« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
also, and we conquer difficulties, which, could we have foreseen them, we should never have had the boldnes3 to encounter. You possess by nature all that is necessary to success in the profession you have chosen. What remains is in your own power. They say of poets, that they must be born such; so must mathematicians, so must great generals, so must lawyers, and so indeed must men of all denominations, or it is not possible that they should excel. But with whatever faculties we are born, and to whatever studies our genius may direct us, studies they must still be. I am persuaded that Milton did not write his Paradise Lost, nor Homer his Iliad, nor Newton his Principia, without immense labour. Nature gave them a bent to their respective pursuits, and that strong propensity, I suppose, is what we mean by genius. The rest they gave themselves."
"My first thirteen books of Homer have been criticised in London; have been by me accommodated to these criticisms*; returned to London in their inlproved state, and sent back to Weston with an imprimantur. This would satisfy some poets less anxious than myself aljout what they expose in public, but it has not satisfied me. I am now revising them again, by the light of my own critical taper, and make more alterations than at the first. But are they improvements? you will ask. Is not the spirit of the work endangered by all this correctness? I think and hope that it is not. Being well aware of the possibility of such a catastrophe, I guard particularly against it. Where I find a servile adherence to the original would render the passage less animated than it would be, I still, as at the first, allow myself a liberty. On all other occasions, I prune with an unsparing hand, determined that there shall not be found in the whole translation an idea that is not Homer's. My ambition is, to produce the closest copy possible, and at the same time, as harmonious as I can
possibly make it This being my object, you will no longer
think, if indeed you have thought it at all, that I am unnecessarily, and overmuch industrious. The original surpasses everything; it is of an immense length, is composed in the best language ever used upon earth, and deserves, indeed demands, all the labour that any translator, be he who he may, can possibly bestow upon it. At present, mere English readers know no more of Homer in reality, than if he had never been translated. That consideration indeed it was, which mainly induced me to the undertaking; and if after all, either through idleness or dotage, upon what I have already done, I leave it chargeable with the same incorrectness as my predecessors, or, indeed, with any other that I may be able to amend, I had much better have amused myself otherwise. I am now in the nineteenth book of the Iliad, and on the point of displaying such feats of heroism, performed by Achilles, as make all other achievements trivial. I may well exclaim, Oh, for a muse of fire! especially, having not only a great host to cope with, but a great river also; much, however, may be done when Homer leads the way. What would I give if he were now living, and within my reach! I, of all men living, have the best excuse for indulging such a wish, unreasonable as it may seem, for I have no doubt the fire of his eyes, and the smile of his lips,, would put me, now and then, in possession of his full meaning more effectually than any commentator!"
The close application of Cowper, to the translation of Homer, was not allowed to suspend,, though it in some measure interrupted, his correspondence with Mr. Newton. To him he still opened the state of his mind without the least reserve, and it will appear, from the following extracts, that he had lost, in no degree, his relish for the enjoyments of religion, though his mind still continued under the influence of his depressive malady. "Your last letter informed us, that you were likely to be much occupied for some time in writing on a subject that must be interesting to a person of your feelings—the Slave Trade. I was unwilling to interrupt your progress in so good a work, and have, therefore, enjoined myself a longer silence than I should otherwise have thought excusable, though, to say the truth, did not our once intimate fellowship in the things of God recur to my remembrance, and present me with something like a warrant for doing it, I should hardly have prevailed upon myself to write at all. Letters such as mine, to a person of a character such as yours, are like snow in harvest; and you will say, that if I will send you a letter that you can answer, I shall make your part of the business easier than it is. This I would gladly do; but though I abhor a vacuum, as much as nature herself is said to do, yet a vacuum I am-bound to feel, of all such matter as may merit your perusal. I have lately been engaged in correspondence with a lady whom I never saw. She lives at Porton Hall, near Kimbolton, and is the wife of Dr. King, who has