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his fame; for his fame is now confined to schools and academies; and his style (the pickle that has preserved his mummy from corruption) is pure and exquisite.”
Wit, employed at the expense of taste and sound judgment, can neither advance the reputation of its author, nor promote the cause of true literature. This supercilious treatment of the noble productions of classic genius too much resembles that period in the literary history of France, when the question was agitated (with Perrault at its head) as to the relative superiority of the ancients moderns. It was at that time fashionable with one of the contending parties to decry the pretensions of the ancients. One of their writers exclaims,
Dépouillons ces respects serviles
We trust that this corrupt spirit will never infect the Lyceums of British literature; but that they will be reserved ever to be the sanctuaries of high-taught genius, chastened by a refined and discriminating taste, and embellished with the graces of a simple and noble eloquence, formed on the pure models of classic antiquity.
TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. *
Olney, Nov. 7, 1785.
My dear Friend – Your time being so much occupied as to leave you no opportunity for a word more than the needful, I am the more obliged to you that
you have found leisure even for that, and thank you for the note above acknowledged.
I know not at present what subject I could enter upon, by which I should not put you to an expense of moments that you can ill spare : I have often been displeased when a neighbour of mine, being himself an idle man, has delivered himself from the burthen of a vacant hour or two, by coming to repose his idleness upon me. Not to incur therefore and deservedly the blame that I have charged upon him, by interrupting you, who are certainly a busy man, whatever may be the case with myself, I shall only add that I am, with my respects to Mrs, Hill, Affectionately yours,
The tried stability of Cowper's friendship, after a long interval of separation, and the delicacy with which he accepts Lady Hesketh's offer of pecuniary aid, are here depicted in a manner that reflects honour on both parties.
* Private Correspondence.
TO LADY HESKETH.
Olney, Nov. 9, 1785. My dearest Cousin--Whose last most affectionate letter has run in my head ever since I received it, and which I now sit down to answer, two days sooner than the post will serve me. I thank you for it, and with a warmth for which I am sure you will give me credit, though I do not spend many words in describing it. I do not seek new friends, not being altogether sure that I should find them, but have unspeakable pleasure in being still beloved by an old one. that now our correspondence has suffered its last interruption, and that we shall go down together to the grave, chatting and chirping as merrily as such a scene of things as this will permit.
I am happy that my poems have pleased you. My volume has afforded me no such pleasure at any time, either while I was writing it or since its publication, as I have derived from
my uncle's opinion of it. I make certain allowances for partiality, and for that peculiar quickness of taste with which
you both relish what you like, and, after all drawbacks
upon those accounts duly made, find myself rich in the measure of your approbation that still remains. But, above all, I honour John Gilpin, since it was he who first encouraged you to write. I made him on purpose to laugh at, and he served his purpose
well; but I am now indebted to him
more valuable acquisition than all the laughter in the world amounts to, the recovery of my intercourse with you, which is to me ines
timable. My benevolent and generous Cousin, when I was once asked if I wanted any thing, and given delicately to understand that the inquirer was ready to supply all my occasions, I thankfully and civilly, but positively declined the favour. I neither suffer, nor have suffered, any such inconveniences as I had not much rather endure than come under obligations of that sort to a person comparatively with yourself a stranger to me. But to you I answer otherwise. I know you thoroughly, and the liberality of your disposition, and have that consummate confidence in the sincerity of your wish to serve me, that delivers me from all awkward con. straint, and from all fear of trespassing by acceptance. To
you, therefore, I reply, yes. Whensoever and whatsoever, and in what manner soever you please; and add moreover that my affection for the giver is such as will increase to me tenfold the satisfaction that I shall have in receiving. It is necessary, however, that I should let you a little into the state of my finances, that
you may not
them more narrowly circumscribed than they are. Since Mrs. Unwin and I have lived at Olney, we have had but one purse, although during the whole time, till lately, her income was nearly double mine. Her revenues indeed are now in some measure reduced, and not much exceed my own; the worst consequence of this is, that we are forced to deny ourselves some things which hitherto we have been better able to afford, but they are such things as neither life, nor the well-being of life, depend upon. My own income has been better than it is, but when it was best, it would not have enabled me to live as my connexions demanded that I should, had it not been combined with a better than itself, at least at this end of the kingdom. Of this I had full proof during three months that I spent in lodgings at Huntingdon, in which time, by the help of good management and a clear notion of economical matters, I contrived to spend the income of a twelvemonth. Now, my beloved Cousin, you are in possession of the whole case as it stands. Strain no points to your own inconvenience or hurt, for there is no need of it, but indulge yourself in communicating (no matter what) that you can spare without missing it, since by so doing, you will be sure to add to the comforts of my life one of the sweetest that I can enjoy~a token and proof of your affection.
In the affair of my next publication,* toward which you also offer me so kindly your assistance, there will be no need that you should help me in the manner that you propose. It will be a large work, consisting I should imagine of six volumes at least. The 12th of this month I shall have spent a year upon it, and it will cost me more than another. I do not love the booksellers well enough to make them a present of such a labour, but intend to publish by subscription. Your vote and interest, my dear Cousin, upon the occasion, if you please, but nothing more!
I will trouble you with some papers of proposals when the time shall come, and am sure that you
will circulate as many for me as you can.
His translation of Homer's Iliad.