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stiffness in his style, which certainly fatigues attention: but he has not totally neglected the flowery paths with which the wilderness of obscurity is diversified.'
ART. VI.-The Life and Posthumous Writings of William Cowper, Esq. with an Introductory Letter to the Right Hon. Earl Cowper. By William Hayley, Esq. Vol. III. 4to. 11. 1s. Boards. Johuson. 1804.
THE characteristic peculiarities of this poet animate his epistolary correspondence. Rarely have we pursued through the privacy of secluded life a spirit more versatile or more amiable. For the portraiture of Cowper, we shall prefer a copy from his own drawing to any sketch by coarser pencils. Our extracts will best represent his personal singularities, his religious ardor, the varied excellence of his talents, and the fascination of his domestic manners. The editor, however, clains preliminary attention. We examined his preceding volumes with cautious industry*. He has again merited our applause; but we remark with regret that by the same sensibility and taste which he has evinced in selecting the letters of his friend, his own DESULTORY REMARKS on epistolary writers are not distinguished: a composition of which the parts are disproportionate, the materials ill-combined, and the decorations+ meretricious. The tendency of his random dissertation is to demonstrate by examples that the English are not inferior to foreigners of modern times in epistolary writing, and to vindicate our national honour in this article of taste and refinement.'
We shall avail ourselves of these desultory remarks merely to elucidate the present publication. Cowper has addressed the letters now collected principally to his young friend Mr. Unwin, and to his old and venerable associate Mr. Newton.'
'Many letters of this selection belong to the time in which he was employed on his greatest performance; and they prove the more welcome, as the former correspondence affords very few that relate to this interesting period.
The new letters may also attract attention in another point of view they contain the writer's critical opinions on several of his most celebrated contemporaries.' P. iv.
Critical Review, Second Series, Vol. XXXVIII.
In our Review for May, 1803, we censured the affected phrases with which Mr. Hayley had deformed his Life of Cowper. We must still lament that a writer of elegant literary accomplishments, although he discovers that the two pedantic scholars! Bentley and Barnes, are deficient in delicacy of taste, should in his own style tolerate the FERVENT AND PROUD TENDERNESS of parental feeling! and many expressions of equally GRACEFUL affection.'
A polite and liberal scholar of France, deeply versed in our literature, has confessed, that he never thought the writers of this country equal to those of his own, in all the excellencies of epistolary writing, till he read the letters of Cowper.' P. iv.
The principle which Mr. Hayley has followed in admitting or rejecting letters he has candidly avowed:
The lovers of genius and virtue must peruse the correspondence of Cowper with the eyes of a friend; and in doing so, they will feel gratified in being enabled to read what was evidently written for the eyes of friendship alone. They will not think that he talks too much of himself; for what man, so worthy of being intimately known, could be thought to do so in talking to a friend without vanity or affectation?
In preparing the following selection for the press, I have endeayoured to recollect, on every doubtful occasion, the feelings of Cowper; and made it a rule to reject whatever my perfect intimacy with those feelings could lead me to suppose the spirit of the departed poet might wish me to lay aside, as unfit for publication. I consider an editor as guilty of the basest injury to the dead who admits into the posthumous volumes of an author, whom he professes to love and admire, any composition, which his own conscience informs him, that author, if he could speak from the tomb, would direct him to suppress.
On this principle, I have declined to print some letters, which entered more than I think the public ought to enter, into the history of a trifling feminine discord, that disturbed the perfect harmony of the happy trio at Olney, when lady Austen and Mrs. Unwin were the united inspirers of the poet; yet, as the brief and true account, which I gave of their separation, has been thought to cast a shade of censure on the temper of Mrs. Unwin, which I was far from intending, in justice to the memory of that exemplary and sublime female friend, I will here introduce a passage from a letter of Cowper to the reverend William Unwin, honourable to both the ladies in question, as it describes them in a moment of generous reconciliation :
"I inclose a letter from lady Austen, which I beg you to return to me in your next. We are reconciled: she seized the first opportunity to embrace your mother with tears of the tenderest affection, and I, of course, am satisfied. We were all a little awkward at first, but now are as easy as ever."
