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It is destined, I believe, to the “ Gentleman's Magazine, which I consider as a respectable repository for small matters, which, when entrusted to a newspaper, can expect but the duration of a day. But, Nichols having at present a small piece of mine in his hands, not yet printed, it is called the Poplar Field, and I suppose you have it,) I wait till his obstetrical aid has brought that to light, before I send him a new one.
In his last he published my epitaph upon Tiney;* which, I likewise imagine, has been long in your collection.
Not a word yet from Johnson; I am easy however upon the subject, being assured that, so long as his own interest is at stake, he will not want a monitor to remind him of the proper time to publish.
You and your family have our sincere love. Forget not to present my respectful compliments to Miss Unwin, and, if you have not done it already, thank her on my part for the very agreeable narrative of Lunardi. He is a
of great good sense and spirit, (his letters at least and his enterprising turn bespeak him such,) a man qualified to shine not only among the stars,* but in the more useful though humbler sphere of terrestrial occupation.
One of Cowper's favourite hares ·
“ Here lies, wbom hound did ne'er pursue,
See Poems, vol. ii. + Lunardi's name is associated with the aëronauts of that time.
I have been crossing the channel in a balloon, ever since I read of that achievement by Blanchard.* I have an insatiable thirst to know the philosophical reason why his vehicle had like to have fallen into the sea, when, for aught that appears, the gas was not at all exhausted. Did not the extreme cold condense the inflammable air, and cause the globe to collapse ? Tell me, and be'my Apollo for ever! Affectionately yours,
W. C. The incident connected with the Poplar Field, mentioned in the former part of the above letter, is recorded in the verses. The place where the poplars grew is called Lavendon Mills, about a mile from Olney; it was one of Cowper's favourite walks. After a long absence, on revisiting the spot, he found the greater part of his beloved trees lying prostrate on the ground. Four only survived, and they have but recently shared the same fate. But poetry can dignify the minutest events, and convert the ardour of hope or the pang
of disappointment into an occasion for pouring forth the sweet melody of song. It is to the above incident that we are indebted for the following verses, which unite the charm of simple imagery with a beautiful and affecting moral at the close.
* Blanchard, accompanied by Dr. Jeffries, took his departure for Calais from the Castle at Dover. When within five or six miles of the French coast, the balloon fell rapidly towards the sea, and, had it not been lightened and a breeze sprung up, they must have perished in the waves.
THE POPLAR FIELD.
The poplars are felled, farewell to the shade,
Twelve years have elaps'd, since I last took a view
The blackbird has fled to another retreat,
My fugitive years are hasting away,
The change both my heart and my fancy employs;
TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. *
Olney, Jan. 22, 1785, My dear Friend— The departure of the long frost, by which we were pinched and squeezed together for three weeks, is a most agreeable circumstance. The weather is now (to speak poetically) genial and jocund; and the appearance of the sun, after an eclipse, peculiarly welcome. For, were it not that I have a gravel walk about sixty yards long, where I take my daily exercise, I should be obliged to look at a fine day through the window, without any other enjoyment of it; a country rendered impassable by frost, that has been at last resolved into rottenness, keeps me so close a prisoner. Long live the inventors and
* Private Correspondence.
. improvers of balloons! It is always clear overhead, and by and by we shall use no other road.
How will the Parliament employ themselves when they meet ?—to any purpose, or to none, or only to a bad one? They are utterly out of my favour. I despair of them altogether. Will they pass an act for the cultivation of the royal wildernesses ? Will they make an effectual provision for a northern fishery? Will they establish a new sinking fund that shall infallibly pay off the national debt? I say nothing about a more equal representation,* because, unless they bestow upon private gentlemen of no property the privilege of voting, I stand no chance of ever being represented myself. Will they achieve all these wonders, or none of them? And shall I derive no other advantage from the great Wittena-Gemot of the nation, than merely to read their debates, for twenty folios of which I would not give one farthing? Yours, my dear friend,
* Mr. Pitt had introduced, at this time, his celebrated bill for effecting a reform in the national representation; the leading feature of which was to transfer the elective franchise from the smaller and decayed boroughs to the larger towns. The proposition was, however, rejected by a considerable majority.
TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN.
Olney, Feb. 7, 1785. My dear Friend—We live in a state of such uninterrupted retirement, in which incidents worthy to be recorded occur so seldom, that I always sit down to write with a discouraging conviction that I have nothing to say. The event commonly justifies the presage. For, when I have filled my sheet, I find that I have said nothing. Be it known to you, however, that I may now at least communicate a piece of intelligence to which you will not be altogether indifferent; that I have received and returned to Johnson the two first proof-sheets of my new publication. The business was dispatched indeed a fortnight ago, since when I have heard from him no further. From such a beginning, however, I venture to prognosticate the progress, and in due time the conclusion, of the matter. In the last Gentleman's Magazine my Poplar
I have accordingly sent up two pieces more, a Latin translation of it, which you have never seen, and another on a rose-bud, the neck of which I inadvertently broke, which whether you have seen or not I know not.
As fast as Nichols prints off the poems I send him, I send him new ones. My remittance usually consists of