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they are offended. A critic of the present day serves a poem as a cook serves a dead turkey, when she fastens the legs of it to a post, and draws out all the sinews. For this we may thank Pope; but unless we could imitate him in the closeness and compactness of his expression, as well as in the smoothness of his numbers, we had better drop the imitation, which serves no other purpose than to emasculate and weaken all we write. Give me a manly rough line, with a deal of meaning in it, rather than a whole poem full of musical periods, that have nothing but their oily smoothness to recommend them " “I have said thus much, as I hinted in the beginning, because I have just finished a much longer poem than the last, which our common friend will receive by the same messenger that has the charge of this letter. In that poem there are many lines which an ear so nice as the gentleman's who made the above-mentioned alteration would undoubtedly condemn, and yet (if I may be permitted to say it) they cannot be made smoother without being the worse for it. There is a roughness on a plum, which nobody that understands fruit would rub off, though the plum would be much more polished without it. But, lest I tire you, I will only add, that I wish you to guard me from all such meddling, assuring you, that I always write as smoothly as I can, but that I never did, never will, sacrifice the spirit or sense of a passage to the sound of it.”
Cowper was much affected at this time by a
severe indisposition, to which he alludes in the following letter
TO THOMAS PARK, ESQ.
Weston Underwood, April 27, 1792.
Dear Sir—I write now merely to prevent any suspicion in your mind that I neglect you. I have been very ill, and for more than a fortnight unable to use the pen, or you should have heard long ere now of the safe arrival of your packet. I have revised the Elegy on Seduction,” but have not as yet been able to proceed farther. The best way of returning these which I have now in hand, will be to return them with those which you propose to send hereafter. I will make no more apologies for any liberties that it may seem necessary to me to take with your copies. Why do you send them, but that I may exercise that freedom, of which the very act of sending them implies your permission ? I will only say, therefore, that you must neither be impatient nor even allow yourself to think me tardy, since assuredly I will not be more so than I needs must be. My hands are pretty full. Milton must be forwarded, and is at present hardly begun; and I have beside a numerous correspondence, which engrosses more of my time than I can at present well afford to it. I cannot decide with myself whether the lines in which the reviewers are so smartly
* This Elegy is inserted in Mr. Park's volume of sonnets and miscellaneous poems.
noticed had better be expunged or not. Those lines are gracefully introduced and well written ; for which reasons I should be loth to part with them. On the other hand, how far it
may dent to irritate a body of critics, who certainly much influence the public opinion, may deserve consideration. It
be added too, that they are not all equally worthy of the lash: there are among them men of real learning, judgment, and candour. I must leave it, therefore, to your own determination. I thank
you for Thomson's Epitaph, on which I have only to remark (and I am sure that I do it not in a captious spirit) that, since the poet is himself the speaker, I cannot but question a little the propriety of the quotation subjoined. It is a prayer, and when the man is buried, the time of prayer is over. I know it may be answered, that it is placed there merely for the benefit of the reader ; but all readers of tombstones are not wise enough to be trusted for such an interpretation.
I was well pleased with your poem on and equally well pleased with your intention not to publish it. It proves two points of consequence to an author :-both that
have an exuberant fancy, and discretion enough to know how to deal with it. The man is as formidable for his ludicrous talent, as he has made himself contemptible by his use of it. To despise him therefore is natural, but it is wise to do it in secret.
Since the juvenile poems of Milton were edited
by Warton, you need not trouble yourself to send them. I have them of his edition already. I am, dear sir, affectionately yours,
The marriage of Miss Stapleton, the Catharina of Cowper, to Sir John Throckmorton's brother, (now Mr. Courtenay,) was one of those events which the muse of Cowper had ventured to anticipate ; and he had now the happiness of finding his cherished wish amply fulfilled, and of thereby securing them as neighbours at the Hall.*
TO LADY HESKETH.
Weston, May 20, 1792. My dearest Cozo-1 rejoice, as thou reasonably supposest me to do, in the matrimonial news communicated in your last. Not that it was altogether
This wish is expressed in the following lines :-
To wing all her moments at home,
See Verses addressed to Miss Stapleton, vol. iv, p. 230.
news to me, for twice I had received broad hints of it from Lady Frog, by letter, and several times viva voce while she was here. But she enjoined me secrecy as well as you, and you know that all secrets are safe with me; safer far than the winds in the bags of Æolus. I know not, in fact, the lady whom it would give me more pleasure to call Mrs. Courtenay, than the lady in question; partly because I know her, but especially because I know her to be all that I can wish in a neighbour.
I have often observed, that there is a regular alternation of good and evil in the lot of men, so that a favourable incident may be considered as the harbinger of an unfavourable one, and vice versa. Dr. Madan's experience witnesses to the truth of this observation. One day he gets a broken head, and the next a mitre to heal it. I rejoice that he has met with so effectual a cure, though my joy is not unmingled with concern ; for till now I had some hope of seeing him, but since I live in the north, and his episcopal call is in the west, that is a gratification, I suppose, which I must no longer look for.
My sonnet, which I sent you, was printed in the Northampton paper, last week, and this week it produced me a complimentary one in the same paper, which served to convince me, at least by the matter of it, that my own was not published without occasion, and that it had answered its purpose.*
* We have succeeded in obtaining these verses, and think them worthy of insertion: