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The Task was composed in 1784. In the same year, the translation of Homer was commenced, at the request of lady Austen, from whom the poet was soon fated to separate, after a vain prediction that a three-fold chord is not soon broken.' This lady, in Mr. Hayley's verse, had, by her magical influence,
Sent the freed eagle in the sun to bask,
And, from the mind of Cowper, called The Task.' Mrs. Unwin observed, with uneasiness, the superiority of her new friend: Cowper discovered this her jealousy. Gratitude for past services induced him to relinquish the society of lady. Austen, his idolised sister Anne,' and gave him resolution to write a farewell letter, explaining, as his biographer assures us, his reasons for this sacrifice, with a delicacy honorable to his feelings.-The letter is not inserted.-Recollecting what Cowper owed to a lady who had so often solaced his dejection, so often animated his genius to its highest feryour-we felt the language of the poet, in his leto ter to Mr. Hill, after this separation, unexpectedly chilling.
- We have as you say lost a lively and sensible neighbour in lady Austen, but we have been long accustomed to a state of retirement, within one degree of solitude, and being naturally lovers of still life, can relapse into our former duality without being unhappy at the change. To me indeed a third is not necessary, while I can have the companion I have had these twenty years.' Vol.i. P. 141.
The same letter, in the most affectionate tone, describes the impression which the tenderness of a mother, lost so early in life, had left on his mind.
In the summer of 1785, the second volume of his poems was published. Another female friend appeared in lady Hesketh (widow of sir Thomas Hesketh); and the advancing age of Mrs. Unwin rendered this acquisition important. In his first letter to lady Hesketh, who became his principal correspondent, he acknowledges the attentions of Mrs. Un. win, who had injured her own health by her solicitude for him during thirteen years of insanity. Her income nearly doubled his own. They had but one purse; and her circum, stances were declining. Cowper communicated to lady Hesketh his situation, consulted her as a friend and a critic in the progress of his translation of Homer, and solicited her support in the subscription.
In a letter to this lady, he paints himself with a familiar ease.
• I am a very smart youth of my years. I am not indeed grown grey so much as I am grown bald. No matter. There was mora
bair in the world than ever had the honour to belong to me. Accordingly having found just enough to curl a litile at my ears, and to intermix with a little of my own that still hangs behind, I appcar, if you sec me in an afternoon, to have a very decent head-dress, not easily distinguished from my natural growth; which being worn with a small bag, and a black riband about my neck, continues to me the charms of my youth, even on the verge of age.' Vol.i. p. 152.
Lady Hesketh, by a visit at Olney, was useful to the poet: she became his amanuensis, accommodated him with her carriage, and, in the autumn of 1786, prevailed on him to remove with Mrs. Unwin to the village of Weston near Olney, where, with other advantages, he had access to the pleasure-grounds of Mr. Throckmorton, his landlord.
The happy influence of this change is apparent in the style of his subsequent letters, which relate, in a cheerful manner, his private concerns, with various opinions on subjects political and literarv; and are rarely darkened by a gloomy enthusiasm. These benefits may be, in part, ascribed to the direction of his mind to poetical labour, bit more to the anxious care of his female associates, particularly of lady Hesketh. On this topic, the biographier eloquently observes:
"To the honor of human nature, and of the present times, it will appear, that a sequestered poet, pre-eminent in genius and calamity, was beloved and assisted by his friends of both sexes, with a purity of zeal, and an inexhaustible ardor of 'affection, more resembling the friendship of the heroic ages, than the precarious attachments of the modern world.' Vol. i. p. 224.
The death of the younger Unwin cast a transient shade over his spirits, which was soon dispersed. His letters, at this period, show that he was acutely sensible to applause. Yet his poetical pride could not overcome his philanthropy, nor prevent his acccding to the request of the clerk of AllSaints' church in Northampton, for whose annual bill of mor. tality he condescended to write mortuary verses.
The correspondence of Cowper with Mr. Rose the barrister, on the subject of Homer, and the merits of different writers, is amusing. Cowper admits the genius of Burns, but laments the disguise of his dialect. Of Barclay's Argenis, his praise is excessive. Among living writers, we observed, with no surprise, that Mr. Wilberforce and miss Hannah More were his favourites. The slave-trade naturally excites a poet's reprobation; and, in a letter to Mr. Rose, in 1788, he asserts tható an ounce of grace is a better guard against gross absurdity, than the brightest talents in the world. That particular dreams are often predictive, and not the ordinary operations of fancy, he seeins to be convinced. As a politician, he declares hiniself an old whig, condemns the test-act in a political and a religious view, and shows a fund of good sense in remarks on the French character at the commencement of the revolution (1790).
What we mean by fanaticism in religion is exactly that which animates their politics, and unless time should sober them, they will, after all, be an unhappy people. Perhaps it deserves not much to be wondered at, that at their first escape from tyrannic shackles, they should act extravagantly, and treat their kings, as they have sometimes treated their idols. To these however they are reconciled in due time again, but their respect for monarchy is at an end. They want nothing now but a little English sobriety, and that they want extremely; I heartily wish them some wit in their anger, for it were great pity that so many millions should be miserable for want of it.' Vol. i. P.379.
In July 1791, the translation of the Iliad and Odyssey was published_a work on which he bestowed indefatigable pains. By its prosecution during five years, and frequent revisions, he derived benefit to his health; and the produce of the subscriptions contributed to his fortune.
After this powerful exertion, his mind still requiring employment, he assented to the proposal of Mr. Johnson, his bookseller, of whose liberality he had repeated testimonies, to undertake a magnificent edition of Milton. This circumstance introduced to his acquaintance Mr. Hayley, who, having been engaged in composing a life of Milton, was surprised to observe himself represented in a news paper as the antagonist of Cowper, to whom he wrote on the subject: a correspondence, and continucd friendship, was the consequence. That poets of classes so distinct as Cowper and Hayley--the one approaching to a milky tameness of versification, the other to an austere though comprehensive energy-should have remained, as literary characters, so long attached, is among the phænomena of our wonderful times, Mr. Hurdis, the late professor of poetry at Oxford, in 1791, became acquainted with Cowper, and corresponded with him. To Warren Hastings, whom he thought injuriously treatedl, some pointed but inclegant lines are addressed.
In May 1792, Mr. Harley visited Cox per at Weston, The sensations of the biographer, on this occasion, are warmly expressed. Cowper was in his sixty-first rearMrs. Unwin was 72. The pleasure of this interview was alloyed by a severe illness of Mrs. Unwin: but she was soon enabled, with Cowper, to return the visit of Mr. Hayler.. At Eartham, Cowper employed his mornings in revising bis translations from the Latin and Italian poems of Milton.
Here Romney drew the portrait, in crayons, of which a wretched engraving is prefixed to this work.
"After a gestation as long as that of a pregnant woman,' in 1792, Cowper sends to the biographer a sormet addressed to Romnev, on which he confesses that lie bestowed uncom. mon attention, and which we therefore transcribe.
•To George Romney, Esq.
Vol. ii. P. 25, A laborious revisal of his Homer occupied him in 1793. He seems to have considered this work as incomparable, and confidently assures Mr. Rose that it must make its way. He fully understood the duties of a translator. His reply to a criticism of lord Thurlow, who had disapproved his translation of Hector's prayer on caressing his child, is ably written.
• There are minutiæ in every language, which transfused into an. other will spoil the version. Such extreme fidelity is in fact unfaithful. Such close resemblance takes away all likeness. The original is elegant, easy, natural; the copy is clumsy, constiaineid, unnatural: To what is this owing to the adoption of terms not congenial to your purpose; and of a context, such as no man writing an original work, would make use of : Homer is every thing that a poet should be. A translation of Homer so made, will be every thing that a translation of Homer should not be. Because it will be written in no language under hearen. It will be English, and it will be Greek, and therefore it will be neither. He is the man, whoever he be (I do not pretend to be that man myseil) he is the man best qualified as a translator of Homer, who has drenched, and steeped, and soaked himself in the ef fusions of his genius, till he has imbibed their colour to the bone, and who, when he is thus dyed through and through, distinguishing beo tween what is essentially Greek, and what may be habited in En. glish; rojects the former, and is faithful to the latter, as far as the pur. poses of fine poetry will permit, and no farther : this, I think, may be easily proved. Homer is every where remarkable either for ease, dige nity, or energy of expression; for grandeur of conception, and a majestic flow of numbers. If we copy him so closely as to make every one of these excellent properties of his absolutely unattainable, which will certainly be the effect of too close a copy, instead of translating we murder him. Therefore, after all that his lordship has said, I still hold freedom to be an indispensable. Freedom, I mean, with respect to the expression ; freedom so limited, as never to leave behind the matter; but at the same time indulged with a sufficient scope to see cure the spirit, and as much as possible of the manner. I say as much as possible, because an English manner must differ from a Greek one, in order to be graceful; and for this there is no remedy. Can an ungraceful, awkward translation of Homer be a good one? No: but a graceful, easy, natural, faithful, version of him :-will not that be a good one? Yes : allow me but this, and I insist upon it, that such a one may be produced on my principles, and can be produced on po other.' Vol, ii. p. 181,
With sentiments so matured, after incessant labour and repeated corrections, why his own translation should be most deficient in that native ease, grace, and majestic flow of numbers, which he so warmly recommends, is scarcely to be imagined. The alluring elegance of Pope will be ever preferred to the unadorned and rugged fidelity of Cowper. Homer has long led us astray.-We return to our narrative.
In 1793, Mr. Rose, being at Weston with Mr. Hayley, on the request of lord Spencer, invited Cowper to Althorpe, to meet Gibbon-a meeting which was frustrated by the shyness of the poet and the imbecillity of Mrs. Unwin.
A new subject for his verse was proposed by a neighbouring clergyman: the four ages-infancy, youth, manhood, and old-age. He commenced this poem; but his deplorable state of mind admitted no further exertion. The infirmities of Mrs. Unwin increased; and a deeper dejection oppressed the mind of Cowper. In 1794, all study was impracticable. In this misery, many of his friends considered him worthy of public munificence, and were anxious that a pension should solace his declining age.
Although depressed by complicated afflictions, he was not deserted. Lady Hesketh, with a magnanimous compassion, superintended this house of mourning; and, while her own health was impaired, devoted herself to her sad and superannuated friends. At her request, the biographer visited him; but the presence of a friend had no longer a cheering 'effect. Lady Hesketh einbraced this occasion to consult Dr. Willis, whose skill was unavailing.
In April 1794, while, with Mr. Hayler, lady Hesketh was watching over the disordered poct, a letter from lord Spencer announced the grant of a pension, from which