Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER XVII.

Mr. Hayley's second visit to WestonFinds Cowper busily engaged-Great apprehensions respecting him—Mrs. Unwin's

increasing infirmitiesCowper's feelings on account of it

Vigour of his own mind at this periodSevere attack of depressionDeplorable condition to which he was now reduced Management of his affairs kindly undertaken by Lady HeskethMr. Hayley's anxieties respecting himIs invited by Mr. Greathead to pay Cowper another visitComplies with the invitationArrival at WestonHow he is received by CowperInefficiency of the means employed to remove his depressionHandsome pension allowed him by his Majesty— His removal from Weston to Norfolk, under the care of the Rev. J. JohnsonDeath of Mrs. UnwinHow it affected CowperRecovers sufficiently to resume his application to HomerFinishes his notesLetter to Lady Hesketh descriptive of his feelingsComposes some original poemsTranslates some of Gay's fables into LatinRapid decay of his strengthLast illnessDeath.

In the beginning of November, 1793, Mr. Hayley made his second visit to Weston. He found Cowper in the enjoyment of apparent health; and though incessantly employed, either on Homer or Milton, pleasing himself with the society of his young kinsman, from Norfolk, and his esteemed friend Mr. Rose, who had arrived from the seat of Lord Spencer, in Northamptonshire, with an invitation from his lordship to Cowper and his guests, to pay him a visit. All Cowper's friends strongly recommended him to avail himself of this mark of respect from an accomplished nobleman whom he cordially respected. Their entreaties, however, were entirely in vain; his constitutional shyness again prevailed, and he commissioned his friends, Rose and Hayley, to make an apology to his Lordship for declining so honourable an invitation.

The manner in which Cowper employed his time during the continuance of his friend Mr. Hayley at Weston, is pleasingly described in the following extract from a letter to Mrs. Courtenay, 4th Nov. 1793:—"I am a most busy man, busy to a degree that sometimes half distracts me; but if complete distraction be occasioned by having the thoughts too much and too long attached to any single point, I am in no danger of it, with such perpetual whirl are mine whisked about from one subject to another. When two poets meet, there are fine doings, I can assure you. My ' Homer' finds work for Hayley, and his ' Life of Milton' work for me; so that we are neither of us one moment idle. Poor Mrs. Unwin in the mean time sits quiet in her corner, occasionally laughing at us both, and not seldom interrupting us with some question or remark, for which she is continually rewarded by me with a ' hush!' Bless yourself, my dear Catherina, that you are not connected with a poet, especially that you have not two to deal with!"

During Mr. Hayley's visit, he saw, with great concern, that the infirmities of Mrs. Unwin were rapidly sinking her into a state of the most pitiable imbecility. Unable any longer to watch over the tender health of him whom she had guarded for so many years, and unwilling to relinquish her authority, her conduct at this period presented that painful spectacle, which we are occasionally called to witness, of declining nature seeking to retain that power which it knows not how to use nor how to resign. The effect of these increasing infirmities on her whom Cowper justly regarded as the guardian of his life, added to apprehensions which he now began to feel that his increasing expenses, occasioned by Mrs. Unwin's protracted illness, would involve him in difficulties, filled him with the greatest uneasiness; and the depressing influence it had upon his mind, became painfully evident to all his friends. So visibly was such the case, that Mr. Hayley felt fully persuaded that, unless some speedy and important change took place in Cowper's circumstances, his tender mind would inevitably sink under the multiplicity of its cares. To effect this desirable object, as far as was in his power, he embraced the earliest opportunity, after leaving Weston, of having an interview with Lord Spencer, ana of stating to him the undisguised condition of the afflicted poet. His lordship entered feelingly into the case, and shortly afterwards mentioned it to his majesty. It was owing to this that his majesty, some time afterwards, granted to Cowper such a pension as was sufficient to secure to him a comfortable competence for the remainder of his life. It is however deeply to be regretted that this seasonable and well-merited bounty was not received till the poet's mind was enveloped in that midnight gloom from which it never afterwards wholly emerged.

The increasing infirmities of Mrs. Unwin did not, in the slightest degree, diminish Cowper's regard for her; on the contrary, they seemed rather to augment it, as the following beautiful poem, written about this time, will show:—

TO MARY.

"The twentieth year is well nigh past
Since first our sky was overcast,
And would that this might be the last,

My Mary!

Thy spirits have a fainter glow;
I see thee daily weaker grow;
'Twas my distress that brought thee low,

My Mary!

