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Presented to the 
LIBRARY of the 


The Estate of the late 


Head of the 

Department of English 

University College 


flfeen of ^letters 

.School biiion 









Entered according to Act of the Parliament of Canada, in the year one 
thousand eight hundred and ninety -two, by MACMILLAN & Co., in 
the Office of the Minister of Agriculture. 

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THE TASK - 55 








The author of this memoir of Cowper was born in Reading, 
Berkshire, England, on August 13th, 1823. He was educated 
at Eton, and at Christ Church, Oxford, displaying a brilliant 
and versatile genius, winning in the university the prizes for 
Latin verse, Latin essay, and English essay. On his graduation 
in 1845, he was elected fellow of University College, and 
resided for a short time in Oxford, acting as tutor in the univer 
sity. He studied law, was admitted to the bar, but never 
practised. There was far more attraction for him in the 
politic^ 1 Movements of his time and in the study of history, 
especially the political history of England. When the move 
ment for the reorganization of the Universities took shape in a 
Royal Commission, Goldwin Smith accepted an assistant- 
secretaryship, helping the committee so materially that when a 
second Commission was issued he held the post of secretary. 

In ]857 Goldwin Smith was appointed Regius Professor of 
Modern History in Oxford, lectured with success, while taking 
an active part in current polities' by the contribution of im 
portant articles in support of the Liberals. His Liberalism 
showed itself, as well, in the support he gave the North in the 
American Civil War and in the aid he lent to the prosecution 
of General Eyre, who had ruthlessly put down the Jamaica 

When Mr. Smith came to A merica on a lecturing tour 
in 1864, he was received with much enthusiasm. In 1868, 
Cornell University offered him the chair of English and Con- 
gtitutional History, which, having resigned his post in Oxford 
tvfO years before, he accepted, and came to America. 


Three years later Mr. Smith settled in Toronto, where in a 
beautiful home, "The Grange," an ideal residence for the scholar 
and litterateur, he still lives. 

Mr. Gold win Smith's works, other than the present memoir, 
are almost entirely historical and political. Some, like Lectures 
on the Study of History, Three English Statesmen, are volumes 
of" lectures; some^ such as Irish History and the Irish Question, 
The Conduct of England to Ireland, are devoted to the great 
Irish question, over which though a Liberal he differed most 
strongly from Mr. Gladstone ; some, like The Political Destiny 
of Canada, Canada and the Canadian Question, The Civil 
War in America, The Political History of the United States, 
deal with special problems of this continent. Of recent years 
the scholarly world has had from his pen some excellent 
volumes of translations from Greek and Latin. 

The interests of Canada have always had a warm friend in 
Mr. Gold win Smith. He has occupied himself with its periodic 
press as editor and contributor, and to him the foundation of 
The Week is due ; he has taken an active part in the guidance 
of our educational system; in independent politics he has been a 
prominent, though not a popular figure for many years. 

A man of keen intellect, master of a faultless style, cold, 
clear, powerful, with all the graces of culture, with the fearless 
ness of moral courage, Mr. Gold win Smith has made a decided 
impress upon his age. One may miss in his work the fine 
beliefs and enthusiasms that possessed Matthew Arnold, and 
may trace here and there a tone of pessimism ; but that is the 
penalty the fastidious critic must pay for the keenness of his 
critical faculty. 





COWPER is the most important English poet of the period 
between Pope and the illustrious group headed by Wordsworth, 
Byron, and Shelley, which arose out of the intellectual ferment 
of the European Revolution. As a reformer of poetry, who 
called it back from conventionality to nature, and at the same 
time as the teacher of a new school of sentiment which acted 
as a solvent upon the existing moral and social system, he may 
perhaps himself be numbered among the precursors of the 
Revolution, though he was certainly the mildest of them all. 
As a sentimentalist he presents a faint analogy to Rousseau, 
whom in natural temperament he somewhat resembled. He 
was also the great poet of the religious revival which marked 
the latter part of the eighteenth century in England, and 
which was called Evangelicism within the establishment and 
Methodism without. In this way he is associated with Wesley 
j;nd Whitefield, as well as with the philanthropists of the 
movement, such as Wilberforce, Thornton, and Clarkson. As 
a poet he touches, on different sides of his character, Goldsmith, 
Crabbe, and Burns. With Goldsmith and Crabbe he shares 
the honour of improving English taste in the sense of truth 
fulness and simplicity. To Burns he felt his affinity, across a 
gulf of social circumstances, and in spite of a dialect not yet 
made fashionable by Scott. Besides his poetry, he holds a high, 
perhaps the highest place, among English letter writers : and 
the collection of his letters appended to Southey's biography 


forms, with the biographical portions of his poetry, the materials 
for a sketch of his life. Southey's biography itself is very help 
ful, though too prolix and too much filled out with dissertations 
for common readers. Had its author only done for Cowper 
what he did for Nelson 1 * 

William Cowper came of the Whig nobility of the robe. 
His great-uncle, after whom he was named, was the Whig Lord 
Chancellor of Anne and George I. His grandfather was that 
Spencer Cowper, judge of the Common Pleas, for love of whom 
the pretty Quakeress drowned herself, and who by the rancour 
of party, was indicted for her murder. His father, the Rev. 
John Cowper, D.D., was chaplain to George II. His mother 
was a Donne, of the race of the poet, and descended by several 
lines from Henry III. A Whig and a gentleman he was by 
birth, a Whig and a gentleman he remained to the end. He 
was born on the 15th November (old style), 1731, in his 
father's rectory of Berkampstead. From nature he received, 
with a large measure of the gifts of genius, a still larger 
measure of its painful sensibilities. In his portrait by Ronmey 
the brow bespeaks intellect, the features feeling and refinement, 
the eye madness. Thie stronger parts of character, the combative 
and propelling forces he evidently lacked from the beginning. 
For the battle of life he was totally unfit. His judgment in 
its healthy state was, even on practical questions, sound enough, 
as his letters abundantly prove ; but his sensibility not only 
rendered him incapable of wrestling with a rough world, but 
kept him always on the verge of madness, and frequently 
plunged him into it. To the malady which threw him out of 
active life we owe not the meanest of English poets. 

At the age of thirty-two, writing of himself, he says, " I am 
of a very singular temper, and very unlike all the men that I 

* Our acknowledgments are also due to Mr. Benham, the writer of 
the Memoir prefixed to the Globe Edition of Cowper. 


have ever conversed with. Certainly I am not an absolute fool, 
but I have more weakness than the greatest of all the fools I 
can recollect at present. In short, if I was as fit for the next 
world as I am unfit for this and God forbid I should speak it 
in vanity I would not change conditions with any saint in 
Christendom." Folly produces nothing good, and if Cowper 
had been an absolute fool, he would not have written good 
poetry. But he does not exaggerate his own weakness, and 
that he should have become a power among men is a remarkable 
triumph of the influences which have given birth to Christian 

The world into which the child came was one very adverse 
to him, and at the same time very much in need of him. It 
was a world from which the spirit of poetry seemed to have 
fled. There could be no stronger proof of this than the 
occupation of the throne of Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton 
by the arch-versifier Pope. The Ke volution of 1688 was 
glorious, but unlike the Puritan Revolution which it followed, 
and in the political sphere partly ratified, it was profoundly 
prosaic. Spiritual religion, the source of Puritan grandeur and 
of the poetry of Milton, was almost extinct; there was not 
much more of it among the Nonconformists, who had now 
become to a great extent mere Whigs, with a decided Unitarian 
tendency. The Church was little better than a political force, 
cultivated and manipulated by political leaders for their own 
purposes. The Bishops were either politicians or theological 
polemics collecting trophies of victory over free-thinkers as 
titles to higher preferment. The inferior clergy as a body were 
far nearer in character to Trulliber than to Dr. Primrose ; 
coarse, sordid, neglectful of their duties, shamelessly addicted 
to sinecurism and pluralities, fanatics in their Toryism and in 
attachment to their corporate privileges, cold, rationalistic and 
almost heathen in their preaching, if they preached at all. The 
society of the day is mirrored in the pictures of Hogarth, in 


the works of Fielding and Smollet ; hard and heartless polish 
was the best of it ; and not a little of it was Marriage a la 
Mode. Chesterfield, with his soulless culture, his court graces, 
and his fashionable immoralities, was about the highest type of 
an English gentleman ; but the Wilkeses, Potters, and Sand 
wiches, whose mania for vice culminated in the Hell-fire Club, 
were more numerous than the Chesterfields. Among the 
country squires, for one All worthy or Sir Roger de Coverley 
there were many Westerns. Among the common people 
religion was almost extinct, and assuredly no new morality or 
sentiment, such as Positivists now promise, had taken its place. 
Sometimes the rustic thought for himself, and scepticism took 
formal possession of his mind; but, as we see from one of 
Cowper's letters, it was a coarse scepticism which desired to be 
buried with its hounds. Ignorance and brutality reigned in 
the cottage. Drunkenness reigned in palace and cottage alike. 
Gambling, cock-fighting, and bull-fighting were the amusements 
of the people, Political life, which, if it had been pure and 
vigorous, might have made up for the absence of spiritual 
influences, was corrupt from the top of the scale to the bottom : 
its effects on national character is pourtrayed in Hogarth's 
Election. That property had its duties as well as its rights, 
nobody had yet ventured to say or think. The duty of a 
gentleman towards his own class was to pay his debts of honour 
and to fight a duel whenever he was challenged by one of his 
own order; towards the lower class his duty was none. Though 
the forms of government were elective, and Cowper gives us 
a description of the candidate at election times obsequiously 
soliciting votes, society was intensely aristocratic, and each 
rank was divided from that below it by a sharp line which 
precluded brotherhood or sympathy. Says the Duchess of 
Buckingham to Lady Huntingdon, who had asked her to come 
and hear Whitefield, "I thank your ladyship for the information 
concerning the Methodist preachers ; their doctrines a,re most 


repulsive, and strongly tinctured with disrespect towards their 
superiors, in perpetually endeavouring to level all ranks and do 
away with all distinctions. It is monstrous to be told you 
have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on 
the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting; and I 
cannot but wonder that your ladyship should relish any senti 
ments so much at variance with high rank and good breeding. 
I shall be most happy to come and hear your favourite preacher." 
Her Grace's sentiments towards the common wretches that 
crawl on the earth were shared, we may be sure, by her Grace's 
waiting-maid. Of humanity there was as little as there was of 
religion. It was the age of the criminal law which hanged 
men for petty thefts, of life-long imprisonment for debt, of the 
stocks and the pillory, of a Temple Bar garnished with the 
heads of traitors, of the unreformed prison system, of the press- 
gang, of unrestrained tyranny and savagery at public schools. 
That the slave trade was iniquitous hardly any one suspected ; 
even men who deemed themselves religious took part in it 
without scruple. But a change wa^s at hand, and a still 
mightier change was in prospect. At the time of Cowper's 
birth, John Wesley was twenty-eight and Whitetield was 
seventeen. With them the revival of religion was at hand. 
Johnson, the moral reformer, was twenty-two. Howard was 
born, and in less than a generation Wilberforce was to come. 

When Cowper was six years old his mother died; and 
seldom has a child, even such a child, lost more, even in a 
mother. Fifty years after her death he still thinks of her, he 
says, with love and tenderness every day. Late in his life his 
cousin Mrs. Anne Bodham recalled herself to his remembrance 
by sending him his mother's picture. ' " Every creature," he 
writes, "that has any affinity to my mother is dear to me, and 
you, the daughter of her brother, are but one remove distant 
from her; I love you therefore, and love you much, both for her 
and for your own. The world could not have furnished 


you with a present so acceptable to me as the picture which 
you have so kindly sent me. I received it the night before 
last, and received it with a trepidation of nerves and spirits 
somewhat akin to what I should have felt had its dear original 
presented herself to my embraces. I kissed it and hung it 
where it is the last object which I see at night, and the first on 
which I open my eyes in the morning. She died when I 
completed my sixth year ; yet I remember her well, and am an 
ocular witness of the great fidelity of the copy. I remember 
too a multitude of the maternal tendernesses which I received 
from her, and which have endeared her memory to me beyond 
expression. There is in me, I believe, more of the Donne than 
of the Cowper, and though I love all of both names, and have 
a thousand reasons to love those of my own name, yet I feel 
the bond of nature draw me vehemently to your side." As 
Gowper never married, there was nothing to take the pl*ce in 
his heart which had been left vacant by his mother. 

My mother ! when I learn'd that thou wast dead, 
Say, wast thou conscious of the tears I shed ? 
Hover'd thy spirit o'er thy sorrowing son, 
Wretch even then, life's journey just begun ? 
Perhaps thou gavest me, though imfelt, a kiss ; 
Perhaps a tear, if souls can weep in bliss 
Ah, that maternal smile ! it answers Yes. 
I heard the bell toll'd on thy burial day, 
I saw the hearse that bore thee slow away, 
And, turning from my nursery window, drew 
A long, long sigh, and wept a last adieu ! 
But was it such? It was. Where thou art gone 
Adieus and farewells are a sound unknown. 
May I but meet thee on that peaceful shore, 
The parting word shall pass my lips no more ! 
Thy maidens, grieved themselves at my concern, 
Oft gave me promise of thy quick return, 
What ardently I wish'd, I long believed, 
And disappointed still, was still deceived ; 

COWPEB. 1 1 

By expectation every day beguiled, 
Dupe of to-morrow even from a child. 
Thus many a sad to-morrow came and went, 
Till, all my stock of infant sorrows spent, 
I learn'd at last submission to my lot, 
But, though I less deplored thee, ne'er forgot. 

In the years that followed no doubt he remembered her too 
well. At six years of age this little mass of timid and 
quivering sensibility was, in accordance with the cruel custom 
of the time, sent to a large boarding school. The change from 
home to a boarding school is bad enough now ; it was much 
worse in those days. 

"I had hardships," says Cowper, "of various kinds to conflict 
with, which I felt more sensibly in proportion to the tenderness 
with which I had been treated at home. But my chief affliction 
consisted in my being singled out from all the other boys by a 
lad of about fifteen years of age as a proper object upon whom 
he might let loose the cruelty of his temper. I choose to 
conceal a particular recital of the many acts of barbarity with 
which he made it his business continually to persecute me. It 
will be sufficient to say that his savage treatment of me 
impressed such a dread of his figure upon my mind, that I well 
remember being afraid to lift my eyes upon him higher than to 
his knees, and that I knew him better by his shoa-buckles than 
by any other part of his dress. May the Lord pardon him, 
and may we meet in glory ! " Cowper charges himself, it may 
be in the exaggerated style of a self-accusing saint, with having 
become at school an adept in the art of lying. Southey says this 
must be a mistake, since at English public schools boys do not 
learn to lie. Bat the mistake is on Southey's part ; bullying, 
such as this child endured, while it makes the strong boys 
tyrants, makes the weak boys cowards, and teaches them to 
defend themselves bv deceit, the fist of the weak. The recollec- 


tion of this boarding school mainly it was that at a later day 
inspired the plea for a home education in Tirocinium. 

Then why resign into a stranger's hand 

A task as much within your own command, 

That God and nature, and your interest too, 

Seem with one voice to delegate to you ? 

Why hire a lodging in a house unknown 

For one whose tenderest thoughts all hover round your own? 

This second weaning, needless as it is, 

How does it lacerate both your heart and his ! 

The indented stick that loses day by day 

Notch after notch, till all are smooth'd away, 

Bears witness long ere his dismission come, 

With what intense desire he wants his home. 

But though the joys he hopes beneath your roof 

Bid fair enough to answer in the proof, 

Harmless, and safe, and natural as they are, 

A disappointment waits him even there : 

Arrived, he feels an unexpected change, 

He blushes, hangs his heads, is shy and strange. 

No longer takes, as once, with fearless ease, 

His favourite stand between his father's knees, 

But seeks the corner of some distant seat, 

And eyes the door, and watches a retreat, 

And, least familiar where he should be most, 

Feels all his happiest privileges lost. 

Alas, poor boy ! the natural effect 

Of love by absence chill'd into respect. 

From the boarding school, the boy, his eyes being liable to 
inflammation, was sent to live with an oculist, in whose house 
he spent two years, enjoying at all events a respite from the 
sufferings and the evils of the boarding school. He was then 
sent to Westminster School, at that time in its glory. That 
Westminster in those days must have been a scene not merely 
of hardship, but of cruel suffering and degradation to the 
younger and weaker boys, has teen proved by the researches 
of the Public Schools Commission. There was an established 


and a regular vocabulary of bullying. Yet Cowper 
seems not to have been so unhappy there as at the private 
school ; he speaks of himself as having excelled at cricket and 
football; and excellence in cricket and football at a public 
school generally carries with it, besides health and enjoyment, 
not merely immunity from bullying, but high social consider 
ation. With all Cowper's delicacy and sensitiveness, he must 
have had a certain fund of physical strength, or he could hardly 
have borne the literary labour of his later years, especially as 
he was subject to the medical treatment of a worse than 
empirical era. At one time he says, while he was at West 
minster, his spirits were so bouyant that he fancied he should 
never die, till a skull thrown out before him by a grave-digger 
as he was passing through St. Margaret's churchyard in the 
night recalled him to a sense of his mortality. 

The instruction at a public school in those days was ex 
clusively classical. Cowper was under Vincent Bourne, his 
portrait of whom is in some respects a picture not only of its 
immediate subject, but of the schoolmaster of the last century. 
" I love the memory of Vinny Bourne. I think him a better 
Latin poet than Tibullus, Propertius, Ausonius, or any of the 
writers in his way, except Ovid, and not at all inferior to him. 
I love him too with a love partiality, because he was usher of 
the fifth form at Westminster when I passed through it. He 
was so good-natured and so indolent that I lost more than I got 
by him, for he made me as idle as himself. He was such a 
sloven, as if he had trusted to his genius as a cloak for every 
thing that could disgust you in his person ; and indeed in his 

writing he has almost made amends for all I 

remember seeing the Duke of Richmond set fire to his greasy 
locks and box his ears to put it out again." Cowper learned, 
if not to write Latin verses as well as Vinny Bourne himself, 
to write them very well, as his Latin versions of some of his 
own short poems bear witness. Not only so, but he evidently 


became a good classical scholar, as classical scholarship was in 
those days, and acquired the literary form of which the classics 
are the best school. Out of school hours he studied inde 
pendently, as clever boys under the unexacting rule of the old 
public schools often did, and read through the whole of the 
Iliad and Odyssey with a friend. He also probably picked up 
at Westminster much of the little knowledge of the world 
which he ever possessed. Among his schoolfellows was Warren 
Hastings, in whose guilt as proconsul he afterwards, for the 
sake of Auld Lang Syne, refused to believe, and Irnpey, whose 
character has had the ill fortune to be required as the shade in 
Macaulay's fancy picture of Hastings. 

On leaving Westminster, Cowper, at eighteen, went to live 
with Mr. Chapman, an attorney, to whom he was articled, 
being destined for the Law. He chose that profession, he says, 
not of his own accord, but to gratify an indulgent father, who 
may have been led into the error by a recollection of the legal 
honours of the family, as well as by the " silver pence " which 
his promising son had won by his Latin verses at Westminster 
School The youth duly slept at the attorney's house in Ely 
Place. His days were spent in " giggling and making giggle n 
with his cousins, Theodora and Harriet, the daughters of 
Ashley Oowper, in the neighbouring Southampton Row. 
Ashley Cowper was a very little man in a white hat lined with 
yellow, and his nephew used to say that he would one day be 
picked up by mistake for a mushroom. His fellow-clerk in 
the office, and his accomplice in giggling and making giggle, 
was one strangely mated with him; the strong, aspiring, and 
unscrupulous Thurlow, who though fond of pleasure was at the 
same time preparing himself to push his way to wealth and 
power. Cowper felt that Thurlow would reach the summit of 
ambition, while he would himself remain below, and made his 
friend promise when he was Chancellor to give him something. 
When Thurlow was Chancellor, he gave Cowper his advice on 
translating Homer. 


At the end of his three years with the attorney, Cowper 
took chambers in the Middle, from which he afterwards 
removed to the Inner Temple. The Temple is now a pile of 
law offices. In those days it was still a Society. One of 
Cowper's set says of it: "The Temple is the barrier that 
divides the City and suburbs ; and the gentlemen vrho reside 
there seem influenced by the situation of the place they inhabit. 
Templars are in general a kind of citizen courtiers. They aim 
at the air and the mien of the drawing-room; but the holy-day 
smoothness of a 'prentice, heightened with some additional 
touches of the rake or coxcomb, betrays itself in everything 
they do. The Temple, however, is stocked with its p culiar 
beaux, wits, poets, critics, and every character in the gay world ; 
and it is a thousand pities that so pretty a society should be 
disgraced with a few dull fellows, who can submit to puzzle 
themselves with cases and reports, and have not taste enough 
to follow the genteel method of studying the law." Cowper at 
all events studied law by the genteel method; he read it almost 
as little in the Temple as he had in the attorney's office, 
though in due course of time he was formally called to the Bar, 
and even managed in some way to acquire a reputation, which 
when he had entirely given up the profession brought him a 
curious offer of a readership at Lyons Inn. His time was 
given to literature, and he became a member of a little circle 
of men of letters and journalists which had its social centre in 
the Nonsense Club, consisting of seven Westminster men who 
dined together every Thursday. In the set were Bonnell 
Thornton and Colman, twin wits, fellow-writers of the periodical 
essays which were the rage in that day, joint proprietors of 
the St. James's Chronicle, contributors both of them to the 
Connoisseur, and translators, Colman of Terence, Bonnell 
Thornton of Plautus, Colman being a dramatist besides. In 
the set was Lloyd, another wit and essayist and a poet, with a 
character not of the best. On the edge of the set, but 

apparently not in it, was Churchill, who was then running a 
course which to many seemed meteoric, and of whose verse, 
sometimes strong but always turbid, Cow per conceived and 
retained an extravagant admiration. Churchill was a link to 
Wilkes ; Hogarth too was an ally of Colman, and helped him 
in his exhibition of Signs. The set was strictly confined to 
Westminsters. Gray and Mason, being Etonians, were objects 
of its literary hostility and butts of its satire. It is needless 
to say much about these literary companions of Cowper's youth; 
his intercourse with them was totally broken off, and before he 
himself became a poet its effects had been obliterated by 
madness, entire change of mind, and the lapse of twenty years. 
If a trace remained, it was in his admiration of Churchill's 
verses, and in the general results of literary society, and of 
early practice in composition. Cowper contributed to the 
Connoisseur and the St. James's Chronicle. His papers in the 
Connoisseur have been preserved ; they are mainly imitations 
of the lighter papers of the Spectator by a student who affects 
the man of the world. He also dallied with poetry, writing 
ves-ses to " Delia," and an epistle to Lloyd. He had translated 
an elegy of Tibullus when he was fourteen, and at Westminster 
he had written an imitation of Phillips's Splendid Shilling, 
which, Southey says, shows his manner formed. He helped 
his Cambridge brother, John Cowper, in a translation of the 
Henriade. He kept up his classics, especially his Homer. In 
his letters there are proofs of his familiarity with Rosseau. 
Two or three ballads which he wrote are lost, but he says they 
were popular, and we may believe him. Probably they were 
patriotic. " When poor Bob White," he say, " brought in the 
news of Bosca wen's success off the coast of Portugal, how did 
I leap for joy I When Hawke demolished Conflans, I was still 
more transported. But nothing could express my rapture when 
Wolfe made the conquest of Quebec." 

The " Delia " to whom Cowper wrote verses was his cousin 

1 "I 

Theodora, with whom he had an unfortunate love affair. Her 
father, Ashley Oowper, forbade their marriage, nominally on the 
ground of consanguinity, really, as Southey thinks, because he 
saw Cowper's unfitness for business and inability to maintain a 
wife. Cowper felt the disappointment deeply at the time, as 
well he might do if Theodora resembled her sister, Lady 
Hesketh. Theodora remained unmarried, and, as we shall see, 
did not forget her lover. His letters she preserved till her 
death in extreme old age. 

In 1756 Cowper's father died. There does not seem to have 
been much intercourse between them, nor does the son in after- 
years speak with any deep feeling of his loss: possibly his 
complaint in Tirocinium of the effect of boarding-schools, in 
estranging children from their parents, may have had some 
reference to his own case. His local affections, however, were 
very strong, and he felt with unusual keenness the final parting 
from his old home, and the pang of thinking that strangers 
usurp our dwelling and the familiar places will know us no more. 

Where once we dwelt our name is heard no more, 
Children not thine have trod my nursery floor ; 
And where the gardener Robin, day by day, 
Drew me to school along the public way, 
Delighted with my bauble coach, and wrapp'd 
In scarlet mantle warm and velvet capp'd. 
'Tis now become a history little known, 
That once we call'd the pastoral house our own. 

Before the rector's death, it seems, his pen had hardly 
realized the cruel frailty of the tenure by which a home in a 
parsonage is held. Of the family of Berkhampstead Rectory 
there was now left besides himself only his brother John 
Cowper, Fellow of Caius College, Cambridge, whose birth had 
cost their mother's life. 

When Cowper was thirty-two and still living in the Temple, 
came the sad and decisive crisis of his life. He went mad and 


attempted suicide. What was the source of his madness r ( 
There is a vague tradition that it arose from licentiousness, 
which no doubt is sometimes the cause of insanity. But in 
Cowper's case there is no proof of anything of the kind : his 
confessions, after his conversion, of his own past sinfulness 
point to nothing worse than general ungodliness and occasional 
excess in wine; and the tradition derives a colour of probability 
only from the loose lives of one or two of the wits and 
Bohemians with whom he had lived. His virtuous love of 
Theodora was scarcely compatible with low and gross amours. 
Generally, his madness is said to have been religious, and the 
blame is laid on the same foe to human weal as that of the 
sacrifice of Iphigenia. But when he first went mad, his 
conversion to Evangelicism had not taken place ; he had not 
led a particularly religious life, nor been greatly given to 
religious practices, though as a clergyman's son he naturally, 
believed in religion, had at times felt religious emotions, and 
when he found his heart sinking had tried devotional books and 
prayers. The truth is his malady was simple hypochondria, 
having its source in delicacy of constitution and weakness of 
digestion, combined with the influence of melancholy surround 
ings. It had begun to attack him soon after his settlement in 
his lonely chambers in the Temple, when his pursuits and 
associations, as we have seen, were far from Evangelical. 
When its crisis arrived, he was living by himself without any 
society of the kind that suited him (for the excitement of the 
Nonsense Club was sure to be followed by reaction) ; he had 
lost his love, his father, his home, and as it happened also a 
dear friend ; his little patrimony was fast dwindling away ; he 
must have despaired of success in his profession; and his 
outlook was altogether dark. It yielded to the remedies to 
which hypochondria usually yields, air, exercise, sunshine, 
cheerful society, congenial occupation. It came with January 
and went with May. Its gathering gloom was dispelled for a 


time by a stroll in fine weather on the hills above Southampton 
Water, and Cowper said that he was never unhappy for a 
whole day in the company of Lady Hesketh. When he had 
become a Methodist, his hypochondria took a religious form, 
but so did his recovery from hypochondria ; both must be set 
down to the account of his faith, or neither. This double 
aspect of the matter will plainly appear further on. A votary 
of wealth when his brain gives way under disease or age fancies 
that he is a beggar. A Methodist when his brain gives way 
under .the same influences fancies that he js forsaken of God. 
In both cases the root of the malady is physical. 

In the lines which Cowper sent on his disappointment to 
Theodora's sister, and which record the sources of his despond 
ency, there is not a touch of religious despair, or of anything 
connected with religion. The catastrophe was brought on by 
an incident with which religion had nothing to do. The office 
of clerk of -the Journals in the House of Lords fell vacant, 
and was in the gift of Cowper's kinsman Major Cowper, as 
patentee. Cowper received the nomination. He had longed 
for the office, sinfully as he afterwards fancied ; it would 
exactly have suited him and made him comfortable for life. 
But his mind had by this time succumbed to his malady. His 
fancy conjured up visions of opposition to the appointment in 
the House of Lords ; of hostility in the office where he had to 
study the Journals; of the terrors of an examination to be 
undergone before the frowning peers. After hopelessly poring 
over the Journals for some months he became quite mad, and 
his madness took a suicidal form. He has told with unsparing 
exactness the story of his attempts to kill himself. In his 
vouth his father had unwisely given him a treatise in favour of 
suicide to read, and when he argued against it, had listened to 
his reasonings in a silence which he construed as S} 7 mpathy 
with the writer, though it seems to have been only unwilling 
ness to think too badly of the state of a departed friend. This 


now recurred to his mind, and talk with casual companions in 
taverns and chophouses was enough in his present condition to 
confirm him in his belief that self-destruction was lawful. 
Evidently he was perfectly insane, for he could not take up a 
newspaper without reading in it a fancied libel on himself. 
First he bought laudanum, and had gone out into the fields 
with the intention of .swallowing it, when the love of life 
suggested another way of escaping the dreadful ordeal. He 
might sell all he had, fly to France, change his religion, and 
bury himself in a monastery. He 'went home to pack up; but 
while he was looking over his portmanteau, his mood changed, 
and he again resolved on self-destruction. Taking a coach he 
ordered the coachman to drive to the Tower Wharf, intending 
to throw himself into the river. But the love of life once 
more interposed, under the guise of a low tide and a porter 
seated on the quay. Again in the coach, and afterwards in his 
chambers, he tried to swallow the laudanum; but his hand was 
paralysed by "the convincing" Spirit," aided by seasonable 
interruptions from the presence of his laundress and her 
husband, and at length he threw the laudanum away. On the 
night before the day appointed for the examination before the 
Lords, he lay some time with the point of his penknife pressed 
against his heart, but without courage to drive it home. Lastly 
he tried to hang himself; and on this occasion he seems to have 
been saved not by the love of life, or by want of -olufcioii, 
but by mere accident. He had become insensible, when the 
garter by which he was suspended broke, and his foil brought 
in the laundresls, who supposed him to be in a fit. He sent her 
to a friend, to whom he related all that had passed, and 
despatched him to his kinsman. His kinsman arrived, listened 
with horror to the story, made more vivid by the sight of the 
broken garter, saw at once that all thought of the appointment 
was at end, and carried away the instrument of nomination. 
Let those whom despondency assails read this passage of 


Cowper's life, and remember that he lived to write John Gilpin 
and .77*6 Task. ffr-i^j) 7i< C^^^^^^ i 

Cowper tells us that "to this moment he had felt no concern 
of a spiritual kind;" that "ignorant of original sin, insensible 
of the guilt of actual transgression, he understood neither the 
Law nor the Gospel ; the condemning nature of the one, nor 
the restoring mercies of the other. " But after attempting 
suicide he was seized, as he well might be, with religious 
horrors. Now it was that he began to ask himself whether he 
had been guilty of the unpardonable sin, and was presently 
persuaded that he had, though it would be vain to enquire what 
he imagined the unpardonable sin to be. In this mood, he 
fancied that if there was any balm for him in Gilead, it would 
be found in the ministrations of his friend Martin Madan, an 
Evangelical clergyman of high repute, whom he had been wont 
to regard as an enthusiast. His Cambridge brother, John, the 
translator of the Henriade, seems to have had some philosophic 
doubts as to the efficacy of the proposed remedy ; but, like a 
philosopher, he- consented to the experiment. Mr. Madan 
came and ministered, but in that distempered soul his balm 
turned to poison; his religious conversations only fed the 
horrible illusion. A set of English Sapphics, written by Cowper 
at this time, and expressing his despair, were unfortunately 
preserved ; they are a ghastly play of the poetic faculty in a 
mind utterly deprived of self-control, and amidst the horrors of 
inrushing ^madness. Diabolical, 'they might be termed more 
truly than religious. 

There was nothing for it but a madhouse. The sufferer was 
consigned to the private asylum of Dr. Cotton, at St. Alban's. 
An ill-chosen physician Dr. Cotton would have been, if the 
malady had really had its source in religion; for he was himself 
a pious man, a writer of hymns, and was in the habit of 
holding religious intercourse with his patients. Cowper, after 
his recovery, speaks of that intercourse with the keenest 


pleasure and gratitude ; so that in the opinion of the two 

, persons best qualified to judge, religion in this case was not the 

I bane. Cowper has given us a full account of his recovery. It 

was brought about, as we can plainly see, by medical treatment 

I wisely applied ; but it came in the form of a burst of religious 

| faith and hope. He rises one morning feeling better; grows 

cheerful over his breakfast, takes up the Bible, which in his fits 

of madness he always threw aside, and turns to a verse in the 

Epistle to the Romans. " Immediately I received strength to 

believe, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone 

upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He had 

made, my pardon in His blood, and fulness and completeness 

of His justification. In a moment I believed and received the 

Gospel." Cotton at first mistrusted the sudden change, but he 

was at length satisfied, pronounced his patient cured, and 

discharged him from the asylum, after a detention of eighteen 

months. Cowper hymned his deliverance in The Happy 

Change, as in the hideous Sapphics he had given religious 

utterance to his despair. 

The soul, a dreary province once 

Of Satan's dark domain, 
Feels a new empire form'd within, 

And owns a heavenly reign. 

The glorious orb whose golden beams 

The fruitful year control, 
Since first obedient to Thy word, 

He started from the goal. 

Has cheer'd the nations witli the joys 

His orient rays impart ; 
But, Jesus, 'tis Thy light alone 

Can shine upon the heart. 


Once for all, the reader of Cowper's life must make up his 
mind to acquiesce in religious forms of expression. If he does 


not sympathize with them, he will recognize them as phenomena 
of opinion, and bear them like a philosopher. He can easily 
translate them into the language of psychology, or even of 
physiology, if he thinks fit. 



THE storm was over ; but it had swept away a great part of 
Cowper's scanty fortune, and almost all his friends. At thirty- 
tive he was stranded and desolate. He was obliged to resign a 
Commissioners] lip of Bankruptcy which he held, and little 
seems to have remained to him but the rent of his chambers in 
the Temple. A return to his profession was, of course, out of 
the question. His relations, however, combined to make up a 
little income for him, though from a hope of his family, 
he had become a melancholy disappointment; even the Major 
contributing, in spite of the rather trying incident of the 
nomination. His brother was kind and did a brother's duty, 
but there does not seem to have been much sympathy between 
them; John Cowper did not become a convert to Evangelic il 
doctrine till he was near his end, and he was incapable of 
sharing William's spiritual emotions. Of his brilliant com 
panions, the Bonnell Thorntons and the Colmans, the quondam 
members of the Nonsense Club, he heard no more, till he had 
himself become famous. But he still had a staunch friend in 
a less brilliant member of the Club, Joseph Hill, the lawyer, 
evidently a man who united strong sense and depth of character 
with literary tastes and love of fun, and who was throughout 
Cowper's life his Mentor in matters of business, with regard to 
which he was himself a child. He had brought with him from 


the asylum at St. Albans the servant who had attended him 
there, and who had been drawn by the singular talisman of 
personal attraction which partly made up to this frail and 
helpless being for his entire lack of force. He had also brought 
from the same place an outcast boy whose case had excited his 
interest, and for whom he afterwards provided by putting him 
to a trade. The maintenance of these two retainers was 
expensive and led to grumbling among the subscribers to the 
family subsidy, the Major especially threatening to withdraw 
his contribution. While the matter was in agitation, Cowper 
received an anonymous letter couched in the kindest terms, 
bidding him not distress himself, for that whatever deduction 
from his income might be made, the loss would be supplied by 
one who loved him tenderly and approved his conduct. In a 
letter to Lady Hesketh, he says that he wishes he knew who 
dictated this letter, and that he had seen not long before a style 
excessively like it. He can scarcely have failed to guess that 
it came from Theodora. 

It is due to Cowper to say that he accepts the assistance of 
his relatives and all acts of kindness done to him with sweet 
and becoming thankfulness ; and that whatever dark fancies 
he may have had about his religious s'ate, when the evil spirit 
was upon him, he always speaks with contentment and cheer 
fulness of his earthly lot. Nothing splenetic, no element of 
suspicious and irritable self-love, entered into the composition 
of his character. 

On his release from the asylum he was taken in hand by his 
brother John, who first tried to find lodgings for him at or near 
Cambridge, and failing in this, placed him at Huntingdon, 
within a long ride, so that William becoming a horseman for 
the purpose, the brothers Could meet once a week. Hunting 
don was a quiet little town with less than two thousand 
inhabitants, in a dull country, the best part of which was the 
Ouse, especially to Cowper, who was fond of bathing. Life 


there, as in other English country towns in those days, and 
indeed till railroads made people everywhere too restless and 
migratory for companionship or even for acquaintance, was 
sociable in an unrefined way. There were assemblies, dances, 
races, card-parties, and a bowling-green, at which the little 
world met and enjoyed itself. From these the new convert, in 
his spiritual ecstasy, of course turned away as mere modes of 
murdering time. Three families received him with civility, 
two of them with cordiality; but the chief acquaintances he 
made were "odd scrambling fellows like himself;" an eccentric 
water-drinker and vegetarian who was to be met by early risers 
and walkers every morning at six o'clock by his favourite 
spring; a char-parson, of the class common in those days of 
sinecurism and non-residence, who walked sixteen miles every 
Sunday to serve two churches, besides reading daily prayers at 
Huntingdon, and who regaled his friend with ale brewed by his 
own hands. In his attached servant the recluse boasted that he 
had a friend ; a friend he might have, but hardly a companion. 

For the first days and even weeks, however, Huntingdon 
seemed a paradise. The heart of its new inhabitant was full 
of the unspeakable happiness that comes with calm after storm, 
with health after the most terrible of maladies, with repose 
after the burning fever of the brain. When first he went to 
church he was in a spiritual ecstasy; it was with difficulty that 
he restrained his emotions ; though his voice was silent, being 
stopped by the intensity of his feelings, his heart within him 
sang for joy ; and when the Gospel for the day was read, the 
sound of it was more than he could well bear. This brightness 
of his mind communicated itself to all the objects round him, 
to the sluggish waters of the Ouse, to dull, fenny Huntingdon, 
and to its commonplace inhabitants. 

For about three months his cheerfulness lasted, and with the 
help of books, and his rides to meet his brother, he got on 
pretty well : but then " the communion which he had so long 


been able to maintain with the Lord was suddenly interrupted." 
This is his theological version of the case ; the rationalistic 
version immediately follows : "I began to dislike my solitary 
situation, and to fear I should never be able to weather out the 
winter in so lonely a dwelling." No man could be less fitted to 
bear a lonely life ; persistence in the attempt would soon have 
brought back his madness. He was longing for a home; and a 
home was at hand to receive him. It was not perhaps one 01 
the happiest kind ; but the influence which detracted from its 
advantages was the one which rendered it hospitable to the 
wanderer. If Christian piety was carried to a morbid excess 
beneath its roof, Christian charity opened its door. 

The religious revival was now in full career, with Wesley for 
its chief apostle, organizer, and dictator, Whitefield for its 
great preacher, Fletcher of Madeley for its typical saint, Lady 
Huntingdon for its patroness among the aristocracy and the 
chief of its "devout women." From the pulpit, but still more 
from the stand of the field-preacher and through a well-trained 
army of social propagandists, it was assailing the scepticism, the 
coldness, the frivolity, the vices of the age. English society 
was deeply stirred; multitudes were converted, while among 
those who were not converted violent and sometimes cruel 
antagonism was aroused. The party had two wings, the 
Evangelicals, people of the wealthier class or clergymen of the 
Church of England, who remained within the Establishment ; 
and the Methodists, people of the lower middle class or peasants, 
the personal converts and followers of Wesley and Whitefield, 
who, like their leaders, without a positive secession, soon found 
themselves organizing a separate spiritual life in the freedom of 
Dissent. In the early stages of the movement the Evangelicals 
were to be counted at most by hundreds, the Methodists by 
hundreds of thousands. So far as the masses were concerned, 
it was in fact a preaching of Christianity anew. There was a 
cross division of the Darty into the Calvinists and those whom 


the Calvinists called Arminians; Wesley belonging to the 
latter section, while the most pronounced and vehement of the 
Calvinists was "the tierce Toplady." As a rule, the darker 
and sterner element, that which delighted in religious terrors 
and threatenings was Calvinist, the milder and gentler, that 
which preached a gospel of love and hope, continued to look 
up to Wesley, and to bear with him the reproach of being 

It is needless to enter into a minute description of Evan- 
gelicism and Methodism ; they are not things of the past. If 
Evangelicism has now been reduced to a narrow domain by the 
advancing forces of Ritualism on one side and of Rationalism 
on the other, Methodism is still the great Protestant Church, 
especially beyond the Atlantic. The spiritual fire which they 
have kindled, the character which they have produced, the 
moral reforms which they have wrought, the works of charity 
and philanthropy to which they have given birth, are matters 
not only of recent memory, but of present experience. Like 
the great Protestant revivals which had preceded them in 
England, like the Moravian revival on the Continent, to which 
they were closely related, they sought to bring the soul into 
direct communion with its Maker, rejecting the intervention of 
a priesthood or a sacramental system. Unlike the previous 
revivals in England, they warred not against the rulers of the 
Church or State, but only against vice or irreligion. Con 
sequently in the characters which they produced, as compared 
with those produced by Wyclimsm, by the Reformation, and 
notably by Puritanism, there was less of force and the grandeur 
connected with it, more of gentleness, mysticism, and religious 
love. Even Quietism, or something like it, prevailed, especially 
among the Evangelicals, who were not like the Methodists, 
engaged in framing a new organization or in wrestling with the 
barbarous vices of the lower orders. No movement of the kind 
has ever been exempt from drawbacks and follies, from extra va- 


gance, exaggeration, breaches of good taste in religious matters, 
unctuousness, and cant from chimerical attempts to get rid 
of the flesh and live an angelic life on earth from delusions 
about special providences and miracles from a tendency to over 
value doctrine and undervalue duty from arrogant assumption 
of spiritual authority by leaders and preachers from the 
self-righteousness which fancies itself the object of a divine 
election, and looks out with a sort of religious complacency 
from the Ark of Salvation in which it fancies itself securely 
placed, upon the drowning of an unregenerate world. Still it 
will hardly be doubted that in the effects produced by Evan- 
gelicism and Methodism the good has outweighed the evil. 
Had Jansenism prospered as well, France might have had more 
of reform and less of revolution. The poet of the movement 
will not be condemned on account of bis connexion with it, any 
more than Milton is condemned on account of his connexion 
with Puritanism, provided it be found that he also served art 

Cowper. as we have seen, was already converted. In a letter 
written at this time to Lady Hesketh, he speaks of himself 
with great humility "as a convert made in Bedlam, who is 
more likely to be a stumbling-block to others, than to advance? 
their faith," though he adds, with reason enough, "that he who 
can ascribe an amendment of life and manners, and a reformation 
of the heart itself, to madness is guilty of an absurdity, that 
in any other case would fasten the imputation of madness upon 
himself." It is hence to be presumed that he traced his 
conversion to his spiritual intercourse with the Evangelical 
physician of St. Albans, though the seed sown by Martin 
Madan may perhaps also have sprung up in his heart when the 
more propitious season arrived. However that may have 
been, the two great factors of Cowper's life were the malady 
which consigned him to poetic seclusion and the conversion to 
Evangelicism, which gave him his inspiration and his theme. 


At Huntingdon dwelt the Rev. William TJnvvin, a clergyman, 
taking pupils, his wife much younger than himself, and their 
son and daughter. It was a typical family of the Revival. 
Old Mr. Unwin is described by Cowper as a Parson Adams. 
The son, William Unwin, was preparing for holy orders. He 
Was a man of some mark, and received tokens of intellectual 
respect from Paley, though he is best known as the friend to 
whom many of Cowper's letters are addressed. He it was, 
who, struck by the appearance of the stranger, sought an 
opportunity of making his acquaintance. He found one, after 
morning church, when Cowper was taking his solitary walk 
beneath the trees. Under the influence of religious sympathy 
the acquaintance quickly ripened into friendship; Cowper at 
once became one of the Unwin circle, and soon afterwards, a 
vacancy being made by the departure of one of the pupils, 
he became a boaider in the house. This position he had 
passionately desired on religious grounds; but in truth he 
might well have desired it on economical grounds also, for he 
had begun to experience the difficulty and expensiveness, as 
well as the loneliness, of bachelor housekeeping, and financial 
deficit was evidently before him. To Mrs. Unwin he was from 
the first strongly drawn. " 1 met Mrs. Unwin in the street," 
he says, "and went home with her. She and I walked together 
near two hours in the garden, and had a conversation which 
did me more good than I should have received from an audience 
with the first prince in Europe. That woman is a blessing to 
me, and I never see her without being the better for her 
company." Mrs. Unwin's character is written in her portrait 
with its prim but pleasant features ; a Puritan and a precisian 
she was ; but she was not morose or sour, and she had a 
boundless capacity for affection. Lady Hesketh, a woman of 
the world, and a good judge in every respect, says of her at a 
later period, when she had passed with Cowper through many 
sad and trying years: "She is very far from grave; on the 


contrary, she is cheerful and gay, and laughs de bon cceur upon 
the smallest provocation. Amidst all the little puritanical 
words which fall from her de temps en temps, she seems to have 
by nature a quiet fund of gaiety ; great indeed must it have 
been, not to have been wholly overcome by the close confinement 
in which she has lived, and the anxiety she must have under 
gone for one whom she certainly loves as well as one human 
being can love another. I will not say she idolizes him, because 
that she would think wrong; but she certainly seems to possess 
the truest regard and affection for this excellent creature, and, 
as I said before, has in the most literal sense of those words, 
no will or shadow of inclination but what is his. My account 
of Mrs. Unwin may seem perhaps to you, on comparing my 
letters, contradictory ; but when you consider that I began to 
write at the first moment that I saw her, you will not wonder. 
Her character develops itself by degrees ; and though I might 
lead you to suppose her grave and melancholy, she is not so by 
any means. When she speaks upon grave subjects, she does 
express herself with a puritanical tone, and in puritanical 
expressions, but on all subjects she seems to have a great 
disposition to cheerfulness and mirth ; and indeed had she not, 
she could not have gone through all she has. I must say, too, 
that she seems to be very well read in the English poets, as 
appears by several little quotations, which she makes from time 
to time, and has a true taste for what is excellent in that way." 

When Cowper became an author he paid the highest respect 
to Mrs. Unwin as an instinctive critic, and called her his Lord 
Chamberlain, whose approbation was his sufficient licence for 

Life in the Unwin family is thus described by the new 
inmate: "As to amusements, I mean what the world calls 
such, we have none. The place indeed swarms with them; and 
cards and dancing are the professed business of almost all the 
gentle inhabitants of Huntingdon. We refuse to take part in 


them, or to be accessories to this way of murdering our time, 
and by so doing have acquired the name of Methodists. 
Having told you how we do not, spend our time, I will next 
say how we do. We breakfast commonly between eight and 
nine ; till eleven, we read either the scripture, or the sermons 
of some faithful preacher of those holy mysteries ; at eleven 
we attend divine service, which is performed here twice every 
day, and from twelve to three we separate, and amuse ourselves 
as we please. During that interval, I either read in my own 
apartment, or walk or ride, or work in the garden. We seldom 
sit an-Jiour after dinner, but, if the weather permits, adjourn 
to the garden, where, with Mrs. Unwin and her son, I have 
generally the pleasure of religious conversation till tea-time. 
If it rains, or is too windy for walking, we either converse 
within doors or sing some hymns of Martin's collection, and by 
the help of Mrs. Unwin's harpsichord, make up a tolerable 
concert, in which our hearts I hope are the best performers. 
After tea we sally forth to walk in good earnest. Mrs. Unwin 
is a good walker, and we have generally travelled about four 
miles before we see home again. When the days are short we 
make this excursion in the former part of the day, between 
church-time and dinner. At night we read and converse as 
before till supper, and commonly finish the evening either with 
hymns or a sermon, and last of all the family are called to 
prayers. I need not tell you that such a life as this is consistent 
with the utmost cheerfulness ; accordingly we are all happy, 
and dwell together in unity as brethren." 

Mrs. Cowper, the wife of Major (now Colonel) Cowper, to 
whom this was written, was herself strongly Evangelical; 
Cowper had, in fact, unfortunately for him. turned from his 
other relations and friends to her on that account. She, 
therefore, would have no difficulty in thinking that such a life 
was consistent with cheerfulness, but ordinary readers will ask 
how it could fail to bring on another fit of hypochondria. The 


answer is probably to be found in the last words of the passage 
Overstrained and ascetic piety found an antidote in affection. 
The Unwins were Puritans and enthusiasts, but their household 
was a picture of domestic love. 

With the name of Mrs. Cowper is connected an incident 
which occurred at this time, and which illustrates the propensity 
to self inspection and self-revelation which Cowper had in 
common with Rousseau. Huntingdon, like other little towns, 
was all eyes and gossip; the new comer was a mysterious 
stranger who kept himself aloof from the general society, and 
he naturally became the mark for a little stone- throwing. 
Young Unwin happening to be passing near "the Park" on 
his way from London to Huntingdon, Cowper gave him an 
introduction to its lady, in a letter to whom he afterwards 
disclosed his secret motive. " My dear Cousin, You sent my 
friend Unwin home to us charmed with your kind reception of 
him, and with everything he saw at the Park. Shall I once 
more give you a peep into my vile and deceitful heart? What 
motive do you think lay at the bottom of my conduct when I 
desired him to call upon you ? I did not suspect, at first, that 
pride and vain-glory had any share in it ; but quickly after I 
had recommended the visit to him, I discovered, in that fruitful 
soil, the very root of the matter. You know I am a stranger 
here ; all such are suspected characters, unless they bring their 
credentials with them. To this moment, I believe, it is a 
matter of speculation in the place, whence I came, and to 
whom I belong. Though my friend, you may suppose, before 
I was admitted an inmate here, was satisfied that I was not a 
mere vagabond, and has, since that time, received more con 
vincing proofs of my sponsibility ; yet I could not resist the 
opportunity of furnishing him with ocular demonstration of it, 
by introducing him to one of my most splendid connexions; 
that when he hears me called * that fellow Cowper,' which has 
happened heretofore, he may be able, upon unquestionable 


evidence, to assert my gentlemanhood, and relieve me from the 
weight of that opprobrious appellation. Oh pride! pride! it 
deceives with the subtlety of a serpent, and seems to walk 
erect, though it crawls upon the earth. How it will twist and 
twine itself about to get from under the Cross, which it is the 
glory of our Christian calling to be able to bear with patience 
and goodwill. They who can guess at the heart of a stranger, 
and you especially, who are of a compassionate temper, will 
be more ready, perhaps, to excuse me, in this instance, than I 
can be to excuse myself. But, in good truth, it was abominable 
pride of heart, indignation, and vanity, and deserves no better 

Once more, however obsolete Cowper's belief, and the language 
in which he expresses it may have become for many of us, we 
must take it as his philosophy of life. At this time, at all 
events, it was a source of happiness. "The storm being passed, 
a quiet and peaceful serenity of soul succeeded;" and the 
serenity in this case was unquestionably produced in part by 
the faith. 

I was a stricken deer that left the herd 
Long since ; with many an arrow deep infixed 
My panting side was charged, when I withdrew 
To seek a tranquil death in distant shades. 
There was I found by one who had himself 
Been hurt by the archers. In his side he bore 
And in his hands and feet the cruel scars, 
With gentle force soliciting the darts, 
He drew them forth and healed and bade me live. 

Cowper thought for a moment of taking orders, but his dread 
of appearing in public conspired with the good sense which lay 
beneath his excessive sensibility to put a veto on the design. 
He, however, exercised the zeal of a neophyte in proselytism 
to a greater extent than his own judgment and good taste 
approved when his enthusiasm had calmed down. 




COWPEII had not been two years with the Unwins when Mr. 
TJnwin, the father, was killed by a fall from his horse; this 
broke up the household. But between Cowper and Mrs, 
Unwin an indissoluble tie had been formed. It seems clear, 
notwithstanding Southey's assertion to the contrary, that they 
at one time meditated marriage, possibly as a propitiation to the 
evil tongues which did not spare even this most innocent 
connexion; but they were prevented from fulfilling their 
intention by a return of Cowper's malady. They became 
companions for life. Cowper says they were as mother and 
son to each other ; but Mrs. TJnwin was only seven years older 
than he. To label their connexion is impossible, and to try to 
do it would be a platitude. In his poems Cowper calls Mrs. 
TJnwin Mary; she seems always to have called him Mr. Cowper. 
It is evident that her son, a strictly virtuous and religious man, 
never had the slightest misgiving about his mother's position. 

The pair had to choose a dwelling-place; they chose Olney 
in Buckinghamshire, on the Ouse. The Ouse was "a slow 
winding river," watering low meadows, from which crept 
pestilential fogs. Olney was a dull town, or rather village, 
inhabited by a population of lace-makers, ill-paid, fever-stricken, 
and for the most part as brutal as they were poor. There was 
not a woman in the place excepting Mrs. Newton with whom 
Mrs. Unwin could associate, or to whom she could look for help 
in sickness or other need. The house in which the pair took 
up their abode was dismal, prison-like, and tumble-down; when 
they lelt it, the competitors for the succession were a cobbler 
and u publican. It looked upon the Market Place, but it was 


in the close neighbourhood of Silver End, the worst part of 
Olney. In winter the cellars were full of water. Thero were 
no pleasant walks within easy reach, and in winter Cowper's 
only exercise was pacing thirty yards of gravel, with the dreary 
supplement of dumb-bells. What was the attraction to this 
" well," this " abyss," as Cowpcr himself called it, and as, 
physically and socially, it was? 

The attraction was the presence of the Rev. John Newton, 
then curate of Olney. The vicar was MOSPS Brown, an 
Evangelical and a religious writer, who has even deserved a 
place among the worthies of the revival ; but a family of 
thirteen children, some of whom it appears too closely resembled 
the sons of Eli, had compelled him to take advantage of the 
indulgent character of the ecclesiastical polity of those days by 
becoming a pluralist and a non-resident, so that the curate had 
Olney to himself. The patron was the Lord Dartmouth, who, 
as Oowper says, " wore a coronet and prayed." John Newton 
was one of the shining lights and foremost leaders and preachers 
of the revival. His name was great both in the Evangelical 
churches within the pale of the Establish) i ent, and in the 
Methodist churches without it. He was a brand plucked from 
the very heart of the burning. We have a memoir of his life, 
partly written by himself, in the form of letters, and completed 
under his superintendence. It is a monument of the age of 
Smollet and Wesley, not less characteristic than is Cellini's 
memoir of thu times in which he lived. His father was master 
of a vessel, and took him to sea when he was eleven. His 
mother was a pious Dissenter, who was at great pains to store 
his mind with religious thoughts and pieces. She died when 
he was young, and his stepmother was not pious. He began 
to drag his religious anchor, and at length, having read 
Shaftesbury, left his theological moorings altogether, and drifted 
into a wide sea of ungodliness, blasphemy, and recklessness of 
living. Such at least is the picture drawn by the sinner saved 


of his own earlier years. While still but a stripling he fell 
desperately in love with a girl of thirteen; his affection for her 
was as constant as it was romantic; through all his wanderings 
and sufferings he never ceased to think of her, and after 
seven years she became his wife. His father frowned on the 
engagement, and he became estranged from home. He was 
impressed ; narrowly escaped shipwreck, deserted, and was 
arrested and flogged as a deserter. Released from the navy, he 
was taken into the service of a slave-dealer on the coast of 
Africa, at whose hands, and those of the man's negro mistress, 
he endured every sort of ill-treatment and contumely, being so 
starved that he was fain sometimes to devour raw roots to stay 
his hunger. His constitution must have been of iron to carry 
him through all that he endured. In the meantime his 
indomitable mind was engaged in attempts at self-culture ; he 
studied a Euclid which he had brought with him, drawing his 
diagrams on the sand, and he afterwards managed to teach 
himself Latin by means of a Horace and a Latin Uible. aided 
by some slight vestiges of the education which he had received 
at a grammar school. His conversion was brought about by 
the continued influences of Thomas a Kempis, of a very 
narrow escape, after terrible sufferings, from shipwreck, of the 
impression made by the sights of the mighty deep on a soul 
which, in its weather-beaten casing, had retained its native 
sensibility, and, we may safely add, of the disregarded but not 
forgotten teachings of his pious mother. Providence was now 
kind to him; he became captain of a slave-ship, and made 
several voyages on the business of the trade. That it was a 
wicked trade he seems to have had no idea : he says he never 
knew sweeter or more frequent hours of divine communion 
than on his two last voyages to Guinea. Afterwards ifc 
occurred to him that though his employment was genteel and 
profitable, it made him a sort of gaoler, unpleasantly conversant 
with both chains and shackles; and he besought Providence 
to fix him in a more humane calling. 


In answer to his prayer came a fit of apoplexy, which made 
it dangerous for him to go to sea again. He obtained an office 
in the port of Liverpool, but soon he set his heart on becoming a 
minister of the Church of England. He applied for ordination 
to the Archbishop of York, but not having the degree required 
by the rules of the Establishment, he received through his 
Grace's secretary " the softest refusal imaginable." The Arch 
bishop had not had the advantage of perusing Lord Macaulay's 
remarks on the difference between the policy of the Church of 
England and that of the Church of Rome, with regard to the 
utilization of religious enthusiasts. In the end Newton was 
ordained by the Bishop of Lincoln, and threw himself with the 
energy of a new-born apostle upon the irreligion and brutality 
of Olney. No Carthusian's breast could glow more intensely 
with the zeal which is the offspring of remorse. Newton was 
a Calvinist of course, though it seems not an extreme one, 
otherwise he would probably havo confirmed Cowper in the 
darkest of hallucinations. His religion was one of mystery 
and miracle, full of sudden conversions, special providences 
and satanic visitations. He himself says that " his name was 
up about the country for preaching people mad:" it is true that 
in the eyes of the profane Methodism itself was madness ; but 
he goes on to say " whether it is owing to the sedentary life the 
women live here, poring over their (lace) pillows for ten or 
twalve hours every day, and breathing confined air in their 
crowded little rooms, or whatever may be the immediate cause, 
I suppose we have near a dozen in different degrees disordered 
in their heads, and most of them I believe truly gracious people." 
He surmises that "these things are permitted in judgment, 
that they who seek occasion for cavilling and stumbling may 
have what they want." Nevertheless there were in him not 
only force, courage, burning zeal for doing good, but great 
kindness, and even tenderness of heart. " I see in this world," 
he said, '' two heaps of human happiness and misery ; now if I 


can take but the smallest bit from one heap and add it to the 
other I carry a point if, as I go home, a child has dropped a 
half-penny, and by giving it another I can wipe away its tears, 
I feel I have done something." There was even in him a 
strain, if not of humour, of a shrewdness which was akin to it, 
and expressed itself in many pithy sayings. " If two angels 
came down from heaven to execute a divine command, and one 
was appointed to conduct an empire and the other to sweep a 
street in it, they would feel no inclination to change employ 
ments." "A Christian should never plead spirituality for 
being a sloven ; if he be but a shoe-cleaner, he should be the 
best in the parish." "My principal method for defeating heresy 
is by establishing truth. One proposes to fill a bushel with tares; 
now if I can fill it first with wheat, I shall defy his attempts." 
That his Calvinism was not very dark or sulphureous, seems to 
be shown from his repeating with gusto the saying of one of 
the old women of Olney when some preacher dwelt on the 
doctrine of predestination "Ah, I have long settled that 
point ; for if God had not chosen me before I was born, I am 
sure he would have seen nothing to have chosen me for after 
wards." That he had too much sense to take mere profession 
for religion appears from his describing the Calvinists of Olney 
as of two sorts, which reminded him of the two baskets of 
Jeremiah's figs. The iron constitution which had carried him 
through so many hardships, enabled him to continue in his 
ministry to extreme old age. A friend at length counselled 
him to stop before he found himself stopped by being able to 
speak no longer. "I cannot stop," he said, raising his voice. 
" What ! shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can 

At the instance of a common friend, Newton had paid Mrs. 
Unwin a visit at Huntingdon, after her husband's death, and 
had at once established the ascendancy of a powerful character 
over her and Cowper. He now beckoned the pair to his side, 


placed them in the house adjoining his own, and opened a 
private door between the two gardens, so as to have his 
spiritual children always beneath his eye. Under this, in the 
most essential respect, unhappy influence, Cowper and Mrs. 
Unwin together entered on "a decided course of Christian 
happiness " That is to say they spent all their days in a round 
of religious exercises without relaxation or relief. On fine 
summer evenings, as the sensible Lady Hesketh saw with 
dismay, instead of a walk, there was a prayer-meeting. Cowper 
himself was made to do violence to his intense shyness by 
leading in prayer. He was also made to visit the poor at once 
on spiritual missions, and on that of almsgiving, for which 
Thornton, the religious philanthropist, supplied Newton and 
his disciples with means. This, which Southey appears to 
think about the worst part of Newton's regimen, was probably 
its redeeming feature. The effect of doing good to others on 
any mind was sure to be good ; and the sight of real suffering 
was likely to banish fancied ills. Cowper in this way gained 
at all events a practical knowledge of the poor, and learned to 
do them justice, though from a rather too theological point of 
view. Seclusion from the sinful world was as much a part 
of the system of Mr. Newton, as it was of the system of Saint 
Benedict. Cowper was almost entirely cut off from intercourse 
with his friends and people of his own class. He dropped his 
correspondence even with his beloved cousin, Lady Hesketh, 
and would probably have dropped his correspondence with Hill, 
had not Hill's assistance in money matters been indispensable. 
To complete his mental isolation it appears that having sold his 
library he had scarcely any books. Such a course of Christian 
happiness as this could only end in one way ; and Newton 
himself seems to have had the sense to see that a storm was 
brewing, and that there was no way of conjuring it but ly 
contriving some more congenial occupation. So the disciple 
was commanded to employ his poetical gifts in contributing to 


a hymn-book which Newton was compiling. Cowper's ^iey 
hymns have not any serious value as poetry. Hymns rarely 
have. The relations of man with Deity transcend and repel 
poetical treatment. There is nothing in them on which the 
creative imagination can be exercised. Hymns can be little 
more than incense of the worshipping soul. Those of the Latin 
church are the best ; not because they are better poetry than 
the rest (for they are not), but because their language is the 
most sonorous. Cowper's hymns were accepted by the religious 
body for which they were written, as expressions of its spiritual 
feeling and desires ; so far they were successful. They are the 
work of a religious man of culture, and free from anything 
wild, erotic, or unctuous. But on the other hand there is 
nothing in them suited to be the vehicle of lofty devotion, 
nothing, that we can conceive a multitude or even a prayer- 
meeting uplifting to heaven with voice and heart. Southey 
has pointed to some passages on which the shadow of the 
advancing malady falls; but in the main there is a predominance 
of religious joy and hope. The most despondent hymn of the 
series is Temptation, the thought of which resembles that of 
The Castaway. 

Cowper's melancholy may have been aggravated by the loss 
of his only brother, who died about this time, and at whose 
death-bed he was present ; though in the narrative which he 
wrote, joy at John's conversion and the religious happiness of 
his end seems to exclude the feelings by which hypochondria 
was likely to be fed. But his mode of life under Newton was 
enough to account for the return of his disease, which in this 
sense may be fairly laid to the charge of religion. He again 
went mad, fancied as before that he was rejected of heaven, 
ceased to pray as one helplessly doomed, and again attempted 
suicide. Newton and Mrs. Unwin at first treated the disease 
as a diabolical visitation, and " with deplorable consistency," 
to borrow the phrase nsecj by one pf their friends in the case 


of Cowper's desperate abstinence from prayer, abstained from 
calling in a physician. Of this again their religion must bear 
the reproach. In other respects they behaved admirably. 
Mrs. Unwin, shut up for sixteen months with her unhappy 
partner, tended him with unfailing love ; alone she did it, for 
he could bear no one else about him ; though to make her part 
more trying he had conceived the insane idea that she hated 
him. Seldom has a stronger proof been given of the sustaining 
power of affection. Assuredly of whatever Cowper may have 
afterwards done for his kind, a great part must be set down to 
the credit of Mrs. Unwin. 

Mary ! I want a lyre with other strings, 

Such aid from heaven as some have feigned they drew, 

An eloquence scarce given to mortals, new 
And undebased by prais : of meaner things, 
That, ere through age or woe I shed my wings, 

I may record thy worth with honour due, 

In verse as musical as thou art true, 
And that immortalizes whom it sings. 
But thou hast little need. There is a book 

By seraphs writ with beams of heavenly light, 
On which the eyes of God not rarely look, 

A chronicle of actions just and bright ; 
Tht re all thy deeds, my faithful Mary shine, 
And, since thou owii'st that praise, I spare thee mine. 

Newton's friendship too was sorely tried. In the midst of 
the malady the lunatic took it into his head to transfer himself 
from his own house to the Vicarage, which he obstinately 
refused to leave ; and Newton bore this infliction for several 
mouths without repining, though he might well pray earnestly 
for his friend's deliverance. "The Lord has numbered the 
days in which I am appointed to wait on him in this dark 
valley, and he has given us such a love to him, both as a 
believer and a friend, that I am not weary ; but to be sure his 
deliverance would be to me one of the greatest blessings my 


thoughts can conceive." Dr. Cotton was at last called in, and 
under his treatment, evidently directed against a bodily disease, 
Cowper was at length restored to sanity. 

Newton once compared his own walk in the world to that 
of a physician going through Bedlam. But he was not skilful 
in his treatment of the literally insane. He thought to cajole 
Cowper out of his cherished horrors by calling his attention to 
a case resembling his own. The case was that of Simon 
Browne, a Dissenter, who had conceived the idea that, being 
under the displeasure of Heaven, he had been entirely deprived 
of his rational being and left with merely his animal nature. 
He had accordingly resigned his ministry, and employed himself 
in compiling a dictionary, which, he said, was doing nothing 
that could require a reasonable soul. He seems to have thought 
that theology fell under the same category, for he proceeded to 
write some theological treatises, which he dedicated to Queen 
Caroline, calling her Majesty's attention to the singularity of 
the authorship as the most remarkable phenomenon of her 
reign. Cowper, however, instead of falling into the desired 
train of reasoning, and being led to suspect the existence of a 
similar illusion in himself, merely rejected the claim of the 
pretended rival in spiritual affliction, declaring his own case to 
be far the more deplorable of the two. 

Before the decided course of Christian happiness had time 
again to culminate in madness, fortunately for Cowper, Newton 
left Olney for St. Mary Woolnoth. He was driven away at 
last by a quarrel with his barbarous parishioners, the cause of 
which did him credit. A fire broke out at Olney, and burnt a 
good many of its straw-thatched cottages. Newton ascribed 
the extinction of the fire rather to prayer than water, but he 
took the lead in practical measures of relief, and tried to 
remove the earthly cause of such visitations by putting an 
end to bonfires and illuminations on the 5th of November. 
Threatened with the loss of their Guy Fawkes, the barbatians 


;ose upon him, and he had a narrow escape from their violence. 
We are reminded of the case of Cotton Mather, who, after 
being a leader in witch-burning, nearly sacrificed his life in 
combating the fanaticism which opposed itself to the intro 
duction of inoculation. Let it always be remembered that 
besides its theological side, the Revival had its philanthropic 
and moral side * that it abolished the slave trade, and at last 
slavery ; that it waged war, and effective war, under the 
standard of the gospel, upon masses of vice and brutality, 
which had been totally neglected by the torpor of the Establish 
ment ; that among large classes of the people it was the great 
civilizing agency of the time. 

Newton was succeeded as curate of Olney by his disciple, 
aiid a man of somewhat the same cast of mind and character, 
Thomas Scott the writer of the Commentary on the Bible and 
The Force of Truth. To Scott Oowper seems not to have 
greatly taken. He complains that, as a preacher, he is always 
scolding the congregation. Perhaps Newton had foreseen that 
it would be so, for he specially commended the spiritual son 
whom he was leaving, to the care of the Rev. William Bull, of 
the neighbouring town of Newport Pagnell, a dissenting 
minister, but a member of a spiritual connexion which did not 
stop at the line of demarcation between Nonconformity and 
the Establishment. To Bull Cowper did greatly take ; he 
extols him as " a Dissenter, but a liberal one," a man of letters 
and of genius, master of a fine imagination or, rather, not 
master of it and addresses him as Carissime Taurorum. It 
is rather singular that Newton should have given himself such 
a successor. Bull was a great smoker, and had made himself a 
cozy and secluded nook in his garden for the enjoyment of his 
pipe. He was probably something of a spiritual as well as of 
a physical Quietist, for he set GWper to translate the poetry 
of the great exponent of Quietism, Madame Guyon. The 
theme of all the pieces which Cowper has translated is the 


same Divine Love and the raptures of the heart that enjoys 
it the blissful union of the drop with the Ocean the Evan 
gelical Nirvana. If this line of thought was not altogether 
healthy, or conducive to the vigorous performance of practical 
duty, it was at all events better than the dark fancy of Repro 
bation. In his admiration of Madame Guyon, her translator 
showed his affinity, and that of Protestants of the same school, 
to Fe*nelon and the Evangelical element which has lurked in the 
Roman Catholic church since the days of Thomas a Kempis. 



SINCE his recovery, Cowper had been looking out for what 
he most needed, a pleasant occupation He tried drawing, 
carpentering, gardening. Of gardening he had always been 
fond ; and he understood it as shown by the loving though 
somewhat " stercoraceous " minuteness of some passages in The 
Task. A little greenhouse, used as a parlour in summer, where 
lie sat surrounded by beauty and fragrance, and lulled by 
pleasant sounds, was another product of the same pursuit, and 
seems almost Elysian in that dull dark life. He also found 
amusement in keeping tame hares, and he fancied that he had 
reconciled the hare to man and dog. His three tame hares are 
among the canonized pets of literature, and they were to his 
genius what " Sailor" was to the genius of Byron. But Mrs. 
Unwin, who had terrible reason for studying his case, saw that 
the thing most wanted was congenial employment for the mind, 
and she incited him to try his hand at poetry on a larger scale. 
He listened to her advice, and when he was nearly fifty years 

COWPEft. 45 

of age became a poet. He had acquired the faculty of vei'se- 
v/riting, as we have seen ; he had even to some extent formed 
his manner when he was young. Age must by this time have 
quenched his fire, and tamed his imagination, so that the 
didactic style would suit him best. In the length of the 
interval between his early poems and his great work he 
resembles Milton ; but widely different in the two cases had 
been the current of the intervening years. 

Poetry written late in life is of course free from youthful 
crudity and extravagance. It also escapes the youthful tendency 
to imitation. Cowper's authorship is ushered in by Southey 
with a history of English poetry ; but this is hardly in place ; 
Cowper had little connexion with anything before him. Even 
his knowledge of pcetry was not great. In his youth he had 
read the great poets, and had studied Milton especially with 
the ardour of intense admiration. Nothing ever made him so 
angry as Johnson's Life of Milton. "Oh!" he cries, "I could 
thrash his old jacket till I made his pension jingle in his 
pocket." Churchill had made a great far too great an 
impression on him, when he was a Templar. Of Churchill, if 
of anybody, he must be regarded as a follower, though only 
in his earlier and less successful poems. In expression he 
always regarded as a model the neat and gay simplicity of 
Prior. But so little had he kept up his reading of anything 
but sermons and hymns, that he learned for the first time from 
Johnson's Lives the existence of Collins. He is the offspring 
of the Religious Revival rather than of any school of art. His 
most important relation to any of his predecessors is, in fact, 
one of antagonism to the hard glitter of Pope. 

In urging her companion to write poetry, Mrs. Unwin was 
on the right path ; her puritanism led her astray in the choice 
of a theme. She suggested The Progress of Error as a subject 
for a " Moral Satire." It was unhappily adopted, and The, 
Progess of Error was followed by Truth, Table Talk, Ex- 


poslulation, Hope, Charity, Conversation, and Retirement. 
When the seiies was published, Table Talk was put first, being 
supposed to be the lightest and the most attractive to an 
unregenerate world. The judgment passed upon this set of 
poems at the time by the Critical Review seems blasphemous to 
the fond biographer, and is so devoid of modern smartness as 
to be almost interesting as a literary fossil. But it must be 
deemed essentially just, though the reviewer errs, as many 
reviewers have erred, in measuring the writer's capacity by the 
standard of his first performance. u These poems, said the 
Critical Review, "are written, as we learn from the title-page, 
by Mr. Cowper of the Inner Temple, who seems to be a man 
of a sober and religious turn of mind, with a benevolent heart, 
and a serious wish to inculcate the precepts of morality ; he is 
not, however, possessed of any superior abilities or the power of 
genius requisite for so arduous an undertaking. .... He 
says what is incontrovertible and what has been said over and 
over again with much gravity, but says nothing new, sprightly 
or entertaining; travelling on a plain level flat road, with great 
composure almost through the whole long and tedious volume, 
which is little better than a dull sermon in very indifferent 
verse on Truth, the Progress of Error, Charity, and some other 
grave subjects. If this author had followed the advice given by 
Caraccioli, and which he has chosen for one of the mottoes pre 
fixed to these poems, he would have clothed his indisputable 
truths in some more becoming disguise, and rendered his work 
much more agreeable. In its present shape we cannot compli 
ment him on its beauty; for as this bard himself sweetly sings : 

The clear harangue, and cold as it is clear, 
Falls soporific on the listless ear." 

In justice to the bard it ought to be said that he wrote under 
the eye of the Rev. John Newton, to whom the design had 
been duly submitted, and who had given his imprimatur in the 

C6WPER. 47 

shape of a preface which took Johnson the publisher aback by 
its gravity. Newton would not have sanctioned any poetry 
which had not a distinctly religious object, and he received an 
assurance from the poet that the lively passages were introduced 
only as honey on the rim of the medicinal cup, to commend its 
healing contents to the lips of a giddy world. The Rev. John 
Newton must have been exceedingly austere if he thought that 
the quantity of honey used was excessive. 

A genuine desire to make society better is always present in 
these- poems, and its presence lends them the only interest which 
they possess except as historical monuments of a religious 
movement. Of satirical vigour they have scarcely a semblance. 
There are three kinds of satire, corresponding to as many 
different views of humanity and life; the Stoical, the Cynical, 
and the Epicurean. Of Stoical satire, with its strenuous hatred 
of vice and wrong, the typo is Juvenal. Of Cynical satire, 
springing from bitter contempt of humanity, the type is Swift's 
Gulliver, while its quintessence is embodied in his lines on the 
Day of Judgment. Of Epicurean satire, flowing from a con 
tempt of humanity which is not bitter, and lightly playing 
with the weakness and vanities of mankind, Horace is the 
classical example. To the first two kinds, Cowper's nature was 
totally alien, and when he attempts anything in either of those 
lines, the only result is a querulous and censorious acerbity, in 
which his real feelings had no part, and which on mature 
reflection offended his own better taste. In the Horatian kind 
he might have excelled, as the episode of the Retired Statesman 
in one of those poems shows. He might have excelled, that 
is, if like Horace he had known the world. But he did not 
know the world. He saw the " great Babel " only " through 
the loopholes of retreat," and in the columns of his weekly 
newspaper. Even during the years, long past, which he spent 
in the world, his experience had been confined to a small 
literary circle. Society was to him an abstraction on which he 


discoursed like a pulpiteer. His satiric whip not only has no 
lash, it is brandished in the air. 

No man was ever less qualified for the office of a censor; his 
judgment is at once disarmed, and a breach in his principles is 
at once made by the slightest personal influence. Bishops are 
bad; they are like the Cretans, evil beasts and slow bellies; 
but the bishop whose brother Cowper knows is a blessing to 
the Church. Deans and Canons are lazy sinecurists, but there 
is a bright exception in the case of the Cowper who held a 
golden stall at Durham. Grinding India is a criminal, but 
Warren Hastings is acquitted, because he was with Cowper at 
Westminster. Discipline was deplorably relaxed in all colleges 
except that of which Cowper's brother was a fellow. Pluralities 
and resignation bonds, the grossest abuses of the Church, were 
perfectly defensible in the case of any friend or acquaintance of 
this Church Reformer. Bitter lines against Popery inserted in 
The Task were struck out, because the writer had made the 
acquaintance of Mr. and Mrs. Thro.kmorton, who were Roman 
Catholics. Smoking was detestable, except when practised by 
dear Mr. Bull. Even gambling, the blackest sin of fashionable 
society, is not to prevent Fox, the great Whig, from being a 
ruler in Israel. Besides, in all his social judgments, Cowper is 
at a wrong point of view. He is always deluded by the idol 
of his cave. He writes perpetually on the twofold assumption 
that a life of retirement is more favourable to virtue than a 
life of action, and that " God made the country, while man 
made the town." Both parts of the assumption are untrue. 
A life of action is more favourable to virtue, as a rule, than a 
lue of retirement, and the development of humanity is higher 
and richer, as a rule, in the town than in the country. If 
Cowper's retirement was virtuous, it was so because he was 
actively employed in the exercise of his highest faculties : had 
he been a mere idler, secluded from his kind, his retirement 
would not have been virtuous at all. His flight from the 

COWPEtt. 4 

v^orld was rendered necessary by his malady, and respectable 
by his literary work ; but it was a flight and not a victory. 
His misconception was fostered and partly produced by a 
religion which was essentially ascetic, and which, while it gave 
birth to characters of the highest and most energetic beneficence, 
represented salvation too little as the reward of effort, too much 
as the reward of passive belief and of spiritual emotion. 

The most readable of the Moral Satires is Retirement, in 
which the writer is on his own ground expressing his genuine 
feelings, and which is, in fact, a foretaste of The Task. Ex 
postulation, a warning to England from the example of the 
Jews, is the best constructed : the rest are totally wanting in 
unity, and even in connexion. In all there are flashes of 
epigrammatic smartness. 

How shall I speak thee, or thy power address, 
Thou God of our idolatry, the press ? 
By thee, religion, liberty, and laws 
Exert their influence, and advance their cause ; 
By thee, worse plagues than Pharaoh's land befol, 
Diffused, make earth the vestibule of hell : 
Thou fountain, at which drink the good and wise, 
Thou ever-bubbling spring of endless lies, 
Like Eden's dread probationary tree, 
Knowledge of good and evil is from thee. 

Occasionally there are passages of higher merit. The episode 
of statesmen in Retirement has been already mentioned. The 
lines on the two disciples going to Emmaus in Conversation, 
though little more than a paraphrase of the Gospel narrative, 
convey pleasantly the Evangelical idea of the Divine Friend. 
Cowper says in one of his letters that he had been intimate 
with a man of flue taste who had confessed to him that though 
he could not subscribe to the truth of Christianity itself, he 
could never read this passage of St. Luke without being deeply 
affected by it, and feeling that if the stamp of divinity was 


impressed upon anything in the Scriptures, it was upon that 

It happen'd on a solemn eventide, 
Soon after He that was our surety died, 
Two bosom friends, each pensively inclined, 
The scene of all those sorrows left behind, 
Sought their own village, busied as they went 
In musings worthy of the great event : 
They spake of him they loved, of him whose life, 
Though blameless, had incurr'd perpetual strife, 
Whose deeds had left, in spite of hostile arts, 
A deep memorial graven on their hearts. 
The recollection, like a vein of ore, 
The farther traced enrich'd them still the more ; 
They thought him, and they justly thought him, one 
Sent to do more than he appear'd to have done, 
To exalt a people, and to place them high 
Above all else, and wonder'd he should die. 
Ere yet they brought their journey to an end, 
A stranger join'd them, courteous as a friend, 
And ask'd them with a kind engaging air 
What their affliction was, and begg'd a share. 
Inform'd, he gather'd up the broken thread, 
. And truth and wisdom gracing all he said, 
Explain'd, illustrated, and search'd so well 
The tender theme on which they chose to dwell, 
That reaching home, the night, they said is near, 
We must not now be parted, sojourn here. 
The new acquaintance soon became a guest, 
And made so welcome at their simple feast, 
He bless'd the bread, but vanish'd at the word, 
And left them both exclaiming, 'Twas the Lord ! 
Did not our hearts feel all he deign'd to say, 
Did they not burn within us by the way ? 

The prude going to morning church in Truth is a good 
rendering of Hogarth's picture : 

Yon ancient prude, whose wither'd features show 
She might be young some forty years ago, 


Her elbows pinion'd close upon her hips, 
Her head erect, her fan upon her lips, 
Her eyebrows arch'd, her eyes both gone astray 
To watch yon amorous couple in their play, 
With bony and unkerchief'd neck defies 
The rude inclemency of wintry skies, 
And sails with lappet-head and mincing airs 
Daily at clink of bell, to morning prayers. 
To thrift and parsimony much inclined, 
She yet allows herself that boy behind ; 
The shivering urchin, bending as he goes, 
With slipshod heels, and dew-drop at his nose, 
His predecessor's coat advanced to wear, 
Which future pages are yet doom'd to share ; 
Carries her Bible tuck'd beneath his arm, 
And hides his hands to keep his fingers warm. 

Of personal allusions there are a few; if the satirist had not 
been prevented from indulging in them by his taste, he would 
have been debarred by his ignorance. Lord Chesterfield, a.s 
the incarnation of the world and the most brilliant servant 
of the arch-enemy, comes in for a lashing under the name of 

Petronius ! all the muses weep for thee, 
But every tear shall scald thy memory. 
The graces too, while virtue at their shrine 
Lay bleeding under that soft hand of thine, 
Felt each a mortal stab in her own breast, 
Abhorr'd the sacrifice, and cursed the priest. 
Thou polish'd and high-finish'd foe to truth, 
Gray-beard corrupter of our listening youth, 
To purge and skim away the filth of vice, 
That so refined it might the more entice, 
Then pour it on the moral of thy son 
To taint his heart, was worthy of thine own. 

This is about the nearest approach to Juvenal that the 
Evangelical satirist ever makes. In Hope there is a vehement 
vindication of the memory of Whitefield. It is rather remark- 


able that there is no mention of Wesley. But Cowper belonged 
to the Evangelical rather than to the Methodist section. It 
may be doubted whether the living Whitefteld would have 
been much to his taste. 

In the versification of the moral satires there are frequent 
faults, especially in the earlier poems of the series; though 
Cowper's power of writing musical verse is attested both by 
the occasional poems and by The Task. 

"With the Moral Satires may be coupled, though written later, 
Tirocinium, or a Review of Schools. Here Cowper has the 
advantage of treating a subject which he understood, about 
which he felt strongly, and desired for a practical purpose to 
stir the feelings of his readers. He set to work in bitter 
earnest. "There is a sting," he says, "in verse that prose 
neither has nor can have ; aud I do not know that schools in 
the gross, and especially public schools, have ever been so 
pointedly condemned before. But they are become a nuisance, 
a pest, an abomination, and it is fit that the eyes and noses of 
mankind should be opened if possible to perceive it." His 
descriptions of the miseries which children in his day endured, 
and, in spite of all our improvements, must still to some extent 
endure in boarding schools, and of the effect of the system 
in estranging boys from their parents and deadening home 
affections, are vivid and true. Of course the Public School 
system was not to be overturned by rhyming, but the author 
of Tirocinium awakened attention to its faults, and probably 
did something towards amending them. The best lines, perhaps, 
have been already quoted in connexion with the history of the 
writer's boyhood. There are, however, other telling passages 
such as that on the indiscriminate use of emulation as a 
stimulus : 

Our public hives of puerile resort 

That are of chief and most approved report, 

To such base hopes in many a sordid soul 


Owe their repute in part, but not the whole. 

A principle, whose proud pretensions pass 

Unquestion'd, though the jewel be but glass, 

That with a world not often over-nice 

Ranks as a virtue, and is yet a vice, 

Or rather a gross compound, justly tried, 

Of envy, hatred, jealousy, and pride, 

Contributes most perhaps to enhance their fame, 

And Emulation is its precious name. 

Boys once on fire with that contentious zeal 

Feel all the rage that female rivals feel ; 

The prize of beauty in a woman's eyes 

Not brighter than in theirs the scholar's prize. 

The spirit of that competition burns 

With all varieties of ill by turns, 

Each vainly magnifies his own success, 

Resents his fellow's, wishes it were less, 

Exults in his miscarriage if he fail, 

.Deems his reward too great if he prevail, 

And labours to surpass him day and night, 

Less for improvement, than to tickle spite. 

The spur is powerful, and I grant its force ; 

It pricks the genius forward in its course, 

Allows short time for play, and none for sloth, 

And felt alike by each, advances both, 

But judge where so much evil intervenes, 

The end, though plausible, not worth the means. 

Weigh, for a moment, classical desert 

Against a heart depraved and temper hurt, 

Hurt, too, perhaps for life, for early wrong 

Done to the nobler part, affects it long, 

And you are staunch indeed in learning's cause, 

If you can crown a discipline that draws 

Such mischiefs after it, with much applause. 

He might have done more, if he had been able to point to 
the alternative of a good day school, as a combination of home 
affection with the superior teaching hardly to be found, except 
in a large school, and which Cowper, in drawing his comparison 
between the two systems, fails to take into account, 


To the same general class of poems belongs Anti-Thelypthora, 
which it is due to Cowper's memory to say was not published 
in his lifetime. It is an angry pasquinade on an absurd book 
advocating polygamy on Biblical grounds, by the Rev. Mai tin 
Madan, Cowper's quondam spiritual counsellor. Alone among 
Cowper's works it has a taint of coarseness. 

The Moral Satires pleased Franklin, to whom their social 
philosophy was congenial, as at a later day in common with all 
Cowper's works, they pleased Cobden, who no doubt specially 
relished the passage in Charity, embodying the philanthropic 
sentiment of Free Trade. There was a trembling consultation 
as to the expediency of bringing the volume under the notice 
of Johnson, "One of his pointed sarcasms, if he should 
happen to be displeased, would soon find its way into all 
companies and spoil the sale." "I think it would be well to 
send in our joint names, accompanied with a handsome card, 
such an one as you will know how to fabricate, and such as 
may predispose him to a favourable perusal of the book, by 
coaxing him into a good temper ; for he is a great bear, with 
all his learning and penetration." Fear prevailed ; but it seems 
that the book found its way into the dictator's hands, that his 
judgment on it was kind, and that he even did something to 
temper the wind of adverse criticism to the shorn lamb. Yet 
parts of it were likely to incur his displeasure as a Tory, as a 
Churchman, and as one who greatly preferred Fleet Street to 
the beauties of nature; while with the sentimental misery of 
the writer, he could have had no sympathy whatever. Of the 
incompleteness of Johnson's view of character there could be 
no better instance than the charming weakness of Cowper. 
Thurlow and Colman did not even acknowledge their copies, 
and were lashed for their breach of friendship with rather more 
vigour than the Moral Satires display, in The Valedictory, 
which unluckily survived for posthumous publication when the 
culprits had made their peace. 


Cowper certainly misread himself if he believed that ambition, 
even literary ambition, was a large element in his character. 
But having published, he felt a keen interest in the success of 
his publication. Yet he took its failure and the adverse criticism 
very calmly. With all his sensitiveness, from irritable and 
suspicious egotism, such as is the most common cause of moral 
madness, he was singularly free. In this respect his philosophy 
served him well. 

It may safely be said that the Moral Satires would have sunk 
into oblivion if they had not been buoyed up by The Task. 



MRS. UNWIN'S influence produced the Moral Satires. The 
Task was born of a more potent inspiration. One day Mrs. 
Jones, the wife of a neighbouring clergyman, came into Olney 
to shop, and with her came her sister, Lady Austen, the widow 
of a Baronet, a woman of the world, who had lived much in 
France, gay, sparkling and vivacious, but at the same time full 
of feeling even to overflowing. The apparition acted like 
magic on the recluse. He desired Mrs. Unwin to ask the two 
ladies to stay to tea, then shrank from joining the party which 
he had himself invited, ended by joining it, and, his shyness 
giving way with a rush, engaged in animated conversation with 
Lady Austen, and walked with her part of the way home. On 
her an equally great effect appears to have been produced. A 
warm friendship at once sprang up, and before long Lady 
Austen had verses addressed to her as Sister Anne. Her 
ladyship, on her part, was smitten with a great love of retire- 


merit, and at the same time with great admiration for Mr. 
Scott, the curate of Olney, as a preacher, and she resolved to 
fit up for herself "that part of our great building which is at 
present occupied by Dick Coleman, his wife and child, and a 
thousand rats." That a woman of fashion, accustomed to 
French salons, should choose such an abode, with a pair of 
Puritans for her only society, seems to show that one of the 
Puritans at least must have possessed great powers of attraction. 
Better quarters were found for her in the Yicarage ; and the 
private way between the gardens, which apparently had been 
closed since Newton's departure, was opened again. 

Lady Austen's presence evidently wrought on Cowper like 
an elixir : " From a scene of the most uninterrupted retire 
ment," he writes to Mrs. Unwin, " we have passed at once into 
a state of constant engagement. Not that our society is much 
multiplied ; the addition of an individual has made all this 
difference. Lady Austen and we pass our days alternately at 
each other's Chateau. In the morning I walk with one or 
other of the ladies, and in the evening wind thread. Thus did 
Hercules, and thus probably did Samson, and thus do I \ and 
were both those heroes living. I should not fear to challenge 
them to a trial of skill in that business, or doubt to beat them 
both." It was perhaps while he was winding thread that Lady 
Austen told him the story of John Gil pin. He lay awake at 
night laughing over it, and next morning produced the ballad. 
It soon became famous, and was recited by Henderson, a 
popular actor, on the stage, though, as its gentility was doubtful, 
its author withheld his name. He afterwards fancied that this 
wonderful piece of humour had been written in a mood of the 
deepest depression. Probably he had writen it in an interval 
of high spirits between two such moods. Moreover he some 
times exaggerated his own misery. He will begin a letter with 
a de profundis, and towards the end forget his sorrows, glide 
into commonplace topics, and write about them IK the ordinary 


strain. Lady Austen inspired John Gilpin. She inspired, it 
seems, the lines on the loss of the Royal George. She did 
more: she invited Cowper to try his hand at something 
considerable in blank verse. When he asked her for a subject, 
she was happier in her choice than the lady who had suggested 
the Progress of Error. She bade him take the sofa on which 
she was reclining, and which, sofas being then uncommon, was 
a more striking and suggestive object than it would be now. The 
light chord was struck ; the subject was accepted ; and The 
Sofa grew into The Task ; the title of the song reminding us 
that it was " commanded by the fair." As Paradise Lost is to 
militant Puritanism, so is The Task to the religious movement 
of its author's time. To its character as the poem of a sect it 
no doubt owed and still owes much of its popularity. Not 
only did it give beautiful and effective expression to the 
sentiments of a large religious party, but it was about the only 
poetry that a strict Methodist or Evangelical could read; while 
to those whose worship was unritualistic and who were debarred 
by their principles from the theatre and the concert, anything 
in the way of art that was not illicit must have been eminently 
welcome. But The Task has merits of a more universal and 
enduring kind. Its author himself says of it : " If the work 
cannot boast a regular plan (in which respect, however, I do 
not think it altogether indefensible), it may yet boast, that the 
reflections are naturally suggested always by the preceding 
passage, and that, except the fifth book, which is rather of a 
political aspect, the whole has one tendency, to discountenance 
the modem enthusiasm after a London life, and to recommend 
rural ease and leisure as friendly to the cause of piety and 
virtue." A regular plan, assuredly, The Task has not. It 
rambles through a vast variety of subjects, religious, political, 
social, philosophical, and horticultural, with as little of method 
as its author used in taking his morning walks. Nor as 
Mr. Benham has shown, are the reflections, as a rule, naturally 


suggested by the preceding passage. From the use of a sofa 
by the gouty to those, who being free from gout, do not need 
sofas, and so to country walks and country life is hardly a 
natural transition. It is hardly a natural transition from the 
ice palace built by a Russian despot, to despotism and politics 
in general. But if Cowper deceives himself in fancying that 
there is a plan or a close connexion of parts, he is right as to 
the existence of a pervading tendency. The praise of retire 
ment and of country life as most friendly to piety and virtue, 
is the perpetual refrain of The Task, if not its definite theme. 
From this idea immediately flow the best and the most 
popular passages : those which please apart from anything 
peculiar to a religious school; those which keep the poem alive; 
those which have found their way into the heart of the nation, 
and intensified the taste for rural and domestic happiness, to 
which they most winningly appeal. In these Cowper pours 
out his inmost feelings, with the liveliness of exhilaration, 
enhanced by contrast with previous misery. The pleasures of 
the country and of home, the walk, the garden, but above all 
the "intimate delights" of the winter evening, the snug parlour, 
with its close-drawn curtains shutting out the stormy night, 
the steaming and bubbling tea-urn, the cheerful circle, the 
book read aloud, the newspaper through which we look out 
into the unquiet world, are painted by the writer with a heart 
felt enjoyment, which infects the reader. These are not the 
joys of a hero, nor are they the joys of an Alcseus " singing 
amidst the clash of arms, or when he had moored on the wet 
shore his storm-tost barque." But they are pure joys, and 
they present themselves in competition with those of Ranelagh 
and the Basset Table, which are not heroic or even masculine, 
any more than they are pure. 

The well-known passages at the opening of The Winter 
Evening, are the self-portraiture of a soul in bliss such bliss 
as that soul could know and the poet would have found it 


very difficult to depict to himself by the utmost effort of his 
religious imagination any paradise which he would really have 
enjoyed more. 

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast, 
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round, 
And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn 
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups 
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each, 
So let us welcome peaceful evening in. 

* * * * 

This folio of four pages, happy work ! 
Which not even critics criticise, that holds 
Inquisitive attention while I read 
Fast boxind in chains of silence, which the fair, 
Though eloquent themselves, yet fear to break, 
What is it but a map of busy life, 

Its fluctuations and its vast concerns ? 

* * * 

'Tis pleasant through the loop-holes of retreat 
To peep at such a world. To see the stir 
Of the great Babel and not feel the crowd. 
To hear the roar she sends through all her gates 
At a safe distance, where the dying sound 
Falls a soft murmur on the injured ear. 
Thus sitting and surveying thus at ease 
The globe and its concerns, I seem advanced 
To some secure and more than mortal height, 
That liberates and exempts me from them all. 
It turns submitted to my view, turns round 
With all its generations ; I behold 
The tumult and am still. The sound of war 
Has lost its terrors ere it reaches me, 
Grieves but alarms me not. I mourn the pride 
And avarice that make man a wolf to man, 
Hear the faint echo of those brazen throats 
By which he speaks the language of his heart, 
And sigh, but never tremble at the sound. 
He travels and expatiates, as the bee 
From flower to flower, so he from land to land 


The manners, customs, policy of all 

Pay contribution to the store he gleans ; 

He sucks intelligence in every clime, 

And spreads the honey of his deep research 

At his return, a rich repast for me. 

He travels, and I too. I tread his deck, 

Ascend his topmast, through his peering eyes 

Discover countries, with a kindred heart 

Suffer his woes and share in his escapes, 

While fancy, like the finger of a clock, 

Runs the great circuit, and is still at home. 

Oh winter ! ruler of the inverted year, 
Thy scatter'd hair with sleet like ashes fill'd, 
Thy breath congeal'd upon thy lips, thy cheeks 
Fringed with a beard made white with other snowa 
Than those of age ; thy forehead wrapt in clouds, 
A leafless branch thy sceptre, and thy throne 
A sliding car indebted to no wheels, 
And urged by storms along its slippery way ; 
I love thee, all unlovely as thou seern'st, * 

And dreaded as thou art. Thou hold'st the sun 
A prisoner in the yet undawning East, 
Shortening hi journey between morn and noon, 
And hurrying him impatient of his stay 
Down to the rosy West. But kindly still 
Compensating his loss with added hours 
Of social converse and instructive ease, 
And gathering at short notice in one group 
The family dispersed, and fixing thought, 
Not less dispersed by daylight and its cares. 
I crown thee king of intimate delights, 
Fire-side enjoyments, home-born happiness, 
And all the comforts that the lowly roof 
Of undisturb'd retirement, and the hours 
Of long uninterrupted evening know. 

The writer of The Task also deserves the crown wliir.fe he 
has himself claimed as a close observer and truthful painter of 
nature. In this respect, he challenges comparison with Thomson. 
The range of Thomson is far wider; he paints nature in all he* 


moods, Cowper only in a few and" those the gentlest, though he 
has said of himself that "he was always an admirer of 
thunder-storms, even before he knew whose voice he heard in 
them, but especially of thunder rolling over the great waters." 
The great waters he had not seen for many years; he had 
never, so far as we know, seen mountains, hardly even high 
hills ; his only landscape was the flat country watered by the 
Ouse. On the other hand he is perfectly genuine, thoroughly 
English, entirely emancipated from false Arcadianism, the yoke 
of which still sits heavily upon Thomson, whose 'muse" 
moreover is perpetually " wafting" him away from the country 
and the climate which he knows to countries and climates which 
he does not know, and which he describes in the style of a 
prize poem. Cowper's landscapes, too, are peopled with the 
peasantry of England ; Thomson's, with Damons, Palsemons, 
and Musidoras, tricked out in the sentimental costume of the 
sham idyl. In Thomson, you always find the effort of the 
artist working up a description; in Cowper, you find no effort; 
the scene is simply mirrored on a mind of great sensibility and 
high pictorial power. 

And witness, dear companion of my walks, 

Whose arm this twentieth winter I perceive 

Fast lock'd in mine, with pleasure such as love, 

Confirm'd by long experience of thy worth 

And well-tried virtues, could alone inspire 

Witness a joy that thou hast doubled long. 

Thou know'st my praise of nature most sincere, 

And that my raptures are not conjured up 

To serve occasions of poetic pomp, 

But genuine, and art partner of them all. 

How oft upon yon eminence our pace 

Has slacken'd to a pause, and we have borne 

The ruffling wind, scarce conscious that it blew, 

While admiration, feeding at the eye, 

And still unsated, dwelt upon the scene ! 

Thence with what pleasure have we just discerned 


The distant plough slow moving, and beside 

His labouring team that swerved not from the track, 

The sturdy swain diminished to a boy ! 

Here Ouse, slow winding through a level plain 

Of spacious meads, with cattle sprinkled o'er, 

Conducts the eye along his sinuous course 

Delighted. There, fast rooted in their bank, 

Stand, never overlook'd, our favourite elms, 

That screen the herdsman's solitary hut ; 

While far beyond, and overthwart the stream, 

That, as with molten glass, inlays the vale, 

The sloping land recedes into the clouds ; 

Displaying on its varied side the grace 

Of hedge-row beauties numberless, square tower, 

Tall spire, from which the sound of cheerful bells 

Just undulates upon the listening ear, 

Groves, heaths, and smoking villages, remote. 

Scenes must be beautiful, which, daily viewed, 

Please daily, and whose novelty survives 

Long knowledge and the scrutiny of years 

Praise justly due to those that I describe. 

This is evidently genuine and spontaneous. We stand with 
Cowper and Mrs. Unwin on the hill in the ruffling wind, like 
them, scarcely conscious that it blows, and feed admiration at 
the eye upon the rich and thoroughly English champaign that 
is outspread below. 

Nor rural sights alone, but rural sounds, 
Exhilarate the spirit, and restore 
The tone of languid Nature. Mighty winds, 
That sweep the skirt of some far-spreading wood 
Of ancient growth, make music not unlike 
The dash of Ocean on his winding shore, 
And lull the spirit while they fill the mind ; 
Unnumber'd branches waving in the blast, 
And all their leaves fast fluttering, all at once. 
Nor less composure waits upon the roar 
Of distant floods, or on the softer voice 
Of neighbouring fountain, or of rills that slip 

cowpEtt 63 

Throurjh the cleft rock, and chiming as they fall 

Upon Loose pebbles, lose themselves at length 

In matted grass that with a livelier green 

Betrays the secret of their silent course. 

Nature inanimate employs sweet sounds, 

But animated nature sweeter still, 

To soothe and satisfy the human ear. 

Ten thousand warblers cheer the day, and one, 

The livelong night : nor these alone, whose notes 

Nice-finger' cl Art must emulate in vain, 

But cawing rooks, and kites that swim sublime 

In still-repeated circles, screaming loud, 

The jay, the pie, and e'en the boding owl 

That hails the rising moon, have charms for me. 

Sounds inharmonious in themselves and harsh, 

Yet heard in scenes where peace for ever reigns, 

And only there, please highly for their sake. 

Affection such as the last lines display for the inharmonious 
as well as the harmonious, for the uncomely as well as the 
comely parts of nature has been made familiar by Wordsworth, 
but it was new in the time of Cowper. Let us compare a 
landscape painted by Pope in his Windsor forest, with the lines 
just quoted, and we shall see the difference between the art of 
Gowper, and that of the Augustan age. 

Here waving groves a checkered scene display, 
And part admit and part exclude the day, 
As some coy nymph her lover's warm address 
Not quite indulges, nor can quite repress. 
There interspersed in lawns and opening glades 
The trees arise that share each other's shades ; 
Here in full light the russet plains extend, 
There wrapt in clouds, the bluish hills ascend, 
E'en the wild heath displays her purple dyes, 
And midst the desert fruitful fields arise, 
That crowned with tufted trees and springing corn, 
Like verdant isles the sable waste adorn. 

The low Berkshire hills wrapt in clouds on a sunny day ; a 


sable desert in the neighbourhood of Windsor ; fruitful fields 
arising in it, and crowned with tufted trees and springing corn 
evidently Pope saw all this, not on an eminence, in the 
ruffling wind, but in his study with his back to the window, 
and the Georgics or a translation of them before him. 

Here again is a little picture of rural life from the Winter 
Morning Walk. 

The cattle mourn in corners, where the fence 
Screens them, and seem half -petrified to sleep 
In unrecumbent sadness. There they wait 
Their wonted fodder ; not like hungering man, 
Fretful if unsupplied ; but silent, meek, 
And patient of the slow-paced swain's delay. 
He from the stack carves out the. accustomed load. 
Deep-plunging, and again deep-plunging oft, 
His broad keen knife into the solid mass : 
Smooth as a wall the upright remnant stands, 
With such undeviating and even force 
He severs it away : no needless care, 
Lest storms should overset the leaning pile 
Deciduous, or its own unbalanced weight. 
Forth goes the woodman, leaving unconcern'd 
The cheerful haunts of man ; to wield the axe 
And drive the wedge in yonder forest drear, 
From morn to eve, his solitary task. 
Shaggy, and lean, and shrewd, with pointed ears 
And tail cropp'd short, half lurcher and half cur, 
His dog attends him. Close behind his heel 
Now creeps he slow ; and now, with many a frisk 
Wide-scampering, snatches up the drifted snow 
With ivory teeth, or ploughs it with his snout ; 
Then shakes his powder'd coat, and barks for joy. 
Heedless of all his pranks, the sturdy churl 
Moves right toward the mark : nor stops for aught 
But now and then with pressure of his thumb 
To adjust the fragrant charge of a short tube, 
That fumes beneath his nose : the trailing cloud 
Streams far behind him, scenting all the air. 


The minutely faithful description of the man carving the 
load of hay out of the stack, and again those of the gambolling 
dog, and the woodman smoking his pipe with the stream of 
smoke trailing behind him, remind us of the touches of minute 
fidelity in Homer. The same may be said of many other 

The sheepfold here 

Pours out its fleecy tenants o'er the glebe. 
At first, progressive as a stream they seek 
The middle field : but, scattered by degrees, 
Each to his choice, soon whiten all the land. 
There from the sun-burnt hay-field homeward creeps 
The loaded wain : while lighten'd of its charge, 
The wain that meets it passes swiftly by ; 
The boorish driver leaning o'er his team 
Vociferous and impatient of delay. 

A specimen of more imaginative -and distinctly poetical 
description is the well-known passage on evening, in writing 
which Cowper would seem to have had Collins in his mind. 

Come, Evening, once again, season of peace ; 
Return, sweet Evening, and continue long ! 
Methinks I see thee in the streaky west, 
With matron-step slow-moving, while the Night 
Treads on thy sweeping train ; one hand employed 
In letting fall the curtain of repose 
On bird and beast, the other charged for man 
With sweet oblivion of the cares of day : 
Not sumptuously adorn'd, nor needing aid, 
Like homely-featured Night, of clustering gems J 
A star or two just twinkling on thy brow 
Suffices thee ; save that the moon is thine 
No less than hers, not worn indeed on high 
With ostentatious pageantry, but set 
With modest grandeur in thy purple zone, 
Resplendent less, but of an ampler round. 

Beyond this line Cowper does not go, and had no idea of 


going ; he never thinks of lending a sonl to material nature as 
Wordsworth and Shelley do. He is the poetic counterpart of 
Gainsborough, as the great descriptive poets of a later and more 
spiritual clay are the counterparts of Turner. We have said 
that Cowper's peasants are genuine as well as his landscape ; 
he might have been a more exquisite Crabbe if he had turned 
his mind that way, instead of writing sermons about a world 
which to him was little more than an abstraction, distorted 
moreover, and discoloured by his religious asceticism. 

Poor, yet industrious, modest, quiet, neat, 
Such claim compassion in a night like this, 
And have a friend in every feeling heart. 
Warm'd, while it lasts, by labour, all day long 
They brave the season, and yet find at eve, 
111 clad, and fed but sparely, time to cool. 
The frugal housewife trembles when she lights 
Her scanty stock of brushwood, blazing clear, 
But dying soon, like all terrestrial joys. 
The few small embers left, she nurses well ; 
And, while her infant race, with outspread hands 
And crowded knees, sit cowering o'er the sparks, 
Retires, content to quake, so they be warm'd. 
The man feels least, as more inured than she 
To whiter, and the current in his veins 
More briskly moved by his severer toil ; 
Yet he too finds his own distress in theirs. 
The taper soon extinguish'd, which I saw 
Dangled along at the cold finger's end 
Just when the day declined ; and the brown loaf 
Lodged on the shelf, half eaten without sauce 
Of savoury cheese, or butter, costlier still : 
Sleep seems their only refuge : for, alas ! 
Where penury is felt the thought is chained, 
And sweet colloquial pleasures are but few ! 
With all this thrift they thrive not. All the care 
Ingenious Parsimony takes, but just 
Saves the small inventory, bed and stool, 
Skillet, and old carved chest, from public sale. 


They live, and live without extorted alms 
From grudging hands : but other boast have none 
To soothe their honest pride that scorns to beg. 
Nor comfort else, but in their mutual love. 

Here we have the plain, unvarnished record of visitings 
among the poor of Olney. The last two lines are simple truth 
as well as the rest. 

"In some passages, especially in the second book, you will 
observe me very satirical." In the second book of The Tusk, 
there are some bitter things about the clergy, and in the passage 
pourtraying a fashionable preacher, there is a touch of satiric 
vigour, or rather of that power of comic description which was 
one of the writer's gifts. But of Cowper as a satirist enough 
has been said. 

<{ What there is of a religious cast in the volume I have 
thrown towards the end of it, for two reasons ; first, that I 
might not revolt the reader at his entrance, and secondly, that 
my best impressions might be made last. Were I to write as 
many volumes as Lope de Vega or Voltaire, not one of them 
would be without this tincture. If the world like it not so 
much the worse for them. I make all the concessions I can, 
that I may please them, but I will not please them at the 
expense of conscience." The passages of The Task penned by 
conscience, taken together, form a lamentably large proportion of 
the poem. An ordinary reader can be carried through them, 
if at all, only by his interest in the history of opinion, or by 
the companionship of the writer, who is always present, as 
Walton is in his Angler, as White is in his Selbourne. Cowper, 
however, even at his worst, is a highly cultivated mothodist ; 
if he is sometimes enthusiastic, and possibly superstitious, he is 
never coarse or unctuous. He speaks with contempt of " the 
twang of the conventicle." Even his enthusiasm had by this 
time been somewhat tempered. Just after his conversion he 
used to preach to everybody. He had found out, as he tells us 


himself, that this was a mistake, that "the pulpit was foi 
preaching ; the garden, the parlour, and the walk abroad were 
for friendly and agreeable conversation." It may have Deen his 
consciousness of a certain change in himself that deterred him 
from taking Newton into his confidence when he was engaged 
upon The Task. '! he worst passages are those which betray a 
fanatical antipathy to natural science, especially that in the third 
book ^150 -190). The episode of the judgment of heaven on 
the young atheist Misagathus, in the sixth book, is also fanatical 
and repulsive. 

Puritanism had come into violent collision with the temporal 
power, and had contracted a character fiercely political and 
revolutionary. Methodism fought only against unbelief,- vice, 
and the coldness of the establishment; it was in no way political, 
much less revolutionary ; by the recoil from the atheism of the 
French Revolution, its leaders, including Wesley himself, were 
drawn rather to the Tory side. Cowper, we have said, always 
remained in principle what he had been born, a Whig, an 
unrevolutionary Whig, an " Old Whig " to adopt the phrase 
made canonical by Burke. 

Tis liberty alone that gives the flower 

Of fleeting life its lustre and perfume, 

And we are weeds without it. All constraint 

Except what wisdom lays on evil men 

Is evil. 

The sentiment of these lines which were familiar and dear 
to Cobden, is tempered by judicious professions of loyalty to a 
king who rules in accordance with the law. At one time 
Cowper was inclined to regard the government of George III. 
as a repetition of that of Charles I., absolutist in the State and 
reactionary in the Church ; but the progress of revolutionary 
opinions evidently increased his loyalty, as it did that of many 
other Whigs, to the good Tory king. We shall presently see, 

COWPER. ' 69 

however, that the views of the French Revolution itself 
expressed in his letters are wonderfully rational, calm, and free 
from the political panic and the apocalyptic hallucination, both 
of which we should rather have expected to find in him. He 
describes himself to Newton as having been, since his second 
attack of madness, "an extramundane character with reference 
to this globe, and though not a native of the moon, not made 
of the dust of this planet." The Evangelical party has remained 
down to the present day non-political, and in its own estimation 
extramundane, taking part in the affairs of the nation only when 
some religious object was directly in view. In speaking of the 
family of nations, an Evangelical poet is of course a preacher of 
peace and human brotherhood. He has even in some lines of 
Charity, which also were dear to Cobden, remarkably anticipated 
the sentiment of modern economists respecting the influence of 
free trade in making one nation of mankind. The passage is 
defaced by an atrociously bad simile : 

Again the band of commerce was design'd, 
To associate all the branches of mankind, 
And if a boundless plenty be the robe, 
Trade is the golden girdle of the globe. 
Wise to promote whatever end he means, 
God opens fruitful nature's various scenes, 
Each climate needs what other climes produce, 
And offers something to the general use ; 
No land but listens to the common call, 
And in return receives supply from all. 
This genial intercourse and mutual aid 
Cheers what were else an universal shade, 
Calls Nature from her ivy-mantled den, 
And softens human rock-work into men. 

Now and then, however, in reading The Task, we come across a 
dash of warlike patriotism which, amidst the general philan 
thropy, surprises and offends the reader's palate, like the tasto 
of garlic in our butter. 


Ail innocent Epicurism, tempered by religious asceticism of a 
mild kind such is the philosophy of The Task, and such the 
ideal embodied in the portrait of the happy man with which it 
concludes. Whatever may be said of the religious asceticism, 
the Epicurism required a corrective to redeem it from selfishness 
and guard it against self-deceit. This solitary was serving 
humanity in the best way he could, not by his prayers, as in one 
rather fanatical passage he suggests, but by his literary work ; 
he had need also to remember that humanity was serving him. 
The newspaper through which he looks out so complacently into 
the great " Babel," has been printed in the great Babel itself, 
and brought by the poor postman, with his " spattered boots, 
strapped waist, and frozen locks," to the recluse sitting com 
fortably by his fireside. The " fragrant lymph " poured by 
" the fair " for their companion in his cosy seclusion, has been 
brought over the sea by the trader, who must encounter the 
moral dangers of a trader's life, as well as the perils of the 
stormy wave. It is delivered at the door by 

The waggoner who bears 
The pelting brunt of the tempestuous night, 
With half -shut eyes and puckered cheeks and teeth 
Presented bare against the storm ; 

and whose coarseness and callousness as he whips his team, are 
the consequences of the hard calling in which he ministers to the 
recluse's pleasure and refinement. If town life has its evils, 
from the city comes all that makes retirement comfortable and 
civilized. Retirement without the city would have been book - 
less and have fed on acorns. 

Rousseau is conscious of the necessity of some such institution 
as slavery, by way of basis for his beautiful life according to 
nature. The celestial purity and felicity of St. Pierre's Paul 
and Virginia are sustained by the labour of two faithful slaves. 
A weak point of Cowper's philosophy, taken apart from his own 


saving activity as a poet, betrays itself in a somewhat similar 

Or if the garden with its many cares 

All well repaid demand him, he attends 

The welcome call, conscious how much the hand 

Of lubbard labour, needs his watchful eye, 

Oft loitering lazily if not o'er seen ; 

Or misapplying his unskilful strength 

But much performs himself, no works indeed, 

That ask robust tough sinews bred to toU, 

Servile employ, but such as may amuse 

Not tire, demanding rather skill than force. 

We are told in The Task that there is no sin in allowing our 
own happiness to be enhanced by contrast with the less happy 
condition of others : if we are doing our best to increase the 
happiness of others, there is none. Cowper, as we have said 
before, was doing this to the utmost of his limited capacity. 

Both in the Moral Satires and in The Task, there are sweeping 
denunciations of amusements which we now justly deem inno 
cent, and without which or something equivalent to them, the 
wrinkles on the brow of care could not be smoothed nor life 
preserved from dulness and moroseness. There is fanaticism in 
this no doubt : but in justice to the Methodist as well as to the 
Puritan, let it be remembered that the stage, card parties, and 
even dancing once had in them something from which even the 
most liberal morality might recoil. 

In his writings generally, but especially in The Task, Cowper, 
besides being an apostle of virtuous retirement and Evangelical 
piety, is, by his general tone, an apostle of sensibility. The 
Task is a perpetual protest not only against the fashionable 
vices and the irreligion, but against the hardness of the world ; 
and in a world which worshipped Chesterfield the protest was 
not needless, nor was it ineffective. Among the most tangible 
characteristics of this special sensibility is the tendency of its 


brimming love of humankind to overflow upon animals; and of 
this there are marked instances in some passages of The, Task. 

I would not enter on ray list of friends 

(Though graced with polished manners and fine sense, 

Yet wanting sensibility) the man 

Who needlessly sets foot upon a worm. 

Of Gowper's sentimentalism, (to use the word in a neutral 
sense), part flowed from his own temperament, part was 
Evangelical, but part belonged to an element which was 
European, which produced the Noucelle Heloise and the Sorrows 
of Werther, and which was found among the Jacobins in sinister 
companionship with the cruel frenzy of the Revolution. Cowper 
shows us several times that he had been a reader of Rousseau, 
nor did he fail to produce in his time a measure of the same 
effect which Rousseau produced ; though there have been so 
many sentimentalists since, and the vein has been so much 
worked, that it is difficult to carry ourselves back in imagination 
to the day in which Parisian ladies could forego balls to read 
the Nouvelle Heloise, or the stony heart of people of the world 
could be melted by The Task. 

In his versification, as in his descriptions, Cowper flattered 
himself that he imitated no one. But he manifestly imitates 
the softer passages of Milton, whose music he compares in a 
rapturous passage of one of his letters to that of a fine organ. 
To produce melody and variety, he, like MiUon, avails himself 
fully of all the resources of a composite language. Blank verse 
confined to short Anglo-Saxon words is apt to strike the ear, not 
like the swell of an organ, but like the tinkle of a musical-box. 

The Task made Cowper famous. He was told that he had 
sixty readers at the Hague alone. The interest of his relations 
and friends in him revived, and those of whom he had heard 
nothing for many years emulously renewed their connexion. 
Colroan and Thurlow reopened their correspondence with him, 

COWPER. 7 3 

Colman writing to him "like a brother." Disciples, young 
Mr. Rose, for instance, came to sit at his feet. Complimentary 
letters were sent to him, and poems submitted to his judgment. 
His portrait was taken by famous painters. Literary lion- 
hunters began to fix their eyes upon him. His renown spread 
even to Olney. The clerk of All Saints', Northampton, came 
over to ask him to write the verses annually appended to the 
bill of mortality for that parish. Cowper suggested that "there 
were several men of genius in Northampton, particularly 
Mr. Cox, the statutory, who, as everybody knew, was a first-rate 
maker of verses." "Alas ! " replied the clerk, " I have here 
tofore borrowed help from him, but he is a gentleman of so 
much reading that the people of our town cannot understand 
him." The compliment was irresistible, and for seven years the 
author of The Task wrote the mortuary verses for All Saints', 
Northampton. Amusement, not profit, was Cowper's aim ; he 
rather rashly gave away his copyright to his publisher, and his 
success does not seem to have brought him money in a direct 
way ; but it brought him a pension of 3001. in the end. In the 
meantime it brought him presents, and among them an annual 
gift of 50Z. from an anonymous hand, the first instalment ibeing 
accompanied by a pretty snuft-box ornamented with a picture of 
the three hares. From the gracefulness of the gift, Southey 
infers that it came from a woman, and he conjectures that the 
woman was Theodora. 



The Task was not quite finished when the influence which had 
inspired it was withdrawn. Among the little mysteries and 


scandals of literary history is the rupture between Cowper and 
Lady Austen. Soon after the commencement of their friendship 
there had been a " fracas," of which Cowper gives an account 
in a letter to William Unwin. " My letters have already 
apprised you of that close and intimate connexion that took 
place between the lady you visited in Queen Anne Street and 
us. Nothing could be more promising, though sudden in the 
commencement. She treated us with as much unreservedness 
of communication, as if we had been born in the same house 
and educated together. At her departure, she herself proposed 
a correspondence, and, because writing does not agree with your 
mother, proposed a correspondence with me. This sort of inter 
course had not been long maintained before I discovered, by 
some slight intimations of it, that she had conceived displeasure 
at somewhat I had written, though I cannot now recollect it ; 
conscious of none but the most upright, inoffensive intentions, 
I yet apologized for the passage in question, and the flaw was 
healed again. Our correspondence after this proceeded smoothly 
for a considerable time, but at length, having had repeated 
occasion to observe that she expressed a sort of romantic idea 
of our merits, and built such expectations of felicity upon our 
friendship, as we were sure that nothing human could possibly 
answer, I wrote to remind her that we were mortal, to recom 
mend her not to think more highly of us than the subject would 
warrant, and intimating that when we embellish a creature with 
colours taken from our own fancy, and so adorned, admire and 
praise it beyond its real merits, we make it an idol, and have 
nothing to expect in the end but that it will deceive our hopes, 
and that we shall derive nothing from it but a painful convic 
tion of our error. Your mother heard me read the letter, she / 
read it herself, and honoured it with her warm approbation. 
But it gave mortal offence ; it received, indeed, an answer, but 
such an one as. I could by no means reply to ; and there ended 
(for it was impossible it should ever be renewed a friendship 


that bid fair to be lasting ; being formed with a woman whose 
seeming stability of temper, whose knowledge of the world and 
great experience of its folly, but, above all, whose sense of 
religion and seriousness of mind (for with all that gaiety she is 
a great thinker) induced us both, in spite of that cautious 
reserve that marked our characters, to trust her, to love and 
value her, and to open our hearts for her reception. It may 
be necessary to add that by her own desire, I wrote to her 
under the assumed relation of a brother, and she to me as my 
sister. Ceu fumus in auras." It is impossible to read this 
without suspecting that there was more of " romance " on one 
side, than there was either of romance or of consciousness of 
the situation on the other. On that occasion the reconciliation, 
though "impossible," took place, the lady sending, by way of 
olive branch, a pair of ruffles, which it was known she had 
begun to work before the quarrel. The second rupture was 
final. Hayley, who treats the matter with sad solemnity , tells 
us that Cowper's letter of farewell to Lady Austen, as she 
assured him herself, was admirable, though unluckily, not being 
gratified by it at the time, she had thrown it into the fire. 
Cowper has himself given us, in a letter to Lady Hasketh, with 
reference to the final rupture, a version of the whole affair : 
" There came a lady into this country, by name and title Lady 
Austen, the widow of the late Sir Robert Austen. At first she 
lived with her sister about a mile from Olney j but in a few 
weeks took lodgings at the vicarage here. Between the vicar 
age and the back of our house are interposed our garden, an 
orchard, and the garden belonging to the vicarage. She had 
lived much in France, was very sensible, and had infinite viva 
city. She took a great liking to us, and we to her. She had 
been used to a great deal of company, and we, fearing that she 
would feel such a transition into silent retirement irksome, con 
trived to give her our agreeable company often. Becoming 
continually more and more intimate, a practice at lergth 


obtained of our dining with each other alternately every day, 
Sundays excepted. In order to facilitate our communication, 
we made doors in the two garden-walls aforesaid, by which 
means we considerably shortened the way from one house to the 
other, and could meet when we pleased without entering the 
town at all ; a measure the rather expedient, because the town 
is abominably dirty, and she kept no carriage. On her first 
settlement in our neighbourhood, I made it my own particular 
business (for at that time I was not employed in writing, having 
published my first volume and not begun my second) to pay my 
devoirs to her ladyship every morning at eleven. Customs very 
soon became laws. I began The Task, for she was the lady who 
gave me the Sofa for a subject. Being once engaged in the 
work, I began to feel the inconvenience of my morning attend 
ance. We had seldom breakfasted ourselves till ten ; and the 
intervening hour was all the time I could find in the whole day 
for writing, and occasionally it would happen that the half of 
that hour was all that I could secure for the purpose. But 
there was no remedy. Long usage had made that which was 
at first optional a point of good manners, and consequently of 
necessity, and I was forced to neglect The Task to attend upon 
the Muse who had inspired the subject. But she had ill-health, 
and before I had quite finished the work was obliged to repair 
to Bristol." Evidently this was not the whole account of the 
matter, or there would have been no need for a formal letter of 
farewell. We are very sorry to find the revered Mr. Alexander 
Knox saying, in his correspondence with Bishop Jebb, that he 
had a severer idea of Lady Austen than he should wish to^put 
into writing for publication, and that he almost suspected she 
was a very artful woman. On the other hand, the unsentimen 
tal Mr. Scott is reported to have said, " Who can be surprised 
that two women should be continually in the,society of one man 
and quarrel, sooner or later, with each other ? " Considering 
what Mrs. Un win had been to Cowper, and what he had been 


to her, a little jealousy on her part would not have been highly 
criminal. But, as Southey observes, we shall soon see two 
women continually in the society of this very man without 
quarrelling with each other. That Lady Austen's behaviour to 
Mrs. Unwin was in the highest degree affectionate, Cowper has 
himself assured us. Whatever the cause may have been, this 
bird of paradise, having alighted for a moment in Olney, took 
wing and was seen no more. 

Her place, as a companion, was supplied, and more than sup 
plied, by Lady Hesketh, like her a woman of the world, and 
almost as bright and vivacious, but with more sense and stability 
of character, and who, moreover, could be treated as a sister 
without any danger of misunderstanding. The renewal of the 
intercourse between Cowper and the merry and affectionate 
play-fellow of his early days, had been one of the best fruits 
borne to him by The Tusk, or perhaps we should rather say by 
John Gilpin, for on reading that ballad she first became aware 
that her cousin had emerged from the dark seclusion of his truly 
Christian happiness, and might <?gain be capable of intercourse 
with her sunny nature. Full of real happiness for Cowpei 
were her visits to Olney ; the announcement of her coming 
threw him into a trepidation of delight. And how was this 
new rival received by Mrs. Unwin. " There is something," 
says Lady Hesketh in a letter which has been already quoted, 
" truly affectionate and sincere in Mrs. Unwin's manner. No 
one can express more heartily than she does her joy to have me 
at Olney ; and as this must be for his sake it is an additional 
proof of her regard and esteem for him." She could evt-i 
cheerfully yield precedence in trifles, which is the greatest tria 
of all. " Our friend," says Lady Hesketh, " delights in a Jar-! 
table and a large chair. There are two of the latter comfort s 
in my parlour. I am sorry to say that he and I always spread 
ourselves out in them, leaving poor Mrs. Unwin to find all the 
comfort she can in a small one, half as high again as ours, and 


considerably harder than marble. However, she protests it is 
what she likes, that she prefers a high chair to a low one, and 
a hard to a soft one ; and I hope she is sincere ; indeed I am 
persuaded she is." She never gave the slightest reason for 
doubting her sincerity ; so Mr.-Scott's coarse theory of the " two 
women " falls to the ground, though, as Lady Hesketh was not 
Lady Austen, room is still left for the more delicate and inter 
esting hypothesis. 

By Lady Hesketh's care Cowper was at last taken out of the 
" well " at Olney and transferred with his partner to a house at 
Weston, a place in the neighbourhood, but on higher ground, 
more cheerful, and in better air. The house at Weston belonged 
to Mr. Throckmorton of Weston Hall, with whom and Mrs. 
Throckmorton, Cowper had become so intimate that they were 
already his Mr. and Mrs. Frog. It is a proof of his freedom 
from fanatical bitterness that he was rather drawn to them by 
their being Roman Catholics, and having suffered rude treatment 
from the Protestant boors of the neighbourhood. Weston Hall 
had its grounds, with the colonnade of chestnuts, the " sportive 
light " of which still " dances " on the pages of The Task ; 
with the Wilderness, 

Whose well-rolled walks, 
With curvature of slow and easy sweep, 
Deception innocent, give ample space 
To narrow bounds 

with the Grove, 

Between the upright shafts of whose tall elms 
We may discern the thresher at his task, 
Thump after thump resounds the constant flail 
That seems to swing uncertain, and yet falls 
Full on the destined ear. Wide flies the chaif, 
The rustling straw sends up a fragrant mist 
Of atoms, sparkling in the noonday beam. 


A pretty little vignette, which the threshing-machine has now 
made antique. There were ramblings, pic-nics, and little dinner 
parties. Lady Hesketh kept a carriage. Gayhurst, the seat of 
Mr. Wright, was visited as well as Weston Hall ; the life of the 
lonelv pair was fast becoming social. The Rev. John Newton 
was absent in the flesh, but he was present in the spirit, thanks 
to the tattle of Olney. To show that he was, he addressed to 
Mrs. Unwin a letter of remonstrance on the serious change 
which had taken place in the habits of his spiritual children. 
It was answered by her companion, who in repelling the censure 
mingles the dignity of self-respect with a just appreciation of 
the censor's motives, in a style which showed that although he 
was sometimes mad, he was not a fool. 

Having succeeded in one great poem, Cowper thought of 
writing another, and several subjects were started The Medi 
terranean, The Four Ages of Man, Yardley Oak. The Medi 
terranean would not have suited him well if it was to be treated 
historically, for of history he was even more ignorant than most 
of those who have had the benefit of a classical education, 
being capable of believing that the Latin element of our 
language had come in with the Roman conquest. Of the Four 
Ages he wrote a fragment. Of Yardley Oak he wrote the 
opening; it was apparently to have been a survey of the 
countries in connexion with an immemorial oak which stood in 
a neighbouring chace. But he was forced to say that the mind 
of man was not a fountain but a cistern, and his was a broken 
one. He had expended his stock of materials for a long poem 
in The Tank. 

These, the sunniest days of Cowper's life, however, gave birth 
to many of those short poems which are perhaps his best, 
certainly his most popular works, and which will probably keep 
his name alive when The Task is read only in extracts. The 
Loss of the Royal George, The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk, 
The Poplar Field, The Shrubbery, the Lines on a Young Lady, 


and those To Mary, will hold their places for ever in the 
treasury of English Lyrics. In its humble way The Needless 
Alarm is one of the most perfect of human compositions. 
Cowper had reason to complain of jSCsop for having written 
his fables before him. One great charm of these little pieces 
is their perfect spontaniety. Many of them were never 
published; and generally they have the air of being the simple 
effusions of the moment, gay or gad. When Cowper was in 
good spirits his joy, intensified by sensibility and past suffering, 
played like a fountain of light on all the little incidents of his 
quiet life. An ink-glass, a flatting mill, a halibut served up 
for dinner, the killing of a snake in the garden, the arrival of a 
friend wet after a journey, a cat shut up in a drawer, sufficed 
to elicit a little jet of poetical delight, the highest and brightest 
jet of all being John Gilpin. Lady Austen's voice and touch 
still faintly live in two or three pieces which were written for 
her harpsichord. Some of the short poems on the other hand 
are poured from the darker urn, and the finest of them all is 
the saddest. There is no need of illustrations unless it be to 
call attention to a secondary quality less noticed than those of 
more importance. That which used to be specially called "wit," 
the faculty of ingenious and unexpected combination, such as 
is shown in the similes of Sudibras, was possessed by Cowper 
in large measure. 

A friendship that in frequent fits 
Of controversial rage emits 

The sparks of disputation, 
Like hand-in-hand insurance plates, 
Most unavoidably creates 

The thought of conflagration. 

Some fickle creatures boast a soul 
True as a needle to the pole, 

Their humour yet so various 
They manifest their whole life through 


The needle's deviations too, 
Their love is so precarious. 

The great and small but rarely meet 
On terms of amity complete ; 

Plebeians must surrender, 
And yield so much to noble folk, 
It is combining fire with smoke, 

Obscurity with splendour. 

Some are so placid and serene 
(As Irish bogs are always green) 

They sleep secure from waking ; 
And are indeed a bog, that bears 
Your unparticipated cares 

Unmoved and without quaking. 

Courtier and patriot cannot mix 
Their heterogeneous politics 

Without an effervescence, 
Like that of salts with lemon juice, 
Which does not yet like that produce 

A friendly coalescence. 

Faint presages of Byron are heard in such a poem as The 
Shrubbery, and of Wordsworth in such a poem as that To a 
Young Lady. But of the lyrical depth and passion of the 
great Revolution poets Cowper is wholly devoid. His soul 
was stirred by no movement so mighty, if it were even capable 
of the impulse. Tenderness he has, and pathos as well as 
playfulness ; he has unfailing grace and ease ; he has clearness 
like that of a trout- stream. Fashions, even our fashions, change. 
The more metaphysical poetry of our time has indeed too much 
in it, beside the metaphysics, to be in any danger of being ever 
laid on the shelf with the once admired conceits of Cowley; 
yet it may one day in part lose, while the easier and more 
limpid kind of poetry may in part regain, its charm. 

The opponents of the Slave Trade tried to enlist this winning 


voice in the service of their cause. Cowper disliked the task, 
but he wrote two or three anti-Si a ve-Trade ballads. The Slave 
Trader in the Dumps, with its ghastly array of horrors dancing 
a jig to a ballad metre, justifies the shrinking of an artist from 
a subject hardly fit for art. 

If the cistern which had supplied The Task was exhausted, 
the rill of occasional poems still ran freely, fed by a spring 
which so long as life presented the most trivial object or 
incident could not fail. Why did not Cowper go on writing 
these charming pieces which he evidently produced with the 
greatest facility ? Instead of this, he took, under an evil star, 
to translating Homer. The translation of Homer into verse is 
the Polar Expedition of literature, always failing, yet still 
desperately renewed. Homer defies modern reproduction. His 
primeval simplicity is a dew of the dawn which can never be 
re-distilled. His primeval savagery is almost equally un 
presentable. What civilized poet can don the barbarian 
sufficiently to revel, or seem to revel, in the ghastly details of 
carnage, in hideous wounds described with surgical gust6, in 
the butchery of captives in cold blood, or even in those 
particulars of the shambles and the spit which to the troubadour 
of barbarism seem as delightful as the images of the harvest 
and the vintage 1 Poetry can be translated into poetry only by 
taking up the ideas of the original into the mind of the 
translator, which is very difficult when the translator and the 
original are separated by a gulf of thought and feeling, and 
when the gulf ia very wide, becomes impossible. There is 
nothing for it in the case of Homer but a prose translation. 
Even in prose to find perfect equivalents for some of the 
Homeric phrases is not easy. Whatever the chronological date 
of the Homeric poems may be, their political and psychological 
date may be pretty well fixed. Politically they belong, as the 
episode of Thersites shows, to the rise of democracy and to its 
first collision with aristocracy, which Homer regards with the 


feelings of a bard who sang in aristocratic h alls. Psychologically 
they belong to the time when in ideas and language, the moral 
was just disengaging itself from the physical. In the wail of 
Andromache for instance, adinon epos, which Pope improves 
into " sadly dear," and Cowper, with better taste at all events, 
renders "precious," is really semi-physical, and scarcely capable 
of exact translation. It belongs to an unreproducible past, like 
the fierce joy which, in the same wail, bursts from the savage 
woman in the midst of her desolation at the thought of the 
numbers whom her husband's hands had slain. Cowper had 
studied the Homeric poems thoroughly in his youth ; he knew 
them so well that he was able to translate them, not very 
incorrectly with only the help of a Clavis ; he understood their 
peculiar qualities as well as it was possible for a reader without 
the historic sense to do; he had compared Pope's translation 
carefully with the original, and had decisively noted the defects 
which make it not a version of Homer, but a periwigged epic 
of the Augustan age. In his own translation he avoids Pope's 
faults, and he preserves at least the dignity of the original, 
while his command of language could never fail him, nor could 
he ever lack the guidance of good taste. But we well know 
where he will be at his best. We turn at once to such passages 
as the description of Calypso's Isle. 

Alighting on Pieria, down he (Hermes) stooped 
To Ocean, and the billows lightly skimmed 
In form a sea-mew, such as in the bays 
Tremendous of the barren deep her food 
Seeking, dips oft in brine her ample wing. 
In such disguise o'er many a wave he rode, 
But reaching, now, that isle remote, forsook 
The azure deep, and at the spacious grove 
Where -dwelt the amber-tressed nymph arrived 
Found her within. A fire on all the hearth 
Blazed sprightly, and, afar diffused, the scent 
Of smooth-split cedar and of cypress-wood 


Odorous, burning cheered the happy isle. 
She, busied at the loom and plying fast 
Her golden shuttle, with melodious voice 
Sat chanting there ; a grove on either side, 
Alder and poplar, and the redolent branch 
Wide-spread of cypress, skirted dark the cave 
Where many a bird of broadest pinion built 
Secure her nest, the owl, the kite, and daw, 
Long-tongued frequenters of the sandy shores. 
A garden vine luxuriant on all sides 
Mantled the spacious cavern, cluster-hung 
Profuse ; four fountains of serenest lymph, 
Their sinuous course pursuing side by side, 
Strayed all around, and everwhere appeared 
Meadows of softest verdure purpled o'er 
With violets ; it was a scene to fill 
A God from heaven with wonder and delight. 

There are faults in this and even blunders, not*ifeb In the 
natural history; and " serenest lymph" is a sad departure from 
Homeric simplicity. Still on the whole the passage in the 
translation charms, and its charm is tolerably identical with 
that of the original. In more martial and stirring passages the 
failure is more signal, and here especially we feel that if Pope's 
rhyming couplets are sorry equivalents for the Homeric hexa 
meter, blank verse is superior to them only in a negative way. 
The real equivalent, if any, is the romance metre of Scott, 
parts of whose poems, notably the last canto of Marmion and 
some passages in the Lay of the Last Minstrel, are about the 
most Homeric things in our language. Cowper brought such 
poetic gifts to his work that his failure might have deterred 
others from making the same hopeless attempt. But a failure 
his work is ; the translation is no more a counterpart of the 
original, than the Ouse creeping through its meadows is the 
counterpart of the ^Egean rolling before a fresh wind and under 
a bright sun. Pope delights school-boys; Cowper delights 
nobody, though on the rare occasions when he is taken from 


the shelf, he commends himself, in a certain measure, to the 
taste and judgment of cultivated men. 

In his translations of Horace, both those from the Satires 
and those from the Odes, Cowper succeeds far better. Horace 
requires in his translator little of the fire which Cowper lacked. 
In the Odes he requires grace, in the Satires urbanity and 
playfulness, all of which Cowper had in abundance. Moreover. 
Horace is separated from us by no intellectual gulf. He 
belongs to what Dr. Arnold called the modern period of ancient 
history. Nor is Cowper's translation of part of the eighth book 
of Virgil's ^Eneid bad, in spite of the heaviness of the blank 
verse. Virgil, like Horace, is within his intellectual range. 

As though a translation of the whole of the Homeric poems 
had not been enough to bury his finer faculty, and prevent him 
from giving us any more of the minor poems, the publishers 
seduced him into undertaking an edition of Milton, which was 
to eclipse all its predecessors in splendour. Perhaps he 
may have been partly entrapped by a chivalrous desire to 
rescue his idol from the disparagement cast on it by the 
tasteless and illiberal Johnson. The project after weighing on 
his mind and spirits for some time was abandoned, leaving as 
its traces only translations of Milton's Latin poems, and a few 
notes on Paradise Lost, in which there is too much of religion, 
too little of art. 

Lady Hesketh had her eye on the Laureateship, and probably 
with that view persuaded her cousin to write loyal verses on 
the recovery of George III. He wrote the verses, but to the 
hint of the Laureateship he said " Heaven guard my brows 
from the wreath you mention, whatever wreaths beside may 
hereafter adorn them. It would be a leaden extinguisher clapt 
on my genius, and I should never more produce a line worth 
reading." Besides, was he not already the mortuary poet of 
All Saints, Northampton ? 




SOUTHEY, no mean judge in such a matter, calls Cowper the 
best of English letter- writers. If the first place is shared with 
him by any one it is by Byron, rather than by Gray, whose 
letters are pieces of fine writing, addressed to literary men, or 
Horace Walpole, whose letters are memoirs, the English 
counterpart of St. Simon. The letters both of Gray and 
Walpole are manifestly written for publication. Those of 
Cowper have the true epistolary charm. They are conversation, 
perfectly artless, and at the same time autobiography, perfectly 
genuine, whereas all formal autobiography is cooked. They are 
the vehicles of the writer's thoughts and feelings, and the 
mirror of his life. We have the strongest proofs that they 
were not written for publication. In many of them there are 
outpourings of wretchedness which could not possibly have 
been intended for any heart but that to which they were 
addressed, while others contain medical details which no one 
would have thought of presenting to the public eye. Some, we 
know, were answers to letters received but a moment before ; 
and Sou they says that the manuscripts are very free from 
erasures. Though Cowper kept a note-book for subjects, which 
no doubt were scarce with him, it is manifest that he did not 
p emeditate. Grace of form he never lacks, but this was a 
part of his nature, improved by his classical training. The 
character and the thoughts presented are those of a recluse who 
was sometimes a hypochondriac ; the life is life at Olney. But 
simple self-revelation is always interesting, and a/ garrulous 
playfulness with great happiness of expression can lend a 
certain charm even to things most trivial and commonplace. 


There is also a certain pleasure in being carried back to the 
quiet days before railways and telegraphs, when people passed 
their whole lives on the same spot, and life moved always in 
the same tranquil round. In truth it is to such days that 
letter-writing, as a species of literature belongs ; telegrams and 
postal cards have almost killed it now. 

The large collection of Cowper's letters is probably seldom 
taken from the shelf; and the "Elegant Extracts" select 
those letters which are most sententious, and therefore least 
characteristic. Two or three specimens of the other style may 
not be unwelcome or needless as elements of a biographical 
sketch; though specimens hardly do justice to a series of which 
the charm, such as it is, is evenly diffused, not gathered into 
centres of brilliancy like Madame de SeVigne"s letter on the 
Orleans Marriage. Here is a letter written in the highest 
spirits to Lady Hesketh. 

