volume of his poems. These interesting animals had not only the honour of being cherished and celebrated by a poet, but the pencil has also contributed to their renown.

His three tame hares, Mrs. Unwin, and Mr. Newton, were, for a considerable time, the only companions of Cowper; but, as Mr. Newton was removed to a distance from his afflicted friend by preferment in London,[30] (to which he was presented by that liberal encourager of active piety, Mr. Thornton,) before he left Olney, in 1780, he humanely triumphed over the strong reluctance of Cowper to see a stranger, and kindly introduced him to the regard and good offices of the Rev. Mr. Bull of Newport-Pagnell. This excellent man, so distinguished by his piety and wit, and honoured by the friendship of John Thornton, from that time considered it to be his duty to visit the invalid once a fortnight, and acquired, by degrees, his cordial and confidential esteem.

The affectionate temper of Cowper inclined him particularly to exert his talents at the request of his friends, even in seasons when such exertion could hardly have been made without a painful degree of self-command.

At the suggestion of Mr. Newton, we have seen him writing a series of hymns: at the request of Mr. Bull, he translated several spiritual songs, from the poetry of Madame de la Mothe Guyon, the tender and mystical French writer, whose talents and misfortunes drew upon her a long series of persecution from many acrimonious bigots, and secured to her the friendship of the mild and pious Fenelon!

We shall perceive, as we advance, that the more distinguished works of Cowper were also written at the express desire of persons whom he particularly regarded; and it may be remarked, to the honour of friendship, that he[36] considered its influence as the happiest inspiration; or, to use his own expressive words,

The poet's lyre, to fix his fame,
Should be the poet's heart:
Affection lights a brighter flame
Than ever blazed by art.

The poetry of Cowper is itself an admirable illustration of this maxim; and perhaps the maxim may point to the principal source of that uncommon force and felicity with which this most feeling poet commands the affection of his reader.

In delineating the life of an author, it seems the duty of biography to indicate the degree of influence which the warmth of his heart produced on the fertility of his mind. But those mingled flames of friendship and poetry, which were to burst forth with the most powerful effect in the compositions of Cowper, were not yet kindled. His depressing malady had suspended the exercise of his genius for several years, and precluded him from renewing his correspondence with the relation whom he so cordially regarded in Hertfordshire, except by brief letters on pecuniary concerns.

We insert the following as discovering symptoms of approaching convalescence.


Olney, Nov. 12, 1776.

Dear Friend,—One to whom fish is so welcome as it is to me, can have no great occasion to distinguish the sorts. In general, therefore, whatever fish are likely to think a jaunt into the country agreeable will be sure to find me ready to receive them.

Having suffered so much by nervous fevers myself, I know how to congratulate Ashley upon his recovery. Other distempers only batter the walls; but they creep silently into the citadel and put the garrison to the sword.

You perceive I have not made a squeamish use of your obliging offer. The remembrance of past years, and of the sentiments formerly exchanged in our evening walks, convinces me still that an unreserved acceptance of what is graciously offered is the handsomest way of dealing with one of your character.

Believe me yours,
W. C.

As to the frequency, which you leave to my choice too, you have no need to exceed the number of your former remittances.


Olney, April—I fancy the 20th, 1777.

My dear Friend,—Thanks for a turbot, a lobster, and Captain Brydone;[32] a gentleman, who relates his travels so agreeably, that he deserves always to travel with an agreeable companion. I have been reading Gray's Works, and think him the only poet since Shakspeare entitled to the character of sublime. Perhaps you will remember that I once had a different opinion of him. I was prejudiced. He did not belong to our Thursday society, and was an Eton man, which lowered him prodigiously in our esteem. I once thought Swift's Letters the best that could be written; but I like Gray's better. His humour, or his wit, or whatever it is to be called, is never ill-natured or offensive, and yet, I think, equally poignant with the Dean's.

I am yours affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, May 25, 1777.

My dear Friend,—We differ not much in our opinion of Gray. When I wrote last, I was in the middle of the book. His later Epistles, I think, are worth little, as such, but might be turned to excellent account by a young student of taste and judgment. As to West's Letters, I think I could easily bring your opinion of them to square with mine. They are elegant and sensible, but have nothing in them that is characteristic, or that discriminates them from the letters of any other young man of taste and learning. As to the book you mention, I am in doubt whether to read it or not. I should like the philosophical part of it, but the political, which, I suppose, is a detail of intrigues carried on by the Company and their servants,[34] a history of rising and falling nabobs, I should have no appetite to at all. I will not, therefore, give you the trouble of sending it at present.

Yours affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, July 13, 1777.

My dear Friend,—You need not give yourself any further trouble to procure me the South Sea Voyages. Lord Dartmouth, who was here about a month since, and was so kind as to pay me two visits, has furnished me[37] with both Cook's and Forster's. 'Tis well for the poor natives of those distant countries that our national expenses cannot be supplied by cargoes of yams and bananas. Curiosity, therefore, being once satisfied, they may possibly be permitted for the future to enjoy their riches of that kind in peace.

If, when you are most at leisure, you can find out Baker upon the Microscope, or Vincent Bourne's Latin Poems, the last edition, and send them, I shall be obliged to you—either, or both, if they can be easily found.

I am yours affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, Jan. 1, 1778.

My dear Friend,—Your last packet was doubly welcome, and Mrs. Hill's kindness gives me peculiar pleasure, not as coming from a stranger to me, for I do not account her so, though I never saw her, but as coming from one so nearly connected with yourself. I shall take care to acknowledge the receipt of her obliging letter, when I return the books. Assure yourself, in the mean time, that I read as if the librarian was at my elbow, continually jogging it, and growling out, Make haste. But, as I read aloud, I shall not have finished before the end of the week, and will return them by the diligence next Monday.

I shall be glad if you will let me know whether I am to understand by the sorrow you express that any part of my former supplies is actually cut off, or whether they are only more tardy in coming in than usual. It is useful, even to the rich, to know, as nearly as may be, the exact amount of their income; but how much more so to a man of my small dimensions! If the former should be the case, I shall have less reason to be surprised than I have to wonder at the continuance of them so long. Favours are favours indeed, when laid out upon so barren a soil, where the expense of sowing is never accompanied by the smallest hope of return. What pain there is in gratitude, I have often felt; but the pleasure of requiting an obligation has always been out of my reach.

Affectionately yours,
W. C.


Olney, April 11, 1778.

My dear Friend,—Poor Sir Thomas![36] I knew that I had a place in his affections, and, from his own information many years ago, a place in his will; but little thought that after a lapse of so many years I should still retain it. His remembrance of me, after so long a season of separation, has done me much honour, and leaves me the more reason to regret his decease.

I am reading the Abbé with great satisfaction,[37] and think him the most intelligent writer upon so extensive a subject I ever met with; in every respect superior to the Abbé in Scotland.

Yours affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, May 7, 1778.

My dear Friend,—I have been in continual fear lest every post should bring a summons for the Abbé Raynal, and am glad that I have finished him before my fears were realized. I have kept him long, but not through neglect or idleness. I read the five volumes to Mrs. Unwin; and my voice will seldom serve me with more than an hour's reading at a time. I am indebted to him for much information upon subjects which, however interesting, are so remote from those with which country folks in general are conversant, that, had not his works reached me at Olney, I should have been for ever ignorant of them.

I admire him as a philosopher, as a writer, as a man of extraordinary intelligence, and no less extraordinary abilities to digest it. He is a true patriot. But then the world is his country. The frauds and tricks of the cabinet and the counter seem to be equally objects of his aversion. And, if he had not found that religion too had undergone a mixture of artifice, in its turn, perhaps he would have been a Christian.

Yours affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, June 18, 1778.

My dear Friend,—I truly rejoice that the Chancellor has made you such a present, that he has given such an additional lustre to it by his manner of conferring it, and that all this happened before you went to Wargrave, because it made your retirement there the more agreeable. This is just according to the character of the man. He will give grudgingly in answer to solicitation, but delights in surprising those he esteems with his bounty. May you live to receive still further proofs that I am not mistaken in my opinion of him!

Yours affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, June 18, 1778.

Dear Unwin,—I feel myself much obliged to[38] you for your intimation, and have given the subject of it all my best attention, both before I received your letter and since. The result is, that I am persuaded it will be better not to write. I know the man and his disposition well; he is very liberal in his way of thinking, generous, and discerning. He is well aware of the tricks that are played upon such occasions, and, after fifteen years' interruption of all intercourse between us, would translate my letter into this language—pray remember the poor.[39] This would disgust him, because he would think our former intimacy disgraced by such an oblique application. He has not forgotten me, and, if he had, there are those about him who cannot come into his presence without reminding him of me, and he is also perfectly acquainted with my circumstances. It would, perhaps, give him pleasure to surprise me with a benefit, and if he means me such a favour, I should disappoint him by asking it.

I repeat my thanks for your suggestion: you see a part of my reasons for thus conducting myself; if we were together, I could give you more.

Yours affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, May 26, 1779.

I am obliged to you for the Poets, and, though I little thought that I was translating so much money out of your pocket into the bookseller's, when I turned Prior's poem into Latin, yet I must needs say that, if you think it worth while to purchase the English Classics at all, you cannot possess yourself of them upon better terms. I have looked into some of the volumes, but, not having yet finished the Register, have merely looked into them. A few things I have met with, which, if they had been burned the moment they were written, it would have been better for the author, and at least as well for his readers. There is not much of this, but a little is too much. I think it a pity the editor admitted any; the English muse would have lost no credit by the omission of such trash. Some of them, again, seem to me to have but a very disputable right to a place among the Classics, and I am quite at a loss, when I see them in such company, to conjecture what is Dr. Johnson's idea or definition of classical merit. But, if he inserts the poems of some who can hardly be said to deserve such an honour, the purchaser may comfort himself with the hope that he will exclude none that do.

W. C.


Olney, July,—79.

My dear Friend,—When I was at Margate, it was an excursion of pleasure to go to see Ramsgate. The pier, I remember, was accounted a most excellent piece of stone-work, and such I found it. By this time, I suppose, it is finished, and surely it is no small advantage that you have an opportunity of observing how nicely those great stones are put together, as often as you please, without either trouble or expense.

There was not, at that time, much to be seen in the Isle of Thanet, besides the beauty of the country and the fine prospects of the sea, which are no where surpassed, except in the Isle of Wight, or upon some parts of the coast of Hampshire. One sight, however, I remember, engaged my curiosity, and I went to see it—a fine piece of ruins, built by the late Lord Holland at a great expense, which, the day after I saw it, tumbled down for nothing. Perhaps, therefore, it is still a ruin; and, if it is, I would advise you by all means to visit it, as it must have been much improved by this fortunate incident. It is hardly possible to put stones together with that air of wild and magnificent disorder which they are sure to acquire by falling of their own accord.

I remember (the last thing I mean to remember upon this occasion) that Sam Cox, the counsel, walking by the sea-side, as if absorbed in deep contemplation, was questioned about what he was musing on. He replied, "I was wondering that such an almost infinite and unwieldy element should produce a sprat."

Our love attends your whole party.

Yours affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, July 17, 1779.

My dear Friend,—We envy you your sea-breezes. In the garden we feel nothing but the reflection of the heat from the walls, and in the parlour, from the opposite houses. I fancy Virgil was so situated, when he wrote those two beautiful lines:

... Oh quis me gelidis in vallibus Hæmi
Sistat, et ingenti ramorum protegat umbrâ!

The worst of it is that, though the sunbeams strike as forcibly upon my harp-strings as they did upon his, they elicit no such sounds, but rather produce such groans as they are said to have drawn from those of the statue of Memnon.


As you have ventured to make the experiment, your own experience will be your best guide in the article of bathing. An inference will hardly follow, though one should pull at it with all one's might, from Smollett's case to yours. He was corpulent, muscular, and strong; whereas, if you were either stolen or strayed, such a description of you in an advertisement would hardly direct an inquirer with sufficient accuracy and exactness. But, if bathing does not make your head ache, or prevent you sleeping at night, I should imagine it could not hurt you.

Yours affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, Sept. 21, 1779.

Amico mio, be pleased to buy me a glazier's diamond pencil. I have glazed the two frames, 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 neighbouring 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 may 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. When I first enter the garden in the morning, I find them perched upon the 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 hot-house 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 all.

W. C.


Olney, Oct. 2, 1779.

My dear Friend,—You begin to count the remaining days of the vacation, not with impatience, but through unwillingness to see the end of it. For the mind of man, at least of most men, is equally busy in anticipating the evil and the good. That word anticipation puts me in remembrance of the pamphlet of that name, which, if you purchased, I should be glad to borrow. I have seen only an extract from it in the Review, which made me laugh heartily and wish to peruse the whole.

The newspaper informs me of the arrival of the Jamaica fleet. I hope it imports some pine-apple plants for me. I have a good frame, and a good bed prepared to receive them. I send you annexed a fable, in which the pine-apple makes a figure, and shall be glad if you like the taste of it. Two pair of soles, with shrimps, which arrived last night, demand my acknowledgments. You have heard that when Arion performed upon the harp the fish followed him. I really have no design to fiddle you out of more fish; but, if you should esteem my verses worthy of such a price, though I shall never be so renowned as he was, I shall think myself equally indebted to the Muse that helps me.


"The pine-apples," &c.[42]

My affectionate respects attend Mrs. Hill. She has put Mr. Wright to the expense of building a new hot-house: the plants produced by the seeds she gave me having grown so large as to require an apartment by themselves.

W. C.



Olney, Oct. 31, 1779.

My dear Friend,—I wrote my last letter merely to inform you that I had nothing to say, in answer to which you have said nothing. I admire the propriety of your conduct, though I am a loser by it. I will endeavour to say something now, and shall hope for something in return.

I have been well entertained with Johnson's biography, for which I thank you: with one exception, and that a swingeing one, I think he has not acquitted himself with his usual good sense and sufficiency. His treatment of Milton is unmerciful to the last degree. He has belaboured that great poet's character with the most industrious cruelty. As a man, he has hardly left him the shadow of one good quality. Churlishness in his private life, and a rancorous hatred of every thing royal in his public, are the two colours with which he has smeared all the canvas. If he had any virtues, they are not to be found in the Doctor's picture of him; and it is well for Milton that some sourness in his temper is the only vice with which his memory has been charged; it is evident enough that, if his biographer could have discovered more, he would not have spared him. As a poet, he has treated him with severity enough, and has plucked one or two of the most beautiful feathers out of his Muse's wing, and trampled them under his great foot. He has passed sentence of condemnation upon Lycidas, and has taken occasion, from that charming poem, to expose to ridicule (what is indeed ridiculous enough) the childish prattlement of pastoral compositions, as if Lycidas was the prototype and pattern of them all. The liveliness of the description, the sweetness of the numbers, the classical spirit of antiquity that prevails in it, go for nothing. I am convinced, by the way, that he has no ear for poetical numbers, or that it was stopped, by prejudice, against the harmony of Milton's. Was there ever any thing so delightful as the music of the Paradise Lost? It is like that of a fine organ; has the fullest and deepest tones of majesty, with all the softness and elegance of the Dorian flute, variety without end, and never equalled, unless, perhaps, by Virgil. Yet the Doctor has little or nothing to say upon this copious theme, but talks something about the unfitness of the English language for blank verse, and how apt it is, in the mouth of some readers, to degenerate into declamation.

I could talk a good while longer, but I have no room. Our love attends you.

Yours affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, Nov. 14, 1779.

My dear Friend,—Your approbation of my last Heliconian present encourages me to send you another. I wrote it, indeed, on purpose for you; for my subjects are not always such as I could hope would prove agreeable to you. My mind has always a melancholy cast, and is like some pools I have seen, which, though filled with a black and putrid water, will nevertheless, in a bright day, reflect the sunbeams from their surface.


Yours affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, Dec. 2, 1779.

My dear Friend,—How quick is the succession of human events! The cares of to-day are seldom the cares of to-morrow; and when we lie down at night, we may safely say to most of our troubles—"Ye have done your worst, and we shall meet no more."

This observation was suggested to me by reading your last letter, which, though I have written since I received it, I have never answered. When that epistle passed under your pen, you were miserable about your tithes, and your imagination was hung round with pictures, that terrified you to such a degree as made even the receipt of money burthensome. But it is all over now. You sent away your farmers in good humour, (for you can make people merry whenever you please,) and now you have nothing to do but to chink your purse and laugh at what is past. Your delicacy makes you groan under that which other men never feel, or feel but lightly. A fly that settles upon the tip of the nose is troublesome; and this is a comparison adequate to the most that mankind in general are sensible of upon such tiny occasions. But the flies that pester you always get between your eye-lids, where the annoyance is almost insupportable.

I would follow your advice, and endeavour to furnish Lord North with a scheme of supplies for the ensuing year, if the difficulty I find in answering the call of my own emergencies did not make me despair of satisfying those of the nation. I can say but this: if I had ten acres of land in the world, whereas I have not one, and in those ten acres should discover a gold mine, richer than all Mexico and Peru, when I had reserved a few ounces for my own annual supply I would willingly give the rest to government. My ambition would be more gratified by annihilating the national incumbrances than by going daily[41] down to the bottom of a mine, to wallow in my own emolument. This is patriotism—you will allow; but, alas! this virtue is for the most part in the hands of those who can do no good with it! He that has but a single handful of it catches so greedily at the first opportunity of growing rich, that his patriotism drops to the ground, and he grasps the gold instead of it. He that never meets with such an opportunity holds it fast in his clenched fists, and says—"Oh, how much good I would do if I could!"

Your mother says—"Pray send my dear love." There is hardly room to add mine, but you will suppose it.

W. C.


Olney, Feb. 27, 1780.

My dear Friend,—As you are pleased to desire my letters, I am the more pleased with writing them; though, at the same time, I must needs testify my surprise that you should think them worth receiving, as I seldom send one that I think favourably of myself. This is not to be understood as an imputation upon your taste or judgment, but as an encomium upon my own modesty and humility, which I desire you to remark well. It is a just observation of Sir Joshua Reynolds, that, though men of ordinary talents may be highly satisfied with their own productions, men of true genius never are. Whatever be their subject, they always seem to themselves to fall short of it, even when they seem to others most to excel; and for this reason—because they have a certain sublime sense of perfection, which other men are strangers to, and which they themselves in their performances are not able to exemplify. Your servant, Sir Joshua! I little thought of seeing you when I began, but as you have popped in you are welcome.

When I wrote last, I was a little inclined to send you a copy of verses, entitled the Modern Patriot, but was not quite pleased with a line or two, which I found it difficult to mend, therefore did not. At night I read Mr. Burke's speech in the newspaper, and was so well pleased with his proposals for a reformation, and the temper in which he made them, that I began to think better of his cause, and burnt my verses. Such is the lot of the man who writes upon the subject of the day; the aspect of affairs changes in an hour or two, and his opinion with it; what was just and well-deserved satire in the morning, in the evening becomes a libel; the author commences his own judge, and, while he condemns with unrelenting severity what he so lately approved, is sorry to find that he has laid his leaf-gold upon touchwood, which crumbled away under his fingers. Alas! what can I do with my wit? I have not enough to do great things with, and these little things are so fugitive, that, while a man catches at the subject, he is only filling his hand with smoke. I must do with it as I do with my linnet: I keep him for the most part in a cage, but now and then set open the door, that he may whisk about the room a little, and then shut him up again. My whisking wit has produced the following, the subject of which is more important than the manner in which I have treated it seems to imply, but a fable may speak truth, and all truth is sterling; I only premise that, in the philosophical tract in the Register, I found it asserted, that the glow-worm is the nightingale's food.[45]

An officer of a regiment, part of which is quartered here, gave one of the soldiers leave to be drunk six weeks, in hopes of curing him by satiety; he was drunk six weeks, and is so still, as often as he can find an opportunity. One vice may swallow up another, but no coroner, in the state of Ethics, ever brought in his verdict, when a vice died, that it was—felo de se.

Thanks for all you have done, and all you intend; the biography will be particularly welcome.

W. C.


Olney, March 4, 1780.

Dear Madam,—To communicate surprise is almost, perhaps quite, as agreeable as to receive it. This is my present motive for writing to you rather than to Mr. Newton. He would be pleased with hearing from me, but he would not be surprised at it; you see, therefore, I am selfish upon the present occasion, and principally consult my own gratification. Indeed, if I consulted yours, I should be silent, for I have no such budget as the minister's, furnished and stuffed with ways and means for every emergency, and shall find it difficult, perhaps, to raise supplies even for a short epistle.

You have observed, in common conversation, that the man who coughs the oftenest (I mean if he has not a cold), does it because he has nothing to say. Even so it is in letter-writing: a long preface, such as mine, is an ugly symptom, and always forebodes great sterility in the following pages.

The vicarage-house became a melancholy[42] object as soon as Mr. Newton had left it; when you left it, it became more melancholy: now it is actually occupied by another family, even I cannot look at it without being shocked. As I walked in the garden this evening, I saw the smoke issue from the study chimney, and said to myself, That used to be a sign that Mr. Newton was there; but it is so no longer. The walls of the house know nothing of the change that has taken place; the bolt of the chamber-door sounds just as it used to do; and when Mr. P—— goes up stairs, for aught I know, or ever shall know, the fall of his foot could hardly, perhaps, be distinguished from that of Mr. Newton. But Mr. Newton's foot will never be heard upon that staircase again. These reflections, and such as these, occurred to me upon the occasion.... If I were in a condition to leave Olney too, I certainly would not stay in it. It is no attachment to the place that binds me here, but an unfitness for every other. I lived in it once, but now I am buried in it, and have no business with the world on the outside of my sepulchre; my appearance would startle them, and theirs would be shocking to me.

Such are my thoughts about the matter. Others are more deeply affected, and by more weighty considerations, having been many years the objects of a ministry which they had reason to account themselves happy in the possession of....

We were concerned at your account of Robert, and have little doubt but he will shuffle himself out of his place. Where he will find another is a question not to be resolved by those who recommended him to this. I wrote him a long letter a day or two after the receipt of yours, but I am afraid it was only clapping a blister upon the crown of a wig-block.

My respects attend Mr. Newton and yourself, accompanied with much affection for you both.

Yours, dear Madam,
W. C.


Olney, March 16, 1780.

My dear Friend,—If I had had the horns of a snail, I should have drawn them in the moment I saw the reason of your epistolary brevity, because I felt it too. May your seven reams be multiplied into fourteen, till your letters become truly Lacedæmonian, and are reduced to a single syllable. Though I shall be a sufferer by the effect, I shall rejoice in the cause. You are naturally formed for business, and such a head as yours can never have too much of it. Though my predictions have been fulfilled in two instances, I do not plume myself much upon my sagacity; because it required but little to foresee that Thurlow would be Chancellor, and that you would have a crowded office. As to the rest of my connexions, there too I have given proof of equal foresight, with not a jot more reason for vanity.

To use the phrase of all who ever wrote upon the state of Europe, the political horizon is dark indeed. The cloud has been thickening, and the thunder advancing many years. The storm now seems to be vertical, and threatens to burst upon the land, as if with the next clap it would shake all to pieces.—As for me, I am no Quaker, except where military matters are in question, and there I am much of the same mind with an honest man, who, when he was forced into the service, declared he would not fight, and gave this reason—because he saw nothing worth fighting for. You will say, perhaps, is not liberty worth a struggle? True: but will success ensure it to me? Might I not, like the Americans, emancipate myself from one master only to serve a score, and with laurels upon my brow sigh for my former chains again?

Many thanks for your kind invitation. Ditto to Mrs. Hill, for the seeds—unexpected, and therefore the more welcome.

You gave me great pleasure by what you say of my uncle.[48] His motto shall be

Hic ver perpetuum atque alienis mensibus æstas.

I remember the time when I have been kept waking by the fear that he would die before me; but now I think I shall grow old first.

Yours, my dear friend, affectionately,

W. C.


Olney, March 18, 1780.

I am obliged to you for the communication of your correspondence with ——. It was impossible for any man, of any temper whatever, and however wedded to his own purpose, to resent so gentle and friendly an exhortation as you sent him. Men of lively imaginations are not often remarkable for solidity of judgment. They have generally strong passions to bias it, and are led far away from their proper road, in pursuit of petty phantoms of their own creating. No law ever did or can effect what he has ascribed to that of Moses: it is reserved for mercy to subdue the corrupt inclinations of mankind, which threatenings and penalties, through the depravity of the heart, have always had a tendency rather to inflame.

The love of power seems as natural to kings as the desire of liberty is to their subjects; the excess of either is vicious and tends to the[43] ruin of both. There are many, I believe who wish the present corrupt state of things dissolved, in hope that the pure primitive constitution will spring up from the ruins. But it is not for man, by himself man, to bring order out of confusion: the progress from one to the other is not natural, much less necessary, and, without the intervention of divine aid, impossible; and they who are for making the hazardous experiment would certainly find themselves disappointed.

Affectionately yours,
W. C.


Olney, March 28, 1780.

My dear Friend,—I have heard nothing more from Mr. Newton, upon the subject you mention; but I dare say, that, having been given to expect the benefit of your nomination in behalf of his nephew, he still depends upon it. His obligations to Mr. —— have been so numerous and so weighty, that, though he has in a few instances prevailed upon himself to recommend an object now and then to his patronage, he has very sparingly, if at all, exercised his interest with him in behalf of his own relations.

With respect to the advice you are required to give a young lady, that she may be properly instructed in the manner of keeping the sabbath, I just subjoin a few hints that have occurred to me upon the occasion, not because I think you want them, but because it would seem unkind to withhold them. The sabbath then, I think, may be considered, first, as a commandment no less binding upon modern Christians, than upon ancient Jews, because the spiritual people amongst them did not think it enough to abstain from manual occupations upon that day, but, entering more deeply into the meaning of the precept, allotted those hours they took from the world to the cultivation of holiness in their own souls, which ever was, and ever will be, a duty incumbent upon all who ever heard of a sabbath, and is of perpetual obligation both upon Jews and Christians; (the commandment, therefore, enjoins it; the prophets have also enforced it; and in many instances, both scriptural and modern, the breach of it has been punished with a providential and judicial severity, that may make by-standers tremble:) secondly, as a privilege, which you well know how to dilate upon, better than I can tell you; thirdly, as a sign of that covenant, by which believers are entitled to a rest that yet remaineth; fourthly, as a sine qua non of the Christian character; and, upon this head, I should guard against being misunderstood to mean no more than two attendances upon public worship, which is a form complied with by thousands who never kept a sabbath in their lives. Consistence is necessary to give substance and solidity to the whole. To sanctify the day at church, and to trifle it away out of church, is profanation, and vitiates all. After all, could I ask my catechumen one short question—"Do you love the day, or do you not? If you love it, you will never inquire how far you may safely deprive yourself of the enjoyment of it. If you do not love it, and you find yourself obliged in conscience to acknowledge it, that is an alarming symptom, and ought to make you tremble. If you do not love it, then it is a weariness to you, and you wish it was over. The ideas of labour and rest are not more opposite to each other than the idea of a sabbath and that dislike and disgust with which it fills the souls of thousands to be obliged to keep it. It is worse than bodily labour."

W. C.


Olney, April 6, 1780.

My dear Friend,—I never was, any more than yourself, a friend to pluralities; they are generally found in the hands of the avaricious, whose insatiable hunger after preferment proves them unworthy of any at all. They attend much to the regular payment of their dues, but not at all to the spiritual interests of their parishioners. Having forgot their duty, or never known it, they differ in nothing from the laity, except their outward garb and their exclusive right to the desk and pulpit. But when pluralities seek the man instead of being sought by him, and when the man is honest, conscientious, and pious, careful to employ a substitute, in those respects, like himself; and, not contented with this, will see with his own eyes that the concerns of his parishes are decently and diligently administered; in that case, considering the present dearth of such characters in the ministry, I think it an event advantageous to the people, and much to be desired by all who regret the great and apparent want of sobriety and earnestness among the clergy.[49] A man who does not seek a living merely as a pecuniary emolument has no need, in my judgment, to refuse one because it is so. He means to do his duty, and by doing it he earns his wages. The two rectories being contiguous to each other, and following easily under the care of one pastor, and both so near to Stock that you can visit them without difficulty as often as you please, I see no reasonable objection, nor does your mother. As to the wry-mouthed sneers and[44] illiberal misconstructions of the censorious, I know no better shield to guard you against them than what you are already furnished with—a clear and unoffended conscience.

I am obliged to you for what you said upon the subject of book-buying, and am very fond of availing myself of another man's pocket, when I can do it creditably to myself and without injury to him. Amusements are necessary in a retirement like mine, especially in such a sable state of mind as I labour under. The necessity of amusement makes me sometimes write verses—it made me a carpenter, a bird-cage maker, a gardener—and has lately taught me to draw, and to draw too with such surprising proficiency in the art, considering my total ignorance of it two months ago, that, when I show your mother my productions, she is all admiration and applause.

You need never fear the communication of what you entrust to us in confidence. You know your mother's delicacy on this point sufficiently, and as for me, I once wrote a Connoisseur[50] upon the subject of secret-keeping, and from that day to this I believe I have never divulged one.

We were much pleased with Mr. Newton's application to you for a charity sermon, and what he said upon that subject in his last letter, "that he was glad of an opportunity to give you that proof of his regard."

Believe me yours,
W. C.


Olney, April 16, 1780.

Since I wrote last, we have had a visit from ——. I did not feel myself vehemently disposed to receive him with that complaisance from which a stranger generally infers that he is welcome. By his manner, which was rather bold than easy, I judged that there was no occasion for it, and that it was a trifle which, if he did not meet with, neither would he feel the want of. He has the air of a travelled man, but not of a travelled gentleman; is quite delivered from that reserve which is so common an ingredient in the English character, yet does not open himself gently and gradually, as men of polite behaviour do, but bursts upon you all at once. He talks very loud, and when our poor little robins hear a great noise, they are immediately seized with an ambition to surpass it——the increase of their vociferation occasioned an increase of his, and his in return acted as a stimulus upon theirs—neither side entertained a thought of giving up the contest, which became continually more interesting to our ears during the whole visit. The birds however survived it, and so did we. They perhaps flatter themselves they gained a complete victory, but I believe Mr. —— could have killed them both in another hour.

W. C.


Olney, May 3, 1780.

Dear Sir,—You indulge me in such a variety of subjects, and allow me such a latitude of excursion in this scribbling employment, that I have no excuse for silence. I am much obliged to you for swallowing such boluses as I send you, for the sake of my gilding, and verily believe I am the only man alive, from whom they would be welcome to a palate like yours. I wish I could make them more splendid than they are, more alluring to the eye, at least, if not more pleasing to the taste; but my leaf-gold is tarnished, and has received such a tinge from the vapours that are ever brooding over my mind, that I think it no small proof of your partiality to me that you will read my letters. I am not fond of long-winded metaphors; I have always observed that they halt at the latter end of their progress, and so does mine. I deal much in ink, indeed, but not such ink as is employed by poets and writers of essays. Mine is a harmless fluid, and guilty of no deceptions but such as may prevail, without the least injury, to the person imposed on. I draw mountains, valleys, woods, and streams, and ducks, and dab-chicks. I admire them myself, and Mrs. Unwin admires them, and her praise and my praise put together are fame enough for me. Oh! I could spend whole days and moonlight nights in feeding upon a lovely prospect! My eyes drink the rivers as they flow. If every human being upon earth could think for one quarter of an hour as I have done for many years, there might, perhaps, be many miserable men among them, but not an unawakened one would be found from the arctic to the antarctic circle. At present, the difference between them and me is greatly to their advantage. I delight in baubles, and know them to be so; for, viewed without a reference to their author, what is the earth, what are the planets, what is the sun itself, but a bauble? Better for a man never to have seen them, or to see them with the eyes of a brute, stupid and unconscious of what he beholds, than not to be able to say, "The Maker of all these wonders is my friend!" Their eyes have never been opened to see that they are trifles; mine have been, and will be till they are closed for ever. They think a fine estate, a large conservatory, a hothouse, rich as a West Indian garden, things[45] of consequence, visit them with pleasure, and muse upon them with ten times more. I am pleased with a frame of four lights, doubtful whether the few pines it contains will ever be worth a farthing; amuse myself with a green-house, which Lord Bute's gardener could take upon his back, and walk away with; and when I have paid it the accustomed visit, and watered it, and given it air, I say to myself—"This is not mine, 'tis a plaything lent me for the present, I must leave it soon."

W. C.


Olney, May 6, 1780.

My dear Friend,—I am much obliged to you for your speedy answer to my queries. I know less of the law than a country attorney, yet sometimes I think I have almost as much business. My former connexion with the profession has got wind, and though I earnestly profess, and protest, and proclaim it abroad, that I know nothing of the matter, they cannot be persuaded to believe, that a head once endowed with a legal perriwig can ever be deficient in those natural endowments it is supposed to cover. I have had the good fortune to be once or twice in the right, which, added to the cheapness of a gratuitous counsel, has advanced my credit to a degree I never expected to attain in the capacity of a lawyer. Indeed, if two of the wisest in the science of jurisprudence may give opposite opinions on the same point, which does not unfrequently happen, it seems to be a matter of indifference, whether a man answers by rule or at a venture. He that stumbles upon the right side of the question, is just as useful to his client as he that arrives at the same end by regular approaches, and is conducted to the mark he aims at by the greatest authorities.

These violent attacks of a distemper so often fatal are very alarming to all who esteem and respect the Chancellor as he deserves. A life of confinement and of anxious attention to important objects, where the habit is bilious to such a terrible degree, threatens to be but a short one; and I wish he may not be made a text for men of reflection to moralize upon; affording a conspicuous instance of the transient and fading nature of all human accomplishments and attainments.

Yours affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, May 8, 1780.

My dear Friend,—My scribbling humour has of late been entirely absorbed in the passion for landscape-drawing. It is a most amusing art, and, like every other art, requires much practice and attention.

Nil sine multo
Vita labore dedit mortalibus.

Excellence is providentially placed beyond the reach of indolence, that success may be the reward of industry, and that idleness may be punished with obscurity and disgrace. So long as I am pleased with an employment I am capable of unwearied application, because my feelings are all of the intense kind: I never received a little pleasure from any thing in my life; if I am delighted, it is in the extreme. The unhappy consequences of this temperament is, that my attachment to any occupation seldom outlives the novelty of it. That nerve of my imagination, that feels the touch of any particular amusement, twangs under the energy of the pressure with so much vehemence, that it soon becomes sensible of weariness and fatigue. Hence I draw an unfavourable prognostic, and expect that I shall shortly be constrained to look out for something else. Then perhaps I may string the harp again, and be able to comply with your demand.

Now for the visit you propose to pay us, and propose not to pay us, the hope of which plays upon your paper, like a jack-o-lantern upon the ceiling. This is no mean simile, for Virgil (you remember) uses it. 'Tis here, 'tis there, it vanishes, it returns, it dazzles you, a cloud interposes, and it is gone. However just the comparison, I hope you will contrive to spoil it, and that your final determination will be to come. As to the masons you expect, bring them with you—bring brick, bring mortar, bring every thing, that would oppose itself to your journey—all shall be welcome. I have a green-house that is too small, come and enlarge it; build me a pinery; repair the garden-wall, that has great need of your assistance; do any thing, you cannot do too much; so far from thinking you and your train troublesome, we shall rejoice to see you, upon these or upon any other terms you can propose. But, to be serious—you will do well to consider that a long summer is before you—that the party will not have such another opportunity to meet this great while—that you may finish your masonry long enough before winter, though you should not begin this month, but that you cannot always find your brother and sister Powley at Olney. These and some other considerations, such as the desire we have to see you, and the pleasure we expect from seeing you all together, may, and I think ought, to overcome your scruples.

From a general recollection of Lord Clarendon's History of the Rebellion, I thought, (and I remember I told you so,) that there was a[46] striking resemblance between that period and the present. But I am now reading, and have read three volumes of, Hume's History, one of which is engrossed entirely by that subject. There I see reason to alter my opinion, and the seeming resemblance has disappeared upon a more particular information. Charles succeeded to a long train of arbitrary princes, whose subjects had tamely acquiesced in the despotism of their masters till their privileges were all forgot. He did but tread in their steps, and exemplify the principles in which he had been brought up, when he oppressed his people. But, just at that time, unhappily for the monarch, the subject began to see, and to see that he had a right to property and freedom. This marks a sufficient difference between the disputes of that day and the present. But there was another main cause of that rebellion, which at this time does not operate at all. The king was devoted to the hierarchy; his subjects were puritans and would not bear it. Every circumstance of ecclesiastical order and discipline was an abomination to them, and, in his esteem, an indispensable duty; and, though at last he was obliged to give up many things, he would not abolish episcopacy, and till that were done his concessions could have no conciliating effect. These two concurring causes were, indeed, sufficient to set three kingdoms in a flame. But they subsist not now, nor any other, I hope, notwithstanding the bustle made by the patriots, equal to the production of such terrible events.[51]

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.

The correspondence of the poet with his cousin Mrs. Cowper was at this time resumed, after an interval of ten years. She was deeply afflicted by the loss of her brother, Frederic Madan, an officer who died in America, after having distinguished himself by poetical talents as well as by military virtues.


Olney, May 10, 1780.

My dear Cousin,—I do not write to comfort you; that office is not likely to be well performed by one who has no comfort for himself; nor to comply with an impertinent ceremony, which in general might well be spared upon such occasions; but because I would not seem indifferent to the concerns of those I have so much reason to esteem and love. If I did not sorrow for your brother's death, I should expect that nobody would for mine; when I knew him, he was much beloved, and I doubt not continued to be so. To live and die together is the lot of a few happy families, who hardly know what a separation means, and one sepulchre serves them all; but the ashes of our kindred are dispersed indeed. Whether the American Gulf has swallowed up any other of my relations, I know not; it has made many mourners.

Believe me, my dear cousin, though after a long silence, which, perhaps, nothing less than the present concern could have prevailed with me to interrupt, as much as ever,

Your affectionate kinsman,
W. C.


Olney, May 10, 1780.

My dear Friend,—If authors could have lived to adjust and authenticate their own text, a commentator would have been a useless creature. For instance—if Dr. Bentley had found, or opined that he had found, the word tube, where it seemed to present itself to you, and had judged the subject worthy of his critical acumen, he would either have justified the corrupt reading, or have substituted some invention of his own, in defence of which he would have exerted all his polemical abilities, and have quarrelled with half the literati in Europe. Then suppose the writer himself, as in the present case, to interpose, with a gentle whisper, thus—"If you look again, doctor, you will perceive, that what appears to you to be tube is neither more nor less than the monosyllable ink, but I wrote it in great haste, and the want of sufficient precision in the character has occasioned your mistake; you will be satisfied, especially when you see the sense elucidated by the explanation."—But I question whether the doctor would quit his ground, or allow any author to be a competent judge in his own case. The world, however, would acquiesce immediately, and vote the critic useless.

James Andrews, who is my Michael Angelo, pays me many compliments on my success in the art of drawing, but I have not yet the vanity to think myself qualified to furnish your apartment. If I should ever attain to the degree of self-opinion requisite to such an undertaking, I shall labour at it with pleasure. I can only say, though I hope not with the affected modesty of the above-mentioned Dr. Bentley, who said the same thing,

Me quoque dicunt
Vatem pastores; sed non ego credulus illis.

A crow, rook, or raven, has built a nest in one of the young elm-trees at the side of Mrs. Aspray's orchard. In the violent storm that[47] blew yesterday morning, I saw it agitated to a degree that seemed to threaten its immediate destruction, and versified the following thoughts upon the occasion.[52]

W. C.


Olney, June 2, 1780.

Dear Madam,—When I write to Mr. Newton, he answers me by letter; when I write to you, you answer me in fish. I return you many thanks for the mackerel and lobster. They assured me, in terms as intelligible as pen and ink could have spoken, that you still remember Orchard-side; and, though they never spoke in their lives, and it was still less to be expected from them that they should speak being dead, they gave us an assurance of your affection that corresponds exactly with that which Mr. Newton expresses towards us in all his letters.—For my own part, I never in my life began a letter more at a venture than the present. It is possible that I may finish it, but perhaps more than probable that I shall not. I have had several indifferent nights, and the wind is easterly; two circumstances so unfavourable to me in all my occupations, but especially that of writing, that it was with the greatest difficulty I could even bring myself to attempt it.

You have never yet perhaps been made acquainted with the unfortunate Tom F—'s misadventure. He and his wife, returning from Hanslope fair, were coming down Weston-lane; to wit, themselves, their horse, and their great wooden panniers, at ten o'clock at night. The horse having a lively imagination and very weak nerves, fancied he either saw or heard something, but has never been able to say what. A sudden fright will impart activity and a momentary vigour even to lameness itself. Accordingly he started, and sprang from the middle of the road to the side of it, with such surprising alacrity, that he dismounted the gingerbread baker and his gingerbread wife in a moment. Not contented with this effort, nor thinking himself yet out of danger, he proceeded as fast as he could to a full gallop, rushed against the gate at the bottom of the lane, and opened it for himself, without perceiving that there was any gate there. Still he galloped, and with a velocity and momentum continually increasing, till he arrived in Olney. I had been in bed about ten minutes, when I heard the most uncommon and unaccountable noise that can be imagined. It was, in fact, occasioned by the clattering of tin pattypans and a Dutch oven against the sides of the panniers. Much gingerbread was picked up in the street, and Mr. Lucy's windows were broken all to pieces. Had this been all, it would have been a comedy, but we learned the next morning, that the poor woman's collar-bone was broken, and she has hardly been able to resume her occupation since.

What is added on the other side, if I could have persuaded myself to write sooner, would have reached you sooner; 'tis about ten days old....


The male dove was smoking a pipe, and the female dove was sewing, while she delivered herself as above. This little circumstance may lead you perhaps to guess what pair I had in my eye.

Yours, dear madam,
W. C.


Olney, June 8, 1780.

My dear Friend,—It is possible I might have indulged myself in the pleasure of writing to you, without waiting for a letter from you, but for a reason which you will not easily guess. Your mother communicated to me the satisfaction you expressed in my correspondence, that you thought me entertaining, and clever, and so forth. Now you must know I love praise dearly, especially from the judicious, and those who have so much delicacy themselves as not to offend mine in giving it. But then, I found this consequence attending, or likely to attend, the eulogium you bestowed—if my friend thought me witty before, he shall think me ten times more witty hereafter—where I joked once, I will joke five times, and, for one sensible remark, I will send him a dozen. Now this foolish vanity would have spoiled me quite, and would have made me as disgusting a letter-writer as Pope, who seems to have thought that unless a sentence was well-turned, and every period pointed with some conceit, it was not worth the carriage. Accordingly he is to me, except in a very few instances, the most disagreeable maker of epistles that ever I met with. I was willing therefore to wait till the impression your commendation had made upon the foolish part of me was worn off, that I might scribble away as usual, and write my uppermost thoughts, and those only.

You are better skilled in ecclesiastical law than I am.—Mrs. P. desires me to inform her, whether a parson can be obliged to take an apprentice. For some of her husband's opposers, at D——, threaten to clap one upon him. Now I think it would be rather hard if clergymen, who are not allowed to exercise any handicraft whatever, should be subject to such an imposition. If Mr. P. was a cordwainer or a breeches-maker all the week, and a preacher only on Sundays, it would seem reasonable[48] enough in that case that he should take an apprentice if he chose it. But even then, in my poor judgment, he ought to be left to his option. If they mean by an apprentice a pupil whom they will oblige him to hew into a parson, and, after chipping away the block that hides the minister within, to qualify him to stand erect in a pulpit—that, indeed, is another consideration. But still we live in a free country, and I cannot bring myself even to suspect that an English divine can possibly be liable to such compulsion. Ask your uncle, however; for he is wiser in these things than either of us.

I thank you for your two inscriptions, and like the last the best; the thought is just and fine—but the two last lines are sadly damaged by the monkish jingle of peperit and reperit. I have not yet translated them, nor do I promise to do it, though at some idle hour perhaps I may. In return, I send you a translation of a simile in the Paradise Lost. Not having that poem at hand, I cannot refer you to the book and page, but you may hunt for it, if you think it worth your while. It begins—

"So when from mountain tops the dusky clouds
Ascending," &c.
Quales aërii montis de vertice nubes
Cum surgunt, et jam Boreæ tumida ora quiêrunt,
Cælum hilares abdit, spissâ caligine, vultus:
Tùm si jucundo tandem sol prodeat ore,
Et croceo montes et pascua lumine tingat,
Gaudent omnia, aves mulcent concentibus agros,
Balatuque ovium colles, vallesque resultant.

If you spy any fault in my Latin, tell me, for I am sometimes in doubt; but, as I told you when you was here, I have not a Latin book in the world to consult, or correct a mistake by, and some years have passed since I was a school-boy.


Sweet stream! that winds through yonder glade—
Apt emblem of a virtuous maid!—
Silent, and chaste, she steals along,
Far from the world's gay, busy throng,
With gentle yet prevailing force,
Intent upon her destin'd course:
Graceful and useful all she does,
Blessing and blest where'er she goes;
Pure-bosomed, as that watery glass,
And heav'n reflected in her face:

Now this is not so exclusively applicable to a maiden as to be the sole property of your sister Shuttleworth. If you look at Mrs. Unwin, you will see that she has not lost her right to this just praise by marrying you.

Your mother sends her love to all, and mine comes jogging along by the side of it.

W. C.


Olney, June 12, 1780.

Dear Sir,—We accept it as an effort of your friendship, that you could prevail with yourself, in a time of such terror and distress, to send us repeated accounts of yours and Mrs. Newton's welfare. You supposed, with reason enough, that we should be apprehensive for your safety, situated as you were, apparently within the reach of so much danger. We rejoice that you have escaped it all, and that, except the anxiety which you must have felt both for yourselves and others, you have suffered nothing upon this dreadful occasion. A metropolis in flames, and a nation in ruins, are subjects of contemplation for such a mind as yours, that will leave a lasting impression behind them.[55] It is well that the design died in the execution, and will be buried, I hope, never to rise again, in the ashes of its own combustion. There is a melancholy pleasure in looking back upon such a scene, arising from a comparison of possibilities with facts; the enormous bulk of the intended mischief, with the abortive and partial accomplishment of it: much was done, more indeed then could have been supposed practicable in a well-regulated city, not unfurnished with a military force for its protection. But surprise and astonishment seem, at first, to have struck every nerve of the police with a palsy, and to have disarmed government of all its powers.[56]

I congratulate you upon the wisdom that[49] withheld you from entering yourself a member of the Protestant Association. Your friends who did so have reason enough to regret their doing it, even though they should never be called upon. Innocent as they are, and they who know them cannot doubt of their being perfectly so, it is likely to bring an odium on the profession they make that will not soon be forgotten. Neither is it possible for a quiet, inoffensive man to discover on a sudden that his zeal has carried him into such company, without being to the last degree shocked at his imprudence. Their religion was an honourable mantle, like that of Elijah, but the majority wore cloaks of Guy Fawkes's time, and meant nothing so little as what they pretended.

W. C.


Olney, June 18, 1780.

Reverend and dear William,—The affairs of kingdoms and the concerns of individuals are variegated alike with the chequer-work of joy and sorrow. The news of a great acquisition in America[57] has succeeded to terrible tumults in London, and the beams of prosperity are now playing upon the smoke of that conflagration which so lately terrified the whole land. These sudden changes, which are matter of every man's observation, and may therefore always be reasonably expected, serve to hold up the chin of despondency above water, and preserve mankind in general from the sin and misery of accounting existence a burden not to be endured—an evil we should be sure to encounter, if we were not warranted to look for a bright reverse of our most afflictive experiences. The Spaniards were sick of the war at the very commencement of it; and I hope that by this time the French themselves begin to find themselves a little indisposed, if not desirous of peace, which that restless and meddling temper of theirs is incapable of desiring for its own sake. But is it true that this detestable plot was an egg laid in France, and hatched in London, under the influence of French corruption?—Nam te scire, deos quoniam propius contingis, oportet. The offspring has the features of such a parent, and yet, without the clearest proof of the fact, I would not willingly charge upon a civilized nation what perhaps the most barbarous would abhor the thought of. I no sooner saw the surmise, however, in the paper, than I immediately began to write Latin verses upon the occasion. "An odd effect," you will say, "of such a circumstance;"—but an effect, nevertheless, that whatever has at any time moved my passions, whether pleasantly or otherwise, has always had upon me. Were I to express what I feel upon such occasions in prose, it would be verbose, inflated, and disgusting. I therefore have recourse to verse, as a suitable vehicle for the most vehement expressions my thoughts suggest to me. What I have written, I did not write so much for the comfort of the English as for the mortification of the French. You will immediately perceive therefore that I have been labouring in vain, and that this bouncing explosion is likely to spend itself in the air. For I have no means of circulating what follows through all the French territories; and unless that, or something like it, can be done, my indignation will be entirely fruitless. Tell me how I can convey it into Sartine's pocket, or who will lay it upon his desk for me. But read it first, and, unless you think it pointed enough to sting the Gaul to the quick, burn it.


