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both for my own health and for that of my friends, the unhappy influences of a year worn out. But, my dear Madam, this is the last day of it, and I resolve to hope that the new year shall obliterate all the disagreeables of the old one. I can wish nothing more warmly, than that it may prove a propitious year for you."
In the autumn of this year Cowper had sent his " Homer" to the press ; and through the whole of the ensuing winter he was closely employed in correcting the proof-sheets, and making such alterations as he still thought desirable. The time which this consumed, and the indefatigable industry with which' he engaged in it, will be seen by the following extracts:—" My poetical operations, I mean of the occasional kind, have lately been pretty much at a stand. I told you, I believe, in my last, that' Homer,' in the present stage of the process, occupied me more intensely than ever. He still continues to do so, and threatens, till he shall be completely finished, to make all other composition impracticable. I am sick and ashamed of myself that I forgot my promise, but it is actually true that I did forget it. You, however, I did not forget; nor did I forget to wonder and be alarmed at your silence, being myself perfectly unconscious of my arrears. All this, together with varkiu3 other trespasses of mine, must be set down to the account of Homer; and, wherever he is, he is bound to make his apology to all my correspondents, but to you in particular. True it is, that if Mrs. Unwin did not call me from that pursuit, I should forget, in the ardour with which I persevere in it, both to eat and to drink, if not to retire to rest! This zeal has increased in me regularly as I have proceeded, and in an exact ratio, as a mathematician would say, to the progress 1 have made towards the point at which I have been aiming. You will believe this, when I teH you that, not contented with my previous labours, I have actually revised the whole work, and have made a thousand alterations in it since it has been in the press. I have now, however, tolerably«well satisfied myself at least, and trust that the printer andl shall trundle along merrily to the conclusion."
In the commencement of 1791, Cowper's long-tried friend, Mr. Newton, lost his wife. She died sometime in January, after many months' severe suffering, borne with exemplary fortitude and patience. She had always taken a lively interest in Cowper's welfare; and, when she resided at Olney, had frequently assisted Mrs. Unwin in the arduous duty of watching over the poet, during his painful mental depression. Her decease, therefore, was sure to affect him deeply; and the following extracts from his letters to Mr. Newton, on this trying occasion, will not fail to be interesting:—" Had you been a man of the world, I should have held myself bound, by the law of ceremonies, to have sent you long since my tribute of condolence. I have sincerely mourned with you; and though you have lost a wife, and I only a friend, yet do I understand too well the value of such a friend as Mrs. Newton, not to have sympathized with you very nearly. But you are not a man of the world; neither can you, who have the scripture, and the Giver of the scripture to console you, have any need of aid from others, or expect it from such spiritual imbecility as mine." ,
"It affords me sincere pleasure that you enjoy serenity of mind, after your great loss. It is well in all circumstances, even in the most afflictive, with thosa who have God for their comforter. You do me justice in giving entire credit to my expressions of friendship for you. No day passes in which I do not look back to the days that are fled, and consequently none in which I do not feel myself affectionately reminded of you, and of her whom you have lost for a season. I cannot even see Olney spire from any of the fields in the neighbourhood, much less can I enter the town, and still less the vicarage, without experiencing the force of those mementoes, and recollecting a multitude of passages to which you and yours were parties. The past would appear a dream, were the remembrance of it less affecting. It was, in the most important respects, so unlike my present moment, that I am sometimes almost tempted to suppose it a dream! But the difference between dreams and realities long since elapsed, seems to consist chiefly in this: that a dream, however painful or pleasant at the time, and perhaps for a few ensuing hours, passes like an arrow through the air, leaving no trace of its flight behind it; but our actual experiences make a lasting impression. We review those which interested us much when they occurred, with hardjy less interest than in the first instance; and whether few years or many have intervened, our sensibility makes them still present—such a mere nullity is time, to a creature to whom God gives a feeling heart and the faculty of recollection."
In June, 1791, having completed his long and arduous undertaking—the translation of "Homer," he thus writes to Mr. Newton on the occasion:—"Considering the multiplicity of your engagements, and the importance, no doubt, of most of them, I am bound to set the higher value on your letters; and, instead of grumbling that they come so seldom, to be thankful to you that they come at all. You are now going into the country, where I presume you will have less to do; and I am rid of "Homer:" let us try, therefore, if in the interval between the present hour and the next busy season (for I too, if I live, shall probably be occupied again,) we can contrive to exchange letters more frequently than for some time past. You do justice to me, and to Mrs. Unwin, when you assure yourself that to hear of your health, will give us pleasure. I know not, in truth, whose health and well-being could give us more. The years that we have seen together will never be out of our remembrance; and, so long as we remember them, we must remember you with affection. In the pulpit, and out of the pulpit, you have laboured in every possible way to serve us; and we must have a short memory indeed for the kindness of a friend, could we by any means become forgetful of yours. It would grieve me more than it does, to hear you complain of the effects of time, were not I also myself the subject of them. While he is wearing out you and other dear friends of mine, he spares not me; for which I ought to account myself obliged to him, since I should otherwise be in danger of surviving all that I have ever loved—the most melancholy lot that can befal a mortal. God knows what will be my doom-hereafter; but precious as life necessarily seems to a mind doubtful of its future happiness, I love not the world* I trust, so much, as to wish a place ink when all my beloved shall have left it. As to Homer, I am sensible that, except as an amusement, he was never worth my meddling with; but, as an amusement, he was to me invaluable. As such, he served me more than five years; and in that respect I know not, at present, where I shall find his equal. You oblige me by saying, that you will read him for my sake. I verily believe that any person of a spiritual turn may read him to some advantage. He may suggest reflections that may not be unserviceable, even in a sermon; for I know not where we can find more striking examples of the pride, the arrogance, and the insignificance of man; at the same time that, by ascribing all events to a divine interposition, he inculcates constantly the belief of a Providence; insists much on the duty of charity towards the poor and the stranger; on the respect that is due to superiors, and to our seniors in particular; and on the expedience and necessity of prayer and piety towards the gods; a piety mistaken indeed in its object, bur exemplary for the punctuality of its performance.—Thousands who will not learn from scripture to ask a blessing, either on their actions or on their food, may learn it, if they please, from Homer."
It appears from the above extract that Cowper had no expectations of again seeing his Homer until it was actually before the public. Johnson, the publisher, however, unexpectedly to him, sent him an interleaved copy, and recommended him to revise it again before it was fully committed to the press. On this occasion, he thus writes to his friend Mr. Newton :—" I did not foresee, when I challenged you to a brisker correspondence, that a new engagement of all my leisure time was at hand,—a new, and yet an old one. An interleaved copy of my Homer arrived soon after from Johnson, in which he recommended it to me to make any alterations that might yet be expedient, with a view to another impression. The alterations that I make are, indeed, but few, and they are also short; not more, perhaps, than half a line in two thousand. But the lines are, I suppose, nearly forty thousand in all; and to revise them critically must consequently be a work of time and labour. I suspend it, however, for your sake, till the present sheet be filled, and that I may not seem to shrink from my own offer. Were I capable of envying, in the strict sense of the word, a good man, I should envy Mr. Venn, and Mr. Berridge, and yourself, who have spent, and while they last, will continue to spend, your lives in the service of the only Master worth serving; labouring always for the souls of men, and not to tickle their ears, as I do. But this I can say, God knows how much rather I would be the obscure tenant of a lath and plaster cottage, with a lively sense of my interest in a Redeemer, than the most admired object of public notice without it. Alas! what is a whole poem, even one of Homer's, compared with a single aspiration that finds its way immediately to God, though clothed in ordinary language, or
perhaps, not articulated at all These are my sentiments as
much as ever they were, though my days are all running to waste among Greeks and Trojans. The night cometh when no man can work; and if I am ordained to work to better purpose, that desirable period cannot be far distant. My day is beginning to shut in, as every man's must, who is on the verge of sixty."
Publication of his Homer—Anxiety respecting it—To whom dedicated—Benefits he had derived from it—Feels the want of employment—Prepares materials for a splendid edition of Milton's poetic works— Vindicates his character—Attempts of his friends to dissuade him from his new engagement—His replies—The commencement of his acquaintance with Mr. Hayley—Pleasure it afforded Mr. Hayley—Mrs. Unwin's first attack of paralysis—Manner in which it affected Cowper —Remarks on Milton's labours—Reply to Mr. Newton's letter for original composition—Continuance of his depression—First letter from Mr. Hayley—Unpleasant circumstances respecting it—Mr. Hayley's first visit to Weston—Kind manner in which he was received^—Mrs. Unwin's second severe paralytic attack —Cowper's feelings on the occasion—Mr. Hayley's departure —Cowper's warm attachment to him—Reflections on the recent changes he had, witnessed—Promises to visit Eartham—Makes preparations for the journey—Peculiarity of his feelings on the occasion.
Ok the 1st July, 1791, Cowper's Homer appeared.—After so many years of incessant toil, it was not to be expected that he would feel otherwise than anxious respecting the reception it met with from the public. He had laboured indefatigably to produce a faithful and free translation of the inimitable original, and he could not be indifferent to the result. To Mrs. King he thus writes on the occasion:—" My Homer is gone forth, and I can sincerely say,—joy go with it! What place it holds in the estimation of the generality I cannot tell, having heard no more about it since its publication than if no such work existed. I must except, however, an anonymous eulogium from some man of letters, which I received about a week ago. It was kind in a perfect stranger, as he avows himself to be, to relieve me in some degree, at least, at so early a day, from much of the anxiety that I could not but feel on such an'occasion: I should be glad to know who he is, only that I might thank him."
Cowper, very properly, dedieated the Iliad to his noble relative Earl Cowper, and the Odyssey to the dowager