Olney, Feb. 9th, 1786. 

" MY DEAREST COUSIN, I have been impatient to tell you 
that I am impatient to see you again. Mrs. Unwin partakes 
with me in all my feelings upon this subject, and longs also to 
see you. I should have told you so by the last post, but have 
been so completely occupied by this tormenting specimen, that 
it was impossible to do it. I sent the general a letter on 
Monday, that would distress and alarm him; I sent him 
another yesterday, that will, I hope, quiet him again. Johnson 
has apologized very civilly for the multitude of his friend's 
strictures; and his friend has promised to confine himself in 
future to a comparison of me with the original, so that, I doubt 
not, we shall jog on merrily together. And now, my dear, let 
me tell you once more, that your kindness in promising us a 
visit has charmed us both. I shall see you again. I shall hear 
your voice. We shall take walks together. I will show you 
my prospects, the hovel, the alcove, the Ouse and its banks, 
everything that I have described. I anticipate the pleasure of 


those days not very far distant, and feel a part of it at this 
moment. Talk not of an inn ! Mention it not for your life ! 
We have never had so many visitors, but we could easily 
accommodate them all ; though we have received Un win, and 
his wife, and his sister, and his son all at once. My dear, I 
will not let you come till the end of May, or beginning of 
June, because before that time my greenhouse will not be ready 
to receive us, and it is the only pleasant room belonging to us. 
When the plants go out, we go in. I line it with mats, and 
spread the floor with mats ; and there you shall sit with a bed 
of mignonette at your side, and a hedge of honeysuckles, roses, 
and jasmine; and I will make you a bouquet of myrtle every 
day. Sooner than the time I mention the country will not be 
in complete beauty. 

" And I will tell you what you shall find at your first 
entrance. Imprimis, as soon as you have entered the vestibule, 
if you cast a look on either side of you, you shall see on the 
right hand a box of my making. It is the box in which have 
been lodged all my hares, and in which lodges Puss at present ; 
but he, poor fellow, is worn out with age, and promises to die 
before you can see him. On the right hand stands a cupboard, 
the work of the same author ; it was once a dove cage, but I 
transformed it. Opposite to you stands a table, which I also 
made; but a merciless servant having scrubbed it until it 
became paralytic, it serves no purpose now but of ornament ; 
and all my clean shoes stand under it. On the left hand, at 
the further end of this superb vestibule, you will find the door 
of the parlour, into which I will conduct you, and where, I will 
introduce you to Mrs. Unwin, unless we should meet her 
before, and where we will be as happy as the day is long. 
Order yourself, my cousin, to the Swan at Newport, and there 
you shall find rne ready to conduct you to Olney. 

" My dear, I have told Homer what you say about casks and 
urns, and have asked him whether he is sure that it is a cask 


in which Jupiter keeps his wine. He swears that it is a cask, 
and that it will never be anything better than a cask to 
eternity. So if the god is content with it, we must even 
wonder at his taste, and be so too. 

" Adieu ! my dearest, dearest cousin. 

"W. C." 

Here, by way of contrast, is a letter written in the lowest 
spirits possible to Mr. Newton. It displays literary grace 
inalienable even in the depths of hypochondria. It also shows 
plainly the connexion of hypochondria with the weather. 
January was a month to the return of which the sufferer 
always looked forward with dread as a mysterious season of 
evil. It was a season, especially at Olney. of thick fog combined 
with bitter frosts. To Cowper this state of the atmosphere 
appeared the emblem of his mental state; we see in it the 
cause. At the close the letter slides from spiritual despair to 
the worsted-merchant, showing that, as we remarked before, 
the language of despondency had become habitual, and does 
not always flow from a soul really in the depths of woe. 


"Jan. 13th, 1784. 

"MY DEAR FRIEND, I too have taken leave of the old 
year, and parted with it just when you did, but with very 
different sentiments and feelings upon the occasion. I looked 
back upon all the passages and occurrences of it, as a traveller 
looks back upon a wilderness through which he has passed with 
weariness, and sorrow of heart, reaping no other fruit of his 
labour, than the poor consolation that, dreary as the desert was, 
he has left it all behind him. The traveller would find even 
this comfort considerably lessened, if, as soon as he had passed 
one wilderness, another of equal length, and equally desolate, 
should expect him. In this particular, his experience and mine 
would exactly tally. I should rejoice, indeed, that the old year 


is over and gone, if I had not every reason to prophesy a new 
one similar to it. 

"The new year is ah-eady old in my account. I am not, 
indeed, sufficiently second-sighted to be able to boast by 
anticipation an acquaintance with the events of it yet unborn, 
but rest convinced that, be they what they may, not one of 
them comes a messenger of good to me. If even death itself 
should be of the number, he is no friend of mine. It is an 
alleviation of the woes even of an unenlightened man, that he 
can wish for death, and indulge a hope, at least, that in death 
he shall find deliverance. But, loaded as my life is with 
despair, I have no such comfort as would result from a supposed 
probability of better things to come, were it once ended. For, 
more unhappy than the traveller with whom I set out, pass 
through what difficulties I may, through whatever dangers and 
afflictions, I am not a whit nearer the home, unless a dungeon 
may be called so. This is no very agreeable theme ; but in so 
great a dearth of subjects to write upon, and especially 
impressed as I am at this moment with a sense of my own 
condition, I could choose no other. The weather is an exact 
emblem of my mind in its present state. A thick fog envelopes 
everything, and at the same time it freezes intensely. You 
will tell me that this cold gloom will be succeeded by a cheerful 
spring, and endeavour to encourage me to hope for a spiritual 
change resembling it; but it will be lost labour. Nature 
revives again ; but a soul once slain lives no more. The hedge 
that has been apparently dead, is not so; it will burst into 
leaf and blossom at the appointed time; but no such time is 
appointed for the stake that stands in it. It is as dead as it 
seems, and will prove itself no dissembler. The latter end of 
next month will complete a period of eleven years in which I 
have spoken no other language. It is a long time for a man 
whose eyes were once opened, to spend in darkness; long 
enough to make despair an inveterate habit ; and such it is in 


me. My friends, I know, expect that I shall see yet again. 
They think it necessary to the existence of divine truth, that 
he who once had possession of it should never finally lose it. 
I admit the solidity of this reasoning in every case but ray 
own. And why not in my own] For causes which to them it 
appears madness to allege, but which rest upon my mind with 
a weight of immovable conviction. If I am recoverable, why 
am I thus? why crippled and made useless in the Church, 
just at that time of life when, my judgment and experience 
being matured, I might be most useful? why cashiered and 
turned out of service, till, according to the course of nature, 
there is not life enough left in me to make amends for the 
years I have lost, till there is no reasonable hope left that the 
fruit can ever pay the expenses of the fallow 1 I forestall the 
answer:- God's ways are mysterious, and He giveth no account 
of His matters an answer that would serve my purpose as 
well as theirs to use it. There is a mystery in my destruction, 
and in time it shall be explained. 

" I am glad you have found so much hidden treasure ; and 
Mrs. Unwin desires me to tell you that you did her no more 
than justice in believing that she would rejoice in it. It is 
not easy to surmise the reason why the reverend doctor, your 
predecessor, concealed it. Being a subject of a free government, 
and I suppose full of the divinity most in fashion, he could not 
fear lest his riches should expose him to persecution. Nor can 
I suppose that he held it any disgrace for a dignitary of the 
church to be wealthy, at a time when churchmen in general 
spare no pains to become so. But the wisdom of some men 
has a droll sort of knavish ness in it, much like that of a 
magpie, who hides what he finds with a deal of contrivance, 
merely for the pleasure of doing it. 

" Mrs. Unwin is tolerably well. She wishes me to add that 
she shall be obliged to Mrs. Newton, if, when an opportunity 
offers, she will give the worsted-merchant a jog. We con- 


gratulate you that Eliza does not grow worse, which I know 
you expected would be the case in the course of the winter. 
Present our love to her. Bemember us to Sally Johnson, and 
assure yourself that we remain as warmly as ever, 


" W. 0. 

"M. U." 

In the next specimen we shall see the faculty of imparting 
interest to the most trivial incident by the way of telling it. 
The incident in this case is one which also forms the subject of 
the little poem called The Colubriad. 


"Aug. 3rd, 1782. 

" MY DEAR FRIEND, Entertaining some hope that Mr. 
Newton's next letter would furnish me with the means of 
satisfying your enquiry on the subject of Dr. Johnson's opinion, 
I have till now delayed my answer to your last ; but the 
information is not yet come, Mr. Newton having intermitted a 
week more than usual since his last writing. When I receive 
it, favourably or not, it shall be communicated to you; but I am 
not very sanguine in my expectations from that quarter. Very 
learned and very critical heads are hard to please. He may 
perhaps treat me with levity for the sake of my subject and 
design, but the composition, I think, will hardly escape his censure. 
Though all doctors may not be of the same mind, there is one 
doctor at least, whom I have lately discovered, my professed ad 
mirer. He too, like Johnson, was with difficulty persuaded to 
read, having an aversion to all poetry, except the Night Thoughts; 
which, on a certain occasion, when being confined on board a 
ship he had no other employment, he got by heart. He was, 
however, prevailed upon, and read me several times over ; so 
that if my volume had sailed with him, instead of Dr. Young's, 
I might perhaps have occupied that shelf in his memory which 


he then allotted to the Doctor : his name is Renny, and he 
lives at Newport Pagnel. 

" It is a sort of paradox, but it is true : we are never more 
in danger than when we think ourselves most secure, nor in 
reality more secure than when we seem to be most in danger. 
Both sides of this apparent contradiction were lately verified 
in my experience. Passing from the greenhouse to the barn, 
I saw three kittens (for we have so many in our retinue) 
looking with fixed attention at something, which lay on the 
threshold of a door, coiled up. I took but little notice of 
them at first; but a loud hiss engaged me to attend more 
closely, when behold a viper! the largest I remember to have 
seen, rearing itself, darting its forked tongue, and ejaculating 
the afore-mentioned hiss at the nose of a kitten, almost in 
contact with his lips. I ran into the hall for a hoe with a long 
handle, with which I intended to assail him, and returning in 
a few seconds missed him : he was gone, and I feared had 
escaped me. Still, however, the kitten sat watching immovably 
upon the same spot. I concluded, therefore, that, sliding 
between the door and the threshold, he had found his way out 
of the garden into the yard. I went round immediately, and 
there found him in close conversation with the old cat, whose 
curiosity being excited by so novel an appearance, inclined her 
to pat his head repeatedly with her fore foot ; with her claws, 
however, sheathed, and not in anger, but in the way of 
philosophical inquiry and examination. To prevent her falling 
a victim to so laudable an exercise of her talents, I interposed 
in a moment with the hoe, and performed an act of decapitation, 
which though not immediately mortal proved so in the end. 
Had he slid into the passages, where it is dark, or had he, when 
in the yard, met with no interruption from the cat, and secreted 
himself in any of the outhouses, it is hardly possible but that 
some of the family must have be:-ii bitten; he might have 
been trodden upon without being perceived, and have slipped 


away before the sufferer could have well distinguished what 
foe had wounded him. Three years ago we discovered one in 
the same place, which the barber slew with a trowel. 

" Our proposed removal to Mr. Small's was, as you suppose, 
a jest, or rather a joco-serious matter. We never looked upon 
it as entirely feasible, yet we saw in it something so like 
practicability, that we did not esteem it altogether unworthy of 
our attention. It was one of those proj sets which people of lively 
imaginations play with, and admire for a few days, and then 
break in pieces. Lady Austen returned on Thursday from 
London, where she spent the last fortnight, and whither she 
was called by an unexpected opportunity to dispose of the 
remainder of her lease. She has now, therefore, no longer 
any connexion with the great city, she has none on earth whom 
she calls friends but us, and no house but at Olney. Her abode 
is to be at the vicarage, where she has hired as much room as 
she wants, which she will embellish with her own furniture, 
and which she will occupy, as soon as the minister's wife has 
produced another child, which is expected to make its entry 
in October. 

" Mr. Bull, a dissenting minister of Newport, a learned, 
ingenious, good-natured, pious friend of ours, who sometimes 
visits us, and whom we visited Jast week, has put into my 
hands three volumes of French poetry, composed by Madame 
Guyon ; a quietist, say you, and a fanatic, I will have nothing 
to do with her. It is very well, you are welcome to have 
nothing to do with her, but in the meantime her verse is the 
only French verse I ever read that I found agreeable ; there is 
a neatness in it equal to that which we applaud with so much 
reason in the compositions of Prior. I have translated several 
of them, and shall proceed in my translations, till I have filled 
a Lilliputian paper-book I happen to have by me, which, when 
filled, I shall present to Mr. Bull. He is her passionate 
admirer, rode twenty miles to see her picture in the house of a 


stranger, which stranger politely insisted on his acceptance of 
it, and it now hangs over his parlour chimney. It is a striking 
portrait, too characteristic not to be a strong resemblance, and 
were it encompassed with a glory, instead of being dressed in a 
nun's hood, might pass for the face of an angel. 

" Our meadows are covered with a winter-flood in A ugust ; 
the rushes with which oar bottomless chairs were to have been 
bottomed, and much hay, which was not carried, are gone down 
the river on a voyage to Ely, and it is even uncertain whether 
they will ever return. Sic transit gloria mundi 1 

" I am glad you have found a curate ; may he answer ! Am 
happy in Mrs. Bouverie's continued approbation ; it is worth 
while to write for such a reader. Yours, 

"W. C." 

The power of imparting interest to commonplace incidents is 
so great that we read with a sort of excitement a minute 
account of the conversion of an old card- table into a writing 
and dining-table, with the causes and consequences of that 
momentous event; curiosity having been first cunningly aroused 
by the suggestion that the clerical friend to whom the letter is 
addressed might, if the mystery were not explained, be haunted 
by it when he was getting into his pulpit, at which time, as he 
had told Cowper, perplexing questions were apt to come into 
his mind. 

A man who lived by himself could have little but himself to 
write about. Yet in these letters there is hardly a touch of 
offensive egotism. Nor is there any querulousness, except that 
of religious despondency. From those weaknesses Cowper was 
free. Of his proneness to self-revelation we have had a 
specimen already. 

The minor antiquities of the generations immediately preced 
ing ours are becoming rare, as compared with those of remote 
ages, because nobody thinks it worth while to preserve them. 


It is almost as easy to get a personal memento of Priam or 
Nimrod as it is to get a harpsichord, a spinning-wheel, a 
tinder-box, or a scratch-back. An Egyptian wig is attainable, 
a wig of the Georgian era is hardly so, much less a tie of the 
Regency. So it is with the scenes of common life a century 
or two ago. They are being lost, because they were familiar. 
Here are two of them, however, which have limned themselves 
with the distinctness of the camera obscura on the page of a 
chronicler of trifles. 


"Nov. nth, 1783. 

"MY DEAR FRIEND, The country round is much alarmed 
with apprehensions of fire. Two have happened since that of 
Olney. One at Hitchin, where the damage is said to amount 
to eleven thousand pounds; and another, at a place not far 
from Hitchin, of which I have not yet learnt the name. 
Letters have been dropped at Bedford, threatening to burn the 
town; and the inhabitants have been so intimidated as to have 
placed a guard in many parts of it, several nights past. Since 
our conflagration here, we have sent two women and a boy to 
the justice, for depredation; S. R. for stealing a piece of beef, 
which, in her excuse, she said she intended to take care of. 
This lady, whom you well remember, escaped for want of 
evidence; not that evidence was wanting, but our men of 
Gotham judged it unnecessary to send it. With her went the 
woman I mentioned before, who, it seems, has made some sort 
of profession, but upon this occasion allowed herself a latitude 
of conduct rather inconsistent with it, having filled her apron 
with wearing apparel, which she likewise intended to take care 
of, She would have gone to the county gaol, had William 
Raban, the baker's son, who prosecuted, insisted upon it; but 
he, good-naturedly, though I think weakly, interposed in her 
favour, and begged her off. The young gentleman who 


accompanied these fair ones is the junior son of Molly Boswell. 
He had stolen some iron-work, the property of Griggs the 
butcher. Being convicted, he was ordered to be whipped, which 
operation he underwent at the cart's tail, from the stone-house 
to the high arch, and back again. He seemed to show great 
fortitude, but it was all an imposition upon the public. The 
beadle, who performed it, had filled his left hand with yellow 
ochre, through which, after every stroke, he drew the lash of 
his whip, leaving the appearance of a wound upon the skin, 
but in reality not hurting him at all. This being perceived by 
Mr. Constable H., who followed the beadle, he applied his cane, 
without any such management or precaution, to the shoulders 
of the ioo merciful executioner. The scene immediately 
became more interesting. The beadle could by no means be 
prevailed upon to strike hard, which provoked the constable to 
strike harder; and this double flogging continued, till a lass 
of Silver-End, pitying the pitiful beadle thus suffering under 
the hands of the pitiless constable, joined the procession, and 
placing herself immediately behind the latter, seized him by his 
capillary club, and pulling him backwards by the same, slapped 
his face with a most Amazon fury. This concatenation of 
events has taken up more of my paper than I intended it 
should, but I could not forbear to inform you how the beadle 
thrashed the thief, the constable the beadle, and the lady the 
constable, and how the thief was the only person concerned 
who suffered nothing. Mr. Teedon has been here, and is gone 
again. He came to thank me for some left-off clothes. In 
answer to our inquiries after his health, he replied that he had 
a slow fever, which made him take all possible care not to 
inflame his blood. I admitted his prudence, but in his particular 
instance, could not very clearly discern the need of it. Pump 
water will not heat him much; and, to speak a little in his own 
style, more inebriating fluids are to him, I fancy, not very 
attainable. He brought us news, the truth of which, however, 


I do not vouch for, that the town of Bedford was actually on 
fire yesterday, and the flames not extinguished when the bearer 
of the tidings left it. 

"Swift observes, when he is giving his reasons why the 
preacher is elevated always above his hearers, that let the crowd 
be as great as it will below, there is always room enough 
overhead. If the French philosophers can carry their art of 
flying to the perfection they desire, the observation may be 
reversed, the crowd will be overhead, and they will have most 
room who stay below. I can assure you, however, upon my 
own experience, that this way of travelling is very delightful- 
I dreamt a night or two since that I drove myself through the 
upper regions in a balloon and pair, with the greatest ease and 
security. Having finished the tour I intended, I made a short 
turn, and, with one flourish of my whip, descended; my horses 
prancing and curvetting with an infinite share of spirit, but 
without the least danger, either to me or my vehicle. The 
time, we may suppose, is at hand, and seems to be prognosticated 
by my dream, when these airy excursions will be universal, 
when judges will fly the circuit, and bishops their visitations ; 
and when the tour of Europe will be performed with much 
greater speed, and with equal advantage, by all who travel 
merely for the sake of having it to say, that they have made it. 

" I beg you will accept for yourself and yours our unfeigned 
love, and remember me affectionately to Mr. Bacon, when you 
see him. 

" Yours, my dear friend, 



March 29th, 1784. 

" MY DEAR FRIEND, It being his Majesty's pleasure, that I 
should yet have another opportunity to write before he dissolves 
the Parliament, I avail myself of it with all possible alacrity. 


f thank you for your last, which was not the less welcome for 
coming, like an extraordinary gazette, at a time when it was 
not expected. 

" As when the sea is uncommonly agitated, the water finds 
its way into creeks and holes of rocks, which in its calmer 
state it never reaches, in like manner the effect of these 
turbulent times is felt even at Orchard Side, where in general 
we live as undisturbed by the political element as shrimps or 
cockles that have been accidentally deposited in some hollow 
beyond the water-mark, by the usual dashing of the waves. 
We were sitting yesterday after dinner, the two ladies and 
myself, very composedly, and without the least apprehension 
of any such intrusion in our snug parlour, one lady knitting, 
the other netting, and the gentleman winding worsted, when to 
our unspeakable suprise a mob appeared before the window ; a 
smart rap was heard at the door, the boys bellowed, and the 
maid announced Mr. Grenville. Puss was unfortunately let 
out of her box, so that the candidate, with all his good friends 
at his heels, was refused admittance at the grand entry, and 
referred to the back door, as the only possible way of approach. 
" Candidates are creatures not very susceptible of affronts, 
and would rather, I suppose, climb in at the window, than be 
absolutely excluded. In a minute, the yard, the kitchen, and 
the parlour, were filled. Mr. Grenville, advancing towards me, 
shook me by the hand with a degree of cordiality that was 
extremely seducing. As soon as he, and as many more as could 
find chairs, were seated, he began to open the intent of his 
visit. I told him I had no vote, for which he readily gave me 
cr( dit. I assured him I had no influence, which he was not 
equally inclined to believe, and the less, no doubt, because Mr. 
Ashbumer, the draper, addressing himself to me at this moment, 
intormed me that I had a great deal. Supposing that I could 
not be possessed of such a treasure without knowing it, I 
ventured to confirm my first assertion, by saying, that if I had 


any I was utterly at a loss to imagine where it could be, or 
wherein it consisted. Thus ended the conference. Mr. Gr^n- 
ville squeezed me by the hand again, kissed the ladies, and 
withdrew. He kissed likewise the maid in the kitchen, and 
seemed upon the whole a most loving, kissing, kind-hearted 
gentleman. He is very young, genteel, and handsome. He 
has a pair of very good eyes in his head, which not being 
sufficient as it should seem for the many nice and difficult 
purposes of a senator, he has a third also, which he suspended 
from his buttonhole. The boys halloo'd, the dogs barked, puss 
scampered, the hero, with his long train of obsequious followers 
withdrew. We made ourselves very merry with the adventure, 
and in a short time settled into our former tranquillity, never 
probably to be thus interrupted more. I thought myself, 
however, happy in being able to affirm truly that I had not 
that influence for which he sued ; and which, had I been 
possessed of it, with my present views of the dispute between 
the Crown and the Commons, I must have refused him, for he 
is on the side of the former. It is comfortable to be of no 
consequence in a world where one cannot exercise any without 
disobliging somebody. The town, however, seems to be much 
at his service, and if he be equally successful throughout the 
country, he will undoubtedly gain his election. Mr. Ash burner, 
perhaps, was a little mortified, because it was evident that I 
owed the honour of this visit to his misrepresentation of my 
importance. But had he thought proper to assure Mr. Grenville 
that I had three heads, I should not, I suppose, have been 
bound to produce them. 

"Mr. Scott, who you say was so much admired in your 
pulpit, would be equally admired in his own, at least by all 
capable judges, were he not so apt to be angry with his 
congregation. This hurt him, and had he the understanding 
and eloquence of Paul himself, would still hurt him. He 
seldom, hardly ever indeed, preaches a gentle, well-tempered 

COWPER. 101 

sermon, but I hear it highly commended \ but warmth of 
temper, indulged to a degree that may be called scolding, 
defeats the end of preaching. It is a misapplication of his 
powers, which it also cripples, and tears away his hearers. But 
he is a good man, and may perhaps outgrow it. 

"Many thanks for the worsted, which is excellent. We are 
as well as a spring hardly less severe than the severest winter 
will give us leave to be. With our united love, we conclude 
ourselves yours and Mrs. Newton's affectionate and faithful. 

"W. C. 

"M. U." 

In 1789 the French Revolution advancing with thunder- 
tread makes even the hermit of Weston look up for a moment 
from his translation of Homer, though he little dreamed that 
he with his gentle philanthropy and sentimental ism had any 
thing to do with the great overturn of the social and political 
systems of the past. From time to time some crash of especial 
magnitude awakens a faint echo in the letters. 


"July nth, 1790. 

" Instead of beginning with the saffron-vested mourning to 
which Homer invites me, on a morning that has no saffron 
vest to boast, I shall begin with you. It is irksome to us both 
to wait so long as we must for you, but we are willing to hope 
that by a longer stay you will make us amends for all this 
tedious procrastination. 

** Mrs. Un win has made known her whole case to Mr. 
Gregson, whose opinion of it has been very consolatory to me ; 
he says indeed it is a case perfectly out of the reach of all 
physical aid, but at the same time nqt at all dangerous. 
Constant pain is a sad grievance, whatever part is affected, and 
she is hardly ever free from an aching head, as well as an uneasy 


side, but patience is an anodyne of God's own preparation, and 
of that He gives her largely. 

"The French who, like all lively folks, are extreme in 
everything, are such in their zeal for freedom ; and if it were 
possible to make so noble a cause ridiculous, their manner of 
promoting it could not fail to do so. Princes and peers reduced 
to plain gentlemanship, and gentles reduced to a level with their 
own lackeys, are excesses of which they will repent hereafter. 
Differences of rank and subordination are, I believe, of God's 
appointment, and consequently essential to the well-being of 
society ; but 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 idol. 
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." 

This, it will be admitted, is very moderate and unapocalyptic. 
Presently Monarchical Europe takes arms against the Revo 
lution. But there are two political observers at least who see 
that Monarchical Europe is making a mistake Kauriitz and 
Cowper. " The French," observes Cowper to Lady Hesketh in 
December, 1792, "are a vain and childish people, and conduct 
themselves on this grand occasion with a levity and extravagance 
nearly akin to madness; but it would have been better for 
Austria and Prussia to let them alone. All nations have a right 
to choose their own form of government, and the sovereignty 
of the people is a doctrine that evinces itself ; for whenever the 
people choose to be masters, they always are so, and none can 

COWPEE. 103 

hinder them. God grant that we may have no revolution here, 
but unless we have reform, we certainly shall. Depend upon 
it, my dear, the hour has come when power founded on 
patronage and corrupt majorities must govern this land no 
longer. Concessions, too, must be made to Dissenters of every 
denomination. They have a right to them a right to all the 
privileges of Englishmen, and sooner or later, by fair means or 
by foul, they will have them." Even in 1793, though he 
expresses, as he well might, a cordial abhorrence of the doings 
of the French, he calls them not fiends, but " madcaps." He 
expresses the strongest indignation against the Tory mob which 
sacked Priestly's house at Birmingham, as he does, in justice 
be it said, against all manifestations of fanaticism. We cannot 
help sometimes wishing, as we read these passages in the 
letters, that their calmness and reasonableness could have been 
communicated to another " Old Whig," who was setting the 
world on fire with his anti-revolutionary rhetoric. 

It is true, as has already been said, that Cowper was 
"extramundane;" and that his political reasonableness was in 
part the result of the fancy that he and his fellow-saints had 
nothing to do with the world but to keep themselves clear of it, 
and let it go its own way to destruction. But it must also be 
admitted that while the wealth of Establishments, of which 
Burke was the ardent defender, is necessarily reactionary in the 
highest degree, the tendency of religion itself, where it is 
genuine and sincere, must be to repress any selfish feeling about 
class or position, and to make men, in temporal matters, more 
willing to sacrifice the present to the future, especially where 
the hope is held out of moral as well as of material improve 
ment. Thus it has come to pass that men who professed and 
imagined themselves to have no interest in this world, have 
pratically been its great reformers and improvers in the political 
and material as well as in the moral sphere. 

The last specimen shall be one in the more sententious style, 


and one which proves that Cowper was capable of writing in a 
judicious manner on a difficult and delicate question even a 
question so difficult and so delicate as that of the propriety of 
painting the face. 


May 3rd, 1784. 

"MY DEAR FRIEND, The subject of face painting may be 
considered, I think, in two points of view. First, there is 
room for dispute with respect to the consistency of the practice 
with good morals; and secondly, whether it be on the whole 
convenient or not, may be a matter worthy of agitation. I set 
out with all the formality of logical disquisition, but do not 
promise to observe the same regularity any further than it may 
comport with my purpose of writing as fast as I can. 

" As to the immorality of the custom, were I in France, I 
should see none. On the contrary, it seems in that country to 
be a symptom of modest consciousness, and a tacit confession of 
what all know to be true, that French faces have in fact neither 
red nor white of their own. This humble acknowledgment of 
a defect looks the more like a virtue, being found among a 
people not remarkable for humility. Again, before we can 
prove the practice to be immoral, we must prove immorality in 
the design of those who use it ; either that they intend a 
deception, or to kindle unlawful desires in the beholders. But 
the French ladies, so far as their purpose comes in question, 
must be acquitted of both these charges. Nobody supposes 
their colour to be natural for a moment, any more than he 
would if it were blue or green: and this unambiguous judgment 
of the matter is owing to two causes : first, to the universal 
knowledge we have, that French women are naturally either 
brown or yellow, with very few exceptions ; and secondly, to 
the inartificial manner in which they paint ; for they do not, as 
I am most satisfactorily informed, even attempt an imitation 

COWPEE. 105 

of nature, but besmear themselves hastily, and at a venture, 
anxious only to lay on enough. Where therefore there is no 
wanton intention, nor a wish to deceive, I can discover no 
immorality. But in England, I am afraid, our painted ladies 
are not clearly entitled to the same apology. They even 
imitate nature with such exactness that the whole public is 
sometimes divided into parties, who litigate with great warmth 
the question whether painted or not ? This was remarkably the 

case with a Miss B , whom I well remember. . Her roses 

and lilies were never discovered to be spurious, till she attained 
an age that made the supposition of their being natural 
impossible. This anxiety to be not merely red and white, which 
is all they aim at in France, but to be thought very beautiful, 
and much more beautiful than Nature has made them, is a system 
not very favourable to the idea we would wish to entertain of 
the chastity, purity, and modesty of our countrywomen. That 
they are guilty of a design to deceive is certain. Otherwise 
why so much art ? and if to deceive, wherefore and with what 
purpose 1 ? Certainly either to gratify vanity of the silliest 
kind, or, which is still more criminal, to decoy and inveigle, and 
carry on more successfully the business of temptation. Here, 
therefore, my opinion splits itself into two opposite sides upon 
the same question. I can suppose a French woman, though 
painted an inch deep, to be a virtuous, discreet, excellent 
character ; and in no instance should I think the worse of one 
be<a :se she was painted. But an English belle must pardon 
me it' 1 have not the same charity for her. She is at least an 
impostor, whether she cheats me or not. because she means to 
do so ; and it is well if that be all the censure she deserves. 

"This brings me to my second class of ideas upon this topic; 
and here 1 feel that I should be fearfully puzzled, were I called 
upon to recommend the practice on the score of convenience. 
If a husband chose that his wife should paint, perhaps it might 
be her duty, as well as her interest, to comply. But I think 


he would not much consult his own, for reasons that will 
follow. In the first place, she would admire herself the more ; 
and in the next, if she managed the matter well, she might be 
more admired by others; an acquisition that might bring her 
virtue under trials, to which otherwise it might never have 
been exposed. In no other case, however, can I imagine the 
practice in this country to be either expedient or convenient. 
As a general one it certainly is not expedient, because in 
general English women have no occasion for it. A swarthy 
complexion is a rarity here; and the sex, especially since 
inoculation has been so much in use, have very little cause to 
complain that nature has not been kind to them in the article 
of complexion. They may hide and spoil a good one; but they 
cannot, at least they hardly can, give themselves a better. But 
even if they could, there is yet a tragedy in the sequel, which 
should make them tremble. 

" I understand that in France, though the use of rouge be 
general, the use of white paint is far from being so. In 
England, she that uses one, commonly uses both. Now all 
white paints, or lotions or whatever they may be called, are 
mercurial, consequently poisonous, consequently ruinous in time 

to the constitution. The Miss B above mentioned was a 

miserable witness of this truth, it being certain that her flesh 
fell from her bones before she died. Lady Coventry was hardly 
a less melancholy proof of it; and a London physician perhaps, 
were he at liberty to blab, could publish a bill of female 
mortality, of a length that would astonish us. 

"For these reasons I utterly condemn the practice, as it 
obtains in England ; and for a reason superior to all these I 
must disapprove it. I cannot, indeed, discover that Scripture 
forbids it in so many words. But that anxious solicitude about 
the person, which such an artifice evidently betrays, is, I am 
sure, contrary to the tenor and spirit of it throughout. Show 
me a woinen with a painted face, and I will show you a woman 

COWPER. 107 

whose heart is set on things of the earth, and not on things 

" But this observation of mine applies to it only when it is 
an imitative art. For in the use of French women, I think it 
is as innocent as in the use of a wild Indian, who draws a circle 
round her face, and makes two spots, perhaps blue, perhaps 
white, in the middle of it. Such are my thoughts upon the 

" Vive valeque, 
" Yours ever, 

" W. 0." 

These letters have been chosen as illustrations of Cowper'a 
epistolary style, and for that purpose they have been given 
entire. But they are also the best pictures of his character ; 
and his character is everything. The events of his life worthy 
of record might all be comprised in a dozen pages. 



COWPER says there could not have been a happier trio on earth 
than Lady Hesketh, Mrs. Unwin, and himself. Nevertheless, 
after his removal to Weston, he again went mad, and once more 
attempted self-destruction. His malady was constitutional, and 
it settled down upon him as his years increased, and his strength 
failed. He was now sixty. The Olney physicians, instead of 
husbanding his vital power, had wasted it away secundum artem 
by purging, bleeding and emetics. He had overworked himself 
on his fatal translation of Homer, under the burden of which 
he moved, as he says himself, like an ass overladen with san<J- 


bags. He had been getting up to work at six, and not 
breakfasting till eleven. And now the life from which his had 
for so many years been fed, itself began to fail. Mrs. Uriwin was 
stricken with paralysis ; the stroke was slight, but of its nature 
there was no doubt. Her days of bodily life were numbered; 
of mental Hfe there remained to her a still shorter span. Her 
excellent son, William Unwin, had died of a fever soon after 
the removal of the pair to Weston. He had been engaged in 
the work of his profession as a clergyman, and we do not 
hear of his being often at Olney. But he was in constant 
correspondence with Cowper, in whose heart as well as in that 
of Mrs. Unwin his death must have left a great void, and his 
support was withdrawn juLt ut the moment when it was about 
to become most necessary. 

Happily just at this juncture a new and a good friend 
appeared. Hayley was a mediocre poet, who had for a time 
obtained distinction above his merits. Afterwards his star 
had declined, but having an excellent heart, he had not 
been in the least soured by the downfall of his reputation. 
He was addicted to a pompous rotundity of style ; perhaps he 
was rather absurd ; but he was thoroughly good-natured, very 
anxious to make himself useful, and devoted to Cowper, to 
whom, as a poet, he looked up with an admiration unalloyed 
by any other feeling. Both of them, as it happened, were 
engaged on Milton, and an attempi had been made to set them 
by the ears; but Hayley took advantage of it to introduce 
himself to Cowper with an effusion of the warmest esteem. 
He was at Weston when Mrs. Unwin was attacked with 
paralysis, and displayed his resource by trying to cure her with 
an electric-machine. At Eartham, on the coast of Sussex, he 
had, by an expenditure beyond his means, made for himself a 
little paradise, where it was his delight to gather a distinguished 
circle. To this place he gave the pair a pressing invitation, 
which was accepted in the vain hope that a change might do 
Mrs. Unwin good. 

COWPER. 109 

From Weston to Eartham was a three days' journey, an 
enterprise not undertaken without much trepidation and earnest 
prayer. It was safely accomplished, however, the enthusiastic 
Mr. Rose walking to meet his poet and philosopher on the way. 
Hayley had tried to get Thurlow to meet Cowper. A sojourn 
in a country house with the tremendous Thurlow, the only 
talker for whom Johnson condescended to prepare himself, 
would have been rather an overpowering pleasure; and perhaps, 
after all, it was as well that Hayley could only get Cowper's 
disciple, Hurdis, afterwards professor of poetry at Oxford, and 
Charlotte Smith. 

At Eartham, Cowper's portrait was painted by Romney. 

Romney, expert infallibly to trace 
On chart or canvass not the form alone 
And semblance, but, however faintly shown 
The mind's impression too on every face, 
With strokes that time ought never to erase, 
Thou hast so pencilled 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 
When I was Hayley's guest and sat to thee. 

Southey observes that it was likely enough there would be 
no melancholy in the portrait,, but that Hayley and Romney 
fell into a singular error in mistaking for "the light of genius" 
what Leigh Hunt calls "a fire fiercer than that either of 
intellect or fancy, gleaming from the raised and protruded eye." 

Hayley evidently did his utmost to make his guest happy. 
They spent the hours in literary chat, and compared notes 
about Milton. The first days were days of enjoyment. But 
soon the recluse began to long for his nook at Westoa. Even 


the extensiveness of the view at Earthara made his mind ache 
and increased his melancholy. To Weston the pair returned } 
the paralytic, of course, none the better for her journey. Her 
mind as well as her body was now rapidly giving way. We 
quote as biography that which is too well known to be quoted 
as poetry. 


The twentieth year is well nigh past 
Since first our sky was overcast : 
Ah, would that this might be the last ! 

My Mary ! 

Thy spirits have a fainter flow, 

I see thee daily weaker grow : 

'Twas my distress that brought thee low, 

My Mary ! 

Thy needles, once a shining store, 
For my sake restless heretofore, 
Now rust disused, and shine no more, 

My Mary ! 

For though thou gladly wouldst fulfil 
The same kind office for me still, 
Thy sight now seconds not thy will, 

My Mary ! 

But well, thou play'dst the housewife's part, 
And all thy threads with magic art, 
Have wound themselves about this heart, 

My Mary 1 

Thy indistinct expressions seem 

Like language utter' d in a dream : 

Yet me they charm, whate'er the theme, 

My Mary ! 

Thy silver locks, once auburn bright, 
Are still more lovely in my sight 
Than golden beams of orient light, 

My Mary ! 

COWPER. 1 1 1 

For could I view nor them nor thee, 
What sight worth seeing could I see ? 
The sun would rise in vain for me, 

My Mary 1 

Partakers of thy sad decline, 

Thy hands their little force resign ; 

Yet gently press'd, press gently mine, 

My Mary ! 

Such feebleness of limbs thou provest, 
That now at every step thou movest, 
Upheld by two; yet still thou lovest, 

My Mary i 

And still to love, though press'd with ill, 
In wintry age to feel no chill, 
With me is to be lovely still, 

My Mary ! 

But ah ! by constant heed I know, 
How oft the sadness that I show 
- Transforms thy smiles to looks of woe, 

My Mary J 

And should my future lot be cast 
With much resemblance of the past, 
Thy worn-out heart will break at last, 

My Mary! 

Even love, at least the power of manifesting love, began to 
betray its mortality. She who had been so devoted, became, 
as her mind failed, exacting, and instead of supporting her 
partner, drew him down. He sank again into the depth of 
hypochondria. As usual, his malady took the form of religious 
horrors, and he fancied that he was ordained to undergo severe 
penance for his sins. Six days he sat motionless and silent, 
almost refusing to take food. His physician suggested, as the 
only chance of arousing him, that Mrs. Unwin should be 
induced, if possible, to invite him to go out with her; with 


difficulty she was made to understand what they wanted her to 
do ; at last she said that it was a fine morning, and she should 
like a walk. Her partner at once rose and placed her arm in 
his. Almost unconsciously, she had rescued him from the 
evil spirit for the last time. The pair were in doleful plight. 
When their minds failed they had fallen in a miserable manner 
under the influence of a man named Teedon, a schoolmaster 
crazed with self-conceit, at whom Cowper in his saner mood 
had laughed, but whom he now treated as a spiritual oracle, 
and a sort of medium of communication with the spirit-world, 
writing down the nonsense which the charlatan talked. Mrs. 
Unwin, being no longer in a condition to control the expenditure, 
the housekeeping, of course, went wrong; and at the same 
time her partner lost the protection of the love-inspired tact by 
which she had always contrived to shield his weakness and to 
secure for him, in spite of his eccentricities, respectful treatment 
from his neighbours. Lady Hesketh's health had failed, and 
she had been obliged to go to Bath. Hayley now proved 
himself no mere lion hunter, but a true friend. In conjunction 
with Cowper's relatives, he managed the removal of the pair 
from Weston to Mundsley, on the coast of Norfolk, where 
Cowper seemed to be soothed by the sound of the sea, then to 
Dunham Lodge, near Swaffham, and finally (in 1796) to East 
Dereham, where, two months after their arrival, Mrs. Unwin 
died. Her partner was barely conscious of his loss. On the 
morning of her death he asked the servant "whether there was 
life above stairs V On being taken to see the corpse, he gazed 
at it for a moment, uttered one passionate cry of grief, and 
never spoke of Mrs. Unwin more. He had the misfortune to 
survive her three years and a half, during which relatives and 
friends were kind, and Miss Perowne partly filled the place of 
Mrs. Unwin. Now and then, there was a gleam of reason and 
faint revival of literary faculty ; but composition was confined 
to Latin verse or translation, with one memorable and almost 

COWPBR. 113 

awful exception. The last original poem written by Cowper was 
The Castaway, founded on an incident in Anson's Voyage 

Obscurest night involved the sky, 

The Atlantic billows roared, 
When such a destined wretch as I, 

Wash'd headlong from on board, 
Of friends, of hope, of all bereft, 
His floating home for ever left. 

No braver chief could Albion boast 

Than he with whom he went, 
Nor ever ship left Albion's coast 

With warmer wishes sent. 
He loved them both, but both in vain; 
Nor him beheld, nor her again. 

Not long beneath the whelming brine 

Expert to swim, he lay ; 
Nor soon he felt his strength decline, 

Or courage die away ; 
But waged with death a lasting strife, 
Supported by despair of life. 

He shouted ; nor his friends had fail'd 

To check the vessel's course, 
But so the furious blast prevail'd, 

That pitiless perforce 
They left their outcast mate behind, 
And scudded still before the wind. 

Some succour yet they could afford ; 

And, such as storms allow, 
The cask, the coop, the floated cord, 

Delay'd not to bestow : 
But he, they knew, nor ship nor shore, 
Whate'er they gave, should visit more. 

Nor, cruel as it seem'd, could he 
Their haste himself condemn, 
Aware that flight, in such a sea, 


Alone could rescue them ; 
Yet bitter felt it still to die 
Deserted, and his friends so nigh. 

He long survives, who lives an hour 

In ocean, self-upheld ; 
And so long he, with unspent power, 

His destiny repelled : 
And ever, as the minutes flew, 
Entreated help, or cried "Adieu!" 

At length, his transient respite past, 

His comrades, who before 
Had heard his voice in every blast, 

Could catch the sound no more : 
For then by toil subdued, he drank 
The stifling wave, and then he sank. 

No poet wept him ; but the page 

Of narrative sincere, 
That tells his name, his worth, his age, 

Is wet with Anson's tear : 
And tears by bards or heroes shed 
Alike immortalize the dead. . 

I therefore purpose not, or dream, 

Descanting on his fate, 
To give the melancholy theme 

A more enduring date : 
But misery still delights to trace 
Its semblance in another's case. 

No voice divine the storm allay'd, 

No light propitious shone, 
When, snatch'd from aU effectual aid, 

We perish'd, each alone : 
But I beneath a rougher sea, 
And whelm'd in deeper gulfs than he. 

The despair which finds vent in verse is hardly despair. 
Poetry can never be the direct expression of emotion ; it must 



be the product of reflection combined with an exercise of the 
faculty of composition which in itself is pleasant. Still The 
Castaway ought to be an antidote to religious depression, since 
it is the work of a man of whom it would be absurdity to think 
as really estranged from the spirit of good, who had himself 
done good to the utmost of his powers. 

Cowper died very peacefully on the morning of April 25, 
1800, and was buried in Dereham Church, where there is a 
monument to him with an inscription by Hayley, which, if it 
is not good poetry, is a tribute of sincere affection. 

Any one whose lot it is to write upon the life and works of 
Cowper must feel that there is an immense difference between 
the interest which attaches to him, and that which attaches to 
any one among the far greater poets of the succeeding age. 
Still there is something about him so attractive, his voice has 
such a silver tone, he retains, even in his ashes, such a faculty 
of winning friends that his biographer and critic may be easily 
beguiled into giving him too high a place.. He belongs to a 
particular religious movement, with the vitality of which the 
interest of a great part of his works has departed or is 
departing. Still more emphatically and in a still more important 
sense does he belong to Christianity. In no natural struggle 
for existence would he have been the survivor, by no natural 
process of selection would he ever have been picked out as a 
vessel of honour. If the shield which for eighteen centuries 
Christ by His teachings and His death has spread over the 
weak things of this world should fail, and might should again 
become the title to existence and the measure of worth, Cowper 
will be cast aside as a specimen of despicable infirmity, and all 
who have said anything in his praise will be treated with the 
same scorn. 





Entered according to Act of the Parliament of Canada, in the year one thousand 
eight hundred and ninety -four, by T11E COP1', CLAIIK CO., LIMITED. Torouto, 
Ontario, in the Office of the Minister of Agriculture. 



[References lo Cowper's poems are made according to the Globe edition, edited by 
the Rev. William Benham, Macmillan and Co., 1870. His translations from the Greek 
and his letters are referred to according to Southey's edition of Cowper's works, 
Bohn, 1854.] 


5, 1. Cowper. The pronunciation of the poet's name has been 
the subject of much discussion, especially to be found in Notes and 
Queries. It is conclusive from one communication (N. t- Q., I. iv. 137), 
where the origin of the family is discussed, that the early spelling of the 
family name was "Cooper," and from another (N. tC- Q., I. vii. 102) 
that the poet himself was called "Cooper" by those who knew him: 
from which we may safely hold that the pronunciation of the poet's 
name is more properly Coo'per. 

5, 7. European Revolution. Of which the chief movement 
was the French Revolution (Green, Short History, x. iii. }. 

5, 13. Rousseau (roo so'). Jean- Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), 
author of the Nouvelle ffeloise. Emile, Confessions, etc. , was the first of 
the modern French writers to give imaginative expression to passionate 
sentiments of love and nature, and consequently contributed most to 
the awakening of literature from the lethargy of the Classical period. 
See 32, 7 f., 72, 10 ff. 

5,17. establishment. The established church, or state church 
of England, Episcopacy. 

5, 18. Wesley Clarkson. Green's admirable sketch of the 

rise of Methodism (chapter x. of the Short History] should be read in con 
nection with this chapter. He treats there also of the new philanthropy 
that accompanied it, led by Wilberforce and Clarksou against the slave- 
o [119] 

120 COWPKB. 

trade, and by John Howard against the iniquities of prison-life. John 
Thornton (1720-1790) was a rich philanthropic merchant, friend ami 
counsellor of Wilberforce. One of the many forms of his generosity w.;s 
to buy up livings, which he presented to " truly religious " ministers 
Newton (see p. 39) owed his comfortable life to him, with many another 
poor clergyman. He was well known to Cowper, who praised Ira 
virtues in a poem to his memory. (Globe ed. p. 375 ) 

5, 21. Goldsmith. Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774), author of Tk- 
Traveller, The Deserted Village, The Vicar of Wakejield, etc. 

5, 22. Crabbe. George Crabbe (1754-1832), author of the poems 
The Library, The Village, The Parish Register, Tales in Verse, etc., 
which shows vigorous portraiture of character and scenes, in which 
the details are wonderfully exact. 

5, 22. Burns. Robert Burns (1759-1796). His poems, Tarn 
0' Khanter, Cotter's Saturday Night, and lyrics, are all characterized by 
such truth and freshness of feeling that with them English poetry 
may be said to have begun a new life. 

5, 28. Southey's biography. The Works of William Cowper, 
with a life of the author by Robert Southey, Poet Laureate, Vol. I., 
Bohn, London, 1853. 

6, 5. What he did for Nelson. Referring to Southey's Life 
of Nelson, a work which, in its natural simplicity of style joined with 
high sympathy with its heroic subject, has not been surpassed in our 
biographical literature. 

6, 6. Nobility of the robe. Men ennobled for their eminence 
in law. 

6, 10. the pretty Quakeress. " Spencer Cowper, judge 
. . . went the home circuit and was acquainted with a quaker 
family at Hertford, named Stout. . . . The daughter, Sarah Stout, 
fell in love with him, though he was already married, and became 
melancholy upon his avoiding her company. At the spring assizes in 
1699 he was at her house in the evening . . . returned to his own 
lodgings, and next morning she was found dead in the river. Cowper, 
with three other lawyers . . . were accused of murdering her 
. . . but the defendants were acquitted. . . . The prosecutions 
were said to be suggested by a double motive. The tories of Hertford 
wished to hang a member of an eminent whig family, and the quakers to 
clear their body of the reproach of suicide." Dic.t, Nat. Biog. 

NOTES. 1.21 

6, 13. Donne the poet. John Donne (1573-1631), the elo 
quent and witty dean of St. Paul's, author of elegies, satires, which were 
greatly esteemed in his time, but are obscured to our taste by metaphysi 
cal speculation. 

6, 16. (old style). The correction of the chronology of the Julian 
year by the adoption of the Gregorian style was not made in England till 
1751, when eleven days were dropt from the calendar. 

6, 17. Berkampstead. In Hertfordshire. 

6, 19. Romney. George Romney (1734-1802), a very eminent 
English painter, rivaling Reynolds as a painter of portraits. Sec 109, 12. 
"Romney has drawn me in cr.iyons (and in the opinion of all here, at 
Eartham), with his best hand, and with the most exact resemblance 
possible." Cowper to Lady Hesketh, Aug. 26, 1792. 

6, 30. "I am of a very singular temper," etc. Quoted 
from Cowper's letter to Lady Hesketh, Aug. 9, 1763. 

7, 16. Spenser. Edmund Spenser (1553-1599), author especially 
of The Faerie Queen, a work of lavish beauty of expression and 
serene majesty of thought. 

7, 17. Pope. Alexander Pope (1688-1744), author of an Esay 
on Criticism, an Essay on Man, The Dunciad, etc. The term "arch- 
versifier" voices the reaction of the Romantic revival against the 
universal admiration with which Pope's work was once regarded. 
But the term does not sum up Pope's merits. If perfect versification, 
the most brilliant satire, and the most impressive declamation mean 
anything, the English Horace was even more than an arch-versifier. 

7, 27. polemics. Here disputants, controversialists. 

7, 29. Trulliber (trull' I ber). Parson Trulliber, in Fielding's 
novel of Joseph Andrews, depicts an indolent, ignorant, and selfish 

7, 29. Dr. Primrose. The vicar in Goldsmith's Vicar of Wake- 
field, devout, charitable to the poor, full of divine wisdom, but 
unpractical in his gentle simplemindedness. 

7, 31. Sinecurism (aln'e kur'ism). Condition of holding a posi 
tion that yields emolument without entailing duties. 

7, 31. pluralities. Condition of holding more than one ecclesias 
tical office or rather enjoying the income of more than one. 

122 cowpfiR. 

7, 34. Hogarth. William Hogarth (1697-1764), painter and 
engraver, celebrated especially as the satirist of the follies and vices of 
the society of his time. One series of his works is called Marriage 
(Fr. mariage) d, la mode ( ' Fashionable Marriage ' ). It is composed of 
six engravings from his pictures illustrating the marriage of a wealthy 
merchant's daughter with a great lord, the indifference of the married 
couple to each other, resulting in the faithlessness of the wife, the death 
of her husband at the hands of her paramour, who is himself put to 
death, and the suicide of the distracted wife. The details of the 
engravings give a masterly but horrible picture of every phase of 
social life its heartlessness, selfishness, avarice, hypocrisy. In The 
Election (8, 22) are represented four characteristic scenes of an old-time 
election ; a riotous political dinner, canvassing or rather bribing the 
electors, polling the votes, chairing the member, scenes for the most 
part of brawls and intemperance. 

8, 1. Fielding. Henry Fielding (1707-1754^ The first great 
English novelist, author of the novels Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones and 
Amelia, which, though often indelicate, show the greatest genius in 
their graphic description of character and in their brilliancy of wit. 
His characters, as we see from 8, 8 ; 8, 9 ; 29, 4, have become standard 

8, 1. Smollet. Tobias Smollet (1721-1771), author, chiefly 
of novels, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, etc., 
remarkable for a hearty though coarse humour, vigorous portraiture of 
life of a loose kind, and a quick eye of the eccentricities of character. 

8, 2. Marriage. See note 7, 34. 

8, 3. Chesterfield. The Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773), whose 
name is remembered as the synonym of the polished and corrupt gentle 
man of the eighteenth century. His Letters to his Son show a curiously 
low moral sense gambling and seduction are to him polite accomplish 
ments mixed with knowledge of life, and are so far as style goes 
agreeable reading. Cowper pointed his bitterest satire at this 
" polish'd and high-finish'd foe to truth." See p. 51. 

8, 5. Wilkeses. See 16, 5. 

8, 6. Hell-fire Club. The Medmenham Brotherhood or Fran 
ciscan Club, a well-known society famous for its debaucheries and for 
its blasphemous parodies of the rites of the Catholic religion. (Lecky } 
iii. ,60). Its president was Sir Francis Dash wood. Lord Sandwich was 
a member, "one of the most profligate noblemen of his time." (Lecky, 
iii., 83.) 

NOTES. 123 

8, 8. Allworthy. Squire Allworthy, in Fielding's Tom Jones, a 
rich, kind-hearted country-gentleman, upright and noble in character. 

8, 8. Sir Roger de Coverley. The chief figure in the imag 
inary club represented in the Spectator of Addisou and Steele ; a 
generous and affectionate master, a hospitable friend, courteous, modest, 
a very lovable country squire, despite many humorous eccentricities. 

8, 9. "Westerns. Squire Western, a character in Fielding's 
novel, Tom Jones. He is " imitated from no prototype, and is himself 
an inimitable picture of ignorance, prejudice, irascibility, and rusticity, 
united with natural shrewdness, constitutional good humour, and an in 
stinctive affection for his daughter." (Encijc. Brit., "Fielding.") 

8, 11. Positivists. Philosophers of the school of Auguste Com to 
(1797-1857), who held, as far as concerns religion, that the religion of 
Humanity human life conceived as a Great Being, and as such to be 
worshipped and served offers the prospect of a happier and better life in 
place of Christianity. 

8, 18. description of the candidate. Cowper's descrip 
tion is quoted on p. 98ff. 

8, 22. Election. See note 7, 34. 

8, 32, Lady Huntingdon. See 26, 15. Lady Selina Shirley 
(1707-1791), married in 1723 to the Earl of Huntingdon, was the most 
celebrated woman of the Methodist revival. She chose as one of her 
chaplains the celebrated preacher, George Whitlield (1714-1770), 
whose principles of Calvinistic Methodism she adopted. Her work 
was most extensive, providing for the training of preachers, the 
founding of chapels, and organizing of missions. 

9, 14. Temple Bar. A stone gateway SDparating until 1878 
the Strand from Fleet Street, London. The heads and quarters of 
criminals were, as late as 1772, exposed on the Gate. 

9, 23. Johnson. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), editor of the 
Rambler and Jdlet; and author of the poem, The Vanity of Human 
IVisJtes, of the first great English dictionary, of Lives of the Poets, and 
the prose romance, Rasselas. His work and his conversations (as pre 
served in Boswell's Life) show the solid judgment of the man, who, 
gifted with a caustic wit and great intellectual force, became the 
literary autocrat of England 

124 COWPER. 

9, 30. Every creature, etc. Quoted from Cowper's letter to 
Mrs. Bodham, Feb. 27, 1790. 

10, 18. My mother ! when I learned, etc. Quoted from 
On Receipt of my Mother's Picture, 1. 21 ff. 

11, 13. I had hardships, etc. Quoted from Cowper's own 

12, 2. Tirocinium (tlr o tin' * um). A Latin word meaning 
properly the first military service (of a tyro) ; heuce, the beginning of 
anything. Cowper finds the title appropriate for a poem criticising the 
school-life of his day. See 52, lOff. 

12, 3. Then why resign, etc. Tirocinium, 1. 551, ff. 

12, 33. Westminster School. St. Peter's School, West 
minster, a famoiis school, endowed by Queen Elizabeth, at which many 
great men have been educated ; poets such as Ben Jonson, Herbert, 
Dryden, Southey ; statesmen like Vane and Russell; the architect 
Christopher Wren, the philosopher Locke, the historian Gibbon. 

12, 37- Public Schools Commission. A commission issued 
in 1861 to investigate the condition of the great English public schools. 
The report of the commissioners who visited the school, examined 
witnesses, etc., was issued in 1864. A review of the report is in 
Fraser's Magazine, June and Sept., 1864. 

13, 14. St. Margaret's. A parish church a few yards north 
of Westminster Abbey. 

13, 17. Vincent Bourne (1697-1747). A Cambridge man 

(A.M., 1721), fellow of Trinity College, usher in Westminster School 
during most of the remaining years of his life. His work embraces short 
Latin poems, translations into Latin of English poems, and epitaphs in 
Latin and English. He is praised for the originality and variety of his 
thought, for his delicate humour and fine inspiration, for the purity of 
his Latin, and for a versification, the facility and harmony of which are 
not surpassed by any modern writer of Latin poetry. 

13, 20. " I love the memory," etc. Cowper's letter to the 

Rev. Wm. Unwin, May 23, 1781. 

13,21. Tibullus (tlbiU'lm) (B.C. 57-18). The chief of the 
Latin elegiac poets, a tender, though at times even effeminate writer, 
moved by keen feeling for the pleasures of nature and country life. 

JTOTES. 125 

13, 21. PropertiuS (pro per' skns) (B.C. 56-16). A Latin elegiac 
poet of manly and independent character. 

13, 21. Ausonius (o so ni us). Born in Bordeaux in the 
early part of the fourth century, Ausonius became tutor to Gratian, 
son of the emperor Valcntinian. He wrote Epigrams, Idyllia, etc., 
which, though much esteemed by his contemporaries, are now regarded 
as forced and trifling in style and character. He died about A.D. 391. 

13, 22. Ovid. The great Latin poet (43 B.c.-lS A.D.), author 
E/nstles, Fasti, Metamorphoses, Ars Amatoria, etc. 

14, 10. Impey. Sir Elijah Impey (1732-1809), first chief -justice 
of the Supreme Court of Calcutta. Impey presided over the court 
that condemned Xuncomar, but his character has been entirely vindi 
cated from the attacks made on it by Macaulay in his essay Warren 

14, 18. silver pence. Of. 

' At Westminster, where little poets strives 
To set a distich upon six and five, 
Where Discipline helps opening 1 buds of sense, 
And makes his pupils proud with silver pence, 
I was a poet too.' 

Cowper, Table, Tallc, 507 flf. 

14, 20. Ely PlaCQ. In Holborn, London. Then tenement 
(but now business) houses occupying the site of the '' hostell," or 
London house of the bishops of Ely. 

14, 21. "giggling 1 ." So Cowper wrote to Lady Hesketh years 
after: "I spent my days, in Southampton Row, as you very well 
remember. There was I and the future Lord Chancellor, constantly 
employed from morning to night, in giggling and making giggle, instead 
of studying the law." 

14, 29. Thurlow. Edward, Lord Thurlow (1732-1826), by great 
talent and industry rose to be Attorney-General and Chancellor, the 
highest post in the English judiciary, and to wield an important though 
not always useful part in politics. 

15, 2. Middle . -Inner Temple. A district in London once 

owned by the order of Knights Templars. The property passed to the 
Knights of St. John, who leased portions of the buildings to students 
of law. In 1608 it came into the hands of two societies of the law, the 
Inner Temple and the Middle Temple, who leased chambers to barristers. 

126 cow PER. 

15, 8. Templars. A general name for students of law, etc., resid 
ing in the Temple. 

15, 23. Lyons Inn. Lyon's Inn, in Newcastle street, Strand, 
was one of the buildings belonging to the Inner Temple. A ' reader 
ship ' there would simply mean lecturing on law to students. 

15, 26. Nonsense Club. "A club of (seven) Westminster men, 
who dined together every Thursday." Cowper to the Rev, Wm. Unvvin, 
April 30, 1785. 

15, 26. Westminster men. Former students of the West 
minster School. (See note 12, 33). 

15, 27. Bonnell Thornton (1724-1768). Thornton fell in with 
Colinan at Oxford. Together they published the review called "The 
Connoisseur" (1754-6), containing their witty essays on morals and 
literature. Thornton helped to found the " St. James's Chronicle," and 
undertook with Colmaii and Warner to translate Plautus. He wrote 
as well a few poems. Intemperance shortened his days as with 
other members of the Nonsense Club. The famous Exhibition of Signs, 
which the club undertook was his idea. To satirize the exhibition of 
the Royal Academy, the Nonsense Club opened on the same day as the 
former its ' Exhibition made by the Society of Sign Painters of all the 
curious signs that can be found in city and country, with original 
designs which can be regarded as specimens of the native genius of the 
nation.' Hogarth helped with his brush to make the signs still 
more humorous. 

15, 28. Colman. George Colman (1733-1794) was manager of 
the Covent-Garden and Haymarket theatres, at which he presented his 
popular comedies of "Polly Honeycomb" and " The Clandestine Mar 
riage." His disciples were Lloyd, Thornton, etc. 

15, 31. Terence. A great Roman writer of comedies (B.C. 195- 
159), remarkable not only for dramatic merit but for purity of style. 

15, 32. Plautus. The greatest comic poet of Rome (B.C. 254- 
184), author of a large number of comedies, which were immensely 
popular among the Romans. 

15, 33. Lloyd. Robert Lloyd (1733-1764), was born at Westmin 
ster and became usher in the school there. He wrote with other works 
a poem, " The Actor," and a comic opera, " The Capricious Lovers." His 

KOTES. 12 

life Was so dissipated that he wasted his resources, was thrown into 
prison for debt, and emerged only to die an early death. 

16, 1. Churchill. Charles Churchill (1731-17G4), educated at 
Westminster School, became curate of St. John's, Westminster. His 
dissolute life brought about a separation from his wife and the loss of 
his parish. His best works are satirical, such as The Rosciad, The 
Author ; some like Night seem to advocate open profligacy. A friend 
of Wilkes, he contributed not a little to the pages of the North Briton. 

16, 5. Wilkes. John Wilkes (1727-1797), like Churchill, was a 
man of ability and education, but of such dissolute life that he had to 
separate from his wife. His founding of the North Briton (17G2) and 
his attack on the ministry of the Duke of Grafton and on the King are 
well-known matters of history. (Green, chap. x. , sec. ii. ) 

16, 6. Signs. See note 15, 27. 

16, 7. Gray. Thomas Gray (171G-1771) was educated at Eton and 
at Cambridge, and spent most of his life in that university in the con 
genial atmosphere of friends and books. His Eleyy and Pindaric Odes 
have given him a permanent place in litei-ature as a master of a con 
densed, imaginative, and highly finished style. 

16, 7. Mason. William Mason (1725-1797), was fellow in 
Pembroke College, Cambridge, at a time when it was also the residence 
of Gray, with whom he entered into close friendship and whose biographer 
he afterwards became. Though in holy orders (he became chaplain to 
the king), Mason was skilled in music and painting, while his poetry is 
still in some esteem. His chief works arc the two tragedies of 
"Elfrida" and " Caractacus," a long descriptive poem, "The English 
Garden," together with odes, elegies, and a "Life of Thomas Gray." 

16, 18. Spectator. A daily paper published by Addison and 
Steele in 1711-1712 and 1714. Each issue was an essay, written with 
such easy grace and delightful freshness that the papers of the Spectator 
have become classics in our language. 

16, 22. Phillips. John Phillips (or with one T, 1676-1708), educated 
at Westminster School and Oxford, took orders, but was a devoted 
student of literature. His Splendid Shilling (1703), in which he gives to 
a poverty-stricken wretch living in a garret the language of the gods, 
was pronounced by the Taller "the best burlesque poem in the British 
language." His Cyder imitates the Georf/ics of Virgil. 

Cowper's 'imitation' is "Verses on Finding the Heel of a Shoe," 
Globe ed. p. 1. 

128 COWPER. 

16, 24, John Cowper. The Rev. John Cowper, A.M. (1737- 

1770), vicar of Foxtoii, Cambridgeshire. 

" I had a Brother once : 
Peace to the memory of a man of worth ! 
A man of letters, and of manners, too ! 
Of manners sweet, as Virtue always wears, 
When gay Good Humour dresses her in smiles ! 
He jjrac'd a college, in which order yet 
Was sacred, and was honoilr'd, lov'd, and wept 
By more than one, themselves conspicuous there ! " 

Cowper, The Task, " Time Piece," C09ff. 

16, 25. Henriade. An epic poem by the great Frenchman 
Voltaire (1694-1778), the greatest name in European literature of his 
century. It has for subject the religious wars in which the massacre of 
St. Bartholomew's Day, the battle of Ivry, are the chief events, and 
Henry IV. (hence Henriade) the chief character. 

16, 29. "When poor Bob White," etc. Quoted from 
Cowper's letter to Joseph Hill, Jan. 31, 1782. 

16, 30. Boscawen. Edward Boscawen (1711-1761), an eminent 
British admiral, successful in many engagements, especially in the 
victory over the French fleet in the Bay of Lagos (near Cape St. Vincent) 
in 1759. 

16, 31. Hawke . . . . Confians. Lord Edward Hawke (1715- 
1781), a most skilful and successful admiral. His greatest exploit was 
his defeat of Marshal OonflanS (1690-1777) in the bay of Quiberon 
(Nov. 20, 1759), by which England was saved from French invasion. 

17, 19. Where once we dwelt, etc. Quoted from On the 
Receipt of my Mother's Picture oat of Norfolk, 1. 47 ff., Globe ed. p. 

17, 31. Caius College. Pronounced "Key's." This College 
commemorates Dr. John Key, who in 1557 erected the original hall into 
a college. 

18, 9. Bohemians. The word Bohemian was used by the French 
first as a term for the gypsies, then, as here, for literary men, artists, 
etc., living in an unconventional, free-and-easy and erratic way. 

18, 13. Iphigenia. While the Creek fleet was assembling to 
sail from Aulis to Troy, its leader Agamemnon, while hunting, killed a 
stag sacred to Diana. For this the goddess visited the fleet with pesti- 

NOTES. 129 

lence, nor was appeased till Iphigenia (if : i gen I' a), the daughter of 
Agamemnon, had been offered up to her as a sacrifice. (See Tennyson's 
Dream of Fair Women.) 

18, 19. hypochondria (l^p o kon' dre a). Morbid melancholy 
and depression of spirits, usually accompanied by deranged ideas on the 
subject of the patient's health. 

19, 1. Southampton V^ater. A beautiful inlet at the head 
of which is Southampton. It stretches inland eleven miles from the 
junction of the Solent and Spithead. 

19, 17. Clerk Of the Journals. The clerk in charge of the 
records of the proceedings of the House of Lords. 

19, 19. patentee. One who has authority or right conferred by 
a patent (document). The right of presentation of the office to the in 
tended occupant rested with Major Cowper. 

20, 13. Tower Wharf. A long wharf facing the Thames at 
the Tower of London. 

21, 4. Cowper tells US. In the memoir of the Early Life of 
W. Cowper, published 1816. This memoir contains a full account of 
Cowper's early insanity. 

21, 10. the unpardonable sin. See Matt. 12, 31. 

21, 13. balm in Gilead. Gilead was famous for spices and 

gums. This balm was either a precious resin of medicinal value exuded 
from the tree known as the Balsam of Gilead or a healing gum from the 
Lentisk bush. The proverbial use of the term arises from the words in 
Jer. 8. 22. 

21, 22. Sapphics (saf'lcs). Poems written in the metre used 
by the Greek lyric poetess Sappho, who flourished about 600 B.C. The 
metre consists of a strophe of three lines in Sapphic measure ( ^ 
^~ ^ ^), followed by one Adonic line ( ^^ ^). The 
Sapphics of Cowper, entitled,' "Lines written under the Influence of 
Delirium" (p. 23 in the Globe ed.), begin : 

' Hatred and vengeance, my eternal portion 
Scarce can endure delay of execution, 
Wait with impatient readiness to seize my 
Soul in a moment.' 

21, 29. St. Alban's. A small town in Hertfordshire, twenty* 
one miles N. w. of London. 

130 COWPER. 


23, 21. quondam. A Latin adverb (quori dam] meaning 
'formerly,' 'in former times,' but used adjectively in English, 
' former. ' 

23, 27. Mentor. The trusty friend of Ulysses, who departing 
for the Trojan war, gave into his charge his household and the 
education of his son Telem'achus. Hence the term Mentor is often 
used to indicate a trusty counsellor and guide of youth. 

24, 29. Huntingdon. A small town on the left bank of the 
Ouse, lying twenty miles "within a long ride" w. N. w. of Cam 

25,10. "odd scrambling fellows." Quoted from a letter to 

Lady Hesketh, Sept. 14, 1765. 

25, 13. char-parson. A word used, I believe, only by the 
author ; made like ' char-woman'; it means a person who took occasional 
services without having a regular cure. 

26, 14. non-residence. A term used particularly of clergy 
men who do not live in the parish of which they have charge. 

26, 34. Calvinists. Followers of the doctrines of the French 
divine John Calvin (1509-1564). He was a prolific writer, a great contro 
versialist, the man who did most to systematise the doctrine and organize 
the discipline of the various Protestant churches of the Reformation. 
The cardinal points of Calvinism are Predestination and Irresistible 
Grace, according to which (1) God elects certain individuals to be saved ; 
(2) for these alone he designs redemption ; (3) the sinner is himself 
incapable of true repentance and faith; (4) the grace of God effects the sal 
vation of the elect ; (5) the regenerated ones can never wholly fall from 
grace. The Church of England has generally been Calvinistic, but during 
the eighteenth century Arminianism was favoured by its chief divines. 