Perfida, crudelis, victa et lymphata furore,
Non armis, laurum Gallia fraude petit.
Venalem pretio plebem conducit, et urit
Undique privatas patriciasque domos.
Nequicquàm conata sua, fœdissima sperat
Posse tamen nostrâ nos superare manu.
Gallia, vana struis! Precibus nunc utere! Vinces,
Nam mites timidis, supplicibusque sumus.

I have lately exercised my ingenuity in contriving an exercise for yours, and have composed a riddle which, if it does not make you laugh before you have solved it, will probably do it afterwards. I would transcribe it now, but am really so fatigued with writing, that, unless I knew you had a quinsy, and that a fit of laughter might possibly save your life, I could not prevail with myself to do it.

What could you possibly mean, slender as you are, by sallying out upon your two walking sticks at two in the morning, in the midst of such a tumult? We admire your prowess, but cannot commend your prudence.

Our love attends you all, collectively and individually.

W. C.


Olney, June 22, 1780.

My dear Friend,—A word or two in answer to two or three questions of yours, which I have hitherto taken no notice of. I am not in a scribbling mood, and shall therefore make no excursions to amuse either myself or you. The needful will be as much as I can manage at present—the playful must wait another opportunity.

I thank you for your offer of Robertson, but I have more reading upon my hands at this[50] present writing than I shall get rid of in a twelvemonth, and this moment recollect that I have seen it already. He is an author that I admire much, with one exception, that I think his style is too laboured. Hume, as an historian, pleases me more.

I have just read enough of the Biographia Britannica to say that I have tasted it, and have no doubt but I shall like it. I am pretty much in the garden at this season of the year, so read but little. In summer-time I am as giddy-headed as a boy, and can settle to nothing. Winter condenses me, and makes me lumpish and sober; and then I can read all day long.

For the same reasons, I have no need of the landscapes at present; when I want them I will renew my application, and repeat the description, but it will hardly be before October.

Before I rose this morning, I composed the three following Stanzas; I send them because I like them pretty well myself; and, if you should not, you must accept this handsome compliment as an amends for their deficiencies. You may print the lines, if you judge them worth it.[58]

I have only time to add love, &c. and my two initials.

W. C.


Olney, June 23, 1780.

My dear Friend,—Your reflections upon the state of London, the sins and enormities of that great city, while you had a distant view of it from Greenwich, seem to have been prophetic of the heavy stroke that fell upon it just after. Man often prophesies without knowing it—a spirit speaks by him, which is not his own, though he does not at that time suspect that he is under the influence of any other. Did he foresee what is always foreseen by Him who dictates, what he supposes to be his own, he would suffer by anticipation as well as by consequence, and wish perhaps as ardently for the happy ignorance to which he is at present so much indebted, as some have foolishly and inconsiderately done for a knowledge that would be but another name for misery.

And why have I said all this, especially to you who have hitherto said it to me? not because I had the least desire of informing a wiser man than myself, but because the observation was naturally suggested by the recollection of your letter, and that letter, though not the last, happened to be uppermost in my mind. I can compare this mind of mine to nothing that resembles it more than to a board that is under the carpenter's plane, (I mean while I am writing to you,) the shavings are my uppermost thoughts; after a few strokes of the tool it acquires a new surface; this again upon a repetition of his task he takes off, and a new surface still succeeds: whether the shavings of the present day will be worth your acceptance, I know not; I am unfortunately made neither of cedar nor mahogany, but Truncus ficulnus, inutile lignum—consequently, though I should be planed till I am as thin as a wafer, it will be but rubbish to the last.

It is not strange that you should be the subject of a false report, for the sword of slander, like that of war, devours one as well as another; and a blameless character is particularly delicious to its unsparing appetite. But that you should be the object of such a report, you who meddle less with the designs of government than almost any man that lives under it, this is strange indeed. It is well, however, when they who account it good sport to traduce the reputation of another invent a story that refutes itself. I wonder they do not always endeavour to accommodate their fiction to the real character of the person; their tale would then, at least, have an air of probability, and it might cost a peaceable good man much more trouble to disprove it. But perhaps it would not be easy to discern what part of your conduct lies more open to such an attempt than another, or what it is that you either say or do, at any time, that presents a fair opportunity to the most ingenious slanderer to slip in a falsehood between your words or actions, that shall seem to be of a piece with either. You hate compliment, I know, but, by your leave, this is not one—it is a truth—worse and worse—now I have praised you indeed—well you must thank yourself for it, it was absolutely done without the least intention on my part, and proceeded from a pen, that, as far as I can remember, was never guilty of flattery, since I knew how to hold it. He that slanders me, paints me blacker than I am, and he that flatters me, whiter—they both daub me, and when I look in the glass of conscience, I see myself disguised by both—I had as lief my tailor should sew gingerbread-nuts on my coat instead of buttons as that any man should call my Bristol stone a diamond. The tailor's trick would not at all embellish my suit, nor the flatterer's make me at all the richer. I never make a present to my friend of what I dislike myself. Ergo, (I have reached the conclusion at last,) I did not mean to flatter you.

We have sent a petition to Lord Dartmouth, by this post, praying him to interfere in parliament in behalf of the poor lace-makers. I say we, because I have signed it.——Mr. G. drew it up. Mr. —— did not think it grammatical, I therefore would not sign it. Yet I think,[51] Priscian himself would have pardoned the manner for the sake of the matter. I dare say if his lordship does not comply with the prayer of it, it will not be because he thinks it of more consequence to write grammatically than that the poor should eat, but for some better reason.

My love to all under your roof.

W. C.


Olney, July 2, 1780.

Carissime, I am glad of your confidence, and have reason to hope I shall never abuse it. If you trust me with a secret, I am hermetically sealed; and if you call for the exercise of my judgment, such as it is, I am never freakish or wanton in the use of it, much less mischievous and malignant. Critics, I believe, do not often stand so clear of those vices as I do. I like your epitaph, except that I doubt the propriety of the word immaturus; which, I think, is rather applicable to fruits than flowers; and except the last pentameter, the assertion it contains being rather too obvious a thought to finish with; not that I think an epitaph should be pointed like an epigram. But still there is a closeness of thought and expression necessary in the conclusion of all these little things, that they may leave an agreeable flavour upon the palate. Whatever is short should be nervous, masculine, and compact. Little men are so; and little poems should be so; because, where the work is short, the author has no right to the plea of weariness, and laziness is never admitted as an available excuse in any thing. Now you know my opinion, you will very likely improve upon my improvement, and alter my alterations for the better. To touch and re-touch is, though some writers boast of negligence, and others would be ashamed to show their foul copies, the secret of almost all good writing, especially in verse. I am never weary of it myself, and, if you would take as much pains as I do, you would have no need to ask for my corrections.

Gulielmi et Mariæ filius
1780, ÆT. 10.
Care, vale! Sed non æternum, care, valeto!
Namque iterum tecum, sim modo dignus, ero.
Tum nihil amplexus poterit divellere nostros,
Nec tu marcesces, nec lacrymabor ego.[59]

Having an English translation of it by me, I send it though it may be of no use.

Farewell! "But not for ever," Hope replies,
Trace but his steps, and meet him in the skies!
There nothing shall renew our parting pain,
Thou shalt not wither, nor I weep again.

The stanzas that I sent you are maiden ones, having never been seen by any eye but your mother's and your own.

If you send me franks, I shall write longer letters.—Valete, sicut et nos valemus! Amate, sicut et nos amamus!

W. C.


Olney, June 3, 1780.

Mon Ami,—By this time, I suppose, you have ventured to take your fingers out of your ears, being delivered from the deafening shouts of the most zealous mob that ever strained their lungs in the cause of religion. I congratulate you upon a gentle relapse into the customary sounds of a great city, which, though we rustics abhor them, as noisy and dissonant, are a musical and sweet murmur, compared with what you have lately heard. The tinkling of a kennel may be distinguished now, where the roaring of a cascade would have been sunk and lost. I never suspected, till the newspapers informed me of it, a few days since, that the barbarous uproar had reached Great Queen Street. I hope Mrs. Hill was in the country, and shall rejoice to hear that, as I am sure you did not take up the protestant cudgels[61] upon this hair-brained occasion, so you have not been pulled in pieces as a papist.

W. C.

The next letter to Mr. Hill affords a striking proof of Cowper's compassionate feelings towards the poor around him.


Olney, July 8, 1780.

Mon Ami,—If you ever take the tip of the chancellor's ear between your finger and thumb, you can hardly improve the opportunity to better purpose, than if you should whisper into it the voice of compassion and lenity to the[52] lace-makers. I am an eye-witness to their poverty, and do know that hundreds in this little town are upon the point of starving; and that the most unremitting industry is but barely sufficient to keep them from it. I know that the bill by which they would have been so fatally affected is thrown out, but Lord Stormont threatens them with another; and if another like it should pass, they are undone. We lately sent a petition to Lord Dartmouth; I signed it, and am sure the contents are true. The purport of it was to inform him, that there are very near one thousand two hundred lace-makers in this beggarly town, the most of whom had reason enough, while the bill was in agitation, to look upon every loaf they bought as the last they should ever be able to earn. I can never think it good policy to incur the certain inconvenience of ruining thirty thousand, in order to prevent a remote and possible damage, though to a much greater number. The measure is like a scythe, and the poor lace-makers are the sickly crop, that trembles before the edge of it. The prospect of a peace with America is like the streak of dawn in their horizon; but this bill is like a black cloud behind it, that threatens their hope of a comfortable day with utter extinction.

I do not perceive, till this moment, that I had tacked two similes together, a practice which, though warranted by the example of Homer, and allowed in an Epic Poem, is rather luxuriant and licentious in a letter; lest I should add another, I conclude.

W. C.


Olney, July 11, 1780.

I account myself sufficiently commended for my Latin exercise, by the number of translations it has undergone. That which you distinguished in the margin by the title of "better" was the production of a friend, and, except that, for a modest reason, he omitted the third couplet, I think it a good one. To finish the group, I have translated it myself; and, though I would not wish you to give it to the world, for more reasons than one, especially lest some French hero should call me to account for it, I add it on the other side. An author ought to be the best judge of his own meaning; and, whether I have succeeded or not, I cannot but wish, that where a translator is wanted, the writer was always to be his own.

False, cruel, disappointed, stung to the heart,
France quits the warrior's for the assassin's part;
To dirty hands a dirty bribe conveys,
Bids the low street and lofty palace blaze.
Her sons too weak to vanquish us alone,
She hires the worst and basest of our own.
Kneel, France! a suppliant conquers us with ease,
We always spare a coward on his knees.[62]

I have often wondered that Dryden's illustrious epigram on Milton,[63] (in my mind the second best that ever was made) has never been translated into Latin, for the admiration of the learned in other countries. I have at last presumed to venture upon the task myself. The great closeness of the original, which is equal, in that respect, to the most compact Latin I ever saw, made it extremely difficult.

Tres tria, sed longè distantia, sæcula vates
Ostentant tribus è gentibus eximios.
Græcia sublimem, cum majestate disertum
Roma tulit, felix Anglia utrique parem.
Partubus ex binis Natura exhausta, coacta est,
Tertius ut fieret, consociare duos.

I have not one bright thought upon the chancellor's recovery; nor can I strike off so much as one sparkling atom from that brilliant subject. It is not when I will, nor upon what I will, but as a thought happens to occur to me; and then I versify, whether I will or not. I never write but for my amusement; and what I write is sure to answer that end, if it answers no other. If, besides this purpose, the more desirable one of entertaining you be effected, I then receive double fruit of my labour, and consider this produce of it as a second crop, the more valuable because less expected. But when I have once remitted a composition to you, I have done with it. It is pretty certain that I shall never read it or think of it again. From that moment I have constituted you sole judge of its accomplishments, if it has any, and of its defects, which it is sure to have.

For this reason I decline answering the question with which you concluded your last, and cannot persuade myself to enter into a critical examen of the two pieces upon Lord Mansfield's loss,[64] either with respect to their intrinsic or comparative merit, and, indeed, after having rather discouraged that use of them which you had designed, there is no occasion for it.

W. C.


Olney, July 12, 1780.

My dear Friend,—Such nights as I frequently[53] spend are but a miserable prelude to the succeeding day, and indispose me above all things to the business of writing. Yet, with a pen in my hand, if I am able to write at all, I find myself gradually relieved; and as I am glad of any employment that may serve to engage my attention, so especially I am pleased with an opportunity of conversing with you, though it be but upon paper. This occupation above all others assists me in that self-deception to which I am indebted for all the little comfort I enjoy; things seem to be as they were, and I almost forget that they never can be so again.

We are both obliged to you for a sight of Mr. ——'s letter. The friendly and obliging manner of it will much enhance the difficulty of answering it. I think I can see plainly that, though he does not hope for your applause, he would gladly escape your censure. He seems to approach you smoothly and softly, and to take you gently by the hand, as if he bespoke your lenity, and entreated you at least to spare him. You have such skill in the management of your pen that I doubt not you will be able to send him a balmy reproof, that shall give him no reason to complain of a broken head. How delusive is the wildest speculation, when pursued with eagerness, and nourished with such arguments as the perverted ingenuity of such a mind as his can easily furnish! Judgment falls asleep upon the bench, while Imagination, like a smug, pert counsellor, stands chattering at the bar, and, with a deal of fine-spun, enchanting sophistry, carries all before him.

If I had strength of mind, I have not strength of body for the task which, you say, some would impose upon me. I cannot bear much thinking. The meshes of that fine network, the brain, are composed of such mere spinners' threads in me, that when a long thought finds its way into them, it buzzes, and twangs, and bustles about at such a rate as seems to threaten the whole contexture. No—I must needs refer it again to you.

My enigma will probably find you out, and you will find out my enigma, at some future time. I am not in a humour to transcribe it now. Indeed I wonder that a sportive thought should ever knock at the door of my intellects, and still more that it should gain admittance. It is as if harlequin should intrude himself into the gloomy chamber where a corpse is deposited in state. His antic gesticulations would be unseasonable at any rate, but more especially so if they should distort the features of the mournful attendants into laughter. But the mind, long wearied with the sameness of a dull, dreary prospect, will gladly fix its eyes on anything that may make a little variety in its contemplations, though it were but a kitten playing with her tail.

You would believe, though I did not say it at the end of every letter, that we remember you and Mrs. Newton with the same affection as ever: but I would not therefore excuse myself from writing what it gives you pleasure to read. I have often wished indeed, when writing to an ordinary correspondent, for the revival of the Roman custom—salutis at top, and vale at bottom. But as the French have taught all Europe to enter a room and to leave it with a most ceremonious bow, so they have taught us to begin and conclude our letters in the same manner. However, I can say to you,

Sans ceremonie,
Adieu, mon ami!

W. C.

The poet's affectionate effort in renewing his correspondence with Mrs. Cowper, to whom he had been accustomed to pour forth his heart without reserve, appears to have had a beneficial effect on his reviving spirits. His pathetic letter to that lady was followed, in the course of two months, by a letter of a more lively cast, in which the reader will find some touches of his native humour, and a vein of pleasantry peculiar to himself.


July 20, 1780.

My dear Cousin,—Mr. Newton having desired me to be of the party, I am come to meet him. You see me sixteen years older, at the least, than when I saw you last; but the effects of time seem to have taken place rather on the outside of my head than within it. What was brown is become grey, but what was foolish remains foolish still. Green fruit must rot before it ripens, if the season is such as to afford it nothing but cold winds and dark clouds, that interrupt every ray of sunshine. My days steal away silently, and march on (as poor mad Lear would have made his soldiers march) as if they were shod with felt; not so silently but that I hear them: yet were it not that I am always listening to their flight, having no infirmity that I had not when I was much younger, I should deceive myself with an imagination that I am still young.

I am fond of writing as an amusement, but do not always find it one. Being rather scantily furnished with subjects that are good for anything, and corresponding only with those who have no relish for such as are good for nothing, I often find myself reduced to the necessity, the disagreeable necessity, of writing about myself. This does not mend the matter much, for, though in a description of my own condition, I discover abundant materials to employ my pen upon, yet as the task is not very agreeable to me, so I am sufficiently aware, that it is likely to prove irksome to others. A painter who should confine himself,[54] in the exercise of his art, to the drawing of his own picture, must be a wonderful coxcomb if he did not soon grow sick of his occupation, and be peculiarly fortunate if he did not make others as sick as himself.

Remote as your dwelling is from the late scene of riot and confusion, I hope that, though you could not but hear the report, you heard no more, and that the roarings of the mad multitude did not reach you. That was a day of terror to the innocent, and the present is a day of still greater terror to the guilty. The law was, for a few moments, like an arrow in the quiver, seemed to be of no use, and did no execution; now it is an arrow upon the string, and many who despised it lately are trembling as they stand before the point of it.

I have talked more already than I have formerly done in three visits—you remember my taciturnity, never to be forgotten by those who knew me; not to depart entirely from what might be, for aught I know, the most shining part of my character, I here shut my mouth, make my bow, and return to Olney.

W. C.


Olney, July 27, 1780.

My dear Friend,—As two men sit silent, after having exhausted all their topics of conversation; one says, "It is very fine weather," and the other says, "Yes;"—one blows his nose, and the other rubs his eye-brows; (by the way, this is very much in Homer's manner;) such seems to be the case between you and me. After a silence of some days, I wrote you a long something, that (I suppose) was nothing to the purpose, because it has not afforded you materials for an answer. Nevertheless, as it often happens in the case above-stated, one of the distressed parties, being deeply sensible of the awkwardness of a dumb duet, breaks silence again, and resolves to speak, though he has nothing to say, so it fares with me. I am with you again in the form of an epistle, though, considering my present emptiness, I have reason to fear that your only joy upon the occasion will be, that it is conveyed to you in a frank.

When I began, I expected no interruption. But, if I had expected interruptions without end, I should have been less disappointed. First came the barber; who, after having embellished the outside of my head, has left the inside just as unfurnished as he found it. Then came Olney bridge, not into the house, but into the conversation. The cause relating to it was tried on Tuesday at Buckingham. The judge directed the jury to find a verdict favourable to Olney. The jury consisted of one knave and eleven fools. The last-mentioned followed the afore-mentioned as sheep follow a bell-wether, and decided in direct opposition to the said judge: then a flaw was discovered in the indictment:—the indictment was quashed, and an order made for a new trial. The new trial will be in the King's Bench, where said knave and said fools will have nothing to do with it. So the men of Olney fling up their caps, and assure themselves of a complete victory. A victory will save me and your mother many shillings, perhaps some pounds, which, except that it has afforded me a subject to write upon, was the only reason why I said so much about it. I know you take an interest in all that concerns us, and will consequently rejoice with us in the prospect of an event in which we are concerned so nearly.

Yours affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, July 30, 1780.

My dear Sir,—You may think perhaps that I deal more liberally with Mr. Unwin, in the way of poetical export, than I do with you, and I believe you have reason. The truth is this: if I walked the streets with a fiddle under my arm, I should never think of performing before the window of a privy councillor or a chief justice, but should rather make free with ears more likely to be open to such amusement. The trifles I produce in this way are indeed such trifles that I cannot think them seasonable presents for you. Mr. Unwin himself would not be offended if I was to tell him that there is this difference between him and Mr. Newton; that the latter is already an apostle, while he himself is only undergoing the business of incubation, with a hope that he may be hatched in time. When my Muse comes forth arrayed in sables, at least in a robe of graver cast, I make no scruple to direct her to my friend at Hoxton. This has been one reason why I have so long delayed the riddle. But lest I should seem to set a value upon it that I do not, by making it an object of still further inquiry, here it comes.

I am just two and two, I am warm, I am cold,
And the parent of numbers that cannot be told,
I am lawful, unlawful—a duty, a fault,
I am often sold dear—good for nothing when bought,
An extraordinary boon, and a matter of course,
And yielded with pleasure—when taken by force.

W. C.


Olney, Aug. 6, 1780.

My dear Friend,—You like to hear from me—this is a very good reason why I should[55] 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 spoke 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 anything or nothing, just as that anything 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 forward 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 St. 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 mean time 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-edgings, 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 taste 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 handsomer disguise than they did in the 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.

W. C.


Olney, Aug. 10, 1780.

My dear Sir,—I greet you at your castle of Buen Retiro, and wish you could enjoy the unmixed pleasures of the country there. But it seems you are obliged to dash the cup with a portion of those bitters you are always swallowing in town. Well—you are honourably and usefully employed, and ten times more beneficially to society than if you were piping to a few sheep under a spreading beech, or listening to a tinkling rill. Besides, by the effect of long custom and habitual practice, you are not only enabled to endure your occupation, but even find it agreeable. I remember the time when it would not have suited you so well to have devoted so large a part of your vacation to the objects of your profession; and you, I dare say, have not forgot what a seasonable relaxation you found, when lying at full stretch upon the ruins of an old wall, by the sea side, you amused yourself with Tasso's Jerusalem and the Pastor Fido. I recollect that we both pitied Mr. De Grey, when we called at his cottage at Taplow, and found, not the master indeed, but his desk, with his white-leaved folio upon it, which bespoke him as much a man of business in his retirement as in Westminster Hall. But by these steps he ascended the bench.[67] Now he may read what he pleases, and ride where he will, if the gout will give him leave. And you, who have no gout, and probably never will, when your hour of dismission comes, will, for that reason, if for no other, be a happier man than he.

I am, my dear friend,
Affectionately yours,
W. C.

P. S.—Mr. —— has not thought proper to favour me with his book, and, having no interest in the subject, I have not thought proper[56] to purchase it. Indeed I have no curiosity to read what I am sure must be erroneous before I read it. Truth is worth every thing that can be given for it; but a mere display of ingenuity, calculated only to mislead, is worth nothing.

The following letter shows the sportiveness of his imagination on the minutest subjects.


Olney, Aug. 21, 1780.

The following occurrence ought not to be passed over in silence, in a place where so few notable ones are to be met with. Last Wednesday night, while we were at supper, between the hours of eight and nine, I heard an unusual noise in the back parlour, as if one of the hares was entangled and endeavouring to disengage herself. I was just going to rise from table when it ceased. In about five minutes a voice on the outside of the parlour door inquired if one of my hares had got away. I immediately rushed into the next room, and found that my poor favourite puss had made her escape. She had gnawed in sunder the strings of a lattice work, with which I thought I had sufficiently secured the window, and which I preferred to any other sort of blind, because it admitted plenty of air. From thence I hastened to the kitchen, where I saw the redoubtable Thomas Freeman, who told me that, having seen her just after she dropped into the street, he attempted to cover her with his hat, but she screamed out and leaped directly over his head. I then desired him to pursue as fast as possible, and added Richard Coleman to the chace, as being nimbler, and carrying less weight than Thomas; not expecting to see her again, but desirous to learn, if possible, what became of her. In something less than an hour, Richard returned, almost breathless, with the following account: that, soon after he began to run, he left Tom behind him, and came in sight of a most numerous hunt of men, women, children, and dogs; that he did his best to keep back the dogs, and presently outstripped the crowd, so that the race was at last disputed between himself and puss: she ran right through the town, and down the lane that leads to Dropshot. A little before she came to the house, he got the start and turned her; she pushed for the town again, and soon after she entered it sought shelter in Mr. Wagstaff's tan-yard, adjoining to old Mr. Drake's. Sturges's harvest men were at supper, and saw her from the opposite side of the way. There she encountered the tan-pits full of water, and, while she was struggling out of one pit, and plunging into another, and almost drowned, one of the men drew her out by the ears, and secured her. She was then well washed in a bucket to get the lime out of her coat, and brought home in a sack at ten o'clock.

This frolic cost us four shillings, but you may believe that we did not grudge a farthing of it. The poor creature received only a little hurt in one of her claws and one of her ears, and is now almost as well as ever.

I do not call this an answer to your letter, but such as it is I send it, presuming upon that interest which I know you take in my minutest concerns, which I cannot express better than in the words of Terence, a little varied—Nihil mei a te alienum putas.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, Aug. 31, 1780.

My dear Cousin,—I am obliged to you for your long letter, which did not seem so, and for your short one, which was more than I had any reason to expect. Short as it was, it conveyed to me two interesting articles of intelligence,—an account of your recovering from a fever, and of Lady Cowper's death. The latter was, I suppose, to be expected, for, by what remembrance I have of her Ladyship, who was never much acquainted with her, she had reached those years that are always found upon the borders of another world. As for you, your time of life is comparatively of a youthful date. You may think of death as much as you please, (you cannot think of it too much,) but I hope you will live to think of it many years.

It costs me not much difficulty to suppose that my friends, who were already grown old when I saw them last, are old still, but it costs me a good deal sometimes to think of those who were at that time young as being older than they were. Not having been an eye-witness of the change that time has made in them, and my former idea of them not being corrected by observation, it remains the same; my memory presents me with this image unimpaired, and, while it retains the resemblance of what they were, forgets that by this time the picture may have lost much of its likeness, through the alteration that succeeding years have made in the original. I know not what impressions Time may have made upon your person, for while his claws (as our grannams called them) strike deep furrows in some faces, he seems to sheath them with much tenderness, as if fearful of doing injury, to others. But, though an enemy to the person, he is a friend to the mind, and you have found him so; though even in this respect his treatment of us depends upon what he meets with at our hands: if we use him well, and listen to his admonitions, he is a friend indeed, but otherwise[57] the worst of enemies, who takes from us daily something that we valued, and gives us nothing better in its stead. It is well with them, who, like you, can stand a-tiptoe on the mountain-top of human life, look down with pleasure upon the valley they have passed, and sometimes stretch their wings in joyful hope of a happy flight into eternity. Yet a little while, and your hope will be accomplished.

When you can favour me with a little account of your own family, without inconvenience, I shall be glad to receive it, for, though separated from my kindred by little more than half a century of miles, I know as little of their concerns as if oceans and continents were interposed between us.

Yours, my dear cousin,
W. C.


Olney, Sept. 3, 1780.

My dear Friend,—I am glad you are so provident, and that, while you are young, you have furnished yourself with the means of comfort in old age. Your crutch and your pipe may be of use to you, (and may they be so!) should your years be extended to an antediluvian date; and, for your perfect accommodation, you seem to want nothing but a clerk called Snuffle, and a sexton of the name of Skeleton, to make your ministerial equipage complete.

I think I have read as much of the first volume of the Biographia as I shall ever read. I find it very amusing; more so, perhaps, than it would have been, had they sifted their characters with more exactness, and admitted none but those who had in some way or other entitled themselves to immortality by deserving well of the public. Such a compilation would perhaps have been more judicious, though I confess it would have afforded less variety. The priests and monks of earlier and the doctors of later days, who have signalized themselves by nothing but a controversial pamphlet, long since thrown by and never to be perused again, might have been forgotten, without injury or loss to the national character for learning or genius. This observation suggested to me the following lines, which may serve to illustrate my meaning, and at the same time to give my criticism a sprightlier air.

O fond attempt to give a deathless lot
To names ignoble, born to be forgot!
In vain recorded in historic page,
They court the notice of a future age;
Those twinkling, tiny lustres of the land,
Drop one by one, from Fame's neglecting hand;
Lethean gulphs receive them as they fall,
And dark Oblivion soon absorbs them all.
So, when a child (as playful children use)
Has burnt to cinder a stale last year's news,
The flame extinct, he views the roving fire,
There goes my lady, and there goes the 'squire,
There goes the parson—O illustrious spark!
And there—scarce less illustrious—goes the clerk!

Virgil admits none but worthies into the Elysian fields; I cannot recollect the lines in which he describes them all, but these in particular I well remember:

Quique sui memores alios fecere merendo,
Inventas aut qui vitam excoluere per artes.

A chaste and scrupulous conduct like this would well become the writer of national biography. But enough of this.

Our respects attend Miss Shuttleworth, with many thanks for her intended present. Some purses derive all their value from their contents, but these will have an intrinsic value of their own; and, though mine should be often empty, which is not an improbable supposition, I shall still esteem it highly on its own account.

If you could meet with a second-hand Virgil, ditto Homer, both Iliad and Odyssey, together with a Clavis, for I have no Lexicon, and all tolerably cheap, I shall be obliged to you if you will make the purchase.

W. C.

The three following letters are interesting, as containing Cowper's sentiments on the subject of education.


Olney, Sept. 7, 1780.

My dear Friend,—As many gentlemen as there are in the world, who have children, and heads capable of reflecting upon the important subject of their education, so many opinions there are about it, and many of them just and sensible, though almost all differing from each other. With respect to the education of boys, I think they are generally made to draw in Latin and Greek trammels too soon. It is pleasing no doubt to a parent to see his child already in some sort a proficient in those languages, at an age when most others are entirely ignorant of them; but hence it often happens that a boy, who could construe a fable of Æsop at six or seven years of age, having exhausted his little stock of attention and diligence in making that notable acquisition, grows weary of his task, conceives a dislike for study, and perhaps makes but a very indifferent progress afterwards. The mind and body have, in this respect, a striking resemblance to each other. In childhood they are both nimble, but not strong; they can skip, and frisk about with wonderful agility, but hard labour spoils them both. In maturer years they become[58] less active, but more vigorous, more capable of a fixed application, and can make themselves sport with that which a little earlier would have affected them with intolerable fatigue, I should recommend it to you, therefore, (but after all you must judge for yourself,) to allot the two next years of little John's scholarship to writing and arithmetic, together with which, for variety's sake, and because it is capable of being formed into an amusement, I would mingle geography, (a science which, if not attended to betimes, is seldom made an object of much consideration,) essentially necessary to the accomplishment of a gentleman, yet, as I know (by sad experience) imperfectly, if at all, inculcated in the schools. Lord Spencer's son, when he was four years of age, knew the situation of every kingdom, country, city, river, and remarkable mountain in the world. For this attainment, which I suppose his father had never made, he was indebted to a plaything; having been accustomed to amuse himself with those maps which are cut into several compartments, so as to be thrown into a heap of confusion, that they may be put together again with an exact coincidence of all their angles and bearings, so as to form a perfect whole.

If he begins Latin and Greek at eight, or even at nine years of age, it is surely soon enough. Seven years, the usual allowance for these acquisitions, are more than sufficient for the purpose, especially with his readiness in learning; for you would hardly wish to have him qualified for the university before fifteen, a period in my mind much too early for it, and when he could hardly be trusted there without the utmost danger to his morals. Upon the whole, you will perceive that, in my judgment, the difficulty, as well as the wisdom, consists more in bridling in and keeping back a boy of his parts than in pushing him forward. If therefore, at the end of the two next years, instead of putting a grammar into his hand, you should allow him to amuse himself with some agreeable writers upon the subject of natural philosophy for another year, I think it would answer well. There is a book called Cosmotheoria Puerilis, there are Derham's Physico- and Astro-theology, together with several others in the same manner, very intelligible even to a child, and full of useful instruction.

W. C.


Olney, Sept. 17, 1780.

My dear Friend,—You desire my further thoughts on the subject of education. I send you such as had for the most part occurred to me when I wrote last, but could not be comprised in a single letter. They are indeed on a different branch of this interesting theme, but not less important than the former.

I think it your happiness, and wish you to think it so yourself, that you are in every respect qualified for the task of instructing your son, and preparing him for the university, without committing him to the care of a stranger. In my judgment, a domestic education deserves the preference to a public one, on a hundred accounts, which I have neither time nor room to mention. I shall only touch upon two or three, that I cannot but consider as having a right to your most earnest attention.

In a public school, or indeed in any school, his morals are sure to be but little attended to, and his religion not at all. If he can catch the love of virtue from the fine things that are spoken of it in the classics, and the love of holiness from the customary attendance upon such preaching as he is likely to hear, it will be well; but I am sure you have had too many opportunities to observe the inefficacy of such means to expect any such advantage from them. In the mean time, the more powerful influence of bad example and perhaps bad company, will continually counterwork these only preservatives he can meet with, and may possibly send him home to you, at the end of five or six years, such as you will be sorry to see him. You escaped indeed the contagion yourself, but a few instances of happy exemption from a general malady are not sufficient warrant to conclude that it is therefore not infectious, or may be encountered without danger.

You have seen too much of the world, and are a man of too much reflection, not to have observed, that in proportion as the sons of a family approach to years of maturity they lose a sense of obligation to their parents, and seem at last almost divested of that tender affection which the nearest of all relations seems to demand from them. I have often observed it myself, and have always thought I could sufficiently account for it, without laying all the blame upon the children. While they continue in their parents' house, they are every day obliged, and every day reminded how much it is their interest as well as duty, to be obliging and affectionate in return. But at eight or nine years of age, the boy goes to school. From that moment he becomes a stranger in his father's house. The course of parental kindness is interrupted. The smiles of his mother, those tender admonitions, and the solicitous care of both his parents, are no longer before his eyes—year after year he feels himself more and more detached from them, till at last he is so effectually weaned from the connexion, as to find himself happier any where than in their company.

I should have been glad of a frank for this[59] letter, for I have said but little of what I could say upon the subject, and perhaps I may not be able to catch it by the end again. If I can, I shall add to it hereafter.

W. C.


Olney, Oct. 5, 1780.

My dear Friend,—Now for the sequel—you have anticipated one of my arguments in favour of a private education, therefore I need say but little about it. The folly of supposing that the mother-tongue, in some respects the most difficult of all tongues, may be acquired without a teacher, is predominant in all the public schools that I have ever heard of. To pronounce it well, to speak and to write it with fluency and elegance, are no easy attainments; not one in fifty of those who pass through Westminster and Eton arrive at any remarkable proficiency in these accomplishments; and they that do, are more indebted to their own study and application for it than to any instruction received there. In general, there is nothing so pedantic as the style of a schoolboy, if he aims at any style at all; and if he does not, he is of course inelegant and perhaps ungrammatical—a defect, no doubt, in great measure owing to want of cultivation, for the same lad that is often commended for his Latin frequently would deserve to be whipped for his English, if the fault were not more his master's than his own. I know not where this evil is so likely to be prevented as at home—supposing always, nevertheless, (which is the case in your instance,) that the boy's parents and their acquaintance are persons of elegance and taste themselves. For, to converse with those who converse with propriety, and to be directed to such authors as have refined and improved the language by their productions, are advantages which he cannot elsewhere enjoy in an equal degree. And though it requires some time to regulate the taste and fix the judgment, and these effects must be gradually wrought even upon the best understanding, yet I suppose much less time will be necessary for the purpose than could at first be imagined, because the opportunities of improvement are continual.

A public education is often recommended as the most effectual remedy for that bashful and awkward restraint, so epidemical among the youth of our country. But I verily believe that, instead of being a cure, it is often the cause of it. For seven or eight years of his life, the boy has hardly seen or conversed with a man, or a woman, except the maids at his boarding-house. A gentleman, or a lady, are consequently such novelties to him that he is perfectly at a loss to know what sort of behaviour he should preserve before them. He plays with his buttons or the strings of his hat; he blows his nose, and hangs down his head, is conscious of his own deficiency to a degree that makes him quite unhappy, and trembles lest any one should speak to him, because that would quite overwhelm him. Is not all this miserable shyness the effect of his education? To me it appears to be so. If he saw good company every day, he would never be terrified at the sight of it, and a room full of ladies and gentlemen would alarm him no more than the chairs they sit on. Such is the effect of custom.

I need add nothing further on this subject, because I believe little John is as likely to be exempted from this weakness as most young gentlemen we shall meet with. He seems to have his father's spirit in this respect, in whom I could never discern the least trace of bashfulness, though I have often heard him complain of it. Under your management and the influence of your example, I think he can hardly fail to escape it. If he does, he escapes that which has made many a man uncomfortable for life, and ruined not a few, by forcing them into mean and dishonourable company, where only they could be free and cheerful.

Connexions formed at school are said to be lasting and often beneficial. There are two or three stories of this kind upon record, which would not be so constantly cited as they are, whenever this subject happens to be mentioned, if the chronicle that preserves their remembrance had many besides to boast of. For my own part, I found such friendships, though warm enough in their commencement, surprisingly liable to extinction; and of seven or eight, whom I had selected for intimates, out of about three hundred, in ten years' time not one was left me. The truth is, that there may be, and often is, an attachment of one boy to another that looks very like a friendship, and, while they are in circumstances that enable them mutually to oblige and to assist each other, promises well and bids fair to be lasting. But they are no sooner separated from each other, by entering into the world at large, than other connexions and new employments, in which they no longer share together, efface the remembrance of what passed in earlier days, and they become strangers to each other for ever. Add to this, the man frequently differs so much from the boy; his principles, manners, temper, and conduct, undergo so great an alteration, that we no longer recognize in him our old playfellow, but find him utterly unworthy, and unfit for the place he once held in our affections.

To close this article, as I did the last, by applying myself immediately to the present[60] concern—little John is happily placed above all occasion for dependence on all such precarious hopes, and need not be sent to school in quest of some great men in embryo, who may possibly make his fortune.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, Oct. 5, 1780.

Dear Madam,—When a lady speaks, it is not civil to make her wait a week for an answer. I received your letter within this hour, and, foreseeing that the garden will engross much of my time for some days to come, have seized the present opportunity to acknowledge it. I congratulate you on Mr. Newton's safe arrival at Ramsgate, making no doubt but that he reached that place without difficulty or danger, the road thither from Canterbury being so good as to afford room for neither. He has now a view of the element with which he was once familiar, but which, I think, he has not seen for many years. The sight of his old acquaintance will revive in his mind a pleasing recollection of past deliverances, and when he looks at him from the beach, he may say—"You have formerly given me trouble enough, but I have cast anchor now where your billows can never reach me."—It is happy for him that he can say so.

Mrs. Unwin returns you many thanks for your anxiety on her account. Her health is considerably mended upon the whole, so as to afford us a hope that it will be established.

Our love attends you.

Dear madam,
W. C.


Olney, Nov. 9, 1780.

I wrote the following last summer. The tragical occasion of it really happened at the next house to ours. I am glad when I can find a subject to work upon; a lapidary, I suppose, accounts it a laborious part of his business to rub away the roughness of the stone; but it is my amusement, and if, after all the polishing I can give it, it discovers some little lustre, I think myself well rewarded for my pains.[68]

I shall charge you a halfpenny a-piece for every copy I send you, the short as well as the long. This is a sort of afterclap you little expected, but I cannot possibly afford them at a cheaper rate. If this method of raising money had occurred to me sooner, I should have made the bargain sooner; but am glad I have hit upon it at last. It will be a considerable encouragement to my Muse, and act as a powerful stimulus to my industry. If the American war should last much longer, I may be obliged to raise my price; but this I shall not do without a real occasion for it—it depends much upon Lord North's conduct in the article of supplies—if he imposes an additional tax on any thing that I deal in, the necessity of this measure on my part will be so apparent that I dare say you will not dispute it.

W. C.


Olney, Dec. 10, 1780.

My dear Friend,—I am sorry that the bookseller shuffles off the trouble of package upon any body that belongs to you. I think I could cast him upon this point in an action upon the case, grounded upon the terms of his own undertaking. He engages to serve country customers. Ergo, as it would be unreasonable to expect that, when a country gentleman wants a book, he should order his chaise, and bid the man drive to Exeter Change; and as it is not probable that the book would find the way to him of itself, though it were the wisest that ever was written, I should suppose the law would compel him. For I recollect it is a maxim of good authority in the courts, that there is no right without a remedy. And if another, or third person, should not be suffered to interpose between my right and the remedy the law gives me, where the right is invaded, much less, I apprehend, shall the man himself, who of his own mere motion gives me that right, be suffered to do it.

I never made so long an argument upon a law case before. I ask your pardon for doing it now. You have but little need of such entertainment.

Yours affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, Dec. 21, 1780.

I thank you for your anecdote of Judge Carpenter. If it really happened, it is one of the best stories I ever heard; and if not, it has at least the merit of being ben trovato. We both very sincerely laughed at it, and think the whole Livery of London must have done the same; though I have known some persons, whose faces, as if they had been cast in a mould, could never be provoked to the least alteration of a single feature; so that you might as well relate a good story to a barber's block.

Non equidem invideo, miror magis.

Your sentiment with respect to me are exactly Mrs. Unwin's. She, like you, is perfectly sure of my deliverance, and often tells[61] me so. I make but one answer, and sometimes none at all. That answer gives her no pleasure, and would give you as little; therefore at this time I suppress it. It is better, on every account, that they who interest themselves so deeply in that event should believe the certainty of it, than that they should not. It is a comfort to them at least, if it is none to me; and as I could not if I would, so neither would I if I could, deprive them of it.

I annex a long thought in verse for your perusal. It was produced about last midsummer, but I never could prevail with myself, till now, to transcribe it.[70] You have bestowed some commendations on a certain poem now in the press, and they, I suppose, have at least animated me to the task. If human nature may be compared to a piece of tapestry, (and why not?) then human nature, as it subsists in me, though it is sadly faded on the right side, retains all its colour on the wrong. I am pleased with commendation, and though not passionately desirous of indiscriminate praise, or what is generally called popularity, yet when a judicious friend claps me on the back, I own I find it an encouragement. At this season of the year, and in this gloomy uncomfortable climate, it is no easy matter for the owner of a mind like mine to divert it from sad subjects, and fix it upon such as may administer to its amusement. Poetry, above all things, is useful to me in this respect. While I am held in pursuit of pretty images, or a pretty way of expressing them, I forget every thing that is irksome, and, like a boy that plays truant, determine to avail myself of the present opportunity to be amused, and to put by the disagreeable recollection that I must, after all, go home and be whipped again.

It will not be long, perhaps, before you will receive a poem, called "The Progress of Error." That will be succeeded by another, in due time, called "Truth." Don't be alarmed. I ride Pegasus with a curb. He will never run away with me again. I have even convinced Mrs. Unwin that I can manage him, and make him stop when I please.

W. C.

The following letter, to Mr. Hill, contains a poem already printed in the Works of Cowper; but the reader will probably be gratified in finding the sportiveness of Cowper's wit presented to him, as it was originally despatched by the author for the amusement of a friend.


Olney, Dec. 25, 1780.

My dear Friend,—Weary with rather a long walk in the snow, I am not likely to write a very sprightly letter, or to produce any thing that may cheer this gloomy season, unless I have recourse to my pocket-book, where, perhaps, I may find something to transcribe; something that was written before the sun had taken leave of our hemisphere, and when I was less fatigued than I am at present.

Happy is the man who knows just so much of the law as to make himself a little merry now and then with the solemnity of juridical proceedings. I have heard of common law judgments before now; indeed, have been present at the delivery of some, that, according to my poor apprehension, while they paid the utmost respect to the letter of the statute, have departed widely from the spirit of it, and, being governed entirely by the point of law, have left equity, reason, and common sense behind them, at an infinite distance. You will judge whether the following report of a case, drawn up by myself, be not a proof and illustration of this satirical assertion.

Nose, Plaintiff.—Eyes, Defendants.

Between Nose and Eyes a sad contest arose;
The Spectacles set them unhappily wrong:
The point in dispute was, as all the world knows,
To which the said Spectacles ought to belong.
So the Tongue was the lawyer, and argued the cause,
With a great deal of skill, and a wig full of learning,
While Chief Baron Ear sat to balance the laws,
So fam'd for his talents at nicely discerning.
"In behalf of the Nose, it will quickly appear,
And your lordship," he said, "will undoubtedly find,
That the Nose has had Spectacles always in wear,
Which amounts to possession time out of mind."
Then holding the Spectacles up to the court,
"Your lordship observes, they are made with a straddle,
As wide as the ridge of the nose is, in short,
Design'd to sit close to it, just like a saddle.
"Again, would your lordship a moment suppose,
('Tis a case that has happened, and may be again,)
That the visage, or countenance, had not a nose,
Pray who would, or who could, wear Spectacles then?
"On the whole it appears, and my argument shows,
With a reasoning the court will never condemn,
That the Spectacles plainly were made for the Nose,
And the Nose was as plainly intended for them."
Then shifting his side, as a lawyer knows how,
He pleaded again in behalf of the Eyes:
But what were his arguments few people know,
For the court did not think they were equally wise.
So his lordship decreed, with a grave, solemn tone,
Decisive and clear, without one if or but,
"That whenever the Nose put his Spectacles on—
By day-light, or candle-light—Eyes should be shut!"

Yours affectionately,
W. C.



Dec. 1780.

My dear Friend,—Poetical reports of law-cases are not very common, yet it seems to me desirable that they should be so. Many advantages would accrue from such a measure. They would, in the first place, be more commonly deposited in the memory, just as linen, grocery, or other such matters, when neatly packed, are known to occupy less room, and to lie more conveniently in any trunk, chest, or box, to which they may be committed. In the next place, being divested of that infinite circumlocution, and the endless embarrassment in which they are involved by it, they would become surprisingly intelligible, in comparison with their present obscurity. And, lastly, they would by this means be rendered susceptible of musical embellishment; and, instead of being quoted in the country, with that dull monotony which is so wearisome to by-standers, and frequently lulls even the judges themselves to sleep, might be rehearsed in recitation; which would have an admirable effect, in keeping the attention fixed and lively, and could not fail to disperse that heavy atmosphere of sadness and gravity, which hangs over the jurisprudence of our country. I remember, many years ago, being informed by a relation of mine, who, in his youth, had applied himself to the study of the law, that one of his fellow-students, a gentleman of sprightly parts, and very respectable talents of the poetical kind, did actually engage in the prosecution of such a design; for reasons, I suppose, somewhat similar to, if not the same, with those I have now suggested. He began with Coke's Institutes; a book so rugged in its style, that an attempt to polish it seemed an Herculean labour, and not less arduous and difficult than it would be to give the smoothness of a rabbit's fur to the prickly back of a hedgehog. But he succeeded to admiration, as you will perceive by the following specimen, which is all that my said relation could recollect of the performance.

Tenant in fee
Simple is he,
And need neither quake nor quiver,
Who hath his lands
Free from demands,
To him and his heirs for ever.

You have an ear for music, and a taste for verse, which saves me the trouble of pointing out, with a critical nicety, the advantages of such a version. I proceed, therefore, to what I at first intended, and to transcribe the record of an adjudged case thus managed, to which, indeed, what I premised was intended merely as an introduction.[71]

W. C.

The following year commences by a letter to his friend Mr. Newton, and alludes to his two poems entitled "The Progress of Error," and "Truth."


Jan. 21, 1781.

My dear Sir,—I am glad that the "Progress of Error" did not err in its progress, as I feared it had, and that it has reached you safe; and still more pleased that it has met with your approbation; for, if it had not, I should have wished it had miscarried, and have been sorry that the bearer's memory had served him so well upon the occasion. I knew him to be that sort of genius, which, being much busied in making excursions of the imaginary kind, is not always present to its own immediate concerns, much less to those of others; and, having reposed the trust in him, began to regret that I had done so, when it was too late. But I did it to save a frank, and as the affair has turned out, that end was very well answered. This is committed to the hands of a less volatile person, and therefore more to be depended on.

As to the poem called "Truth," which is already longer than its elder brother, and is yet to be lengthened by the addition of perhaps twenty lines, perhaps more, I shrink from the thought of transcribing it at present. But, as there is no need to be in any hurry about it, I hope that, in some rainy season, which the next month will probably bring with it, when perhaps I may be glad of employment, the undertaking will appear less formidable.

You need not withhold from us any intelligence relating to yourselves, upon an apprehension that Mr. R—— has been beforehand with you upon those subjects, for we could get nothing out of him. I have known such travellers in my time, and Mrs. Newton is no stranger to one of them, who keep all their observations and discoveries to themselves, till they are extorted from them by mere dint of examination and cross-examination. He told us, indeed, that some invisible agent supplied you every Sunday with a coach, which we were pleased with hearing; and this, I think, was the sum total of his information.

We are much concerned for Mr. Barham's loss;[73] but it is well for that gentleman, that[63] those amiable features in his character, which most incline one to sympathize with him, are the very graces and virtues that will strengthen him to bear it with equanimity and patience. People that have neither his light nor experience will wonder that a disaster, which would perhaps have broken their hearts, is not heavy enough to make any abatement in the cheerfulness of his.

Your books came yesterday. I shall not repeat to you what I said to Mrs. Unwin, after having read two or three of the letters. I admire the preface, in which you have given an air of novelty to a worn-out topic, and have actually engaged the favour of the reader by saying those things in a delicate and uncommon way, which in general are disgusting.

I suppose you know that Mr. Scott[74] will be in town on Tuesday. He is likely to take possession of the vicarage at last, with the best grace possible; at least, if he and Mr. Browne can agree upon the terms.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, Feb. 6, 1781.

My dear Friend,—Much good may your humanity do you, as it does so much good to others.[76] You can no where find objects more entitled to your pity than where your pity seeks them. A man whose vices and irregularities have brought his liberty and life into danger will always be viewed with an eye of compassion by those who understand what human nature is made of. And, while we acknowledge the severity of the law to be founded upon principles of necessity and justice, and are glad that there is such a barrier provided for the peace of society, if we consider that the difference between ourselves and the culprit is not of our own making, we shall be, as you are, tenderly affected with the view of his misery, and not the less so because he has brought it upon himself. I look upon the worst man in Chelmsford gaol with a more favourable eye than upon ——, who claims a servant's wages from one who never was his master.

I give you joy of your own hair. No doubt you are a considerable gainer in your appearance by being disperiwigged. The best wig is that which most resembles the natural hair; why then should he that has hair enough of his own have recourse to imitation? I have little doubt but that, if an arm or a leg could have been taken off with as little pain as attends the amputation of a curl or a lock of hair, the natural limb would have been thought less becoming or less convenient by some men than a wooden one, and been disposed of accordingly.