the living. She is evidently a Christian, and a very gracious one. I would that she had you for a correspondent, rather than me. One ltter from you would do her more good than a ream of mine. But so it is; and though I despair of communicating to her anything that will be of much advantage, I must write to her this evening. Undeserving as I feel myself to be of divine protection, I am nevertheless receiving almost daily, I might indeed say hourly, proofs of it. A few days ago, Providence interfered to preserve me from the heaviest affliction that I could now suffer: the loss of Mrs. Unwin, and in a way too, the most shocking imaginable. Having kindled her fire in the room where she dresses, (an office that she always performs for herself,) she placed the candle on the hearth, and kneeling, addressed herself to her devotions; a thought struck her while thus occupied, that the candle, being short, might possibly catch her clothes, she pinched it out with the tongs, and set it on the table. In a few moments the chamber was so filled with smoke, that her eyes watered, and it was hardly possible to see across it.—Supposing that it proceeded from the chimney, she pushed the billets backward, and while she did so, casting her eye downward, perceived that her dress was on fire. In fact, before she extinguished the candle, the mischief that she apprehended had begun; and when she related the matter to me, she showed me her clothes, with a hole burnt in them as large as this sheet of paper. It is not possible, perhaps, that so tragical a death could occur to a person actually engaged in prayer, for her escape seems almost a miracle. Her presence of mind, by which she was enabled, without calling for help, or waiting for it, to gather up her clothes, and plunge them, burning as they were, in water, seems as wonderful a part of the occurrence as any. The very report of fire, though distant, has rendered hundreds torpid and incapable of self-succour; how much more was such a disability to be expected, when the fire had not seized a neighbour's house, or begun its devastations on our own, but was actually consuming the apparel that she wore, and seemed in possession of her person."
The continued gloomy state of Cowper's mind will be seen by the following extract from a letter to his cousin, Lady Hesketh, with whom he corresponded, as nearly as possible, at stated and regular intervals,—January 30, 1788, he thus writes: "It is a fortnight since I heard from you, that is to say, a week longer than you have been accustomed to make me wait for a letter. I do not forget that you have recommended it to me, on occasions somewhat similar, to banish all anxiety, and to ascribe your silence only to the interruptions of company. Good advice, my dear, but not easily taken by a man circumstanced as I am. I have learned in the school of adversity, a school from which I have no ex
Pressing invitations of his friends to write a poem on the Slave Trade—Reasons for declining it—Correspondence with Mrs. King—Particular description of his feelings—Death of Sir Ashley Cowper—Description of his character—Great severity of Camper's depression—Is again urged to write on the Slave Trade—Again declines it—Assigns particular reasons for it— His indefatigable application to Homer—Notice he took of passing events—Mr. and Mrs. Newton's visit to Weston— The pleasure it afforded Cowper—Lady Hesketh's visit—Completion of the Iliad, and commencement of the Odyssey His
unwearied application to Homer not allowed to divert his attention from religion—Occasional composition of original poetry—Readiness to listen to any alteration that might be suggested in his productions.'
Many of Cowper's friends were anxious to have him employ his admirable powers in a poem on the abolition of slavery, and Lady Hesketh wrote him several pressing invitations on the subject; to which he gave the following reply. "I have now three letters of yours, my dearest cousin, before me, all written in the space of a week, and must be, indeed, insensible of kindness, did I not feel yours on this occasion. I cannot describe to you, neither could you comprehend it if I could, the manner in which my mind is sometimes impressed with melancholy on particular subjects. Your late silence was such a subject. I heard, saw, and felt, a thousand terrible things, which had no real existence, and was haunted by them night and day, till they at last extorted from me that doleful epistle, which I have since wished had been burnt before I sent it. But the cloud has passed, and, as far as you are concerned, my heart is once more at rest. Before you gave me the hint contained in your last letters, I had once or twice, as I lay on my bed, watching the break of day, ruminated on the subject which you kindly recommended to me. Slavery, or a release from slavery, such as the poor negroes have endured, or perhaps both these topics together, appeared to me a theme so important at the present juncture, and at the same time so susceptible of practical ma