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The chief aims of this edition of the poems of Cowper have been to present a more accurate text than has hitherto been accessible, to record such various readings as are afforded by manuscripts or by the different editions, and to add some illustrations both of the poems and of the poet's life from unpublished papers which have been placed at my disposal.
Three new pieces of verse are included, the humorous lines addressed to Joseph Hill, given on p. 10, and the two additional translations from Milton, given on pp. 596, 597. These have never been printed before. The same is true, so far as I know, of the four lines intended by Cowper to be inserted in Anti-Thelyphthora, which are here given in the notes to that poem, as well as of a large number of other new versions and various readings given in the notes. The present edition also includes a number of pieces which, though previously printed in magazines, or in Mr. Thomas Wright's little book, The Unpublished anul Uncollected Poems of William Cowper, have not hitherto appeared in any collected edition of the poems. Such are A Song of Mercy and Judgment, p. 30; On the Trial of Admiral Keppel, p. 412; An Address to the Mob on the Occasion of the late Riot at the House of Sir Hugh Palliser, p. 412; The Bee and the Pineapple, p. 413; the “ Fragment," on p. 414; the lines To Sir John Fenn, on p. 488; the new stanza in the lines To Mary, p. 503 ; the alternative version of the opening of The Doves given in the note to that poem (p. 685), and the fragment, Against Interested Love, given in the note on p. 719. .
On the other hand, beside the translation of Homer, the omission of which was necessitated by consideration of space there are three poems which have been ascribed to Cowper, but are excluded from this edition. They are these : some Latin lines on loyalty given by Mr. Wright in his Unpublished Poems, and omitted here as being a mere boyish Latin exercise ; a piece entitled A Thunderstorm, also given by Mr. Wright, and omitted here because, as I have explained in the introductory note (p. 663), I do not believe it to be Cowper's work at all ; and the Ode Secundum Artem, which, since Southey's day, has always been included among the works of Cowper, but is, in my opinion, as explained in the note to p. 1, undoubtedly the work of his friend Robert Lloyd. But, in this case, as such good judges as Southey and Mr. R. Bell have unhesitatingly asserted the piece to be by Cowper, it has seemed right to print it in full in the note.
The poems are here printed in the following order. First, Early Poems, that is, pieces written by Cowper before the publication of the Olney Hymns in 1779. These occupy pp. 1-32. The most important section of them is the series dealing with his love of his cousin Theodora Cowper, and these have here been separated from the rest, and an effort made to arrange them in their probable chronological order. The Early Poems are followed by the Olney Hymns, which occupy pp. 33–78. Next follows the anonymously published Anti-Thelyphthora, with which are here placed four small pieces dealing with the same subject. Then comes Cowper's first published volume, which occupies pp. 85-245. This is followed by the second volume, which includes The Task, pp. 246–393, and this again by other pieces printed during the poet's life, pp. 393-410. His original verse is completed by the posthumous poems to be found on pp. 411-509. The remainder of the volume is occupied by the various translations.
Whatever Cowper himself published is here given as he gave it in the original order. For instance, the translations which he printed in his first volume of poems retain their original place. On the other hand, the two translations from Horace which have commonly been given among the Early Poems are here placed with the other translations at the end of the book. In arranging the early and posthumous poems which were not arranged or published by the poet, I have been chiefly guided by chronological considerations. The notes printed at the foot of the text are the poet's own.
The principal previous editions of Cowper which I have consulted in preparing this are the original volumes published during the poet's life ; John Johnson's edition, 1815; Southey's large Life and Works, in fifteen volumes, 1836 ; Mr. R. Bell's edition, 1854; the Aldine edition, edited by Mr. J. Bruce; and the Globe edition, edited by Canon Benham. Many others have been occasionally examined, but these have been consulted throughout, and all have helped me in various ways. Southey's, with its small volumes, so easy to handle, and its delightful steel-plate illustrations of people and places connected with Cowper, many of which are here reproduced, is still the pleasantest edition there has ever been of Cowper. And it will be seen by readers of the notes that I believe Southey was right in basing his text upon the earlier editions, and not upon the subsequent corrections as most of his successors have done. The only, editor who gives any considerable number of textual variations is Mr. Bruce, and to his labours I am particularly indebted. In this edition, however, an effort has been made, it is believed for the first time, to record all variations of reading that are of the least importance, and, with that object, all editions of any authority have been examined, and all the MSS. to which I have had access carefully collated. In particular, the several manuscript collections of which mention will presently be made, the Ash MSS., the Welborne MSS., the Hill letters, the manuscript of the Milton translations in the British Museum, and the other MSS. in the Museum, have been collated, and their various readings are here for the first time published. It was not in the nature of the case likely that these manuscripts would afford justification or material for any revolutionary interference with the accepted text of Cowper ; and they have not. But the result of their collation, and of a re-examination of the original
editions, has been a text which differs in an appreciable number of cases, some of them of importance, from that which has become generally established. Attention is, of course, drawn to these cases in the notes, where the reasons which have seemed to justify departure from the common text are explained. When mention is made in a note of a MS. or an edition, and no various reading is recorded, it may be assumed that there is none to record.
In an Appendix to the Introduction will be found thirty-five unpublished letters of Cowper.
For these, and for free use of all the memorials of the poet in their possession, I have to offer my warmest gratitude to my friends, the Rev. William Cowper Johnson, Hon. Canon of Norwich and Rector of Yaxham, Norfolk, and the Rev. Henry Barham Johnson, Rector of Welborne, Norfolk. The letters to Joseph Hill were left by Hill's grandson to the grandfather of Mr. Edward Jekyll, of Higham Bury, Ampthill, who kindly allowed me to see them. He subsequently presented them to Canon Cowper Johnson, who has generously placed them entirely at my disposal for the present work. To Canon Johnson I am also indebted for photographs of the portrait by Abbott, of the miniature by Blake, taken from the Romney portrait, of the seal given to the poet by Theodora Cowper, and of the picture by Margarson of the poet's horse and dog, all of which are in his possession, as well as for constant assistance in other ways. The Rev. Henry Barham Johnson is the possessor of a large collection of papers connected with Cowper, many of which, including the letters to John Johnson and his sister, and the copies of poems mentioned in the notes, are in the poet's hand. There are also many valuable notes in the hand of Mr. Johnson's grandfather, John Johnson, the devoted cousin in whose house the poet died. All these have been unreservedly placed at my disposal, and I desire to record my sincere gratitude to Mr. Johnson, as well as to Mrs. Johnson, who gave me the advantage of her wide knowledge of Cowper and his circle. To Mr. Bertram Vaughan Johnson, another grandson of John Johnson,