Yours ever, W. C.


Olney, Feb. 8, 1781.

My dear Friend,—It is possible that Mrs. Hill may not be herself a sufferer by the late terrible catastrophe in the Islands; but I should suppose, by her correspondence with those parts, she may be connected with some that are. In either case, I condole with her; for it is reasonable to imagine that, since the first tour that Columbus made into the Western world, it never before experienced such a convulsion, perhaps never since the foundation of the globe.[78] You say the state grows old, and discovers many symptoms of decline. A writer possessed of a genius for hypothesis, like that of Burnet, might construct a plausible argument to prove that the world itself is in a state of superannuation, if there be such a word. If not, there must be such a one as superannuity. When that just equilibrium that has hitherto supported all things seems to fail, when the elements burst the chain that had bound them, the wind sweeping away the works of man, and man himself together with his works, and the ocean seeming to overleap the command, "Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed," these irregular and prodigious vagaries seemed to bespeak a decay, and forbode, perhaps, not a very distant dissolution. This thought has so run away with my attention, that I have left myself no room for the little politics that have only Great Britain for their object. Who knows but that while a thousand and ten thousand tongues are employed in adjusting the scale of our national concerns, in complaining of new taxes, and funds loaded with a debt of accumulating millions, the consummation of all things may discharge it in a moment, and the scene of all this bustle disappear, as if it had never been? Charles Fox would say, perhaps, he thought it very unlikely. I question if he could prove even that. I am sure, however, he could not prove it to be impossible.

Yours, W. C.



Olney, Feb. 15, 1781.

My dear Friend,—I am glad you were pleased with my report of so extraordinary a case.[79] If the thought of versifying the decisions of our courts of justice had struck me while I had the honour to attend them, it would perhaps have been no difficult matter to have compiled a volume of such amusing and interesting precedents; which, if they wanted the eloquence of the Greek or Roman oratory, would have amply compensated that deficiency by the harmony of rhyme and metre.

Your account of my uncle and your mother gave me great pleasure. I have long been afraid to inquire after some in whose welfare I always feel myself interested, lest the question should produce a painful answer. Longevity is the lot of so few, and is so seldom rendered comfortable by the associations of good health and good spirits, that I could not very reasonably suppose either your relations or mine so happy in those respects as it seems they are. May they continue to enjoy those blessings so long as the date of life shall last. I do not think that in these costermonger days, as I have a notion Falstaff calls them, an antediluvian age is at all a desirable thing, but to live comfortably while we do live is a great matter, and comprehends in it every thing that can be wished for on this side the curtain that hangs between Time and Eternity!

Farewell, my better friend than any I have to boast of, either among the Lords or gentlemen of the House of Commons.

W. C.


Olney, Feb. 18, 1781.

My dear Friend,—I send you "Table Talk." It is a medley of many things, some that may be useful, and some that, for aught I know, may be very diverting. I am merry that I may decoy people into my company, and grave that they may be the better for it. Now and then I put on the garb of a philosopher, and take the opportunity that disguise procures me to drop a word in favour of religion. In short, there is some froth, and here and there a bit of sweetmeat, which seems to entitle it justly to the name of a certain dish the ladies call a trifle. I do not choose to be more facetious, lest I should consult the taste of my readers at the expense of my own approbation; nor more serious than I have been, lest I should forfeit theirs. A poet in my circumstances has a difficult part to act: one minute obliged to bridle his humour, if he has any; and the next, to clap a spur to the sides of it: now ready to weep from a sense of the importance of his subject, and on a sudden constrained to laugh, lest his gravity should be mistaken for dulness. If this be not violent exercise for the mind, I know not what is; and if any man doubt it, let him try. Whether all this management and contrivance be necessary I do not know, but am inclined to suspect that if my Muse was to go forth clad in Quaker colour, without one bit of riband to enliven her appearance, she might walk from one end of London to the other as little noticed as if she were one of the sisterhood indeed.

You had been married thirty-one years last Monday. When you married I was eighteen years of age, and had just left Westminster school. At that time, I valued a man according to his proficiency and taste in classical literature, and had the meanest opinion of all other accomplishments unaccompanied by that. I lived to see the vanity of what I had made my pride, and in a few years found that there were other attainments which would carry a man more handsomely through life than a mere knowledge of what Homer and Virgil had left behind them. In measure as my attachment to these gentry wore off, I found a more welcome reception among those whose acquaintance it was more my interest to cultivate. But all this time was spent in painting a piece of wood that had no life in it. At last I began to think indeed; I found myself in possession of many baubles, but not one grain of solidity in all my treasures. Then I learned the truth, and then I lost it, and there ends my history. I would no more than you wish to live such a life over again, but for one reason. He that is carried to execution, though through the roughest road, when he arrives at the destined spot would be glad, notwithstanding the many jolts he met with, to repeat his journey.

Yours, my dear Sir, with our joint love,
W. C.


Olney, Feb 19, 1781.

Dear Madam,—When a man, especially a man that lives altogether in the country, undertakes to write to a lady he never saw, he is the awkwardest creature in the world. He begins his letter under the same sensations he would have if he was to accost her in person, only with this difference,—that he may take as much time as he pleases for consideration, and need not write a single word that he has not well weighed and pondered beforehand, much less a sentence that he does not think super-eminently clever. In every other respect, whether he be engaged in an interview or in a letter, his behaviour is, for the most part,[65] equally constrained and unnatural. He resolves, as they say, to set the best leg foremost, which often proves to be what Hudibras calls—

Not that of bone,
But much its better—th' wooden one.

His extraordinary effort only serves, as in the case of that hero, to throw him on the other side of his horse; and he owes his want of success, if not to absolute stupidity, to his most earnest endeavour to secure it.

Now I do assure you, madam, that all these sprightly effusions of mine stand entirely clear of the charge of premeditation, and that I never entered upon a business of this kind with more simplicity in my life. I determined, before I began, to lay aside all attempts of the kind I have just mentioned; and, being perfectly free from the fetters that self-conceit, commonly called bashfulness, fastens upon the mind, am, as you see, surprisingly brilliant.

My principal design is to thank you in the plainest terms, which always afford the best proof of a man's sincerity, for your obliging present. The seeds will make a figure hereafter in the stove of a much greater man than myself, who am a little man, with no stove at all. Some of them, however, I shall raise for my own amusement, and keep them as long as they can be kept in a bark heat, which I give them all the year; and, in exchange for those I part with, I shall receive such exotics as are not too delicate for a greenhouse.

I will not omit to tell you, what no doubt you have heard already, though perhaps you have never made the experiment, that leaves gathered at the fall are found to hold their heat much longer than bark, and are preferable in every respect. Next year, I intend to use them myself. I mention it, because Mr. Hill told me some time since, that he was building a stove, in which I suppose they will succeed much better than in a frame.

I beg to thank you again, madam, for the very fine salmon you was so kind as to favour me with, which has all the sweetness of a Hertfordshire trout, and resembles it so much in flavour, that blindfold I should not have known the difference.

I beg, madam, you will accept all these thanks, and believe them as sincere as they really are. Mr. Hill knows me well enough to be able to vouch for me that I am not over-much addicted to compliments and fine speeches; nor do I mean either the one or the other, when I assure you that I am, dear madam, not merely for his sake, but your own,

Your most obedient
and affectionate servant,
W. C.


Olney, Feb. 25, 1781.

My dear Friend,—He that tells a long story should take care that it be not made a long story by his manner of telling it. His expression should be natural, and his method clear; the incidents should be interrupted by very few reflections, and parentheses should be entirely discarded. I do not know that poor Mr. Teedon guides himself in the affair of story-telling by any one of these rules, or by any rule indeed that I ever heard of. He has just left us after a long visit, the greatest part of which he spent in the narration of a certain detail of facts that might have been compressed into a much smaller compass, and my attention to which has wearied and worn out all my spirits. You know how scrupulously nice he is in the choice of his expression; an exactness that soon becomes very inconvenient both to speaker and hearer, where there is not a great variety to choose out of. But Saturday evening is come, the time I generally devote to my correspondence with you; and Mrs. Unwin will not allow me to let it pass without writing, though, having done it herself, both she and you might well spare me upon the present occasion.

Notwithstanding my purpose to shake hands with the Muse, and take my leave of her for the present, we have already had a tete-a-tete since I sent you the last production. I am as much or rather more pleased with my new plan than with any of the foregoing. I mean to give a short summary of the Jewish story, the miraculous interpositions in behalf of that people, their great privileges, their abuse of them, and their consequent destruction; and then, by way of comparison, such another display of the favours vouchsafed to this country, the similar ingratitude with which they have requited them, and the punishment they have therefore reason to expect, unless reformation interpose to prevent it. "Expostulation" is its present title; but I have not yet found in the writing it that facility and readiness without which I shall despair to finish it well, or indeed to finish it at all.

Believe me, my dear Sir, with love to Mrs. N.

Your ever affectionate,
W. C.


Olney, March 5, 1781.

My dear Friend,—Since writing is become one of my principal amusements, and I have already produced so many verses on subjects that entitle them to a hope that they may[66] possibly be useful, I should be sorry to suppress them entirely, or to publish them to no purpose, for want of that cheap ingredient, the name of the author. If my name therefore will serve them in any degree as a passport into the public notice, they are welcome to it and Mr. Johnson will, if he pleases, announce me to the world by the style and title of


If you are of my mind, I think "Table Talk" will be the best to begin with, as the subjects of it are perhaps more popular; and one would wish, at first setting out, to catch the public by the ear, and hold them by it as fast as possible, that they may be willing to hear one on a second and a third occasion.

The passage you object to I inserted merely by way of catch, and think that it is not unlikely to answer the purpose. My design was to say as many serious things as I could, and yet to be as lively as was compatible with such a purpose. Do not imagine that I mean to stickle for it, as a pretty creature of my own that I am loath to part with; but I am apprehensive that, without the sprightliness of that passage to introduce it, the following paragraph would not show to advantage.—If the world had been filled with men like yourself, I should never have written it; but, thinking myself in a measure obliged to tickle if I meant to please, I therefore affected a jocularity I did not feel. As to the rest, wherever there is war there is misery and outrage; notwithstanding which it is not only lawful to wish, but even a duty to pray, for the success of one's country. And as to the neutralities, I really think the Russian virago an impertinent puss for meddling with us, and engaging half a score kittens of her acquaintance to scratch the poor old lion, who, if he has been insolent in his day, has probably acted no otherwise than they themselves would have acted in his circumstances, and with his power to embolden them.

I am glad that the myrtles reached you safe, but am persuaded from past experience that no management will keep them long alive in London, especially in the city. Our own English Trots, the natives of the country, are for the most part too delicate to thrive there, much more the nice Italian. To give them, however, the best chance they can have, the lady must keep them well watered, giving them a moderate quantity in summer time every other day, and in winter about twice a week; not spring-water, for that would kill them. At Michaelmas, as much of the mould as can be taken out without disturbing the roots must be evacuated, and its place supplied with fresh, the lighter the better. And once in two years the plants must be drawn out of their pots, with the entire ball of earth about them, and the matted roots pared off with a sharp knife, when they must be planted again with an addition of rich light earth as before. Thus dealt with, they will grow luxuriantly in a green-house, where they can have plenty of sweet air, which is absolutely necessary to their health. I used to purchase them at Covent Garden almost every year when I lived in the Temple: but even in that airy situation they were sure to lose their leaf in winter, and seldom recovered it again in spring. I wish them a better fate at Hoxton.

Olney has seen this day what it never saw before, and what will serve it to talk of, I suppose, for years to come. At eleven o'clock this morning, a party of soldiers entered the town, driving before them another party, who, after obstinately defending the bridge for some time, were obliged to quit it and run. They ran in very good order, frequently faced about and fired, but were at last obliged to surrender prisoners of war. There has been much drumming and shouting, much scampering about in the dirt, but not an inch of lace made in the town, at least at the Silver End of it.

It is our joint request that you will not again leave us unwritten to for a fortnight. We are so like yourselves in this particular, that we cannot help ascribing so long a silence to the worst cause. The longer your letters the better, but a short one is better than none.

Mrs. Unwin is pretty well, and adds the greetings of her love to mine.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, March 18, 1781.

My dear Friend,—A slight disorder in my eye may possibly prevent my writing you a long letter, and would perhaps have prevented my writing at all, if I had not known that you account a fortnight's silence a week too long.

I am sorry that I gave you the trouble to write twice upon so trivial a subject as the passage in question. I did not understand by your first objections to it that you thought it so exceptionable as you do; but, being better informed, I immediately resolved to expunge it, and subjoin a few lines which you will oblige me by substituting in its place. I am not very fond of weaving a political thread into any of my pieces, and that for two reasons: first, because I do not think myself qualified, in point of intelligence, to form a decided opinion on any such topics; and, secondly, because I think them, though perhaps as popular as any, the most useless of all. The[67] following verses are designed to succeed immediately after

——fights with justice on his side.
Let laurels, drench'd in pure Parnassian dews,
Reward his mem'ry, dear to ev'ry muse, &c.[84]

I am obliged to you for your advice with respect to the manner of publication, and feel myself inclined to be determined by it. So far as I have proceeded on the subject of "Expostulation," I have written with tolerable ease to myself, and in my own opinion (for an opinion I am obliged to have about what I write, whether I will or no), with more emphasis and energy than in either of the others. But it seems to open upon me with an abundance of matter that forebodes a considerable length: and the time of year is come when, what with walking and gardening, I can find but little leisure for the pen. I mean, however, as soon as I have engrafted a new scion into the "Progress of Error" instead of * * * *, and when I have transcribed "Truth," and sent it to you, to apply myself to the composition last undertaken with as much industry as I can. If, therefore, the first three are put into the press while I am spinning and weaving the last, the whole may perhaps be ready for publication before the proper season will be past. I mean at present that a few select smaller pieces, about seven or eight perhaps, the best I can find in a bookful that I have by me, shall accompany them. All together they will furnish, I should imagine, a volume of tolerable bulk, that need not be indebted to an unreasonable breadth of margin for the importance of its figure.

If a board of inquiry were to be established, at which poets were to undergo an examination respecting the motives that induced them to publish, and I were to be summoned to attend, that I might give an account of mine, I think I could truly say, what perhaps few poets could, that, though I have no objection to lucrative consequences, if any such should follow, they are not my aim; much less is it my ambition to exhibit myself to the world as a genius. What then, says Mr. President, can possibly be your motive? I answer, with a bow—amusement. There is nothing but this—no occupation within the compass of my small sphere, poetry excepted, that can do much towards diverting that train of melancholy thoughts, which, when I am not thus employed, are for ever pouring themselves in upon me. And if I did not publish what I write, I could not interest myself sufficiently in my own success to make an amusement of it.

In my account of the battle fought at Olney, I laid a snare for your curiosity and succeeded. I supposed it would have an enigmatical appearance, and so it had; but like most other riddles, when it comes to be solved, you will find that it was not worth the trouble of conjecture. There are soldiers quartered at Newport and at Olney. These met, by order of their respective officers, in Emberton Marsh, performed all the manœuvres of a deedy battle, and the result was that this town was taken. Since I wrote, they have again encountered with the same intention; and Mr. R—— kept a room for me and Mrs. Unwin, that we might sit and view them at our ease. We did so, but it did not answer our expectation; for, before the contest could be decided, the powder on both sides being expended, the combatants were obliged to leave it an undecided contest. If it were possible that, when two great armies spend the night in expectation of a battle, a third could silently steal away their ammunition and arms of every kind, what a comedy would it make of that which always has such a tragical conclusion!

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, April 2, 1781.

My dear Friend,—Fine weather, and a variety of extra-foraneous occupations, (search Johnson's dictionary for that word, and if not found there, insert it—for it saves a deal of circumlocution, and is very lawfully compounded,) make it difficult, (excuse the length of a parenthesis, which I did not foresee the length of when I began it, and which may perhaps a little perplex the sense of what I am writing, though, as I seldom deal in that figure of speech, I have the less need to make an apology for doing it at present,) make it difficult (I say) for me to find opportunities for writing. My morning is engrossed by the garden; and in the afternoon, till I have drunk tea, I am fit for nothing. At five o'clock we walk, and when the walk is over lassitude recommends rest, and again I become fit for nothing. The current hour, therefore, which (I need not tell you) is comprised in the interval between four and five, is devoted to your service, as the only one in the twenty-four which is not otherwise engaged.

I do not wonder that you have felt a great deal upon the occasion you mention in your last, especially on account of the asperity you have met with in the behaviour of your friend. Reflect, however, that, as it is natural to you to have very fine feelings, it is equally natural to some other tempers to leave those feelings entirely out of the question, and to speak to you, and to act towards you, just as they do[68] towards the rest of mankind, without the least attention to the irritability of your system. Men of a rough and unsparing address should take great care that they be always in the right, the justness and propriety of their sentiments and censures being the only tolerable apology that can be made for such a conduct, especially in a country where civility of behaviour is inculcated even from the cradle. But, in the instance now under our contemplation, I think you a sufferer under the weight of an animadversion not founded in truth, and which, consequently, you did not deserve. I account him faithful in the pulpit who dissembles nothing that he believes for fear of giving offence. To accommodate a discourse to the judgment and opinion of others, for the sake of pleasing them, though by doing so we are obliged to depart widely from our own, is to be unfaithful to ourselves at least, and cannot be accounted fidelity to Him whom we profess to serve. But there are few men who do not stand in need of the exercise of charity and forbearance; and the gentleman in question has afforded you an ample opportunity in this respect to show how readily, though differing in your views, you can practise all that he could possibly expect from you, if your persuasion corresponded exactly with his own.

With respect to Monsieur le Curé, I think you not quite excusable for suffering such a man to give you any uneasiness at all. The grossness and injustice of his demand ought to be its own antidote. If a robber should miscall you a pitiful fellow for not carrying a purse full of gold about you, would his brutality give you any concern? I suppose not. Why, then, have you been distressed in the present instance?

W. C.


Olney, April 8, 1781.

My dear Friend,—Since I commenced author, my letters are even less worth your acceptance than they were before. I shall soon, however, lay down the character, and cease to trouble you with directions to a printer, at least till the summer is over. If I live to see the return of winter, I may, perhaps, assume it again; but my appetite for fame is not keen enough to combat with my love of fine weather, my love of indolence, and my love of gardening employments.

I send you, by Mr. Old, my works complete, bound in brown paper, and numbered according to the series in which I would have them published. With respect to the poem called "Truth," it is so true, that it can hardly fail of giving offence to unenlightened readers. I think, therefore, that, in order to obviate in some measure those prejudices that will naturally erect their bristles against it, an explanatory preface, such as you (and nobody so well as you) can furnish me with, will have every grace of propriety to recommend it. Or, if you are not averse to the task, and your avocations will allow you to undertake it, and if you think it would be still more proper, I should be glad to be indebted to you for a preface to the whole. I wish, you, however, to consult your own judgment upon the occasion, and to engage in either of these works, or neither, just as your discretion guides you.

I have written a great deal to-day, which must be my excuse for an abrupt conclusion. Our love attends you both. We are in pretty good health; Mrs. Unwin, indeed, better than usual: and as to me, I ail nothing but the incurable ailment.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.

Thanks for the cocoa-nut.

I send you a cucumber, not of my own raising, and yet raised by me.

Solve this enigma, dark enough
To puzzle any brains
That are not downright puzzle-proof,
And eat it for your pains.


Olney, Monday, April 23, 1781.

My dear Friend,—Having not the least doubt of your ability to execute just such a preface as I should wish to see prefixed to my publication, and being convinced that you have no good foundation for those which you yourself entertain upon the subject, I neither withdraw my requisition nor abate one jot of the earnestness with which I made it. I admit the delicacy of the occasion, but am far from apprehending that you will therefore find it difficult to succeed. You can draw a hair-stroke where another man would make a blot as broad as a sixpence.

I am much obliged to you for the interest you take in the appearance of my poems, and much pleased by the alacrity with which you do it. Your favourable opinion of them affords me a comfortable presage with respect to that of the public; for though I make allowances for your partiality to me and mine, because mine, yet I am sure you would not suffer me unadmonished to add myself to the multitude of insipid rhymers, with whose productions the world is already too much pestered.

It is worth while to send you a riddle, you make such a variety of guesses, and turn and tumble it about with such an industrious[69] curiosity. The solution of that in question is—let me see; it requires some consideration to explain it, even though I made it. I raised the seed that produced the plant that produced the fruit that produced the seed that produced the fruit I sent you. This latter seed I gave to the gardener of Tyringham, who brought me the cucumber you mention. Thus you see I raised it—that is to say, I raised it virtually by having raised its progenitor; and yet I did not raise it, because the identical seed from which it grew was raised at a distance. You observe I did not speak rashly when I spoke of it as dark enough to pose an Œdipus, and have no need to call your own sagacity in question for falling short of the discovery.

A report has prevailed at Olney that you are coming in a fortnight; but, taking it for granted that you know best when you shall come, and that you will make us happy in the same knowledge as soon as you are possessed of it yourself, I did not venture to build any sanguine expectations upon it.

I have at last read the second volume of Mr. ——'s work, and had some hope that I should prevail with myself to read the first likewise. I began his book at the latter end, because the first part of it was engaged when I received the second; but I had not so good an appetite as a soldier of the Guards, who, I was informed when I lived in London, would, for a small matter, eat up a cat alive, beginning at her tail and finishing with her whiskers.

Yours, ut semper,
W. C.

The period was now arrived, in which Cowper was at length to make his appearance in the avowed character of an author. It is an epoch in British literature worthy of being recorded, because poetry in his hands became the handmaid of morality and religion. Too often has the Muse been prostituted to more ignoble ends. But it is to the praise of Cowper, that he never wrote a line at which modesty might blush. His verse is identified with whatever is pure in conception, chaste in imagery, and moral in its aim. His object was to strengthen, not to enervate; to impart health, not to administer to disease; and to inspire a love for virtue, by exhibiting the deformity of vice. So long as nature shall possess the power to charm, and the interests of solid truth and wisdom, arrayed in the garb of taste, and enforced by nervous language, shall deserve to predominate over seductive imagery, the page of Cowper will demand our admiration, and be read with delight and profit.

The following letters afford a very pleasing circumstantial account of the manner in which he was induced to venture into the world as a poet.

We will only add to the information they contain what we learn from the authority of his guardian friend, Mrs. Unwin, that she strongly solicited him, on his recovery from a very long fit of mental dejection, to devote his thoughts to poetry of considerable extent. She suggested to him, at the same time, the first subject of his verse, "The Progress of Error," which the reader will recollect as the second poem in his first volume. The time when that volume was completed, and the motives of its author for giving it to the world, are clearly displayed in an admirable letter to his poetical cousin, Mrs. Cowper. His feelings, on the approach of publication, are described with his usual nobleness of sentiment and simplicity of expression, in reply to a question upon the subject from the anxious young friend to whom he gave the first notice of his intention in the next letter.


Olney, May 1, 1781.

Your mother says I must write, and must admits of no apology; I might otherwise plead, that I have nothing to say, that I am weary, that I am dull, that it would be more convenient therefore for you, as well as for myself, that I should let it alone. But all these pleas, and whatever pleas besides, either disinclination, indolence, or necessity might suggest are overruled, as they ought to be, the moment a lady adduces her irrefragable argument, you must. You have still however one comfort left, that what I must write, you may or may not read, just as it shall please you; unless Lady Anne at your elbow should say you must read it, and then, like a true knight, you will obey without looking for a remedy.

In the press, and speedily will be published, in one volume octavo, price three shillings, Poems, by William Cowper, of the Inner Temple, Esq. You may suppose, by the size of the publication, that the greatest part of them have been long kept secret, because you yourself have never seen them; but the truth is, that they were most of them, except what you have in your possession, the produce of the last winter. Two-thirds of the compilation will be occupied by four pieces, the first of which sprung up in the month of December, and the last of them in the month of March. They contain, I suppose, in all, about two thousand and five hundred lines; are known, or to be known in due time, by the names of Table TalkThe Progress of ErrorTruthExpostulation. Mr. Newton writes a preface, and Johnson is the publisher. The principal, I may say the only, reason why I never mentioned to you, till now, an affair which I am just going to make known to all the world (if that Mr. All-the-world should think it worth[70] his knowing) has been this; that till within these few days, I had not the honour to know it myself. This may seem strange, but it is true, for, not knowing where to find underwriters who would choose to insure them, and not finding it convenient to a purse like mine to run any hazard, even upon the credit of my own ingenuity, I was very much in doubt for some weeks whether any bookseller would be willing to subject himself to an ambiguity, that might prove very expensive in case of a bad market. But Johnson has heroically set all peradventures at defiance, and takes the whole charge upon himself. So out I come. I shall be glad of my Translations from Vincent Bourne in your next frank. My Muse will lay herself at your feet immediately on her first public appearance.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, May 9, 1781.

My dear Sir,—I am in the press, and it is in vain to deny it. But how mysterious is the conveyance of intelligence from one end to the other of your great city! Not many days since, except one man, and he but little taller than yourself, all London was ignorant of it; for I do not suppose that the public prints have yet announced the most agreeable tidings; the title-page, which is the basis of the advertisement, having so lately reached the publisher; and it is now known to you, who live at least two miles distant from my confidant upon the occasion.

My labours are principally the production of the last winter; all indeed, except a few of the minor pieces. When I can find no other occupation I think, and when I think I am very apt to do it in rhyme. Hence it comes to pass, that the season of the year which generally pinches off the flowers of poetry unfolds mine, such as they are, and crowns me with a winter garland. In this respect, therefore, I and my contemporary bards are by no means upon a par. They write when the delightful influences of fine weather, fine prospects, and a brisk motion of the animal spirits, make poetry almost the language of nature; and I, when icicles depend from all the leaves of the Parnassian laurel, and when a reasonable man would as little expect to succeed in verse as to hear a blackbird whistle. This must be my apology to you for whatever want of fire and animation you observe in what you will shortly have the perusal of. As to the public, if they like me not, there is no remedy. A friend will weigh and consider all disadvantages, and make as large allowances as an author can wish, and larger perhaps than he has any right to expect; but not so the world at large; whatever they do not like, they will not by any apology be persuaded to forgive, and it would be in vain to tell them that I wrote my verses in January, for they would immediately reply, "Why did not you write them in May?" A question that might puzzle a wiser head than we poets are generally blessed with.

W. C.


Olney, May 10, 1781.

My dear Friend,—It is Friday; I have just drunk tea, and just perused your letter; and though this answer to it cannot set off till Sunday, I obey the warm impulse I feel, which will not permit me to postpone the business till the regular time of writing.

I expected you would be grieved; if you had not been so, those sensibilities which attend you upon every other occasion must have left you upon this. I am sorry that I have given you pain, but not sorry that you have felt it. A concern of that sort would be absurd, because it would be to regret your friendship for me, and to be dissatisfied with the effect of it. Allow yourself however three minutes only for reflection, and your penetration must necessarily dive into the motives of my conduct. In the first place, and by way of preface, remember that I do not (whatever your partiality may incline you to do) account it of much consequence to any friend of mine whether he is, or is not, employed by me upon such an occasion. But all affected renunciations of poetical merit apart, and all unaffected expressions of the sense I have of my own littleness in the poetical character too, the obvious and only reason why I resorted to Mr. Newton, and not to my friend Unwin, was this: that the former lived at London, the latter at Stock; the former was upon the spot to correct the press, to give instructions respecting any sudden alterations, and to settle with the publisher every thing that might possibly occur in the course of such a business; the latter could not be applied to for these purposes without what I thought would be a manifest encroachment on his kindness; because it might happen that the troublesome office might cost him now and then a journey, which it was absolutely impossible for me to endure the thought of.

When I wrote to you for the copies you have sent me, I told you I was making a collection, but not with a design to publish. There is nothing truer than at that time I had not the smallest expectation of sending a volume of Poems to the press. I had several small pieces that might amuse, but I would not, when I publish, make the amusement of the reader my only object. When the winter deprived[71] me of other employments, I began to compose, and, seeing six or seven months before me, which would naturally afford me much leisure for such a purpose, I undertook a piece of some length; that finished, another; and so on, till I had amassed the number of lines I mentioned in my last.

Believe of me what you please, but not that I am indifferent to you or your friendship for me, on any occasion.

W. C.


Olney, May 23, 1781.

My dear Friend,—If a writer's friends have need of patience, how much more the writer! Your desire to see my Muse in public, and mine to gratify you, must both suffer the mortification of delay. I expected that my trumpeter would have informed the world, by this time, of all that is needful for them to know upon such an occasion; and that an advertising blast, blown through every newspaper, would have said—"The poet is coming."—But man, especially man that writes verse, is born to disappointments, as surely as printers and booksellers are born to be the most dilatory and tedious of all creatures. The plain English of this magnificent preamble is, that the season of publication is just elapsed, that the town is going into the country every day, and that my book cannot appear till they return, that is to say, not till next winter. This misfortune, however, comes not without its attendant advantage; I shall now have, what I should not otherwise have had, an opportunity to correct the press myself: no small advantage upon any occasion, but especially important where poetry is concerned! A single erratum may knock out the brains of a whole passage, and that, perhaps, which of all others the unfortunate poet is the most proud of. Add to this that, now and then, there is to be found in a printing-house a presumptuous intermeddler, who will fancy himself a poet too, and, what is still worse, a better than he that employs him. The consequence is that, with cobbling, and tinkering, and patching on here and there a shred of his own, he makes such a difference between the original and the copy, that an author cannot know his own work again. Now, as I choose to be responsible for nobody's dulness but my own, I am a little comforted when I reflect that it will be in my power to prevent all such impertinence, and yet not with your assistance. It will be quite necessary that the correspondence between me and Johnson should be carried on without the expense of postage, because proof-sheets would make double or treble letters, which expense, as in every instance it must occur twice, first when the packet is sent and again when it is returned, would be rather inconvenient to me, who, as you perceive, am forced to live by my wits, and to him who hopes to get a little matter, no doubt, by the same means. Half a dozen franks, therefore, to me, and totidem to him, will be singularly acceptable, if you can, without feeling it in any respect a trouble, procure them for me.[87]

I am much obliged to you for your offer to support me in a translation of Bourne. It is but seldom, however, and never except for my amusement, that I translate; because I find it disagreeable to work by another man's pattern; I should, at least, be sure to find it so in a business of any length. Again, that is epigrammatic and witty in Latin which would be perfectly insipid in English, and a translator of Bourne would frequently find himself obliged to supply what is called the turn, which is in fact the most difficult and the most expensive part of the whole composition, and could not, perhaps, in many instances, be done with any tolerable success. If a Latin poem is neat, elegant, and musical, it is enough—but English readers are not so easily satisfied. To quote myself, you will find, in comparing the Jackdaw with the original, that I was obliged to sharpen a point, which, though smart enough in the Latin, would in English have appeared as plain and as blunt as the tag of a lace. I love the memory of Vinny Bourne. I think him a better Latin poet than Tibullus, Propertius, Ausonius,[88] or any of the writers in his way, except Ovid, and not at all inferior to him. I love him too, with a love of partiality, because he was usher of the fifth form at Westminster, when I passed through it. He was so good-natured, and so indolent, that I lost more than I got by him; for he made me as idle as himself. He was such a sloven, as if he had trusted to his genius as a cloak for every thing that could disgust you in his person; and indeed in his writings he has almost made amends for all. His humour is entirely original—he can speak of a magpie or a cat in terms so exquisitely appropriate to the character he draws, that one would suppose him animated by the spirit of the[72] creature he describes. And with all his drollery there is a mixture of rational and even religious reflection, at times, and always an air of pleasantry, good-nature, and humanity, that makes him, in my mind, one of the most amiable writers in the world. It is not common to meet with an author, who can make you smile and yet at nobody's expense; who is always entertaining and yet always harmless; and who, though always elegant, and classical to a degree not always found in the classics themselves, charms more by the simplicity and playfulness of his ideas than by the neatness and purity of his verse; yet such was poor Vinny. I remember seeing the Duke of Richmond set fire to his greasy locks, and box his ears to put it out again.

Since I began to write long poems I seem to turn up my nose at the idea of a short one. I have lately entered upon one, which, if ever finished, cannot easily be comprised in much less than a thousand lines! But this must make part of a second publication, and be accompanied, in due time, by others not yet thought of; for it seems (what I did not know till the bookseller had occasion to tell me so) that single pieces stand no chance, and that nothing less than a volume will go down. You yourself afford me a proof of the certainty of this intelligence, by sending me franks which nothing less than a volume can fill. I have accordingly sent you one, but am obliged to add that, had the wind been in any other point of the compass, or, blowing as it does from the east, had it been less boisterous, you must have been contented with a much shorter letter, but the abridgment of every other occupation is very favourable to that of writing.

I am glad I did not expect to hear from you by this post, for the boy has lost the bag in which your letter must have been enclosed—another reason for my prolixity!

Yours affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, May 28, 1781.

My dear Friend,—I am much obliged to you for the pains you have taken with my "Table Talk," and wish that my viva voce table-talk could repay you for the trouble you have had with the written one.

The season is wonderfully improved within this day or two; and, if these cloudless skies are continued to us, or rather if the cold winds do not set in again, promises you a pleasant excursion, as far, at least, as the weather can conduce to make it such. You seldom complain of too much sunshine, and if you are prepared for a heat somewhat like that of Africa, the south walk in our long garden will exactly suit you. Reflected from the gravel and from the walls, and beating upon your head at the same time, it may possibly make you wish you could enjoy for an hour or two that immensity of shade afforded by the gigantic trees still growing in the land of your captivity.[90] If you could spend a day now and then in those forests, and return with a wish to England, it would be no small addition to the number of your best pleasures. But pennæ non homini datæ. The time will come, perhaps, (but death will come first,) when you will be able to visit them without either danger, trouble, or expense; and when the contemplation of those well-remembered scenes will awaken in you emotions of gratitude and praise, surpassing all you could possibly sustain at present. In this sense, I suppose, there is a heaven upon earth at all times, and that the disembodied spirit may find a peculiar joy, arising from the contemplation of those places it was formerly conversant with, and so far, at least, be reconciled to a world it was once so weary of, as to use it in the delightful way of thankful recollection.

Miss Catlett must not think of any other lodging than we can, without any inconvenience as we shall with all possible pleasure, furnish her with. We can each of us say—that is, I can say it in Latin, and Mrs. Unwin in English—Nihil tui à me alienum puto.

Having two more letters to write, I find myself obliged to shorten this; so, once more wishing you a good journey, and ourselves the happiness of receiving you in good health and spirits,

I remain affectionately yours,
W. C.


Olney, May 28, 1781.

My dear Friend,—I believe I never gave you trouble without feeling more than I give. So much by way of preface and apology!

Thus stands the case—Johnson has begun to print, and Mr. Newton has already corrected the first sheet. This unexpected despatch makes it necessary for me to furnish myself with the means of communication, viz. the franks, as soon as may be. There are reasons (I believe I mentioned in my last) why I choose to revise the proof myself: nevertheless, if your delicacy must suffer the puncture of a pin's point in procuring the franks for me, I release you entirely from the task: you are as free as if I had never mentioned them. But you will oblige me by a speedy answer upon this subject,[73] because it is expedient that the printer should know to whom he is to send his copy; and, when the press is once set, those humble servants of the poets are rather impatient of any delay, because the types are wanted for other authors, who are equally impatient to be born.

This fine weather, I suppose, sets you on horseback, and allures the ladies into the garden. If I was at Stock, I should be of their party, and, while they sat knotting or netting in the shade, should comfort myself with the thought that I had not a beast under me whose walk would seem tedious, whose trot would jumble me, and whose gallop might throw me into a ditch. What nature expressly designed me for I have never been able to conjecture, I seem to myself so universally disqualified for the common and customary occupations and amusements of mankind. When I was a boy, I excelled at cricket and football, but the fame I acquired by achievements that way is long since forgotten, and I do not know that I have made a figure in any thing since. I am sure, however, that she did not design me for a horseman, and that, if all men were of my mind, there would be an end of all jockeyship for ever. I am rather straitened for time, and not very rich in materials; therefore, with our joint love to you all, conclude myself,

Yours ever,
W. C.


Olney, June 5, 1781.

My dear Friend,—If the old adage be true, that "he gives twice who gives speedily," it is equally true that he who not only uses expedition in giving, but gives more than was asked, gives thrice at least. Such is the style in which Mr. —— confers a favour. He has not only sent me franks to Johnson, but, under another cover, has added six to you. These last, for aught that appears by your letter, he threw in of his own mere bounty. I beg that my share of thanks may not be wanting on this occasion, and that, when you write to him next, you will assure him of the sense I have of the obligation, which is the more flattering, as it includes a proof of his predilection in favour of the poems his franks are destined to enclose. May they not forfeit his good opinion hereafter, nor yours, to whom I hold myself indebted in the first place, and who have equally given me credit for their deservings! Your mother says that, although there are passages in them containing opinions which will not be universally subscribed to, the world will at least allow what my great modesty will not permit me to subjoin. I have the highest opinion of her judgment, and know, by having experienced the soundness of them, that her observations are always worthy of attention and regard. Yet, strange as it may seem, I do not feel the vanity of an author, when she commends me; but I feel something better, a spur to my diligence, and a cordial to my spirits, both together animating me to deserve, at least not to fall short of, her expectations. For I verily believe, if my dulness should earn me the character of a dunce, the censure would affect her more than me; not that I am insensible of the value of a good name, either as a man or an author. Without an ambition to attain it, it is absolutely unattainable under either of those descriptions. But my life having been in many respects a series of mortifications and disappointments, I am become less apprehensive and impressible, perhaps, in some points, than I should otherwise have been; and, though I should be exquisitely sorry to disgrace my friends, could endure my own share of the affliction with a reasonable measure of tranquillity.

These seasonable showers have poured floods upon all the neighbouring parishes, but have passed us by. My garden languishes, and, what is worse, the fields too languish, and the upland-grass is burnt. These discriminations are not fortuitous. But if they are providential, what do they import? I can only answer, as a friend of mine once answered a mathematical question in the schools—"Prorsus nescio." Perhaps it is that men who will not believe what they cannot understand may learn the folly of their conduct, while their very senses are made to witness against them; and themselves, in the course of Providence, become the subjects of a thousand dispensations they cannot explain. But the end is never answered. The lesson is inculcated indeed frequently enough, but nobody learns it. Well. Instruction, vouchsafed in vain, is (I suppose) a debt to be accounted for hereafter. You must understand this to be a soliloquy. I wrote my thoughts without recollecting that I was writing a letter, and to you.

W. C.


Olney, June 24, 1781.

My dear Friend,—The letter you withheld so long, lest it should give me pain, gave me pleasure. Horace says, the poets are a waspish race; and, from my own experience of the temper of two or three with whom I was formerly connected, I can readily subscribe to the character he gives them. But, for my own part, I have never yet felt that excessive irritability, which some writers discover, when a friend, in the words of Pope,

"Just hints a fault, or hesitates dislike."

Least of all would I give way to such an unseasonable[74] ebullition, merely because a civil question is proposed to me, with such gentleness, and by a man whose concern for my credit and character I verily believe to be sincere. I reply therefore, not peevishly, but with a sense of the kindness of your intentions, that I hope you may make yourself very easy on a subject, that I can perceive has occasioned you some solicitude. When I wrote the poem called "Truth," it was indispensably necessary that I should set forth that doctrine which I know to be true, and that I should pass what I understood to be a just censure upon opinions and persuasions that differ from or stand in direct opposition to it; because, though some errors may be innocent, and even religious errors are not always pernicious, yet, in a case where the faith and hope of a Christian are concerned, they must necessarily be destructive; and because, neglecting this, I should have betrayed my subject; either suppressing what in my judgment is of the last importance, or giving countenance by a timid silence to the very evils it was my design to combat. That you may understand me better, I will subjoin—that I wrote that poem on purpose to inculcate the eleemosynary character of the Gospel, as a dispensation of mercy in the most absolute sense of the word, to the exclusion of all claims of merit on the part of the receiver; consequently to set the brand of invalidity upon the plea of works, and to discover, upon scriptural ground, the absurdity of that notion, which includes a solecism in the very terms of it, that man by repentance and good works may deserve the mercy of his Maker: I call it a solecism, because mercy deserved ceases to be mercy, and must take the name of justice. This is the opinion which I said in my last the world would not acquiesce in, but except this I do not recollect that I have introduced a syllable into any of my pieces that they can possibly object to; and even this I have endeavoured to deliver from doctrinal dryness, by as many pretty things in the way of trinket and plaything as I could muster upon the subject. So that, if I have rubbed their gums, I have taken care to do it with a coral, and even that coral embellished by the ribbon to which it is tied, and recommended by the tinkling of all the bells I could contrive to annex to it.

You need not trouble yourself to call on Johnson; being perfectly acquainted with the progress of the business, I am able to satisfy your curiosity myself—the post before the last, I returned to him the second sheet of "Table Talk," which he had sent me for correction, and which stands foremost in the volume. The delay has enabled me to add a piece of considerable length, which, but for the delay, would not have made its appearance upon this occasion: it answers to the name of Hope.

I remember a line in the Odyssey, which, literally translated, imports that there is nothing in the world more impudent than the belly. But, had Homer met with an instance of modesty like yours, he would either have suppressed that observation, or at least have qualified it with an exception. I hope that, for the future, Mrs. Unwin will never suffer you to go to London without putting some victuals in your pocket; for what a strange article would it make in a newspaper, that a tall, well-dressed gentleman, by his appearance a clergyman, and with a purse of gold in his pocket, was found starved to death in the street. How would it puzzle conjecture to account for such a phenomenon! some would suppose that you had been kidnapped, like Betty Canning, of hungry memory; others would say the gentleman was a Methodist, and had practised a rigorous self-denial, which had unhappily proved too hard for his constitution; but I will venture to say that nobody would divine the real cause, or suspect for a moment that your modesty had occasioned the tragedy in question. By the way, is it not possible that the spareness and slenderness of your person may be owing to the same cause? for surely it is reasonable to suspect that the bashfulness which could prevail against you on so trying an occasion may be equally prevalent on others. I remember having been told by Colman, that, when he once dined with Garrick, he repeatedly pressed him to eat more of a certain dish that he was known to be particularly fond of; Colman as often refused, and at last declared he could not. "But could not you," says Garrick, "if you was in a dark closet by yourself?" The same question might perhaps be put to you, with as much or more propriety, and therefore I recommend it to you, either to furnish yourself with a little more assurance or always to eat in the dark.

We sympathize with Mrs. Unwin, and, if it will be any comfort to her to know it, can assure her, that a lady in our neighbourhood is always, on such occasions, the most miserable of all things, and yet escapes with great facility through all the dangers of her state.

Yours, ut semper,
W. C.

Among the occurrences that deserve to be recorded in the life of Cowper, the commencement of his acquaintance with Lady Austen, from its connexion with his literary history, is entitled to distinct notice. This lady possessed a highly cultivated mind, and the power, in no ordinary degree, to engage and interest the attention. This acquaintance soon ripened into friendship, and it is to her that we are primarily indebted for the poem of "The Task," for the ballad of "John Gilpin," and for the[75] translation of Homer. The occasion of this acquaintance was as follows.

A lady, whose name was Jones, was one of the few neighbours admitted in the residence of the retired poet. She was the wife of a clergyman, who resided at the village of Clifton, within a mile of Olney. Her sister, the widow of Sir Robert Austen, Baronet, came to pass some time with her in the summer of 1781; and, as the two ladies entered a shop in Olney, opposite to the house of Mrs. Unwin, Cowper observed them from his window. Although naturally shy, and now rendered more so by his very long illness, he was so struck with the appearance of the stranger, that, on hearing she was sister to Mrs. Jones, he requested Mrs. Unwin to invite them to tea. So strong was his reluctance to admit the company of strangers, that, after he had occasioned this invitation, he was for a long time unwilling to join the little party; but, having forced himself at last to engage in conversation with Lady Austen, he was so delighted with her colloquial talents, that he attended the ladies on their return to Clifton; and from that time continued to cultivate the regard of his new acquaintance with such assiduous attention, that she soon received from him the familiar and endearing title of Sister Ann.

The great and happy influence which an incident that seems at first sight so trivial produced on the imagination of Cowper, will best appear from the following epistle, which, soon after Lady Austen's return to London for the winter, the poet addressed to her, on the 17th December, 1781.

Dear Anna,—between friend and friend,
Prose answers every common end;
Serves, in a plain and homely way,
T' express th' occurrence of the day;
Our health, the weather, and the news;
What walks we take, what books we choose;
And all the floating thoughts we find
Upon the surface of the mind.
But when a poet takes the pen,
Far more alive than other men,
He feels a gentle tingling come
Down to his finger and his thumb,
Deriv'd from nature's noblest part,
The centre of a glowing heart!
And this is what the world, who knows
No flights above the pitch of prose,
His more sublime vagaries slighting,
Denominates an itch for writing.
No wonder I, who scribble rhyme,
To catch the triflers of the time,
And tell them truths divine and clear,
Which, couch'd in prose, they will not hear;
Who labour hard to allure, and draw,
The loiterers I never saw,
Should feel that itching and that tingling,
With all my purpose intermingling,
To your intrinsic merit true,
When called to address myself to you.
Mysterious are His ways, whose power
Brings forth that unexpected hour,
When minds, that never met before,
Shall meet, unite, and part no more:
It is th' allotment of the skies,
The hand of the Supremely Wise,
That guides and governs our affections,
And plans and orders our connexions;
Directs us in our distant road,
And marks the bounds of our abode.
Thus we were settled when you found us,
Peasants and children all around us,
Not dreaming of so dear a friend,
Deep in the abyss of Silver-End.[91]
Thus Martha, ev'n against her will,
Perch'd on the top of yonder hill;
And you, though you must needs prefer
The fairer scenes of sweet Sancerre,[92]
Are come from distant Loire, to choose
A cottage on the banks of Ouse.
This page of Providence quite new,
And now just opening to our view,
Employs our present thoughts and pains
To guess and spell what it contains:
But day by day, and year by year,
Will make the dark enigma clear;
And furnish us perhaps at last,
Like other scenes already past,
With proof that we and our affairs
Are part of a Jehovah's cares:
For God unfolds, by slow degrees,
The purport of his deep decrees;
Sheds every hour a clearer light,
In aid of our defective sight;
And spreads at length before the soul,
A beautiful and perfect whole,
Which busy man's inventive brain
Toils to anticipate in vain.
Say, Anna, had you never known
The beauties of a rose full blown,
Could you, tho' luminous your eye,
By looking on the bud descry,
Or guess with a prophetic power,
The future splendor of the flower
Just so, th' Omnipotent, who turns
The system of a world's concerns,
From mere minutiæ can educe
Events of most important use;
And bid a dawning sky display
The blaze of a meridian day
The works of man tend, one and all,
As needs they must, from great to small;
And vanity absorbs at length
The monuments of human strength.
But who can tell how vast the plan
Which this day's incident began?
Too small perhaps the slight occasion
For our dim-sighted observation;
It pass'd unnotic'd, as the bird
That cleaves the yielding air unheard,
[76] And yet may prove, when understood,
An harbinger of endless good.
Not that I deem or mean to call
Friendship a blessing cheap or small;
But merely to remark that ours,
Like some of nature's sweetest flowers,
Rose from a seed of tiny size,
That seemed to promise no such prize:
A transient visit intervening,
And made almost without a meaning,
(Hardly the effect of inclination,
Much less of pleasing expectation!)
Produced a friendship, then begun,
That has cemented us in one;
And plac'd it in our power to prove,
By long fidelity and love,
That Solomon has wisely spoken;
"A three-fold cord is not soon broken."

In this interesting poem the author seems prophetically to anticipate the literary efforts that were to spring, in process of time, from a friendship so unexpected and so pleasing.

Genius of the most exquisite kind is sometimes, and perhaps generally, so modest and diffident as to require continual solicitation and encouragement from the voice of sympathy and friendship to lead it into permanent and successful exertion. Such was the genius of Cowper; and he therefore considered the cheerful and animating society of his new and accomplished friend as a blessing conferred on him by the signal favour of Providence.

We shall find frequent allusions to this lady in the progress of the following correspondence.


Olney, July 7, 1781.

My dear Friend,—Mr. Old brought us the acceptable news of your safe arrival. My sensations at your departure were far from pleasant, and Mrs. Unwin suffered more upon the occasion than when you first took leave of Olney. When we shall meet again, and in what circumstances, or whether we shall meet or not, is an article to be found no where but in that volume of Providence which belongs to the current year, and will not be understood till it is accomplished. This I know, that your visit was most agreeable here. It was so even to me, who, though I live in the midst of many agreeables, am but little sensible of their charms. But, when you came, I determined, as much as possible, to be deaf to the suggestions of despair; that, if I could contribute but little to the pleasure of the opportunity, I might not dash it with unseasonable melancholy, and, like an instrument with a broken string, interrupt the harmony of the concert.

Lady Austen, waving all forms, has paid us the first visit; and, not content with showing us that proof of her respect, made handsome apologies for her intrusion. We returned the visit yesterday. She is a lively, agreeable woman; has seen much of the world, and accounts it a great simpleton, as it is. She laughs and makes laugh, and keeps up a conversation without seeming to labour at it.