Thy needles once a shining store,
For my sake restless heretofore;
Now rust disused, and shine no more,

My Mary!

For though thou gladly wouldst fulfil
The same kind office for me still,
Thy sight now seconds not thy will,

My Mary!

But well thou play'dst the huswife's part,
And all thy threads, with magic art,
Have wound themselves about my heart,

My Mary!

Thy indistinct expressions seem
Like language uttered in a dream;
Yet me they charm whate'er the theme,

My Mary!

Thy silver locks, once auburn bright,
Are still more lovely in my sight
Than golden beams of orient fight, m

My Mary!

For could I view nor them nor thee,
What sight worth seeing could I see?
The sun would rise in vain for me,

My Mary!

Partakers of thy sad decline,
Thy hands their little force resign,
Yet gently prest, press gently mine,

My Mary!

Such feebleness of limbs thou prov'st,
That now, at every step thou mov'st,
Upheld by two, yet still thou lov'st,

My Mary!

And still to love, though prest with ill,
In wintry age to feel no chill,
With me is to be lovely still,

My Mary!

But, ah! by constant heed I know
How oft the sadness that I show
Transforms thy smiles to looks of woe,

My Mary!

And should my future lot be cast
With much resemblance of the past,
Thy worn-out heart will break at last,

My Mary!

Cowper retained his admirable powers in their full vigour, during the whole of 1793, and till the middle of January, of the following year. His letters, written subsequently to Mr. Hayley s visit, though but few, afford unquestionable proofs, that his talents had not suffered the slightest diminution. The following extract, in reply to some remarks on a disputed passage in his Homer, will show that his faculties were then unimpaired. To Mr. Hayley, 5th January, 1794, he writes. "If my old friend would look into my preface, he would find a principle laid down there which perhaps it would not be easy to invalidate, and which, properly attended to, would equally secure a translation from stiffness, and from wildness. The principle I mean is this—' Close, but not so close as to be servile! free, but not so free as to be licenttous! A superstitious fidelity loses the spirit, and a loose deviation the sense of the translated author—a happy moderation in either case is the only possible way of preserving both."

"Imlac, in Rasselas, says—I forget to whom, ' You have convinced me that it is impossible to be a poet.' In like manner, I might say to his Lordship, you have convinced me that it is impossible to be a translator—to be one, on his terms at least, is, I am sure, impossible. On his terms, I would defy Homer himself, were he alive, to translate the Paradise Lost into Greek. Yet Milton had Homer much in his eye when he composed that poem. Whereas, Homer never thought of me, or my translation. There are minutiae in every language, which, translated into another, would spoil the version. Such extreme fidelity is, in fact, unfaithful. Such close resemblance takes away all likeness. The original is elegant, easy, natural; the copy is clumsy, constrained, and unnatural. To what is this owing? To the adoption of terms not congenial to your purpose, and of a context, such as no man writing an original would make use of. Homer-is everything that a poet should be. A translation of him, so made, will be everything a translation of Homer should not be. Because it will be written in no language under heaven. It will be English, and it will be Greek, and therefore it will be neither. He is the man, whoever he may be, (I do not pretend to be that man myself)—he is the man best qualified as a translator of Homer, who has drenched, and steeped, and soaked himself in the effusions of his genius, till he has imbibed their colour to the bone, and who, when he is thus dyed, through and through, distinguishing what is essentially Greek, from what may be habited in English, rejects the former, and is faithful to the latter, as far as the purposes of fine poetry will permit, and no farther; this, I think, may be easily proved. Homer is everywhere remarkable for ease, dignity, energy of expression, grandeur of conception, and a majestic flow of numbers. If we copy him so closely as to make every one of these excellent properties of his absolutely unattainable, which will certainly be the effect of too close a copy, instead of translating, we murder him. Therefore, after all his Lordship has said, I still hold freedom to be an indispensable. Freedom, I mean, with respect to the expression; freedom so limited as never to leave behind the matter, but at the same time indulged with a sufficient scope, to secure the spirit, and as much as possible of the manner; I say as much as possible, because an English manner must differ from a Greek one, in order to be graceful, and for this there is no remedy. Can an ungraceful awkward translator of Homer be a good one? No; but a graceful, easy, natural, faithful version of him, will not that be a good one? Yes: allow me but this, and I insist upon it, that such a one may be produced on my principles, and can be produced on no other. Beading his Lordship's sentiments over

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »