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leaves me quite at a loss for any other conclusion than that of
TO JOSEPH HILL ESQ. *
Olney, Feb. 27, 1785. My dear Friend—I write merely to inquire after your health, and with a sincere desire to hear that you are better.
Horace somewhere advises his friend to give his client the slip, and come and spend the evening with him. I am not so inconsiderate as to recommend the same measure to you, because we are not such very near neighbours as a trip of that sort requires that we should be. But I do verily wish that you would favour me with just five minutes of the time that properly belongs to your clients, and place it to my account. Employ it, I mean, in telling me that you are better at least, if not recovered.
I have been pretty much indisposed myself since I wrote last; but except in point of strength am now as well as before. My disorder was what is commonly called and best understood by the name of a thorough cold; which being interpreted, no doubt you well know, signifies shiverings, aches, burnings, lassitude, together with many other ills that flesh is heir to. James's powder is my nostrum on all such occasions, and never fails. Yours, my dear friend,
W. C. * Private Correspondence.
The next letter discovers the playful and sportive wit of Cowper.
TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON.*
Olney, March 19, 1785. My dear Friend— You will wonder no doubt when I tell you that I write upon a card-table; and will be still more surprised when I add that we breakfast, dine, sup, upon a card-table. In short, it serves all purposes, except the only one for which it was originally designed. The solution of this mystery shall follow, lest it should run in your head at a wrong time, and should puzzle you perhaps when you are on the point of ascending your pulpit : for I have heard you say that at such seasons your mind is often troubled with impertinent intrusions. The round table which we formerly had in use was unequal to the pressure of my superincumbent breast and elbows. When I wrote upon it, it creaked and tilted, and by a variety of inconvenient tricks disturbed the process. The fly-table was too slight and too small; the square dining-table too heavy and too large, occupying, when its leaves were spread, almost the whole parlour; and the sideboard-table, having its station at too great a distance from the fire, and not being easily shifted out of its place and into it again, by reason of its size, was equally unfit for my purpose. The cardtable, therefore, which had for sixteen years been banished as mere lumber; the card-table, which is
* Private Correspondence.
covered with green baize, and is therefore preferable
other that has a slippery surface; the cardtable, that stands firm and never totters,—is advanced to the honour of assisting me upon my scribbling occasions, and, because we choose to avoid the trouble of making frequent changes in the position of our household furniture, proves equally serviceable
upon all others. It has cost us now and then the downfall of a glass : for, when covered with a table-cloth, the fish-ponds are not easily discerned ; and, not being seen, are sometimes as little thought of. But, having numerous good qualities which abundantly compensate that single inconvenience, we spill upon it our coffee, our wine, and our ale, without murmuring, and resolve that it shall be our table still to the exclusion of all others. Not to be tedious, I will add but one more circumstance upon the subject, and that only because it will impress upon you, as much as any thing that I have said, a sense of the value we set upon its escritorial capacity. Parched and penetrated on one side by the heat of the fire, it has opened into a large fissure, which pervades not the moulding of it only, but the very substance of the plank. At the mouth of this aperture a sharp splinter presents itself, which, as sure as it comes in contact with a gown or an apron, tears it. It happens unfortunately to be on that side of this excellent and never-to-be-forgotten table which Mrs. Unwin sweeps with her apparel, almost as often as she rises from her chair. The consequences need not, to use the fashionable phrase, be given in detail : but the needle sets all to rights ; and the card-table still holds possession of its functions without a rival.
Clean roads and milder weather have once more released us, opening a way for our escape into our accustomed walks. We have both I believe been sufferers by such a long confinement. Mrs. Unwin has had a nervous fever all the winter, and I a stomach that has quarrelled with every thing, and not seldom even with its bread and butter. Her complaint I hope is at length removed; but mine seems more obstinate, giving way to nothing that I can oppose to it, except just in the moment when the opposition is made. I ascribe this maladyboth our maladies, indeed—in a great measure to our want of exercise. We have each of us practised more in other days than lately we have been able to take; and, for my own part, till I was more than thirty years old, it was almost essential to my comfort to be perpetually in motion. My constitution therefore misses, I doubt not, its usual aids of this kind; and, unless for purposes which I cannot foresee, Providence should interpose to prevent it, will probably reach the moment of its dissolution the sooner for being so little disturbed. A vitiated digestion I believe always terminates, if not cured, in the production of some chronical disorder. In several I have known it produce a dropsy. But no matter. Death is inevitable; and whether we die to-day or to-morrow, a watery death or a dry one, is of no consequence. The state of our spiritual health is all. Could I discover a few more symptoms of convalescence there, this body might moulder into its original dust without one sigh from me. Nothing of all this did I mean to say; but I have said it, and must now seek another subject.
One of our most favourite walks is spoiled. The spinney is cut down to the stumps—even the lilacs and the syringas, to the stumps. Little did I think, (though indeed I might have thought it) that the trees which skreened me from the sun last summer would this winter be employed in roasting potatoes and boiling tea-kettles for the poor of Olney. But so it has proved; and we ourselves have at this moment more than two waggon-loads of them in our wood-loft.
Such various services can trees perform;
A letter from Manchester reached our town last Sunday, addressed to the mayor or other chief magistrate of Olney. The purport of it was to excite him and his neighbours to petition Parliament against the concessions to Ireland that Government has in contemplation. Mr. Maurice Smith, as constable, took the letter. But whether that most spectable personage amongst us intends to comply with the terms of it, or not, I am ignorant. For myself, however, I can pretty well answer, that I shall sign no petition of the sort; both because I do not think myself competent to a right understanding of the question, and because it appears to me that, whatever be the event, no place in England can be less concerned in it than Olney.
We rejoice that you are all well. Our love at