27. 1. Arminians. Followers of the doctrines of the Dutch 
Protestant divine Arminius (1560-1609). The five points of Arminianism 
are (1) conditional predestination ; (2) universal redemption by Christ's 
death, through which all believers are saved ; (3) salvation by the grace 
of the Holy Spirit, with man's cooperation ; (4) All good in man comes 
by the grace of God, but this grace may be resisted ; (5) Falling from a 
state of grace is possible. The last point furnished a great cause of 
contention with the Calvinists, 

NOTES. 131 

27, 3. Toplady. Augustus Montague Top'lady (17401778), 
English Calviuistic divine, vicar of Broad Henbury, Devon. He wrote 
controversial -works, and is still remembered as the author of many 
hymns still sung in Protestant churches. 

27, 12. Ritualism. A name given to a movement begun in the 
Episcopal Church in 180.3, tending to the increase of ceremonial in the 
church services, by the use of special vestments, lighted candles, incense, 
processions, and to a deeper sense of and feeling for their meaning. 

27, 12. Rationalism. A method of treating theology in which 
the reason must have a supreme place. Modern nationalism, for instance, 
holds that in the Bible amidst its mass of fable and error, is the word 
of God, which the reason of man must discover. 

27, 14. beyond the Atlantic. In America. 

27, 19. Protestant revivals. The revivals of Wyclif, of the 
Reformation, and of Puritanism. 

27, 20. Moravian revival. A few followers of the Protestant 
John Huss (1373-1415), expelled from Bohemia and Moravia, settled in 
Saxony (1722) and organized a simple and pious religious community that 
has spread throughout the world. 

27, 30. Quietism. Perfection that consists in undisturbed con 
templation, in which the soul absorbs heavenly light. Molinos in Spain, 
Madame Guy on in France, Fox in England, the Janseuists in France, 
and Pietists in Germany are the chief exponents in modern times of 
this mysticism. 

28, 13. Jansenism. The doctrines of the Dutch philosopher, 
Cornelius Jansen (15S5- 1038). Mischief work A ucjustinns opposed the 
theological teaching of the Jesuits and was warmly defended by the 
teachers of the French community of Port Royal. The dispute of 
Jansenists and Jesuits raged violently in France during many years, 
but the former were at last for the most part suppressed, many being 
forced to emigrate to Holland, where the sect still exists. 

28, 21. "as a convert," etc. Letter to Lady Hesketh, July 4, 

28, 21. Eedlam. A corrupt pronunciation of Bethlehem, a 
hospital for lunatics in London. The term Bedlam hag come to be a 

common name for a mad-house, 

132 COWPER. 

29, 4. Parson Adams. A charming character in Fielding's 
Joseph Andrews simpleminded, pure in soul, profound in learning, 
devoted to truth with such muscular enthusiasm that he comes into 
no small trouble. Cowper's words are contained in a letter to his old 
friend Joseph Hill, Oet. 25, 17(55 : " The old gentleman is a man of 
learning and sense, and as simple as Parson Adams." 

29, 7. Paley. William Palcy (1743-1805), the famous English 
divine, author of works in philosophy and theology Horai Paulinas, 
Evidences of Christianity, Natural Theology, etc., which were accounted 
great triumphs over the sceptical philosophy of his day and won their 
author substantial preferment. 

29, 22. " I met Mrs. Unwin," etc. Quoted from a letter to 
LadyHesketh, Oct. 18, 1705. 

29, 34. " She is very far from grave," etc. Lady Hesketh's 

letter, from which this description is taken, is quoted in Southey's 
Life, i., 257f. 

30, 1. de bon COeur (do bon(y) ker'}. French adverbial phrase, 
lit. 'of good heart,' heartily. 

30, 3. de temps en temps (detaun(g) zaun(g) taun'(g)). A 
French adverbial phrase, ' from time to time.' 

30, 27. Lord Chamberlain. An officer who, with other 

duties, has the licensing of theatres in towns containing a royal palace, 
the authorizing of all new plays to be therein performed, and the oversee 
ing of the royal musicians, etc. Cowper refers humorously to Mrs. 
Un win's licensing power over his writings. 

30, 33. described by the new inmate. In Cowper's letter 
to his cousin, wife of Major Cowper (19, 18), Oct. 20, 1766. 

30, 34. gentle inhabitants. Italicised to impress the idea of 
'gentlefolk,' 'people of good family;' and thus to avoid a possible 
ambiguity. Of. ' gentlemanhood,' 33, 1. 

31, 15. Martin. Martin Madan (see 21, 14), Mrs. Cowper's 
brother. He had some musical skill. The popular tune Helmsley, " Lo! 
He comes with clouds descending," was composed by him. (Benham.) 

31, 16. harpsichord. A harp-shaped instrument played with 
keys, but touching the wires by means of quills, rather than hammers, 
as in its successor, the piano. 

NOTES. 133 

32, 12. "the Park." The residence of Major Cowper, near 

32, 15. My dear Cousin. The letter is dated April 3, 1767. 

32, 39. sponsibility. The word is coined for the occasion, 
'good st Hiding in the world,' 'ability to give a good account of himself 
(L. spondeo, I promise). 

33, 20. I was a stricken deer. Quoted from The Task, 
"The Garden," 1. 108, ff. 

33, 29. taking 1 orders. The term ' to take (holy) orders ' means 
' to take the order of priest ' in the episcopal churches. 

33, 32. neophyte (ne r ofltc). 'A new convert' (Gk. neos, new, 
phuton, plant). 


34, 20. the Ouse, etc. The quotation is adapted from The 
Task, "The Sofa," 163. 

'Here Ouse, slow-winding through a level plain, 
Of spacious meads with cattle sprinkled o'er.' 

35, 13. sons of Eli. " His sous made themselves vile, and he 
restrained them not." 1 Sam. iii., 13. 

35, 17. wore a coronet. The honorary head-dress of the 
English nobility, which Lord Dartmouth in his right as second earl of 
Dartmouth could wear. Lord Dartmouth ( 1713-1801 ), was a states 
man of some importance, but more marked as a man of piety and as a 
friend of the Countess of Huntingdon, and the Methodists. His attach 
ment to the new sect brought him the name of 'Psalm-singer,' but 
also won him Cowper's praise : 

' And one who wears a coronet and prays.' 
Truth, 1. 378. 

35, 8. The Rev. John Newton. His life which extended 
from 1725 to 1807 is sketched in the text. His works are numerous, 
consisting chierly of letters, sermons, and an autobiography (cf. 35, 22) 
continued by Richard Cecil. He assisted in the compilation of the 
Olney hymns (40, 1). 

134 COWPEK. 

35, 25. Cellini (tchel e nc). Benvenu'to Cellini (1500-1752) was 
an Italian sculptor and metal-worker who united great artistic skill with 
extraordinary passions. His life was a chequered one, passed mostly in 
flitting from one Italian city to another to escape the difficulties which 
arose from a quarrelsome nature and the absence of any scruples on the 
subject of murder. His autobiography, Vita, di B. Cellini, is a fas 
cinating book, showing a wonderfully clear picture of the vanity, 
credulity and evil principles of the man, whom though you despise you 
cannot but like, at the same time that it paints the low social and moral 
characteristics of his age. An interesting essay on him is Birrell's in 
Obiter Dicta. 

35, 32. Shaft esbliry. Anthony Cooper, third earl of Shaftes- 
bury (1671-1713), a very great philosopher and prose writer. His works 
are known under the general title of " Characteristics of Men, Manners, 
Opinions, and Times," and embrace essays on various philosophic topics, 
which he treats always with a lofty spirit and sober judgment. His 
opposition to certain aspects of popular Christianity have given him the 
undeserved reputation in the popular mind of being a writer hostile to 
religion. (Ency. Brit.) 

38, 7. impressed. ' Carried off by an (im)press-gang. ' Impress 
ment consisted in seizing by means of an armed body of men not only 
sailors and watermen, but even landsmen, when the state needed men 
for naval service. 

36, 21. Thomas a Kempis. Cf. 44, 0. He was born in 

Kempen (hence his name), Rhenish Prussia, in 1379, and spent his life as 
an Augnstinian monk in the convent of Agnetenberg, where he died in 
1471. His character and works were greatly esteemed by his contem 
poraries, and one composition attributed to him, Tlt.e Imitation of Christ. 
concentrates "all that is elevating, passionate, profoundly pious in all 
the older mystics. No book, after the Holy Scripture, has been so often 
reprinted. " 

37, 8. Lord Macaulay's remarks. Forming several para 
graphs of his essay, fianke's Il'ustory of the Popes (Ed In. Rev., 1840). 

37 > 14. Carthusian. The Carthusian monks form an order 
established in ISOli in the solitude of La Chartreuse, France. They 
exercised the severest asceticism in their lines and devoted themselves 
to works of charity and hospitality. 

37, 30. cavilling. 'Fault-finding.' 

/- - 

NOTES. 135 

38, 24. Jeremiah's figs. See Jer. 24. iff. 

39, 22. Saint Benedict- St. Benedict (480-543) thought >;> 
coukl liiul a refuge from the sinful world only in solitary meditation. He 
left Rome to dwell in a cavern ; founded a monastery in the wild district 
of Monte Cassino ; and established a strict rule of monkish life, that 
served as regulation for all western monastic institutions, which rose 
from the example he set. 

39, 26. Hill. See 23, 24, and Cowper's poem, An Epistle to 
Joseph Hill (Globe ed. p. 2S6f. ), which concludes : 

4 An honest man, close buttoned to the chin, 
Broadcloth without, and a warm heart within.' 

40, 21. The Castaway. Quoted on p. 113; Globe ed. p. 400. 

41, 12. Mary, I want a lyre with other strings. The 
sonnet entitled "To Mrs. Unwin," Globe ed. p. 390. 

42, 1. Dr. Cotton. See 21, 29 : 

' No COTTON whose humanity sheds rays, 
That made superior skill his second praise.' 
Hope, 20, 5. 

42, 26. St. Mary "Woolnoth. A church ' at the angle where 
Lombard Street and King William Street diverge,' London. In it 
Newton, after a rectorate of twenty-eight years, was buried, as a tablet 
there commemoiates. 

42, 34. Guy Fawkes. An English conspirator in the Gun- 
powder Plot, hanged 1606, and regularly burnt in effigy by loyal 
Englishmen on each 5th of November. 

43, 2. Cotton Mather. A famous New England divine (1663- 
1729). After graduating from Harvard with a reputation for asceticism 
and ability, he entered the ministry. He investigated the phenomenon 
of Salem witchcraft, writing an account of his investigations in Mem 
orable Providences relative/ to Witchcraft and Possessions (16S5), a work 
whose sombre superstition was the cause of much persecution and 

43, 15. Thomas Scott. Thomas Scott (1747-1821), was a 
Lincolnshire man who became curate of Olney in 1781 and rector of 
Aston- Sandford in 1801. 

1 36 COWPER. 

43, 20. Rev. William Bull. The Rev. William Bull (1738- 
1814) was au independent minister. He made the acquaintance of 
Newton and occasionally preached in Oluey at the latter's prayer 
meetings. It was for these meetings that Cowper wrote his hymns 
(40, 1). Bull is commemorated in many places of Cowper's verse : To 
the Rev. William Bull (Globe ed. p. 345), etc. 

43, 27- Caris'sime Tauro'rum. Lat., 'dearest of Bulls.' 

43, 33. Madame Grliyon- Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte, 
Madame Guyon (1648-1717), was a celebrated mystic. Early in life she 
was devoted to religion, and on her husband's death entered on a fervent 
religious crusade, travelling throughout France, ' exercising everywhere 
a great influence over feeble and dreamy minds, making proselytes to 
the mystical doctrines she preached.' Her doctrine, as in Torrents 
spirituels, was the merging of the soul i? God, who is no longer outside 
but containing it, and the soul free from desire, indifferent to the world, 
is identical with God. Her doctrines brought on her long and bitter 
parsecutions from the clergy, and imprisonment in the Bastille. She 
seems to have been at times the prey of an excited imagination, but 
always a passionate advocate of a pure and holy life. Her "quietism " 
consisted in holding that "rest may be found in the mind reposing 
itself upon the love of God." Her works are somewhat numerous ; 
some give expression in verse to her mystical emotions ; all are looked 
upon by Voltaire, from the point of view of literature, as worthless. 

44, 3. Nirvan'a* The word means ' extinction, ' ' blown out ' as 
a candle, and forms the goal of the religion of Buddha. Complete 
Nirvana is impossible until death. Meanwhile let us sit cross-leggeil, 
plunged in trance, losing one feeling after another, until as the raindrop 
merges into the ocean, we merge into a state ' where there are neither 
ideas, nor the idea of the absence of an idea,' the Nirvana of this life. 

44, 5. reprobation. The predestination of a certain number 
of the human race as reprobates, or objects of condemnation and 
punishment by God. 

44, 8. F<nelon. Francois de la Mothe de Fenelon (1651- 1715), 
archbishop of Cambrai, a man eminent in piety and in literary genius. 
He supported Madame Guyon (note 43, 33) during the time of her 
persecution. His works are most voluminous, some dealing with the 
controversy over Quietism (note 27, 3J), others like Teleniague, purely 
literary and pedagogic ; others sacred oratory of a splendid kind. 

N6TES!. 3? 


44, 16. " stercoraceous " (xter 1-6 rd 'shins). Quoted from a 
minute description of the preparations for the growing of cucumbers, 
The Task, "The Garden," 1. 463. 

' The stable yields a stercoraceous heap.' 
The word is made from the L. stercus, dung. 

44, 20. Elysian. Exceedingly delightful. (Elysium, in clad- 
sical mythology, was the dwelling-place of happy souls after death. ) 

44, 23. petS of literature. Cowper'g hares live in his 
Epitaph on a Hare (Globe ed. p. 324) ; Epitaphium AUerum (Globe cd. 
p. 325); The Task, "The Garden," 334ff. etc. He contributed an 
" Account of the Treatment of his Hares" to the Gentleman' 's Maga 
zine, in Southey's ed., iv., 422 ff. Cf. 73, 22. 

44, 24. "Sailor." The author no doubt means "Boatswain," 
Lord Byron's favourite dog. See Moore's Life of Byron, i., 114, 134, 
221, vii., 292(1833ed.). 

45, 19. Churchill. See note 16, 1. 

45, 24. Prior. Matthew Prior (1664-1721), educated at West 
minster and Cambridge, rose by his talent as a diplomatist and writer 
to be an under-secretary of state. His verses have a wit, a grace, a 
neatness and a finish, which link him with the lighter Latin poets on the 
one hand, and with the best French writers of familiar verse on the other. 

45, 26. Collins. Cf. 65, 19. William Collins (1721-1759), 
author of odes, such as To Evening, The Passions, and How Sleep the 
Brave, which in language and feeling are among the best compositions 
of our language. 

45, 29. Pope. Cf. 7, 17; 63, 22. Windsor F&rest, published in 
1713, was once much admired for its descriptions of nature. 

46, 24. Caraccioli (ka ra tsho le) . Antoine de Caraccioli (1721- 
1803) travelled in Italy, Germany and in Poland, where he was 
made colonel. His works are lives of Clement XIV., Benedict 
XIV., etc. 

The motto referred to is : "Nous sommes nes pour la verite*, et nous 
ne pouvons souffrir son abord. Les figures, les paraboles, les emblemes, 
sont tou jours des ornements n^cessaires, pour qu'elle puisse s'annoncer. 
Et soit qu'on craigne qu'elle ne decouvre trop brusquement le defaut 
qu 'on voudrait cacher, on qu'enfin elle n' instruise avec trop pen de 
management, on veut, en la recevant, qu 'elle soit deguis6e " (on the 

138 COWPER. 

title page of the edition, 1782). " We are born for truth and we cannot 
suffer her approach. Figures, parables, symbols are always ornaments 
requisite for her to use to make known her coming. Whether 
people fear that she will disclose too bluntly the fault they would like 
to hide, or that in short she will enlighten with too little tact, they 
wish when receiving her to receive her in disguise. "It is from a 
volume of the excellent Caraccioli called Jouissance de soi-meme."- 
Cowper to the Rev. John Newton, Nov. 7, 1781. 

Cowper's estimate of the philosophic wisdom and goodness of the 
man and of the excessive refinements of his logic are preserved in Hayley 's 
"Life,"!., 361. 

46, 26. The clear harangue. Quoted from the Progress of 

Error, 1. 19f. 

47, 14. The Stoical- The Stoical philosophy of Zeno (about 
B.C. 308) and his disciples: " Men should be free from passion, unmoved 
by joy or grief, and submit without complaint to the unavoidable neces 
sity by which all things are governed." 

47,14. Cynical. The Cynical philosophy of Antisthenes (born 444 
B.C.) of Athens and his disciples: "Virtue is the only good; the 
essence of virtue is self-control ; pleasure is an evil if sought for its own 
sake, so that riches, arts, etc. are to be despised." 

47, 15. Epicure 'an. The philosophy of the school of Epicu'rus 
(341-270 B.C.) : "Pleasure is the only possible end of rational action, 
and ultimate pleasure is to be free from disturbance." 

47, 16. Juvenal. One of the greatest Latin satirists (40-125 A. 
D. ). His satires lash the vices of his day with wonderful force and wit. 

47, 17. Swift's Gulliver. The Travels of Lemuel Gulliver, by 
Jonathan Swift (1667-1741), the great dean of St. Patrick's, Dublin. It 
is of interest as a romance, but the romance to Swift was only a vehicle 
for satirizing the manner of his own times, which he does with mer 
ciless vigour and at times coarseness. 

47,18. quintessence (farin tes'ens). 'The pure and concentrated 
essence.' (Originally in philosophy the fifth (L. quintus) essence, neither 
earth, air, fire, nor water, but something bright and incorruptible 
beyond these). 

NOTES. 139 

47, 19. Day of Judgment. Swift's poem so entitled, vol. xiv., 

p. 259, ed. Scott. 

"With a whirl of thought oppress'd 
I sunk from reverie to rest. 
A horrid vision seized my head, 
I saw the graves give up their dead ! 
Jove, ann'd with terrors, bursts the skied, 
And thunder roars and light ning flies ! 
Amazed, confused, its fate unknown, 
The world stands trembling at his throne ! 
While each pale sinner hung his head, 
Jove nodding, shut the heavens, and said : 
Offending race of human kind, 
By nature, reason, learning, blind ; 
You who, through frailty, stepp'd aside : 
And you, who never fell from pride : 
You who in different sects were shamm'd, 
And come to see each other damn'd ; 
(So some folks told you, but they knew 
No more of Jove's designs than you ; ) 
The world's mad business now is o'er, 
And I resent these pranks no more. 
I to such blockheads set my wit ! 
I damn such fools! Go, so you're bit." 

47, 21. Horace (65-8 B.C.). The famous Latin poet and satirist, 
author of odes, satires, and epistles, marked by urbanity, grace, and 
calm Epicurean philosophy. 

47, 27. Retired Statesman. See Retirement, 365ff. 

47, 30. " great Babel," etc. London. The quotation is from 
The Task, " The Winter Evening," 1. 90 ff. 

48, 5ff- Bishops are bad, etc. See Cowper's letter to the 
Rev. Wm. Unwin, Dec. 18, 1784, concerning Bishop Bagot. 

48, 0. Cretans. Paul quoting the poet Epimenides says of the, 
Cretans that they are " alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies," Titus 
1. 12. 

48, 10. golden Stall- Fixed seats often elaborately carved, in 
the choir or chancel of a cathedral or church, are termed "stalls." 
These are occupied chiefly by the clergy. Spencer Cowper, son of the 
Lord Chancellor, was Dean of Durham, 1745-1774. The reference is 
to Truth, 

' Humility may clothe an English dean ; 
That grace was Cowper's --his confessed by all 
Though placed in golden Durham's second stall.' 

Truth, 118 ff. 

140 COWPEB. 

48, 11. Warren Hastings. See To Warren Hastings, Globe 
ed., p. 383. 

48, 13. Cowper's brother. See The Task, < K Time Piece," 

48, 13. Cowper's brother. See 16, 24, and note. 

48, 16. lines against Popery. See Cowper's works, ed. 

Benham, p. 517f. 

48, 19. smoking", etc. See Conversation, 245ff. But Cowper 
scarcely excuses Mr. Bull's smoking ; cf. his letter to the Rev. Wm. 
Unwin, June 8, 1783. He excuses it in Newton, letter of Sept. 18, 1781. 

48, 21. FOX. Charles James Fox (1749-1806), the statesman and 
orator, rival of the younger Pitt, and "the greatest debater the world 
ever saw" (Burke). See Cowper's letter to the Rev. John Newton, 
Feb., 1784. 

48, 23. idol of his cave. A phrase of Francis Bacon (1561-1626). 
In the effort to attain truth the philosopher must sweep away the phan 
toms of the human mind, idols (e'ulola) of the tribe, or of the cave, etc., 
that is, false notions incident to humanity in general, or errors incident to 
the peculiar constitution of the individual, as his tendency to look on 
special objects with particular satisfaction, etc. 

48, 28. "God made the country," etc. Quoted from The 
Task, "The Sofa," 1. 749. 

49, 15. How shall I speak thee. Quoted from 77i3 Progress 
of Error, 1. 460ff. 

49, 27. EmmauS- A village some eight miles from Jerusalem, 
towards which two disciples were going when Christ appeared to them. 
Luke 24. 13ff. 

49, 30. one of his letters. To Lady Hesketh, Aug. 1, 1765. 

50, 38. Hogarth's picture. See note 7, 34. "This is a de 
scription to the minutest detail, of the two prominent figures in 
Hogarth's Morning." Benham, Globe ed., p. 517. 

50, 37. "Yon ancient prude." Quoted from Truth, 1. 13 Iff. 

51, 7- lappet-head. A head-dress made with lappets, or small 
ornamental Haps. 

51,13. "Petronius." Quoted from Truth, 1. 335 ff. Petronius 
was a profligate 'Beau Brummell,' master of court elegances to the 
Emperor Nero. He killed himself A. D. 66. 

54, 1. Anti-Thelyp'thora- See Globe ed., p. 330. Martin 
Madan had published in 1731 two large volumes, to which he added a 

NOTES. 141 

supplement Thelyphthora ; or a Treatise on Marriage, in which he 
endeavoured to show that polygamy is sanctioned by heaven. Cowper's 
poem satirizes Madan's view. 

54,3. pasquinade. A lampoon or satire. 

54, 7. Franklin. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), American 
printer, statesman, scientist, and author. 

54, 9. Cobden. Cf. 68, 27. Richard Cobden (1804-1865), the 
English Liberal statesman and economist, and chief advocate of the 
repeal of the corn laws, and other measures for freeing British trade. 

54, 10. passage in Charity, Quoted on p. 69. 

54, 23. temper the wind the shorn lamb. The 

phrase is from Sterne's Sentimental Journey, but it comes originally 
from the French. 

54, 25. Fleet Street- One of the greatest business streets of 
London, between Ludgate and the Strand. 


55, 27. verses addressed to her. The lines beginning, 

" Dear Anna between friend and friend," Globe ed., p. 337. 

55, 3. "that part," etc. Quoted from Cowper's letter to the 
Rev. John Newton, Aug. 21, 1781. 

56, 6. Salons (< lon'(g) ). The "salon" is an apartment in 
which, after the custom of French life, it was usual to receive for 
conversation brilliant and fashionable circles of society. 

56, 13. From a scene, etc. A quotation from a letter to Mrs. 

56, 19. Thus did Hercules. An allusion to a legend of 
Hercules, according to which he was promised recovery from illness if 
he served three years for money. He became a servant of Omphale, 
queen of Lydia, and lived effeminately at her court spinning wool and 
at times wearing a woman's dress ; while Omphale donned his lion's 

56, 20. Samson. Judges, chapters 14, 15, 16. 

56, 24. The story of John Gilpin. " Lady Austen. . .told 
him the story of John Gilpin (which had been treasured in her memory 
from childhood) to dissipate the gloom of the passing hour." Hay ley, 

142 COWPER. 

II., 57. "The original of John Gilpin is said to have been a Mr. Beyer, 
a linendraper living at the corner of Paternoster How and Cheapside. 
He died in 1791." Benham, p. 524. 

56, 33. de profun'dis. The opening words of the Latin vul- 
gate version of Ps. 129. 1 : DC profundis clamavi ad te Domine. Out 
of the deep have I called unto thee, Lord. 

57, 2. Royal George. Wrecked while under repairs off Ports 
mouth, 1782, with a loss of nine hundred lives. See Oowper's poems, 
p. 348. 

57, 11. "commanded," etc. The Task, "The Sofa," 1. 1. 

" For the Fair commands the song." 

57, 22. If the work cannot boast. A quotation from a 

letter to the Rev. Win. Unwin, Oct. 10, 1784. 

58, 4. ice palace, etc. A description in The Task, " The 
Winter Morning Walk," 1. ]27ff., of the ice-palace built on the banks 
of the Neva by the Empress Anna, 1740. 

58, 20. "intimate delights." Quoted from The Task, 
" Winter." See 60, 31. 

58, 26. A1CO3US (alse'us). A great lyric poet of Greece who 
flourished at Mytele'ne about the beginning of the sixth century B.C. 
His works, of which fragments remain, were odes lamenting national 
dissensions and personal misfortunes or voicing hatred of tyrants or 
praise of love and wine. The quotation descriptive of him is translated 
from Horace, Odes, i. xxxii., 6ff. 

58, 29. Ranelagh. Rotunda and gardens on the site of the 
villa and gardens of Earl Ranelagh, offering to the London public 
from 1742 to 1803 a very popular place of amusement. Promenade 
concerts and masquerades were the chief attractions. 

58, 30. Basset Table. Basset was a card game, very like faro, 
a favourite with the gamblers of the eighteenth century. 

59, 4. now Stir, etc. From The Task, "Winter Evening," 
1. 36ff. 

59, 8. That cheer but not inebriate. It has been pointed 

out that this expression is really due to Bishop Berkeley (1 084- 1753) : 
(Tar water) "is of a nature so mild and benign and proportioned to the 
human constitution, as to warm without heating and to cheer and not 
inebriate." Siris, II 217. We may well be grateful to Cowper for find 
ing the true purpose of the phrase. 

NOTES. 143 

60, 38. Thomson. James Thomson (1700-1748), author of The 
Season*, Castle of Indolence, etc. He is the great rival of Cowper in 
depicting rural scenes. 

61, 2. "he was always an admirer, "etc. From Cowper's 
letter to the Rev. William Bull, August 3, 1783. 

61, 9. false Arcadianism. A rustic pastoral simplicity 
affected in imitation of antiquity by the Italian writers of the seven 
teenth century and copied by English writers of the eighteenth. It 
was characterized by the introduction of shepherds with classical names 
as the personages of poetry, attributing to them all the court refinements 
of the age of Louis XIV. Pope's Pastorals belong to this class. 

6x, 21. "And witness," etc. Quoted from The Task, "The 
Sofa,"l. 144ff. 

62, 10. Overthwart. "Across." 

62, 25. champaign (chain pan'). Flat, open country. (Fr. 
champagne, country.) 

62, 24. Augustan age. The Queen Anne period of English 
literature, boasting such names as Swift, Pope, Addison, Steele, 
thought in its self-satisfaction that it had recalled the literary glory of 
the first emperor Augustus, the time of Virgil and Horace. 

62, 27. Nor rural sights. The Task, "The Sofa," 1. isiff. 

64. 5. Georgics. Four books of poems on rural themes by 
Virgil (70-19 B.C.). 

64, 21. Deciduous. The surfaces of the pile fall off (through 
cutting) ; hence it is deciduous. (L. deciduus, from de, from, cado, I 

64, 27. lurcher. "A dog supposed to be the result of across 
between a grey-hound and a sheep-dog, and noted for keenness of scent 
and silence in hunting." 

65, 7. The sheepfold. From The Task, "The Sofa," 1. 290ff. 
65, 10. The middle field. A classical touch, ' the middle of 

the field.' 

65, 19. Collins. See note 45, 26. The reference here is to 
Collins's ode To Evening. 

65, 20. Come, Evening. The Task, "The Winter Evening," 
1. 243ff. 

66, 3. Gainsborough. Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), 
English landscape painter of great genius. 

144 COWPER. 


66, 4. Turner. Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), the 
greatest of English painters of landscape. 
66, 6. Crabbe. See note 6, 21. 

66, 38. skillet. A small metal vessel used for stewing, etc. (0. 
F. eaciieUctte, esculle, Lat. scutella, a small dish.) 

67, 8. In some passages, etc. This and the quotation in the 
following paragraph are from Cowper's letter to the Rev. Wm. Unwin, 
October 10, 1784. 

67, 19. Lope de Vega (lo'pa da va'aa}. The Spanish poet and 
dramatist (1562- 1635), author of some two tJtousand dramas. 

67, 19. Voltaire. Cf. 21, 17. 

67, 28. Walton. Isaac Walton (1593-1683), author of lives of 
Donne, Wottou, etc., but especially known for his pastoral treatise on 
angling, The Complete Angler, or the Contemplative J\fan's Recreation, 
in which the author, full of quaint sayings and charming quotations, is 
the Angler. 

67, 28. White. The Rev. Gilbert White (1720-1793), English 
naturalist, author of a work on natural history, The Natural History of 
Selborne. It consists of letters descriptive of the parish of Selborne, 
Hampshire, of which the author was rector, and lives by its easy charm 
ing style. 

67, 31. "twang 1 of the conventicle." Quoted from The, "The Time-Piece," 1. 436 ff. 

* To me is odious as the nasal twang 
Heard at conventicle, where worthy men, 
Misled by custom, strain celestial themes 
Through the pressed nostril, spectacle-bestrid.' 

68, 19. "Old whig "...Burke. Cf. 103, 16, 24. On the 
troubles arising from the French Revolution, the chief Whig families 
joined with the Tories to oppose all changes. These Whigs were the 
'Old Whigs.' 

69, 3. apocalyptic hallucination. Visions characterized by 
wild flights of the imagination, somewhat, according to the author, 
resembling the revelation to John. 

69, 6. "an extramundane character." Quoted from 

Cowper's letter to the Rev. John Newton, March 11, 1784. 'Extra- 
mundane' (Lat. extra, beyond, mundus, world), 'belonging to a region 
outside of this world. ' 

NOTES. 145 

70, 11. Babel. A frequent comparison for London. Quoted 
from The Tank, "The Winter Evening," see p. 59. 

70, 12. "spattered boots," etc. Quoted from The Task, 
"The Winter Evening," 1. G ff. 

70,14. "fragrant lymph." 'Tea.' The word 'lymph' (Fr. 
lymphe, Lat. lympha, water, especially clear spring water), was a 
favourite name for any liquid that eighteenth century writers, who 
disdained a simple vocabulary, wished to praise. 

' Sweet converse, sipping calm the fragrant lymph.' 

The Task, "The Garden," 1. 391. 

70, 19. The wag-go ner, etc. From The Task, "The Winter 
Evening," 1. 350 ff. 

70, 31. St. Pierre. Bernardin de Saint Pierre (1737-1814), vain, 
Utopian, yet with a genuine feeling for nature, which he was the first to 
portray in its personal relations with man. His one work of genius is 
Paul et Viryinie, in which are painted upon a background of rich tropi 
cal vegetation the idyllic figures of two sweet natural lovers. 

71, 3. Or if my garden, etc. Quoted from The Task, "The 
Garden," 1. 397 ff. 

72, 3. "I would not enter," etc. Quoted from The Task, 
" Winter Walk at Noon," 1. 500 ff. 

72.10. Sorrows of Werther(wrter). Die Leiden des Jungcn 
Wei'thcrs, The Sorrows of young Werther, by Goethe (1749-1832). This 
German story, completed in 1772, was an epoch-making book. A simple 
story of a man's unfortunate love, it was the quintessence of the senti- 
mentalism of Rousseau, and evoked a wave of sentiment throughout 

72.11. Jacobins. Members of a powerful club of supporters of 
the French Revolution, taking its name from their meeting place, a hall 
in a former Jacobin monastery, Paris. It supported Robespierre, and 
for a long time held an authority in Paris and in France superior to the 
National Assembly itself. 

72, 24. passage in one of his letters. "Was there ever 

anything so delightful as the music of the Paradise Lost ? 1 1 is like 
that of a fine organ ; has the fullest and the deepest tones of majesty, 
with all the softness and elegance of the Dorian flute. Variety without 
end, and never equalled, unless perhaps by Virgil." Letter to the Rev, 
Wm. Unwin, Oct. 31, 1779. 

146 COWPER. 


72, 30. the Hague. In Holland, the residence of the court. 

73, 2. Mr. Rose. Cf. 109, 14. "Samuel Rose, the son of Dr. 
William Rose, a school-master at Cheswick, coming up from Glasgow 
University to Louden, turned aside for the express purpose of seeing the 
poet of Olney, and bringing him the thanks of some Scotch professors. 
The poet took warmly to him, and wrote him several judicious letters 
of advice aboiit his studies. Rose gave him a copy of the newly 
published poems of Burns, which he read through twice to his great 
delight. The friendship between them became so cordial that he stood 
godfather to one of Rose's children ; and when a pension of 300 a year 
was conferred upon him by the Crown, Rose was appointed his trustee." 
Benham, Letters of Cowper, xvii. 

73, 10. the statutory. The text has here a misprint; read 
" statuary " (one who makes statues). The quotation is from Cowper's 
letter to Lady Hesketh, Nov. 27, 1787. 


74, 4. letter to William Unwin. Feb. 9, 1782. 

75, 10. Oeu fumus in auras. "As smoke into the air." 

The Latin is a quotation from Virgil, JEneid, v. 740. 

75, 21, letter to Lady Hesketh. Jan. 16, 1786. 

76, 11. devoirs (dev wawr*'). Fr., lit. 'duties'; rendre ses 
devoirs, pay one's respects by calling on. 

76, 26. Mr. Alexander Knox (1757-1831). He was a friend 
of Wesley and author of political essays. His Thirty years' Correspond 
ence with Bishop Jebb (1755-1833) (see 76, 27) show the influence 
he had over that prelate, and through him over the beginning of the 
Oxford movement of Newman, Pusey, and Keble. 

77, 24. letter already quoted. On p. 29f. 

78, 10. "well." See 35,. 6. 

78, 11. Weston. About a mile from Olney ; it is "one of the 
prettiest villages in England," Cowper to Unwin, July 3, 1786. 

78, 15. his Mr. and Mrs. Prog". That is, Cowper corresponds 
with them, addressing them familiarly as Mr. and Mrs. Frog. See his 
letter to Mrs. Throckmorton, May 10, 1790. 

' NOTES. 147 

78, 19. "sportive light." From The Task, "The Sofa," 1. 
345rf, describing Mr. Throckinorton's garden, of which Cowper had 
the key and liberty. The names "wilderness" and" "grove" dis 
tinguish different parts of it. 

' t'o sportive is the light 
Shot through the Loughs, it dances as they dance.' 

78, 21. the Wilderness. "The Sofa," 1. 351 ff. 

78, 26. the Grove. "The Sofa," 1. 354 ff. 

79, 1. vignette (fin yet'). Here, a small, delicately drawn 
picture in a book. Literally, the vignette is a decorative design as in a 
book, consisting of a vine branch and tendrils (Fr. vifjue, vine). 

