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TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ.
Olney, June 25, 1785. My dear Friend—I write in a nook that I call my boudoir. It is a summer-house not much bigger than a sedan-chair, the door of which opens into the garden, that is now crowded with pinks, roses, and honeysuckles, and the window into my neighbour's orchard. It formerly served an apothecary, now dead, as a smoking-room ; and under my feet is a trap-door which once covered a hole in the ground, where he kept his bottles; at present, however, it is dedicated to sublimer uses. Having lined it with garden-mats, and furnished it with a table and two chairs, here I write all that I write in summer time, whether to my friends or to the public. It is secure from all noise, and a refuge from all intrusion ; for intruders sometimes trouble me in the winter evenings at Olney: but (thanks to my boudoir !) I can now hide myself from them. A poet's retreat is sacred : they acknowledge the truth of that proposition, and never presume to violate it.*
* Cowper's summer-house is still in existence. It is a small, bumble building, situated at the back of the premises which he occupied at Olney, and commanding a full view of the church and of the vicarage-house. Humble however as it appears, it is approached with those feelings of veneration which the scene of so many interesting recollections cannot fail to inspire. There he wrote “The Task,” and most of his Poems, except during the rigour of the winter months. There too be carried on that epistolary correspondence, which is distinguished by so much wit, ease, and gracefulness, and by the TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON.*
The last sentence puts me in mind to tell you
that I have ordered my volume to your door. My bookseller is the most dilatory of all his fraternity, or you would have received it long since. It is more than a month since I returned him the last proof, and consequently since the printing was finished. I sent him the manuscript at the beginning of last November, that he might publish while the town was full, and he will hit the exact moment when it is entirely empty. Patience (you will perceive) is in no situation exempted from the severest trials; a remark that may serve to comfort you under the numberless trials of your own.
Cowper again feelingly alludes in the letter which follows, to that absence of mental comfort under which he so habitually laboured.
Olney, June 25, 1785. My dear Friend—A note that we received from Mr. Scott, by your desire, informing us of the amendment of Mrs. Newton's health, demands our thanks, having relieved us from no little anxiety upon her account. The welcome purport of it was soon after confirmed, so that at present we feel ourselves at overflowings of a warm and affectionate heart. No traveller seems to enter without considering it to be the shrine of the Muses, and leaving behind a poetical tribute to the memory of so distinguished an author.
* Private Correspondence.
liberty to hope that by this time Mrs. Newton's recovery is complete. Sally's looks do credit to the air of Hoxton. She seems to have lost nothing, either in complexion or dimensions, by her removal hence; and, which is still more to the credit of your great town, she seems in spiritual things also to be the very same Sally whom we knew once at Olney. Situation therefore is nothing. They who have the means of
grace and an art to use them, will thrive anywhere; others nowhere. More than a few, who were formerly ornaments of this garden which you once watered here flourished, and here have seemed to wither. Others, transplanted into a soil apparently less favourable to their growth, either find the exchange an advantage, or at least are not impaired by it. Of myself, who had once both leaves and fruit, but who have now neither, I say nothing, or only this,—that when I am overwhelmed with despair I repine at my barrenness, and think it hard to be thus blighted; but when a glimpse of hope breaks in upon me, I am contented to be the sapless thing I am, knowing that He who has commanded me to wither can command me to flourish again when He pleases. My experiences however of this latter kind are rare and transient. The light that reaches me cannot be compared either to that of the sun or of the moon. It is a flash in a dark night, during which the heavens seem opened only to shut again.
We inquired, but could not learn, that any thing memorable passed in the last moments of poor
Nathan. I listened in expectation that he would at least acknowledge what all who knew him in his more lively days had so long seen and lamented, his neglect of the best things, and his eager pursuit of riches. But he was totally silent upon that subject. Yet it was evident that the cares of this world had choked in him much of the good seed, and that he was no longer the Nathan whom we have so often heard at the old house, rich in spirit, though poor in expression : whose desires were unutterable in every sense, both because they were too big for language, and because Nathan had no language for them. I believe with
however that he is safe at home. He had a weak head and strong passions, which He who made him well knew, and for which He would undoubtedly make great allowance. The forgiveness of God is large and absolute; so large, that though in general He calls for confession of our sins, He sometimes dispenses with that preliminary, and will not suffer even the delinquent himself to mention his transgression. He has so forgiven it, that He seems to have forgotten it too, and will have the sinner to forget it also. Such instances perhaps may not be common, but I know that there have been such, and it might be so with Nathan.
I know not what Johnson is about, neither do I now inquire. It will be a month to-morrow since I returned him the last proof. He might, I suppose, have published by this time without hurrying himself into a fever, or breaking his neck through the violence of his dispatch. But having never seen the book advertised, I conclude that he has not. Had the Parliament risen at the usual time, he would have been just too late, and though it sits longer than
usual, or is likely to do so, I should not wonder if he were too late at last. Dr. Johnson laughs at Savage for charging the still-birth of a poem of his upon the bookseller's delay; yet, when Dr. Johnson had a poem of his own to publish, no man ever discovered more anxiety to meet the market. But I have taken thought about it till I am grown weary of the subject, and at last have placed myself much at my ease upon the cushion of this one resolution, that, if ever I have dealings hereafter with my present manager, we will proceed upon other terms.
Mr. Wright called here last Sunday, by whom Lord Dartmouth made obliging inquiries after the volume, and was pleased to say that he was impatient to see it. I told him that I had ordered a copy to his lordship, which I hoped he would receive, if not soon, at least before he should retire into the country. I have also ordered one to Mr. Barham.
We suffer in this country very much by drought. The corn, I believe, is in most places thin, and the
Ι hay harvest amounts in some to not more than the fifth of a crop. Heavy taxes, excessive levies for the poor, and lean acres, have brought our farmers almost to their wits' end; and many who are not farmers are not very remote from the same point of despondency. I do not despond, because I was never much addicted to anxious thoughts about the future in respect of temporals. But I feel myself a little angry with a minister who, when he imposed a tax upon gloves, was not ashamed to call them a luxury. Caps and boots lined with fur are not accounted a luxury in Russia, neither can gloves be