This letter happens to have no date, but the expressions I have cited from it, are sufficient to prove, that Mrs. Unwin, instead of having shewn an envious infirmity of temper on this occasion, must have conducted herself with a delicate liberality of mind.
If in selecting letters of my friend for the press, I should alarm the volatile reader by admitting several of a devotional spirit, I will ingenuously confess my reason for imparting them to the public. There is such tender simplicity, such attractive sweetness, in these serious letters, that I am confident few professed works of devotion can equal their efficacy in awakening and confirming sincere and simple piety in persons of various persuasions. Iis letters and his poetry will, in this respect, alternately extend, and strengthen the
influence of each other. He wrote occasionally to clerical friends of the established church, and to others among the dissenters. His heart made no difference between them, for it felt towards both the fraternal sensations of true christianity.' P. xxix.
We shall now in part unveil the personal habits and feelings of this estimable character:
< Sept. 21, 1779.
Amico mio, be pleased to buy me a glazier's diamond-pencil. I have glazed the two frames, designed to receive my pine-plants. But I cannot mend the kitchen-windows, till by the help of that implement I can reduce the glass to its proper dimensions. If I were a plumber I should be a complete glazier, and possibly the happy time may come, when I shall be seen trudging away to the neighbouring towns, with a shelf of glass hanging at my back. If government should impose another tax upon that commodity, I hardly know a business in which a gentleman might more successfully employ himself: a Chinese of ten times my fortune would avail himself of such an opportunity without scruple; and why should not I, who want money as much as any mandarin in China? Rousseau would have been charmed to have seen me so occupied, and would have exclaimed with rapture, that he had found the Emilius, who (he supposed) had subsisted only in his own idea. I would recommend it to you to follow my example. You will presently qualify yourself for the task, and may not only amuse yourself at home, but may even exercise your skill in mending the church-windows; which, as it would save money to the parish, would conduce, together with your other ministerial accomplishments, to make you extremely popular in the place.
I have eight pair of tame pigeons. When I first enter the garden in a morning, I find them perched upon the wall waiting for their breakfast. For I feed them always upon the gravel-walk. If your wish should be accomplished, and you should find yourself furnished with the wings of a dove, I shall undoubtedly find you amongst them. Only be so good, if that should be the case, as to announce yourself by some means or other. For I imagine your crop will require something better than tares to fill it.
Your mother and I, last week, made a trip in a post-chaise to Gayhurst, the seat of Mr. Wright, about four miles off. He understood that I did not much affect strange faces, and sent over his servant on purpose to inform me, that he was going into Leicestershire, and that, if I chose to see the gardens, I might gratify myself without danger of seeing the proprietor. I accepted the invitation, and was delighted with all I found there.' P. 5.
My scribbling humour has of late been entirely absorbed in the passion for landscape drawing.' P. 20.
So long as I am pleased with an employment, I am capable of unwearied application, because my feelings are all of the intense kind; I never received a little pleasure from any thing in my life; if I am delighted, it is in the extreme. The unhappy consequences of this temperature is, that my attachment to any occupation seldom out-lives the novelty of it. That nerve of my imagination that feels the touch of any particular amusement, twangs under the cnergy of the pressure with so much vehemence, that it soon becomes sensible of weariness and fatigue.' P. 21.
I am pretty much in the garden at this season of the year, so read but little. In summer time I am as giddy-headed as a boy, and can settle to nothing. Winter condenses me, and makes me lumpish and sober; and then I can read all day long.' P. 34.
