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selves; to keep the mind free from prejudice, the heart from passion, and the life from error; to enlighten the ignorant, to raise the fallen, and to comfort the depressed; to scatter round us the endearments of kindness, and diffuse a spirit of righteousness, of benevolence, and of truth; to enjoy the sunshine of an approving conscience, and the blessedness of inward joy and peace; that thus, when the closing scene shall at length arrive, the ebbings of the dissolving frame may be sustained by the triumph of christian hope, and death prove the portal of immortality.
TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON.*
Olney, Jan, 5, 1785.
I have observed, and you must have had occasion to observe it oftener than I, that when a man who once seemed to be a Christian has put off that character and resumed his old one, he loses, together with the grace which he seemed to possess, the most amiable part of the character that he resumes. The best features of his natural face seem to be struck out, that after having worn religion only as a handsome mask he may make a more disgusting appearance than he did before he assumed it.
According to your request, I subjoin my epitaph on Dr. Johnson; at least I mean to do it, if a drum, which at this moment announces the arrrival of a giant in the town, will give me leave.
* Private Correspondence.
EPITAPH ON DR. JOHNSON
Here Johnson lies—a sage, by all allow'd,
TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN.
Olney, Jan. 15, 1785. My dear William—Your letters are always wel
You can always either find something to say, or can amuse me and yourself with a sociable and friendly way of saying nothing I never found that a letter was the more easily written, because the writing of it had been long delayed. On the contrary, experience has taught me to answer soon, that I may do it without difficulty. It is in vain to wait for an accumulation of materials in a situation such as your's and mine, productive of few events. At the end of our expectations we shall find ourselves as poor as at the beginning.
I can hardly tell you with any certainty of information, upon what terms Mr. Newton and I
may be supposed to stand at present. A month (I believe) has passed, since I heard from him. But my friseur, having been in London in the course of this week, whence he returned last night, and having called at Hoxton, brought me his love and an excuse for his silence, which, he said, had been occasioned by the frequency of his preachings at this season. He was not pleased that my manuscript was not first transmitted to him, and I have cause to suspect that he was even mortified at being informed that a certain inscribed poem was not inscribed to himself. But we shall jumble together again, as people that have an affection for each other at bottom, notwithstanding now and then a slight disagreement, always do.
I know not whether Mr. has acted in consequence of your hint, or whether, not needing one, he transmitted to us his bounty before he had received it. He has however sent us a note for twenty pounds; with which we have performed wonders in behalf of the ragged and the starved. He is a most extraordinary young man, and, though I shall probably never see him, will always have a niche in the museum of my reverential remembrance.
The death of Dr. Johnson has set a thousand scribblers to work, and me among the rest.
While I lay in bed, waiting till I could reasonably hope that the parlour might be ready for me, I invoked the Muse and composed the following epitaph.* * The same which has been inserted in the preceding letter. It is destined, I believe, to the “ Gentleman's Magazine, which I consider as a respectable repository for small matters, which, when entrusted to a newspaper, can expect but the duration of a day. But, Nichols having at present a small piece of mine in his hands, not yet printed, (it is called the Poplar Field, and I suppose you have it,) I wait till his obstetrical aid has brought that to light, before I send him a new one.
In his last he published my epitaph upon Tiney;* which, I likewise imagine, has been long in
collection. Not a word yet from Johnson; I am easy however upon the subject, being assured that, so long as his own interest is at stake, he will not want a monitor to remind him of the proper time to publish.
You and your family have our sincere love. Forget not to present my respectful compliments to Miss Unwin, and, if you have not done it already, thank her on my part for the very agreeable narrative of Lunardi. He is a young man,
presume, of great good sense and spirit, (his letters at least and his enterprising turn bespeak him such,) a man qualified to shine not only among the stars,* but in the more useful though humbler sphere of terrestrial occupation.
* One of Cowper's favourite hares •
“ Here lies, whom hound did ne'er pursue,
See Poems, vol. ii. + Lunardi's name is associated with the aëronauts of that time.
I have been crossing the channel in a balloon, ever since I read of that achievement by Blanchard.* I have an insatiable thirst to know the philosophical reason why his vehicle had like to have fallen into the sea, when, for aught that appears, the gas was not at all exhausted.
Did not the extreme cold condense the inflammable air, and cause the globe to collapse ? Tell me, and be my Apollo for ever! Affectionately yours,
W. C. The incident connected with the Poplar Field, mentioned in the former part of the above letter, is recorded in the verses. The place where the poplars grew is called Lavendon Mills, about a mile from Olney; it was one of Cowper's favourite walks. After a long absence, on revisiting the spot, he found the greater part of his beloved trees lying prostrate on the ground. Four only survived, and they have but recently shared the same fate. But poetry can dignify the minutest events, and convert the ardour of hope or the pang of disappointment into an occasion for pouring forth the sweet melody of song. It is to the above incident that we are indebted for the following verses, which unite the charm of simple imagery with a beautiful and affecting moral at the close.
* Blanchard, accompanied by Dr. Jeffries, took his departure for Calais from the Castle at Dover. When within five or six miles of the French coast, the balloon fell rapidly towards the sea, and, had it not been lightened and a breeze sprung up, they must have perished in the waves.