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undertaking without experiencing considerable excitement; and in a mind like Cowper's, it might have been supposed that such would have been the case in a remarkable degree. No person, however, ever ventured before the public, in the character of an author, with less anxiety. Writing to Mr. Unwin, he says :—" You ask me how I feel on the occasion of my approaching publication 1 Perfectly at ease. If I had not been pretty well assured beforehand, that my tranquillity would be but little endangered by such a measure, I would never have engaged in it, for I cannot bear disturbance. I have had in view two principal objects; first, to amuse myself, and then to compass that point in such a manner, that others might possibly be the better for my amusement. If I have succeeded, it will give me pleasure; but if I have failed, I shall not be mortified to the degree that might perhaps be expected. The critics <cannot deprive me of the pleasure I have in reflecting, that so far as my leisure has been employed in writing for the public, it has been employed conscientiously, and with a view to their advantage. There is nothing agreeable, to be sure, in being chronicled for a dunce; but I believe there lives not a man upon earth who would be less affected by it than myself."
Indifferent as he was to the result of his publications, he was far from being careless in their composition. Perhaps no author ever took more pains with his production, or sought more carefully to make them worthy of public approbation. In one of his letters, adverting to this subject, he says— "To touch, and retouch, is, though some writers boast of negligence, and others would be ashamed to show their foul cofies, the secret of almost all good writing, especially in verse, am never weary of it myself, and if you would take a9 much pains as 1 do, you would not need to ask for my corrections. With the greatest indifference to fame, which you know me too well to suppose me capable of affecting, I have taken the utmost pains to deserve it. This may appear a mystery, or a paradox, in practice, but it is true. I considered that the taste of the day is refined, and delicate to excess, and that to disgust that delicacy of the taste by a slovenly inattention to it, would be to forfeit at once, all hope of being useful; and for this reason, though I have written more verse this year than perhaps any man in England, I have finished, and polished, and touched and retouched, with the utmost care, whatever faults I may be chargeable with as a poet, I cannot accuse myself of negligence; I never suffer a line to pass till I have made it as good as I can; and though some may be offended at my doctrines, I trust none will be disgusted by slovenly inaccuracy, in the numbers, the rhymes, or the language. If, after all, I should be converted into waste paper, it may be my misfortune, but it will not be my fault; and I shall bear it with perfect serenity."
In the character of Cowper there was nothing like an overweening confidence in his own powers. No person was ever more willing to avail himself of the advice of his friends, nor did any one ever receive advice more gratefully. Not satisfied with bestowing upon his productions the greatest pains himself, he occasionally submitted them to the correction of others, and his correspondence affords many proofs of his readiness to profit by the slightest hint. To Mr. Newton he thus writes: "I am much obliged to you for the pains you have taken with my poems, and for the manner in which you have interested yourself in their appearance. Your favourable opinion affords me a comfortable presage with respect to that of the public; for though I make allowance for your partiality to me, yet I am sure you would not suffer me, unadmonished, to add myself to the number of insipid rhymers with whose productions the world is already too much pestered. I forgot to mention, that Johnson uses the discretion my poetship has allowed him, with much discernment. He has suggested several alterations, or rather marked several defective passages, which I have corrected; much to the advantage of the poems. In the last sheet he sent me, he noticed three such, which I reduced to better order. In the foregoing sheet I assented to his criticisms in some instances, and chose to abide by the original expressions in others; whenever he has marked such lines as did not please him, I have, as often as I could, paid all possible respect to his animadversions. Thus we jog on together comfortably enough; and perhaps it would be as well for authors in general, if their booksellers, when men of some taste, are allowed, though not to tinker the work themselves, yet to point out the flaws, and humbly to recommend an improvement.' I have also to thank you, and ought to have done it in the first place, for having recommended to me the suppression of some lines, which I am now more than ever convinced, would at least have done me no honour."
The great interest Mr. Newton took in Cowper's publication, induced the poet to request him to compose the preface; and his correspondence with Mr. Newton on the subject is alike honourable to his judgment and his feelings; and affords a striking display of the strong hold which religion had upon his affections. He thus introduces the subject to Mr. Newton, "With respect to the poem called Truth, it is so true that it can hardly fail of giving offence to an unenlightened reader. I think, therefore, that in order to obviate in some measure those prejudices that will naturally erect their bristles against it, an explanatory preface, such as you, (and nobody else so well as you) can furnish me with, will have every grace of propriety to recommend it; or if you are not averse to the task, and your avocations will allow you to undertake it, and if you think it will be still more proper, I should be glad to be indebted to you for a preface to the whole. I admit that it will require much delicacy, but am far from apprehending that you will find it difficult to succeed. You can draw a hair-stroke, where another man would make a blot, as broad as a sixpence."
