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TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON.*
Olney, Feb. 19, 1785. My dear Friend—I am obliged to you
apprising me of the various occasions of delay to which your letters are liable. Furnished with such a key, I shall be able to account for any accidental tardiness, without supposing any thing worse than that you yourself have been interrupted, or that your messenger has not been punctual.
Mr. Teedon has just left us.* He came to exhibit to us a specimen of his kinsman's skill in the art of book-binding. The book on which he had exercised his ingenuity was your Life. You did not indeed make a very splendid appearance; but, considering that you were dressed by an untaught artificer, and that it was his first attempt, you
had no cause to be dissatisfied. The young man has evidently the possession of talents, by which he might shine for the benefit of others and for his own, did not his situation smother him. He can make a dulcimer, tune it, play upon it, and with common advantages would undoubtedly have been able to make a harpsichord. But unfortunately he lives where neither the one nor the other is at all in vogue. He can convert the shell of a cocoa-nut into a decent drinking-cup; but, when he has done, he must either fill it at the pump, or use it merely as an ornament of his own mantel-tree. In like
* Private Correspondence.
manner, he can bind a book; but, if he would have books to bind, he must either make them or buy them, for we have few or no literati at Olney. Some men have talents with which, they do mischief; and others have talents with which if they do no mischief to others, at least they can do but little good to themselves. They are however always a blessing, unless by our own folly we make them a curse; for, if we cannot turn them to a lucrative account, they may however furnish us, at many a dull season, with the means of innocent amusement. Such is the use that Mr. Killingworth makes of his; and this evening we have, I think, made him happy, having furnished him with two octavo volumes, in which the principles and practice of all ingenious arts are inculcated and explained. I make little doubt that, by the half of it, he will in time be able to perform many feats, for which he will never be one farthing the richer, but by which nevertheless himself and his kin will be much diverted.
The winter returning upon us at this late season with redoubled severity is an event unpleasant even to us who are well furnished with fuel, and seldom feel much of it, unless when we step into bed or get out of it; but how much more formidable to the poor! When ministers talk of resources, that word never fails to send my imagination into the mudwall cottages of our poor at Oiney. There I find assembled in one individual the miseries of age, sickness, and the extremest penury. We have many such instances around us. The parish perhaps allows such an one a shilling a week; but, being numbed with cold and crippled by disease, she cannot possibly earn herself another. Such persons therefore suffer all that famine can inflict upon them, only that they are not actually starved; a catastrophe which to many of them I suppose would prove a happy release. One cause of all this misery is the exorbitant taxation with which the country is encumbered, so that to the poor the few pence they are able to procure have almost lost their value. Yet the budget will be opened soon, and soon we shall hear of resources. But I could conduct the statesman who rolls down to the House in a chariot as splendid as that of Phaëton into scenes that, if he had any sensibility for the woes of others, would make him tremble at the mention of the word. This, however, is not what I intended when I began this paragraph. I was going to observe that, of all the winters we have passed at Olney, and this is the seventeenth, the present has confined us most. Thrice, and but thrice, since the middle of October, have we escaped into the fields for a little fresh air and a little change of motion. The last time indeed it was at some peril that we did it, Mrs. Unwin having slipped into a ditch, and, though I performed the part of an active 'squire upon the occasion, escaped out of it upon her hands and knees.
If the town afford any other news than I here send you,
it has not reached me yet. I am in perfect health, at least of body, and Mrs. Unwin is tolerably well. Adieu! We remember you always, you and yours, with as much affection as you can desire; which being said, and said truly,
leaves me quite at a loss for
other conclusion than that of
TO JOSEPH HILL ESQ.*
Olney, Feb. 27, 1785. My dear friend—I write merely to inquire after your health, and with a sincere desire to hear that you are better.
Horace somewhere advises his friend to give his client the slip, and come and spend the evening with him. I am not so inconsiderate as to recommend the same measure to you, because we are not such very near neighbours as a trip of that sort requires that we should be. But I do verily wish that you would favour me with just five minutes of the time that properly belongs to your clients, and place it to my account. Employ it, i mean, in telling me that you are better at least, if not recovered.
I have been pretty much indisposed myself since I wrote last; but except in point of strength am now as well as before. My disorder was what is commonly called and best understood by the name of a thorough cold; which being interpreted, no doubt you well know, signifies shiverings, aches, burnings, lassitude, together with many other ills that flesh is heir to. James's powder is my nostrum on all such occasions, and never fails.
W. C. * Private Correspondence.
The next letter discovers the playful and sportive wit of Cowper.
TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON.*
Olney, March 19, 1785. My dear Friend—You will wonder no doubt when I tell you that I write upon a card-table; and will be still more surprised when I add that we breakfast, dine, sup, upon a card-table. In short, it serves all purposes, except the only one for which it was originally designed. The solution of this mystery shall follow, lest it should run in your head at a wrong time, and should puzzle you perhaps when you are on the point of ascending your pulpit : for I have heard you say that at such seasons your mind is often troubled with impertinent intrusions. The round table which we formerly had in use was unequal to the pressure of my superincumbent breast and elbows. When I wrote upon it, it creaked and tilted, and by a variety of inconvenient tricks disturbed the process. The fly-table was too slight and too small; the square dining-table too heavy and too large, occupying, when its leaves were spread, almost the whole parlour ; and the sideboard-table, having its station at too great a distance from the fire, and not being easily shifted out of its place and into it again, by reason of its size, was equally unfit for my purpose. The cardtable, therefore, which had for sixteen years been banished as mere lumber; the card-table, which is
* Private Correspondence.