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nor so quiet a rising, since you went, as on this very morning. A relief that I account particularly seasonable and propitious, because I had, in my intentions, devoted this morning to you, and could not have fulfilled those intentions, had I been as spiritless as I generally am. I am glad that Johnson is in no haste for Milton, for I seem myself not likely to address myself presently to that concern with any prospect of success, yet something, now and then, like a secret whisper, assures and encourages me that it will yet be done."
To his friend Hayley he thus writes:—" Yesterday was a day of assignation with myself, a day of which I had said, some days before it came, when that day comes, I will, if possible, begin my dissertations. Accordingly, when it came, I prepared to do so; filled a letter case with fresh paper, furnished myself with a pretty good pen, and replenished my ink bottle; but partly from one cause, and partly from another, chiefly, however, from distress and dejection, after writing and obliterating about six lines, in the composition of which I spent near an hour, I was obliged to relinquish the attempt. An attempt so unsuccessful could have no other effect than to dishearten me, and it has had that effect to such a degree, that I know not when I shall find courage to make another. At present I shall certainly abstain from it, since I cannot well afford to expose myself to the danger of a fresh mortification."
» Adverting to this subject, he thus again writes to Mr. Hayley, 25 Nov. 1792.—" How shall I thank you enough for the interest you take in my future Miltonic labours, and the assistance you promise me in the performance of them 1 I will some time or other, if I live, and live a poet, acknowledge your friendship in some of my best verses, the most suitable return one poet can make to another; in the mean time, I love you, and am sensible of all your kindness. You wish me warm in my work, and I ardently wish the same, but when I shall be so, God only knows. My melancholy, which seemed a little alleviated for a few days, has gathered about me again, with as black a cloud as ever; the consequence is, absolute incapacity to begin. Yet I purpose, in a day or two, to make another attempt, to which, however, I shall address myself with fear and trembling, like a man, who having sprained his wrist, dreads to use it. I have not, indeed, like such a man, injured myself by any extraordinary exertion, but seem as much enfeebled as if I had. The consciousness that there is so much to do, and nothing done, is a burden I am not able to bear. Milton especially is my grievance, and I might almost as well be haunted by his ghost, as goaded with continual reproaches for neglecting aim. 1 will, therefore, begin; I will do my best, and if, after all, that best prove good for nothing, I will even send the notes, worthless as they are, that I have already; a measure very disagreeable to myself, and to which nothing but necessity shall compel me."
To his friend, Mr. Newton, who had ventured to express his apprehensions lest his Miltonic labours should become too severe, he thus writes, 9 Dec. 1792.—" You need not be uneasy on the subject of Milton; I shall not find that labour too heavy for me, if I have health and leisure. The season of the year is unfavourable to me respecting the former, and Mrs. Unwin's present weakness allows me less of the latter than the occasion seems to call for. But the business is in no haste; the artists employed to furnish the embellishments are not likely to be very expeditious; and a small portion only of the work will be wanted from me at once, for the intention is, to deal it out to the public piece-meal. I am, therefore, under no great anxiety on that account. It is not, indeed, an employment that I should have chosen for myself, because poetry pleases and amuses me more, and would cost me less labour, properly so called. All this I felt before I engaged with Johnson, and did, in the first instance, actually decline the service, but he was urgent, and at last I suffered myself to be persuaded. The season of the year, as I have already said, is particularly adverse to me; yet not in itself, perhaps, more adverse than any other; but the approach of it always reminds me of the same season in the dreadful seventy-three, and the more dreadful eighty-six. I cannot help terrifying myself with doleful misgivings and apprehensions; nor is the enemy negligent to seize all the advantage that the occasion gives him. Thus, hearing much from him, and having little or no sensible support from God, I suffer inexpressible things till January is over. And even then, whether increasing years have made me more liable to it, or despair, the longer it lasts, grows naturally darker, I find myself more inclined to melancholy than I was a few years since. God only knows where this will end; but where it is likely to end, unless he interpose powerfully in my favour, all may know."
On another occasion, to the same correspondent, he again writes :—" Oh for the day when your expectations of my final deliverance shall be verified! At present it seems very remote, so distant, indeed, that hardly the faintest streak of it is visible in my horizon. The glimpse with which I was favoured about a month ago, has never been repeated, but the depression of my spirits has. The future appears as gloomy as ever, and I seem to myself to be scrambling always in the dark, among rocks and precipices, without a guide, but with an enemy ever at my heels, prepared to push me headlong. Thus I have spent twenty years, but thus I shall not spend twenty years more: long before that period arrives, the grand question concerning my everlasting weal or woe will be decided."
To a lady, with whom he occasionally corresponded, he thus discloses his feelings:—" I would give you consolation, madam, were I not disqualified for that delightful service by a great dearth of it in my own experience. I too often seek, but cannot find it. I know, however, there are seasons when, look which way we will, we see the same dismal gloom enveloping all objects. This is itself an affliction; and the worse, because it makes us think ourselves more unhappy than we are. I was struck by an expression in your letter to Hayley, where you say that you 'will endeavour to take an interest in green leaves again.' This seems the sound of my own voice reflected to me from a distance; I have so often had the same thought and desire. A day scarcely passes, at this season of the year, when I do not contemplate the trees so soon to be stript, and say, 'perhaps I shall never see you clothed again.' Every year, as it passes, makes this expectation more reasonable; and the year with me cannot be very distant, when the event will verify it. Well, may God grant us a good hope of arriving, in due time, where the leaves never fall, and all will be right!"
Notwithstanding his gloomy forebodings, Cowper escaped any very severe attack of depression, in his dreaded month of the ensuing January, and as the spring advanced he became as busily engaged as he had ever been, partly in his Miltonic labours, but chiefly in preparing materials for a second edition of Homer. He had long been carefully revising the work, and had judiciously availed himself of the remarks of his friends, as well as of the criticisms of the reviewers. As soon, therefore, as it was determined to republish it, he made the best use of these materials, and in a few weeks prepared the work a second time for the press, in its new and much improved form. It was, however, thought advisable, in the second edition, to publish notes, for the assistance of unlearned readers; and the labour and research required to furnish these, occasioned Cowper much severe application, as the following extracts will show:—19 March, 1793. "I am so busy every morning before breakfast, strutting and stalking in Homeric stilts, that you must account it an instance of marvellous grace and favour that I write even to you. Sometimes I am seriously almost crazed with the multiplicity of matters before me, and the little or no time that I have for them; and sometimes I repose myself after the fatigue of that distraction, on the pillow of despair; a pillow which has often served me in time of need, and is become, by frequent use, if not very comfortable, at least, convenient. So reposed, I laugh at the world and say,—Yes, you may gape, and expect both Homer and Milton from me, but I '11 be hanged if ever you get them. In Homer, however, you must know, I am advanced as far as the fifteenth book of the Iliad, leaving nothing behind that can reasonably offend the most fastidious; and I design him for a new dress as soon as possible, for a reason which any poet may guess if he will but thrust his hand into his pocket. Mytime, therefore, the little that I have, is now so entirely engrossed by Homer, that I have, at this time, a bundle of unanswered letters by me, and letters likely to be so. Thou knowest, I dare say, what it is to have a head weary with thinking; mine is so fatigued by breakfast time, three days out of four, that I am utterly incapable of sitting down to my desk again for any purpose whatever. I rise at six every morning, and fag till near eleven, when I breakfast; the consequence is, that I am so exhausted as not to be able to write when the opportunity offers. You will say, breakfast before you work, and then your work will not fatigue you. I answer, perhaps I might, and your counsel would probably prove beneficial; but I cannot spare a moment for eating in the early part of the morning, having no other time for study; all this time is constantly given to Homer, not to correcting and amending him, for that is all over, but in writing notes. Johnson has expressed a wish for some, that the unlearned may be a little illuminated concerning classical story, and the mythology of the ancients; and his behaviour to me has been so liberal, that I can refuse him nothing. Poking into the old Greek commentators, however, blinds me. But it is no matter, I am the more like Homer. I avail myself of Clarke's excellent annotations, from which I select such as I think likely to be useful, or that recommend themselves by the amusement they afford, of which sorts there are not a few Barnes
also affords mo some of both kinds, but not so many, his notes being chiefly paraphrastical or grammatical. My only fear is, lest between them both, I should make my work too voluminous."
In a letter to Mr. Newton, written 12th June, 1793, Cowper thus expresses himself respecting the state of his own mind, and that of Mrs. Unwin. "You promise to be contented with a short line, and a short one you must have, hurried over in the little interval I have happened to find, between the conclusion of my morning task and breakfast. Study has this good effect, at least: it makes me an early riser, a wholesome practice from which I have never swerved since March. The scanty opportunity I have, I shall employ in telling you what you principally wish to be told, the present state of mine and Mrs. Unwin's health. In her I cannot perceive any alteration for the better; and must be satisfied, I believe, as indeed I have great reason to be, if she does not alter for the worse. She uses the orchard-walk daily, but always supported between two, and is still unable to employ herself as formerly. But she is cheerful, seldom in much pain, and has always strong confidence in the mercy and faithfulness of God. As to myself, I have invariably the same song to sing—well in body, but sick in spirit; sick, nigh unto death.
'Seasons return, but not to me returns
I could easily set my complaint to Milton's tone, and accompany him through the whole passage on the subject of a blindness more deplorable than his; but time fails me."
During this year, several of Cowper's correspondents were visited either with domestic affliction, or with painful bereavements. On such occasions, all the sensibility and sympathy of his peculiarly tender mind never failed to be called into lively exercise. The deep depression of his own mind, did not deter him from attempting at least, to alleviate the distress of others. To Mr. Hayley, who had recently lost a friend, he thus writes :—" 1 truly sympathize with you under your weight of sorrow, for the loss of our good Samaritan. But be not broken-hearted my friend; remember, the loss of those we love is the condition on which we live ourselves; and that he who chooses his friends wisely, from among the excellent of the earth, has a sure ground to hope concerning them when they die, that a merciful God will make them far