Изображения страниц

unclouded sky, and in a room full of sunshine, I address myself to the payment of a debt, long in arrear, but never forgotten by me, however I may have seemed to forget it. I will not waste time in apologies; I have but one, and that one will suggest itself unmentioned. I will only add that you are the first to whom I write, of several to whom I have not written many months, who all have claims upon me; and who, I flatter myself, are all grumbling at my silence. In your case, perhaps I have been less anxious than in the case of some others ; because, if you have not heard from myself, you have heard from Mrs. Unwin. From her you have learned that I' live, that I am as well as usual, and that I translate Homer: three short items, but in which is comprised the whole detail of my present history. Thus I fared when you were here; thus I have fared ever since you were here; and thus, if it please God, I shall continue to fare for some time longer: fori though the work is done, it is not finished; a riddle which you, who are a brother of the press, will solve easily. I have been the less anxious on your behalf, because I have had frequent opportunities to hear from you ; and have always heard that you are in good health, and happy. Of Mrs. Newton too, I have heard more favourable accounts of late, which has given us both the sincerest pleasure. Mrs. Unwin's case is, at present, my only subject of uneasiness, that is not immediately personal, and properly my own. She has almost constant head-aches; almost a constant pain in her side, which nobody understands; and her lameness, within the last half year, is very little amended. But her spirits are good, because supported by comforts which depend not on the state of the body; and I do not know that with all her pain, her appearance is at all altered, since we had the happiness to see you here, unless indeed it be altered a little for the better. I have thus given you as circumstantial an account of ourselves as I could: the most interesting matter, I verily believe, with which I could have filled my paper, unless I could have made spiritual mercies to myself the subject. In my next perhaps I shall find time to bestow a few lines on what is doing in France, and in the Austrian Netherlands; though, to say the truth, I am much better qualified to write an essay on the seige of Troy, than to descant on any of these modern revolutions. I question if, in either of the countries just mentioned, full of bustle and tumult as they are, there be a single character, whom Homer, were he living, would deign to make his hero. The populace are the heroes now, and the stuff of which gentlemen heroes are made, seems to be all expended."

The year 1790, found Cowper still indefatigably engaged in preparing his translation for the press. In a letter to Mrs. King, 4th January, he thus writes: "Your long silence has occasioned me a thousand anxious thoughts about you. So long it has been, that whether I now write to a Mrs. King at present on earth, or already in heaven, I know not. 1 have friends whose silence troubles me less, though I have known them longer; because, if I hear not from themselves, I yet hear from others, that they are still living, and likely to live. But if your letters cease to bring me news of your welfare, from whom can I gain the desirable intelligence? The birds of the air will not bring it, and third, person there is none between us by whom it might be conveyed. Nothing is plain to me in this subject, but that either you are dead, or very much indisposed, or which would perhaps affect me with as deep a concern, though of a different kind, very much offended. The latter of those suppositions I think the least probable, conscious as I am of an habitual desire to offend nobody, especially a lady, and a lady too who'has laid me under so many obligations. But all the three solutions-ab^ve mentioned are very uncomfortable; and if you live, anil can send me one that will cause me less pain than either of them, I conjure you by the charity and benevolence which I know influence you on all occasions, to communicate it without delay. It is possible, notwithstanding appearances to the contrary, that you are not become perfectly indifferent to me, and to what concerns me. I will therefore add a word or two on the subject which once interested you, and which is, for that reason, worthy to be mentioned, though truly for no other. I am well, and have been so (uneasiness on your part excepted) both in mind and body ever since I wrote to you last. I have still the same employment; Homer in the morning, and Homer in the evening, as constant as the day goes round. In the spring I hope to send the Iliad and the Odyssey to the press. So much for me and my occupations."

It would scarcely be supposed that a person performing such an Herculean task as that of translating Homer, would have troubled himself to oompose, or even to revise, a volume of hymns for children. The following extract, however, will show that, anxious as Cowper was to finish his Homer, he could nevertheless, allow his attention to be, in a great mea-. sure, diverted from it, at least for a time, when he thought he could employ his talents usefully. "I have long been silent, but you have had the charity, I hope, and believe, not to ascribe my silence to a wrong cause. The truth is, I have been too busy to write to any body, having been obliged to give my early mornings to the revisal and correction of a little volume of hymns for children, written, by I know not whom; this task I finished yesterday, and while it was in hand, wrote only to my cousin, and to her rarely. From her, however, I knew that you would hear of my well being, which made me less anxious about my debts to you than I could have been otherwise. The winter has been mild; but our winters are in general such, that when a friend leaves us in the beginning of that season, I always feel in my heart a perhaps, importing that we may possibly have met for the last time, and that the robins may whistle on the grave of one of us before the return of summer. Though I have been employed as described above, I am still thrumming Homer's lyre; that is to say, I am still employed in my last revisal; and to give you some idea of the intenseness of my toils, I will inform you that it cost me all the morning yesterday, and all the evening, to translate a single simile to my mind. The transitions from one member of the subject to another, though easy and natural in the Greek, turn out often so intolerably awkward in an English version, that almost endless labour, and no little address, are requisite to give them grace and elegance. The under parts of the poem, (those, I mean, which are merely narrative,) I find the most difficult.—These can only be supported by the diction, and on these, for that reason, I have bestowed the most abundant labour. Fine similes, and fine speeches, are more likely to take care of themselves; but the exact process of slaying a sheep and dressing it, is not so easy in our language, and in our measure to dignify. But I shall have the comfort, as I before said, to reflect, that whatever may be hereafter laid to my charge, the sin of idleness will not,—justly, at least it never will. In the mean time, I must be allowed to say, that not to fall short of the original in everything, is impossible. I thank you for your German clavis, which has been of considerable use to mje; I am indebted to it for a right understanding of the manner in which Achilles prepared pork, mutton, and goats' flesh, for the entertainment of his friends, on the night when they came deputed by Agamemnon to negotiate a reconciliation. A passage of which nobody in the world is perfectly master, myself only, and Schaulfelbergerus excepted, nor ever was, except when Greek was a living language."

