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tension. From them we now know almost as much of Cowper as we do of those authors who have spent their days in the centre and glare of literary or fashionable society; and they will continue to be read long after the curiosity is gratified to which, perhaps, they owed their first celebrity; for the character with which they make us acquainted, will always attract by its rarity, and engage by its elegance. The feminine delicacy and purity of Cowper's manners and disposition, the romantic and unbroken retirement in which his life was passed, and the singular gentleness and modesty of his whole character, disarm him of those terrors that so often shed an atmosphere of repulsion around the persons of celebrated writers, and make us more indulgent to his weaknesses, and more delighted with his excellencies, than if he had been the centre of a circle of wits, or the oracle of a literary confederacy. The interest of this picture is still further heightened by the recollection of that tremendous malady, to the visitations of which he was subject, and by the spectacle of that perpetual conflict which was maintained, through the greater part of his life, between the depression of those constitutional horrors, and the gayety that resulted from a playful imagination, and a heart animated by the mildest affections."1
Though it is impossible to have any just conception of the fascination of Cowper's epistolary style without reading a large portion of his letters, yet some faint idea may be formed of its ease, and grace, and charming power from the following, which are all that our limited space will allow.
To the REV. WILLIAM UNWIN.
September 21, 1779.
Be pleased to buy me a glazier's diamond pencil. I have glazed the two panes designed to receive my pine plants; but I cannot mend the kitchen windows, till, by the help of that implement, I can reduce the glass to its proper dimensions. If I were a plumber, I should be a complete glazier; and possibly the happy time may come, when I shall be seen trudging away to the neighboring towns with a shelf of glass hanging at my back. If government should impose another tax upon that commodity, I hardly know a business in which a gentleman might more successfully employ himself. A Chinese, of ten times my fortune, would avail himself of such an opportunity without scruple; and why should not I, who want money as much as any Mandarin in China? Rousseau would have been charmed to have seen me so occupied, and would have exclaimed with rapture, "that he had found the Emilius who (he supposed) had subsisted only in his own idea." I would recommend it to you to follow my example. You will presently qualify yourself for the task, and may not only amuse yourself at home, but even exercise your skill in mending the church windows; which, as it would save money to the parish, would
1 Edinburgh Review, vol. iv., page 273.
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 a wall, waiting for their breakfast; for I feed them always upon the gravel walk. If your wish should be accomplished, and you should find yourself furnished with the wings of a dove, I shall undoubtedly find you amongst them. Only be so good, if that should be the case, to announce yourself by some means or other. For I imagine your crop will require something better than tares to fill it.
Your mother and I last week made a trip in a post-chaise to Gayhurst, the seat of Mr. Wright, about four miles off. He understood that I did not much affect strange faces, and sent over his servant on purpose to inform me, that he was going into Leicestershire, and that if I chose to see the gardens, I might gratify myself without danger of seeing the proprietor. I accepted the invitation, and was delighted with all I found there. The situa tion is happy, the gardens elegantly disposed, the hothouse in the most flourishing state, and the orange-trees the most captivating creatures of the kind I ever saw. A man, in short, had need have the talents of Cox or Langford, the auctioneers, to do the whole scene justice.
Our love attends you all.
WRITING UPON ANY THING.
To the REV. WILLIAM UNWIN.
My dear Friend,
August 6, 1780.
You like to hear from me: this is a very good reason why I should write. But I have nothing to say; this seems equally a good reason why I should not. Yet, if you had alighted from your horse at our door this morning, and at this present writing, being five o'clock in the afternoon, had found occasion to say to me,- "Mr. Cowper, you have not spoken since I came in; have you resolved never to speak again?" it would be but a poor reply, if, in answer to the summons, I should plead inability as my best and only excuse. And this, by the way, suggests to me a seasonable piece of instruction, and reminds me of what I am very apt to forget, when I have any epistolary business in hand, that a letter may be written upon any thing or nothing, just as any thing or nothing happens to occur. A man that has a journey before him, twenty miles in length, which he is to perform on foot, will not hesitate and doubt whether he shall set out or not, because he does not readily conceive how he shall ever reach the end of it: for he knows, that by the simple operation of moving one foot for
ward first, and then the other, he shall be sure to accomplish it. So it is in the present case, and so it is in every similar case. A letter is written as a conversation is maintained, or a journey performed; not by preconcerted, or premeditated means, a new contrivance, or an invention never heard of before, but merely by maintaining a progress, and resolving as a postilion does, having once set out, never to stop till we reach the appointed end. If a man may talk without thinking, why may he not write upon the same terms? A grave gentleman of the last century, a tie-wig, square-toe, Steinkirk figure, would say, "My good sir, a man has no right to do either.' But it is to be hoped that the present century has nothing to do with the mouldy opinions of the last; and so, good Sir Launcelot, or Sir Paul, or whatever be your name, step into your picture-frame again, and look as if you thought for another century, and leave us moderns, in the meantime, to think when we can, and to write whether we can or not, else we might as well be dead, as you are.
