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The master stormed, the prize was lost,
He doom'd his favourite dead.
He seized him fast, and from the pit
And, Bi-ing me cord, he cried;
Alive, arid struggling, tied.
The horrid sequel asks a veil,
That can be, shall be sunk;
And him with pity, drunk.
All, suppliant, beg a milder fate,
He, deaf to pity's call,
Death menacing on all.
But vengeance hung not far remote,
For while he stretched his clamorous throat,
And heaven and earth defied;
He totter'd, reel'd, and died.
'Tis not for us, with rash surmise,
But judgments plain as this,
'Tis hard to read amiss."
It was Cowper's intention, after finishing his translation, to publish a third volume of original poems, which was to contain, in addition to a poem he intended to compose, similar to the Task, entitled "The Four Ages," all the minor unpublished productions of his pen. And it is deeply to be regretted that he was not permitted to carry this design into completion, as the interesting subject of the different stages of man's existence would have been admirably adapted for a complete developement of his poetic talents.
The readiness of Cowper to listen to any alterations in his productions, suggested by his correspondents, ought not to go unrecorded. To the Rev. Walter Bagot he thus writes. "My verses on the Queen's visit to London, either have been printed, or soon will be in the world. The finishing to which you objected I have altered, and have substituted two new stanzas in the room of it. Two others also I have struck out, another friend having objected to them. I think I am a very tractable sort of a poet. Most of my fraternity would as soon shorten the noses of their children because they were said to be too long, as thus dock their compositions, in compliance with the opinions of others. I beg that when my life shall be written hereafter, my authorship's ductibility of temper may not be forgotten."
Mrs. Unwin much injured by a fall—Cowper's anxiety respecting her—Continues incessantly engaged in his Homer—Expresses regret that it should, in some measure, have suspended his correspondence with his friends—Revises a small volume of poems for children—State of his mind—Receives, as a present from Mrs. Rodham, a portrait of his mother—Feelings on the occasion—Interesting description of her character—His affectionate attachment to her—Translates a series of Latin letters from a Dutch minister of the Gospel—Continuance of his depression—Is attacked with a nervous fever—Completion of his translation—Death of Mrs. Newton—His reflections on the occasion—Again revises his Homer—His unalterable attachment to religion.
In the commencement of 1789, a circumstance occurred, which occasioned Cowper considerable uneasiness. Mrs. Unwin, his amiable inmate, and faithful companion, received so severe an injury by a fall, which she got when walking on a gravel path, covered with ice, that she was confined to her room for several weeks. Though she neither dislocated any joint, nor broke any bones, yet such was the effect of the fall, that it crippled her completely, and rendered her as incapable of assisting herself as a child. It happened providentially, that Lady Hesketh was at Weston, when this painful event occurred. By her kind attention to Mrs. Unwin, and her no less tender care over her esteemed relative, lest his mind should be too deeply affected by this afflicting occurrence, she contributed greatly to the recovery of the former, and to the support of the latter. It was, however, several weeks before Mrs. Unwin recovered her strength sufficiently to attend to her domestic concerns. Her progress too, when she began to amend, was so slow, as to be almost imperceptible, and her lengthened affliction, notwithstanding the precautionary measures adopted by herself, and by Lady Hesketh to prevent it, tended, in a great degree, to depress the mind of Cowper.
Early in the ensuing spring, Lady Hesketh was compelled to return to town. Mrs. Unwin had not then wholly recovered her strength; she was, however, so far convalescent, as to resume the management of her domestic concerns, and to pay the same kind attention to the poet's comfort as had distinguished all her former conduct towards him. The greater part of the year 1789, Cowper was incessantly engaged, principally in translating Homer; hut occasionally, and indeed frequently, in composing original poems for the gratification of his friends, or in the more difficult employment of revising the productions of less gifted poets. The few letters he wrote at this time abound with apologies for his seeming negligence, and with descriptions of the manner in which he employed his time. To one of his correspondents he thus writes: "I know that you are too reasonable a man to expect anything like punctuality of correspondence from a translator of Homer, especially from one who is a doer also of many other things at the same time; for I labour hard, not only to acquire a little fame for myself, but to win it for others, men of whom I know nothing, not even their names, who send me their poetry, that by translating it out of prose into verse, I may make it more like poetry than it was. I begin to perceive that if a man will be an author, he must live neither to himself nor to his friends so much as to others whom he never saw nor shall see. I feel myself in no small degree unworthy of the kind solicitude which you express concerning me and my welfare, after a silence so much longer than you had reason to expect. I should indeed account myself inexcusable, had I not to allege in my defence, perpetual engagements of such a kind as could by no means be dispensed with. Had Homer alone been in question, Homer should have made room for you; but I have had other work in hand at the same time, equally pressing and more laborious. Let it suffice to say, that I have not wilfully neglected you for a moment, and that you have never been out of my thoughts a day together. Having heard all this, you will feel yourself disposed not only to pardon my long silence, but to pity me for the causes of it. You may, if you please, believe likewise, for it is true, that I have a faculty of remembering my friends even when I do not write to them, and of loving them not one jot the less, though I leave them to starve for want of a letter from me."
In a letter to Mr. Newton, 16th August, 1789, Cowper thus describes the situation in which he was then placed, and the state of his mind at the time: "Mrs. Newton and you are both kind and just in believing that I do not lore you the less when I am long silent; perhaps a friend of mine who wishes to be always in my thoughts, is never so effectually possessed of the accomplishment of that wish, as when I have been long his debtor; for then I think of him, not only every day, but day and night; and indeed all day long. But I confess at the same time that my thoughts of you will be more pleasant to myself, when I shall have exonerated my conscience by giving you the letter, so long your due. Therefore, here it comes,—little worth your having, but payment such as it is, that you have a right to expect, and that is essential to my own tranquillity. That the Iliad and the Odyssey should have proved the occasion of my suspending my correspondence with you, is a proof how little we see the consequences of what we publish. Homer, 1 dare say, hardly at all suspected, that at the fag end of time, two personages would appear, one ycleped, Sir Newton, and the other Sir Cowper, who loving each other heartily, would nevertheless suffer the pains of an interrupted intercourse,— his poems the cause. So, however, it has happened; and though it would not, I suppose, extort from the old bard a single sigh, if he knew it, yet to me it suggests the serious reflection above mentioned. An author by profession had need narrowly to watch his pen, lest a line should escape it, which by possibility may do mischief, when he has been long dead and buried. What we have done when we have written a book, will never be known till the day of judgment: then the account will be liquidated, and all the good that it has occasioned, and all the evil, will witness, either for or against us. I am now in the last book of the Odyssey, yet have still I suppose, half a year's work before me. The accurate revisal of two such voluminous poems can hardly cost me less. I rejoice, however, that the goal^ is in prospect; for though it has oost me years to run this race, it is only now that I begin to have a glimpse of its termination. That I shall never receive any proportionable pecuniary recompense for my long labours, is pretty certain; and as to any fame that I may possibly gain by it, that is a commodity that daily sinks in value, in measure as the consummation of all things approaches. In the day when the lion shall dandle the kid, and a little child shall lead them, the world will have lost all relish for the fabulous legends of antiquity, and Homer and his translator may budge off the stage together."