About this time, Mrs. King appears to have been informed that it was Cowper's intention to leave Weston, and that Mrs. Unwin had been making inquiries after a house at Huntingdon. Adverting to this report, in a letter to that lady, he thus writes:—" The report that informed you of inquiries made by Mrs. Unwin, after a house at Huntingdon, was unfounded. We have no thought of quitting Weston, unless the same Providence that led us hither should lead us away. It is a situation the most eligible, perfectly agreeable to us both, and to me in particular, who write much, and walk much, and, consequently, love silence and retirement. If it has a fault, it is, that it seems to threaten us with a certainty of never seeing you. But may we not hope that when a milder season shall have improved your health, we may yet, notwithstanding the distance, be favoured with Mr. King's and your company) A better season will likewise improve the roads, and exactly in proportion as it does so, will, in effect, lessen the interval between us. I know not if Mr. Martyn be a mathematician, but most probably he is a good one, and he can tell you that this is a proposition mathematically true, though rather paradoxical in appearance."

In a letter to Mr. Newton, 5 February, 1790, Cowper again plaintively describes the state of his mind.—" Your kind letter deserved a speedier answer, but you know my excuse, which were I to repeat always, my letters would resemble the fag end of a newspaper, where we always find the price of stocks, detailed with little or no variation. When January returns, you have your feelings concerning me, and such as prove the faithfulness of your friendship. I have mine also concerning myself, but they are of a cast different from yours. Yours have a mixture of sympathy and tender solicitude, which makes them, perhaps, not altogether unpleasant. Mine, on the contrary, are of an unmixed nature, and consist simply, and merely, of the most alarming apprehensions. Twice has that month returned upon me, accompanied by such horrors, as I have no reason to suppose ever made part of the experience of any other man. I, accordingly, look forward to it, and meet it with a dread not to be imagined. I number the nights as they pass, and in the morning bless myself that another night is gone, and no harm has happened. This may argue, perhaps, some imbecility of mind, and, indeed, no small degree of it; but it is natural, I believe, and so natural as to be necessary and unavoidable. I know that God is not governed by secondary causes, in any of his operations; and that, on the contrary, they are all so many agents, in his hand, which strike only when he bids them. 1 know, consequently, that one month is as dangerous to me as another; and that in the middle of summer, at noonday, and in the clear sunshine, I am, in reality, unless guarded by Him, as much exposed as when fast asleep at midnight, and mid-winter. But we are not always the wiser for our knowledge, and I can no more avail myself of mine, in this case, than if it were in the head of any other man, and not in my own. I have heard of bodily aches and ails, that have been particularly troublesome when the season returned in which the hurt that occasioned them was received. The mind, I believe, (with my own, however, 1 am sure it is so,) is liable to similar periodical affection. But February is come; January, my terror, is passed; and some shades of the gloom that attended his presence have passed with him. I look forward with a little cheerfulness to the buds and the leaves that will soon appear, and say to myself, till they turn yellow, I will make myself easy. The year will go round, and January will approach. I shall tremble again, and I know it; but in the meantime I will be as comfortable as I can. Thus, with respect to peace of mind, such as it is, that I enjoy. I subsist, as the poor are vulgarly said to do, from hand to mouth; and of a Christian, such us you once knew me, am, by a strange transformation, become an epicurean philosopher, bearing this motto on my mind,— Quid sit futurum cras,fuge quserere."

Towards the end of this month, Cowper received as a present, from Mrs. Bodham, a cousin of his, then residing in Norfolk, his mother's portrait. The following extracts will show the powerful impression which this circumstance made upon his tender mind:—." My dearest Rose,* whom I thought withered and fallen from the stalk, but whom I find still alive: nothing could give me greater pleasure than to know it, and to learn it from yourself. I loved you dearly when you were a child, and love you not a jot the less for having ceased to be so. Every creature that bears 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 sake, and for your own. The world could not have furnished you with a present so

* Mrs. Bobham's name is Anne, but Cowper always called her Rose, when a child, and was aware that she would remember his doing so.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »