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Now, my dear, I am going to tell you a secret. It is a great secret, that you must not whisper even to your cat. No creature is at this moment apprized of it but Mrs. Unwin and her son. I am making a new translation of Homer, and am on the point of finishing the twenty-first book of the Iliad. The reasons upon which I undertake this Herculean labour, and by which I justify an enterprise in which I seem so effectually anticipated by Pope, although in fact he has not anticipated me at all, I may possibly give you, if you wish for them, when I can find nothing more interesting to say. A period which I do not conceive to be very near ! I have not answered many things in
letter, nor can do it at present for want of room. I cannot believe but that I should know you, notwithstanding all that time may have done. There is not a feature of your face, could I meet it upon the road by itself, that I should not instantly recollect. I should say, that is my cousin's nose, or those are her lips and her chin, and no woman upon earth can claim them but herself. As for me, I am a very smart youth of my years. I am not indeed grown grey so much as I am grown bald. No matter. There was more hair in the world than ever had the honour to belong to me. Accordingly having found just enough to curl a little at my ears, and to intermix with a little of my own that still hangs behind, I appear, if you see me in an afternoon, to have a very decent headdress, not easily distinguished from my natural growth, which being worn with a small bag, and a black riband about my neck, continues to me the
charms of my youth, even on the verge of age. Away with the fear of writing too often.
W. C. P. S.--That the view I give you of myself may be complete I add the two following items—That I am in debt to nobody, and that I grow
There is no date to the following letter, but it evidently refers to this period of time.
TO LADY HESKETH.
My dearest Cousin-I am glad that I always loved you as I did. It releases me from any occasion to suspect that my présent affection for
is indebted for its existence to any selfish considerations. No, I am sure I love you disinterestedly and for your own sake, because I never thought of you with any other sensations than those of the truest affection, even while I was under the persuasion that I should never hear from you again. But, with my present feelings superadded to those that I always had for you, I find it no easy matter to do justice to my sensations. I perceive myself in a state of mind similar to that of the traveller described in Pope's Messiah, who, as he passes through a sandy desert, starts at the sudden and unexpected sound of a waterfall. You have placed me in a situation new to
* The following is the passage alluded to:
“ The swain in barren deserts with surprise
Sees lilies spring, and sudden verdure rise ;
Pope's Messiah, line 67, &c.
ine, and in which I feel myself somewhat puzzled how to behave. At the same time I would not grieve you by putting a check upon your bounty, I would be as careful not to abuse it, as if I were a miser, and the question not about your money but
Although I do not suspect that a secret to you, my Cousin, is any burthen, yet, having maturely considered that point since I wrote my last, I feel myself altogether disposed to release you from the injunction to that effect under which I laid you. I have now made such a progress
my translation that I need neither fear that I shall stop short of the end nor that any other rider of Pegasus should overtake me. Therefore, if at any time it should fall fairly in your way, or you should feel yourself invited to say I am so occupied, you have my poetship's free permission. Dr. Johnson read and recommended
TO THE REV. WALTER BAGOT.*
Olney, Nov. 9, 1785. My dear Friend—You desired me to return your good brother the bishop's Chargest as soon as I conveniently could, and the weather having forbidden us to hope for the pleasure of seeing you and Mrs. Bagot with you this morning, I return it now, lest, as you told me that your stay in this country would be short, you should be gone before it could
* Cowper was at Westminster school with five brothers of this name. He retained through life the friendship of the estimable character to whom this letter is addressed.
+ Lewis Bagot, D.D. He was formerly Dean of Christ Church, Oxford ; afterwards Bishop of Norwich, and finally Bishop of St. Asaph.
I wish as you do, that the Charge in question could find its way into all the parsonages in the nation. It is so generally applicable, and yet so pointedly enforced, that it deserves the most extensive spread. I find in it the happiest mixture of spiritual authority, the meekness of a Christian, and the good manners of a gentleman. It has convinced me that the poet who, like myself, shall take the liberty to pay the author of such valuable admonition a compliment, shall do at least as much honour to himself as to his subject.
TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON.*
Olney, Dec. 3, 1785. My dear Friend—I am glad to hear that there is such a demand for your last Narrative. If I may judge of their genera! utility by the effect that they have heretofore had upon me, there are few things more edifying than death-bed memoirs. They
* Private Correspondence.
interest every reader, because they speak of a period at which all must arrive, and afford a solid ground of encouragement to survivors to expect the same, or similar, support and comfort, when it shall be their turn to die.
I also am employed in writing narrative, but not so useful. Employment, however, and with the pen, is through habit become essential to my well-being; and to produce always original poems, especially of considerable length, is not so easy.
For some weeks after I had finished “ The Task," and sent away the last sheet corrected, I was through necessity idle, and suffered not a little in my spirits for being so. One day, being in such distress of mind as was hardly supportable, I took up the Iliad; and, merely to divert attention, and with no more preconception of what I was then entering upon than I have at this moment of what I shall be doing this day twenty years hence, translated the twelve first lines of it. The same necessity pressing me again, I had recourse to the same expedient and translated more. Every day bringing its occasion for employment with it, every day consequently added something to the work; till at last I began to reflect thus :—The Iliad and the Odyssey together consist of about forty thousand
To translate these forty thousand verses will furnish me with occupation for a considerable time. I have already made some progress, and I find it a most agreeable amusement. Homer, in point of purity, is a most blameless writer ; and though he was not an enlightened man, has interspersed