« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
I honour John Gilpin, since it was he who first encouraged you to write. I made him on purpose to laugh at, and he served his purpose well; but I am now indebted to him for a more valuable acquisition than all the laughter in the world amounts to, the recovery of my intercourse with you, which is to me inestimable. I am glad that I always loved you as I did. It releases me from any occasion to suspect that my present affection for you is indebted for its existence to any selfish considerations. No, I am sure I love you disinterestedly, nnd for your own sake, because I never thought of you with any other sensations, than those of the truest affection, even while I was under the persuasion, that I should never hear from you again. But with my present feelings superadded to those that I always had for you, I find it no easy matter to do justice to my sensations. I perceive myself in a state of mind, similar to that of the traveller described in Pope's Messiah, who, as he passes through a sandy desert, starts at the sudden and unexpected sound of a water-fall.— Your very generous offer of assistance has placed me in a situation new to me, and in which I feel myself somewhat puzzled how to behave. When I was once asked if I wanted anything, and giveii delicately to understand that the inquirer was ready to supply all my occasions, I thankfully and civilly, but positively declined the favour. I neither suffer nor have suffered such inconveniences, as I had not much rather endure, than come under an obligation to a person, who is almost a stranger to me. But to you I answer otherwise. I know.you thoroughly, and the liberality of your disposition, and have that consummate confidence in the sincerity of your wish to serve me, that delivers me from all awkward constraint, and from all fear of trespassing by acceptance. To you therefore I reply, yes. Whensoever and whatsoever, and in what manner soever, you please, and add moreover, that my affection for the giver is such as will increase to me tenfold the satisfaction I shall have in receiving. You must not, however, strain any points to your own inconvenience or hurt; there is no need of it; but indulge yourself in communicating (no matter what) that you can spare without missing it, since by so doing you will be sure to add to the comforts of my life, one of the sweetest that I can enjoy —a token and a proof of your affection. At the same time that I would not grieve you by putting a check upon your bounty, I would be as careful not to abuse it, as if I were a miser, and the question were, not about your money but my own."
The happiest consequences resulted from the renewal of Cowper's correspondence with this accomplished and excellent lady. After an interchange of some Of the most interesting letters that were ever written, she proposed at length to pay the sequestered poet a visit at Olney, and made arrangements accordingly. The following extracts from Cowper's letters to her on this occasion will be read with pleasure, as a faithful record of the delight he anticipated from this interview:—"I have been impatient to tell you, that I am impatient to see you again. Mrs. Unwin partakes with me in all my feelings. Let me assure you, that your kindness in promising us a visit, has charmed us both. I shall see you again, I shall hear your voice. We shall take walks together. I will show you my prospects—the hovel, the alcove, the Ouse, and its banks, everything that I have described. I anticipate the pleasure of those days not very far distant, and feel a part of it this moment. My dear, I will not let you come till the end of May or the beginning of June, because before that time my green-house will not be ready to receive us, and it is the only pleasant room belonging to us. When the plants go out, we go in. I line it with nets, and spread the floor with mats; and there you shall sit, with a bed of mignonette at your side, and a hedge of honeysuckles, roses, and jasmine; and I will make you a bouquet of myrtle every day. We now talk of nobody but you—what we will do with you when we get you, where you shall walk, where you shall sleep, in short everything that bears the remotest relation to your well-being at Olney occupies all our talking time, which is all that I do not spend at Troy. Mrs. Unwin has already secured for you an apartment, or rather two, just such as we could wish. The house in which you will find them is within thirty yards of our own, and opposite to it. The whole affair is thus commodiously adjusted; and now I have nothing to do but to wish for June; and June, my cousin, was never so wished for since June was made. I shall have a thousand things to hear, and a thousand to say, and they will all rush into my mind together, till it will be so crowded with things impatient to be said, that for some time I shall say nothing. But no matter—sooner or later they will all come out. After so long a separation, a separation, which of late seemed so likely to last for life, we ihall meet each other as alive from the dead; and, for my own part, I can truly say, that I have not a friend in the other world whose resurrection would give me greater .pleasure."
