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and interest. The court, the town, and the country, all united in its praise, because conscience and nature never suffer their rights to be extinguished, except in minds the most perverted or depraved. These rights are coeval with our birth ; they grow with our growth, and yield only to that universal decree, which levels taste, perception,
moral feeling with the dust; and which will finally dissolve the whole system of created nature, and merge time itself in eternity.
Cowper's second volume, containing his “ Task," and “ Tyrocinium,” to which some smaller pieces were afterwards attached, was ready for the press in November, 1784,* though its publication was delayed till June 1785. The close of a literary undertaking is always contemplated as an event of great interest to the feelings of an author. It is the termination of his labours and the commencement of his hopes and fears. Gibbon the historian has thought proper to record the precise hour and day, in which he concluded his laborious work of the “ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” with feelings of a mingled and impressive character. “ I have presumed,” he says,
“ to mark the moment of conception: I shall now commemorate the hour of my final deliverance. It was on the day, or rather night, of the 27th of June, 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page, in a summerhouse in my garden. After laying down my pen, I
* See vol. ii. p. 177.
took several turns in a berceau, or covered walk of acacias, which commands a prospect of the country, the lake, and the mountains. The air was temperate, the sky was serene, the silver orb of the moon was reflected from the waters, and all nature was silent. I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and, perhaps, the establishment of
fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind, by the idea that I had taken an everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion, and that, whatever might be the future date of my history, the life of the historian might be short and
These chastened feelings are implanted by a Divine Power, to check the pride and exultation of genius, and to maintain the mind in lowly humility. Nor is Pope's reflection less just and affecting : “ When I am gone,” he observes, “ the same sun will continue to shine, the same flowers to bloom, and the plants spring as green; and nature will carry on her revolutions, and time have its vicissitudes, as though I had never been." +
What then is the moral we have to learn? If life be so evanescent, if its toils and labours, its sorrows and joys, so quickly pass away, it becomes us to leave some memorial behind, that we have not lived unprofitably either to others or to our
+ See Life and Writings of Edward Gibbon, p. 30, prefixed to his “ Decline and Fall," &c.
+ See Pope's Letters. The words are quoted from recollection.
selves; to keep the mind free from prejudice, the heart from passion, and the life from error; to enlighten the ignorant, to raise the fallen, and to comfort the depressed; to scatter round us the endearments of kindness, and diffuse a spirit of righteousness, of benevolence, and of truth; to enjoy the sunshine of an approving conscience, and the blessedness of inward joy and peace;
that thus, when the closing scene shall at length arrive, the ebbings of the dissolving frame may be sustained by the triumph of christian hope, and death prove the portal of immortality.
I have observed, and you must have had occasion to observe it oftener than I, that when a man who once seemed to be a Christian has put off that character and resumed his old one, he loses, together with the grace which he seemed to possess, the most amiable part of the character that he resumes. The best features of his natural face seem to be struck out, that after having worn religion only as a handsome mask he may make a more disgusting appearance than he did before he assumed it.
According to your request, I subjoin my epitaph on Dr. Johnson; at least I mean to do it, if a drum,
* Private Correspondence.
which at this moment announces the arrrival of a giant in the town, will give me leave.
EPITAPH ON DR. JOHNSON.
Here Johnson lies—a sage, by all allow'd,
TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN.
Olney, Jan. 15, 1785. My dear William—Your letters are always wel
You can always either find something to say, or can amuse me and yourself with a sociable and friendly way of saying nothing I never found that a letter was the more easily written, because the writing of it had been long delayed. On the contrary, experience has taught me to answer soon, that I may do it without difficulty. It is in vain to wait for an accumulation of materials in a situation such as your's and mine, productive of few events. At the end of our expectations we shall find ourselves as poor as at the beginning.
I can hardly tell you with any certainty of information, upon what terms Mr. Newton and I may be supposed to stand at present. A month (I believe) has passed, since I heard from him. But my friseur, having been in London in the course of this week, whence he returned last night, and having called at Hoxton, brought me his love and an excuse for his silence, which, he said, had been occasioned by the frequency of his preachings at this season. He was not pleased that my manuscript was not first transmitted to him, and I have cause to suspect that he was even mortified at being informed that a certain inscribed poem was 'not inscribed to himself. But we shall jumble together again, as people that have an affection for each other at bottom, notwithstanding now and then a slight disagreement, always do.
I know not whether Mr. has acted in consequence of your hint, or whether, not needing one, he transmitted to us his bounty before he had received it. He has however sent us a note for twenty pounds; with which we have performed wonders in behalf of the ragged and the starved. He is a most extraordinary young man, and, though I shall probably never see him, will always have a niche in the museum of my
The death of Dr. Johnson has set a thousand scribblers to work, and me among the rest. While I lay in bed, waiting till I could reasonably hope that the parlour might be ready for me, I invoked the Muse and composed the following epitaph.* * The same which has been inserted in the preceding letter.