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One day, amusing myself with the poetical works of the celebrated Madame Guion, I was struck with the peculiar beauty of some of her poems, as well as edified with the piety and devotion of which they are strongly expressive. I mentioned them to Mr. Cowper; and, partly to amuse a solitary hour, partly to keep in exercise the genius of this incomparable man, I requested him to put a few of the poems into an English dress. Afterward, during my absence upon a journey, I received a letter, in which Mr. Cowper says, “I have but little leisure, strange as it may seem. That little I devoted for a month after your departure to the translation of Madame Guion. I have made fair copies of all the pieces I have produced on this last occasion, and will put them into your hands when we meet. They are yours, to serve as you please ; you may take and leave them as you like, for my purpose is already served. They have amused me, and I have no farther demand upon them.” On my return, Mr. Cowper presented me with these translations, to which he added the Letter to a Protestant Lady in France, and the Poem on Friendship.
The idea of printing them was afterwards suggested to Mr. Cowper ; and he gave his full consent, intending to revise them before I should send them to the press. Various circumstances prevented him from doing this; and the poems would probably have still remained unpublished, if it had not been found that several copies of them had already got abroad. The editor, therefore, had reason to believe, that they would otherwise have made their appearance in a state far less correct than if printed from the original manuscript. Nor can he imagine that, even in their present form, they will on the whole, tend to diminish the well deserved reputation of their excellent author.
To infer that the peculiarities of Madame Guion's theological sentiments were adopted either by Mr. Cowper or by the editor, would be almost as absurd as to suppose the inimitable translator of Homer to have been a pagan. He reverenced her piety, admired her genius, and judged that several of her poems would be read with pleasure and edification by serious and candid persons.
I have taken the liberty to add the Stanzas subjoined to the Bills of Mortality, which had been published a few years past at Northampton; and the Epitaph, which had appeared in a periodical publication. They sufficiently mark the genius of their author, correspond with the other parts of this small volume, and have not before been printed in a uniform manner with his poems.
The second Volume had no other preface than the brief advertisement prefixed to the Task. It was thus entitled,
LONDON :-PRINTED FOR J. JOHNSON AND CO.
“ The motto of the whole,” says Cowper to Mr. Unwin, “ is Fit surculus arbor. If you can put the author's name under it, do so: if not, it must go without one, for I know not to whom to ascribe it. It was a motto taken by a certain Prince of Orange in the year 1733, but not to a poem of his own writing, or indeed to any poem at all, but, as I think, to a medal.”—Letter, Oct. 2, 1784.
If the motto was not composed for the medal, (which is most probable,) it may perhaps have been taken from an emblem. The emblem itself occurs among those engraved by Crispinus Passæus, for which George Wither wrote a volume of verses : it is the forty-sixth of the first book ; but the motto there is Tandem fit arbor.
The Index to the Task (for which, as well as for the parallel passages, the Editor repeats his thanks to Mr. Peace,) will be found so useful that any edition of that delightful poem must henceforth without such an appendage be deemed deficient.