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And Dick, although his way was clear,
Was much too generous and sincere
To leave his friend behind.
For, settling on his grated roof,
He chirp’d and kiss'd him, giving proof
That he desired no more ;
Nor would forsake his cage at last,
Till, gently seized, I shut him fast,
A prisoner as before.
O ye, who never knew the joys,
Of Friendship, satisfied with noise,
Fandango, ball, and rout!
Blush, when I tell you how a bird,
A prison with a friend preferr'd
To liberty without.
[Composed in November, 1783, and occasioned by the neglect with which his two early friends, Colman, and especially Chancellor Thurlow, treated the Poet's first volume, to each of whom he sent a copy; a compliment which neither acknowledged. The seeming disrespect, though afterwards explained to his satisfaction, caused him much pain, and some of the suppressed verses shew that he felt with becoming dignity, as for instance
Forgetful of the man whom once ye chose,
Cold in his cause, and careless of his woes!
I bid you both a long and last adieu,-
Cold in my turn, and unconcern’d as you !
See Letter to Colman, No. 200, December 27, 1785.]
O Friendship! cordial of the human breast !
So little felt, so fervently profess'd!
Thy blossoms deck our unsuspecting years ;
The promise of delicious fruit appears :
We hug the hopes of constancy and truth,
Such is the folly of our dreaming youth ;
But soon, alas ! detect the rash mistake,
That sanguine inexperience loves to make ;
And view with tears the expected harvest lost,
Decay'd by time, or wither'd by a frost.
Whoever undertakes a friend's great part
Should be renew'd in nature, pure in heart,
Prepared for martyrdom, and strong to prove
A thousand ways the force of genuine love.
He may be call’d to give up health and gain,
To exchange content for trouble, ease for pain,
To echo sigh for sigh, and groan for groan,
And wet his cheeks with sorrows not his own.
The heart of man, for such a task too frail,
When most relied on, is most sure to fail ;
And, summon’d to partake its fellow's wo,
Starts from its office, like a broken bow.
Votaries of business, and of pleasure, prove
Faithless alike in friendship and in love.
Retired from all the circles of the gay,
And all the crowds, that bustle life away,
To scenes, where competition, envy, strife,
Beget no thunder-clouds to trouble life,
Let me, the charge of some good angel, find
One, who has known, and has escaped mankind;
Polite, yet virtuous, who has brought away
The manners, not the morals, of the day :
With him, perhaps with her, (for men have known
No firmer friendships than the fair have shown)
Let me enjoy, in some unthought-of spot,
All former friends forgiven and forgot,
Down to the close of life's fast fading scene,
Union of hearts, without a flaw between.
'Tis grace, 'tis bounty, and it calls for praise,
If God give health, that sunshine of our days !
And if he add, a blessing shared by few,
Content of heart, more praises still are due —
But if he grant a friend, that boon possess’d
Indeed is treasure, and crowns all the rest ;
And giving one, whose heart is in the skies,
Born from above, and made divinely wise,
He gives, what bankrupt nature never can,
Whose noblest coin is light and brittle man,
Gold, purer far than Ophir ever knew,
A soul, an image of himself, and therefore true.
PAIRING TIME ANTICIPATED.
[The severe and long-continued winter of 1783-4, appears to have suggested this sprightly and elegant fable.]
I shall not ask Jean Jacques Rousseau *
If birds confabulate or no;
'Tis clear, that they were always able
To hold discourse, at least in fable ;
And e'en the child, who knows no better
Than to interpret by the letter,
A story of a cock and bull,
Must have a most uncommon skull.
It chanced then on a winter's day,
But warm, and bright, and calm as May,
The birds, conceiving a design
To forestal sweet St Valentine,
In many an orchard, copse, and grove,
Assembled on affairs of love,
And with much twitter and much chatter,
Began to agitate the matter.
At length a Bulfinch, who could boast
More years and wisdom than the most,
Entreated, opening wide his beak,
A moment's liberty to speak;
And, silence publicly enjoin'd,
Deliver'd briefly thus his mind :
My friends! be cautious how ye treat
The subject upon which we meet;
I fear we shall have winter yet.”
A Finch, whose tongue knew no control,
With golden wing and satin poll,
A last year's bird, who ne'er had tried
What marriage means, thus pert replied :
* It was one of the whimsical speculations of this philosopher, that all fables which ascribe reason and speech to animals should be withheld from children, as being only vehicles of deception. But what child was ever deceived by them, or can be, against the evidence of his senses ?-Author's note.
“ Methinks the gentleman,” quoth she,
“ Opposite in the apple-tree,
By his good will would keep us single
Till yonder heaven and earth shall mingle,
Or (which is likelier to befall)
Till death exterminate us all.
I marry without more ado :
My dear Dick Redcap, what say you ?”
Dick heard, and tweedling, ogling, bridling,
Turning short round, strutting and sideling,
Attested, glad, his approbation
Of an immediate conjugation.
Their sentiments so well express'd
Influenced mightily the rest,
All pair’d, and each pair built a nest.
But though the birds were thus in haste, The leaves came on not quite so fast, And Destiny, that sometimes bears An aspect stern on man's affairs, Not altogether smiled on theirs. The wind, of late breathed gently forth, Now shifted east, and east by north ; Bare trees and shrubs but ill, you know, Could shelter them from rain or snow, Stepping into their nests, they paddled, 'Themselves were chilld, their eggs were addled ; Soon every father bird and mother Grew quarrelsome, and peck'd each other, Parted without the least regret, Except that they had ever met, And learn’d in future to be wiser, Than to neglect a good adviser.
Misses ! the tale that I relate
- This lesson seems to carry,
Choose not alone a proper mate,
But proper time to marry.
AN EPISTLE TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ.
[First printed in Cowper's second volume. His motives for the insertion of this “ truly Horatian” composition are explained in the following extract from a private letter to Mr Hill:-- You do me justice when you ascribe my printed Epistle to you to my friendship for you, though, in fact, it was equally owing to the opinion that I have of yours for me. Having, in one part or other of my two volumes, distinguished by name the majority of those few for whom I entertain a friendship, it seemed to me that it would be unjustifiable negligence to omit yourself; and if I took that step without communicating to you my intention, it was only to gratify myself the more, with the hope of surprising you agreeably.” 1784.]
DEAR JOSEPH,-Five-and-twenty years ago
Alas, how time escapes ! - 'tis even so —
With frequent intercourse, and always sweet,
And always friendly, we were wont to cheat
A tedious hour and now we never meet !
As some grave gentleman in Terence says
('Twas therefore much the same in ancient days,)
Good lack, we know not what to-morrow brings -
Strange fluctuation of all human things !
True. Changes will befall, and friends may part,
But distance only cannot change the heart :
And, were I calld to prove the assertion true,
One proof should serve a reference to you.
Whence comes it, then, that in the wane of life,
Though nothing have occurr'd to kindle strife,
We find the friends we fancied we had won,
Though numerous once, reduced to few or none ?
Can gold grow worthless, that has stood the touch ?
No; gold they seem'd, but they were never such.
Horatio's servant once, with bow and cringe,
Swinging the parlour-door upon its hinge,
Dreading a negative, and overawed
Lest he should trespass, begg'd to go abroad.
Go, fellow !- whither ? - turning short about-
Nay. Stay at home—you 're always going out.
'Tis but a step, sir, just at the street's end.-
For what? - An please you, sir, to see a friend. -