The preface composed by Mr. Newton, though it was in the highest degree satisfactory to Cowper, and was admitted by him to be everything that he could wish, was nevertheless thought by others to be of too sombre a cast, to introduce a volume of poems, pre-eminently distinguished for their vivacity and eloquence. Adverting to this objection, and to the suggestion of the publisher to suppress it, Cowper thus writes:—" If the men of the world are so merrily disposed, in the midst of a thousand calamities, that they will not deign to read a preface, of three or four pages, because the purport of it is serious, they are far gone, indeed, in the last stage of a frenzy. I am, however, willing to hope, that such is not the case; curiosity is an universal passion. There are few persons who think a book worth reading, but feel a desire to know something about the writer of it. This desire will naturally lead them to peep into the preface, where they will soon find, that a little perseverance will furnish them with some information on the subject. If therefore your preface finds no readers, I shall take it for granted that it is, because the book itself is accounted not worth their notice. Be that as it may, it is quite sufficient that I have played the antic myself for their diversion; and that, in a state of dejection such as they are absolute strangers to, I have sometimes put on an air of cheerfulness and vivacity, to which 1 myself am in reality a stranger, for the sake of winning their attention to more useful matter. I cannot endure the thought, for a moment, that you should descend to my level on the occasion, and court their favour in a style not more unsuitable to your function, than to the constant and consistent strain of your whole character and conduct. Though your preface is of a serious cast, it is free from all offensive peculiarities, and contains none of those obnoxious doctrines at which the world is too apt to be angry. It asserted nothing more than every rational creature' must admit to be true—that divine and earthly things can no longer stand in competition with each other, in the judgment of any man, than while he continues ignorant of their respective value; and that the moment the eyes are opened, the latter are always cheerfully relinquished for the former. It is impossible for me however to be so insensible to your kindness in writing the preface, as not to be desirous of defying all contingencies, rather than entertain a wish to suppress it. It will do me honour, indeed, in the eyes of those whose good opinion is worth having, and if it hurts me in the estimation of others I cannot help it; the fault is neither yours, nor mine, but theirs. If a minister's is a more splendid character than a poet's, and I think nobody that understands their value can hesitate in deciding that question, then undoubtedly, the advantage of having our names united in the same volume, is all on my side."
Cowper's first volume was published in the spring of 1782. Its success, at first, fell far short of what might have been anticipated from its extraordinary merit. It was not long, however, before the more intelligent part of the reading public appreciated its value. It soon found its way into the hands of all lovers of literature. Abounding with some of the finest passages that are to be met with, either in ancient Ot modern poetry, it was impossible that it should remain long unnoticed. By mere readers of taste, it was read for the beauty and elegance of its composition; by many, it was eagerly sought after for the sprightliness, vivacity, and wit, with which it abounded:—by Christians, of all denominations, it was read with unfeigned pleasure, for the striking and beautiful descriptions it contained, of doctrinal, practical, and experimental Christianity.
It would scarcely be supposed that the author of a volume of poems like this, exhibiting such a diversity of powers as could not fail to charm the mind, delight the imagination, and improve the heart, could have remained, during the whole time, he was composing it, in a state of great and painful depression. Such however was the peculiarity of Cowper's malady, that a train of melancholy thoughts seemed ever to be pouring themselves in upon his mind, which neither himself nor his friends were ever able to account for, satisfactorily. Writing to his friend Mr. Newton, who had recently 4
paid him a visit, he thus discloses the state of his mind :— "My sensations at your departure were far from pleasant. When we shall meet again, and in what circumstances, or whether we shall meet or not, is an article to be found no where but in that providence which belongs to the current year, and will not be understood till it is accomplished. This I know, that your visit was most agreeable to me, who, though I live in the midst of many agreeables, am but little sensible of their charms. But when you came, I determined, as much as possible, to be deaf to the suggestions of despair; that if I could contribute but little to the pleasure of the op. portunity, I might not dash it with unseasonable melancholy, and like an instrument with a broken string, interrupt the harmony of the concert."
It is gratifying to observe, that neither the attention which Cowper paid to his publication, nor the depressive malady with which he was afflicted, could divert his attention from the all-important concerns of religion. A tone of deep seriousness, and genuine Christian feeling, pervades many of his letters written about this time. To Mr. Newton he thus writes-:—" You wish you could employ your time to better purpose, yet are never idle, in all that you do; whether you are alone, or pay visits, or receive them; whether you think or write, or walk, or sit still, the state of your mind is such as discovers even to yourself, in spite of all its wanderings, that there is a principle at the bottom, whose determined tendency is towards the best things. I do not at all doubt the truth of what you say, when you complain of that crowd of trifling thoughts that pesters you without ceasing; but then you always have a serious thought standing at the door of your imagination, like a justice of the peace, with the Riot Act in his hand, ready to read it and disperse the mob. Here lies the difference between you and me. You wish for more attention, I for less. Dissipation itself would be welcome to me, so it were not a vicious one; but however earnestly invited, it is coy and keeps at a distance. Yet with all this distressing gloom upon my mind, I experience, as you do, the slipperiness of the present hour, and the rapidity with which time escapes me. Everything around us, and everything that befalls us, constitutes a variety, which, whether agreeable or otherwise, has still a thievish propensity; and steals from us days, months, and years, with such unparalleled suddenness, that even while we say they are here, they are gone. From infancy to manhood, is rather a tedious period, chiefly, I suppose, because at that time, we act under the