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But the distress of heart, which he felt in contemplating the shattered state of his venerable companion, Mrs. Unwin, and his own declining health precluded him most severely from advancing in this, and other literary intentions. To every reader, who has proper compassion, and respect, for the calamities of afflicted genius, the following account, which Cowper gave me of his fruitless endeavour to proceed in his work, must be interesting, in no common degree.
“ Weston, Oct. 2, 1792.
“ Yesterday was a day of assignation with myself, the day, of which I said, some days before it came, when that day comes, I will begin my dissertations. Accordingly when it came, I prepared to do so, filled a letter-case with fresh paper, furnished myself with a pretty good pen, and replenished my ink-bottle; but, partly from one cause, and partly from another, chiefly however from distress and dejection, after writing and oblitorating about six lines, in the composition of which I spent near an hour, I was obliged to relinguish the attempt. An attempt so unsuccessful could have no other effect than to dishearten me, and it has had that effect to such a degree, that I know not, when I shall find courage to make another."
In a subsequent letter of the same month he says :
- The consciousness, that there is much to do, and nothing done, is a burthen, I am not able to bear. Milton especially is my grievance ; and I might almost as well be huunted by his ghost, as goaded with continual reprouches for neglecting him. '. I will therefore begin: I will do my best ; and if, after all, that best prove good for nothing, I will even send the notes, worthless as they are, that I have made already."
Anxious, as Cowper was, to complete his design, the variety of avocations and afflictions, that encreased upon him in his latter years rendered such a completion impossible. Yet I have reason to believe, that he actually finished two of the intended dissertations: but they have unfortunately perished in the confusion of his papers, and I can only afford his reader the mournful gratification of perusing the imperfect notes, that I have mentioned.
These I believe every reader of taste will contemplate with a melancholy delight, for they are sufficient to shew, that the minds of Milton and Cowper were most truly congenial, and to cxcite a sincere regret, that a commentator so worthy of our divine bard was calamitously precluded from attending hini according to his intention. Let us however enjoy, what he has happily accomplished ! For my own part I am persuaded, that Milton could hardly receive an earthly honour more acceptable to his spirit, than the honour of having his Latin poems translated by Cowper. I feel a cordial satisfaction in beholding two poets so exquisite in genius, and so pure of heart, thus united in their posthumous renown. And hope these volumes may be found not unworthy of the two associated bards, who not only resembled each other in the purity and prevalence of their poetical talents, but in suffering as authors, though in very different degrees, both detraction and neglect :--The reputation of Milton in particular, after sinking like a Titan overwhelmed under mountains of obloquy and oppression, has arisen with all the energy of a giant refreshed by slumber, and taken its proper place of pre-eminence among the few names of universal celebrity, that are privileged to sleep no more.
A Latin Epitaph ascribed to Milton, with Cowper's
opinion of it. In March, 1793, when Cowper was preparing to publish his Milton, I sent him the Epitaph on Cardinal Mazarine, with the following account of the manner, in which it had then happened to engage my attention.
“A very intelligent, and friendly collector of scarce books, sent me, the other day, from his own library, a little old miscellany, published by Gildon in 1692, containing the Epitaph on Mazarine, ascribed to Milton, exactly as I enclose it to you. I perfectly remember reading the Epitaph, when I was young, and admiring it so much, that many detached lines of it remained in my memory. In hunting for it among my own books, I find it in a
miscellany of several volumes, entitled State Poems, printed in 1703. The Epitaph is not ascribed to any author in my book; but Milton is named, in the preface, as a contributor to the collection, and I find in the volume no other work that can be imputed to him.”
Julii Mazirini Cardinalis Epitaphium, authore
Galliæ Rex Italus
Europe prædo purpuratus,
Ærarium administravit, et exhausit;
Regni jura tuitus est, et invasit;
Beneficia possedit, et vendidit;
Prædo in Ministerio,
Grassator in Bello,
Solus nobis in pace hostis.