I had rather submit to chastisement now than be obliged to undergo it hereafter. If Johnson, therefore, will mark with a marginal Q, those lines that he or his object to as not sufficiently finished, I will willingly retouch them, or give a reason for my refusal. I shall moreover think myself obliged by any hints of that sort, as I do already to somebody, who, by running here and there two or three paragraphs into one, has very much improved the arrangement of my matter. I am apt, I know, to fritter it into too many pieces, and, by doing so, to disturb that order to which all writings must owe their perspicuity, at least in a considerable measure. With all that carefulness of revisal I have exercised upon the sheets as they have been transmitted to me, I have been guilty of an oversight, and have suffered a great fault to escape me, which I shall be glad to correct, if not too late.

In the "Progress of Error," a part of the Young Squire's apparatus, before he yet enters upon his travels, is said to be

——Memorandum-book to minute down
The several posts, and where the chaise broke down.

Here, the reviewers would say, is not only "down," but "down derry down" into the bargain, the word being made to rhyme to itself. This never occurred to me till last night, just as I was stepping into bed. I should be glad, however, to alter it thus—

With memorandum-book for every town,
And ev'ry inn, and where the chaise broke down.

I have advanced so far in "Charity," that I have ventured to give Johnson notice of it, and his option whether he will print it now or hereafter. I rather wish he may choose the present time, because it will be a proper sequel to "Hope," and because I am willing to think it will embellish the collection.

Whoever means to take my phiz will find himself sorely perplexed in seeking for a fit occasion. That I shall not give him one, is certain; and if he steals one, he must be as cunning and quicksighted a thief as Autolycus himself. His best course will be to draw a face, and call it mine, at a venture. They who have not seen me these twenty years will say, It may possibly be a striking likeness now, though it bears no resemblance to what he was: time makes great alterations. They[77] who know me better will say, perhaps, Though it is not perfectly the thing, yet there is somewhat of the cast of his countenance. If the nose was a little longer, and the chin a little shorter, the eyes a little smaller, and the forehead a little more protuberant, it would be just the man. And thus, without seeing me at all, the artist may represent me to the public eye, with as must exactness as yours has bestowed upon you, though, I suppose, the original was full in his view when he made the attempt.

We are both as well as when you left us. Our hearty affections wait upon yourself and Mrs. Newton, not forgetting Euphrosyne, the laughing lady.

Yours, my dear Sir,
W. C.

The playfulness of Cowper's humour is amusingly exerted in the following letter:—


Olney, July 12, 1781.

My very dear Friend,—I am going to send, what when you have read, you may scratch your head, and say, I suppose, there's nobody knows whether what I have got be verse or not;—by the tune and the time, it ought to be rhyme, but if it be, did you ever see, of late or of yore, such a ditty before?

I have writ Charity, not for popularity, but as well as I could, in hopes to do good; and if the Reviewer should say "to be sure the gentleman's Muse wears Methodist shoes, you may know by her pace and talk about grace, that she and her bard have little regard for the taste and fashions, and ruling passions, and hoidening play, of the modern day; and though she assume a borrowed plume, and now and then wear a tittering air, 'tis only her plan to catch, if she can, the giddy and gay, as they go that way, by a production on a new construction: she has baited her trap, in hopes to snap all that may come with a sugar-plum."—His opinion in this will not be amiss; 'tis what I intend, my principal end, and, if I succeed, and folks should read, till a few are brought to a serious thought, I shall think I am paid for all I have said and all I have done, though I have run many a time, after a rhyme, as far as from hence to the end of my sense, and by hook or crook, write another book, if I live and am here, another year.

I have heard before, of a room with a floor laid upon springs, and such like things, with so much art in every part, that when you went in you was forced to begin a minuet pace, with an air and a grace, swimming about, now in and now out, with a deal of state, in a figure of eight, without pipe, or string, or any such thing; and now I have writ, in a rhyming fit, what will make you dance, and, as you advance, will keep you still, though against your will, dancing away, alert and gay, till you come to an end of what I have penn'd, which that you may do, ere Madam and you are quite worn out with jigging about, I take my leave, and here you receive a bow profound, down to the ground, from your humble me—

W. C.


Olney, July 22, 1781.

My dear Friend,—I am sensible of your difficulties in finding opportunities to write; and therefore, though always desirous and sometimes impatient to hear from you, am never peevish when I am disappointed.

Johnson, having begun to print, has given me some sort of security for his perseverance; else the tardiness of his operations would almost tempt me to despair of the end. He has, indeed, time enough before him; but that very circumstance is sometimes a snare, and gives occasion to delays that cannot be remedied. Witness the hare in the fable, who fell asleep in the midst of the race, and waked not till the tortoise had won the prize.

Taking it for granted that the new marriage-bill would pass, I took occasion, in the Address to Liberty, to celebrate the joyful era; but in doing so afforded another proof that poets are not always prophets, for the House of Lords have thrown it out. I am, however, provided with four lines to fill up the gap, which I suppose it will be time enough to insert when the copy is sent down. I am in the middle of an affair called "Conversation," which, as "Table Talk" serves in the present volumes by way of introductory fiddle to the band that follows, I design shall perform the same office in a second.

Sic brevi fortes jaculamur ævo.

You cannot always find time to write, and I cannot always write a great deal; not for want of time, but for want of something equally requisite; perhaps materials, perhaps spirits, or perhaps more frequently for want of ability to overcome an indolence that I have sometimes heard even you complain of.

Yours, my dear Sir, and Mrs. Newton's,
W. C.


Olney, July 29, 1781.

My dear Friend,—Having given the case you laid before me in your last all due consideration, I proceed to answer it; and, in order to clear my way, shall, in the first place, set[78] down my sense of those passages in Scripture, which, on a hasty perusal, seem to clash with the opinions I am going to give—"If a man smite one cheek, turn the other"—"If he take thy cloak, let him take thy coat also." That is, I suppose, rather than on a vindictive principle avail yourself of that remedy the law allows you, in the way of retaliation, for that was the subject immediately under the discussion of the speaker. Nothing is so contrary to the genius of the gospel as the gratification of resentment and revenge; but I cannot easily persuade myself to think, that the Author of that dispensation could possibly advise his followers to consult their own peace at the expense of the peace of society, or inculcate a universal abstinence from the use of lawful remedies, to the encouragement of injury and oppression.

St. Paul again seems to condemn the practice of going to law—"Why do ye not rather suffer wrong," &c. But if we look again we shall find that a litigious temper had obtained, and was prevalent, among the professors of the day. This he condemned, and with good reason; it was unseemly to the last degree that the disciples of the Prince of Peace should worry and vex each other with injurious treatment and unnecessary disputes, to the scandal of their religion in the eyes of the heathen. But surely he did not mean, any more than his Master, in the place above alluded to, that the most harmless members of society should receive no advantage of its laws, or should be the only persons in the world who should derive no benefit from those institutions without which society cannot subsist. Neither of them could mean to throw down the pale of property, and to lay the Christian part of the world open, throughout all ages, to the incursions of unlimited violence and wrong.

By this time you are sufficiently aware that I think you have an indisputable right to recover at law what is so dishonestly withheld from you. The fellow, I suppose, has discernment enough to see a difference between you and the generality of the clergy, and cunning enough to conceive the purpose of turning your meekness and forbearance to good account, and of coining them into hard cash, which he means to put in his pocket. But I would disappoint him, and show him that, though a Christian is not to be quarrelsome, he is not to be crushed; and that, though he is but a worm before God, he is not such a worm as every selfish and unprincipled wretch may tread upon at his pleasure.

I lately heard a story from a lady, who spent many years of her life in France, somewhat to the present purpose. An Abbé, universally esteemed for his piety, and especially for the meekness of his manners, had yet undesignedly given some offence to a shabby fellow in his parish. The man, concluding he might do as he pleased with so forgiving and gentle a character, struck him on one cheek, and bade him turn the other. The good man did so, and when he had received the two slaps, which he thought himself obliged to submit to, turned again, and beat him soundly. I do not wish to see you follow the French gentleman's example, but I believe nobody that has heard the story condemns him much for the spirit he showed upon the occasion.

I had the relation from Lady Austen, sister to Mrs. Jones, wife of the minister at Clifton. She is a most agreeable woman, and has fallen in love with your mother and me: insomuch, that I do not know but she may settle at Olney. Yesterday se'nnight we all dined together in the Spinnie—a most delightful retirement, belonging to Mrs. Throckmorton of Weston. Lady Austen's lacquey, and a lad that waits on me in the garden, drove a wheelbarrow full of eatables and drinkables to the scene of our fete-champetre. A board laid over the top of the wheelbarrow, served us for a table; our dining-room was a root-house, lined with moss and ivy. At six o'clock, the servants, who had dined under the great elm upon the ground, at a little distance, boiled the kettle, and the said wheelbarrow served us for a tea-table. We then took a walk into the wilderness, about half a mile off, and were at home again a little after eight, having spent the day together from noon till evening, without one cross occurrence, or the least weariness of each other—a happiness few parties of pleasure can boast of.

Yours, with our joint love,
W. C.


Olney, August, 1781.

Dear Madam,—Though much obliged to you for the favour of your last, and ready enough to acknowledge the debt; the present, however, is not a day in which I should have chosen to pay it. A dejection of mind, which perhaps may be removed by to-morrow, rather disqualifies me for writing,—a business I would always perform in good spirits, because melancholy is catching, especially where there is much sympathy to assist the contagion. But certain poultry, which I understand are about to pay their respects to you, have advertised for an agreeable companion, and I find myself obliged to embrace the opportunity of going to town with them in that capacity.

While the world lasts, fashion will continue to lead it by the nose. And, after all, what[79] can fashion do for its most obsequious followers? It can ring the changes upon the same things, and it can do no more. Whether our hats be white or black, our caps high or low,—whether we wear two watches or one—is of little consequence. There is indeed an appearance of variety; but the folly and vanity that dictate and adopt the change are invariably the same. When the fashions of a particular period appear more reasonable than those of the preceding, it is not because the world is grown more reasonable than it was; but because, in a course of perpetual changes, some of them must sometimes happen to be for the better. Neither do I suppose the preposterous customs that prevail at present a proof of its greater folly. In a few years, perhaps next year, the fine gentleman will shut up his umbrella, and give it to his sister, filling his hand with a crab-tree cudgel instead of it: and when he has done so, will he be wiser than now? By no means. The love of change will have betrayed him into a propriety, which, in reality, he has no taste for, all his merit on the occasion amounting to no more than this—that, being weary of one plaything, he has taken up another.

In a note I received from Johnson last week, he expresses a wish that my pen may be still employed. Supposing it possible that he would yet be glad to swell the volume, I have given him an order to draw upon me for eight hundred lines, if he chooses it; "Conversation," a piece which I think I mentioned in my last to Mr. Newton, being finished. If Johnson sends for it, I shall transcribe it as soon as I can, and transmit it to Charles-square. Mr. Newton will take the trouble to forward it to the press. It is not a dialogue, as the title would lead you to surmise; nor does it bear the least resemblance to "Table Talk," except that it is serio-comic, like all the rest. My design in it is to convince the world that they make but an indifferent use of their tongues, considering the intention of Providence when he endued them with the faculty of speech; to point out the abuses, which is the jocular part of the business, and to prescribe the remedy, which is the grave and sober.

We felt ourselves not the less obliged to you for the cocoa-nuts, though they were good for nothing. They contained nothing but a putrid liquor, with a round white lump, which in taste and substance much resembled tallow, and was of the size of a small walnut. Nor am I the less indebted to your kindness for the fish, though none is yet come.

Yours, dear Madam,
Most affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, Aug. 16, 1781.

My dear Friend,—I might date my letter from the green-house, which we have converted into a summer parlour. The walls hung with garden mats, and the floor covered with a carpet, the sun too, in a great measure, excluded by an awning of mats, which forbids him to shine any where except upon the carpet, it affords us by far the pleasantest retreat in Olney. We eat, drink, and sleep, where we always did; but here we spend all the rest of our time, and find that the sound of the wind in the trees, and the singing of birds, are much more agreeable to our ears than the incessant barking of dogs and screaming of children. It is an observation that naturally occurs upon the occasion, and which many other occasions furnish an opportunity to make, that people long for what they have not, and overlook the good in their possession. This is so true in the present instance, that for years past I should have thought myself happy to enjoy a retirement, even less flattering to my natural taste than this in which I am now writing; and have often looked wistfully at a snug cottage, which, on account of its situation, at a distance from noise and disagreeable objects, seemed to promise me all I could wish or expect, so far as happiness may be said to be local; never once adverting to this comfortable nook, which affords me all that could be found in the most sequestered hermitage, with the advantage of having all those accommodations near at hand which no hermitage could possibly afford me. People imagine they should be happy in circumstances which they would find insupportably burthensome in less than a week. A man that has been clothed in fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day, envies the peasant under a thatched hovel; who, in return, envies him as much his palace and his pleasure-ground. Could they change situations, the fine gentleman would find his ceilings were too low, and that his casements admitted too much wind; that he had no cellar for his wine, and no wine to put in his cellar. These, with a thousand other mortifying deficiencies, would shatter his romantic project into innumerable fragments in a moment. The clown, at the same time, would find the accession of so much unwieldy treasure an incumbrance quite incompatible with an hour's ease. His choice would be puzzled by variety. He would drink to excess, because he would foresee no end of his abundance; and he would eat himself sick for the same reason. He would have no idea of any other happiness than sensual gratification; would make himself a beast, and die of his[80] good fortune. The rich gentleman had, perhaps, or might have had, if he pleased, at the shortest notice, just such a recess as this; but if he had it, he overlooked it, or, if he had it not, forgot that he might command it whenever he would. The rustic, too, was actually in possession of some blessings, which he was a fool to relinquish, but which he could neither see nor feel, because he had the daily and constant use of them; such as good health, bodily strength, a head and a heart that never ached, and temperance, to the practice of which he was bound by necessity, that, humanly speaking, was a pledge and a security for the continuance of them all.

Thus I have sent you a schoolboy's theme. When I write to you, I do not write without thinking, but always without premeditation: the consequence is, that such thoughts as pass through my head when I am not writing make the subject of my letters to you.

Johnson sent me lately a sort of apology for his printer's negligence, with his promise of greater diligence for the future. There was need enough of both. I have received but one sheet since you left us. Still, indeed, I see that there is time enough before us; but I see likewise, that no length of time can be sufficient for the accomplishment of a work that does not go forward. I know not yet whether he will add "Conversation" to those poems already in his hands, nor do I care much. No man ever wrote such quantities of verse as I have written this last year with so much indifference about the event, or rather with so little ambition of public praise. My pieces are such as may possibly be made useful. The more they are approved the more likely they are to spread, and, consequently, the more likely to attain the end of usefulness; which, as I said once before, except my present amusement, is the only end I propose. And, even in the pursuit of this purpose, commendable as it is in itself, I have not the spur I should once have had; my labour must go unrewarded, and as Mr. R—— once said, I am raising a scaffold before a house that others are to live in and not I.

I have left myself no room for politics, which I thought, when I began, would have been my principal theme.

Yours, my dear sir,
W. C.

The striking and beautiful imagery, united with the depressive spirit of the following letter, will engage the attention of the discerning reader.


Olney, Aug. 21, 1781.

My dear Friend,—You wish you could employ your time to better purpose, yet are never idle. In all that you say or do; whether you are alone, or pay visits, or receive them; whether you think, or write, or walk, or sit still; the state of your mind is such as discovers, even to yourself, in spite of all its wanderings, that there is a principle at bottom, whose determined tendency is towards the best things. I do not at all doubt the truth of what you say, when you complain of that crowd of trifling thoughts that pester you without ceasing; but then you always have a serious thought standing at the door of your imagination, like a justice of peace with the riot-act in his hand, ready to read it and disperse the mob. Here lies the difference between you and me. My thoughts are clad in a sober livery, for the most part as grave as that of a bishop's servants. They turn too upon spiritual subjects, but the tallest fellow and the loudest amongst them all, is he who is continually crying, with a loud voice, Actum est de te, periisti. You wish for more attention, I for less. Dissipation itself would be welcome to me, so it were not a vicious one; but, however earnestly invited, it is coy, and keeps at a distance. Yet, with all this distressing gloom upon my mind, I experience, as you do, the slipperiness of the present hour and the rapidity with which time escapes me. Every thing around us, and every thing that befalls us, constitutes a variety, which, whether agreeable or otherwise, has still a thievish propensity, and steals from us days, months, and years, with such unparalleled address, that even while we say they are here they are gone. From infancy to manhood is rather a tedious period, chiefly, I suppose, because, at that time, we act under the control of others, and are not suffered to have a will of our own. But thence downward into the vale of years is such a declivity, that we have just an opportunity to reflect upon the steepness of it, and then find ourselves at the bottom.

Here is a new scene opening, which, whether it perform what it promises or not, will add fresh plumes to the wings of time; at least while it continues to be a subject of contemplation. If the project take effect, a thousand varieties will attend the change it will make in our situation at Olney. If not, it will serve, however, to speculate and converse upon, and steal away many hours, by engaging our attention, before it be entirely dropped. Lady Austen, very desirous of retirement, especially of a retirement near her sister, an admirer of Mr. Scott as a preacher, and of your two humble servants now in the green-house as the most agreeable creatures in the world, is at present determined to settle here. That part of our great building which is at present occupied by Dick Coleman, his wife, child, and a thousand[81] rats, is the corner of the world she chooses above all others as the place of her future residence. Next spring twelvemonth she begins to repair and beautify, and the following winter (by which time the lease of her house in town will determine) she intends to take possession. I am highly pleased with the plan upon Mrs. Unwin's account, who, since Mrs. Newton's departure, is destitute of all female connexion, and has not, in any emergency, a woman to speak to. Mrs. Scott is indeed in the neighbourhood, and an excellent person, but always engaged by a close attention to her family, and no more than ourselves a lover of visiting. But these things are all at present in the clouds. Two years must intervene, and in two years not only this project but all the projects in Europe may be disconcerted.

Cocoa-nut naught,
Fish too dear,
None must be bought
For us that are here;
No lobster on earth
That ever I saw,
To me would be worth
Sixpence a claw.
So, dear Madam, wait
Till fish can be got
At a reas'nable rate,
Whether lobster or not.
Till the French and the Dutch
Have quitted the seas,
And then send as much,
And as oft as you please.

Yours, my dear Sir,
W. C.


Olney, Aug. 25, 1781.

My dear Friend,—We rejoice with you sincerely in the birth of another son, and in the prospect you have of Mrs. Unwin's recovery: may your three children, and the next three, when they shall make their appearance, prove so many blessings to their parents, and make you wish that you had twice the number! But what made you expect daily that you should hear from me? Letter for letter is the law of all correspondence whatsoever, and, because I wrote last, I have indulged myself for some time in expectation of a sheet from you.—Not that I govern myself entirely by the punctilio of reciprocation, but having been pretty much occupied of late, I was not sorry to find myself at liberty to exercise my discretion, and furnished with a good excuse if I chose to be silent.

I expected, as you remember, to have been published last spring, and was disappointed. The delay has afforded me an opportunity to increase the quantity of my publication by about a third; and, if my Muse has not forsaken me, which I rather suspect to be the case, may possibly yet add to it. I have a subject in hand, which promises me a great abundance of poetical matter, but which, for want of a something I am not able to describe, I cannot at present proceed with. The name of it is "Retirement," and my purpose, to recommend the proper improvement of it, to set forth the requisites for that end, and to enlarge upon the happiness of that state of life, when managed as it ought to be. In the course of my journey through this ample theme, I should wish to touch upon the characters, the deficiencies, and the mistakes of thousands, who enter on a scene of retirement unqualified for it in every respect, and with such designs as have no tendency to promote either their own happiness or that of others. But, as I have told you before, there are times when I am no more a poet than I am a mathematician, and when such a time occurs, I always think it better to give up the point than to labour it in vain. I shall yet again be obliged to trouble you for franks, the addition of three thousand lines, or near that number, having occasioned a demand which I did not always foresee, but your obliging friend and your obliging self having allowed me the liberty of application, I make it without apology.

The solitude, or rather the duality, of our condition at Olney seems drawing to a conclusion. You have not forgot perhaps that the building we inhabit consists of two mansions. And, because you have only seen the inside of that part of it which is in our occupation, I therefore inform you that the other end of it is by far the most superb, as well as the most commodious. Lady Austen has seen it, has set her heart upon it, is going to fit it up and furnish it, and, if she can get rid of the remaining two years of the lease of her London house, will probably enter upon it in a twelvemonth. You will be pleased with this intelligence, because I have already told you that she is a woman perfectly well-bred, sensible, and in every respect agreeable; and above all, because she loves your mother dearly. It has in my eyes (and I doubt not it will have the same in yours) strong marks of providential interposition. A female friend, and one who bids fair to prove herself worthy of the appellation, comes recommended by a variety of considerations to such a place as Olney. Since Mr. Newton went, and till this lady came, there was not in the kingdom a retirement more absolutely such than ours. We did not want company, but when it came we found it agreeable. A person that has seen much of the world and understands it well, has high spirits, a lively fancy, and great readiness of conversation, introduces a sprightliness into such a scene as this, which, if it was peaceful before, is not the[82] worse for being a little enlivened. In case of illness too, to which all are liable, it was rather a gloomy prospect, if we allowed ourselves to advert to it, that there was hardly a woman in the place from whom it would have been reasonable to have expected either comfort or assistance. The present curate's wife is a valuable person, but has a family of her own, and, though a neighbour, is not a very near one. But, if this plan is effected, we shall be in a manner one family, and I suppose never pass a day without some intercourse with each other.

Your mother sends her warm affections, and welcomes into the world the new-born William.

My dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, Aug. 25, 1781.

My dear Friend,—By Johnson's last note, (for I have received a packet from him since I wrote last to you,) I am ready to suspect that you have seen him, and endeavoured to quicken his proceedings. His assurance of greater expedition leads me to think so. I know little of booksellers and printers, but have heard from others that they are the most dilatory of all people; otherwise, I am not in a hurry, nor would be so troublesome; but am obliged to you nevertheless for your interference, if his promised alacrity be owing to any spur that you have given him. He chooses to add "Conversation" to the rest, and says he will give me notice when he is ready for it; but I shall send it to you by the first opportune conveyance, and beg you to deliver it over to him. He wishes me not to be afraid of making the volume too large; by which expression I suppose he means, that if I had still another piece, there would be room for it. At present I have not, but am in the way to produce another, faveat modo Musa. I have already begun and proceeded a little way in a poem called "Retirement." My view in choosing that subject is to direct to the proper use of the opportunities it affords for the cultivation of a man's best interests; to censure the vices and the follies which people carry with them into their retreats, where they make no other use of their leisure than to gratify themselves with the indulgence of their favourite appetites, and to pay themselves by a life of pleasure for a life of business. In conclusion, I would enlarge upon the happiness of that state, when discreetly enjoyed and religiously improved. But all this is, at present, in embryo. I generally despair of my progress when I begin; but if, like my travelling 'squire, I should kindle as I go, this likewise may make a part of the volume, for I have time enough before me.

I forgot to mention that Johnson uses the discretion my poetship has allowed him, with much discernment. He has suggested several alterations, or rather marked several defective passages, which I have corrected much to the advantage of the poems. In the last sheet he sent me, he noted three such, all which I have reduced into better order. In the foregoing sheet, I assented to his criticisms in some instances, and chose to abide by the original expression in others. Thus we jog on together comfortably enough: and perhaps it would be as well for authors in general, if their booksellers, when men of some taste, were allowed, though not to tinker the work themselves, yet to point out the flaws, and humbly to recommend an improvement.

W. C.


Olney, Sept. 9, 1781.

My dear Friend,—I am not willing to let the post set off without me, though I have nothing material to put into his bag. I am writing in the green-house, where my myrtles, ranged before the windows, make the most agreeable blind imaginable; where I am undisturbed by noise, and where I see none but pleasing objects. The situation is as favourable to my purpose as I could wish; but the state of my mind is not so, and the deficiencies I feel there are not to be remedied by the stillness of my retirement or the beauty of the scene before me. I believe it is in part owing to the excessive heat of the weather that I find myself so much at a loss when I attempt either verse or prose: my animal spirits are depressed, and dulness is the consequence. That dulness, however, is all at your service; and the portion of it that is necessary to fill up the present epistle I send you without the least reluctance.

I am sorry to find that the censure I have passed upon Occiduus is even better founded than I supposed. Lady Austen has been at his sabbatical concerts, which, it seems, are composed of song-tunes and psalm-tunes indiscriminately; music without words—and I suppose one may say, consequently, without devotion. On a certain occasion, when her niece was sitting at her side, she asked his opinion concerning the lawfulness of such amusements as are to be found at Vauxhall or Ranelagh; meaning only to draw from him a sentence of disapprobation, that Miss Green might be the better reconciled to the restraint under which she was held, when she found it[83] warranted by the judgment of so famous a divine. But she was disappointed: he accounted them innocent, and recommended them as useful. Curiosity, he said, was natural to young persons; and it was wrong to deny them a gratification which they might be indulged in with the greatest safety; because, the denial being unreasonable, the desire of it would still subsist. It was but a walk, and a walk was as harmless in one place as another; with other arguments of a similar import, which might have proceeded with more grace, at least with less offence, from the lips of a sensual layman. He seems, together with others of our acquaintance, to have suffered considerably in his spiritual character by his attachment to music. The lawfulness of it, when used with moderation, and in its proper place, is unquestionable; but I believe that wine itself, though a man be guilty of habitual intoxication, does not more debauch and befool the natural understanding, than music, always music, music in season and out of season, weakens and destroys the spiritual discernment. If it is not used with an unfeigned reference to the worship of God, and with a design to assist the soul in the performance of it, which cannot be the case when it is the only occupation, it degenerates into a sensual delight, and becomes a most powerful advocate for the admission of other pleasures, grosser perhaps in degree, but in their kind the same.[100]

Mr. M——, though a simple, honest, good man—such, at least, he appears to us—is not likely to give general satisfaction. He preaches the truth it seems, but not the whole truth; and a certain member of that church, who signed the letter of invitation, which was conceived in terms sufficiently encouraging, is likely to prove one of his most strenuous opposers. The little man, however, has an independent fortune, and has nothing to do but to trundle himself away to some other place, where he may find hearers neither so nice nor so wise as we are at Olney.

Yours, my dear Sir,
With our united love,
W. C.


Olney, Sept. 16, 1781.

A noble theme demands a noble verse,
In such I thank you for your fine oysters.
The barrel was magnificently large,
But, being sent to Olney at free charge,
Was not inserted in the driver's list,
And therefore overlook'd, forgot, or miss'd;
For, when the messenger whom we despatch'd
Inquir'd for oysters, Hob his noddle scratch'd;
Denying that his wagon or his wain
Did any such commodity contain.
In consequence of which, your welcome boon
Did not arrive till yesterday at noon;
In consequence of which some chanc'd to die,
And some, though very sweet, were very dry.
Now Madam says (and what she says must still
Deserve attention, say she what she will),
That what we call the diligence, be-case
It goes to London with a swifter pace,
Would better suit the carriage of your gift,
Returning downward with a pace as swift;
And therefore recommends it with this aim—
To save at least three days,—the price the same;
For though it will not carry or convey
For less than twelve pence, send whate'er you may,
For oysters bred upon the salt sea-shore,
Pack'd in a barrel, they will charge no more.
News have I none that I can deign to write,
Save that it rain'd prodigiously last night;
And that ourselves were, at the seventh hour,
Caught in the first beginning of the show'r;
But walking, running, and with much ado,
Got home—just time enough to be wet through.
Yet both are well, and, wond'rous to be told,
Soused as we were, we yet have caught no cold;
And wishing just the same good hap to you,
We say, good Madam, and good Sir, adieu!


The Greenhouse, Sept. 18, 1781.

My dear Friend,—I return your preface, with many thanks for so affectionate an introduction to the public. I have observed nothing that in my judgment required alteration, except a single sentence in the first paragraph, which I have not obliterated, that you may restore it, if you please, by obliterating my interlineation. My reason for proposing an amendment of it was, that your meaning did not immediately strike me, which therefore I have endeavoured to make more obvious. The rest is what I would wish it to be. You say, indeed, more in my commendation than I can modestly say of myself: but something will be allowed to the partiality of friendship on so interesting an occasion.

I have no objection in the world to your conveying a copy to Dr. Johnson; though I well know that one of his pointed sarcasms, if he should happen to be displeased, would soon find its way into all companies, and spoil the sale. He writes, indeed, like a man that thinks a great deal, and that sometimes thinks religiously: but report informs me that he has been severe enough in his animadversions upon Dr. Watts, who was, nevertheless, if I am in any degree a judge of verse, a man of true poetical ability; careless, indeed, for the most[84] part, and inattentive too often to those niceties which constitute elegance of expression, but frequently sublime in his conceptions and masterly in his execution. Pope, I have heard, had placed him once in the Dunciad; but, on being advised to read before he judged him, was convinced that he deserved other treatment, and thrust somebody's blockhead into the gap, whose name, consisting of a monosyllable, happened to fit it. Whatever faults, however, I may be chargeable with as a poet, I cannot accuse myself of negligence. I never suffer a line to pass till I have made it as good as I can; and, though my doctrines may offend this king of critics, he will not, I flatter myself, be disgusted by slovenly inaccuracy, either in the numbers, rhymes, or language. Let the rest take its chance. It is possible he may be pleased; and, if he should, I shall have engaged on my side one of the best trumpeters in the kingdom. Let him only speak as favourably of me as he has spoken of Sir Richard Blackmore (who, though he shines in his poem called Creation, has written more absurdities in verse than any writer of our country,) and my success will be secured.

I have often promised myself a laugh with you about your pipe, but have always forgotten it when I have been writing, and at present I am not much in a laughing humour. You will observe, however, for your comfort and the honour of that same pipe, that it hardly falls within the line of my censure. You never fumigate the ladies, or force them out of company; nor do you use it as an incentive to hard drinking. Your friends, indeed, have reason to complain that it frequently deprives them of the pleasure of your own conversation while it leads you either into your study or your garden; but in all other respects it is as innocent a pipe as can be. Smoke away, therefore; and remember that, if one poet has condemned the practice, a better than he (the witty and elegant Hawkins Browne[102]) has been warm in the praise of it.

"Retirement" grows, but more slowly than any of its predecessors. Time was when I could with ease produce fifty, sixty, or seventy lines in a morning; now, I generally fall short of thirty, and am sometimes forced to be content with a dozen. It consists, at present, I suppose, of between six and seven hundred; so that there are hopes of an end, and I dare say Johnson will give me time enough to finish it.

I nothing add but this—that still I am
Your most affectionate and humble



Olney, Sept. 26, 1781.

My dear Friend,—I may, I suppose, congratulate you on your safe arrival at Brighthelmstone; and am the better pleased with your design to close the summer there, because I am acquainted with the place, and, by the assistance of fancy, can without much difficulty join myself to the party, and partake with you in your amusements and excursions. It happened singularly enough, that, just before I received your last, in which you apprise me of your intended journey, I had been writing upon the subject, having found occasion, towards the close of my last poem, called "Retirement," to take some notice of the modern passion for sea-side entertainments, and to direct to the means by which they might be made useful as well as agreeable. I think with you, that the most magnificent object under heaven is the great deep; and cannot but feel an unpolite species of astonishment, when I consider the multitudes that view it without emotion and even without reflection. In all its various forms, it is an object of all others the most suited to affect us with lasting impressions of the awful Power that created and controls it. I am the less inclined to think this negligence excusable, because, at a time of life when I gave as little attention to religious subjects as almost any man, I yet remember that the waves would preach to me, and that in the midst of dissipation I had an ear to hear them. One of Shakspeare's characters says, "I am never merry when I hear sweet music." The same effect that harmony seems to have had upon him I have experienced from the sight and sound of the ocean, which have often composed my thoughts into a melancholy not unpleasing nor without its use. So much for Signor Nettuno.

Lady Austen goes to London this day se'nnight. We have told her that you shall visit her; which is an enterprise you may engage in with the more alacrity, because, as she loves every thing that has any connexion with your mother, she is sure to feel a sufficient partiality for her son. Add to this that your own personal recommendations are by no means small, or such as a woman of her fine taste and discernment can possibly overlook. She has many features in her character which you will admire; but one, in particular, on account of the rarity of it, will engage your attention and esteem. She has a degree of gratitude in her composition, so quick a sense of obligation, as is hardly to be found in any rank of life, and,[85] if report say true, is scarce indeed in the superior. Discover but a wish to please her, and she never forgets it; not only thanks you, but the tears will start into her eyes at the recollection of the smallest service. With these fine feelings, she has the most, and the most harmless, vivacity you can imagine. In short, she is—what you will find her to be, upon half an hour's conversation with her; and, when I hear you have a journey to town in contemplation, I will send you her address.

Your mother is well, and joins with me in wishing that you may spend your time agreeably upon the coast of Sussex.

W. C.


Olney, Oct. 4, 1781.

My dear Friend,—I generally write the day before the post, but yesterday had no opportunity, being obliged to employ myself in settling my greenhouse for the winter. I am now writing before breakfast, that I may avail myself of every inch of time for the purpose. N. B. An expression a critic would quarrel with, and call it by some hard name, signifying a jumble of ideas and an unnatural match between time and space.

I am glad to be undeceived respecting the opinion I had been erroneously led into on the subject of Johnson's criticism on Watts. Nothing can be more judicious, or more characteristic of a distinguishing taste, than his observations upon that writer; though I think him a little mistaken in his notion that divine subjects have never been poetically treated with success. A little more Christian knowledge and experience would perhaps enable him to discover excellent poetry upon spiritual themes in the aforesaid little Doctor. I perfectly acquiesce in the propriety of sending Johnson a copy of my productions; and I think it would be well to send it in our joint names, accompanied with a handsome card, such a one as you will know how to fabricate, and such as may predispose him to a favourable perusal of the book, by coaxing him into a good temper; for he is a great bear, with all his learning and penetration.[105]

I forgot to tell you in my last that I was well pleased with your proposed appearance in the title-page under the name of the editor. I do not care under how many names you appear in a book that calls me its author. In my last piece, which I finished the day before yesterday, I have told the public that I live upon the banks of the Ouse: that public is a great simpleton if it does not know that you live in London; it will consequently know that I had need of the assistance of some friend in town, and that I could have recourse to nobody with more propriety than yourself. I shall transcribe and submit to your approbation as fast as possible. I have now, I think, finished my volume; indeed I am almost weary of composing, having spent a year in doing nothing else. I reckon my volume will consist of about eight thousand lines.

Yours, my dear friend,


Olney, Oct. 6, 1781.

My dear friend,—What a world are you daily conversant with, which I have not seen these twenty years, and shall never see again! The arts of dissipation (I suppose) are no where practised with more refinement or success than at the place of your present residence. By your account of it, it seems to be just what it was when I visited it,—a scene of idleness and luxury, music, dancing, cards, walking, riding, bathing, eating, drinking, coffee, tea, scandal, dressing, yawning, sleeping, the rooms perhaps more magnificent, because the proprietors are grown richer, but the manners and occupations of the company just the same. Though my life has long been that of a recluse, I have not the temper of one, nor am I in the least an enemy to cheerfulness and good humour; but I cannot envy you your situation; I even feel myself constrained to prefer the silence of this nook, and the snug fireside in our own diminutive parlour, to all the splendour and gaiety of Brighton.

You ask me how I feel on the occasion of my approaching publication? Perfectly at my ease. If I had not been pretty well assured beforehand that my tranquillity would be but little endangered by such a measure, I would never have engaged in it; for I cannot bear disturbance. I have had in view two principal objects; first, to amuse myself; and, secondly, to compass that point in such a manner that others might possibly be the better for my amusement. If I have succeeded, it will give me pleasure; but, if I have failed, I shall not be mortified to the degree that might perhaps be expected. I remember an old adage (though not where it is to be found) "bene vixit, qui bene latuit," and, if I had recollected it at the right time, it should have been the motto to my book. By the way, it will make an excellent one for "Retirement," if you can but tell me whom to quote for it. The critics cannot deprive me of the pleasure I have in reflecting, that, so far as my leisure has been employed in[86] writing for the public, it has been conscientiously employed, and with a view to their advantage. There is nothing agreeable, to be sure, in being chronicled for a dunce; but, I believe, there lives not a man upon earth who would be less affected by it than myself. With all this indifference to fame, which you know me too well to suppose me capable of affecting, I have taken the utmost pains to deserve it. This may appear a mystery or a paradox in practice, but it is true. I considered that the taste of the day is refined and delicate to excess, and that to disgust that delicacy of taste, by a slovenly inattention to it, would be to forfeit, at once, all hope of being useful; and for this reason, though I have written more verse this last year than perhaps any man in England, I have finished, and polished, and touched, and retouched, with the utmost care. If after all I should be converted into waste paper, it may be my misfortune, but it will not be my fault. I shall bear it with the most perfect serenity.

I do not mean to give —— a copy; he is a good-natured little man, and crows exactly like a cock, but knows no more of verse than the cock he imitates.

Whoever supposes that Lady Austen's fortune is precarious is mistaken. I can assure you, upon the ground of the most circumstantial and authentic information, that it is both genteel and perfectly safe.

W. C.


Olney, Oct. 14, 1781.

My dear Friend,—I would not willingly deprive you of any comfort, and therefore would wish you to comfort yourself as much as you can with a notion that you are a more bountiful correspondent than I. You will give me leave in the meantime, however, to assert to myself a share in the same species of consolation, and to enjoy the flattering recollection that I have sometimes written three letters to your one. I never knew a poet, except myself, who was punctual in anything, or to be depended on for the due discharge of any duty, except what he thought he owed to the Muses. The moment a man takes it into his foolish head that he has what the world calls genius, he gives himself a discharge from the servile drudgery of all friendly offices, and becomes good for nothing except in the pursuit of his favourite employment. But I am not yet vain enough to think myself entitled to such self-conferred honours; and, though I have sent much poetry to the press, or, at least, what I hope my readers will account such, am still as desirous as ever of a place in your heart, and to take all opportunities to convince you that you have still the same in mine. My attention to my poetical function has, I confess, a little interfered of late with my other employments, and occasioned my writing less frequently than I should have otherwise done. But it is over, at least for the present, and I think for some time to come. I have transcribed "Retirement," and send it. You will be so good as to forward it to Johnson, who will forward it, I suppose, to the public, in his own time; but not very speedily, moving as he does. The post brought me a sheet this afternoon, but we have not yet reached the end of "Hope."

Mr. Scott, I perceive by yours to him, has mentioned one of his troubles, but, I believe, not the principal one. The question, whether he shall have an assistant at the great house in Mr. R——, is still a question, or, at least, a subject of discontent between Mr. Scott and the people. In a tete-a-tete I had with this candidate for the chair in the course of the last week, I told him my thoughts upon the subject plainly; advised him to change places by the help of fancy, with Mr. Scott, for a moment, and to ask himself how he would like a self-intruded deputy; advised him likewise by no means to address Mr. Scott any more upon the matter, for that he might be sure he would never consent to it; and concluded with telling him that, if he persisted in his purpose of speaking to the people, the probable consequence would be that, sooner or later, Mr. Scott would be forced out of the parish, and the blame of his expulsion would all light upon him. He heard, approved, and I think the very next day put all my good counsel to shame, at least, a considerable part of it, by applying to Mr. Scott, in company with Mr. P——, for his permission to speak at the Sunday evening lecture. Mr. Scott, as I had foretold, was immoveable; but offered, for the satisfaction of his hearers, to preach three times to them on the Sabbath, which he could have done, Mr. Jones having kindly offered, though without their knowledge, to officiate for him at Weston. Mr. R. answered, "That will not do, Sir; it is not what the people wish; they want variety." Mr. Scott replied very wisely, "If they do, they must be content without it; it is not my duty to indulge that humour." This is the last intelligence I have had upon the subject. I received it not from Mr. Scott, but from an ear-witness.

I did not suspect, till the reviewers told me so, that you are made up of artifice and design, and that your ambition is to delude your hearers. Well, I suppose they please themselves with the thought of having mortified you; but how much are they mistaken! They shot at you, and their arrow struck the Bible, recoiling, of course, upon themselves. My[87] turn will come, for I think I shall hardly escape a thrashing.

Yours, my dear sir,
And Mrs. Newton's,
W. C.


Olney, Oct. 19, 1781.

My dear Cousin,—Your fear lest I should think you unworthy of my correspondence, on account of your delay to answer, may change sides now, and more properly belongs to me. It is long since I received your last, and yet I believe I can say truly, that not a post has gone by me since the receipt of it that has not reminded me of the debt I owe you for your obliging and unreserved communications both in prose and verse, especially for the latter, because I consider them as marks of your peculiar confidence. The truth is, I have been such a verse-maker myself, and so busy in preparing a volume for the press, which I imagine will make its appearance in the course of the winter, that I hardly had leisure to listen to the calls of any other engagement. It is, however, finished, and gone to the printer's, and I have nothing now to do with it but to correct the sheets as they are sent to me, and consign it over to the judgment of the public. It is a bold undertaking at this time of day, when so many writers of the greatest abilities have gone before, who seem to have anticipated every valuable subject, as well as all the graces of poetical embellishment, to step forth into the world in the character of a bard, especially when it is considered that luxury, idleness, and vice, have debauched the public taste, and that nothing hardly is welcome but childish fiction, or what has, at least, a tendency to excite a laugh. I thought, however, that I had stumbled upon some subjects that had never before been poetically treated, and upon some others to which I imagined it would not be difficult to give an air of novelty by the manner of treating them. My sole drift is to be useful; a point which, however, I knew I should in vain aim at, unless I could be likewise entertaining. I have therefore fixed these two strings upon my bow, and by the help of both have done my best to send the arrow to the mark. My readers will hardly have begun to laugh, before they will be called upon to correct that levity and peruse me with a more serious air. As to the effect I leave it alone in His hands who can alone produce it; neither prose nor verse can reform the manners of a dissolute age, much less can they inspire a sense of religious obligation, unless assisted and made efficacious by the Power who superintends the truth he has vouchsafed to impart.

You made my heart ache with a sympathetic sorrow when you described the state of your mind on occasion of your late visit into Hertfordshire. Had I been previously informed of your journey before you made it, I should have been able to have foretold all your feelings with the most unerring certainty of prediction. You will never cease to feel upon that subject, but, with your principles of resignation and acquiescence in the divine will, you will always feel as becomes a Christian. We are forbidden to murmur, but we are not forbidden to regret; and whom we loved tenderly while living, we may still pursue with an affectionate remembrance, without having any occasion to charge ourselves with rebellion against the sovereignty that appointed a separation. A day is coming when, I am confident, you will see and know that mercy to both parties was the principal agent in a scene, the recollection of which is still painful.

W. C.

Those who read what the poet has here said of his intended publication may perhaps think it strange that it was introduced to the world with a preface, not written by himself but by his friend Mr. Newton. The circumstance arose from two amiable peculiarities in the character of Cowper—his extreme diffidence in regard to himself, and his kind eagerness to gratify the affectionate ambition of a friend whom he tenderly esteemed! Mr. Newton has avowed this feeling in a very ingenuous and candid manner. He seems not to have been insensible to the honour of presenting himself to the public as the bosom friend of that incomparable author whom he had attended so faithfully in sickness and sorrow.

In the course of the following letters, the reader will find occasion to admire the grateful delicacy of the poet, not only towards the writer of his preface, but even in the liberal praise with which he speaks of his publisher.


Olney, Oct. 22, 1781.

My dear Friend,—Mr. Bates, without intending it, has passed a severer censure upon the modern world of readers, than any that can be found in my volume. If they are so merrily disposed, in the midst of a thousand calamities, that they will not deign to read a preface of three or four pages, because the purport of it is serious, they are far gone indeed, and in the last stage of a frenzy, such as I suppose has prevailed in all nations that have been exemplarily punished, just before the infliction of the sentence. But, though he lives in the world he has so ill an opinion of, and[88] ought therefore to know it better than I, who have no intercourse with it at all, I am willing to hope that he may be mistaken. Curiosity is a universal passion. There are few people who think a book worth their reading, but feel a desire to know something about the writer of it. This desire will naturally lead them to peep into the preface, where they will soon find that a little perseverance will furnish them with some information on the subject. If, therefore, your preface finds no readers, I shall take it for granted that it is because the book itself is accounted not worth their notice. Be that as it may, it is quite sufficient that I have played the antic myself for their diversion; and that, in a state of dejection such as they are absolute strangers to, I have sometimes put on an air of cheerfulness and vivacity, to which I myself am in reality a stranger, for the sake of winning their attention to more useful matter. I cannot endure the thought for a moment, that you should descend to my level on the occasion, and court their favour in a style not more unsuitable to your function than to the constant and consistent train of your whole character and conduct. No—let the preface stand. I cannot mend it. I could easily make a jest of it, but it is better as it is.

By the way—will it not be proper, as you have taken some notice of the modish dress I wear in "Table Talk" to include "Conversation" in the same description, which is (the first half of it, at least) the most airy of the two? They will otherwise think, perhaps, that the observation might as well have been spared entirely; though I should have been sorry if it had, for when I am jocular I do violence to myself, and am therefore pleased with your telling them in a civil way that I play the fool to amuse them, not because I am one myself, but because I have a foolish world to deal with.

I am inclined to think that Mr. Scott will no more be troubled by Mr. R—— with applications of the sort I mentioned in my last. Mr. Scott, since I wrote that account, has related to us himself what passed in the course of their interview; and, it seems, the discourse ended with his positive assurance that he never would consent to the measure, though, at the same time, he declared he would never interrupt or attempt to suppress it. To which Mr. R—— replied, that unless he had his free consent, he should never engage in the office. It is to be hoped, therefore, that, in time, that part of the people who may at present be displeased with Mr. Scott for withholding his consent, will grow cool upon the subject, and be satisfied with receiving their instruction from their proper minister.

I beg you will, on no future occasion, leave a blank for Mrs. Newton, unless you have first engaged her promise to fill it; for thus we lose the pleasure of your company, without being indemnified for the loss by the acquisition of hers. Our love to you both.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, Nov. 5, 1781.

My dear William,—I give you joy of your safe return from the lips of the great deep. You did not discern many signs of sobriety or true wisdom among the people of Brighthelmstone, but it is not possible to observe the manners of a multitude, of whatever rank, without learning something: I mean, if a man has a mind like yours, capable of reflection. If he sees nothing to imitate, he is sure to see something to avoid; if nothing to congratulate his fellow creatures upon, at least much to excite his compassion. There is not, I think, so melancholy a sight in the world (an hospital is not to be compared with it) as that of a thousand persons distinguished by the name of gentry, who, gentle perhaps by nature, and made more gentle by education, have the appearance of being innocent and inoffensive, yet being destitute of all religion, or not at all governed by the religion they profess, are none of them at any great distance from an eternal state, where self-deception will be impossible, and where amusements cannot enter. Some of them, we may say, will be reclaimed—it is most probable indeed that some of them will, because mercy, if one may be allowed the expression, is fond of distinguishing itself by seeking its objects among the most desperate class; but the Scripture gives no encouragement to the warmest charity to hope for deliverance for them all. When I see an afflicted and unhappy man, I say to myself, There is perhaps a man whom the world would envy, if they knew the value of his sorrows, which are possibly intended only to soften his heart, and to turn his affections towards their proper centre. But, when I see or hear of a crowd of voluptuaries, who have no ears but for music, no eyes but for splendour, and no tongue but for impertinence and folly—I say, or at least I see occasion to say—This is madness—this persisted in must have a tragical conclusion. It will condemn you, not only as Christians unworthy of the name, but as intelligent creatures. You know by the light of nature, if you have not quenched it, that there is a God, and that a life like yours cannot be according to his will.

I ask no pardon of you for the gravity and gloominess of these reflections, which I stumbled on when I least expected it; though, to say the[89] truth, these or others of a like complexion, are sure to occur to me when I think of a scene of public diversion like that you have lately left.

I am inclined to hope that Johnson told you the truth, when he said he should publish me soon after Christmas. His press has been rather more punctual in its remittances than it used to be; we have now but little more than two of the longest pieces, and the small ones that are to follow, by way of epilogue, to print off, and then the affair is finished. But once more I am obliged to gape for franks; only these, which I hope will be the last I shall want, at yours and Mr. ——'s convenient leisure.

We rejoice that you have so much reason to be satisfied with John's proficiency. The more spirit he has the better, if his spirit is but manageable, and put under such management as your prudence and Mrs. Unwin's will suggest. I need not guard you against severity, of which I conclude there is no need, and which I am sure you are not at all inclined to practise without it; but perhaps if I was to whisper, beware of too much indulgence, I should only give a hint that the fondness of a father for a fine boy might seem to justify. I have no particular reason for the caution, at this distance it is not possible I should, but, in a case like yours, an admonition of that sort seldom wants propriety.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, Nov. 7, 1781.