I can compare this mind of mine to nothing that resembles it more, than to a board that is under the carpenter's plane (I mean while I am writing to you), the shavings are my uppermost thoughts; after a few strokes of the tool, it requires a new surface, this again upon a repetition of his task he takes off, and a new surface still succeeds-whether the shavings of the present day will be worth your acceptance, I know not. I am unfortunately made neither of cedar, nor of mahogany, but Truncus ficulnus, inutile lignum-consequently, though I should be planed 'till I am as thin as a wafer, it will be but P. 36.
rubbish to the last.'
It is not when I will, nor upon what I will, but as a thought happens to occur to me; and then I versify, whether I will or not.'
My morning is engrossed by the garden; and in the afternoon, 'till I have drunk tea, I am fit for nothing.' P. 67.
Not that I am insensible of the value of a good name, either as a man or an author. Without an ambition to attain it, it is absolutely unattainable under either of those descriptions. But my life, having been in many respects a series of mortifications and disappointments, I am become less apprehensive, and impressible perhaps in some points, than I should have otherwise been." P. 81.
Sleep, that refreshes my body, seems to cripple me in every other respect. As the evening approaches, I grow more alert, and when I am retiring to bed, am more fit for mental occupation than at any other time. So it fares with us, whom they call nervous. By a strange inversion of the animal economy, we are ready to sleep when we have most need to be awake, and go to bed just when we might sit up to some purpose. The watch is irregularly wound up, it goes in the night when it is not wanted, and in the day stands still. In
many respects we have the advantage of our forefathers, the Picts. We sleep in a whole skin, and are not obliged to submit to the painful operation of punctuating ourselves from head to foot, in order that we may be decently dressed and fit to appear abroad. But on the other hand, we have reason enough to envy them their tone of nerves, and that flow of spirits, which effectually secured them from all uncomfortable impressions of a gloomy atmosphere, and from every shade of melancholy from every other cause. They understood (I suppose) the use of vulnerary herbs, having frequent occasion for some skill in surgery, but physicians (I presume) they had none, having no need of any. Is it possible, that a creature like myself can be descended from such progenitors, in whom there appears not a single trace of family resemblance? What an alteration have a few ages made! They, without cloathing, would defy the severcst season, and I, with all the accommodations that art has since invented, am hardly secure even in the mildest. If the wind blows upon me when my pores are open, I catch cold. A cough is the consequence. I suppose if such a disorder could have seized a Pict, his friends would have concluded that a bone had stuck in his throat, and that he was in some danger of choking. They would perhaps have addressed themselves to the cure of his cough by thrusting their fingers into his gullet, which would only have exasperated the case. But they would never have thought of administering laudanum, my only remedy. For this difference however, that has obtained between me and my ancestors, I am indebted to the luxurious practices and enfeebling self-indulgence of a long line of grandsires, who from generation to generation have been employed in deteriorating the breed, 'till at last the collected effects of all their follies have centered in my puny self.-A man indeed, but not in the image of those that went before me. A man, who sigh and groan, who wear out life in dejection and oppression of spirits, and who never think of the aborigines of the country to which I belong, without wishing that I had been born among them.'
"When I write to a stranger, I feel myself deprived of half my intellects. I suspect that I shall write nonsense, and I do so. I tremble at the thought of an inaccuracy, and become absolutely ungrammatical. I feel myself sweat. I have recourse to the knife and the pounce. I correct half a dozen blunders, which in a common case I should not have committed, and have no sooner dispatched what I have written, than I recollect how much better I could have "made it; how easily and genteeliy I could have relaxed the stiffness of the phrase, and have cured the insufferable awkwardness of the whole, had they struck me a little earlier. Thus we stand in awe of we know not what, and miscarry through mere desire to excel.' -. 235.
"A neighbour of mine, in Silver-end, keeps an ass; the ass lives on the other side of the garden-wall, and I am writing in the greenhouse: it happens that he is this morning most musically disposed, whether cheered by the fine weather, or by some new tune which he has just acquired, or by finding his voice more harmonious than usual.
CRIT. REV. Vol. 4, January, 1805.