Page images

convinced. As a politician, he declares himself an old whig, condemns the test-act in a political and a religious view, and shows a fund of good sense in remarks on the French character at the commencement of the revolution (1790).

What we mean by fanaticism in religion is exactly that which animates their politics, and unless time should sober them, they will, after all, be an unhappy people. Perhaps it deserves not much to be wondered at, that at their first escape from tyrannic shackles, they should act extravagantly, and treat their kings, as they have sometimes treated their idols. To these however they are reconciled in due time again, but their respect for monarchy is at an end. They want nothing now but a little English sobriety, and that they want extremely; I heartily wish them some wit in their anger, for it were great pity that so many millions should be miserable for want of it.' Vol. i. P. .379.

In July 1791, the translation of the Iliad and Odyssey was published-a work on which he bestowed indefatigable pains. By its prosecution during five years, and frequent revisions, he derived benefit to his health; and the produce of the subscriptions contributed to his fortune.

After this powerful exertion, his mind still requiring employment, he assented to the proposal of Mr. Johnson, his bookseller, of whose liberality he had repeated testimonies, to undertake a magnificent edition of Milton. This circumstance introduced to his acquaintance Mr. Hayley, who, having been engaged in composing a life of Milton, was surprised to observe himself represented in a news-paper as the antagonist of Cowper, to whom he wrote on the subject: a correspondence, and continued friendship, was the consequence. That poets of classes so distinct as Cowper and Hayley-the one approaching to a milky tameness of versification, the other to an austere though comprehensive energy-should have remained, as literary characters, so long attached, is among the phænomena of our wonderful times, Mr. Hurdis, the late professor of poetry at Oxford, in 1791, became acquainted with Cowper, and corresponded with him. To Warren Hastings, whom he thought injuriously treated, some pointed but inelegant lines are addressed.

In May 1792, Mr. Hayley visited Cowper at Weston. The sensations of the biographer, on this occasion, are warmly expressed. Cowper was in his sixty-first yearMrs. Unwin was 72. The pleasure of this interview was alloyed by a severe illness of Mrs. Unwin: but she was soon enabled, with Cowper, to return the visit of Mr. Hayley.. At Eartham, Cowper employed his mornings in revising his translations from the Latin and Italian poems of Milton.

Here Romney drew the portrait, in crayons, of which a wretched engraving is prefixed to this work.

'After a gestation as long as that of a pregnant woman,' in 1792, Cowper sends to the biographer à sonnet addressed to Romney, on which he confesses that he bestowed uncom mon attention, and which we therefore transcribe.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

To George Romney, Esq.

Romney, expert infallible to trace,

On chart or canvas, not the form alone,
And 'semblance, but, however, faintly shewn,
The mind's impression too on every face,
With strokes that time ought never to erase:
Thou hast so pencil'd mine, that though I own
The subject worthless, I have never known
The artist shining with superior grace.

But this I mark, that symptoms none of woe
In thy incomparable work appear:
Well! I am satisfied, it should be so,
Since, on maturer thought, the cause is clear;

For in my looks what sorrow could'st thou see,
While I was Hayley's guest, and sat to thee?

Vol. ii. P. 95.

A laborious revisal of his Homer occupied him in 1793. He seems to have considered this work as incomparable, and confidently assures Mr. Rose that it must make its way.' He fully understood the duties of a translator. His reply to a criticism of lord Thurlow, who had disapproved his translation of Hector's prayer on caressing his child, is ably


There are minutia in every language, which transfused into an other will spoil the version. Such extreme fidelity is in fact unfaithful. Such close resemblance takes away all likeness. The original is elegant, easy, natural; the copy is clumsy, constrained, unnatural: To what is this owing to the adoption of terms not congenial to your purpose; and of a context, such as no man writing an original work, would make use of: Homer is every thing that a poet should be. A translation of Homer so made, will be every thing that a translation of Homer should not be. Because it will be written in no language under heaven. It will be English, and it will be Greek, and therefore it will be neither. He is the man, whoever he be (I do not pretend to be that man myself) he is the man best qualified as a translator of Homer, who has drenched, and steeped, and soaked himself in the ef fusions of his genius, till he has imbibed their colour to the bone, and who, when he is thus dyed through and through, distinguishing be tween what is essentially Greek, and what may be habited in English; rejects the former, and is faithful to the latter, as far as the purposes of fine poetry will permit, and no farther: this, I think, may be

easily proved. Homer is every where remarkable either for ease, dignity, or energy of expression; for grandeur of conception, and a majestic flow of numbers. If we copy him so closely as to make every one of these excellent properties of his absolutely unattainable, which will certainly be the effect of too close a copy, instead of translating we murder him. Therefore, after all that his lordship has said, I still hold freedom to be an indispensable. Freedom, I mean, with respect to the expression; freedom so limited, as never to leave behind the matter; but at the same time indulged with a sufficient scope to secure the spirit, and as much as possible of the manner. I say as much as possible, because an English manner must differ from a Greek one, in order to be graceful; and for this there is no remedy. Can an ungraceful, awkward translation of Homer be a good one? No: but a graceful, easy, natural, faithful, version of him:-will not that be a good one? Yes: allow me but this, and I insist upon it, that such a one may be produced on my principles, and can be produced on no other.' Vol, ii. p. 181,

With sentiments so matured, after incessant labour and repeated corrections, why his own translation should be most deficient in that native ease, grace, and majestic flow of numbers, which he so warmly recommends, is scarcely to be imagined. The alluring elegance of Pope will be ever preferred to the unadorned and rugged fidelity of Cowper. Homer has long led us astray.-We return to our narrative.

In 1793, Mr. Rose, being at Weston with Mr. Hayley, on the request of lord Spencer, invited Cowper to Althorpe, to meet Gibbon-a meeting which was frustrated by the shyness of the poet and the imbecillity of Mrs. Unwin.

A new subject for his verse was proposed by a neighbouring clergyman: the four ages-infancy, youth, manhood, and old-age. He commenced this poem; but his deplorable state of mind admitted no further exertion. The infirmities of Mrs. Unwin increased; and a deeper dejection oppressed the mind of Cowper. In 1794, all study was impracticable. In this misery, many of his friends considered him worthy of public munificence, and were anxious that a pension should solace his declining age.

Although depressed by complicated afflictions, he was not deserted. Lady Hesketh, with a magnanimous compassion, superintended this house of mourning; and, while her own health was impaired, devoted herself to her sad and superannuated friends. At her request, the biographer visited him; but the presence of a friend had no longer a cheering effect. Lady Hesketh embraced this occasion to consult Dr. Willis, whose skill was unavailing.

In April 1794, while, with Mr. Hayley, lady Hesketh was watching over the disordered poet, a letter from lord Spencer announced the grant of a pension, from which

Cowper was now incapable of deriving the slightest satisfaction. From the spring of 1794, until the summer of 1795, the vigilance of lady Hesketh was unabated. A change appeared essential to the preservation of the life of Cowper; and, in July 1795, his benevolent kinsman, Mr. Johnson, removed him, with Mrs. Unwin, to North Tuddenham, in Norfolk.

In the spring of 1796, the notes to Wakefield's edition of Pope's Homer, which had been received by Mr. Johnson, awakened suddenly the attention of the dejected bard, and induced him to resume the revisal of his translation; but, in the ensuing autumn, his derangement returned. In December, Mrs. Unwin died.

On the morning of that day he said to the servant who opened the window of his chamber: "Sally, is there life above stairs?" A striking proof of his bestowing incessant attention on the sufferings of his aged friend, although he had long appeared almost totally absorbed in his own.

In the dusk of the evening he attended Mr. Johnson to survey the corpse; and after looking at it a few moments, he started suddenly away, with a vehement but unfinished sentence of passionate sorrow. He spoke of her no more.' Vol. ii. P. 203.

In September 1797, the kindness and intelligence of Mr. Johnson so far prevailed over his malady, as to occasion the renewal of his attention to Homer; which was continued, at intervals, until March 1799, when he composed his last poem-the Cast-away-a few plaintive stanzas, founded on an anecdote in Anson's voyage.

In January 1800, he translated fables of Gay into Latin verse. A complication of maladies soon assailed him; and on the 25th of April he expired. His dissolution was gentle, and scarcely perceived by the attendants. He was buried in Dereham Church, Norfolk. His person and disposition are thus mentioned by Mr. Hayley:

He was of a middle stature, rather strong than delicate in the form of his limbs; the colour of his hair was a light brown, that of his eyes a blueish grey, and his complexion ruddy. In his dress he was neat, but not finical; in his diet temperate, and not dainty.

He had an air of pensive reserve in his deportment, and his extreme shyness sometimes produced in his manners an indescribable mixture of awkwardness and dignity; but no being could be more truly graceful, when he was in perfect health, and perfectly pleased with his society. Towards women in particular, his behaviour and conversation were delicate and fascinating in the highest degree.

Nature had given him a warm constitution, and had he been prosperous in early love, it is probable that he might have enjoyed a more uniform and happy tenour of health. But a disappointment of the heart, arising from the cruelty of fortune, threw a cloud on his

juvenile spirit. Thwarted in love, the native fire of his temperament turned impetuously into the kindred channel of devotion. The smothered flames of desire uniting with the vapours of constitutional melancholy, and the fervency of religious zeal, produced altogether that irregularity of corporeal sensation, and of mental health, which gave such extraordinary vicissitudes of splendor and of darkness to his mortal career, and made Cowper at times an idol of the purest admiration, and at times an object of the sincerest pity.' Vol. ii. r. 221.

He understood the Greek, Latin, French, and Italian languages. His reading, however, was limited:-' non multa, sed multum.' The events of his life prove, to the honour of female sensibility, that he could engage the best affections of accomplished women. In this female society perhaps his frequent trifles in rhyme originated.

We have already overstepped our boundary; and, from the original poetry, can only admit a short specimen of the

serious class.

To the reverend Mr. Newton, on his return from Ramsgate.

That ocean you of late survey'd,

Those rocks I too have seen,
But I, afflicted and dismay'd,
You tranquil and serene.

You from the flood-controuling steep
Saw stretched before your view,

With conscious joy, the threat'ning deep,

No longer such to you.

To me, the waves that ceaseless broke
Upon the dang'rous coast,

Hoarsely, and ominously, spoke

Of all my treasure lost.

Your sea of troubles you have past,

And found the peaceful shore;

I tempest toss'd, and wreck'd at last,

Come home to port no more.' Vol. ii. P.292.

From the Hare and many Friends, we give a few Latin


< Venatorum audit clangores pone sequentum,
Fulmineumque sonum territus erro fugit.
Corda pavor pulsat, sursum sedet, erigit aures,
Respicit et sentit jam prope adesse necem.
Utque canes fallat, late circumvagus, illuc

Unde abiit mira calliditate, redit;' Vol. ii. r. 389.

We cannot further pursue Mr. Hayley through his appen dix, which contains a few original poems, with translations from Greek verses, and from Latin poetry, ancient and mo

« PreviousContinue »