"If you will not quote Solomon, my dearest cousin, I will. He says, and as beautifully as truly,'Hope deferred maketh the heart sick, but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life!' I feel how much reason he had on his side when he made this observation, and am myself really sick of your delay. Well, the middle of June will not always be a thousand years off; and when it comes, I shall hear you, and see you too, and shall not care a single farthing if you do not touch a pen for a month. From this very morning, 15th May, 1786,1 begin to date the last month of our long separation; and confidently, and most comfortably hope, that before the fifteenth of June shall present itself, we shall have seen each other. Is it not so 1 and will it not be one of the most extraordinary eras of my extraordinary life? A year ago we neither corresponded, nor expected to meet in this world. But this world is a scene of marvellous events, many of them more marvellous than fiction itself would dare to hazard; (blessed be God!) they are not all of the distressing kind. Now and then, in the course of an existence, whose hue is for the most part sable, a day turns up that makes amends for many sighs, and many subjects of complaint. Such a day shall I account the day of your arrival at Olney. Wherefore is it (canst thou tell me) that, together with all these delightful sensations, to which the sight of a long absent dear friend gives birth, there is a mixture of something painful, flutterings and tumults, and I know not what accompaniments of our pleasure, that are in fact perfectly foreign from the occasion? Such I feel when I think of our meeting, and such, I suppose, feel you; and the nearer the crisis approaches, the more I am sensible of them. I know beforehand that they will increase with every turn of the wheels that shall convey you to Olney; and when we actually meet, the pleasure, and this unaccountable pain together, will be as much as I shall be able to support. I am utterly at a loss for the cause, and can only resolve it into that appointment, by which it has been foreordained that all human delights shall be qualified and mingled with their contraries. Cut a fig for them all! Let us resolve to combat with, and to conquer them. They are dreams; they are illusions of the judgment. Some enemy that hates the happiness of human kind, and is ever industrious to dash, if he cannot destroy it, works them in us, and they being so perfectly unreasonable as they are, is a proof of it. Nothing that is such can be the work of a good agent. This I know too by experience, that, like all other illusions, they exist only by force of imagination, are indebted for their prevalence to the absence of their object, and in a few moments after their appearance cease. So then this is a settled point, and the case stands thus. You will tremble as you draw near to Olney, and so shall I; but we will both recollect that there is no reason why we should, and this recollection will, at least, have some little effect in our favour. We will likewise both take the comfort of what we know to be true, that the tumult will soon cease, and the pleasure long survive the pain, even as long, I trust, as we ourselves shall survive it. Assure yourself, my dear cousin, that both for your sake, since you make a point of it, and for my own, I will be as philosophically careful as possible, that these fine nerves of mine shall not be beyond measure agitated when you arrive. In truth, there is a much greater probability that they will be benefited, and greatly too. Joy of heart, from whatever occasion it may arise, is the best of all nervous medicines; and I should not wonder, if such a turn given to my spirits should have even a lasting effect, of the most advantageous kind, upon them. You must not imagine neither, that I am, on the whole, in any great degree, subject to nervous affections: occasionally I am, and have been these many years, much liable to dejection; but, at intervals, and sometimes for an interval of weeks, no creature would suspect it. For I have not, that which commonly is a symptom of such a case belonging to me: I mean occasional extraordinary elevation. When I am in the best health, my tide of animal sprightliness flows with great eauality, so that I am never, at any time, exalted in proportion as I am sometimes depressed. My depression has a cause, and if that cause were to cease, I should be as cheerful thenceforth, and perhaps for ever, as any man need be."
"Your visit is delayed too long, to my impatience, at least it seems so, who find the spring, backward as it is, too forward, because many of its beauties will have faded before you will have an opportunity to see them. We took our customary walk yesterday, and saw, with regret, the laburnums, syringas, and guelder roses, some of them blown, and others just upon the point of blowing, and could not help observing, that all these will be gone before Lady Hesketh comes. Still, however, there will be roses, and jasmine, and honey-suckle, and shady walks, and cool alcoves, and you will partake them with us. But I want you to have a share of everything that is delightful here, and cannot bear that the advance of the season should steal away a single pleasure before you come to enjoy it. I will venture to say, that even you were never so much expected in your life."
"I regTet that I have made your heart ache so often, my dear cousin, with talking about my fits of dejection. Something has happened that has led me to the subject, or I would have mentioned them more sparingly. Do not suppose that I treat you with reserve; there is nothing in which I am concerned that you shall not be made acquainted with. But the tale is too long for a letter: I will only add, for your present satisfaction, that the cause is not exterior, that it is not within the reach of human aid, and that yet I have a hope myself, and Mrs. Unwin a strong persuasion of its removal. I am indeed even now, and have been for a considerable time, sensible of a change for the better, and expect, with good reason, a comfortable lift from you. Guess then, my beloved cousin, with what wishes I look forward to the time of your arrival, from whose coming I promise myself not only pleasure, but peace of mind, at least an additional share of it. At present it is an uncertain and transient guest with me; but the joy with which I shall see, and converse with you, at 01ney, may, perhaps, make it an abiding one."
It is seldom that pleasure, anticipated with such warmth of feeling, fully answers our expectations. Human enjoyments almost invariably seem much more valuable in prospect than in possession. Cowper's interview with his cousin, however, was altogether an exception, and proved a source of more real delight to both parties than either of them had expected. As might naturally be supposed, after a separation of three-and-twenty years, they both experienced the full force of those emotions, which Cowper had so well described in his letters, and their first meeting was, indeed, painfully pleasing; every sensation, however, that was in any degree painful, soon subsided, and gave place to such only as were pure and delightful. Mrs. Unwin was pleased with the sweetness of temper, agreeable manners, and cheerful conversation of Lady Hesketh, and her ladyship was no less delighted with the mild, amiable, and affectionate conduct of her new companion; while Cowper's heart was gladdened to have the advantage of daily intercourse with another highly cultivated mind."
The happy effect this change had upon Cowper's spirits will be seen by the following extracts from his correspondence :—" My dear cousin's arrival, as it could not fail to do, has made us happier than we ever were at Olney. Her
feat kindness, in giving us her company, is a cordial that shall feel the effect of, not only while she is here, but while I live. She has been with us a fortnight. She pleases