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and assistance. We learn from the following remarks, extracted from a letter to his cousin, written about this time, that Cowper would not allow his friend Rose to pay him an idle visit:-“ My dear cousin, the Newtons are still here, and will continue with us, I believe, till the 15th of the month. Here is also my friend, Mr. Rose, a valuable young man, who, attracted by the effluvia of my genius, found me out in my retirement last January twelvemonth. I have not permitted him to be idle, but have made him transcribe for me the twelfth book of the Iliad. He brings me the compliments of several of the literati, with whom he is acquainted in town; and tells me that from Dr. Maclain, whom he saw lately, he learns that my book is in the hands of sixty different persons at the Hague, who are all enchanted with it; not forgetting the said Dr. Maclain himself, who tells him that he reads it every day, and is always the better for it. I desire to be thankful for this encouraging information, and am willing to ascribe it to its only legitimate cause, the blessing of God upon my feeble efforts."
Shortly after Mr. Rose, and Mr. and Mrs. Newton, left Weston, the vacuum which the absence of their agreeable company made in Cowper's enjoyments, was supplied by the arrival of his cousin, Lady Hesketh, whose cheerful conversation contributed greatly to his comfort, and who diminished much of the labour of his translation by transcribing the manuscript, so that a fair copy might be forwarded to the printer's. In September, 1788, he finished the Iliad, and thus describes his feelings on the occasion, in a letter to his friend, Mr. Rose :— “ The day on which you shall receive this, I beg you will remember to drink one glass at least, to the success of the Iliad, which I finished the day before yesterday, and yesterday began the Odyssey. It will be some time before I shall perceive myself travelling in another road; the objects around me are at present so much the same, Olympus and a council of gods meet me at my first entrance. To tell you the truth, I am weary of heroes and deities, and with, reverence be it spoken, shall be glad for variety's sake to change their company for that of a Cyclops."
Cowper's time was now so much employed, in his translation, that he had but little opportunity for keeping up his correspondence, and the letters he wrote at this period, abound with apologies for his apparent neglect. He still, however, found time to advert to passing events, sufficiently to prove that the best of his mind remained decidedly serious. To Mrs. King he thus writes:– “Mrs. Battison, your late relative at Bedford, being dead, I was afraid you would have no more calls there; but the marriage so near at hand, of the young lady you mention, with a gentleman of that place, gives me hope again, that you may occasionally approach us, as heretofore ; and that on some of those occasions you will perhaps find your way to Weston. The deaths of some and the marriages of others, make a new world of it every thirty years. Within that space of time, the majority are displaced and a new generation has succeeded. Here and there one is permitted to stay a little longer, that there may not be wanting a few grave dons like myself, to make the observation. The thought struck me very forcibly the other day, on reading a paper which came hither in the package of some books from London. It contained news from Hertfordshire, and informed me, among other things, that at Great Berkhamstead, the place of my birth, there is hardly a family left, of all those with whom, in my early days, I was so familiar. The houses, no doubt remain, but the greater part of their former inhabitants are now to be found by their gravestones. And it is certain that I might pass through a town
in which I was once a sort of principal figure, unknowing and unknown. They are happy who have not taken up their rest in a world fluctuating as the sea, and passing away with the rapidity of a river. I wish from my heart, that you and Mr. King, may long continue, as you have already long continued, exceptions from the general truth of this remark.”
Lady Hesketh remained at Weston through the greater part of the winter of 1788-9, and contributed much to revive Cowper's drooping spirits, and to cheer and animate him in his important undertaking; which seemed to engage more of his time the nearer it approached to a finish. The close attention which he found it indispensably necessary to bestow upon it, compelled him almost entirely to relinquish his correspondence. And, as a letter from him was esteemed a treasure by all his friends, many of whom began to make complaints of being neglected; he was often compelled, in those he did write, to advert to these complaints. We find him thus excusing himself for his apparent neglect:-" The post brings me no letters that do not grumble at my silence. Had not you, therefore, taken me to task as roundly as others, I should perhaps, have concluded that you were more indifferent to my epistles than the rest of my correspondents; of whom one says: I shall be glad when you have finished Homer; then possibly you will find a little leisure for an old friend.' Another says, 'I don't choose to be neglected, unless you equally neglect every one else.' Thus I hear of it with both ears, and shall, till I appear in the shape of two great quarto volumes, the composition of which, I confess engrosses me to a degree that gives my friends, to whom I feel myself much obliged for their anxiety to hear from me, but too much reason to complain. Johnson told Mr. Martyn the truth, when he said I had nearly completed
Homer, but your inference from that truth is not altogether so just as most of your conclusions are. Instead of finding myself the more at leisure, because my long labour draws to a close, I find myself the more occupied. As when a horse approaches the goal, he does not, unless he be jaded, slacken his pace, but quickens it: even so it fares with me. The end is in view ; I seem almost to have reached the mark, and the nearness of it inspires me with fresh alacrity. But be it known to you that I have still two books of the Odyssey before me, and when they are finished, shall have almost the whole eight-and-forty to revise, Judge then, my dear Madam, if it is yet time for me to play or to gratify myself with scribbling to those I love. No, it is necessary that waking I should be all absorpt in Homer, and that sleeping I should dream of nothing else.”
Busily engaged, however, as Cowper was with his translation, he found time to compose several short, but beautiful poems, on various subjects, as they happened to occur to his mind. These were eagerly sought after by his correspondents, and were forwarded to them respectively, as opportunities offered, accompanied generally with the poet's acknowledgements of their comparative insignificance, at least in his own esteem. Several of these productions were written to oblige his friends, for whom Cowper always had the highest regard, and whom he felt pleased on all occasions to accommodate ; others were written at the request of strangers, whom he was not unwilling, when it lay fairly in his way, to oblige. On one occasion, the parish clerk of Northampton, applied to him for some verses, to be annexed to some bills of mortality, which he was accustomed to publish at Christmas. This singular incident, so illustrative of Cowper's real generosity, he relates in the following inost interesting and sprightly manner:—“On Monday morning last, Sam brought me word that there was a man in the kitchen, who desired to speak with me. I ordered him in. A plain, decent, elderly looking figure, made its appearance, and being desired to sit, spoke as follows: Sir I am clerk of the parish of All Saints, in Northampton; brother of Mr. C. the upholsterer. It is customary for the person in my office to annex to a bill of mortality, which he publishes at Christmas, a copy of verses. You would do me a great favour, Sir, if you would furnish me with one. To this I replied : Mr. C. you have several men of genius in your town, why have you not applied to some of them? There is a namesake of yours in particular, Mr. C. the statuary, who every body knows is a first rate maker of verses. He surely is the man, of all the world, for your purpose. · Alas! Sir,' replied he, "I have heretofore borrowed help from him, but he is a gentleman of so much reading, that the people of our town cannot understand him.' I confess I felt all the force of the compliment implied in this speech, and was almost ready to answer, perhaps, my good friend, they may find me unintelligible for the same reason. But on asking him whether he had walked over to Weston on purpose to implore the assistance of my muse, and on his replying in the affirmative, I felt my mortified vanity a little consoled, and pitying the poor man's distress, which appeared to be considerable, promised to supply him. The waggon has accordingly gone this day to Northampton, loaded in part with my effusions in the mortuary style. A fig for poets who write epitaphs upon individuals, I have written one that serves two hundred persons.”