My dear Friend,—Having discontinued the practice of verse-making for some weeks, I now feel quite incapable of resuming it; and can only wonder at it as one of the most extraordinary incidents in my life that I should have composed a volume. Had it been suggested to me as a practicable thing in better days, though I should have been glad to have found it so, many hindrances would have conspired to withhold me from such an enterprise. I should not have dared, at that time of day, to have committed my name to the public, and my reputation to the hazard of their opinion. But it is otherwise with me now. I am more indifferent about what may touch me in that point than ever I was in my life. The stake that would then have seemed important now seems trivial; and it is of little consequence to me, who no longer feel myself possessed of what I accounted infinitely more valuable, whether the world's verdict shall pronounce me a poet, or an empty pretender to the title. This happy coldness towards a matter so generally interesting to all rhymers left me quite at liberty for the undertaking, unfettered by fear, and under no restraints of that diffidence which is my natural temper, and which would either have made it impossible for me to commence an author by name, or would have insured my miscarriage if I had. In my last despatches to Johnson I sent him a new edition of the title-page, having discarded the Latin paradox which stood at the head of the former, and added a French motto to that from Virgil. It is taken from a volume of the excellent Caraccioli,[109] called Jouissance de soi-meme, and strikes me as peculiarly apposite to my purpose.

Mr. Bull is an honest man. We have seen him twice since he received your orders to march hither, and faithfully told us it was in consequence of those orders that he came. He dined with us yesterday; we were all in pretty good spirits, and the day passed very agreeably. It is not long since he called on Mr. Scott. Mr. R—— came in. Mr. Bull began, addressing himself to the former, "My friend, you are in trouble; you are unhappy; I read it in your countenance." Mr. Scott replied, he had been so, but he was better. "Come then," says Mr. Bull, "I will expound to you the cause of all your anxiety. You are too common; you make yourself cheap. Visit your people less, and converse more with your own heart. How often do you speak to them in the week?" Thrice.—"Ay, there it is. Your sermons are an old ballad; your prayers are an old ballad; and you are an old ballad too."—I would wish to tread in the steps of Mr. Newton.—"You do well to follow his steps in all other instances, but in this instance you are wrong, and so was he. Mr. Newton trod a path which no man but himself could have used so long as he did, and he wore it out long before he went from Olney. Too much familiarity and condescension cost him the estimation of his people. He thought he should insure their love, to which he had the best possible title, and by those very means he lost it. Be wise, my friend; take warning; make yourself scarce, if you wish that persons of little understanding should know how to prize you."

When he related to us this harangue, so nicely adjusted to the case of the third person present, it did us both good, and, as Jacques says,

"It made my lungs to crow like chanticleer."


Our love of you both, though often sent to London, is still with us. If it is not an inexhaustible well, (there is but one love that can with propriety be called so,) it is, however, a very deep one, and not likely to fail while we are living.

Yours, my dear Sir,
W. C.


Olney, Nov. 24, 1781.

My dear Friend,—News is always acceptable, especially from another world. I cannot tell you what has been done in the Chesapeake, but I can tell you what has passed in West Wycombe, in this county. Do you feel yourself disposed to give credit to the story of an apparition? No, say you. I am of your mind. I do not believe more than one in a hundred of those tales with which old women frighten children, and teach children to frighten each other. But you are not such a philosopher, I suppose, as to have persuaded yourself that an apparition is an impossible thing. You can attend to a story of that sort, if well authenticated? Yes. Then I can tell you one.

You have heard, no doubt, of the romantic friendship that subsisted once between Paul Whitehead, and Lord le Despenser, the late Sir Francis Dashwood.—When Paul died, he left his lordship a legacy. It was his heart, which was taken out of his body, and sent as directed. His friend, having built a church, and at that time just finished it, used it as a mausoleum upon this occasion; and, having (as I think the newspapers told us at the time) erected an elegant pillar in the centre of it, on the summit of this pillar, enclosed in a golden urn, he placed the heart in question; but not as a lady places a china figure upon her mantel-tree, or on the top of her cabinet, but with much respectful ceremony and all the forms of funeral solemnity. He hired the best singers and the best performers. He composed an anthem for the purpose; he invited all the nobility and gentry in the country to assist at the celebration of these obsequies, and, having formed them all into an august procession, marched to the place appointed at their head, and consigned the posthumous treasure, with his own hands, to its state of honourable elevation. Having thus, as he thought, and as he might well think, (.....) appeased the manes of the deceased, he rested satisfied with what he had done, and supposed his friend would rest. But not so,—about a week since I received a letter from a person who cannot have been misinformed, telling me that Paul has appeared frequently of late, and that there are few, if any, of his lordship's numerous household, who have not seen him, sometimes in the park, sometimes in the garden, as well as in the house, by day and by night, indifferently. I make no reflection upon this incident, having other things to write about and but little room.

I am much indebted to Mr. S—— for more franks, and still more obliged by the handsome note with which he accompanied them. He has furnished me sufficiently for the present occasion, and, by his readiness and obliging manner of doing it, encouraged me to have recourse to him, in case another exigence of the same kind should offer. A French author I was reading last night says, He that has written will write again. If the critics do not set their foot upon this first egg that I have laid and crush it, I shall probably verify his observation; and, when I feel my spirits rise, and that I am armed with industry sufficient for the purpose, undertake the production of another volume. At present, however, I do not feel myself so disposed; and, indeed, he that would write should read, not that he may retail the observations of other men, but that, being thus refreshed and replenished, he may find himself in a condition to make and to produce his own. I reckon it among my principal advantages, as a composer of verses, that I have not read an English poet these thirteen years, and but one these twenty years. Imitation, even of the best models, is my aversion; it is servile and mechanical, a trick that has enabled many to usurp the name of author, who could not have written at all, if they had not written upon the pattern of somebody indeed original. But when the ear and the taste have been much accustomed to the manner of others, it is almost impossible to avoid it; and we imitate, in spite of ourselves, just in proportion as we admire. But enough of this.

Your mother, who is as well as the season of the year will permit, desires me to add her love.—The salmon you sent us arrived safe and was remarkably fresh. What a comfort it is to have a friend who knows that we love salmon, and who cannot pass by a fishmonger's shop without finding his desire to send us some, a temptation too strong to be resisted!

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Nov. 26, 1781.

My dear Friend,—I thank you much for your letter, which, without obliging me to travel to Wargrave at a time of year when journeying is not very agreeable, has introduced me, in the most commodious manner, to a perfect acquaintance with your neat little garden, your old cottage, and above all, your most prudent[91] and sagacious landlady. As much as I admire her, I admire much more that philosophical temper with which you seem to treat her; for I know few characters more provoking, to me at least, than the selfish, who are never honest, especially if, while they determine to pick your pocket, they have not ingenuity enough to conceal their purpose. But you are perfectly in the right, and act just as I would endeavour to do on the same occasion. You sacrifice every thing to a retreat you admire, and, if the natural indolence of my disposition did not forsake me, so would I.

You might as well apologize for sending me forty pounds, as for writing about yourself. Of the two ingredients, I hardly know which made your letter the most agreeable, (observe, I do not say the most acceptable.) The draft, indeed, was welcome; but, though it was so, yet it did not make me laugh. I laughed heartily at the account you give me of yourself, and your landlady, Dame Saveall, whose picture you have drawn, though not with a flattering hand, yet, I dare say, with a strong resemblance. As to you, I have never seen so much of you since I saw you in London, where you and I have so often made ourselves merry with each other's humour, yet never gave each other a moment's pain by doing so. We are both humourists, and it is well for your wife and my Mrs. Unwin that they have alike found out the way to deal with us.

More thanks to Mrs. Hill for her intentions. She has the true enthusiasm of a gardener, and I can pity her under her disappointment, having so large a share of that commodity myself.

Yours, my dear Sir, affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, Nov. 26, 1781.

My dear Friend,—I wrote to you by the last post, supposing you at Stock; but, lest that letter should not follow you to Laytonstone, and you should suspect me of unreasonable delay, and lest the frank you have sent me should degenerate into waste paper and perish upon my hands, I write again. The former letter, however, containing all my present stock of intelligence, it is more than possible that this may prove a blank, or but little worthy your acceptance. You will do me the justice to suppose that, if I could be very entertaining I would be so, because, by giving me credit for such a willingness to please, you only allow me a share of that universal vanity which inclines every man, upon all occasions, to exhibit himself to the best advantage. To say the truth, however, when I write, as I do to you, not about business, nor on any subject that approaches to that description, I mean much less my correspondent's amusement, which my modesty will not always permit me to hope for, than my own. There is a pleasure annexed to the communication of one's ideas, whether by word of mouth or by letter, which nothing earthly can supply the place of; and it is the delight we find in this mutual intercourse that not only proves us to be creatures intended for social life, but more than any thing else, perhaps, fits us for it. I have no patience with philosophers: they, one and all, suppose (at least I understand it to be a prevailing opinion among them) that man's weakness, his necessities, his inability to stand alone, have furnished the prevailing motive, under the influence of which he renounced at first a life of solitude and became a gregarious creature. It seems to me more reasonable, as well as more honourable to my species, to suppose that generosity of soul and a brotherly attachment to our own kind, drew us, as it were, to one common centre, taught us to build cities and inhabit them, and welcome every stranger that would cast in his lot amongst us, that we might enjoy fellowship with each other and the luxury of reciprocal endearments, without which a paradise could afford no comfort. There are indeed all sorts of characters in the world; there are some whose understandings are so sluggish, and whose hearts are such mere clods, that they live in society without either contributing to the sweets of it or having any relish for them. A man of this stamp passes by our window continually; I never saw him conversing with a neighbour but once in my life, though I have known him by sight these twelve years; he is of a very sturdy make, and has a round protuberance, which he evidently considers as his best friend, because it is his only companion, and it is the labour of his life to fill it. I can easily conceive that it is merely the love of good eating and drinking, and now and then the want of a new pair of shoes, that attaches this man so much to the neighbourhood of his fellow mortals; for suppose these exigencies and others of a like kind to subsist no longer, and what is there that could give society the preference in his esteem? He might strut about with his two thumbs upon his hips in the wilderness; he could hardly be more silent than he is at Olney; and, for any advantage of comfort, of friendship, or brotherly affection, he could not be more destitute of such blessings there than in his present situation. But other men have something more to satisfy; there are the yearnings of the heart, which, let the philosophers say what they will, are more importunate than all the necessities of the body, that will not suffer a creature worthy to be called human to be content with an insulated life, or to look for his friends[92] among the beasts of the forest.[112] Yourself, for instance! It is not because there are no tailors or pastrycooks to be found upon Salisbury plain, that you do not choose it for your abode, but because you are a philanthropist; because you are susceptible of social impressions; and have a pleasure of doing a kindness when you can. Now, upon the word of a poor creature, I have said all that I have said, without the least intention to say one word of it when I began. But thus it is with my thoughts—when you shake a crab-tree the fruit falls; good for nothing indeed when you have got it, but still the best that is to be expected from a crab-tree. You are welcome to them, such as they are; and, if you approve my sentiments, tell the philosophers of the day that I have outshot them all, and have discovered the true origin of society when I least looked for it.

W. C.


Olney, Nov. 27, 1781.

My dear Friend,—First Mr. Wilson, then Mr. Teedon, and lastly Mr. Whitford, each with a cloud of melancholy on his brow and with a mouth wide open, have just announced to us this unwelcome intelligence from America.[114] We are sorry to hear it, and should be more cast down than we are, if we did not know that this catastrophe was ordained beforehand, and that therefore neither conduct, nor courage, nor any means that can possibly be mentioned, could have prevented it. If the king and his ministry can be contented to close the business here, and, taking poor Dean Tucker's advice, resign the Americans into the hands of their new masters, it may be well for Old England. But, if they will still persevere, they will find it, I doubt, a hopeless contest to the last. Domestic murmurs will grow louder, and the hands of faction, being strengthened by this late miscarriage, will find it easy to set fire to the pile of combustibles they have been so long employed in building. These are my politics, and, for aught I can see, you and we, by our respective firesides, though neither connected with men in power, nor professing to possess any share of that sagacity which thinks itself qualified to wield the affairs of kingdoms, can make as probable conjectures, and look forward into futurity with as clear a sight, as the greatest man in the cabinet.

Though, when I wrote the passage in question, I was not at all aware of any impropriety in it, and though I have frequently, since that time, both read and recollected it with the same approbation, I lately became uneasy upon the subject, and had no rest in my mind for three days, till I resolved to submit it to a trial at your tribunal, and to dispose of it ultimately according to your sentence. I am glad you have condemned it, and, though I do not feel as if I could presently supply its place, shall be willing to attempt the task, whatever labour it may cost me, and rejoice that it will not be in the power of the critics, whatever else they may charge me with, to accuse me of bigotry or a design to make a certain denomination of Christians odious, at the hazard of the public peace. I had rather my book were burnt than a single line of such a tendency should escape me.

We thank you for two copies of your Address to your Parishioners. The first I lent to Mr. Scott, whom I have not seen since I put it into his hands. You have managed your subject well; have applied yourself to despisers and absentees of every description, in terms so expressive of the interest you take in their welfare, that the most wrongheaded person cannot be offended. We both wish it may have the effect you intend, and that, prejudices and groundless apprehensions being removed, the immediate objects of your ministry may make a more considerable part of your congregation.

Yours, my dear Sir, as ever,
W. C.



Same date.

My dear Friend,—A visit from Mr. Whitford shortened one of your letters to me; and now the cause has operated with the same effect upon one of mine to you. He is just gone, desired me to send his love, and talks of enclosing a letter to you in my next cover.

Literas tuas irato Sacerdoti scriptas, legi, perlegi, et ne verbum quidem mutandum censeo. Gratias tibi acturum si sapiat, existimo; sin aliter eveniat, amici tamen officium præstitisti, et te coram te vindicasti.

I have not written in Latin to show my scholarship, nor to excite Mrs. Newton's curiosity, nor for any other wise reason whatever; but merely because, just at that moment, it came into my head to do so.


I never wrote a copy of Mary and John[116] in my life, except that which I sent to you. It was one of those bagatelles which sometimes spring up like mushrooms in my imagination, either while I am writing or just before I begin. I sent it to you, because to you I send any thing that I think may raise a smile, but should never have thought of multiplying the impression. Neither did I ever repeat them to any one except Mrs. Unwin. The inference is fair and easy, that you have some friend who has a good memory.

This afternoon the maid opened the parlour-door, and told us there was a lady in the kitchen. We desired she might be introduced, and prepared for the reception of Mrs. Jones. But it proved to be a lady unknown to us, and not Mrs. Jones. She walked directly up to Mrs. Unwin, and never drew back till their noses were almost in contact. It seemed as if she meant to salute her. An uncommon degree of familiarity, accompanied with an air of most extraordinary gravity, made me think her a little crazy. I was alarmed, and so was Mrs. Unwin. She had a bundle in her hand—a silk handkerchief tied up at the four corners. When I found she was not mad, I took her for a smuggler, and made no doubt but she had brought samples of contraband goods. But our surprise, considering the lady's appearance and deportment, was tenfold what it had been, when we found that it was Mary Philips's daughter, who had brought us a few apples by way of a specimen of a quantity she had for sale.


Olney, Dec. 2, 1781.

My dear Friend,—I thank you for the note. There is some advantage in having a tenant who is irregular in his payments: the longer the rent is withheld, the more considerable the sum when it arrives; to which we may add, that its arrival, being unexpected, a circumstance that obtains always in a degree exactly in proportion to the badness of the tenant, is always sure to be the occasion of an agreeable surprise; a sensation that deserves to be ranked among the pleasantest that belong to us.

I gave two hundred and fifty pounds for the chambers. Mr. Ashurst's receipt, and the receipt of the person of whom he purchased, are both among my papers; and when wanted, as I suppose they will be in case of a sale, shall be forthcoming at your order.

The conquest of America seems to go on but slowly. Our ill success in that quarter will oblige me to suppress two pieces that I was rather proud of. They were written two or three years ago; not long after the double repulse sustained by Mr. D'Estaing at Lucia and at Savannah, and when our operations in the western world wore a more promising aspect. Presuming upon such promises, that I might venture to prophesy an illustrious consummation of the war, I did so. But my predictions proving false, the verse in which they were expressed must perish with them.

Yours, my dear Sir,
W. C.


Olney, Dec. 4, 1781.

My dear Friend,—The present to the queen of France, and the piece addressed to Sir Joshua Reynolds, my only two political efforts, being of the predictive kind, and both falsified, or likely to be so, by the miscarriage of the royal cause in America, were already condemned when I received your last.[118] I have a poetical epistle which I wrote last summer,[94] and another poem not yet finished, in stanzas, with which I mean to supply their places. Henceforth I have done with politics. The stage of national affairs is such a fluctuating scene that an event which appears probable to-day becomes impossible to-morrow; and unless a man were indeed a prophet, he cannot, but with the greatest hazard of losing his labour, bestow his rhymes upon future contingencies, which perhaps are never to take place but in his own wishes and in the reveries of his own fancy. I learned when I was a boy, being the son of a staunch Whig, and a man that loved his country, to glow with that patriotic enthusiasm which is apt to break forth into poetry, or at least to prompt a person, if he has any inclination that way, to poetical endeavours. Prior's pieces of that sort were recommended to my particular notice; and, as that part of the present century was a season when clubs of a political character, and consequently political songs, were much in fashion, the best in that style, some written by Rowe, and I think some by Congreve, and many by other wits of the day, were proposed to my admiration. Being grown up, I became desirous of imitating such bright examples, and while I lived in the Temple produced several halfpenny ballads, two or three of which had the honour to be popular. What we learn in childhood we retain long; and the successes we met with about three years ago, when D'Estaing was twice repulsed, once in America and once in the West Indies, having set fire to my patriotic zeal once more, it discovered itself by the same symptoms, and produced effects much like those it had produced before. But, unhappily, the ardour I felt upon the occasion, disdaining to be confined within the bounds of fact, pushed me upon uniting the prophetical with the poetical character, and defeated its own purpose.—I am glad it did. The less there is of that sort in my book the better; it will be more consonant to your character, who patronize the volume, and, indeed, to the constant tenor of my own thoughts upon public matters, that I should exhort my countrymen to repentance, than that I should flatter their pride—that vice for which, perhaps, they are even now so severely punished.

We are glad, for Mr. Barham's sake, that he has been happily disappointed. How little does the world suspect what passes in it every day!—that true religion is working the same wonders now as in the first ages of the church—that parents surrender up their children into the hands of God, to die at his own appointed moment, and by what death he pleases, without a murmur, and receive them again as if by a resurrection from the dead! The world, however, would be more justly chargeable with wilful blindness than it is, if all professors of the truth exemplified its power in their conduct as conspicuously as Mr. Barham.

Easterly winds and a state of confinement within our own walls suit neither me nor Mrs. Unwin; though we are both, to use the Irish term, rather unwell than ill.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.

Mrs. Madan is happy.—She will be found ripe, fall when she may.

We are sorry you speak doubtfully about a spring visit to Olney. Those doubts must not outlive the winter.

W. C.

We now conclude this portion of our work. The incidents recorded in it cannot fail to excite interest, and to awaken a variety of reflections. Remarks of this kind will, however, appear more suitable, when all the details of the poet's singular history are brought to a close, and presented in a connected series. In the meantime we cannot but admire that divine wisdom and mercy, which often so remarkably overrules the darkest dispensations—

From seeming evil still educing good.

It might have been anticipated that the morbid temperament of Cowper would either have unfitted him for intellectual exertion, or that his productions would have been tinged with all the colours of distempered mind: but such was not the case. Whether he composed in poetry or prose, the effect upon his mind seems to have been similar to the influence of the harp of David over the spirit of Saul. The inward struggles of the soul yielded to the magic power of song; and the inimitable letter-writer forgot his sorrows in the sallies of his own sportive imagination. The peculiarity of his temperament, so far from restraining his powers, seems from his own account to have quickened them into action. "I write," he says, in one of his letters, "to amuse and forget myself; and yet always with the desire of benefiting others." His object in writing was twofold, and so was his success; for he wrote and forgot himself; and yet wrote in such a manner, as never to be forgotten by others.

We have now conducted Cowper to the threshold of fame, with all its attendant hopes, fears, and anxieties; a fame resting on the noblest foundation, the application of the powers of genius to improvement of the age in which he lived. The circumstances under which he commenced his career as an Author are singular. They form a profitable subject of inquiry to those who analyze the operations[95] of the human mind; for he wrote in the moments of depression and sorrow, under the influence of a morbid temperament, and with an imagination assailed by the most afflicting images. In the midst of these discouragements his mind burst forth from its prison-house, arrayed in all the charms of wit and humour, sportive without levity, and never provoking a smile at the expense of virtue.

A mind so constituted furnishes a remarkable proof of the wisdom and goodness of God; for it shows that the greatest trials are not without their alleviations, and that in the bitterest cup are to be found the ingredients of mercy. Who can tell how often the mind might lose its equilibrium, or sink under the pressure of its woes, were it not for the interposition of that Almighty Power which guides the planets in their orbits, and says to the great water, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed." Job xxxviii. 11.

We now resume the correspondence of Cowper, which contains some incidental notices of his admired Poems of Friendship and Retirement.


Olney, Dec. 17, 1781.

My dear Friend,—The poem I had in hand when I wrote last is on the subject of Friendship. By the following post I received a packet from Johnson. The proof-sheet it contained brought our business down to the latter part of "Retirement;" the next will consequently introduce the first of the smaller pieces. The volume consisting, at least four-fifths of it, of heroic verse as it is called, and graver matter, I was desirous to displace the "Burning Mountain"[120] from the post it held in the van of the light infantry, and throw it into the rear. Having finished "Friendship," and fearing that, if I delayed to send it, the press would get the start of my intention, and knowing perfectly that, with respect to the subject and the subject matter of it, it contained nothing that you would think exceptionable, I took the liberty to transmit it to Johnson, and hope that the next post will return it to me printed. It consists of between thirty and forty stanzas; a length that qualifies it to supply the place of the two cancelled pieces, without the aid of the epistle I mentioned. According to the present arrangement, therefore, "Friendship," which is rather of a lively cast, though quite sober, will follow next after "Retirement," and "Ætna" will close the volume. Modern naturalists, I think, tell us that the volcano forms the mountain. I shall be charged therefore, perhaps, with an unphilosophical error in supposing that Ætna was once unconscious of intestines fires, and as lofty as at present before the commencement of the eruptions. It is possible, however, that the rule, though just in some instances, may not be of universal application; and, if it be, I do not know that a poet is obliged to write with a philosopher at his elbow, prepared always to bend down his imagination to mere matters of fact. You will oblige me by your opinion; and tell me, if you please, whether you think an apologetical note may be necessary; for I would not appear a dunce in matters that every Review reader must needs be apprized of. I say a note, because an alteration of the piece is impracticable; at least without cutting off its head, and setting on a new one; a task I should not readily undertake, because the lines which must, in that case, be thrown out, are some of the most poetical in the performance.

Possessing greater advantages, and being equally dissolute with the most abandoned of the neighbouring nations, we are certainly more criminal than they. They cannot see, and we will not. It is to be expected, therefore, that when judgment is walking through the earth, it will come commissioned with the heaviest tidings to the people chargeable with the most perverseness. In the latter part of the Duke of Newcastle's administration, all faces gathered blackness. The people, as they walked the streets, had, every one of them, a countenance like what we may suppose to have been the prophet Jonah's, when he cried, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed." But our Nineveh too repented, that is to say, she was affected in a manner somewhat suitable to her condition. She was dejected; she learned an humbler language, and seemed, if she did not trust in God, at least to have renounced her confidence in herself. A respite ensued; the expected ruin was averted; and her prosperity became greater than ever. Again she became self-conceited and proud, as at the first; and how stands it with our Nineveh now? Even as you say; her distress is infinite, her destruction appears inevitable, and her heart as hard as the nether millstone. Thus, I suppose, it was when ancient Nineveh found herself agreeably disappointed; she turned the grace of God into lasciviousness, and that flagrant abuse of mercy exposed her, at the expiration of forty years, to the complete execution of a sentence she had only been threatened with before. A similarity of events, accompanied by a strong similarity of conduct, seems to justify our expectations that the catastrophe will not be very different. But, after all, the designs of Providence are inscrutable, and, as in the case of individuals, so[96] in that of nations, the same causes do not always produce the same effects. The country indeed cannot be saved in its present state of profligacy and profaneness, but may, nevertheless, be led to repentance by means we are little aware of, and at a time when we least expect it.

Our best love attends yourself and Mrs. Newton, and we rejoice that you feel no burthens but those you bear in common with the liveliest and most favoured Christians. It is a happiness in poor Peggy's case, that she can swallow five shillings' worth of physic in a day, but a person must be in her case to be duly sensible of it.

Yours, my dear Sir,
W. C.


Olney, Dec. 19, 1781.

My dear William,—I dare say I do not enter exactly into your idea of a present theocracy, because mine amounts to no more than the common one, that all mankind, though few are really aware of it, act under a providential direction, and that a gracious superintendence in particular is the lot of those who trust in God. Thus I think respecting individuals, and with respect to the kingdoms of the earth, that, perhaps, by his own immediate operation, though more probably by the intervention of angels, (vide Daniel,) the great Governor manages and rules them, assigns them their origin, duration, and end, appoints them prosperity or adversity, glory or disgrace, as their virtues or their vices, their regard to the dictates of conscience and his word, or their prevailing neglect of both, may indicate and require. But in this persuasion, as I said, I do not at all deviate from the general opinion of those who believe a Providence, at least who have a scriptural belief of it. I suppose, therefore, you mean something more, and shall be glad to be more particularly informed.

I see but one feature in the face of our national concerns that pleases me;—the war with America, it seems, is to be conducted on a different plan. This is something; when a long series of measures, of a certain description, has proved unsuccessful, the adoption of others is at least pleasing, as it encourages a hope that they may possibly prove wiser and more effectual: but, indeed, without discipline, all is lost. Pitt himself could have done nothing with such tools; but he would not have been so betrayed; he would have made the traitors answer with their heads for their cowardice or supineness, and their punishment would have made survivors active.

W. C.


Olney. The shortest day, 1781.

My dear Friend,—I might easily make this letter a continuation of my last, another national miscarriage having furnished me with a fresh illustration of the remarks we have both been making. Mr. S——,[122] who has most obligingly supplied me with franks throughout my whole concern with Johnson, accompanied the last parcel he sent me with a note dated from the House of Commons, in which he seemed happy to give me the earliest intelligence of the capture of the French transports by Admiral Kempenfelt, and of a close engagement between the two fleets, so much to be expected. This note was written on Monday, and reached me by Wednesday's post; but, alas! the same post brought us the newspaper that informed us of his being forced to fly before a much superior enemy, and glad to take shelter in the port he had left so lately. This event, I suppose, will have worse consequences than the mere disappointment; will furnish Opposition, as all our ill success has done, with the fuel of dissension, and with the means of thwarting and perplexing administration. Thus, all we purchase with the many millions expended yearly is distress to ourselves, instead of our enemies, and domestic quarrels instead of victories abroad. It takes a great many blows to knock down a great nation; and, in the case of poor England, a great many heavy ones have not been wanting. They make us reel and stagger indeed, but the blow is not yet struck that is to make us fall upon our knees. That fall would save us; but, if we fall upon our side at last, we are undone. So much for politics.

I enclose a few lines on a thought which struck me yesterday.[123] If you approve of them, you know what to do with them. I should think they might occupy the place of an introduction, and should call them by that name, if I did not judge the name I have given them necessary for the information of the reader. A flatting-mill is not met with in every street, and my book will, perhaps, fall into the hands of many who do not know that such a mill was ever invented. It happened to me, however, to spend much of my time in one, when I was a boy, when I frequently amused myself with watching the operation I describe.

Yours, my dear Sir,
W. C.

The reader will admire the sublimity of the following letter in allusion to England and America.



Olney. The last day of 1781.

My dear Friend,—Yesterday's post, which brought me yours, brought me a packet from Johnson. We have reached the middle of the Mahometan Hog. By the way, your lines, which, when we had the pleasure of seeing you here, you said you would furnish him with, are not inserted in it. I did not recollect, till after I had finished the "Flatting-Mill," that it bore any affinity to the motto taken from Caraccioli. The resemblance, however, did not appear to me to give any impropriety to the verses, as the thought is much enlarged upon, and enlivened by the addition of a new comparison. But if it is not wanted, it is superfluous, and if superfluous, better omitted. I shall not bumble Johnson for finding fault with "Friendship," though I have a better opinion of it myself; but a poet is of all men the most unfit to be judge in his own cause. Partial to all his productions, he is always most partial to the youngest. But, as there is a sufficient quantity without it, let that sleep too. If I should live to write again, I may possibly take up that subject a second time, and clothe it in a different dress. It abounds with excellent matter, and much more than I could find room for in two or three pages.

I consider England and America as once one country. They were so, in respect of interest, intercourse, and affinity. A great earthquake has made a partition, and now the Atlantic Ocean flows between them. He that can drain that ocean, and shove the two shores together, so as to make them aptly coincide, and meet each other in every part, can unite them again. But this is a work for Omnipotence, and nothing less than Omnipotence can heal the breach between us. This dispensation is evidently a scourge to England; but is it a blessing to America?[125] Time may prove it one, but at present it does not seem to wear an aspect favourable to their privileges, either civil or religious. I cannot doubt the truth of Dr. W.'s assertion; but the French, who pay but little regard to treaties that clash with their convenience, without a treaty, and even in direct contradiction to verbal engagements, can easily pretend a claim to a country which they have both bled and paid for; and, if the validity of that claim be disputed, behold an army ready landed, and well-appointed, and in possession of some of the most fruitful provinces, prepared to prove it. A scourge is a scourge at one end only. A bundle of thunderbolts, such as you have seen in the talons of Jupiter's eagle, is at both ends equally tremendous, and can inflict a judgment upon the West, at the same moment that it seems to intend only the chastisement of the East.

Yours, my dear Sir,
W. C.

Dr. Johnson's celebrated work, "The Lives of the Poets," had at this time made its appearance, and some of the following letters refer to that subject.


Olney, Jan. 5, 1782.

My dear Friend,—Did I allow myself to plead the common excuse of idle correspondents, and esteem it a sufficient reason for not writing that I have nothing to write about, I certainly should not write now. But I have so often found, on similar occasions, when a great penury of matter has seemed to threaten me with an utter impossibility of hatching a letter, that nothing is necessary but to put pen to paper, and go on, in order to conquer all difficulties; that, availing myself of past experience, I now begin with a most assured persuasion that, sooner or later, one idea naturally suggesting another, I shall come to a most prosperous conclusion.

In the last "Review," I mean in the last but one, I saw Johnson's critique upon Prior and Pope. I am bound to acquiesce in his opinion of the latter, because it has always been my[98] own. I could never agree with those who preferred him to Dryden, nor with others (I have known such, and persons of taste and discernment too) who could not allow him to be a poet at all. He was certainly a mechanical maker of verses, and, in every line he ever wrote, we see indubitable marks of most indefatigable industry and labour. Writers, who find it necessary to make such strenuous and painful exertions, are generally as phlegmatic as they are correct; but Pope was, in this respect, exempted from the common lot of authors of that class. With the unwearied application of a plodding Flemish painter, who draws a shrimp with the most minute exactness, he had all the genius of the one of the first masters. Never, I believe, were such talents and such drudgery united. But I admire Dryden most, who has succeeded by mere dint of genius, and in spite of a laziness and carelessness almost peculiar to himself. His faults are numberless, and so are his beauties. His faults are those of a great man, and his beauties are such (at least sometimes) as Pope, with all his touching and retouching, could never equal. So far, therefore, I have no quarrel with Johnson. But I cannot subscribe to what he says of Prior. In the first place, though my memory may fail me, I do not recollect that he takes any notice of his Solomon, in my mind the best poem, whether we consider the subject of it or the execution, that he ever wrote.[126] In the next place, he condemns him for introducing Venus and Cupid into his love verses, and concludes it impossible his passion could be sincere, because when he would express it, he has recourse to fables. But, when Prior wrote, those deities were not so obsolete as they are at present. His contemporary writers, and some that succeeded him, did not think them beneath their notice. Tibullus, in reality, disbelieved their existence, as much as we do; yet Tibullus is allowed to be the prince of all poetical inamoratos, though he mentions them in almost every page. There is a fashion in these things which the Doctor seems to have forgotten. But what shall we say of his rusty-fusty remarks upon Henry and Emma? I agree with him, that, morally considered, both the knight and his lady are bad characters, and that each exhibits an example which ought not to be followed. The man dissembles in a way that would have justified the woman had she renounced him, and the woman resolves to follow him at the expense of delicacy, propriety, and even modesty itself. But when the critic calls it a dull dialogue, who but a critic will believe him? There are few readers of poetry of either sex in this country who cannot remember how that enchanting piece has bewitched them, who do not know that, instead of finding it tedious, they have been so delighted with the romantic turn of it as to have overlooked all its defects, and to have given it a consecrated place in their memories without ever feeling it a burthen. I wonder almost, that, as the bacchanals served Orpheus, the boys and girls do not tear this husky, dry commentator, limb from limb, in resentment of such an injury done to their darling poet. I admire Johnson as a man of great erudition and sense, but, when he sets himself up for a judge of writers upon the subject of love, a passion which I suppose he never felt in his life, he might as well think himself qualified to pronounce upon a treatise on horsemanship, or the art of fortification.

The next packet I receive will bring me, I imagine, the last proof sheet of my volume, which will consist of about three hundred and fifty pages, honestly printed. My public entrée therefore is not far distant.



Olney, Jan. 13, 1782.

My dear Friend,—I believe I did not thank you for your anecdotes, either foreign or domestic, in my last, therefore I do it now; and still feel myself, as I did at the time, truly obliged to you for them. More is to be learned from one matter of fact than from a thousand speculations. But, alas! what course can Government take? I have heard (for I never made the experiment) that if a man grasp a red-hot iron with his naked hand, it will stick to him, so that he cannot presently disengage himself from it. Such are the colonies in the hands of administration. While they hold them they burn their fingers, and yet they must not quit them. I know not whether your sentiments and mine upon this part of the subject exactly coincide, but you will know when you understand what mine are. It appears to me that the King is bound, both by the duty he owes to himself and to his people, to consider himself, with respect to every inch of his territories, as a trustee deriving his interest in them from God, and invested with them by divine authority for the benefit of his subjects. As he may not sell them or waste them, so he may not resign them to an enemy, or transfer his right to govern them to any, not even to themselves, so long as it is possible for him to keep[99] it. If he does, he betrays at once his own interest and that of his other dominions. It may be said, suppose Providence has ordained that they shall be wrested from him, how then? I answer, that cannot appear to be the case, till God's purpose is actually accomplished; and in the meantime the most probable prospect of such an event does not release him from his obligation to hold them to the last moment, forasmuch as adverse appearances are no infallible indication of God's designs, but may give place to more comfortable symptoms, when we least expect it. Viewing the thing in this light, if I sat on his Majesty's throne, I should be as obstinate as he,[128] because, if I quitted the contest while I had any means of carrying it on, I should never know that I had not relinquished what I might have retained, or be able to render a satisfactory answer to the doubts and inquiries of my own conscience.

Yours, my dear Sir,
W. C.


Olney, Jan. 17, 1782.

My dear William,—I am glad we agree in our opinion of king critic,[129] and the writers on whom he has bestowed his animadversions. It is a matter of indifference to me whether I think with the world at large or not, but I wish my friends to be of my mind. The same work will wear a different appearance in the eyes of the same man, according to the different views with which he reads it; if merely for his amusement, his candour being in less danger of a twist from interest or prejudice, he is pleased with what is really pleasing, and is not over-curious to discover a blemish, because the exercise of a minute exactness is not consistent with his purpose. But if he once becomes a critic by trade, the case is altered. He must then, at any rate, establish, if he can, an opinion in every mind of his uncommon discernment, and his exquisite taste. This great end he can never accomplish by thinking in the track that has been beaten under the hoof of public judgment. He must endeavour to convince the world that their favourite authors have more faults than they are aware of, and such as they have never suspected. Having marked out a writer universally esteemed, whom he finds it for that very reason convenient to depreciate and traduce, he will overlook some of his beauties, he will faintly praise others, and in such a manner as to make thousands, more modest though quite as judicious as himself, question whether they are beauties at all. Can there be a stronger illustration of all that I have said than the severity of Johnson's remarks upon Prior—I might have said the injustice? His reputation as an author, who, with much labour indeed, but with admirable success, has embellished all his poems with the most charming ease, stood unshaken till Johnson thrust his head against it. And how does he attack him in this his principal fort? I cannot recollect his very words, but I am much mistaken indeed, if my memory fails me with respect to the purport of them. "His words," he says, "appear to be forced into their proper places. There indeed we find them, but find likewise that their arrangement has been the effect of constraint, and that without violence they would certainly have stood in a different order."[130] By your leave, most learned Doctor, this is the most disingenuous remark I ever met with, and would have come with a better grace from Curl or Dennis. Every man conversant with verse-writing knows, and knows by painful experience, that the familiar style is of all styles the most difficult to succeed in. To make verse speak the language of prose, without being prosaic, to marshal the words of it in such an order as they might naturally take in falling from the lips of an extemporary speaker, yet without meanness, harmoniously, elegantly, and without seeming to displace a syllable for the sake of the rhyme, is one of the most arduous tasks a poet can undertake. He that could accomplish this task was Prior; many have imitated his excellence in this particular, but the best copies have fallen far short of the original. And now to tell us, after we and our fathers have admired him for it so long, that he is an easy writer indeed, but that his ease has an air of stiffness in it; in short, that his ease is not ease, but only something like it, what is it but a self-contradiction, an observation that grants what it is just going to deny, and denies what it has just granted, in the same sentence, and in the same breath?—But I have filled the greatest part of my sheet with a very uninteresting subject. I will only say that, as a nation, we are not much indebted, in point of poetical credit, to this too sagacious and unmerciful judge; and that, for myself in particular, I have reason to rejoice that he entered upon and exhausted the labours of his office, before my poor volume could possibly become an object of them.

[That Johnson, in his "Lives of the Poets," has exhibited many instances of erroneous criticism,[100] and that he sometimes censures where he might have praised, is we believe very generally admitted. His treatment of Swift, Gay, Prior, and Gray, has excited regret; and Milton, though justly extolled as a sublime poet, is lashed as a republican, with unrelenting severity.[131] Few will concur in Johnson's remarks on Gray's celebrated "Progress of Poetry;" and Murphy, in speaking of his critique on the well-known and admired opening of "The Bard,"

"Ruin seize thee, ruthless king," &c.

expresses a wish that it had been blotted out.[132] But Johnson was the Jupiter Tonans of literature, and not unfrequently hurls his thunder and darts his lightning with an air of conscious superiority, which, though it awakens terror by its power, does not always command respect for its judgment.

With all these deductions, the "Lives of the Poets" is a work abounding in inimitable beauties, and is a lasting memorial of Johnson's fame. It has been justly characterized as "the most brilliant, and, certainly, the most popular, of all his writings."[133] The most splendid passage, among many that might be quoted, is perhaps the eloquent comparison instituted between the relative merits of Pope and Dryden. As Cowper alludes to this critique with satisfaction, we insert an extract from it, to gratify those who are not familiar with its existence. Speaking of Dryden, Johnson observes: "His mind has a larger range, and he collects his images and illustrations from a more extensive circumference of science. Dryden knew more of man in his general nature, and Pope in his local manners. The notions of Dryden were formed by comprehensive speculation; and those of Pope by minute attention. There is more dignity in the knowledge of Dryden, and more certainty in that of Pope." Again: "Dryden is sometimes vehement and rapid; Pope is always smooth, uniform, and gentle. Dryden's page is a natural field, rising into inequalities, and diversified by the varied exuberance of abundant vegetation; Pope's is a velvet lawn, shaven by the scythe, and levelled by the roller."

"Of genius, that power which constitutes a poet; that quality without which judgment is cold, and knowledge is inert; that energy which collects, combines, amplifies, and animates; the superiority must, with some hesitation, be allowed to Dryden. It is not to be inferred that of this poetical vigour Pope had only a little, because Dryden had more; for every other writer since Milton must give place to Pope; and even of Dryden it must be said that, if he has brighter paragraphs, he has not better poems."

He concludes this brilliant comparison in the following words. "If the flights of Dryden, therefore, are higher, Pope continues longer on the wing; if of Dryden's fire the blaze is brighter, of Pope's the heat is more regular and constant. Dryden often surpasses expectation, and Pope never falls below it. Dryden is read with frequent astonishment, and Pope with perpetual delight."[134]

We now insert the sequel of the preceding letter to Mr. Unwin.]

You have already furnished John's memory with by far the greatest part of what a parent would wish to store it with. If all that is merely trivial, and all that has an immoral tendency, were expunged from our English[101] poets, how would they shrink, and how would some of them completely vanish! I believe there are some of Dryden's Fables, which he would find very entertaining; they are for the most part fine compositions, and not above his apprehension; but Dryden has written few things that are not blotted here and there with an unchaste allusion, so that you must pick his way for him, lest he should tread in the dirt. You did not mention Milton's "Allegro" and "Penseroso," which I remember being so charmed with when a boy, that I was never weary of them. There are even passages in the paradisiacal part of "Paradise Lost," which he might study with advantage. And to teach him, as you can, to deliver some of the fine orations made in the Pandæmonium, and those between Satan, Ithuriel, and Zephon, with emphasis, dignity, and propriety, might be of great use to him hereafter. The sooner the ear is formed, and the organs of speech are accustomed to the various inflections of the voice, which the rehearsal of those passages demands, the better. I should think too that Thomson's "Seasons" might afford him some useful lessons. At least they would have a tendency to give his mind an observing and a philosophical turn. I do not forget that he is but a child, but I remember that he is a child favoured with talents superior to his years. We were much pleased with his remarks on your alms-giving, and doubt not but it will be verified with respect to the two guineas you sent us, which have made four Christian people happy. Ships I have none, nor have touched a pencil these three years; if ever I take it up again, which I rather suspect I shall not (the employment requiring stronger eyes than mine,) it shall be at John's service.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, Jan. 31, 1782.

My dear Friend,—Having thanked you for a barrel of very fine oysters, I should have nothing more to say, if I did not determine to say every thing that may happen to occur. The political world affords no very agreeable subjects at present, nor am I sufficiently conversant with it to do justice to so magnificent a theme, if it did. A man that lives as I do, whose chief occupation, at this season of the year, is to walk ten times in a day from the fire-side to his cucumber frame and back again, cannot show his wisdom more, if he has any wisdom to show, than by leaving the mysteries of government to the management of persons, in point of situation and information, much better qualified for the business. Suppose not, however, that I am perfectly an unconcerned spectator, or that I take no interest at all in the affairs of the country; far from it—I read the news—I see that things go wrong in every quarter. I meet, now and then, with an account of some disaster that seems to be the indisputable progeny of treachery, cowardice, or a spirit of faction; I recollect that in those happier days, when you and I could spend our evening in enumerating victories and acquisitions, that seemed to follow each other in a continued series, there was some pleasure in hearing a politician; and a man might talk away upon so entertaining a subject, without danger of becoming tiresome to others, or incurring weariness himself. When poor Bob White brought me the news of Boscawen's success off the coast of Portugal, how did I leap for joy! When Hawke demolished Conflans, I was still more transported. But nothing could express my rapture, when Wolfe made the conquest of Quebec. I am not, therefore, I suppose, destitute of true patriotism; but the course of public events has, of late, afforded me no opportunity to exert it. I cannot rejoice, because I see no reason; and I will not murmur, because for that I can find no good one. And let me add, he that has seen both sides of fifty, has lived to little purpose, if he has not other views of the world than he had when he was much younger. He finds, if he reflects at all, that it will be to the end what it has been from the beginning, a shifting, uncertain, fluctuating scene; that nations, as well as individuals, have their seasons of infancy, youth, and age. If he be an Englishman, he will observe that ours, in particular, is affected with every symptom of decay, and is already sunk into a state of decrepitude. I am reading Mrs. Macaulay's History. I am not quite such a superannuated simpleton as to suppose that mankind were wiser or much better when I was young than they are now. But I may venture to assert, without exposing myself to the charge of dotage, that the men whose integrity, courage, and wisdom, broke the bands of tyranny, established our constitution upon its true basis, and gave a people overwhelmed with the scorn of all countries an opportunity to emerge into a state of the highest respect and estimation, make a better figure in history than any of the present day are likely to do, when their petty harangues are forgotten, and nothing shall survive but the remembrance of the views and motives with which they made them.

My dear friend, I have written at random, in every sense, neither knowing what sentiments I should broach when I began, nor whether they would accord with yours. Excuse a rustic, if he errs on such a subject, and believe me sincerely yours,

W. C.



Olney, Feb. 2, 1782.

My dear Friend,—Though I value your correspondence highly on its own account, I certainly value it the more in consideration of the many difficulties under which you carry it on. Having so many other engagements, and engagements so much more worthy your attention, I ought to esteem it, as I do, a singular proof of your friendship that you so often make an opportunity to bestow a letter upon me; and this not only because mine, which I write in a state of mind not very favourable to religious contemplations, are never worth your reading, but especially because, while you consult my gratification, and endeavour to amuse my melancholy, your thoughts are forced out of the only channel in which they delight to flow, and constrained into another so different, and so little interesting to a mind like yours, that, but for me and for my sake, they would perhaps never visit it. Though I should be glad therefore to hear from you every week, I do not complain that I enjoy that privilege but once in a fortnight, but am rather happy to be indulged in it so often.

I thank you for the jog you gave Johnson's elbow; communicated from him to the printer, it has produced me two more sheets, and two more will bring the business, I suppose, to a conclusion. I sometimes feel such a perfect indifference, with respect to the public opinion of my book, that I am ready to flatter myself no censure of reviewers or other critical readers would occasion me the smallest disturbance. But, not feeling myself constantly possessed of this desirable apathy, I am sometimes apt to suspect that it is not altogether sincere, or at least that I may lose it just at the moment when I may happen most to want it. Be it, however, as it may, I am still persuaded that it is not in their power to mortify me much. I have intended well, and performed to the best of my ability: so far was right, and this is a boast of which they cannot rob me. If they condemn my poetry, I must even say with Cervantes, "Let them do better if they can!"—if my doctrine, they judge that which they do not understand; I shall except to the jurisdiction of the court, and plead Coram non judice. Even Horace could say he should neither be the plumper for the praise nor the leaner for the commendation of his readers; and it will prove me wanting to myself indeed, if, supported by so many sublimer consideration than he was master of, I cannot sit loose to popularity, which, like the wind, bloweth where it listeth, and is equally out of our command. If you, and two or three more such as you are, say, well done, it ought to give me more contentment than if I could earn Churchill's laurels, and by the same means.

I wrote to Lord Dartmouth to apprise him of my intended present, and have received a most affectionate and obliging answer.

I am rather pleased that you have adopted other sentiments respecting our intended present to the critical Doctor.[136] I allow him to be a man of gigantic talents and most profound learning, nor have I any doubts about the universality of his knowledge: but, by what I have seen of his animadversions on the poets, I feel myself much disposed to question, in many instances, either his candour or his taste. He finds fault too often, like a man that, having sought it very industriously, is at last obliged to stick it on a pin's point, and look at it through a microscope; and, I am sure, I could easily convict him of having denied many beauties and overlooked more. Whether his judgment be in itself defective, or whether it be warped by collateral considerations, a writer upon such subjects as I have chosen would probably find but little mercy at his hands.

No winter, since we knew Olney, has kept us more confined than the present. We have not more than three times escaped into the fields since last autumn. Man, a changeable creature in himself, seems to subsist best in a state of variety, as his proper element:—a melancholy man, at least, is apt to grow sadly weary of the same walks and the same pales, and to find that the same scene will suggest the same thoughts perpetually.

Though I have spoken of the utility of changes, we neither feel nor wish for any in our friendships, and consequently stand just where we did with respect to your whole self.

Yours, my dear Sir,
W. C.


Olney, Feb. 9, 1782.

My dear Friend,—I thank you for Mr. Lowth's verses. They are so good that, had I been present when he spoke them, I should have trembled for the boy, lest the man should disappoint the hopes such early genius had given birth to. It is not common to see so lively a fancy so correctly managed, and so free from irregular exuberance, at so unexperienced an age, fruitful, yet not wanton, and gay without being tawdry. When schoolboys write verse, if they have any fire at all, it generally spends itself in flashes and transient sparks, which may indeed suggest an expectation of something better hereafter, but deserve not to be much commended for any real merit of their own. Their wit is generally forced[103] and false, and their sublimity, if they affect any, bombast. I remember well when it was thus with me, and when a turgid, noisy, unmeaning speech in a tragedy, which I should now laugh at, afforded me raptures, and filled me with wonder. It is not in general till reading and observation have settled the taste that we can give the prize to the best writing in preference to the worst. Much less are we able to execute what is good ourselves. But Lowth seems to have stepped into excellence at once, and to have gained by intuition what we little folks are happy if we can learn at last, after much labour of our own and instruction of others. The compliments he pays to the memory of King Charles he would probably now retract, though he be a bishop, and his majesty's zeal for episcopacy was one of the causes of his ruin. An age or two must pass before some characters can be properly understood. The spirit of party employs itself in veiling their faults and ascribing to them virtues which they never possessed. See Charles's face drawn by Clarendon, and it is a handsome portrait. See it more justly exhibited by Mrs. Macaulay, and it is deformed to a degree that shocks us. Every feature expresses cunning, employing itself in the maintaining of tyranny; and dissimulation, pretending itself an advocate for truth.