79, 3. Gayhurst. "About four miles from Olney." Cowper to 
the Rev. Win. Unwin, Sept. 21, 1779. 

79, 25. "the mind of man was not a fountain." 

80, 11. An ink-glass. Ode to Apollo, Globe ed., p. 312. 

80, 11. a flatting mill. 'A mill for rolling metal* into thin 
sheets.' See The Flattiny Mill, Globe ed., p. 339. 

80, 11. a halibut. To the Immortal Memory of the Halibut, 
Globe ed., p. 355. 

80, 23. Hudibras. A poem by Samuel Butler (1612-1680), 
ridiculing the Puritans in a burlesque of wonderful variety. 

80, 25. A friendship, etc. Quoted from Friendship, 1. 103 ff. 

80, 28. hand-in-hand insurance plates. "The 'Hand-in- 
Hand,' which still issues these plates is the oldest of the insurance 
companies, dating from 1696. '' Benham, p. 525. 

81, 31. Cowley. Abraham Cowley (1618-1667), author of a 
series of poems called The Mistress, of Pindaric Cdes, and an epic The 
Davidels. His poctiy is hurt by false taste, the fi rst named series being 
replete with forced figures and ideas ('conceits') that were admired in 
his day. 

82, 6. the cistern. See 79, 25. 

82, 33. episode of Thersites. Thersl'tes, bandy-legged, 
tame, ill-favoured, given to reviling of the kings, turned his upbraidings 
on Agamemnon, and was chastised for it at the hands of Ulysses. 
Iliad, ii. 

83, 3. Andromache (an drom a le). She was wife to the 
Trojan Hector, whom she dearly loved. Her lament is in Iliad ^ xxiv. 

148 COWPER. 

83, 4. Adinon epos. Gold win Smith is evidently quoting 
without the book. The text is TTVKIVOV not afavbv and occurs without 
variant reading, 11. 24. 744. irvKwog means thick-set, close, etc. ; some 
times sound, wise ; so Monro's Homer. 

Pope translates : 

" Some word thou would'st have spoke, which, sadly dear, 
My soul might keep, or utter with a tear 
Which never, never could be lost in air, 
Fix'd in my heart, arid oft repeated there!" 

Cowper translates : 

" Dying-, thou neither didst thy arms extend 
Forth from thy bed nor gavest me precious word 
To be remembered day and night with tears." 

F. W. Newman gives : 

" Nor diddest, dying, from the bed reach out thy hand to touch me, 
N^r whisper any secret word, which, I, thy lone survivor, 
Might every day and every night in tears and plaint remember." 

83, 13. Clavis. Lat., a key, or translation. "If you could meet 
with a second-hand Virgil, ditto Homer, both Iliad and Odyssey, together 
with a Clavis, for I have 110 Lexicon, arid all tolerably cheap, I shall be 
obliged to you, if you will make the purchase." Cowper, to the llev. 
Wm. Unwin, Sept. 3, 1780. 

83, 17. periwigged. Having the faults of formality and affecta 
tion, natural to an age in which men were formal and affected ill dress, 
as shown, for example, in their wearing full wigs. 

83, 23. Calypso's Isle. Calyp'so, in mythology, was queen of 
the island Ogyg'ia (perhaps Gozo, near Malta), on which, when wrecked, 
Ulysses spent seven years. The quotation is from Odyssey, tr. Cowper, 
v. 59. 

83, 24. Pieria (pi er'i a). A strip of mountainous country in the 
s. E. of Macedonia. 

83, 24. Hermes. The god Mercury. 

84, 12. lymph. See note 70, 14. 

84, 26. romance metre. The four-accent line in rimed coup 
lets, adopted by Scott in his romantic poems. 

85, 19. disparagement by. . .Johnson. In Johnson's Lives 

of Eminent Enylish Poets. He thought Lyrilax harsh and vulgar, the 
best of the sonnets, ' not bad,' etc. 

NOTES. 149 


86. 7. Horace Walpole. Horace Walpole (1717-1797) was 
third son of the great statesman of the name. Out of many books, his 
Letters, which are full of the society and gossip of his day, alone retain 

86, 8. St. Simon. Louis de Rouvroi, due de Saint Simon (1675- 
17C5), statesman under Louis XIV., devoted to -the cause of aristocratic 
government of France. His memoirs, while of the greatest historical 
value, are likewise of the greatest literary value ; he repeoples Ver 
sailles, giving life, colour, form, to its personage and incidents. 

87, 14. Madame de Svigne\ A famous French gentle 
woman (16*26-1690), author of a series of letters filled with such vivacity, 
wit, and picturesque grace, that she has been called the most charming 
letter- writer that has ever lived. 

88, 16. Imprimis (im prl' mis). Latin adverb, 'in the first 
place' (in-\- primus, first). 

92, 1. Eliza. His sister. 

92, 11. The Colubriad. Globe ed., p. 346. The name (Lat. 
coluber, adder) suggests the nature of the subject. 

92, 28. Night Thoughts- The most famous work of Edward 
Young (1684-1765), rector of Welwyn. 

94, 32. Lilliputian. 'Of minute size,' as in the kingdom of 
Lilliput, in Swift's Gulliver, where the people were but six inches in 
height and everything was in proportion. 

95, 9. Ely. On the Ouse, in Cambridgeshire. 

95, 10. Sic transit, etc. The Latin proverb, ' So passes away 
the glory of the world.' 

96, 1. Priam. King of Troy at the time of its siege by the 

96, 2. Nimrod. Nimrod, the Cushite, founder of Babylon. Gen. 
1C. 8-10. 

98, 3. scratch-back. "A toy which imitates the sound of 
tearing cloth, used by drawing it across the back of unsuspecting 

96, 5. Regency. The time of the regency of the Prince of Walew 
(1811-1820), during the final insanity of George III. 


96, 8. Cam'era obscu'ra. An apparatus by which the images of 
external objects are thrown by means of a lens npon a white surface 
within a ' darkened chamber ' (camera obscura), so that their outlines 
may be traced. 

98, 25. men of Gotham. Gotham is a village in Nottingham 
shire, whose sayings and doings have become proverbial for foolishness. 

97, 17. Silver-End. See 35, i. 

97 > 21. Amazon fury. A passion appropriate to an Amazon. 
(Gk. Amazon, one of a fabulous race of women warriors in Scythia. ) 

98, 7. the French philosophers. A reference to the brothers 
Etienne and Joseph Montgolfier, who on June 5th, 1783, sent up the 
first balloon, which set the scientists thinking and evoked great national 

100, 17. the dispute between the Crown and the 

Commons. The struggle (1784) in which the country was engaged 
was that of Pitt, supported by the king and by the people, against an 
adverse majority in a corrupt and unrepresentative Commons. Green, 
x., iii. 

102, 25. Kaunitz. Wenzelius, Prince Von Kaunitz (171 1-1794), a 
great statesman, Austrian ambassador at Paris. His power was so great 
that he was called 'the European coach-driver.' 

103, 12. Priestley. Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), a dissenting 
minister, scientist, and philosophic writer. He opposed Burke's Reflec 
tions on the French Revolution, and was honoured by the French Republic 
with the title of citizen, which brought on him, in the excited state of 
political feeling, the hatred of the English mob. They broke into his 
house, destroyed books, instruments, etc. His last years were spent 
in America. 

103, 19. "extramundane." Cf. 69, C. 

107,9. vi've vale'que. The Latin salutation, ' Farewell and be 


107> 25. secun'dum ar'tem- Lat., 'according to rule,' 
* scientifically.' 

108, 16. Hayley. William Hay ley (1745-1820) was a native of 
Chester. He made Cowper's acquaintance on hearing that the latter 
contemplated editing Milton. Hay ley was then living at Eastham. 
where lie was visited by Cowper, and he himself was often at Weston. 

NOTES. 151 

109, 10. Hurdis. The Eev. John Hurdis (1763-1801) was rector 
of Bishopsgate in Sussex, professor of poetry in Oxford, and author of 
The Village Curate, and a tragedy of Sir Thomas More. 

109, 11. Charlotte Smith. Miss Smith, who died in 1806, was 
the author of various novels in which Cowper took pleasure, The Old 
Manor House, 'J'/ie Emigrant, etc. 

109, 12. Romney. See note 6, 19, whence it is clear that Cow 
per was simply drawn in crayons, not "painted." 

109, 32. Leigh Hunt. Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), poet and critic. 

112, 23. S waff ham. It and Bast Dereham are small towns 
in Norfolk. 

113,2. Anson's Voyage. Admiral George Anson was ordered 
during the war with Spain in 1739 to harass Spanish interests in South 
America. With seven vessels he doubled Cape Horn, and after capturing 
many rich prizes, returned to England circumnavigating the globe. His 
voyage was important in navigation, and has received lasting commemora 
tion in Anson's Voyage Hound the World, written under Lord Anson's 
supervision, and from his materials, by the Rev. Mr. Walter, or by B. 
Robins. The passage on which The Castaway is founded describes the 
rounding of Cape Horn, and reads in Walter's account: "We were 
obliged to make use of an expedient . . this was putting the holm 
a-weather, and manning the fore-shrouds. But though this method 
proved successful for the end intended, yet, in the execution of it, one of 
our ablest seamen was canted overboard : we perceived, that, notwith 
standing the prodigious agitation of the waves, he swam very strong, and 
it was with the utmost concern that we found ourselves incapable of 
assisting him. Indeed, we were the more grieved at his unhappy fate, 
as we lost sight of him struggling with the waves, and conceived, from 
the manner in which he swam, that he might continue sensible, for a 
considerable time longer, of the horror attending his irretrievable 
situation." A nson's Voyage, in Knox's Collection, iii., 297. 

115, 9. inscription by Hayley. Quoted in Southey's Cowper, 

ii., 155. 


Ye who with warmth the public triumph feel 
Of talents dignified by sacred zeal, 
Here, to devotion's bard devoutly just 
Pay your fond tribute due to Cowper's dust ! 
England, exulting in his spotless fame, 

152 COWPER. 

Ranks with her dearest sons his favourite name. 
Sense, fancy, wit, suffice not all to raise 
So clear a title to affection's praise ; 
His highest honours to the heart belong, 
His virtues form'd the magic of his song. 

115, 16. even in his ashes. An echo of Gray and Chaucer. 

' E'en in our ashes live their wonted flres . ' 

Elegy, xxiii. 

' Yet in our ashen cold is fire yreken.' 

Prologue to the Rcves Tale, 1. 28. 

115, 25. vessel of honour. Of. Rom. 9. 21 ; 2 Ti. 2, 21. 




The two works prescribed as a basis for essay work open tip very 
large fields of composition. Kenihoorth brings back the reign of 
Elizabeth, and we are introduced to a wonderfully complex picture of 
that sovereign's rule. The well-known names of Raleigh, Leicester, 
Burleigh, become living figures, we plunge into the intrigues of the 
court, view the greatness and littleness of its sovereign, and follow the 
fortunes of the beautiful and unhappy Amy Ilobsart. The Life of 
Cowpe.r, on the other hand, deals with forces that are still working, and 
names that still have potency. The religious movement, of which he is 
the greatest poet, is an ever-increasing power, and the reaction from the 
cold formality of the school of Pope and the city poets to nature and the 
simpler affections of life, of which his poetry is an early and powerful 
exponent, is still a vital element in literature. His life, though not 
full of incident, is interesting, for it was so simple and true that it 
appeals to us in many ways. His interest in his garden, in his hares, 
in his friends, in the beauty of rural scenes these all touch human 
hearts, and stir our own affections. But while in Kenilworth we have 
the worldly court society and a life of action, here we have domestic and 
rural life and the world of books. 

We have therefore in these two works an introduction to many facts, 
persons, scenes, books, some old and well-known, some new and 
unknown . Before plunging into the work of composition on the mass of 
material that is presented him, the student must clearly see the 
direction and manner in which he must guide his work. 

Composition involves two elements thought and expression. These 
elements are a duality, yet an inseparable duality. Improve the 
thought and you better the expression ; clarify the expression and the 


154 COWPER.- 

thought becomes more effective. But while this is true, it is likewise 
true that the attention of the mind can be consciously directed to one or 
the other of the elements, and that one element may be specially 
trained by one kind of study, and the other by another. For the culti 
vation of thought, books furnish the most convenient and perhaps the 
greatest of means. So many acute thinkers and keen observers have 
lived in this world and have recorded their thoughts and observations 
in books, that one of our first duties as rational beings is to assimilate 
with what speed and power we may, the thoughts and observations of 
God-gifted men. So doing, we rise on the shoulders of the past and 
widely and truly survey the present. Knowing the thoughts and 
sympathies of many minds, we shall gradually attain to a justness and 
openness of mind and a taste for high thinking and for perfect expression 
that characterise the man who reads widely and well. 

It is given to few to be original, to have a mind spontaneously sug 
gesting new thought, new combinations of thought. Yet we all wish to 
achieve originality. Now, originality that is worth anything is not to be 
had by abstention from the work of others. Every great poet, painter, 
or musician works with the spirits of the great dead moulding his 
thought and guiding his fingers. He has developed his own nature and 
trained its powers by intercourse with the work of the past. Similarly 
we may, in our feeble way, seek to assimilate the thoughts we read, and 
by thinking up to their level, living iip to and through them, come 
to have the right to do with them as we please. When we have won 
the power of using the ideas of others in combinations of our own 
making, we do acquire a propertv-right in those ideas, and can without 
risk of copying put all books under contribution. We may then say 
withMoliere, je prends mon bien, oiije le trouve, I take my own wherever 
I find it. 

But originality in a higher sense than that of the assimilation of 
thought and the use of it in new combinations, is possible with books. 
Ideas are like seeds in the mind, they have a germinating power. Plant 
a great idea, leave it, and lo ! when you return,^ has become the centre 
of a group of thoughts that have unconsciously gathered about it from 
your own experience. This is the utmost that we can consciously do to 
train ourselves to be original thinkers. Let us, therefore, read our 
authors with pencil and memory for whatever ideas of nature and human 
life they express that seem to us true and beautiful. W T e shall then be 
on the highway to that greatest of mental powers, originality of 


But reading is not only a discipline and feeding of thought, it is a train 
ing in expression. The child learns to speak by hearing his mother and 
father speak ; the youth learns to write by constant reading of books ; 
and the permanent impress on his style comes from the style of those 
writers he has read most and with most interest. Beyond the simple 
words of ordinary intercourse, one learns wha one knows of language 
words and the meanings of words chiefly from books, while the beauty 
of phrase, the musical charm of the sentence, one learns, it may be said, 
from books alone. There, too, we best master consciously or uncon 
sciously the maxims of art, the rules and devices by which a description 
or narration progresses, or an argument or principle is laid before us. 

The prescription of books to serve as a basis of composition, leads, it 
is hoped, to the careful reading of them ; first, that we may assimilate 
the best thoughts they contain, and second, that we may master to 
some extent the stylistic qualities of the author we read. When these 
preparations arc made, there remains the actual work of composition on 
the basis of the original. In this work the student will do well at first 
to follow the lines -which an examination of the author's narrative or 
description reveals, working over the ideas that he derives from his 
reading and using the vocabulary that the axithor puts at his disposal. 
Little by little, as his confidence grow?, he should introduce ideas that 
come from his own experience, so that the characteristics of slavish 
adherence to the text will gradually disappear from his copy of the 
original and his work will assume an independent character. Original 
composition of his own will then easily follow. It is unfortunate that 
his copy will be, as a rule, a blurred, distorted image a caricature of 
its prototype. But there is a consolation in this all apprenticeship 
work is thus. And the more acutely we feel our failure to reproduce 
the form and hues of the original, the more vividly we are dismayed by 
the abyss between the classic author and our own attempts, the more 
hope there is for our subsequent success. Our very artistic sense that 
shames us by revealing the gulf between the ease, the freshness, the 
beauty of a great writer, and our own poor attempts, will, as years of 
practice go on, surely teach us in some measure how to bridge the 
chasm, and in some measure how to approach the graces of the great 

Many minor rules of composition could here be brought forward, but 
most of them are included in one phrase : Use good taste. Taste can 
be shown as well in the paper, ink, and handwriting of the student as 
in his attention to the margin of his papw, the indentations of his para- 


graphs, and tho punctuation of his sentences. Often mistakes are 
made in these matters from ignorance, but more frequently they arise 
from the lack of any feeling for form and finish in one's work. Good 
taste makes iis ashamed, too, of anything like a bombastic, inflated, 
stilted style, bidding us write sensibly, naturally, as sensible, healthy, 
people should. It casts out slang the weeds that seek to choke the 
true words. It makes us eschew those trite quotations that, by too 
frequent use, have lost the grace and perfume with which they once 
could brighten dull prose. If in addition to attending these matters, 
the student will strive to write clearly and with whatever strength of 
expression he can in his hours of greatest mental vigor bring to bear, he 
will find a pleasure in his work, and a satisfaction when he reads it 
aloud to himself or to a sensible friend. In times of discouragement he 
should remember two things : First, that our language is a perfect instru 
ment of expression perfected by centuries of use, by multitudes of 
people and especially by many great geniuses, so that there is no 
thought he can think for which there is not a perfect and complete 
expression. Second, that a power to write well, because it is based on 
a power to think justly on nature and human life, is, according to the 
testimony of the ages, that power which humanity cherishes as the 
most precious of all its faculties. 


The interest that we find in Kenilworth and the Life of Cowper arises 
from a variety of causes. It is now an interest in the appearance and 
character of the personages that the writer evokes ; now in the scenes 
and places in which these personages play their part ; and again it is the 
story of their deeds and accomplishments that calls forth our interest and 
absorbs our attention. These different kinds of interest are not neces 
sarily kept apart and distinct ; rather they are intermingled, giving place 
in turn to one another, so that out of the blended skein of personage, 
scene, and incident arises the variegated and beautifully woven fabric of 
the novel or biography. Yet this variety is not complex but simple in 
its character ; we can easily notice that it consists (a) either in what 
people, places or things are, or appear to the eye or mind to be ; (6) or in 
what people do : in other words, in (a) the description of individual 
scenes, objects or persons ; or (b) the narration of the successive details of 
the incidents that constitute the life of the personages of the story. As 
one or other of these predomiillfctes in the woven fabric of the novel or 



biography, it gives a characteristic quality to the writing as Description 
or Narration. 

The interest we have in a man's notions precedes our interest in his 
character or appearance. This truth is apparent when we think how 
eagerly children listen to stories in which the characters have a very 
shadowy existence indeed, but in which the incidents make an in 
telligible appeal to the imagination ; and how wearisome they find 
elaborate descriptions. This points clearly to a principle, that Narra 
tive is the easier and more fascinating side of composition. Let us look 
for a moment at Narration. 


Narration Defined. Narration is the representation by words of the 
successive details that make up an incident or scries of incidents 
more briefly, the story of action. Scott is, as we all know, a master of 
incident, his novels are full of admirable narratives, because he himself 
loved action, brave, stirring, heroic action. Let us see what we can 
learn from some 'of his narratives that will help us to understand a little 
of the art of the Wizard of the North. Let us take an example. 


(Kenilworth, Chap. IV.) 

Tressilian attempts to leave the grounds of 
Cumnor Hall, when Varney enters at the, 
postern-door ; thus we have the meeting. 
Their mutual recognition is followed by 
questions from each of the other's pres 
ence ; these indicate the hard feeling of one 
to the other, and are provocative of a tight. 

Tressilian draws, and alter a moment Varney 
also. Varney's vigour gives him at first the 
advantage ; then it is counter-balanced by 
his opponent's determined spirit of revenge 
and his trained skill in the use of the rapier. 
Varney, outdone in skill, tries to use his 
greater strength by closing with his enemy. 
His device would have been fatal to Tres 
silian but for the latter's watchfulness, 
who parried the blow intended to despatch 
him, and then, using his Cornish skill as a 
wrestler, threw Varney to the ground and 
, had him at hia mercy. 

Lambourne appears to interfere on behalf of 
Varney, and Tressilian, seeing the useless- 
ness of a fight against two, turns on his heel 
and departs. 

Introductory Details : 

Details : 



Sequence of Details. In this rough analysis we notice first that the 
various particulars in the combat are presented from point to point in 
the order of their occurrence. Hence the prime law in narration : 

Rule 1. Details in narrative must be presented, point by point, in 
the order of their occurrence, in order of time. 

Correlation of Letails. The details that Scott brings forward have 
likewise a close interdependence. The circumstances that bring to 
gether Tressilian and Varney and their mortal hatred induce the fight, 
while the unfrequented nature of the garden facilitates it. Thus the 
combat itself is naturally accounted for. Again, the nature of the 
fight Varney's vigour, counterbalanced by Tressilian's skill ; his device 
of closing with his adversary, foiled by the latter's watchfulness: 
the struggle that followed, ending through Tressilian's dexterity as a 
wrestler in the fall of Varney ; the appearance of Lambourne, attracted 
by the sound of blows, just at the critical moment, all these details oi 
the fight are so arranged that the actual issue of the combat does noi 
seem forced, but is made to appear the natural, probable outcome of the 
conditions that the author brings forward. In brief, we see that the 
details are so chosen that each has a direct bearing on the theme ; they 
have an interdependence such that every incident seems naturally tc 
grow from that which precedes it or from the character, training, skill, 
etc. of the actors ; and they are of such a nature, taken in all, that they 
justify, as cause and effect, the outcome of the incident. Hence : 

Rule 2. Details must be interdependent, each contributing to the main 
effect of the narrative. Each incident must appear to spring from the 
Incidents that precede It, or arise naturally from the characters of the 
actors ; the incidents must afford a sufficient cause for the results attributed 
to them. 

Economy of Details. Examining the passage from another point of 
view, we notice that the details are not numerous, but are few and well 
chosen. The narration is centred in a few leading particulars : Varney's 
vigour against Tressilian's skill, and his device of closing with his 
opponent against the latter's dexterity in wrestling. Thus the reader 
is not wearied with a large number of minor incidents, which, of 
course, must have taken place in the actual fight. These are repre 
sented by terms that suggest them: "Vigour, which for a moment,' 
" hard pressed in his turn, " ' ' one of Tressilian's passes, " etc. Hence : 

Rule 3. Economize the details; strike out the insignificant ones; 
max fie details of small importance; and give prominence by particular 
reference only to the chief incidents. 

The Climax of Interest. Narrative is nothing as art unless the narrator 
is able to evoke an ever-increasing interest in the fate of the hero. As 
we follow the incidents of the narrative we note the skill of the narrator 
in deepening step by step this plot-interest. We are predisposed in 
Tressilian's favour ; this is added to by his bearing in the dialogue. 
Then in the duel the tide of battle first in favour of the one, then of 
the other, swaying back to Varney, returning finally to Tressilian in 
this alternation of fear and hope, the interest in the narrative constantly 
rises, till just at the critical moment, when Varney is to be despatched, 
Lambourne appears to end the duel. Though disappointed, we feel 
that Varuey's doom is only temporarily averted. We see, therefore, 
that the reader must be lead on from incident to incident until the 
culminating point 'of the story is attained until the denouement is 
reached, and the outcome calms and satisfies his excitement. More 
over, no hint is given, as we progress through the story, of the nature 
of the outcome. Every hint of the fate good or bad that is to 
befall the hero is carefully suppressed, so as to pique the interest and 
arouse the imagination. The details of the narrative rise in significance, 
or, as we say, the plot thickens, until the denouement is reached. 

Rule 4- Excite curiosity l>y withholding the issue of the incident till 
the last moment. Have the subsidiary details throw higher light upon the 
actions of the chief personages. Arrange tie main details in the order of 
increasing importance, so that the interest is greatest as the denouement is 
reached. This denouement must satisfy our interest in the fate of the 
personages of the narrative. 



I. Tressilian's and Lambourne's Visit to Tony Foster. 

II. Tressilian's Encounter with Way land Smith. 

III. Wayland and the Jewish Chemist. 

IV. Raleigh's First Meeting with Queen Elizabeth. 
V. Wayland and Sussex. 

VI. Elizabeth's Visit to Sussex. 
VII. Wayland in Cumnor Hall. 

160 COWPE& 

VIII. The Flight of the Countess. 

IX. Queen Elizabeth's Visit to Kenilworth. 

X. The Countess Amy's Interview with Elizabeth. 

XI. The Fate of the Countess of Leicester. 

Life of Cowper. 

In biography the plot-interest cannot be used to the same extent as in 
the novel, since the limits of truth cannot be exceeded. Yet it may not 
be neglected, as it is the chief means of holding the interest through a 
long story. In the case of the successful man of letters, it should not be 
difficult to narrate his life in such a way that the story of the incidents 
of his early years should fix our interest in the man ; the success of his 
labours add to it ; and the completion of his work and years give a well- 
rounded conclusion to the narrative. 

XII. Cowper's Early Life. 

Parentage ; social connections ; hereditary gifts ; character 
istics of nature ; school days. 

XIII. Cowper in. Law. 

Entrance on the study cf the law ; Ashley Cowper's ; the 
Inner Temple ; the Nonsense Club. 

XIV. Cowper's Insanity. 

Circumstances precipitating the first attack (the clerkship 
of the Journals, etc. ) ; its nature, whether religious or 
physical ; subsequent attacks ; general results on his 

XV. Cowper at Huntingdon. 

Conditions of his life on his recovery from his first attack of 
insanity ; settlement in Huntingdon ; friends and acquaint 
ances there ; religious associations ; Mr. and Mrs. Unwin. 

XVI. Cowper at Olney. 

Reasons for removal ; Mr. Unwin's death ; the TSev. John 
Newton ; nature of their surroundings ; Olney hymns ; 
departure of Newton ; Thomas Scott ; incitement to 

XVII. Cowper's Literary Career. 

(Only the general outlines of the story need here be taken up, 
leaving the consideration of individual works till later. ) 


Imitation of Phillips ; satires ; the Task ; minor poems 
and translations ; general effect on Cowper's position in 
the world of letters. 

XVIII. Cowper at Weston Closing Years. 

The family group Cowper, Mrs. Unwin, Lady Hesketh ; 
death of William Unwin ; Hayley ; Teedon ; death of 
Mrs. Unwiii ; death of Cowper ; general comments, on the 
character of the incidents in his life. 


Description Defined. Description portrays in words individual scenes, 
objects, or persons ; it portrays in an order of space, and thereby differs 
from narration, which represents details in an order of time. It will be 
noted at the outset that the descriptive element plays an important 
part in every narrative. By description we can give the back -ground 
and setting of the incidents, create the spirit and atmosphere in which 
the personages arc to move, arouse interest in the characters of the 
story, atid afford a relief from the monotony of a purely narrative 

The description may be at times varied by introducing persons who are 
represented as seeing the objects or persons described ; indeed, often 
the most effective mode of presenting description is to introduce it 
through the conversation of the actors. The set description is easiest, 
the incidental suggestion most artistic. 

In Kenilworth, the action lies within the bounds of the life of the nobility 
and the Court, so that we have naturally behind the personages of the 
story the background of parks, castles, halls, etc., in which the action 
takes place. Tony Foster appears within the shadows of Cumnor Hall ; 
Leicester, before the magnificence of Kenilworth Castle ; Elizabeth, 
amidst the splendour of her retinue or a royal progress. Let us examine 
briefly one of the many descriptions that intersperse the narrative in 



(Kenilworth, Chap. XX V. } 
(i) The Theme. The princely castle appears in sight. 

(ii) General Introduction, Its magnificence is suggested. 
yiviny the general effect. 

(iii) The Details. Outer wall, inclosing stables and pleasure- 

garden ; base-court. The castle itself, 
a huge pile of buildings (general effect) 
surrounding a court-yard ; its chief 
feature the keep (details). The en 
virons of the castle, the lake, the 

(iv) The Conclusion. Comments on the picture of the present 

desolation of the castle, furnish by con- 
*~* completion of the picture of 
its ancient magnificence. 

We notice, then, that this description involves a methodical presenta 
tion of the scene, following the scheme of (i) Theme, (ii) General 
Introduction, (iii) Details, (iv) Summary or Conclusion. Some such plan 
as this is of great advantage to a writer as he composes.* It guides 
him aright in the selection of details ; for with a definite plan of work 
before him irrelevant particulars will scarcely occur to him, or, if they do 
by chance occur, they will at once be recognized as incongruous. More 
over he will be able most easily to amplify his paragraphs from the ideas 
suggested by the different headings of his plan. From the reader's 
standpoint, too, there is a great advantage, since the unified, compact, 
symmetrical nature of the composition gives him a clear impressive con 
ception of the scene. He feels the composition is a complete harmoni 
ous structure as well-built, as perfectly balanced as a piece of archi 
tecture or a figure in marble. 

(i) The Statement of the Theme. To write clearly and effectively, a 
writer must know very definitely the theme of his discourse. Especially 
in abstract themes it is of decided advantage at once to state the theme 
and define its nature. On the other hand the reader finds such a 
statement of theme almost indispensable, because without it he cannot 

* It need scarcely be said that the student, though he may carefully plan his essay 
before setting to work to compose, should not indicate formally in his essay that he is 
following such a plan. The best art is ars celare artein ; when the building is com 
pleted take away the scaffolding. 


easily understand the general drift of the writer's thought, nor can he 
grasp his subsequent statements in their proper relationship. There is, 
however, as we saw before, one important exception to be made. In 
narration, where curiosity must be aroused, it is usually advisable to 
keep the reader for a time in suspense as to the real drift of the story. 
This can best be done without any definite statement of the theme. 

Rule 1. State at the outset (unless you have good reasons to the con 
trary) the theme of the description. 

(ii.) The General Outline. It is usually helpful to a writer to have 
before him in general outline the scene he is about to describe. He is 
then guided in selecting those details that will amplify and illustrate 
the general effect of the scene. The reader, too, finds a general outline 
helpful, for by it he is enabled most easily to grasp the general character 
of the description and to arrange the details in their proper connection, 
and most important of all he is put into that disposition of mind in 
which the author wishes him to receive the composition. 

Rule 2. Let a general outline of the scene you describe precede the 
detailed description, and, when possible, give the key-note to the description 
its grave, pathetic, romantic tone by means of this general outline. 

(iii.) The Details (a) The Point of View. In the description out 
lined above we do not find a confused mass of details. The author 
does not enter into minute details of the history of the castle, nor does 
he describe the interior. It will be noticed that Scott chooses, on the 
whole, a fixed point of view, the appearance of the castle from without 
and closely adheres to it, rigidly excluding all details not naturally un 
folding themselves from that point of view. To these he adds just such 
reflections on its age and ancient owners as would arise in a well- 
informed mind viewing it. The details have therefore a unity and 
proportion, as in a picture. He might have described it from a shifting 
point of view, bringing forward the details as they revealed themselves 
to him in journeying through the different parts of the castle. This, 
the so-called traveller's point of view, he employed in describing the 
exterior of Cumnor Hall (see Chapter III.). It adds a certain narrative 
interest to the description, and should be adopted when we wish to 
give a panoramic view of a scene to present details that would not be 
revealed at a fixed point. 

Rule 3. /'* the selection of the. details the writer must be (juided by the, 

164 COW PER. 

point of mew from which he writes. He. must select only such details as 
harmonize wields plan. 

(b) Economy of Details. Scott might have enumerated a mass of 
details, architectural, military, and historical. He chooses, however, 
only those that call up the elementary characteristics of the castle, and 
thus pictures it clearly and simply to us. 

Rule 4. When many details present themselves it is better to make the. 
most of the most characteristic, letting the others rest in the background or 
be suggested ly the general tone of the description. 

(c) Sequence of Details. Again, there is a rational arrangement of 
details. They follow a regular order from the outer wail we pass the 
gardens, then to the central castle, its details and character ; then turn 
ing we survey the southern wall with lake and chase beyond. In. just 
such a way would the eye take in the scene. 

Rule 5. Follow the natural sequence of details as they reveal them 
selves one by one to the observer. 

(iv.) The Summary or Conclusion. The advantage of the Conclusion is 
that it summarizes and fixes the details of the description. The reader 
is enabled to gather the full significance of the scene, and the writer, 
rising upon the details he has enumerated, is afforded an opportunity for 
climacteric effect, by which he can give a powerful and satisfying finish 
to his composition. 

Rule 6. There should, in general, be a Conclusion or Summary that 
will summarize the details of ttie description, and give the composition its 
highest elevation of tone. 

Sketches of persons are equally as interesting as sketches of scenes 
from nature or the woi'ks of man. The portraits of the personages of 
Ketiilworth are sketched with easy, yet clear outlines. Examine any one 
of these and it will be found to be written in very much the same lines 
as the description discussed above. Tony Foster, for example, is 
introduced by a reference of his general ugliness, followed by details 
of stature, eyes, features, and general impression made on Tressilian. 

In Cowper, Mr. Gold win Smith brings forward many descriptions of 
different subjects but following a very similar plan, e.g., "The Task," 
Chapter Y. 

APPENDIX. | | 165 

Theme and Introduction. The inspiration of the Task Lady Austen. 



Remarks on its sentiment, its plan, its sub 
ject-matter, its attitude towards nature, 
its versification. 

Effect on Cowper's fame, with details. 


I. Cumnor Hall. 
II. Woodstock. 

III. Lidcote Hall. 

IV. Kenilworth Castle. 

V. The Revels at Kenilworth. 

[Narrative details in some cases will* afford ground for illustration or expansion of 
the description.] 

VI. Antony Foster. 

VII. Michael Lambourne. 

VIII. Giles Gosling. 

IX. Dickie Sludge, Flibbertigibbet. 

X. Wayland Smith. 

XI. Tressilian. 

XII. Walter Raleigh. 

XIII. Richard Varney. 

XIV. Sussex. 
X \ 7 . Leicester. 

XVI. Amy Robsart. 

XVII. Queen Elizabeth. 

Life of 

XVIII. Gluey. 

XIX. Weston. 

X K. Cowper. 

XXI. Mrs. Unwin. 

XXII. Newton. 

XXIII. Lady Hesketh. 


[Titles marked (*) should be made the subject of special preparation by reading tho 
words to be described ; the essayist will then, and then only, write with sincerity and 
ease, and have at his command those references and quotations which alone can give 
animation to his work. 

XXIV. The Olney Hymns. 
XXV. The Moral Satires. 
XXVI. *The Task. 

(i.) " The Sofa." 
(ii.) "The Winter Evening." 
(iii. ) " The Garden " 
(iv. ) " The Winter Moining Walk." 
XXVII. *Some Minor Poems. 
XXVIII. Translations. 
XXIX. "Letters. 

(Benham's edition, Golden Treasury Series, contains u 
good selection. ) 

[More general themes.] 

XXX. A Privy Council Meeting in Elizabeth's Reign. 

XXXI. The Court of Elizabeth. 

XXXTI. The Condition of England at Cowper's Birth. 

XXXIII. General Characteristics of Cowper's Poetry. 


Smith, Goldwin 

Life of Cowper 
school ed.