When we look back upon our forefathers, we seem to look back upon the people of another nation, almost upon creatures of another species. Their vast rambling mansions, spacious halls, and painted casements, the Gothic porch smothered with honeysuckles, their little gardens and high walls, their box-edging, balls of holly, and yew-tree statues, are become so entirely unfashionable now, that we can hardly believe it possible, that a people who resembled us so little in their tastes, should resemble us in any thing else. But in every thing else, I suppose, they were our counterparts exactly; and time, that has sewed up the slashed sleeve, and reduced the large trunk hose to a neat pair of silk-stockings, has left human nature just where it found it. The inside of the man, at least, has undergone no change. His passions, appetites, and aims, are just what they ever were. They wear, perhaps, a handsome disguise than they did in days of yore; for philosophy and literature will have their effect upon the exterior; but in every other respect a modern is only an ancient in a different dress.
AN EPISTLE IN RHYME.
To the REV. JOHN NEWTON.1
July 12, 1781. I am going to send, what when you have read, you may scratch your head, and say, I suppose, there's nobody knows, whether
1 "Cowper, in one of his letters, complained to Mr. Newton of the wanderings of his mind; his riend acknowledged a similar weakness;-'Yes,' replied the poet, but you have always a serious thought standing at the door, like a justice of peace, with the riot-act in his hand, ready to disperse the mob.' Cowper's correspondence with Newton presents few specimens of this delightful badiage. He loved and respected, but he also feared his friend."-- Willmott.
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? The thought did occur, to me and to her, as madam and I, did walk and not fly, over the hills and dales, with spreading sails, before it was dark to Weston Park.
The news at Oney is little or noney; but such as it is, I send it, viz. Poor Mr. Peace cannot yet cease, addling his head with what you said, and has left parish-church quite in the lurch, having almost swore to go there no more.
Page and his wife, that made such a strife, we met them twain in Dog-lane; we gave them the wall, and that was all. For Mr. Scott, we have seen him not, except as he pass'd, in a wonderful haste, to see a friend in Silver End. Mrs. Jones proposes, ere July closes, that she and her sister, and her Jones mister, and we that are here, our course shall steer, to dine in the Spinney;1 but for a guinea, if the weather should hold, so hot and so cold, we had better by far, stay where we are. For the grass there grows, while nobody mows, (which is very wrong,) so rank and long, that so to speak, 'tis at least a week, if it happens to rain, ere it dries again.9
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 here and there 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
1 The Spinney was a delightful rural retirement-a grove-belonging to Mrs. Throckmorton of Weston, and about a mile from Olney. The word is used for a thicket, or clump of trees.
2 Cowper's summer-house still exists, but his favorite Spinney was cut down in 1785. Writing to Newton, he said, "In one year the whole will be a thicket; that which was once the serpentine-walk is now in a state of transformation, and is already become as woody as the rest. Poplars and elms, without number, are springing in the turf. They are now as high as the knee. Before the summer is ended they will be twice as high; and the growth of another season will make them trees. The desolation of the whole scene is such that it sunk our spirits."
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.
P.S. When I concluded, doubtless you did think me right, as well you might, in saying what I said of Scott; and then it was true, but now it is due to him to note, that since I wrote, himself and he has visited me.
EXPECTS LADY HESKETH-PREPARATIONS FOR HER-HIS WORKSHOP.
TO LADY HESKETH.
OLNEY, May 29, 1786.
Thou dear, comfortable cousin, whose letters, among all that I receive, have this property peculiarly their own, that I expect them without trembling, and never find any thing in them that does not give me pleasure; for which therefore I would take nothing in exchange that the world could give me, save and except that for which I must exchange them soon, (and happy shall I be to do so,) your own company. That, indeed, is delayed a little too long; to my impatience at least it seems so, who find the spring, backward as it is, too forward, because many of its beau ties will have faded before you will have an opportunity to see them. We took our customary walk yesterday in the wilderness at Weston, and saw, with regret, the laburnums, syringas, and guelder-roses, some of them blown, and others just upon the point of blowing, and could not help observing-All these will be gone before Lady Hesketh comes! Still however there will be roses, and jasmine, and honeysuckle, and shady walks, and cool alcoves, and you will partake them with us. But I want you to have a share of every thing that is delightful here, and cannot bear that the advance of the season should steal away a single pleasure before you can come to enjoy it.
Every day I think of you, and almost all the day long; I will venture to say, that even you were never so expected in your life. I called last week at the Quaker's to see the furniture of your bed, the fame of which had reached me. It is, I assure you, superb, of printed cotton, and the subject classical. Every morning you will open your eyes on Phaeton kneeling to Apollo, and imploring his father to grant him the conduct of his chariot for a day. May