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WILLIAM COWPER, ESQ. TO THE REV. JOHN
MY DEAR FRIEND,
July, 1786. I am not glad that I am obliged to apologize for an interval of three weeks that have elapsed since the receipt of yours ; but not having it in my power to write oftener than I do, I am glad that my reason is such a one as you admit. In truth, my time is very much occupied ; and the more because I not only have a long and laborious work in hand, for such it would prove at any rate, but because I make it a point to bestow my utmost attention upon it, and to give it all the finishing that the most scrupulous accuracy can command. As soon as breakfast is over, I retire to my nutshell of a summerhouse, which is my verse-manufactory, and here I abide seldom less than three hours, and not often more. In the afternoon I return to it again ; and all the daylight that follows, except what is devoted to a walk, is given to Homer. It is well for me that a course which is now become necessary is so much my choice. The regularity of it, indeed, has been, in the course of this last week, a little interrupted, by the arrival of my dear cousin, Lady Hesketh; but with the new week I shall, as they say, turn over a new leaf, and put myself under the same rigorous discipline as before. Something, and not a little, is due to the feelings that the sight of the kindest relation that ever man was blessed with must needs give birth to after so long a separation. But she, whose
anxiety for my success is, I believe, even greater than my own, will take care that I shall not play truant and neglect my proper business. It was an observation of a sensible man, whom I knew well in ancient days (I mean when I was very young), that people are never in reality happy when they boast much of being so. I feel myself accordingly well content to say, without any enlargement on the subject, that an inquirer after happiness might travel far, and not find a happier trio than meet every day, either in our parlour, or in the parlour at the vicarage. I will not say that mine is not occasionally somewhat dashed with the sable hue of those notions, concerning myself and my situation, that have occupied, or rather possessed me so long: but on the other hand, I can also affirm, that my cousin's affectionate behaviour to us both, the sweetness of her temper, and the sprightliness of her conversation, relieve me in no small degree from the pressure of them.
Mrs. Unwin is greatly pleased with your Sermons, and has told me so repeatedly; and the pleasure they have given her awaits me also in due time, as I am well and confidently assured : both because the subject of them is the greatest and the most interesting that can fall under the pen of any writer, and because no writer can be better qualified to discuss it judiciously and feelingly than yourself. The third set with which you favoured us, we destine to Lady Hesketh ; and in so disposing of them, are inclined to believe that we shall not err far from the mark at which you yourself directed them,
Our affectionate remembrances attend yourself and Mrs. Newton, to which you acquired an everlasting right while you dwelt under the roof where we dined yesterday. It is impossible that we should set our foot over the threshold of the vicarage, without recollecting all your kindness. Yours, my dear friend,
WILLIAM COWPER, ESQ. TO MRS. KING.
June 19, 1788. You must think me a tardy correspondent, unless you have had charity enough for me to suppose that I have met with other hinderances than those of indolence and inattention. With these I cannot charge myself, for I am never idle by choice; and inattentive to you I certainly have not been ;, but, on the contrary, can safely affirm that every day I have thought on you. My silence has been occasioned by a malady to which I have all my life been subject-an inflammation of the eyes. The last sudden change of weather, from excessive heat to a wintry degree of cold, occasioned it, and at the same time gave me a pinch of the rheumatic kind ; from both which disorders I have but just recovered. I do not suppose that our climate has been much altered since the days of our forefathers, the Picts; but certainly the human constitution in this country has been altered much. Inured as we are from our cradles to every vicissitude in a climate more various than
any other, and in possession of all that modern refinement has been able to contrive for our security, we are just as subject to blights as the tenderest blossoms of spring; and are so well admonished of every change in the atmosphere by our bodily feelings, as hardly to have any need of a weatherglass to mark them. For this we are, no doubt, indebted to the multitude of our accommodations; for it was not possible to retain the hardiness that originally belonged to our race, under the delicate management to which for many ages we have now been accustomed. I can hardly doubt that a bull-dog or a game cock might be made just as susceptible of injuries from weather as myself, were he dieted and in all respects accommodated as I am.
Or if the project did not succeed in the first instance (for we ourselves did not become what we are at once), in process of time, however, and in a course of many generations, it would certainly take effect. Let such a dog be fed in his infancy with pap, Naples biscuit, and boiled chicken; let him be wrapped in flannel at night, sleep on a good feather bed, and ride out in a coach for an airing; and if his posterity do not become slight limbed, puny, and valetudinarian, it will be a wonder. Thus our parents, and their parents, and the parents of both were managed, and thus ourselves ; and the consequence is, that instead of being weather-proof, even without clothing, furs and flannels are not warm enough to defend
It is observable, however, that though we have by these means lost much of our pristine vigour, our days are not the fewer. We live as
long as those whom, on account of the sturdiness of their frame, the poets supposed to have been the progeny of oaks. Perhaps too they had little feeling, and for that reason also might be imagined to be so descended. For a very robust athletic habit seems inconsistent with much sensibility. But sensibility is the sine quâ non of real happiness. If, therefore, our lives have not been shortened, and if our feelings have been rendered more exquisite as our habit of body has become more delicate, on the whole, perhaps, we have no cause to complain, but are rather gainers by our degeneracy.
Do you consider what you do, when you ask one poet his opinion of another? Yet I think I can give you an honest answer to your question, and without the least wish to nibble. Thomson was admirable in description ; but it always seemed to me that there was somewhat of affectation in his style, and that his numbers are not well harmonized. I could wish too, with Dr. Johnson, that he had confined himself to this country ; for when he describes what he never saw, one is forced to read him with some allowance for possible misrepresentation. He was, however, a true poet, and his lasting fame has proved it. Believe me, my dear madam, with my best respects to Mr. King, most truly yours,
P.S. I am extremely sorry that you have been so much indisposed, and hope that your next will bring me a more favourable account of your