My letters have already apprized you of that close and intimate connexion that took place between the lady you visited in Queen Anne's-street and us.[137] Nothing could be more promising, though sudden in the commencement. She treated us with as much unreservedness of communication as if we had been born in the same house and educated together. At her departure, she herself proposed a correspondence, and, because writing does not agree with your mother, proposed a correspondence with me. By her own desire, I wrote to her under the assumed relation of brother, and she to me as my sister.

I thank you for the search you have made after my intended motto, but I no longer need it.

Our love is always with yourself and family.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.

Lady Austen returned in the following summer to the house of her sister, situated on the brow of a hill, the foot of which is washed by the river Ouse, as it flows between Clifton and Olney. Her benevolent ingenuity was exerted to guard the spirits of Cowper from sinking again into that hypochondriacal dejection to which, even in her company, he still sometimes discovered an alarming tendency. To promote his occupation and amusement, she furnished him with a small portable printing press, and he gratefully sent her the following verses printed by himself, and enclosed in a billet that alludes to the occasion on which they were composed—a very unseasonable flood, that interrupted the communication between Clifton and Olney.

To watch the storms, and hear the sky
Give all our almanacks the lie;
To shake with cold, and see the plains
In autumn drown'd with wintry rains;
'Tis thus I spend my moments here,
And wish myself a Dutch mynheer;
I then should have no need of wit;
For lumpish Hollander unfit!
Nor should I then repine at mud,
Or meadows deluged with a flood;
But in a bog live well content,
And find it just my element;
Should be a clod, and not a man;
Nor wish in vain for Sister Ann,
With charitable aid to drag
My mind out of its proper quag;
Should have the genius of a boor,
And no ambition to have more.

My dear Sister,—You see my beginning—I do not know but, in time, I may proceed even to the printing of halfpenny ballads—excuse the coarseness of my paper—I wasted such a quantity before I could accomplish any thing legible that I could not afford finer. I intend to employ an ingenious mechanic of the town to make me a longer case: for you may observe that my lines turn up their tails like Dutch mastiffs, so difficult do I find it to make the two halves exactly coincide with each other.

We wait with impatience for the departure of this unseasonable flood. We think of you, and talk of you, but we can do no more till the waters shall subside. I do not think our correspondence should drop because we are within a mile of each other. It is but an imaginary approximation, the flood having in reality as effectually parted us as if the British channel rolled between us.

Yours, my dear sister, with Mrs. Unwin's best love,

W. C.

A flood that precluded him from the conversation of such an enlivening friend was to Cowper a serious evil; but he was happily relieved from the apprehension of such disappointment in future, by seeing the friend so pleasing and so useful to him very comfortably settled as his next-door neighbour. An event so agreeable to the poet was occasioned by circumstances of a painful nature, related in a letter to Mr. Unwin, which, though it bears no date of month or year, seems properly to claim insertion in this place.



My dear William,—The modest terms in which you express yourself on the subject of Lady Austen's commendation embolden me to add my suffrage to hers, and to confirm it by assuring you that I think her just and well-founded in her opinion of you. The compliment indeed glances at myself; for, were you less than she accounts you, I ought not to afford you that place in my esteem which you have held so long. My own sagacity, therefore, and discernment are not a little concerned upon the occasion, for either you resemble the picture, or I have strangely mistaken my man, and formed an erroneous judgment of his character. With respect to your face and figure, indeed, there I leave the ladies to determine, as being naturally best qualified to decide the point; but whether you are perfectly the man of sense and the gentleman, is a question in which I am as much interested as they, and which, you being my friend, I am of course prepared to settle in your favour. The lady (whom, when you know her as well, you will love her as much, as we do) is, and has been, during the last fortnight, a part of our family. Before she was perfectly restored to health, she returned to Clifton. Soon after she came back, Mr. Jones had occasion to go to London. No sooner was he gone than the chateau, being left without a garrison, was besieged as regularly as the night came on. Villains were both heard and seen in the garden, and at the doors and windows. The kitchen window in particular was attempted, from which they took a complete pane of glass, exactly opposite to the iron by which it was fastened, but providentially the window had been nailed to the wood-work, in order to keep it close, and that the air might be excluded; thus they were disappointed, and, being discovered by the maid, withdrew. The ladies, being worn out with continual watching and repeated alarms, were at last prevailed upon to take refuge with us. Men furnished with fire-arms were put into the house, and the rascals, having intelligence of this circumstance, beat a retreat. Mr. Jones returned; Mrs. Jones and Miss Green, her daughter, left us, but Lady Austen's spirits having been too much disturbed to be able to repose in a place where she had been so much terrified, she was left behind. She remains with us till her lodgings at the vicarage can be made ready for her reception. I have now sent you what has occurred of moment in our history since my last.

I say amen with all my heart to your observation on religious characters. Men who profess themselves adepts in mathematical knowledge, in astronomy, or jurisprudence, are generally as well qualified as they would appear. The reason may be, that they are always liable to detection should they attempt to impose upon mankind, and therefore take care to be what they pretend. In religion alone a profession is often slightly taken up and slovenly carried on, because, forsooth, candour and charity require us to hope the best, and to judge favourably of our neighbour, and because it is easy to deceive the ignorant, who are a great majority, upon this subject. Let a man attach himself to a particular party, contend furiously for what are properly called evangelical doctrines, and enlist himself under the banner of some popular preacher, and the business is done. Behold a Christian! a saint! a phœnix! In the meantime, perhaps, his heart and his temper, and even his conduct, are unsanctified; possibly less exemplary than those of some avowed infidels. No matter—he can talk—he has the Shibboleth of the true church—the Bible in his pocket, and a head well stored with notions. But the quiet, humble, modest, and peaceable person, who is in his practice what the other is only in his profession, who hates a noise, and therefore makes none, who, knowing the snares that are in the world, keeps himself as much out of it as he can, and never enters it but when duty calls, and even then with fear and trembling—is the Christian, that will always stand highest in the estimation of those who bring all characters to the test of true wisdom, and judge of the tree by its fruit.

You are desirous of visiting the prisoners; you wish to administer to their necessities, and to give them instruction. This task you will undertake, though you expect to encounter many things in the performance of it that will give you pain. Now this I can understand—you will not listen to the sensibilities that distress yourself, but to the distresses of others. Therefore, when I meet with one of the specious praters above mentioned, I will send him to Stock, that by your diffidence he may be taught a lesson of modesty; by your generosity, a little feeling for others; and by your general conduct, in short, to chatter less and do more.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, Feb. 16, 1782.

Carraccioli says—"There is something very bewitching in authorship, and that he who has once written will write again." It may be so; I can subscribe to the former part of his assertion from my own experience, having never found an amusement, among the many I have been obliged to have recourse to, that so well answered the purpose for which I used it. The[105] quieting and composing effect of it was such, and so totally absorbed have I sometimes been in my rhyming occupation, that neither the past nor the future (those themes which to me are so fruitful in regret at other times) had any longer a share in my contemplation. For this reason, I wish, and have often wished, since the fit left me, that it would seize me again; but hitherto I have wished it in vain. I see no want of subjects, but I feel a total disability to discuss them. Whether it is thus with other writers or not I am ignorant, but I should suppose my case in this respect a little peculiar. The voluminous writers, at least, whose vein of fancy seems always to have been rich in proportion to their occasions, cannot have been so unlike and so unequal to themselves. There is this difference between my poetship and the generality of them—they have been ignorant how much they have stood indebted to an Almighty power for the exercise of those talents they have supposed their own. Whereas I know, and know most perfectly, and am perhaps to be taught it to the last, that my power to think, whatever it be, and consequently my power to compose, is, as much as my outward form, afforded to me by the same hand that makes me in any respect to differ from a brute. This lesson, if not constantly inculcated, might perhaps be forgotten, or at least too slightly remembered.

W. C.


Olney, Feb. 24, 1782.

My dear Friend,—If I should receive a letter from you to-morrow, you must still remember, that I am not in your debt, having paid you by anticipation. Knowing that you take an interest in my publication, and that you have waited for it with some impatience, I write to inform you, that, if it is possible for a printer to be punctual, I shall come forth on the first of March. I have ordered two copies to Stock; one for Mr. John Unwin. It is possible, after all, that my book may come forth without a preface. Mr. Newton has written (he could indeed write no other) a very sensible, as well as a very friendly one: and it is printed. But the bookseller, who knows him well, and esteems him highly, is anxious to have it cancelled, and, with my consent first obtained, has offered to negotiate that matter with the author. He judges, that, though it would serve to recommend the volume to the religious, it would disgust the profane, and that there is in reality no need of a preface at all. I have found Johnson a very judicious man on other occasions, and am therefore willing that he should determine for me upon this.

There are but few persons to whom I present my book. The Lord Chancellor is one. I enclose in a packet I send by this post to Johnson a letter to his lordship, which will accompany the volume; and to you I enclose a copy of it, because I know you will have a friendly curiosity to see it. An author is an important character. Whatever his merits may be, the mere circumstance of authorship warrants his approach to persons whom otherwise perhaps he could hardly address without being deemed impertinent. He can do me no good. If I should happen to do him a little, I shall be a greater man than he. I have ordered a copy likewise to Mr. Smith.

W. C.



Olney, Bucks. Feb. 25, 1782.

My Lord,—I make no apology for what I account a duty. I should offend against the cordiality of our former friendship should I send a volume into the world, and forget how much I am bound to pay my particular respects to your lordship upon that occasion. When we parted, you little thought of hearing from me again; and I as little that I should live to write to you, still less that I should wait on you in the capacity of an author.

Among the pieces I have the honour to send there is one for which I must entreat your pardon; I mean that of which your lordship is the subject. The best excuse I can make is, that it flowed almost spontaneously from the affectionate remembrance of a connexion that did me so much honour.

As to the rest, their merits, if they have any, and their defects, which are probably more than I am aware of, will neither of them escape your notice. But where there is much discernment, there is generally much candour; and I commit myself into your lordship's hands with the less anxiety, being well acquainted with yours.

If my first visit, after so long an interval, should prove neither a troublesome nor a dull one, but especially, if not altogether an unprofitable one, omne tulit punctum.

I have the honour to be, though with very different impressions of some subjects, yet with the same sentiments of affection and esteem as ever, your lordship's faithful and most obedient, humble servant,

W. C.


Olney, Feb. 1782.

My dear Friend,—I enclose Johnson's letter upon the subject of the Preface, and would send you my reply to it, if I had kept a copy.[106] This however was the purport of it. That Mr. ——, whom I described as you described him to me, had made a similar objection, but that, being willing to hope that two or three pages of sensible matter, well expressed, might possibly go down, though of a religious cast, I was resolved to believe him mistaken, and to pay no regard to it. That his judgment, however, who by his occupation is bound to understand what will promote the sale of a book, and what will hinder it, seemed to deserve more attention. That therefore, according to his own offer, written on a small slip of paper now lost, I should be obliged to him if he would state his difficulties to you; adding, I need not inform him, who is so well acquainted with you, that he would find you easy to be persuaded to sacrifice, if necessary, what you had written, to the interests of the book. I find he has had an interview with you upon the occasion, and your behaviour in it has verified my prediction. What course he determines upon, I do not know, nor am I at all anxious about it. It is impossible for me, however, to be so insensible of your kindness in writing the Preface, as not to be desirous of defying all contingencies, rather than entertain a wish to suppress it. It will do me honour in the eyes of those whose good opinion is indeed an honour; and if it hurts me in the estimation of others, I cannot help it; the fault is neither yours, nor mine, but theirs. If a minister's is a more splendid character than a poet's, and I think nobody that understands their value can hesitate in deciding that question, then undoubtedly the advantage of having our names united in the same volume is all on my side.

We thank you for the Fast-sermon. I had not read two pages before I exclaimed—the man has read Expostulation. But though there is a strong resemblance between the two pieces, in point of matter, and sometimes the very same expressions are to be met with, yet I soon recollected that, on such a theme, a striking coincidence of both might happen without a wonder. I doubt not that it is the production of an honest man, it carries with it an air of sincerity and zeal that is not easily counterfeited. But, though I can see no reason why kings should not hear sometimes of their faults as well as other men, I think I see many good ones why they should not be reproved so publicly. It can hardly be done with that respect which is due to their office, on the part of the author, or without encouraging a spirit of unmannerly censure in his readers. His majesty too, perhaps, might answer—my own personal feelings, and offences, I am ready to confess, but were I to follow your advice, and cashier the profligate from my service, where must I seek men of faith and true Christian piety, qualified by nature and by education to succeed them? Business must be done, men of business alone can do it, and good men are rarely found, under that description. When Nathan reproved David, he did not employ a herald, or accompany his charge with the sound of the trumpet; nor can I think the writer of this sermon quite justifiable in exposing the king's faults in the sight of the people.

Your answer respecting Ætna is quite satisfactory, and gives me much pleasure. I hate altering, though I never refuse the task when propriety seems to enjoin it; and an alteration in this instance, if I am not mistaken, would have been singularly difficult. Indeed, when a piece has been finished two or three years, and an author finds occasion to amend or make an addition to it, it is not easy to fall upon the very vein from which he drew his ideas in the first instance, but either a different turn of thought or expression will betray the patch, and convince a reader of discernment that it has been cobbled and varnished.

Our love to you both, and to the young Euphrosyne; the old lady of that name being long since dead, if she pleases, she shall fill her vacant office, and be my muse hereafter.

Yours, my dear Sir,
W. C.


Olney, March 6, 1782.

Is peace the nearer because our patriots have resolved that it is desirable? Will the victory they have gained in the House of Commons be attended with any other? Do they expect the same success on other occasions, and, having once gained a majority, are they to be the majority for ever?[138] These are the questions we agitate by the fire-side in an evening, without being able to come to any certain conclusion, partly, I suppose, because the subject is in itself uncertain, and partly, because we are not furnished with the means of understanding it. I find the politics of times past more intelligible than those of the present. Time has thrown light upon what was obscure, and decided what was ambiguous. The characters of great men, which are always mysterious while they live, are ascertained by the faithful historian, and sooner or later receive the wages of fame or infamy, according to their true deserts. How have I seen sensible and learned men burn incense to the[107] memory of Oliver Cromwell, ascribing to him, as the greatest hero in the world, the dignity of the British empire, during the interregnum. A century passed before that idol, which seemed to be of gold, was proved to be a wooden one. The fallacy, however, was at length detected, and the honour of that detection has fallen to the share of a woman. I do not know whether you have read Mrs. Macaulay's history of that period. She has handled him more roughly than the Scots did at the battle of Dunbar. He would have thought it little worth his while to have broken through all obligations divine and human, to have wept crocodile's tears, and wrapped himself up in the obscurity of speeches that nobody could understand, could he have foreseen that, in the ensuing century, a lady's scissors would clip his laurels close, and expose his naked villainy to the scorn of all posterity. This however has been accomplished, and so effectually, that I suppose it is not in the power of the most artificial management to make them grow again. Even the sagacious of mankind are blind, when Providence leaves them to be deluded; so blind, that a tyrant shall be mistaken for a true patriot: true patriots (such were the Long Parliament) shall be abhorred as tyrants, and almost a whole nation shall dream that they have the full enjoyment of liberty, for years after such a complete knave as Oliver shall have stolen it completely from them. I am indebted for all this show of historical knowledge to Mr. Bull, who has lent me five volumes of the work I mention. I was willing to display it while I have it; in a twelvemonth's time, I shall remember almost nothing of the matter.

W. C.

It has been the lot of Cromwell to be praised too little or too much. Of his political delinquencies, and gross hypocrisy, there can be only one opinion. But those who are conversant with that period well know how the genius of Mazarine, the minister of Louis XIII., was awed by the decision and boldness of Cromwell's character; that Spain and Holland experienced a signal humiliation, and that the victories of Admiral Blake at that crisis are among the most brilliant records of our naval fame. It was in allusion to these triumphs that Waller remarks, in his celebrated panegyric on the Lord Protector,

"The seas our own, and now all nations greet,
With bending sails, each vessel of our fleet.
Your power extends as far as winds can blow,
Or swelling sails upon the globe may go."[139]

We add the following anecdote recorded of Waller, though it is probably familiar to many of our readers. On Charles's restoration the poet presented that prince with a congratulatory copy of verses, when the king shortly afterwards observed, "You wrote better verses on Cromwell;" to which Waller replied, "Please your majesty, we poets always succeed better in fiction than in truth."


Olney, March 7, 1782.

My dear Friend,—We have great pleasure in the contemplation of your northern journey, as it promises us a sight of you and yours by the way, and are only sorry Miss Shuttleworth cannot be of the party. A line to ascertain the hour when we may expect you, by the next preceding post, will be welcome.

It is not much for my advantage that the printer delays so long to gratify your expectation. It is a state of mind that is apt to tire and disconcert us; and there are but few pleasures that make us amends for the pain of repeated disappointment. I take it for granted you have not received the volume, not having received it myself, nor indeed heard from Johnson, since he fixed the first of the month for its publication.

What a medley are our public prints! Half the page filled with the ruin of the country, and the other half filled with the vices and pleasures of it—here is an island taken, and there a new comedy—here an empire lost, and there an Italian opera, or a lord's rout on a Sunday!

"May it please your lordship! I am an Englishman, and must stand or fall with the nation. Religion, its true palladium, has been stolen away; and it is crumbling into dust. Sin ruins us, the sins of the great especially, and of their sins especially the violation of the sabbath, because it is naturally productive of all the rest. If you wish well to our arms, and would be glad to see the kingdom emerging from her ruins, pay more respect to an ordinance that deserves the deepest! I do not say, pardon this short remonstrance!—The concern I feel for my country, and the interest I have in its prosperity, give me a right to make it. I am, &c."

Thus one might write to his lordship, and (I suppose) might be as profitably employed in whistling the tune of an old ballad.

I have no copy of the Preface, nor do I know at present how Johnson and Mr. Newton have settled it. In the matter of it there was nothing offensively peculiar. But it was thought too pious.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.

It is impossible to read this passage without very painful emotions. How low must have[108] been the state of religion at that period, when the introduction of a Preface to the Poems of Cowper, by the Rev. John Newton, was sufficient to endanger their popularity. We are at the same time expressly assured, that there was nothing in the Preface offensively peculiar; and that the only charge alleged against it was that of its being "too pious." What a melancholy picture does this single fact present of the state of religion in those days; and with what sentiments of gratitude ought we to hail the great moral revolution that has since occurred! Witness the assemblage of so many Christian charities, our Bible, Missionary, Jewish, and Tract Societies, which, to use the emphatic language of Burke, "like so many non-conductors, avert the impending wrath of Heaven!" Witness the increasing instances of rank ennobled by piety, and consecrated to its advancement! Witness too the entrance of religion into our seats of learning, and into some of our public schools, thus presenting the delightful spectacle of classic taste and knowledge in alliance with heavenly wisdom. To these causes of pious gratitude we may add the revival of religion among our clergy, and generally among the ministers of the sanctuary, till we are constrained to exclaim, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace, that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!"[140] We trust that we are indulging in no vain expectation, when we express our firm persuasion, that the dawn of a brighter day is arrived; and though we see, both at home and on the continent of Europe, much over which piety may weep and tremble, while idolatry and superstition spread their thick veil of darkness over the largest portion of the globe, still, notwithstanding all these impediments and discouragements, we believe that the materials for the moral amelioration of mankind are all prepared; and that nothing but the fire of the Eternal Spirit is wanting, to kindle them into flame and splendour.


Olney, March 14, 1782.

My dear Friend,—I can only repeat what I said some time since, that the world is grown more foolish and careless than it was when I had the honour of knowing it. Though your Preface was of a serious cast, it was yet free from every thing that might with propriety expose it to the charge of Methodism, being guilty of no offensive peculiarities, nor containing any of those obnoxious doctrines at which the world is apt to be angry, and which we must give her leave to be angry at, because we know she cannot help it. It asserted nothing more than every rational creature must admit to be true—"that divine and earthly things can no longer stand in competition with each other, in the judgment of any man, than while he continues ignorant of their respective value; and that the moment the eyes are opened, the latter are always cheerfully relinquished for the sake of the former." Now I do most certainly remember the time when such a proposition as this would have been at least supportable, and when it would not have spoiled the market of any volume to which it had been prefixed; ergo—the times are altered for the worse.

I have reason to be very much satisfied with my publisher—he marked such lines as did not please him, and, as often as I could, I paid all possible respect to his animadversions. You will accordingly find, at least if you recollect how they stood in the MS., that several passages are better for having undergone his critical notice. Indeed I not know where I could have found a bookseller who could have pointed out to me my defects with more discernment; and as I find it is a fashion for modern bards to publish the names of the literati who have favoured their works with a revisal, would myself most willingly have acknowledged my obligations to Johnson, and so I told him. I am to thank you likewise, and ought to have done it in the first place, for having recommended to me the suppression of some lines, which I am now more than ever convinced would at least have done me no honour.

W. C.


Olney, March 14, 1782.

My dear Friend,—As servant-maids, and such sort of folks, account a letter good for nothing, unless it begins with—This comes hoping you are well, as I am at this present: so I should be chargeable with a great omission, were I not to make frequent use of the following grateful exordium—Many thanks for a fine cod and oysters. Your bounty never arrived more seasonably. I had just been observing that, among other deplorable effects of the war, the scarcity of fish which it occasioned was severely felt at Olney; but your plentiful supply immediately reconciled me, though not to the war, yet to my small share in the calamities it produces.

I hope my bookseller has paid due attention to the order I gave him to furnish you with my books. The composition of those pieces afforded me an agreeable amusement at intervals, for about a twelvemonth; and I should[109] be glad to devote the leisure hours of another twelvemonth to the same occupation; at least, if my lucubrations should meet with a favourable acceptance. But I cannot write when I would; and whether I shall find readers is a problem not yet decided. So the Muse and I are parted for the present.

I sent Lord Thurlow a volume, and the following letter with it, which I communicate because you will undoubtedly have some curiosity to see it.[142]

W. C.


Olney, March 18, 1782.

My dear Friend,—Nothing has given me so much pleasure, since the publication of my volume, as your favourable opinion of it. It may possibly meet with acceptance from hundreds, whose commendation would afford me no other satisfaction than what I should find in the hope that it might do them good. I have some neighbours in this place, who say they like it; doubtless I had rather they should than that they should not, but I know them to be persons of no more taste in poetry than skill in the mathematics; their applause therefore is a sound that has no music in it for me. But my vanity was not so entirely quiescent when I read your friendly account of the manner it had affected you. It was tickled, and pleased, and told me in a pretty loud whisper that others, perhaps, of whose taste and judgment I had a high opinion, would approve it too. As a giver of good counsel, I wish to please all; as an author, I am perfectly indifferent to the judgment of all, except the few who are indeed judicious. The circumstance, however, in your letter which pleased me most was, that you wrote in high spirits, and, though you said much, suppressed more, lest you should hurt my delicacy; my delicacy is obliged to you, but you observe it is not so squeamish but that, after it has feasted upon praise expressed, it can find a comfortable dessert in the contemplation of praise implied. I now feel as if I should be glad to begin another volume, but from the will to the power is a step too wide for me to take at present, and the season of the year brings with it so many avocations into the garden, where I am my own fac-totum, that I have little or no leisure for the quill. I should do myself much wrong, were I to omit mentioning the great complacency with which I read your narrative of Mrs. Unwin's smiles and tears; persons of much sensibility are always persons of taste; and a taste for poetry depends indeed upon that very article more than upon any other. If she had Aristotle by heart, I should not esteem her judgment so highly, were she defective in point of feeling, as I do and must esteem it, knowing her to have such feelings as Aristotle could not communicate, and as half the readers in the world are destitute of. This it is that makes me set so high a price upon your mother's opinion. She is a critic by nature and not by rule, and has a perception of what is good or bad in composition that I never knew deceive her, insomuch that when two sorts of expression have pleaded equally for the precedence in my own esteem, and I have referred, as in such cases I always did, the decision of the point to her, I never knew her at a loss for a just one.

Whether I shall receive any answer from his Chancellorship[143] or not, is at present in ambiguo, and will probably continue in the same state of ambiguity much longer. He is so busy a man, and at this time, if the papers may be credited, so particularly busy, that I am forced to mortify myself with the thought, that both my book and my letter may be thrown into a corner, as too insignificant for a statesman's notice, and never found till his executor finds them. This affair, however, is neither at my libitum nor his. I have sent him the truth. He that put it into the heart of a certain eastern monarch to amuse himself, one sleepless night, with listening to the records of his kingdom, is able to give birth to such another occasion, and inspire his lordship with a curiosity to know what he has received from a friend he once loved and valued. If an answer comes, however, you shall not long be a stranger to the contents of it.

I have read your letter to their worships, and much approve of it. May it have the desired effect it ought! If not, still you have acted a humane and becoming part, and the poor aching toes and fingers of the prisoners will not appear in judgment against you. I have made a slight alteration in the last sentence, which perhaps you will not disapprove.

Yours ever,
W. C.

The conclusion of the preceding letter alludes to an application made by Mr. Unwin to the magistrates, for some warmer clothing for the prisoners in Chelmsford gaol.

It is a gratifying reflection, that the whole system of prison discipline has undergone an entire revision since the above period. This reformation first commenced under the great philanthropist Howard, who devoted his life to the prosecution of so benevolent an object and finally fell a victim to his zeal. Subsequently, and in our own times, the system has been extended still further; and the names of[110] a Gurney, a Buxton, a Hoare, and others, will long be remembered with gratitude, as the friends and benefactors of these outcasts of society. One more effort was still wanting to complete this humane enterprize, viz. to endeavour to eradicate the habits of vice, and to implant the seeds of virtue. This attempt has been made by Mrs. Fry and her excellent female associates in the prison of Newgate; and the result, in some instances, has proved that no one, however depraved, is beyond the reach of mercy; and that divine truth, conveyed with zeal, and in the accents of Christian love and kindness, seldom fails to penetrate into the heart and conscience.

The unwillingness with which the mind receives the consolations of religion, when labouring under an illusion, is painfully evinced in the following letter:—


Olney, March 24, 1782.

My dear Friend,—I was not unacquainted with Mr. B—'s extraordinary case,[145] before you favoured me with his letter and his intended dedication to the Queen, though I am obliged to you for a sight of those two curiosities, which I do not recollect to have ever seen till you sent them. I could, however, were it not a subject that would make us all melancholy, point out to you some essential differences between his state of mind and my own, which would prove mine to be by far the most deplorable of the two. I suppose no man would despair, if he did not apprehend something singular in the circumstances of his own story, something that discriminates it from that of every other man, and that induces despair as an inevitable consequence. You may encounter his unhappy persuasion with as many instances as you please of persons who, like him, having renounced all hope, were yet restored; and may thence infer that he, like them, shall meet with a season of restoration—but it is in vain. Every such individual accounts himself an exception to all rules, and therefore the blessed reverse that others have experienced affords no ground of comfortable expectation to him. But, you will say, it is reasonable to conclude, that as all your predecessors in this vale of misery and horror have found themselves delightfully disappointed at last, so will you:—I grant the reasonableness of it; it would be sinful, perhaps, because uncharitable, to reason otherwise; but an argument, hypothetical in its nature, however rationally conducted, may lead to a false conclusion; and, in this instance, so will yours. But I forbear. For the cause above mentioned, I will say no more, though it is a subject on which I could write more than the mail would carry. I must deal with you as I deal with poor Mrs. Unwin, in all our disputes about it, cutting all controversy short by an appeal to the event.

W. C.


Olney, April 1, 1782.

My dear Friend,—I could not have found a better trumpeter. Your zeal to serve the interest of my volume, together with your extensive acquaintance, qualify you perfectly for that most useful office. Methinks I see you with the long tube at your mouth, proclaiming to your numerous connexions my poetical merits, and at proper intervals levelling it at Olney, and pouring into my ear the welcome sound of their approbation. I need not encourage you to proceed, your breath will never fail in such a cause; and, thus encouraged, I myself perhaps may proceed also, and, when the versifying fit returns, produce another volume. Alas! we shall never receive such commendations from him on the woolsack as your good friend has lavished upon us. Whence I learn that, however important I may be in my own eyes, I am very insignificant in his. To make me amends, however, for this mortification, Mr. Newton tells me that my book is likely to run, spread, and prosper; that the grave cannot help smiling, and the gay are struck with the truth of it; and that it is likely to find its way into his Majesty's hands, being put into a proper course for that purpose. Now, if the King should fall in love with my muse, and with you for her sake, such an event would make us ample amends for the Chancellor's indifference, and you might be the first divine that ever reached a mitre, from the shoulders of a poet. But (I believe) we must be content, I with my gains, if I gain any thing, and you with the pleasure of knowing that I am a gainer.

We laughed heartily at your answer to little John's question; and yet I think you might[111] have given him a direct answer—"There are various sorts of cleverness, my dear.—I do not know that mine lies in the poetical way, but I can do ten times more towards the entertainment of company in the way of conversation than our friend at Olney. He can rhyme, and I can rattle. If he had my talent, or I had his, we should be too charming, and the world would almost adore us."

W. C.


Olney, April 27, 1782.

My dear William,—A part of Lord Harrington's new-raised corps have taken up their quarters at Olney, since you left us. They have the regimental music with them. The men have been drawn up this morning upon the Market-hill, and a concert, such as we have not heard these many years, has been performed at no great distance from our window. Your mother and I both thrust our heads into the coldest east wind that ever blew in April, that we might hear them to greater advantage. The band acquitted themselves with taste and propriety, not blairing, like trumpeters at a fair, but producing gentle and elegant symphony, such as charmed our ears, and convinced us that no length of time can wear out a taste for harmony, and that though plays, balls, and masquerades, have lost all their power to please us, and we should find them not only insipid but insupportable, yet sweet music is sure to find a corresponding faculty in the soul, a sensibility that lives to the last, which even religion itself does not extinguish.

When we objected to your coming for a single night, it was only in the way of argument, and in hopes to prevail on you to contrive a longer abode with us. But rather than not see you at all, we should be glad of you though but for an hour. If the paths should be clean enough, and we are able to walk, (for you know we cannot ride,) we will endeavour to meet you in Weston-park. But I mention no particular hour, that I may not lay you under a supposed obligation to be punctual, which might be difficult at the end of so long a journey. Only, if the weather be favourable, you shall find us there in the evening. It is winter in the south, perhaps therefore it may be spring at least, if not summer, in the north; for I have read that it is warmest in Greenland when it is coldest here. Be that as it may, we may hope at the latter end of such an April, that the first change of wind will improve the season.

The curate's simile Latinized—

Sors adversa gerit stimulum, sed tendit et alas:
Pungit api similis, sed velut ista fugit.

What a dignity there is in the Roman language; and what an idea it gives us of the good sense and masculine mind of the people that spoke it! The same thought which, clothed in English, seems childish and even foolish, assumes a different air in Latin, and makes at least as good an epigram as some of Martial's.

I remember your making an observation, when here, on the subject of "parentheses," to which I acceded without limitation; but a little attention will convince us both that they are not to be universally condemned. When they abound, and when they are long, they both embarrass the sense, and are a proof that the writer's head is cloudy; that he has not properly arranged his matter, or is not well skilled in the graces of expression. But, as parenthesis is ranked by grammarians among the figures of rhetoric, we may suppose they had a reason for conferring that honour upon it. Accordingly we shall find that, in the use of some of our finest writers, as well as in the hands of the ancient poets and orators, it has a peculiar elegance, and imparts a beauty which the period would want without it.

"Hoc nemus, hunc, inquit, frondoso vertice collem
(Quis deus incertum est) habitat deus."

Virg. Æn. 8.

In this instance, the first that occurred, it is graceful. I have not time to seek for more, nor room to insert them. But your own observation, I believe, will confirm my opinion.

Yours ever,
W. C.


Olney, May 27, 1782.

My dear Friend,—Rather ashamed of having been at all dejected by the censure of the Critical Reviewers, who certainly could not read without prejudice a book replete with opinions and doctrines to which they cannot subscribe, I have at present no little occasion to keep a strict guard upon my vanity, lest it should be too much flattered by the following eulogium. I send it to you for the reasons I gave, when I imparted to you some other anecdotes of a similar kind, while we were together. Our interests in the success of this same volume are so closely united, that you must share with me in the praise or blame that attends it; and, sympathizing with me under the burden of injurious treatment, have a right to enjoy with me the cordials I now and then receive, as I happen to meet with more candid and favourable judges.

A merchant, a friend of ours,[146] (you will soon guess him,) sent my Poems to one of the first philosophers, one of the most eminent[112] literary characters, as well as one of the most important in the political world, that the present age can boast of. Now perhaps your conjecturing faculties are puzzled, and you begin to ask "who, where, and what is he? speak out, for I am all impatience." I will not say a word more: the letter in which he returned his thanks for the present shall speak for him.[147]

We may now treat the critics as the archbishop of Toledo treated Gil Blas, when he found fault with one of his sermons. His grace gave him a kick and said, "Begone for a jackanapes, and furnish yourself with a better taste, if you know where to find it."

We are glad that you are safe at home again. Could we see at one glance of the eye what is passing every day upon all the roads in the kingdom, how many are terrified and hurt, how many plundered and abused, we should indeed find reason enough to be thankful for journeys performed in safety, and for deliverance from dangers we are not perhaps even permitted to see. When, in some of the high southern latitudes, and in a dark tempestuous night, a flash of lightning discovered to Captain Cook a vessel, which glanced along close by his side, and which but for the lightning he must have run foul of, both the danger and the transient light that showed it were undoubtedly designed to convey to him this wholesome instruction, that a particular Providence attended him, and that he was not only preserved from evils of which he had notice, but from many more of which he had no information, or even the least suspicion. What unlikely contingencies may nevertheless take place! How improbable that two ships should dash against each other, in the midst of the vast Pacific Ocean, and that, steering contrary courses from parts of the world so immensely distant from each other, they should yet move so exactly in a line as to clash, fill, and go to the bottom, in a sea, where all the ships in the world might be so dispersed as that none should see another! Yet this must have happened but for the remarkable interference which he has recorded. The same Providence indeed might as easily have conducted them so wide of each other that they should never have met at all, but then this lesson would have been lost; at least, the heroic voyager would have encompassed the globe, without having had occasion to relate an incident that so naturally suggests it.

I am no more delighted with the season than you are. The absence of the sun, which has graced the spring with much less of his presence than he vouchsafed to the winter, has a very uncomfortable effect upon my frame; I feel an invincible aversion to employment, which I am yet constrained to fly to as my only remedy against something worse. If I do nothing I am dejected, if I do any thing I am weary, and that weariness is best described by the word lassitude, which of all weariness in the world is the most oppressive. But enough of myself and the weather.

The blow we have struck in the West Indies[148] will, I suppose, be decisive, at least for the present year, and so far as that part of our possessions is concerned in the present conflict. But the news-writers and their correspondents disgust me and make me sick. One victory, after such a long series of adverse occurrences, has filled them with self-conceit and impertinent boasting; and, while Rodney is almost accounted a Methodist for ascribing his success to Providence,[149] men who have renounced all dependence upon such a friend, without whose assistance nothing can be done, threaten to drive the French out of the sea, laugh at the Spaniards, sneer at the Dutch, and are to carry the world before them. Our enemies are apt to brag, and we deride them for it; but we can sing as loud as they can, in the same key; and no doubt, wherever our papers go, shall be derided in our turn. An Englishman's true glory should be, to do his business well and say little about it; but he disgraces himself when he puffs his prowess, as if he had finished his task, when he has but just begun it.

W. C.


Olney, June 12, 1782.

My dear Friend,—Every extraordinary occurrence in our lives affords us an opportunity to learn, if we will, something more of our own hearts and tempers than we were before aware of. It is easy to promise ourselves beforehand that our conduct shall be wise, or moderate, or resolute, on any given occasion. But, when[113] that occasion occurs, we do not always find it easy to make good the promise: such a difference there is between theory and practice. Perhaps this is no new remark; but it is not a whit the worse for being old, if it be true.

Before I had published, I said to myself—you and I, Mr. Cowper, will not concern ourselves much about what the critics may say of our book. But, having once sent my wits for a venture, I soon became anxious about the issue, and found that I could not be satisfied with a warm place in my own good graces, unless my friends were pleased with me as much as I pleased myself. Meeting with their approbation, I began to feel the workings of ambition. It is well, said I, that my friends are pleased; but friends are sometimes partial, and mine, I have reason to think, are not altogether free from bias. Methinks I should like to hear a stranger or two speak well of me. I was presently gratified by the approbation of the "London Magazine" and the "Gentleman's," particularly by that of the former, and by the plaudit of Dr. Franklin. By the way, magazines are publications we have but little respect for till we ourselves are chronicled in them, and then they assume an importance in our esteem which before we could not allow them. But the "Monthly Review," the most formidable of all my judges, is still behind. What will that critical Rhadamanthus say, when my shivering genius shall appear before him? Still he keeps me in hot water, and I must wait another month for his award. Alas! when I wish for a favourable sentence from that quarter (to confess a weakness that I should not confess to all,) I feel myself not a little influenced by a tender regard to my reputation here, even among my neighbours at Olney. Here are watchmakers, who themselves are wits, and who at present perhaps think me one. Here is a carpenter, and a baker, and not to mention others, here is your idol, Mr. ——, whose smile is fame. All these read the "Monthly Review," and all these will set me down for a dunce, if those terrible critics should show them the example. But oh! wherever else I am accounted dull, dear Mr. Griffith, let me pass for a genius at Olney.

We are sorry for little William's illness. It is, however, the privilege of infancy to recover almost immediately what it has lost by sickness. We are sorry too for Mr. ——'s dangerous condition. But he that is well prepared for the great journey cannot enter on it too soon for himself, though his friends will weep at his departure.

W. C.

The immediate success of his first volume was very far from being equal to its extraordinary merit. For some time it seemed to be neglected by the public, although the first poem in the collection contains such a powerful image of its author as might be thought sufficient not only to excite attention but to secure attachment: for Cowper had undesignedly executed a masterly portrait of himself in describing the true poet: we allude to the following verses in "Table Talk."

Nature, exerting an unwearied power,
Forms, opens, and gives scent to every flower;
Spreads the fresh verdure of the field, and leads
The dancing Naiads thro' the dewy meads:
She fills profuse ten thousand little throats
With music, modulating all their notes;
And charms the woodland scenes, and wilds unknown,
With artless airs and concerts of her own;
But seldom (as if fearful of expense)
Vouchsafes to man a poet's just pretence—
Fervency, freedom, fluency of thought,
Harmony, strength, words exquisitely sought:
Fancy, that from the bow that spans the sky
Brings colours, dipt in heaven, that never die;
A soul exalted above earth, a mind
Skill'd in the characters that form mankind;
And, as the sun in rising beauty drest
Looks from the dappled orient to the west,
And marks, whatever clouds may interpose,
Ere yet his race begins, its glorious close—
An eye like his to catch the distant goal—
Or, ere the wheels of verse begin to roll,
Like his to shed illuminating rays
On every scene and subject it surveys:
Thus grac'd, the man asserts a poet's name,
And the world cheerfully admits the claim.

The concluding lines may be considered as an omen of that celebrity which such a writer, in the process of time, could not fail to obtain. How just a subject of surprise and admiration is it, to behold an author starting under such a load of disadvantages, and displaying on the sudden such a variety of excellence! For, neglected as it was for a few years, the first volume of Cowper exhibits such a diversity of poetical powers as have very rarely indeed been known to be united in the same individual. He is not only great in passages of pathos and sublimity, but he is equally admirable in wit and humour. After descanting most copiously on sacred subjects, with the animation of a prophet and the simplicity of an apostle, he paints the ludicrous characters of common life with the comic force of a Moliere, particularly in his poem on Conversation, and his exquisite portrait of a fretful temper; a piece of moral painting so highly finished and so happily calculated to promote good humour, that a transcript of the verses cannot but interest the reader.

Some fretful tempers wince at every touch;
You always do too little or too much:
[114] You speak with life, in hopes to entertain;
Your elevated voice goes through the brain;
You fall at once into a lower key;
That's worse:—the drone-pipe of an humble-bee!
The southern sash admits too strong a light;
You rise and drop the curtain:—now it's night.
He shakes with cold;—you stir the fire and strive
To make a blaze:—that's roasting him alive.
Serve him with ven'son, and he chooses fish;
With sole, that's just the sort he would not wish.
He takes what he at first profess'd to loath;
And in due time feeds heartily on both;
Yet, still o'erclouded with a constant frown,
He does not swallow, but he gulps it down.
Your hope to please him vain on every plan,
Himself should work that wonder, if he can.
Alas! his efforts double his distress;
He likes yours little and his own still less.
Thus, always teazing others, always teaz'd,
His only pleasure is—to be displeas'd.


Mr. Bull, to whom the following poetical epistle is addressed, has already been mentioned as the person who suggested to Cowper the translation of Madame Guion's Hymns. Cowper used to say of him, that he was the master of a fine imagination, or, rather, that he was not master of it.


Olney, June 22, 1782.

My dear Friend,

If reading verse be your delight,
'Tis mine as much, or more, to write;
But what we would, so weak is man,
Lies oft remote from what we can.
For instance, at this very time,
I feel a wish, by cheerful rhyme,
To soothe my friend, and had I power,
To cheat him of an anxious hour;
Not meaning (for I must confess,
It were but folly to suppress,)
His pleasure or his good alone,
But squinting partly at my own.
But though the sun is flaming high
I' th' centre of yon arch, the sky,
And he had once (and who but he?)
The name for setting genius free;
Yet whether poets of past days
Yielded him undeserved praise,
And he by no uncommon lot
Was famed for virtues he had not;
Or whether, which is like enough,
His Highness may have taken huff,
So seldom sought with invocation,
Since it has been the reigning fashion
To disregard his inspiration,
I seem no brighter in my wits,
For all the radiance he emits,
Than if I saw through midnight vapour
The glimm'ring of a farthing taper.
O for a succedaneum, then,
T' accelerate a creeping pen,
O for a ready succedaneum,
Quod caput, cerebrum, et cranium
Pondere liberet exoso,
Et morbo jam caliginoso!
'Tis here; this oval box well fill'd
With best tobacco, finely mill'd,
Beats all Anticyra's pretences
To disengage the encumber'd senses.
O Nymph of Transatlantic fame,
Where'er thine haunt, whate'er thy name,
Whether reposing on the side
Of Oroonoquo's spacious tide,
Or list'ning with delight not small
To Niagara's distant fall,
'Tis thine to cherish and to feed
The pungent nose-refreshing weed,
Which, whether, pulverized it gain
A speedy passage to the brain,
Or, whether touch'd with fire, it rise
In circling eddies to the skies,
Does thought more quicken and refine
Than all the breath of all the Nine—
Forgive the Bard, if Bard he be,
Who once too wantonly made free
To touch with a satiric wipe
That symbol of thy power, the pipe;
So may no blight infest thy plains,
And no unseasonable rains,
And so may smiling Peace once more
Visit America's sad shore;
And thou, secure from all alarms
Of thund'ring drums and glitt'ring arms,
Rove unconfined beneath the shade
Thy wide-expanded leaves have made;
So may thy votaries increase,
And fumigation never cease.
May Newton, with renew'd delights,
Perform thine odorif'rous rites.
While clouds of incense half divine
Involve thy disappearing shrine;
And so may smoke-inhaling Bull
Be always filling, never full.

W. C.


Olney, July 16, 1782.

My dear Friend,—Though some people pretend to be clever in the way of prophetical forecast, and to have a peculiar talent of sagacity,[115] by which they can divine the meaning of a providential dispensation while its consequences are yet in embryo, I do not. There is at this time to be found, I suppose, in the cabinet, and in both houses, a greater assemblage of able men, both as speakers and counsellors, than ever were contemporary in the same land. A man not accustomed to trace the workings of Providence, as recorded in Scripture, and that has given no attention to this particular subject, while employed in the study of profane history, would assert boldly, that it is a token for good, that much may be expected from them, and that the country, though heavily afflicted, is not yet to be despaired of, distinguished as she is by so many characters of the highest class. Thus he would say, and I do not deny that the event might justify his skill in prognostics. God works by means; and, in a case of great national perplexity and distress, wisdom and political ability seem to be the only natural means of deliverance. But a mind more religiously inclined, and perhaps a little tinctured with melancholy, might with equal probability of success hazard a conjecture directly opposite. Alas! what is the wisdom of man, especially when he trusts in it as the only god of his confidence? When I consider the general contempt that is poured upon all things sacred, the profusion, the dissipation, the knavish cunning, of some, the rapacity of others, and the impenitence of all, I am rather inclined to fear that God, who honours himself by bringing human glory to shame, and by disappointing the expectations of those whose trust is in creatures, has signalized the present day as a day of much human sufficiency and strength, has brought together from all quarters of the land the most illustrious men to be found in it, only that he may prove the vanity of idols, and that, when a great empire is falling, and he has pronounced a sentence of ruin against it, the inhabitants, be they weak or strong wise or foolish, must fall with it. I am rather confirmed in this persuasion by observing that these luminaries of the state had no sooner fixed themselves in the political heaven, than the fall of the brightest of them shook all the rest. The arch of their power was no sooner struck than the key-stone slipped out of its place, those that were closest in connexion with it followed, and the whole building, new as it is, seems to be already a ruin. If a man should hold this language, who could convict him of absurdity? The Marquis of Rockingham is minister—all the world rejoices, anticipating success in war and a glorious peace. The Marquis of Rockingham is dead—all the world is afflicted, and relapses into its former despondence. What does this prove, but that the Marquis was their Almighty, and that, now he is gone, they know no other? But let us wait a little, they will find another. Perhaps the Duke of Portland, or perhaps the unpopular ——, whom they now represent as a devil, may obtain that honour. Thus God is forgot, and when he is, his judgments are generally his remembrancers.

How shall I comfort you upon the subject of your present distress? Pardon me that I find myself obliged to smile at it, because, who but yourself would be distressed upon such an occasion? You have behaved politely, and, like a gentleman, you have hospitably offered your house to a stranger, who could not, in your neighbourhood at least, have been comfortably accommodated any where else. He, by neither refusing nor accepting an offer that did him too much honour, has disgraced himself, but not you. I think for the future you must be more cautious of laying yourself open to a stranger, and never again expose yourself to incivilities from an archdeacon you are not acquainted with.

Though I did not mention it, I felt with you what you suffered by the loss of Miss ——; I was only silent because I could minister no consolation to you on such a subject, but what I knew your mind to be already stored with. Indeed, the application of comfort in such cases is a nice business, and perhaps when best managed might as well be let alone. I remember reading many years ago a long treatise on the subject of consolation, written in French, the author's name I forgot, but I wrote these words in the margin. Special consolation! at least for a Frenchman, who is a creature the most easily comforted of any in the world!

We are as happy in Lady Austen, and she in us, as ever—having a lively imagination, and being passionately desirous of consolidating all into one family (for she has taken her leave of London), she has just sprung a project which serves at least to amuse us and to make us laugh; it is to hire Mr. Small's house, on the top of Clifton-hill, which is large, commodious, and handsome, will hold us conveniently, and any friends who may occasionally favour us with a visit; the house is furnished, but, if it can be hired without the furniture will let for a trifle—your sentiments if you please upon this demarche!

I send you my last frank—our best love attends you individually and all together. I give you joy of a happy change in the season, and myself also. I have filled four sides in less time than two would have cost me a week ago; such is the effect of sunshine upon such a butterfly as I am.

W. C.



Olney, Aug. 3, 1782.

My dear Friend,—Entertaining some hope that Mr. Newton's next letter would furnish me with the means of satisfying your inquiry on the subject of Dr. Johnson's opinion, I have till now delayed my answer to your last; but the information is not yet come, Mr. Newton having intermitted a week more than usual, since his last writing. When I receive it, favourable or not, it shall be communicated to you; but I am not over-sanguine in my expectations from that quarter. Very learned and very critical heads are hard to please. He may perhaps treat me with lenity for the sake of the subject and design, but the composition, I think, will hardly escape his censure. But though all doctors may not be of the same mind, there is one doctor at least, whom I have lately discovered, my professed admirer.[151] He too, like Johnson, was with difficulty persuaded to read, having an aversion to all poetry, except the "Night Thoughts," which, on a certain occasion, when being confined on board a ship he had no other employment, he got by heart. He was however prevailed upon, and read me several times over, so that if my volume had sailed with him instead of Dr. Young's, I perhaps might have occupied that shelf in his memory which he then allotted to the Doctor.

It is a sort of paradox, but it is true: we are never more in danger than when we think ourselves most secure, nor in reality more secure than when we seem to be most in danger. Both sides of this apparent contradiction were lately verified in my experience: passing from the green-house to the barn, I saw three kittens (for we have so many in our retinue) looking with fixed attention on something which lay on the threshold of a door nailed up. I took but little notice of them at first, but a loud hiss engaged me to attend more closely, when behold—a viper! the largest that I remember to have seen, rearing itself, darting its forked tongue, and ejaculating the aforesaid hiss at the nose of a kitten, almost in contact with his lips. I ran into the hall for a hoe with a long handle, with which I intended to assail him, and returning in a few seconds, missed him: he was gone, and I feared had escaped me. Still, however, the kitten sat watching immoveably on the same spot. I concluded, therefore, that sliding between the door and the threshold, he had found his way out of the garden into the yard. I went round immediately, and there found him in close conversation with the old cat, whose curiosity being excited by so novel an appearance, inclined her to pat his head repeatedly with her fore foot, with her claws however sheathed, and not in anger, but in the way of philosophic inquiry and examination. To prevent her falling a victim to so laudable an exercise of her talents, I interposed in a moment with the hoe, and performed upon him an act of decapitation, which, though not immediately mortal, proved so in the end. Had he slid into the passages, where it is dark, or had he, when in the yard, met with no interruption from the cat, and secreted himself in any of the out-houses, it is hardly possible but that some of the family must have been bitten; he might have been trodden upon without being perceived, and have slipped away before the sufferer could have distinguished what foe had wounded him. Three years ago we discovered one in the same place, which the barber slew with a trowel.

Our proposed removal to Mr. Small's was, as you may suppose, a jest, or rather a joco-serious matter. We never looked upon it as entirely feasible, yet we saw in it something so like practicability that we did not esteem it altogether unworthy of our attention. It was one of those projects which people of lively imaginations play with and admire for a few days, and then break in pieces. Lady Austen returned on Thursday from London, where she spent the last fortnight, and whither she was called by an unexpected opportunity to dispose of the remainder of her lease. She has therefore no longer any connexion with the great city, and no house but at Olney. Her abode is to be at the vicarage, where she has hired as much room as she wants, which she will embellish with her own furniture, and which she will occupy as soon as the minister's wife has produced another child, which is expected to make its entry in October.

Mr. Bull, a dissenting minister of Newport, a learned, ingenious, good-natured, pious friend of ours, who sometimes visits us, and whom we visited last week, put into my hands three volumes of French poetry, composed by Madame Guion—a quietist, say you, and a fanatic, I will have nothing to do with her.—'Tis very well, you are welcome to have nothing to do with her, but, in the meantime, her verse is the only French verse I ever read that I found agreeable; there is a neatness in it equal to that which we applaud, with so much reason, in the compositions of Prior. I have translated several of them, and shall proceed in my translations till I have filled a Lilliputian paper-book I happen to have by me, which, when filled, I shall present to Mr. Bull. He is her passionate admirer; rode twenty miles to see her picture in the house of a stranger, which stranger politely insisted on his acceptance of it, and it now hangs over his chimney. It is a striking portrait, too characteristic not[117] to be a strong resemblance, and, were it encompassed with a glory, instead of being dressed in a nun's hood, might pass for the face of an angel.

W. C.

To this letter we annex a very lively lusus poeticus from the pen of Cowper, on the subject mentioned in the former part of the preceding letter.


Close by the threshold of a door nail'd fast,
Three kittens sat; each kitten look'd aghast.
I, passing swift and inattentive by,
At the three kittens cast a careless eye;
Not much concerned to know what they did there,
Not deeming kittens worth a poet's care.
But presently a loud and furious hiss
Caus'd me to stop, and to exclaim, "What's this?"
When, lo! upon the threshold met my view,
With head erect, and eyes of fiery hue,
A viper, long as Count de Grasse's queue.
Forth from his head his forked tongue he throws,
Darting it full against a kitten's nose;
Who, having never seen, in field or house,
The like, sat still and silent as a mouse:
Only projecting, with attention due,
Her whisker'd face, she ask'd him, "Who are you?"
On to the hall went I, with pace not slow,
But swift as lightning, for a long Dutch hoe:
With which well arm'd I hastened to the spot,
To find the viper, but I found him not.
And turning up the leaves and shrubs around,
Found only—that he was not to be found.
But still the kittens, sitting as before,
Sat watching close the bottom of the door.
"I hope," said I, "the villain I would kill
Has slipt between the door and the door's sill;
And, if I make despatch and follow hard,
No doubt but I shall find him in the yard;"
For long ere now it should have been rehearsed,
'Twas in the garden that I found him first.
Ev'n there I found him, there the full-grown cat
His head with velvet paw did gently pat:
As curious as the kittens erst had been
To learn what this phenomenon might mean.
Fill'd with heroic ardour at the sight,
And fearing every moment he would bite,
And rob our household of our only cat,
That was of age to combat with a rat;
With outstretched hoe I slew him at the door,

Lady Austen became a tenant of the vicarage at Olney. When Mr. Newton occupied that parsonage, he had opened a door in the garden-wall, which admitted him in the most commodious manner to visit the sequestered poet, who resided in the next house. Lady Austen had the advantage of this easy intercourse; and so captivating was her society, both to Cowper and to Mrs. Unwin, that these intimate neighbours might be almost said to make one family, as it became their custom to dine always together, alternately in the houses of the two ladies.

The musical talents of Lady Austen induced Cowper to write a few songs of peculiar sweetness and pathos, to suit particular airs that she was accustomed to play on the harpsichord. We insert three of these, as proofs that, even in his hours of social amusement, the poet loved to dwell on ideas of tender devotion and pathetic solemnity.


Air—"My fond shepherds of late," &c.

No longer I follow a sound;
No longer a dream I pursue:
O happiness! not to be found,
Unattainable treasure, adieu!
I have sought thee in splendor and dress,
In the regions of pleasure and taste;
I have sought thee, and seem'd to possess,
But have proved thee a vision at last.
An humble ambition and hope
The voice of true wisdom inspires!
'Tis sufficient, if peace be the scope
And the summit of all our desires.
Peace may be the lot of the mind
That seeks it in meekness and love;
But rapture and bliss are confined
To the glorified spirits above!


Air—"The lass of Pattie's mill."

When all within is peace,
How nature seems to smile!
Delights that never cease,
The live-long day beguile.
From morn to dewy eve,
With open hand she showers
Fresh blessings to deceive
And soothe the silent hours.
It is content of heart
Gives Nature power to please;
The mind that feels no smart
Enlivens all it sees;
Can make a wint'ry sky
Seem bright as smiling May,
And evening's closing eye
As peep of early day.
The vast majestic globe,
So beauteously array'd
In Nature's various robe,
With wond'rous skill display'd,
Is to a mourner's heart
A dreary wild at best;
It flutters to depart,
And longs to be at rest.

The following song, adapted to the march in Scipio, obtained too great a celebrity not to[118] merit insertion in this place. It relates to the loss of the Royal George, the flag-ship of Admiral Kempenfelt, which went down with nine hundred persons on board, (among whom was Rear-Admiral Kempenfelt,) at Spithead, August 29, 1782. The song was a favourite production of the poet's; so much so, that he amused himself by translating it into Latin verse. We take the version from one of his subsequent letters, for the sake of annexing it to the original.


Toll for the brave!
The brave that are no more!
All sunk beneath the wave,
Fast by their native shore!
Eight hundred of the brave,
Whose courage well was tried,
Had made the vessel heel,
And laid her on her side.
A land-breeze shook the shrouds,
And she was overset;
Down went the Royal George,
With all her crew complete.
Toll for the brave!
Brave Kempenfelt is gone;
His last sea-fight is fought;
His work of glory done.
It was not in the battle;
No tempest gave the shock;
She sprang no fatal leak;
She ran upon no rock.
His sword was in its sheath;
His fingers held the pen,
When Kempenfelt went down
With twice four hundred men.
Weigh the vessel up,
Once dreaded by our foes!
And mingle with our cup
The tear that England owes.
Her timbers yet are sound,
And she may float again,
Full-charged with England's thunder,
And plough the distant main.[152]
But Kempenfelt is gone,
His victories are o'er;
And he and his eight hundred
Shall plough the wave no more.


Plangimus fortes. Periere fortes,
Patrium propter periere littus
Bis quatèr centum; subitò sub alto
Æquore mersi.
Navis, innitens lateri, jacebat,
Malus ad summas trepidabat undas,
Cùm levis, funes quatiens, ad imum
Depulit aura.
Plangimus fortes. Nimis, heu, caducam
Fortibus vitam voluere parcæ,
Nec sinunt ultrà tibi nos recentes
Nectere laurus.
Magne, qui nomen, licèt incanorum,
Traditum ex multis atavis tulisti!
At tuos olim memorabit ævum
Omne triumphos.
Non hyems illos furibunda mersit,
Non mari in clauso scopuli latentes,
Fissa non rimis abies, nec atrox
Abstulit ensis.
Navitæ sed tum nimium jocosi
Voce fallebant hilari laborem,
Et quiescebat, calamoque dextram im-
pleverat heros.
Vos, quibus cordi est grave opus piumque,
Humidum ex alto spolium levate,
Et putrescentes sub aquis amicos
Reddite amicis!
Hi quidem (sic dîis placuit) fuere:
Sed ratis, nondùm putris, ire possit
Rursùs in bellum, Britonumque nomen
Tollere ad astra.

Let the reader, who wishes to impress on his mind a just idea of the variety and extent of Cowper's poetical powers, contrast this heroic ballad of exquisite pathos with his diverting history of John Gilpin!

That admirable and highly popular piece of pleasantry was composed at the period of which we are now speaking. An elegant and judicious writer, who has favoured the public with three interesting volumes relating to the early poets of our country,[153] conjectures, that a poem, written by the celebrated Sir Thomas More in his youth, (the merry jest of the Serjeant and Frere) may have suggested to Cowper his tale of John Gilpin; but this singularly amusing ballad had a different origin; and it is a very remarkable fact, that, full of gaiety and humour as this favourite of the public has abundantly proved itself to be, it was really composed at a time when the spirit of the poet was very deeply tinged with his depressive malady. It happened one afternoon, in those years when his accomplished friend, Lady Austen, made a part of his little evening circle, that she observed him sinking into increasing dejection. It was her custom on these occasions, to try all the resources of her sprightly powers for his immediate relief. She told him the story of John[119] Gilpin (which had been treasured in her memory from her childhood) to dissipate the gloom of the passing hour. Its effect on the fancy of Cowper had the air of enchantment: he informed her the next morning, that convulsions of laughter, brought on by his recollection of her story, had kept him waking during the greatest part of the night, and that he had turned it into a ballad.—So arose the pleasant poem of John Gilpin. It was eagerly copied, and, finding its way rapidly to the newspapers, it was seized by the lively spirit of Henderson the comedian, a man, like the Yorick described by Shakspeare, "of infinite jest, and most excellent fancy." By him it was selected as a proper subject for the display of his own comic powers, and, by reciting it in his public readings, he gave uncommon celebrity to the ballad, before the public suspected to what poet they were indebted for the sudden burst of ludicrous amusement. Many readers were astonished when the poem made its first authentic appearance in the second volume of Cowper.


Olney, Sept. 6, 1782.

My dear Friend,—Yesterday, and not before, I received your letter, dated the 11th of June, from the hands of Mr. Small. I should have been happy to have known him sooner; but, whether being afraid of that horned monster, a Methodist, or whether from a principle of delicacy, or deterred by a flood, which has rolled for some weeks between Clifton and Olney, I know not,—he has favoured me only with a taste of his company, and will leave me on Saturday evening, to regret that our acquaintance, so lately begun, must be so soon suspended. He will dine with us that day, which I reckon a fortunate circumstance, as I shall have an opportunity to introduce him to the liveliest and most entertaining woman in the country.[155] I have seen him but for half an hour, yet, without boasting of much discernment, I see that he is polite, easy, cheerful, and sensible. An old man thus qualified, cannot fail to charm the lady in question. As to his religion, I leave it—I am neither his bishop nor his confessor. A man of his character, and recommended by you, would be welcome here, were he a Gentoo or a Mahometan.

I learn from him that certain friends of mine, whom I have been afraid to inquire about by letter, are alive and well. The current of twenty years has swept away so many whom I once knew, that I doubted whether it might be advisable to send my love to your mother and your sisters. They may have thought my silence strange, but they have here the reason of it. Assure them of my affectionate remembrance, and that nothing would make me happier than to receive you all in my greenhouse, your own Mrs. Hill included. It is fronted with myrtles, and lined with mats, and would just hold us, for Mr. Small informs me your dimensions are much the same as usual.

Yours, my dear Friend,
W. C.


Olney, Nov. 4, 1782.

My dear Friend,—You are too modest; though your last consisted of three sides only, I am certainly a letter in your debt. It is possible that this present writing may prove as short. Yet, short as it may be, it will be a letter, and make me creditor, and you my debtor. A letter, indeed, ought not to be estimated by the length of it, but by the contents, and how can the contents of any letter be more agreeable than your last.

You tell me that John Gilpin made you laugh tears, and that the ladies at court are delighted with my poems. Much good may they do them! May they become as wise as the writer wishes them, and they will be much happier than he! I know there is in the book that wisdom which cometh from above, because it was from above that I received it. May they receive it too! For, whether they drink it out of the cistern, or whether it falls upon them immediately from the clouds, as it did on me, it is all one. It is the water of life, which whosoever drinketh shall thirst no more. As to the famous horseman above-mentioned, he and his feats are an inexhaustible source of merriment. At least we find him so, and seldom meet without refreshing ourselves with the recollection of them. You are perfectly at liberty to deal with them as you please. Auctore tantùm anonymo, imprimantur; and when printed send me a copy.

I congratulate you on the discharge of your duty and your conscience, by the pains you have taken for the relief of the prisoners. You proceeded wisely, yet courageously, and deserved better success. Your labours, however, will be remembered elsewhere, when you shall be forgotten here; and, if the poor folks at Chelmsford should never receive the benefit of them, you will yourself receive it in heaven. It is pity that men of fortune should be determined to acts of beneficence, sometimes by popular whim or prejudice, and sometimes by motives still more unworthy. The liberal subscription, raised in behalf of the widows of seamen lost in the Royal George was an instance of the former. At least a plain, short and sensible letter in the newspaper, convinced[120] me at the time that it was an unnecessary and injudicious collection: and the difficulty you found in effectuating your benevolent intentions on this occasion, constrains me to think that, had it been an affair of more notoriety than merely to furnish a few poor fellows with a little fuel to preserve their extremities from the frost, you would have succeeded better. Men really pious delight in doing good by stealth. But nothing less than an ostentatious display of bounty will satisfy mankind in general. I feel myself disposed to furnish you with an opportunity to shine in secret. We do what we can. But that can is little. You have rich friends, are eloquent on all occasions, and know how to be pathetic on a proper one. The winter will be severely felt at Olney by many, whose sobriety, industry, and honesty, recommend them to charitable notice: and we think we could tell such persons as Mr. ——, or Mr. ——, half a dozen tales of distress, that would find their way into hearts as feeling as theirs. You will do as you see good; and we in the meantime shall remain convinced that you will do your best. Lady Austen will, no doubt, do something, for she has great sensibility and compassion.

Yours, my dear Unwin,
W. C.


Olney, Nov. 5, 1782.

Charissime Taurorum—
Quot sunt, vel fuerunt, vel posthac aliis erunt in annis,

We shall rejoice to see you, and I just write to tell you so. Whatever else I want, I have, at least, this quality in common with publicans and sinners, that I love those that love me, and for that reason, you in particular. Your warm and affectionate manner demands it of me. And, though I consider your love as growing out of a mistaken expectation that you shall see me a spiritual man hereafter, I do not love you much the less for it. I only regret that I did not know you intimately in those happier days, when the frame of my heart and mind was such as might have made a connexion with me not altogether unworthy of you.

I add only Mrs. Unwin's remembrances, and that I am glad you believe me to be, what I truly am,

Your faithful and affectionate
W. C.


Olney, Nov. 11, 1782.

My dear Friend,—Your shocking scrawl, as you term it, was however a very welcome one. The character indeed has not quite the neatness and beauty of an engraving; but if it cost me some pains to decipher it, they were well rewarded by the minute information it conveyed. I am glad your health is such that you have nothing more to complain of than may be expected on the down-hill side of life. If mine is better than yours, it is to be attributed, I suppose, principally to the constant enjoyment of country air and retirement; the most perfect regularity in matters of eating, drinking, and sleeping; and a happy emancipation from every thing that wears the face of business. I lead the life I always wished for, and, the single circumstance of dependence excepted, (which, between ourselves, is very contrary to my predominant humour and disposition,) have no want left broad enough for another wish to stand upon.

You may not, perhaps, live to see your trees attain to the dignity of timber: I nevertheless approve of your planting, and the disinterested spirit that prompts you to it. Few people plant when they are young; a thousand other less profitable amusements divert their attention; and most people, when the date of youth is once expired, think it too late to begin. I can tell you, however, for your comfort and encouragement, that when a grove which Major Cowper had planted was of eighteen years' growth, it was no small ornament to his grounds, and afforded as complete a shade as could be desired. Were I as old as your mother, in whose longevity I rejoice, and the more because I consider it as in some sort a pledge and assurance of yours, and should come to the possession of land worth planting, I would begin to-morrow, and even without previously insisting upon a bond from Providence that I should live five years longer.

I saw last week a gentleman who was lately at Hastings. I asked him where he lodged. He replied at P——'s. I next inquired after the poor man's wife, whether alive or dead. He answered, dead. So then, said I, she has scolded her last; and a sensible old man will go down to his grave in peace. Mr. P——, to be sure, is of no great consequence either to you or to me; but, having so fair an opportunity to inform myself about him, I could not neglect it. It gives me pleasure to learn somewhat of a man I knew a little of so many years since, and for that reason merely I mention the circumstance to you.

I find a single expression in your letter which needs correction. You say I carefully avoid paying you a visit at Wargrave. Not so; but connected as I happily am, and rooted where I am, and not having travelled these twenty years—being besides of an indolent temper, and having spirits that cannot bear a bustle—all these are so many insuperables in[121] the way. They are not however in yours; and if you and Mrs. Hill will make the experiment, you shall find yourselves as welcome here, both to me and to Mrs. Unwin, as it is possible you can be any where.

Yours affectionately,
W. C.


Olney, Nov. 1782.

My dear Friend,—I am to thank you for a very fine cod, which came most opportunely to make a figure on our table, on an occasion that made him singularly welcome. I write, and you send me a fish. This is very well, but not altogether what I want. I wish to hear from you, because the fish, though he serves to convince me that you have me still in remembrance, says not a word of those that sent him; and, with respect to your and Mrs. Hill's health, prosperity, and happiness, leaves me as much in the dark as before. You are aware, likewise, that where there is an exchange of letters it is much easier to write. But I know the multiplicity of your affairs, and therefore perform my part of the correspondence as well as I can, convinced that you would not omit yours, if you could help it.

Three days since I received a note from old Mr. Small, which was more than civil—it was warm and friendly. The good veteran excuses himself for not calling upon me, on account of the feeble state in which a fit of the gout had left him. He tells me however that he has seen Mrs. Hill, and your improvements at Wargrave, which will soon become an ornament to the place. May they, and may you both live long to enjoy them! I shall be sensibly mortified if the season and his gout together should deprive me of the pleasure of receiving him here; for he is a man much to my taste, and quite an unique in this country.

My eyes are in general better than I remember them to have been since I first opened them upon this sublunary stage, which is now a little more than half a century ago. We are growing old; but this is between ourselves: the world knows nothing of the matter. Mr. Small tells me you look much as you did; and as for me, being grown rather plump, the ladies tell me I am as young as ever.

Yours ever,
W. C.


Olney, Nov. 18, 1782.

My dear William,—On the part of the poor, and on our part, be pleased to make acknowledgments, such as the occasion calls for, to our beneficent friend, Mr. ——. I call him ours, because, having experienced his kindness to myself, in a former instance, and in the present his disinterested readiness to succour the distressed, my ambition will be satisfied with nothing less. He may depend upon the strictest secrecy; no creature shall hear him mentioned, either now or hereafter, as the person from whom we have received this bounty. But when I speak of him, or hear him spoken of by others, which sometimes happens, I shall not forget what is due to so rare a character. I wish, and your mother wishes too, that he could sometimes take us in his way to ——: he will find us happy to receive a person whom we must needs account it an honour to know. We shall exercise our best discretion in the disposal of the money; but in this town, where the gospel has been preached so many years, where the people have been favoured so long with laborious and conscientious ministers, it is not an easy thing to find those who make no profession of religion at all, and are yet proper objects of charity. The profane are so profane, so drunken, dissolute, and in every respect worthless, that to make them partakers of his bounty would be to abuse it. We promise, however, that none shall touch it but such as are miserably poor, yet at the same time industrious and honest, two characters frequently united here, where the most watchful and unremitting labour will hardly procure them bread. We make none but the cheapest laces, and the price of them is fallen almost to nothing. Thanks are due to yourself likewise, and are hereby accordingly rendered, for waiving your claim in behalf of your own parishioners. You are always with them, and they are always, at least some of them, the better for your residence among them. Olney is a populous place, inhabited chiefly by the half-starved and the ragged of the earth, and it is not possible for our small party and small ability to extend their operations so far as to be much felt among such numbers. Accept, therefore, your share of their gratitude, and be convinced that, when they pray for a blessing upon those who relieved their wants, he that answers that prayer, and when he answers it, will remember his servant at Stock.

I little thought when I was writing the history of John Gilpin, that he would appear in print—I intended to laugh, and to make two or three others laugh, of whom you were one. But now all the world laugh, at least if they have the same relish for a tale ridiculous in itself, and quaintly told, as we have. Well, they do not always laugh so innocently, and at so small an expense, for, in a world like this, abounding with subjects for satire, and with satirical wits to mark them, a laugh that hurts[122] nobody has at least the grace of novelty to recommend it. Swift's darling motto was, Vive la bagatelle! a good wish for a philosopher of his complexion, the greater part of whose wisdom, whencesoever it came, most certainly came not from above. La bagatelle has no enemy in me, though it has neither so warm a friend nor so able a one as it had in him. If I trifle, and merely trifle, it is because I am reduced to it by necessity—a melancholy that nothing else so effectually disperses engages me sometimes in the arduous task of being merry by force. And, strange as it may seem, the most ludicrous lines I ever wrote have been written in the saddest mood, and but for that saddest mood, perhaps, had never been written at all.

I hear from Mrs. Newton that some great persons have spoken with great approbation of a certain book—who they are, and what they have said, I am to be told in a future letter. The Monthly Reviewers, in the meantime, have satisfied me well enough.

Yours, my dear William,
W. C.


My dear William,—Dr. Beattie is a respectable character.[158] I account him a man of sense, a philosopher, a scholar, a person of distinguished genius, and a good writer. I believe him too a Christian; with a profound reverence for the scripture, with great zeal and ability to enforce the belief of it, both which he exerts with the candour and good manners of a gentleman: he seems well entitled to that allowance; and to deny it him, would impeach one's right to the appellation. With all these good things to recommend him, there can be no dearth of sufficient reasons to read his writings. You favoured me some years since with one of his volumes; by which I was both pleased and instructed: and I beg you will send me the new one, when you can conveniently spare it, or rather bring it yourself, while the swallows are yet upon the wing: for the summer is going down apace.

You tell me you have been asked, if I am intent upon another volume? I reply, not at present, not being convinced that I have met with sufficient encouragement. I account myself happy in having pleased a few, but am not rich enough to despise the many. I do not know what sort of market my commodity has found, but, if a slack one, I must beware how I make a second attempt. My bookseller will not be willing to incur a certain loss; and I can as little afford it. Notwithstanding what I have said, I write, and am even now writing, for the press. I told you that I had translated several of the poems of Madame Guion. I told you too, or I am mistaken, that Mr. Bull designed to print them. That gentleman is gone to the sea-side with Mrs. Wilberforce, and will be absent six weeks. My intention is to surprise him at his return with the addition of as much more translation as I have already given him. This, however, is still less likely to be a popular work than my former. Men that have no religion would despise it; and men that have no religious experience would not understand it. But the strain of simple and unaffected piety in the original is sweet beyond expression. She sings like an angel, and for that very reason has found but few admirers. Other things I write too, as you will see on the other side, but these merely for my amusement.[159]


Olney, Nov. 23, 1782.

My dear Madam,—Accept my thanks for the trouble you take in vending my poems, and still more for the interest you take in their success. My authorship is undoubtedly pleased, when I hear that they are approved either by the great or the small; but to be approved by the great, as Horace observed many years ago, is fame indeed. Having met with encouragement, I consequently wish to write again; but wishes are a very small part of the qualifications necessary for such a purpose. Many a man, who has succeeded tolerably well in his first attempt, has spoiled all by the second. But it just occurs to me that I told you so once before, and, if my memory had served me with the intelligence a minute sooner, I would not have repeated the observation now.

The winter sets in with great severity. The rigour of the season, and the advanced price of grain, are very threatening to the poor. It is well with those that can feed upon a promise, and wrap themselves up warm in the robe of salvation. A good fire-side and a well-spread table are but very indifferent substitutes for these better accommodations; so very indifferent, that I would gladly exchange them both for the rags and the unsatisfied hunger of the poorest creature that looks forward with hope to a better world, and weeps tears of joy in the midst of penury and distress. What a world is this! How mysteriously governed, and in appearance left to itself! One man, having squandered thousands at a gaming-table, finds it convenient to travel; gives his estate to somebody to manage for him; amuses himself a few years in France and Italy; returns, perhaps, wiser than he went, having[123] acquired knowledge which, but for his follies, he would never have acquired; again makes a splendid figure at home, shines in the senate, governs his country as its minister, is admired for his abilities, and, if successful, adored at least by a party. When he dies he is praised as a demi-god, and his monument records every thing but his vices. The exact contrast of such a picture is to be found in many cottages at Olney. I have no need to describe them; you know the characters I mean. They love God, they trust him, they pray to him in secret, and, though he means to reward them openly, the day of recompence is delayed. In the meantime they suffer every thing that infirmity and poverty can inflict upon them. Who would suspect, that has not a spiritual eye to discern it, that the fine gentleman was one whom his Maker had in abhorrence, and the wretch last-mentioned dear to him as the apple of his eye! It is no wonder that the world, who are not in the secret, find themselves obliged, some of them, to doubt a Providence, and others absolutely to deny it, when almost all the real virtue there is in it is to be found living and dying in a state of neglected obscurity, and all the vices of others cannot exclude them from the privilege of worship and honour! But behind the curtain the matter is explained; very little, however, to the satisfaction of the great.

If you ask me why I have written thus, and to you especially, to whom there was no need to write thus, I can only reply, that, having a letter to write, and no news to communicate, I picked up the first subject I found, and pursued it as far as was convenient for my purpose.

Mr. Newton and I are of one mind on the subject of patriotism. Our dispute was no sooner begun than it ended. It would be well perhaps, if, when two disputants begin to engage, their friends would hurry each into a separate chaise, and order them to opposite points of the compass. Let one travel twenty miles east, the other, as many west; then let them write their opinions by the post. Much altercation and chafing of the spirit would be prevented; they would sooner come to a right understanding, and, running away from each other, would carry on the combat more judiciously, in exact proportion to the distance.

My love to that gentleman, if you please; and tell him that, like him, though I love my country, I hate its follies and its sins, and had rather see it scourged in mercy than judicially hardened by prosperity.

Yours, my dear Madam, as ever,
W. C.


Olney, Dec. 7, 1782.

My dear Friend,—At seven o'clock this evening, being the seventh of December, I imagine I see you in your box at the coffee-house. No doubt the waiter, as ingenious and adroit as his predecessors were before him, raises the tea-pot to the ceiling with his right hand, while in his left the tea-cup descending almost to the floor, receives a limpid stream; limpid in its descent, but no sooner has it reached its destination, than frothing and foaming to the view, it becomes a roaring syllabub. This is the nineteenth winter since I saw you in this situation; and if nineteen more pass over me before I die, I shall still remember a circumstance we have often laughed at.

How different is the complexion of your evenings and mine!—yours, spent amid the ceaseless hum that proceeds from the inside of fifty noisy and busy periwigs; mine, by a domestic fire-side, in a retreat as silent as retirement can make it, where no noise is made but what we make for our own amusement. For instance, here are two rustics and your humble servant in company. One of the ladies has been playing on the harpsichord, while I with the other have been playing at battledore and shuttlecock. A little dog, in the meantime, howling under the chair of the former, performed in the vocal way to admiration. This entertainment over, I began my letter, and, having nothing more important to communicate, have given you an account of it. I know you love dearly to be idle, when you can find an opportunity to be so; but, as such opportunities are rare with you, I thought it possible that a short description of the idleness I enjoy might give you pleasure. The happiness we cannot call our own we yet seem to possess, while we sympathise with our friends who can.

The papers tell me that peace is at hand, and that it is at a great distance; that the siege of Gibraltar is abandoned, and that it is to be still continued. It is happy for me, that, though I love my country, I have but little curiosity. There was a time when these contradictions would have distressed me; but I have learned by experience that it is best for little people like myself to be patient, and to wait till time affords the intelligence which no speculations of theirs can ever furnish.

I thank you for a fine cod with oysters, and hope that ere long I shall have to thank you for procuring me Elliott's medicines. Every time I feel the least uneasiness in either eye, I tremble lest, my Æsculapius being departed, my infallible remedy should be lost for ever. Adieu. My respects to Mrs. Hill.

Yours, faithfully,
W. C.



Olney, Jan. 19, 1783.

My dear William,—Not to retaliate, but for want of opportunity, I have delayed writing. From a scene of most uninterrupted retirement, we have passed at once into a state of constant engagement, not that our society is much multiplied. The addition of an individual has made all this difference. Lady Austen and we pass our days alternately at each other's château. In the morning I walk with one or other of the ladies, and in the afternoon wind thread. Thus did Hercules and Sampson, and thus do I; and, were both those heroes living, I should not fear to challenge them to a trial of skill in that business, or doubt to beat them both. As to killing lions, and other amusements of that kind, with which they were so delighted, I should be their humble servant, and beg to be excused.

Having no frank, I cannot send you Mr. ——'s two letters, as I intended. We corresponded as long as the occasion required, and then ceased. Charmed with his good sense, politeness, and liberality to the poor, I was indeed ambitious of continuing a correspondence with him, and told him so. Perhaps I had done more prudently had I never proposed it. But warm hearts are not famous for wisdom, and mine was too warm to be very considerate on such an occasion. I have not heard from him since, and have long given up all expectation of it. I know he is too busy a man to have leisure for me, and I ought to have recollected it sooner. He found time to do much good, and to employ us, as his agents, in doing it, and that might have satisfied me. Though laid under the strictest injunctions of secrecy, both by him, and by you on his behalf, I consider myself as under no obligation to conceal from you the remittances he made. Only, in my turn, I beg leave to request secrecy on your part, because, intimate as you are with him, and highly as he values you, I cannot yet be sure, that the communication would please him, his delicacies on this subject being as singular as his benevolence. He sent forty pounds, twenty at a time. Olney has not had such a friend as this many a day; nor has there been an instance, at any time, of a few families so effectually relieved, or so completely encouraged to the pursuit of that honest industry, by which, their debts being paid and the parents and children comfortably clothed, they are now enabled to maintain themselves. Their labour was almost in vain before; but now it answers: it earns them bread, and all their other wants are plentifully supplied.[162]

I wish that, by Mr. ——'s assistance, your purpose in behalf of the prisoners may be effectuated. A pen so formidable as his might do much good, if properly directed. The dread of a bold censure is ten times more moving than the most eloquent persuasion. They that cannot feel for others are the persons of all the world who feel most sensibly for themselves.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Jan. 26, 1783.

My dear Friend,—It is reported among persons of the best intelligence at Olney—the barber, the schoolmaster, and the drummer of a corps quartered at this place—that the belligerent powers are at last reconciled, the articles of the treaty adjusted, and that peace is at the door.[164] I saw this morning, at nine o'clock, a group of about twelve figures, very closely engaged in a conference, as I suppose, upon the same subject. The scene of consultation was a blacksmith's shed, very comfortably screened from the wind, and directly opposed to the morning sun. Some held their hands behind them, some had them folded across their bosom, and others had thrust them into their breeches pockets. Every man's posture bespoke a pacific turn of mind; but, the distance being too great for their words to reach me, nothing transpired. I am willing, however, to hope that the secret will not be a secret long, and that you and I, equally interested in the event, though not perhaps equally well informed, shall soon have an opportunity to rejoice in the completion of it. The powers of Europe have clashed with each other to a fine purpose;[165] that the Americans, at length declared independent, may keep themselves so, if they can; and that what the parties, who have thought proper to dispute upon that point have wrested from each other in the course of the conflict may be, in the issue of it, restored to the proper owner. Nations may be guilty of a conduct that would render an individual infamous for ever; and yet carry their heads high, talk of their glory, and despise their neighbours. Your opinions and mine, I mean our political ones, are not exactly of a piece, yet I cannot think otherwise upon this subject than I have always done. England, more perhaps through the fault of her generals than her councils, has, in some instances, acted with a spirit of cruel animosity she was never chargeable with[125] till now. But this is the worst that can be said. On the other hand, the Americans, who, if they had contented themselves with a struggle for lawful liberty, would have deserved applause, seem to me to have incurred the guilt of parricide, by renouncing their parent, by making her ruin their favourite object, and by associating themselves with her worst enemy for the accomplishment of their purpose. France, and of course Spain, have acted a treacherous, a thievish part. They have stolen America from England; and, whether they are able to possess themselves of that jewel or not hereafter, it was doubtless what they intended. Holland appears to me in a meaner light than any of them. They quarrelled with a friend for an enemy's sake. The French led them by the nose, and the English have thrashed them for suffering it. My views of the contest being, and having been always, such, I have consequently brighter hopes for England than her situation some time since seemed to justify. She is the only injured party. America may perhaps call her the aggressor; but, if she were so, America has not only repelled the injury, but done a greater. As to the rest, if perfidy, treachery, avarice, and ambition, can prove their cause to have been a rotten one, those proofs are found upon them. I think, therefore, that, whatever scourge may be prepared for England on some future day, her ruin is not yet to be expected.

Acknowledge now that I am worthy of a place under the shed I described, and that I should make no small figure among the quidnuncs of Olney.

I wish the society you have formed may prosper. Your subjects will be of greater importance, and discussed with more sufficiency.[166] The earth is a grain of sand, but the spiritual interests of man are commensurate with the heavens.

Yours, my dear friend, as ever,
W. C.

The humour of the following letter in reference to the peace, is ingenious and amusing.


Olney, Feb. 2, 1783.

I give you joy of the restoration of that sincere and firm friendship between the kings of England and France, that has been so long interrupted. It is a great pity when hearts so cordially united are divided by trifles. Thirteen pitiful colonies, which the king of England chose to keep, and the king of France to obtain, if he could, have disturbed that harmony which would else no doubt have subsisted between those illustrious personages to this moment. If the king of France, whose greatness of mind is only equalled by that of his queen, had regarded them, unworthy of his notice as they were, with an eye of suitable indifference; or, had he thought it a matter deserving in any degree his princely attention, that they were in reality the property of his good friend the king of England; or, had the latter been less obstinately determined to hold fast his interest in them, and could he, with that civility and politeness in which monarchs are expected to excel, have entreated his majesty of France to accept a bagatelle, for which he seemed to have conceived so strong a predilection, all this mischief had been prevented. But monarchs, alas! crowned and sceptred as they are, are yet but men; they fall out, and are reconciled, just like the meanest of their subjects. I cannot, however, sufficiently admire the moderation and magnanimity of the king of England. His dear friend on the other side of the Channel has not indeed taken actual possession of the colonies in question, but he has effectually wrested them out of the hands of their original owner, who, nevertheless, letting fall the extinguisher of patience upon the flame of his resentment, and glowing with no other flame than that of the sincerest affection, embraces the king of France again, gives him Senegal and Goree in Africa, gives him the islands he had taken from him in the West, gives him his conquered territories in the East, gives him a fishery upon the banks of Newfoundland; and, as if all this were too little, merely because he knows that Louis has a partiality for the king of Spain, gives to the latter an island in the Mediterranean, which thousands of English had purchased with their lives; and in America all that he wanted, at least all that he could ask. No doubt there will be great cordiality between this royal trio for the future; and, though wars may perhaps be kindled between their posterity some ages hence, the present generation shall never be witnesses of such a calamity again. I expect soon to hear that the queen of France, who just before this rupture happened, made the queen of England a present of a watch, has, in acknowledgment of all these acts of kindness, sent her also a seal wherewith to ratify the treaty. Surely she can do no less.

W. C.


Olney, Feb. 8, 1783.

My dear Friend,—When I consider the peace as the work of our ministers, and reflect[126] that, with more wisdom, or more spirit, they might perhaps have procured a better, I confess it does not please me.[168] Such another peace would ruin us, I suppose, as effectually as a war protracted to the extremest inch of our ability to bear it. I do not think it just that the French should plunder us and be paid for doing it; nor does it appear to me that there was absolute necessity for such tameness on our part as we discover in the present treaty. We give away all that is demanded, and receive nothing but what was our own before. So far as this stain upon our national honour, and this diminution of our national property, are a judgment upon our iniquities, I submit, and have no doubt but that ultimately it will be found to be judgment mixed with mercy. But so far as I see it to be the effect of French knavery and British despondency, I feel it as a disgrace, and grumble at it as a wrong. I dislike it the more, because the peacemaker has been so immoderately praised for his performance, which is, in my opinion, a contemptible one enough. Had he made the French smart for their baseness, I would have praised him too; a minister should have shown his wisdom by securing some points, at least for the benefit of his country. A schoolboy might have made concessions. After all perhaps the worst consequence of this awkward business will be dissension in the two Houses, and dissatisfaction throughout the kingdom. They that love their country will be grieved to see her trampled upon; and they that love mischief will have a fair opportunity of making it. Were I a member of the Commons, even with the same religious sentiments as impress me now, I should think it my duty to condemn it.

You will suppose me a politician; but in truth I am nothing less. These are the thoughts that occur to me while I read the newspaper; and, when I have laid it down, I feel myself more interested in the success of my early cucumbers than in any part of this great and important subject. If I see them droop a little, I forget that we have been many years at war; that we have made a humiliating peace; that we are deeply in debt, and unable to pay. All these reflections are absorbed at once in the anxiety I feel for a plant, the fruit of which I cannot eat when I have procured it. How wise, how consistent, how respectable a creature is man!

Mrs. Unwin thanks Mrs. Newton for her kind letter, and for executing her commissions. We truly love you both, think of you often, and one of us prays for you;—the other will, when he can pray for himself.

W. C.


Olney, Feb. 13, 1783.

My dear Friend,—In writing to you I never want a subject. Self is always at hand, and self, with its concerns, is always interesting to a friend.

You may think perhaps that, having commenced poet by profession, I am always writing verses. Not so; I have written nothing, at least finished nothing, since I published, except a certain facetious history of John Gilpin, which Mrs. Unwin would send to the "Public Advertiser," perhaps you might read it without suspecting the author.

My book procures me favours, which my modesty will not permit me to specify, except one, which, modest as I am, I cannot suppress, a very handsome letter from Dr. Franklin at Passy. These fruits it has brought me.

I have been refreshing myself with a walk in the garden, where I find that January (who according to Chaucer was the husband of May) being dead, February has married the widow.

Yours, &c.
W. C.


Olney, Jan. 20, 1783.

Suspecting that I should not have hinted at Dr. Franklin's encomium under any other influence than that of vanity, I was several times on the point of burning my letter for that very reason. But, not having time to write another by the same post, and believing that you would have the grace to pardon a little self-complacency in an author on so trying an occasion, I let it pass. One sin naturally leads to another and a greater, and thus it happens now, for I have no way to gratify your curiosity, but by transcribing the letter in question. It is addressed, by the way, not to me, but to an acquaintance of mine, who had transmitted the volume to him without my knowledge.

"Passy,[169] May 8, 1782.

"Sir, I received the letter you did me the honour of writing to me, and am much obliged by your kind present of a book. The relish for reading of poetry had long since left me, but there is something so new in the manner, so[127] easy, and yet so correct in the language, so clear in the expression, yet concise, and so just in the sentiments, that I have read the whole with great pleasure, and some of the pieces more than once. I beg you to accept my thankful acknowledgments, and to present my respects to the author.

"Your most obedient humble servant,
"B. Franklin."


My dear Friend,—Great revolutions happen in this ants' nest of ours. One emmet of illustrious character and great abilities pushes out another; parties are formed, they range themselves in formidable opposition, they threaten each other's ruin, they cross over and are mingled together,[170] and like the coruscations of the Northern Aurora amuse the spectator, at the same time that by some they are supposed to be forerunners of a general dissolution.

There are political earthquakes as well as natural ones, the former less shocking to the eye, but not always less fatal in their influence than the latter. The image which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream was made up of heterogeneous and incompatible materials, and accordingly broken. Whatever is so formed must expect a like catastrophe.

I have an etching of the late Chancellor hanging over the parlour chimney. I often contemplate it, and call to mind the day when I was intimate with the original. It is very like him, but he is disguised by his hat, which, though fashionable, is awkward; by his great wig, the tie of which is hardly discernible in profile, and by his band and gown, which give him an appearance clumsily sacerdotal. Our friendship is dead and buried; yours is the only surviving one of all with which I was once honoured.

W. C.

The sarcasm conveyed in the close of this letter, and evidently pointed at Lord Thurlow, is severe, and yet seems to be merited. It will be remembered, that Lord Thurlow and Cowper were on terms of great intimacy when at Westminster school, though separated in after-life; that Cowper subsequently presented him with a copy of his poems, accompanied by a letter, reminding him of their former friendship; and that his lordship treated him with forgetfulness and neglect. It is due, however, to the memory of Lord Thurlow, to state that instances are not wanting to prove the benevolence of his character. When the south of Europe was recommended to Dr. Johnson, to renovate his declining strength, he generously offered to advance the sum of five hundred pounds for that purpose.[171]

Nor ought we to forget Lord Thurlow's treatment of the poet Crabbe. The latter presented to him one of his poems. "I have no time," said Lord Thurlow, "to read verses; my avocations do not permit it." "There was a time," retorted the poet, "when the encouragement of literature was considered to be a duty appertaining to the illustrious station which your lordship holds." Lord Thurlow frankly acknowledged his error, and nobly redeemed it. "I ought," he observed, "to have noticed your poem, and I heartily forgive your rebuke:" and in proof of his sincerity he generously transmitted the sum of one hundred pounds, and subsequently gave him preferment in the church.


Olney, Feb. 24, 1783.

My dear Friend,—A weakness in one of my eyes may possibly shorten my letter, but I mean to make it as long as my present materials, and my ability to write, can suffice for.

I am almost sorry to say that I am reconciled to the peace, being reconciled to it not upon principles of approbation but necessity. The deplorable condition of the country, insisted on by the friends of administration, and not denied by their adversaries, convinces me that our only refuge under Heaven was in the treaty with which I quarrelled. The treaty itself I find less objectionable than I did, Lord Shelburne having given a colour to some of the articles that makes them less painful in the contemplation. But my opinion upon the whole affair is, that now is the time (if indeed there is salvation for the country) for Providence to interpose to save it. A peace with the greatest political advantages would not have healed us; a peace with none may procrastinate our ruin for a season, but cannot ultimately prevent it. The prospect may make all tremble who have no trust in God, and even they that trust may tremble. The peace will probably be of short duration; and in the ordinary course of things another war must end us. A great country in ruins will not be beheld with eyes of indifference, even by those who have a better country to look to. But with them all will be well at last.

As to the Americans, perhaps I do not forgive them as I ought; perhaps I shall always think of them with some resentment, as the destroyers, intentionally the destroyers,[128] of this country. They have pushed that point farther than the house of Bourbon could have carried it in half a century. I may be prejudiced against them, but I do not think them equal to the task of establishing an empire. Great men are necessary for such a purpose: and their great men, I believe, are yet unborn.[173] They have had passion and obstinacy enough to do us much mischief; but whether the event will be salutary to themselves or not, must wait for proof. I agree with you that it is possible America may become a land of extraordinary evangelical light,[174] but at the same time, I cannot discover any thing in their new situation peculiarly favourable to such a supposition. They cannot have more liberty of conscience than they had; at least, if that liberty was under any restraint, it was a restraint of their own making. Perhaps a new settlement in church and state may leave them less.—Well—all will be over soon. The time is at hand when an empire will be established that shall fill the earth. Neither statesmen nor generals will lay the foundation of it, but it shall rise at the sound of the trumpet.

I am well in body, but with a mind that would wear out a frame of adamant; yet, upon my frame, which is not very robust, its effects are not discernible. Mrs. Unwin is in health. Accept our unalienable love to you both.

Yours, my dear friend, truly,
W. C.


Olney, March 7, 1783.

My dear Friend,—When will you come and tell us what you think of the peace? Is it a good peace in itself, or a good peace only in reference to the ruinous condition of our country? I quarrelled most bitterly with it at first, finding nothing in the terms of it but disgrace and destruction to Great Britain. But, having learned since that we are already destroyed and disgraced, as much as we can be, I like it better, and think myself deeply indebted to the King of France for treating us with so much lenity. The olive-branch indeed has neither leaf nor fruit, but it is still an olive-branch. Mr. Newton and I have exchanged several letters on the subject; sometimes considering, like grave politicians as we are, the state of Europe at large; sometimes the state of England in particular; sometimes the conduct of the house of Bourbon; sometimes that of the Dutch; but most especially that of the Americans. We have not differed perhaps very widely, nor even so widely as we seemed to do; but still we have differed. We have however managed our dispute with temper, and brought it to a peaceable conclusion. So far at least we have given proof of a wisdom which abler politicians than myself would do well to imitate.

How do you like your northern mountaineers?[176] Can a man be a good Christian that goes without breeches? You are better qualified to solve me this question than any man I know, having, as I am informed, preached to many of them, and conversed, no doubt, with some. You must know I love a Highlander, and think I can see in them what Englishmen once were, but never will be again. Such have been the effects of luxury!

You know that I kept two hares. I have written nothing since I saw you but an epitaph on one of them, which died last week. I send you the first impression of it.

Here lies, &c.[177]

Believe me, my dear friend, affectionately yours,

W. C.


Olney, March 7, 1783.

My dear Friend,—Were my letters composed of materials worthy of your acceptance, they should be longer. There is a subject upon which they who know themselves interested in it are never weary of writing. That subject is not within my reach; and there are few others that do not soon fatigue me. Upon these, however, I might possibly be more diffuse, could I forget that I am writing to you, to whom I think it just as improper and absurd to send a sheet full of trifles, as it would be to allow myself that liberty, were I writing to one of the four evangelists. But, since you measure me with so much exactness, give me leave to requite you in your own way. Your manuscript indeed is close, and I do not reckon[129] mine very lax. You make no margin, it is true; if you did, you would have need of their Lilliputian art, who can enclose the creed within the circle of a shilling; for, upon the nicest comparison, I find your paper an inch smaller every way than mine. Were my writing therefore as compact as yours, my letters with a margin would be as long as yours without one. Let this consideration, added to that of their futility, prevail with you to think them, if not long, yet long enough.

Yesterday a body of Highlanders passed through Olney. They are part of that regiment which lately mutinied at Portsmouth. Convinced to a man that General —— had sold them to the East India Company, they breathe nothing but vengeance, and swear they will pull down his house in Scotland, as soon as they arrive there. The rest of them are quartered at Dunstable, Woburn, and Newport; in all eleven hundred. A party of them, it is said, are to continue some days at Olney. None of their principal officers are with them; either conscious of guilt, or at least knowing themselves to be suspected as privy to and partners in the iniquitous bargain, they fear the resentment of the corps. The design of government seems to be to break them into small divisions, that they may find themselves, when they reach Scotland, too weak to do much mischief. Forty of them attended Mr. Bull, who found himself singularly happy in an opportunity to address himself to a flock bred upon the Caledonian mountains. He told them he would walk to John O'Groat's house to hear a soldier pray. They are in general so far religious that they will hear none but evangelical preaching; and many of them are said to be truly so. Nevertheless, General ——'s skull was in some danger among them; for he was twice felled to the ground with the butt end of a musket. The sergeant-major rescued him, or he would have been for ever rendered incapable of selling Highlanders to the India Company. I am obliged to you for your extract from Mr. Bowman's letter. I feel myself sensibly pleased by the approbation of men of taste and learning; but that my vanity may not get too much to windward, my spirits are kept under by a total inability to renew my enterprises in the poetical way.

We are tolerably well, and love you both.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, April 5, 1783.

My dear Friend,—When one has a letter to write, there is nothing more useful than to make a beginning. In the first place, because, unless it be begun, there is no good reason to hope it will ever be ended; and secondly, because the beginning is half the business, it being much more difficult to put the pen in motion at first, than to continue the progress of it when once moved.

Mrs. C——'s illness, likely to prove mortal, and seizing her at such a time, has excited much compassion in my breast, and in Mrs. Unwin's, both for her and her daughter. To have parted with a child she loves so much, intending soon to follow her; to find herself arrested before she could set out, and at so great a distance from her most valued relations; her daughter's life too threatened by a disorder not often curable, are circumstances truly affecting. She has indeed much natural fortitude, and, to make her condition still more tolerable, a good Christian hope for her support. But so it is, that the distresses of those who least need our pity excite it most; the amiableness of the character engages our sympathy, and we mourn for persons for whom perhaps we might more reasonably rejoice. There is still however a possibility that she may recover; an event we must wish for, though for her to depart would be far better. Thus we would always withhold from the skies those who alone can reach them, at least till we are ready to bear them company.

Present our love, if you please, to Miss C——.[178] I saw in the "Gentleman's Magazine" for last month, an account of a physician who has discovered a new method of treating consumptive cases, which has succeeded wonderfully in the trial. He finds the seat of the distemper in the stomach, and cures it principally by emetics. The old method of encountering the disorder has proved so unequal to the task, that I should be much inclined to any new practice that comes well recommended. He is spoken of as a sensible and judicious man, but his name I have forgot.

Our love to all under your roof, and in particular to Miss Catlett, if she is with you.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, April 21, 1783.

My dear Friend,—My device was intended to represent, not my own heart, but the heart of a Christian, mourning and yet rejoicing, pierced with thorns, yet wreathed about with roses. I have the thorn without the rose. My briar is a wintry one; the flowers are withered, but the thorn remains. My days are spent in vanity, and it is impossible for me to spend them otherwise. No man upon earth is more sensible of the unprofitableness of a[130] life like mine than I am, or groans more heavily under the burden. The time when I seem to be most rationally employed is when I am reading. My studies however are very much confined, and of little use, because I have no books but what I borrow, and nobody will lend me a memory. My own is almost worn out. I read the Biographia and the Review. If all the readers of the former had memories like mine, the compilers of that work would in vain have laboured to rescue the great names of past ages from oblivion, for what I read to-day I forget to-morrow. A bystander might say, This is rather an advantage, the book is always new;—but I beg the bystander's pardon; I can recollect, though I cannot remember, and with the book in my hand I recognise those passages which, without the book, I should never have thought of more. The Review pleases me most, because, if the contents escape me, I regret them less, being a very supercilious reader of most modern writers. Either I dislike the subject, or the manner of treating it; the style is affected, or the matter is disgusting.

I see —— (though he was a learned man, and sometimes wrote like a wise one,) labouring under invincible prejudices against the truth and its professors; heterodox in his opinions upon some religious subjects, and reasoning most weakly in support of them. How has he toiled to prove that the perdition of the wicked is not eternal, that there may be repentance in hell, and that the devils may be saved at last: thus establishing, as far as in him lies, the belief of a purgatory. When I think of him, I think too of some who shall say hereafter, "Have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name done many wondrous works? Then shall he say unto them, Depart from me, for I never knew you." But perhaps he might be enlightened in his last moments, and saved in the very article of dissolution. It is much to be wished, and indeed hoped, that he was. Such a man reprobated in the great day would be the most melancholy spectacle of all that shall stand at the left hand hereafter. But I do not think that many, or indeed any, will be found there, who in their lives were sober, virtuous, and sincere, truly pious in the use of their little light, and, though ignorant of God, in comparison with some others, yet sufficiently informed to know that He is to be feared, loved, and trusted. An operation is often performed within the curtains of a dying bed, in behalf of such men, that the nurse and the doctor (I mean the doctor and the nurse) have no suspicion of. The soul makes but one step out of darkness into light, and makes that step without a witness. My brother's case has made me very charitable in my opinion about the future state of such men.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, May 5, 1783.

You may suppose that I did not hear Mr. —— preach, but I heard of him. How different is that plainness of speech which a spiritual theme requires, from that vulgar dialect which this gentleman has mistaken for it! Affectation of every sort is odious, especially in a minister, and more especially an affectation that betrays him into expressions fit only for the mouths of the illiterate. Truth indeed needs no ornament, neither does a beautiful person; but to clothe it therefore in rags, when a decent habit was at hand, would be esteemed preposterous and absurd. The best-proportioned figure may be made offensive by beggary and filth, and even truths, which came down from heaven, though they cannot forego their nature, may be disguised and disgraced by unsuitable language. It is strange that a pupil of yours should blunder thus. You may be consoled however by reflecting, that he could not have erred so grossly if he had not totally and wilfully departed both from your instruction and example. Were I to describe your style in two words, I should call it plain and neat, simplicem munditiis, and I do not know how I could give it juster praise, or pay it a greater compliment. He that speaks to be understood by a congregation of rustics, and yet in terms that would not offend academical ears, has found the happy medium. This is certainly practicable to men of taste and judgment, and the practice of a few proves it. Hactenus de concionando.

We are truly glad to hear that Miss Catlett is better, and heartily wish you more promising accounts from Scotland. Debemur morti nos nostraque. We all acknowledge the debt, but are seldom pleased when those we love are required to pay it. The demand will find you prepared for it.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, May 12, 1783.

My dear Friend,—A letter written from such a place as this is a creation; and creation is a work for which mere mortal man is very indifferently qualified. Ex nihilo nihil fit, is a maxim that applies itself in every case, where Deity is not concerned. With this view of the matter, I should charge myself with extreme folly for pretending to work without materials, did I not know that although nothing could be[131] the result, even that nothing will be welcome. If I can tell you no news, I can tell you at least that I esteem you highly; that my friendship with you and yours is the only balm of my life; a comfort sufficient to reconcile me to an existence destitute of every other. This is not the language of to-day, only the effect of a transient cloud suddenly brought over me, and suddenly to be removed, but punctually expressive of my habitual frame of mind, such as it has been these ten years.

In the "Review" of last month, I met with an account of a sermon preached by Mr. Paley, at the consecration of his friend, Bishop L.[180] The critic admires and extols the preacher, and devoutly prays the Lord of the harvest to send forth more such labourers into his vineyard. I rather differ from him in opinion, not being able to conjecture in what respect the vineyard will be benefited by such a measure. He is certainly ingenious, and has stretched his ingenuity to the uttermost, in order to exhibit the church established, consisting of bishops, priests, and deacons, in the most favourable point of view. I lay it down for a rule that when much ingenuity is necessary to gain an argument credit, that argument is unsound at bottom. So is his, and so are all the petty devices by which he seeks to enforce it. He says first, "that the appointment of various orders in the church is attended with this good consequence, that each class of people is supplied with a clergy of their own level and description, with whom they may live and associate on terms of equality." But, in order to effect this good purpose, there ought to be at least three parsons in every parish, one for the gentry, one for traders and mechanics, and one for the lowest of the vulgar. Neither is it easy to find many parishes, where the laity at large have any society with their minister at all. This therefore is fanciful, and a mere invention: in the next place he says it gives a dignity to the ministry itself, and the clergy share in the respect paid to their superiors. Much good may such participation do them! They themselves know how little it amounts to. The dignity a parson derives from the lawn sleeves and square cap of his diocesan will never endanger his humility.

Pope says truly—

Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow,
The rest is all but leather or prunella.

Again—"Rich and splendid situations in the church have been justly regarded as prizes, held out to invite persons of good hopes and ingenuous attainments." Agreed. But the prize held out in the Scripture is of a very different kind; and our ecclesiastical baits are too often snapped by the worthless, and persons of no attainments at all. They are indeed incentives to avarice and ambition, but not to those acquirements, by which only the ministerial function can be adorned—zeal for the salvation of men, humility, and self-denial. Mr. Paley and I therefore cannot agree.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.

We think Cowper has treated Paley, as well as his subject, with no small portion of severity. What Paley's arguments may have been, in establishing his first position, we know not, but we should have expected that the poet would have admitted the principle, however he might have disapproved of the comment. There was a time when the proper constitution of a Christian church furnished a subject of inquiry that engaged the councils of princes, convulsed this empire to its basis, and left the traces of an awful desolation behind. We allude to the times of Charles the First, and to the momentous events that characterized that period. In the present age, the matters in dispute are greatly changed. The important question now agitated is the lawfulness of the union of church and state, so far as that lawfulness is decided by an appeal to the authority of Scripture. Upon this subject it is not our intention to enter. For able and masterly argument, in defence of establishments, we beg to refer to the work of Dr. Chalmers,[181] and to the two last Visitation Charges of Chancellor Dealtry. We trust, however, that we may be allowed to express our deep conviction that the timely removal of abuses is not only essential to the efficiency and preservation of the church of England, but also imperatively due to our own honour and credit, to the glory of God, and to the advancement of true religion.

In the meantime we would appeal to every intelligent observer, whether there has ever been a period, in the annals of our church, more characterized by an acknowledged increase of true piety than in the era in which we are now writing?—whether there is not a perceptible revival of sound doctrine in our pulpits, and of devotedness and zeal in the lives of the clergy? Appealing then to these facts, which he that runneth may read, may we not, though in the spirit of profound humiliation, exclaim with the wife of Manoah, "If the Lord were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt-offering and a meat-offering at our hands; neither would he have showed us all these things; nor would, as at this time, have told us such things as these."[182]


Let, then, the sacred edifice be suffered to remain, built as it is on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone; but let what time hath impaired, or infirmity hath disfigured, be restored and amended. And let this be the language of her friends, as well as of every honourable and conscientious opponent, which was once expressed by the celebrated Beza: "If now the reformed churches of England, administered by the authority of bishops and archbishops, do hold on, as this hath happened to that church in our memory, that she hath had men of that calling, not only most notable martyrs of God, but also excellent pastors and doctors; let her, in God's name, enjoy this singular bounty of God, which I wish she may hold for ever."[183]


Olney, May 26, 1783.

I feel for my uncle,[184] and do not wonder that his loss afflicts him. A connexion that has subsisted so many years, could not be rent asunder without great pain to the survivor. I hope, however, and doubt not, but when he has had a little more time for recollection, he will find that consolation in his own family, which it is not the lot of every father to be blessed with. It seldom happens that married persons live together so long or so happily; but this, which one feels one's self ready to suggest as matter of alleviation, is the very circumstance that aggravates his distress; therefore he misses her the more, and feels that he can but ill spare her. It is, however, a necessary tax, which all who live long must pay for their longevity, to lose many whom they would be glad to detain (perhaps those in whom all their happiness is centred), and to see them step into the grave before them. In one respect, at least, this is a merciful appointment. When life has lost that to which it owed its principal relish, we may ourselves the more cheerfully resign it. I beg you would present him with my most affectionate remembrance, and tell him, if you think fit, how much I wish that the evening of his long day may be serene and happy.

W. C.


Olney, May 31, 1783.

We rather rejoice than mourn with you on the occasion of Mrs. C——'s death. In the case of believers, death has lost his sting, not only with respect to those he takes away, but with respect to survivors also. Nature indeed will always suggest some causes of sorrow, when an amiable and Christian friend departs, but the scripture so many more and so much more important reasons to rejoice, that, on such occasions, perhaps more remarkably than on any other, sorrow is turned into joy. The law of our land is affronted if we say the king dies, and insists on it that he only demises. This, which is a fiction where a monarch only is in question, in the case of a Christian is reality and truth. He only lays aside a body which it is his privilege to be encumbered with no longer; and, instead of dying, in that moment he begins to live. But this the world does not understand, therefore the kings of it must go on demising to the end of the chapter.

W. C.


Olney, June 3, 1783.

My dear Friend,—My green-house, fronted with myrtles, and where I hear nothing but the pattering of a fine shower and the sound of distant thunder, wants only the fumes of your pipe to make it perfectly delightful. Tobacco was not known in the golden age. So much the worse for the golden age. This age of iron or lead would be insupportable without it; and, therefore, we may reasonably suppose, that the happiness of those better days would have been much improved by the use of it. We hope that you and your son are perfectly recovered. The season has been most unfavourable to animal life; and I, who am merely animal, have suffered much by it.

Though I should be glad to write, I write little or nothing. The time for such fruit is not yet come; but I expect it, and I wish for it. I want amusement; and, deprived of that, have nothing to supply the place of it. I send you, however, according to my promise to send you every thing, two stanzas, composed at the request of Lady Austen. She wanted words to a tune she much admired, and I wrote her the following,—


No longer I follow a sound, &c.[186]

W. C.


Olney, June 8, 1783.

My dear William,—Our severest winter, commonly called the spring, is now over, and I find myself seated in my favourite recess, the green-house. In such a situation, so silent,[133] so shady, where no human foot is heard, and where only my myrtles presume to peep in at the window, you may suppose I have no interruption to complain of, and that my thoughts are perfectly at my command. But the beauties of the spot are themselves an interruption, my attention being called upon by those very myrtles, by a double row of grass pinks, just beginning to blossom, and by a bed of beans already in bloom; and you are to consider it, if you please, as no small proof of my regard, that, though you have so many powerful rivals, I disengage myself from them all, and devote this hour entirely to you.

You are not acquainted with the Rev. Mr. Bull of Newport—perhaps it is as well for you that you are not. You would regret still more than you do, that there are so many miles interposed between us. He spends part of the day with us to-morrow. A dissenter, but a liberal one; a man of letters, and of genius; master of a fine imagination, or rather not master of it—an imagination which, when he finds himself in the company he loves, and can confide in, runs away with him into such fields of speculation, as amuse and enliven every other imagination that has the happiness to be of the party! at other times he has a tender and delicate sort of melancholy in his disposition, not less agreeable in its way. No men are better qualified for companions in such a world as this than men of such a temperament. Every scene of life has two sides, a dark and a bright one, and the mind that has an equal mixture of melancholy and vivacity is best of all qualified for the contemplation of either. He can be lively without levity, and pensive without dejection. Such a man is Mr. Bull. But—he smokes tobacco—nothing is perfect——

Nihil est ab omni
Parte beatum.

On the other side I send you a something, a song if you please, composed last Thursday: the incident happened the day before.[187]

W. C.


Olney, June 13, 1783.

My dear Friend,—I thank you for your Dutch communications. The suffrage of such respectable men must have given you much pleasure, a pleasure only to be exceeded by the consciousness you had before of having published truth, and of having served a good master by doing so.

I have always regretted that your ecclesiastical history went no further; I never saw a work that I thought more likely to serve the cause of truth, nor history applied to so good a purpose.[188] The facts incontestable, the grand observation upon them all irrefragable, and the style, in my judgment, incomparably better than that of Robertson or Gibbon. I would give you my reasons for thinking so, if I had not a very urgent one for declining it. You have no ear for such music, whoever may be the performer. What you added, but never printed, is quite equal to what has appeared, which I think might have encouraged you to proceed, though you missed that freedom in writing which you found before. While you were at Olney, this was at least possible; in a state of retirement you had leisure, without which I suppose Paul himself could not have written his epistles. But those days are fled, and every hope of a continuation is fled with them.

The day of judgment is spoken of not only as a surprise, but a snare, a snare upon all the inhabitants of the earth. A difference indeed will obtain in favour of the godly, which is, that though a snare, a sudden, in some sense an unexpected, and in every sense an awful, event, yet it will find them prepared to meet it. But, the day being thus characterized, a wide field is consequently open to conjecture: some will look for it at one period, and some at another; we shall most of us prove at last to have been mistaken, and if any should prove to have guessed aright, they will reap no advantage, the felicity of their conjecture being incapable of proof, till the day itself shall prove it. My own sentiments upon the subject appear to me perfectly scriptural, though I have no doubt that they differ totally from those of all who have ever thought about it, being however so singular, and of no importance to the happiness of mankind, and being moreover difficult to swallow just in proportion as they are peculiar, I keep them to myself.

I am and always have been a great observer of natural appearances, but I think not a superstitious one. The fallibility of those speculations which lead men of fanciful minds to interpret scripture by the contingencies of the day, is evident from this consideration, that what the God of the scriptures has seen fit to conceal he will not as the God of nature publish. He is one and the same in both capacities, and consistent with himself and his purpose,[134] if he designs a secret impenetrable in whatever way we attempt to open it. It is impossible however for an observer of natural phenomena not to be struck with the singularity of the present season. The fogs I mentioned in my last still continue, though till yesterday the earth was as dry as intense heat could make it. The sun continues to rise and set without his rays, and hardly shines at noon, even in a cloudless sky. At eleven last night the moon was a dull red; she was nearly at her highest elevation, and had the colour of heated brick. She would naturally, I know, have such an appearance looking through a misty atmosphere, but that such an atmosphere should obtain for so long a time, in a country where it has not happened in my remembrance, even in the winter, is rather remarkable. We have had more thunder-storms than have consisted well with the peace of the fearful maidens in Olney, though not so many as have happened in places at no great distance, nor so violent. Yesterday morning however, at seven o'clock, two fireballs burst either on the steeple or close to it. William Andrews saw them meet at that point, and immediately after saw such a smoke issue from the apertures in the steeple, as soon rendered it invisible: the noise of the explosion surpassed all the noises I ever heard; you would have thought that a thousand sledge-hammers were battering great stones to powder, all in the same instant. The weather is still as hot, and the air is full of vapour, as if there had been neither rain nor thunder all the summer.

There was once a periodical paper published, called Mist's Journal: a name well adapted to the sheet before you. Misty however as I am, I do not mean to be mystical, but to be understood, like an almanack-maker, according to the letter. As a poet nevertheless, I claim, if any wonderful event should follow, a right to apply all and every such post-prognostic to the purposes of the tragic muse.

W. C.

It is worthy of being recorded that these singular appearances presented by the atmosphere and heavens, with accompanying thunder-storms, were prevalent in many parts of England. At Dover, the fog was of such long continuance, that the opposite shore could not be discerned for three weeks. In other places the storms of thunder and lightning were awful, and destructive both to life and property. But this phenomenon was not confined to England only; it extended to France, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Spain, and even to some parts of Africa. In Paris, the appearances were so portentous, and the alarm so considerable, that the great astronomer Lalande addressed a letter to one of the journals, in order to compose the public mind. We subjoin it in a note for the gratification of the reader, and as illustrating his views on the subject.[189] In the preceding February occurred the calamitous earthquakes in Calabria and Sicily;[190] by which solemn catastrophe the city of Messina was overthrown, and the greater portion of its population, consisting of thirty thousand souls, wholly destroyed. This awful event was preceded by an horizon full of black intense fog, the earthquake next followed, with two successive shocks, and subsequently a whirlpool of fire issued from the[135] earth, which completed the entire destruction of the noble and great edifices that still remained. We refer the reader for the terrible details of this afflicting calamity to the narrative of Sir William Hamilton, which cannot be read without alarm and terror. Nor can we omit the following just and impressive moral from the pen of Cowper.

What then! were they the wicked above all,
And we the righteous, whose fast anchor'd isle
Mov'd not, while theirs was rock'd, like a light skiff,
The sport of every wave? No: none are clear,
And none than we more guilty. But, where all
Stand chargeable with guilt, and to the shafts
Of wrath obnoxious, God may choose his mark;
May punish, if he please, the less, to warn
The more malignant. If he spar'd not them,
Tremble and be amaz'd at thine escape,
Far guiltier England, lest he spare not thee.

Task, book ii.


Olney, June 17, 1783.

My dear Friend,—Your letter reached Mr. S—— while Mr. —— was with him; whether it wrought any change in his opinion of that gentleman, as a preacher, I know not; but for my own part I give you full credit for the soundness and rectitude of yours. No man was ever scolded out of his sins. The heart, corrupt as it is, and because it is so, grows angry if it be not treated with some management and good manners, and scolds again. A surly mastiff will bear perhaps to be stroked, though he will growl even under that operation, but, if you touch him roughly, he will bite. There is no grace that the spirit of self can counterfeit with more success than a religious zeal. A man thinks he is fighting for Christ, and he is fighting for his own notions. He thinks that he is skilfully searching the hearts of others, when he is only gratifying the malignity of his own, and charitably supposes his hearers destitute of all grace, that he may shine the more in his own eyes by comparison. When he has performed this notable task, he wonders that they are not converted, "he has given it them soundly," and if they do not tremble and confess that God is in him of a truth, he gives them up as reprobate, incorrigible, and lost for ever. But a man that loves me, if he sees me in an error, will pity me, and endeavour calmly to convince me of it, and persuade me to forsake it. If he has great and good news to tell me, he will not do it angrily, and in much heat and discomposure of spirit. It is not therefore easy to conceive on what ground a minister can justify a conduct, which only proves that he does not understand his errand. The absurdity of it would certainly strike him, if he were not himself deluded.

A people will always love a minister, if a minister seems to love his people. The old maxim, Simile agit in simile, is in no case more exactly verified; therefore you were beloved at Olney, and, if you preached to the Chicksaws and Chactaws, would be equally beloved by them.

W. C.

Tenderness in a minister is a very important qualification, and indispensable to his success. The duty of it is enjoined in an apostolical precept, and the wisdom of it inculcated in another passage of scripture. "Speaking the truth in love." "He that winneth souls is wise." We have often thought that one reason why a larger portion of divine blessing fails to accompany the ministrations of the sanctuary, is the want of more affectionate expostulation, more earnest entreaty, and more tenderness and sympathy in the preacher. The heart that is unmoved by our reproof may perhaps yield to the persuasiveness of our appeal. We fully admit that it is divine grace alone that can subdue the power of sin in the soul; but, in the whole economy of grace, as well as of Providence, there is always perceptible a wise adaptation of means to the end. Who is not impressed by the tenderness and earnest solicitations of St. Paul? Who can contemplate the Saviour weeping over Jerusalem, without emotions of the profoundest admiration? And who does not know that the spectacle of man's misery and guilt first suggested the great plan of redemption, and that the scheme of mercy which divine love devised in heaven dying love accomplished on earth?


Olney, June 19, 1783.

My dear Friend,—The translation of your letters[191] into Dutch was news that pleased me much. I intended plain prose, but a rhyme obtruded itself, and I became poetical when I least expected it. When you wrote those letters, you did not dream that you were designed for an apostle to the Dutch. Yet, so it proves, and such among many others are the advantages we derive from the art of printing—an art in which indisputably man was instructed by the same great Teacher, who taught him to embroider for the service of the sanctuary, and which amounts almost to as great a blessing as the gift of tongues.

The summer is passing away, and hitherto has hardly been either seen or felt. Perpetual[136] clouds intercept the influence of the sun, and for the most part there is an autumnal coldness in the weather, though we are almost upon the eve of the longest day.

We are well, and always mindful of you: be mindful of us, and assured that we love you.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, July 27, 1783.

My dear Friend,—You cannot have more pleasure in receiving a letter from me than I should find in writing it, were it not almost impossible in such a place to find a subject.

I live in a world abounding with incidents, upon which many grave and perhaps some profitable observations might be made; but, those incidents never reaching my unfortunate ears, both the entertaining narrative, and the reflection it might suggest, are to me annihilated and lost. I look back to the past week and say, what did it produce? I ask the same question of the week preceding, and duly receive the same answer from both—nothing! A situation like this, in which I am as unknown to the world as I am ignorant of all that passes in it, in which I have nothing to do but to think, would exactly suit me, were my subject of meditation as agreeable as my leisure is uninterrupted: my passion for retirement is not at all abated, after so many years spent in the most sequestered state, but rather increased. A circumstance I should esteem wonderful to a degree not to be accounted for, considering the condition of my mind, did I not know that we think as we are made to think, and of course approve and prefer, as Providence, who appoints the bounds of our habitation, chooses for us. Thus I am both free and a prisoner at the same time. The world is before me; I am not shut up in the Bastile; there are no moats about my castle, no locks upon my gates, of which I have not the key—but an invisible, uncontrollable agency, a local attachment, an inclination more forcible than I ever felt, even to the place of my birth, serves me for prison-walls, and for bounds which I cannot pass. In former years I have known sorrow, and before I had ever tasted of spiritual trouble. The effect was an abhorrence of the scene in which I had suffered so much, and a weariness of those objects which I had so long looked at with an eye of despondency and dejection. But it is otherwise with me now. The same cause subsisting, and in a much more powerful degree, fails to produce its natural effect. The very stones in the garden-walls are my intimate acquaintance. I should miss almost the minutest object, and be disagreeably affected by its removal, and am persuaded that, were it possible I could leave this incommodious nook for a twelvemonth, I should return to it again with rapture, and be transported with the sight of objects, which to all the world beside would be at least indifferent; some of them, perhaps, such as the ragged thatch and the tottering walls of the neighbouring cottages, disgusting. But so it is, and it is so, because here is to be my abode, and because such is the appointment of Him that placed me in it.

Iste terrarum mihi præter omnes
Angulus ridet.

It is the place of all the world I love the most, not for any happiness it affords me, but because here I can be miserable with most convenience to myself, and with the least disturbance to others.

You wonder, and (I dare say) unfeignedly, because you do not think yourself entitled to such praise, that I prefer your style, as an historian, to that of the two most renowned writers of history the present day has seen. That you may not suspect me of having said more than my real opinion will warrant, I will tell you why. In your style I see no affectation, in every line of theirs I see nothing else. They disgust me always; Robertson with his pomp and his strut, and Gibbon with his finical and French manners. You are as correct as they. You express yourself with as much precision. Your words are ranged with as much propriety, but you do not set your periods to a tune. They discover a perpetual desire to exhibit themselves to advantage, whereas your subject engrosses you. They sing, and you say; which, as history is a thing to be said and not sung, is in my judgment very much to your advantage. A writer that despises their tricks, and is yet neither inelegant nor inharmonious, proves himself, by that single circumstance, a man of superior judgment and ability to them both. You have my reasons. I honour a manly character, in which good sense and a desire of doing good are the predominant features—but affectation is an emetic.

W. C.

It is impossible to read the former part of the preceding letter without emotion. Who has not felt the force of local associations, and their power of presenting affecting recollections to the mind?

"I could not bear," says Pope, in one of his letters, "to have even an old post removed out of the way with which my eyes had been familiar from my youth."

Among the Swiss, the force of association is so strong, that it is known by the appellation of the "maladie du pays;" and it is recorded that on hearing one of their national airs in a foreign land, so overpowering was the effect[137] that, though engaged in warfare at the time, they threw down their arms and returned to their own country. The emotions awakened by some of the Swiss airs, such as the "Rantz des Vaches," and the affecting pathos of "La Suissesse au bord du lac," when heard on their native lakes, are always remembered by the traveller with delight. The feelings of a still higher kind connected with local associations are expressed with so much grace and eloquence in Dr. Johnson's celebrated allusion to this subject, that we close our remarks by inserting the passage,—

"We were now treading that illustrious island, which was once the luminary of the Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge and the blessings of religion. To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible, if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish if it were possible. Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses, whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future, predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings. Far from me and from my friends be such frigid philosophy, as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue. That man is little to be envied, whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona."[192]


Olney, Aug. 4, 1783.

My dear William,—I feel myself sensibly obliged by the interest you take in the success of my productions. Your feelings upon the subject are such as I should have myself, had I an opportunity of calling Johnson aside to make the inquiry you propose. But I am pretty well prepared for the worst, and so long as I have the opinion of a few capable judges in my favour, and am thereby convinced that I have neither disgraced myself nor my subject, shall not feel myself disposed to any extreme anxiety about the sale. To aim, with success, at the spiritual good of mankind, and to become popular by writing on scriptural subjects, were an unreasonable ambition, even for a poet to entertain in days like these. Verse may have many charms, but has none powerful enough to conquer the aversion of a dissipated age to such instruction. Ask the question therefore boldly, and be not mortified, even though he should shake his head, and drop his chin; for it is no more than we have reason to expect. We will lay the fault upon the vice of the times, and we will acquit the poet.

I am glad you were pleased with my Latin ode, and indeed with my English dirge as much as I was myself. The tune laid me under a disadvantage, obliging me to write in Alexandrines; which I suppose, would suit no ear but a French one; neither did I intend anything more than that the subject and the words should be sufficiently accommodated to the music. The ballad is a species of poetry, I believe, peculiar to this country, equally adapted to the drollest and the most tragical subjects. Simplicity and ease are its proper characteristics. Our forefathers excelled in it; but we moderns have lost the art. It is observed, that we have few good English odes. But, to make amends, we have many excellent ballads, not inferior, perhaps, in true poetical merit to some of the very best odes that the Greek or Latin languages have to boast of. It is a sort of composition I was ever fond of, and, if graver matters had not called me another way, should have addicted myself to it more than to any other. I inherit a taste for it from my father, who succeeded well in it himself, and who lived at a time when the best pieces in that way were produced. What can be prettier than Gay's ballad, or rather Swift's, Arbuthnot's, Pope's, and Gay's, in the What do ye call it—"'Twas when the seas were roaring." I have been well informed that they all contributed, and that the most celebrated association of clever fellows this country ever saw, did not think it beneath them to unite their strength and abilities in the composition of a song. The success, however, answered their wishes. The ballads that Bourne has translated, beautiful in themselves, are still more beautiful in his version of them, infinitely surpassing in my judgment all that Ovid or Tibullus have left behind them. They are quite as elegant, and far more touching and pathetic, than the tenderest strokes of either.

So much for ballads and ballad-writers.—"A worthy subject," you will say, "for a man whose head might be filled with better things;"—and it is filled with better things, but to so ill a purpose, that I thrust into it all manner of topics that may prove more amusing; as, for instance, I have two goldfinches, which in the summer occupy the greenhouse. A few days since, being employed in cleaning out their cages, I placed that which I had in hand upon the table, while the other hung against the wall: the windows and the doors stood wide open. I went to fill the fountain at the pump, and, on my return, was not a little surprised to find a goldfinch sitting on the top of the cage I had been cleaning, and singing to and kissing the goldfinch within. I approached[138] him, and he discovered no fear; still nearer, and he discovered none. I advanced my hand towards him, and he took no notice of it. I seized him, and supposed I had caught a new bird, but, casting my eye upon the other cage, perceived my mistake. Its inhabitant, during my absence, had contrived to find an opening, where the wire had been a little bent, and made no other use of the escape it afforded him than to salute his friend, and to converse with him more intimately than he had done before. I returned him to his proper mansion, but in vain. In less than a minute, he had thrust his little person through the aperture again, and again perched upon his neighbour's cage, kissing him, as at the first, and singing, as if transported with the fortunate adventure. I could not but respect such friendship, as for the sake of its gratification, had twice declined an opportunity to be free, and consenting to their union, resolved that for the future one cage should hold them both. I am glad of such incidents. For at a pinch, and when I need entertainment, the versification of them serves to divert me.

I transcribe for you a piece of Madam Guion, not as the best, but as being shorter than many, and as good as most of them.

Yours ever,
W. C.

The following letter contains a judicious and excellent critique on the writings of Madame Guion, and on the school of mystics to which she belonged. The defect attributed to that school is too much familiarity of address, and a warmth of devotional fervour in their approach to the Deity, exceeding the bounds of just propriety. There is, however, much to quicken piety, and to elevate the affections of the heart.


Olney, Sept. 7, 1783.

My dear Friend,—So long a silence needs an apology. I have been hindered by a three-weeks' visit from our Hoxton friends,[193] and by a cold and feverish complaint which are but just removed.

The French poetess is certainly chargeable with the fault you mention, though I thought it not so glaring in the piece I sent you. I have endeavoured indeed, in all the translations I have made, to cure her of that evil, either by the suppression of passages exceptionable upon that account, or by a more sober and respectful manner of expression. Still, however, she will be found to have conversed familiarly with God, but I hope not fulsomely, nor so as to give reasonable disgust to a religious reader. That God should deal familiarly with man, or, which is the same thing, that he should permit man to deal familiarly with him, seems not very difficult to conceive, or presumptuous to suppose, when some things are taken into consideration. Woe to the sinner, that shall dare to take a liberty with him that is not warranted by his word, or to which he himself has not encouraged him. When he assumed man's nature, he revealed himself as the friend of man, as the brother of every soul that loves him. He conversed freely with man while he was on earth, and as freely with him after his resurrection. I doubt not, therefore, that it is possible to enjoy an access to him even now, unincumbered with ceremonious awe, easy, delightful, and without constraint. This, however, can only be the lot of those who make it the business of their lives to please him, and to cultivate communion with him. And then I presume there can be no danger of offence, because such a habit of the soul is of his own creation, and, near as we come, we come no nearer to him than he is pleased to draw us. If we address him as children, it is because he tells us he is our father. If we unbosom ourselves to him as to a friend, it is because he calls us friends, and if we speak to him in the language of love, it is because he first used it, thereby teaching us that it is the language he delights to hear from his people. But I confess that, through the weakness, the folly, and corruption of human nature, this privilege, like all other Christian privileges, is liable to abuse. There is a mixture of evil in every thing we do; indulgence encourages us to encroach; and, while we exercise the rights of children, we become childish. Here I think is the point in which my authoress failed, and here it is that I have particularly guarded my translation, not afraid of representing her as dealing with God familiarly, but foolishly, irreverently, and without due attention to his majesty, of which she is somewhat guilty. A wonderful fault for such a woman to fall into, who spent her life in the contemplation of his glory, who seems to have been alway impressed with a sense of it, and sometimes quite absorbed by the views she had of it.

W. C.


Olney, Sept. 8, 1783.

My dear Friend,—Mrs. Unwin would have answered your kind note from Bedford, had not a pain in her side prevented her. I, who am her secretary upon such occasions, should certainly have answered it for her, but was hindered by illness, having been myself seized with a fever immediately after your departure. The account of your recovery gave us great[139] pleasure, and I am persuaded that you will feel yourself repaid by the information that I give you of mine. The reveries your head was filled with, while your disorder was most prevalent, though they were but reveries, and the offspring of a heated imagination, afforded you yet a comfortable evidence of the predominant bias of your heart and mind to the best subjects. I had none such—indeed I was in no degree delirious, nor has any thing less than a fever really dangerous ever made me so. In this respect, if in no other, I may be said to have a strong head, and, perhaps for the same reason that wine would never make me drunk, an ordinary degree of fever has no effect upon my understanding. The epidemic begins to be more mortal as the autumn comes on, and in Bedfordshire it is reported, how truly I cannot say, to be nearly as fatal as the plague. I heard lately of a clerk in a public office, whose chief employment it was for many years to administer oaths, who being light-headed in a fever, of which he died, spent the last week of his life, in crying day and night—"So help you God—kiss the book—give me a shilling." What a wretch in comparison with you!

Mr. Scott has been ill almost ever since you left us, and last Saturday, as on many foregoing Saturdays, was obliged to clap on a blister by way of preparation for his Sunday labours. He cannot draw breath upon any other terms. If holy orders were always conferred upon such conditions, I question but even bishoprics themselves would want an occupant. But he is easy and cheerful.

I beg you will mention me kindly to Mr. Bacon, and make him sensible that if I did not write the paragraph he wished for, it was not owing to any want of respect for the desire he expressed, but to mere inability. If, in a state of mind that almost disqualifies me for society, I could possibly wish to form a new connexion, I should wish to know him; but I never shall, and, things being as they are, I do not regret it. You are my old friend, therefore I do not spare you; having known you in better days, I make you pay for any pleasure I might then afford you by a communication of my present pains. But I have no claims of this sort upon Mr. Bacon.

Be pleased to remember us both, with much affection, to Mrs. Newton, and to her and your Eliza: to Miss C——,[194] likewise, if she is with you. Poor Eliza droops and languishes; but in the land to which she is going she will hold up her head and droop no more. A sickness that leads the way to everlasting life is better than the health of an antediluvian. Accept our united love.

My dear friend, sincerely yours, W. C.


Olney, Sept. 15, 1783.

My dear Friend,—I have been lately more dejected and more distressed than usual; more harassed by dreams in the night, and more deeply poisoned by them in the following day. I know not what is portended by an alteration for the worse after eleven years of misery; but firmly believe that it is not designed as the introduction of a change for the better. You know not what I suffered while you were here, nor was there any need you should. Your friendship for me would have made you in some degree a partaker of my woes; and your share in them would have been increased by your inability to help me. Perhaps, indeed, they took a keener edge from the consideration of your presence. The friend of my heart, the person with whom I had formerly taken sweet counsel, no longer useful to me as a minister, no longer pleasant to me as a Christian, was a spectacle that must necessarily add the bitterness of mortification to the sadness of despair. I now see a long winter before me, and am to get through it as I can. I know the ground before I tread upon it. It is hollow; it is agitated; it suffers shocks in every direction; it is like the soil of Calabria—all whirlpool and undulation.

W. C.


Olney, Sept. 23, 1783.

My dear Friend,—We are glad that, having been attacked by a fever, which has often proved fatal, and almost always leaves the sufferer debilitated to the last degree, you find yourself so soon restored to health, and your strength recovered. Your health and strength are useful to others, and, in that view, important in his account who dispenses both, and by your means a more precious gift than either. For my own part, though I have not been laid up, I have never been perfectly well since you left us. A smart fever, which lasted indeed but a few hours, succeeded by lassitude and want of spirits that seemed still to indicate a feverish habit, has made for some time and still makes me very unfit for my favourite occupations, writing and reading: so that even a letter, and even a letter to you, is not without its burden.

John —— has had the epidemic, and has it still, but grows better. When he was first seized with it, he gave notice that he should die, but in this only instance of prophetic exertion he seems to have been mistaken: he[140] has however been very near it. I should have told you that poor John has been very ready to depart, and much comforted through his whole illness. He, you know, though a silent, has been a very steady professor. He indeed fights battles and gains victories, but makes no noise. Europe is not astonished at his feats, foreign academies do not seek him for a member, he will never discover the art of flying, or send a globe of taffeta up to heaven. But he will go thither himself.

Since you went, we dined with Mr. ——. I had sent him notice of our visit a week before, which, like a contemplative studious man as he is, he put in his pocket and forgot. When we arrived, the parlour windows were shut, and the house had the appearance of being uninhabited. After waiting some time, however, the maid opened the door, and the master presented himself. It is hardly worth while to observe so repeatedly, that his garden seems a spot contrived only for the growth of melancholy, but being always affected by it in the same way, I cannot help it. He showed me a nook, in which he had placed a bench, and where he said he found it very refreshing to smoke his pipe and meditate. Here he sits with his back against one brick wall and his nose against another, which must, you know, be very refreshing, and greatly assist meditation. He rejoices the more in this niche, because it is an acquisition made at some expense, and with no small labour; several loads of earth were removed in order to make it, which loads of earth, had I the management of them, I should carry thither again, and fill up a place more fit in appearance to be a repository for the dead than the living. I would on no account put any man out of conceit with his innocent enjoyments, and therefore never tell him my thoughts upon this subject; but he is not seldom low-spirited, and I cannot but suspect that his situation helps to make him so.

I shall be obliged to you for Hawkesworth's Voyages when it can be sent conveniently. The long evenings are beginning, and nothing shortens them so effectually as reading aloud.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, Sept. 29, 1783.

My dear William,—We are sorry that you and your household partake so largely of the ill effects of this unhealthy season. You are happy however in having hitherto escaped the epidemic fever, which has prevailed much in this part of the kingdom, and carried many off. Your mother and I are well. After more than a fortnight's indisposition, which slight appellation is quite inadequate to the description of all I suffered, I am at length restored by a grain or two of emetic tartar. It is a tax I generally pay in autumn. By this time, I hope, a purer ether than we have seen for months, and these brighter suns than the summer had to boast, have cheered your spirits, and made your existence more comfortable. We are rational: but we are animal too; and therefore subject to the influences of the weather. The cattle in the fields show evident symptoms of lassitude and disgust in an unpleasant season: and we, their lords and masters, are constrained to sympathize with them: the only difference between us is, that they know not the cause of their dejection, and we do, but, for our humiliation, are equally at a loss to cure it. Upon this account I have sometimes wished myself a philosopher. How happy, in comparison with myself, does the sagacious investigator of nature seem, whose fancy is ever employed in the invention of hypotheses, and his reason in the support of them! While he is accounting for the origin of the winds, he has no leisure to attend to their influence upon himself; and, while he considers what the sun is made of, forgets that he has not shone for a month. One project indeed supplants another. The vortices of Descartes gave way to the gravitation of Newton, and this again is threatened by the electrical fluid of a modern.[196] One generation blows bubbles, and the next breaks them. But in the meantime your philosopher is a happy man. He escapes a thousand inquietudes to which the indolent are subject, and finds his occupation, whether it be the pursuit of a butterfly or a demonstration, the wholesomest exercise in the world. As he proceeds, he applauds himself. His discoveries, though eventually perhaps they prove but dreams, are to him realities. The world gaze at him as he does at new phenomena in the heavens, and perhaps understand him as little. But this does not prevent their praises, nor at all disturb him in the enjoyment of that self-complacence, to which his imaginary success entitles him. He wears his honours while he lives, and, if another strips them off when he has been dead a century, it is no great matter; he can then make shift without them.

I have said a great deal upon this subject, and know not what it all amounts to. I did not intend a syllable of it when I began. But, currente calamo, I stumbled upon it. My end is to amuse myself and you. The former of these two points is secured. I shall be happy if I do not miss the latter.

By the way, what is your opinion of these air balloons? I am quite charmed with the discovery. Is it not possible (do you suppose?) to convey such a quantity of inflammable air[141] into the stomach and abdomen, that the philosopher, no longer gravitating to a centre, shall ascend by his own comparative levity, and never stop till he has reached the medium exactly in equilibrio with himself? May he not, by the help of a pasteboard rudder attached to his posteriors, steer himself in that purer element with ease, and again by a slow and gradual discharge of his aerial contents, recover his former tendency to the earth, and descend without the smallest danger or inconvenience? These things are worth inquiry, and (I dare say) they will be inquired after as they deserve: the pennæ non homini datæ are likely to be less regretted than they were; and perhaps a flight of academicians and a covey of fine ladies may be no uncommon spectacle in the next generation. A letter which appeared in the public prints last week convinces me that the learned are not without hopes of some such improvement upon this discovery. The author is a sensible and ingenious man, and, under a reasonable apprehension that the ignorant may feel themselves inclined to laugh upon a subject that affects himself with the utmost seriousness, with much good manners and management bespeaks their patience, suggesting many good consequences that may result from a course of experiments upon this machine, and amongst others, that it may be of use in ascertaining the shape of continents and islands, and the face of wide-extended and far distant countries, an end not to be hoped for, unless by these means of extraordinary elevation, the human prospect may be immensely enlarged, and the philosopher, exalted to the skies, attain a view of the whole hemisphere at once. But whether he is to ascend by the mere inflation of his person, as hinted above, or whether in a sort of band-box, supported upon balloons, is not yet apparent, nor (I suppose) even in his own idea perfectly decided.

Yours, my dear William,
W. C.


Olney, Oct. 6, 1783.

My dear Friend,—It is indeed a melancholy consideration, that the gospel, whose direct tendency is to promote the happiness of mankind, in the present as well as in the life to come, and which so effectually answers the design of its author, whenever it is well understood and sincerely believed, should, through the ignorance, the bigotry, the superstition of its professors, and the ambition of popes, and princes, the tools of popes, have produced incidentally so much mischief; only furnishing the world with a plausible excuse to worry each other, while they sanctified the worst cause with the specious pretext of zeal for the furtherance of the best.

Angels descend from heaven to publish peace between man and his Maker—the Prince of Peace himself comes to confirm and establish it, and war, hatred, and desolation, are the consequence. Thousands quarrel about the interpretation of a book which none of them understand. He that is slain dies firmly persuaded that the crown of martyrdom expects him, and he that slew him is equally convinced that he has done God service.[197] In reality, they are both mistaken, and equally unentitled to the honour they arrogate to themselves. If a multitude of blind men should set out for a certain city, and dispute about the right road till a battle ensued between them, the probable effect would be, that none of them would ever reach it; and such a fray, preposterous and shocking in the extreme, would exhibit a picture in some degree resembling the original of which we have been speaking. And why is not the world thus occupied at present? even because they have exchanged a zeal that was no better than madness for an indifference equally pitiable and absurd. The Holy Sepulchre has lost its importance in the eyes of nations called Christian, not because the light of true wisdom has delivered them from a superstitious attachment to the spot, but because he that was buried in it is no longer regarded by them as the Saviour of the world. The exercise of reason, enlightened by philosophy, has cured them indeed of the misery of an abused understanding; but, together with the delusion, they have lost the substance, and, for the sake of the lies that were grafted upon it, have quarrelled with the truth itself. Here then we see the ne plus ultra of human wisdom, at least in affairs of religion. It enlightens the mind with respect to non-essentials, but, with respect to that in which the essence of Christianity consists, leaves it perfectly in the dark. It can discover many errors that in different ages have disgraced the faith, but it is only to make way for the admission of one more fatal than them all, which represents that faith itself as a delusion. Why those evils have been permitted shall be known hereafter. One thing in the mean time is certain; that the folly and frenzy of the professed disciples of the gospel have been more dangerous to its interests than all[142] the avowed hostilities of its adversaries, and perhaps for this cause these mischiefs might be suffered to prevail for a season, that its divine original and nature might be the more illustrated, when it should appear that it was able to stand its ground for ages against that most formidable of all attacks, the indiscretion of its friends. The outrages that have followed this perversion of the truth have proved indeed a stumbling-block to individuals; the wise of this world, with all their wisdom, have not been able to distinguish between the blessing and abuse of it. Voltaire was offended, and Gibbon has turned his back; but the flock of Christ is still nourished and still increases, notwithstanding the unbelief of a philosopher is able to convert bread into a stone and a fish into a serpent.

I am much obliged to you for the Voyages, which I received[198] and began to read last night. My imagination is so captivated upon these occasions, that I seem to partake with the navigators in all the dangers they encountered.[199] I lose my anchor; my main-sail is rent into shreds; I kill a shark, and by signs converse with a Patagonian, and all this with out moving from the fire-side. The principal fruits of these circuits that have been made round the globe seem likely to be the amusement of those that stayed at home. Discoveries have been made, but such discoveries as will hardly satisfy the expense of such undertakings. We brought away an Indian, and, having debauched him, we sent him home again to communicate the infection to his country—fine sport to be sure, but such as will not defray the cost. Nations that live upon bread-fruit, and have no mines to make them worthy of our acquaintance, will be but little visited for the future. So much the better for them; their poverty is indeed their mercy.

Yours, my dear friend,
W. C.


Olney, Oct. 10, 1783.

My dear Friend,—I have nothing to say on political subjects, for two reasons; first, because I know none that at present would prove very amusing, especially to you, who love your country; and, secondly, because there are none that I have the vanity to think myself qualified to discuss. I must beg leave, however, to rejoice a little at the failure of the Caisse d'Escomptes, because I think the French have well deserved it; and to mourn equally that the Royal George cannot be weighed: the rather, because I wrote two poems, one Latin and one English, to encourage the attempt.[201] The former of these only having been published, which the sailors would understand but little of, may be the reason, perhaps, why they have not succeeded. Believe me, my friend,

Affectionately yours,
W. C.


Olney, Oct. 13, 1783.

My dear Friend,—I am much obliged to you for your American anecdotes, and feel the obligation perhaps more sensibly, the labour of transcribing being in particular that to which I myself have the greatest aversion. The loyalists are much to be pitied: driven from all the comforts that depend upon, and are intimately connected with, a residence in their native land, and sent to cultivate a distant one, without the means of doing it, abandoned too through a deplorable necessity, by the government to which they sacrificed all,[202] they exhibit a spectacle of distress, which one cannot view, even at this distance, without participating in what they feel. Why could not some of our useless wastes and forests have been allotted to their support? To have built them houses indeed, and furnished them with implements of husbandry, would have put us to no small expense; but I suppose the increase of population and the improvement of the soil would soon have been felt as a national advantage, and have indemnified the state if not enriched it. We are bountiful to foreigners, and neglect those of our own household. I[143] remember that, compassionating the miseries of the Portuguese, at the time of the Lisbon earthquake,[203] we sent them a ship-load of tools to clear away the rubbish with, and to assist them in rebuilding the city. I remember too it was reported at the time that the court of Portugal accepted our wheelbarrows and spades with a very ill grace, and treated our bounty with contempt. An act like this in behalf of our brethren, carried only a little farther, might possibly have redeemed them from ruin, have resulted in emolument to ourselves, have been received with joy, and repaid with gratitude. Such are my speculations upon the subject, who, not being a politician by profession, and very seldom giving my attention for a moment to such a matter, may not be aware of difficulties and objections, which they of the cabinet can discern with half an eye. Perhaps to have taken under our protection a race of men proscribed by the Congress, might be thought dangerous to the interests we hope to have hereafter in their high and mighty regards and affections. It is ever the way of those who rule the earth, to leave out of their reckoning Him who rules the universe. They forget that the poor have a friend more powerful to avenge than they can be to oppress, and that treachery and perfidy must therefore prove bad policy in the end. The Americans themselves appear to me to be in a situation little less pitiable than that of the deserted loyalists. Their fears of arbitrary imposition were certainly well founded. A struggle therefore might be necessary, in order to prevent it, and this end might surely have been answered without a renunciation of dependence. But the passions of a whole people, once put in motion, are not soon quieted. Contests beget aversion, a little success inspires more ambitious hopes, and thus a slight quarrel terminates at last in a breach never to be healed, and perhaps in the ruin of both parties. It does not seem likely that a country so distinguished by the Creator with every thing that can make it desirable should be given up to desolation for ever; and they possibly have reason on their side, who suppose that in time it will have the pre-eminence over all others; but the day of such prosperity seems far distant—Omnipotence indeed can hasten it, and it may dawn when it is least expected. But we govern ourselves in all our reasonings by present appearances. Persons at least no better informed than myself are constrained to do so.

I intended to have taken another subject when I began, and I wish I had. No man living is less qualified to settle nations than I am; but, when I write to you, I talk, that is I write as fast as my pen can run, and on this occasion it ran away with me. I acknowledge myself in your debt for your last favour, but cannot pay you now, unless you will accept as payment, what I know you value more than all I can say beside, the most unfeigned assurances of my affection for you and yours.