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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 in it 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, but 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 circumstance 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 liim — Reflections on the recent changes he had witnessed - Promises to visit Eartham — Makes preparations for the journey — Peculiarity of his feelings on the occasion.
On the 1st July 1791, Cowper's Homer appeared. After so many years 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, dedicated the Illiad to his noble relative Earl Cowper, and the Odyssey to the dowager Countess Spencer, whom, in one of his letters he thus describes:-“We had a visit on Monday from one of the first women in the world; I mean, in point of character and accomplishments,—the Dowager Lady Spencer! I may receive, perhaps, some honours hereafter, should my translation speed according to my wishes, and the pains I have taken with it; but shall never receive any that I esteem so highly; she is indeed, worthy, to whom I should dedicate, and may but my Odyssey prove as worthy of her, I shall have nothing to fear from the critics.”
Whether it arose from the unreasonable expectations of the public, or from the utter impossibility of conveying all the graces and the beauties of these unrivalled poems, in a translation, it is certain that the volumes, when they appeared, did not give that satisfaction, either to the author, or to his readers, which had been anticipated. It would, perhaps, be difficult, if not impossible, to assign a better reason, for the imperfection of Cowper's translation, if imperfection it deserves to be called, than that mentioned by his justly admired biographer, Mr. Hayley.-" Homer is so exquisitely beautiful in his own language, and he has been so long an idol in every literary mind, that any copy of him, which the best of modern poets can execute, must probably resemble in its effect, the portrait of a graceful woman, painted by an excellent artist for her lover; the
lover, indeed, will acknowledge great merit in the work, and think himself much indebted to the skill of such an artist, but he will never acknowledge, as in truth he never can feel, that the best of resemblances exhibits all the grace that he discerns in the beloved original. So fares it with the admirers of Homer; his very translators themselves, feel so perfectly the power of this predominant affection, that they gradually grow discontented with their own labour, however approved in the moment of its supposed completion. This was so remarkably the case with Cowper, that in process of time we shall see him employed upon what may almost be called his second translation, so great were the alterations he made in a deliberate revisal of the work, for a second edition. And in the preface to that edition, he has spoken of his own labour with the most frank and ingenuous veracity. Yet of the first edition it may, I think, be fairly said, that it accomplished more than any of his poetical predecessors had achieved before him. It made the nearest approach to that sweet majestic simplicity which forms one of the most attractive features in the great prince and father of poets.”
If Cowper had derived no other benefit from his translation, than that of constant employment, for so long a time, when he stood so much in need of it, it would have been to him invaluable, as the best and most effectual remedy for that inordinate sensibility to which he was subject. Besides this, however, it procured him other advantages of paramount importance; it improved the general state of his health; it introduced him to a circle of literary friends, whom he would otherwise never have known, and who, when they once knew him, could not fail to feel affectionately interested in his welfare; it brought him into closer contact with those with whom he had previously been acquainted, by inducing him to avail him