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are there to-day,* and those who cherish his memory can haunt them still. I doubt if any single square mile in England—not forgetting Rydal or Grasmere—has received as much detailed poetic illustration as that of which Weston Park is the central point. Those who visit it may trace the poet's steps at every turn, especially if they can call in the assistance of the excellent map of his walks published by Mr. Wright in his useful little book, The Town of Cowper, or of the delightful old volumes, with the plates of a hundred years ago, called The Rural Walks of Cowper, and Cowper Illustrated by a Series of Views. "
The second volume, containing the “Task," appeared in the summer of 1785. “John Gilpin,” printed anonymously in a newspaper in 1784, and made famous early in 1785 by the recitations of Henderson, the actor, was now printed in the new volume, with the poet's name. The vogue of the ballad had been so immense, and with just the people Cowper was otherwise least likely to reach, that it must have very much helped the sale of the volume in which it now appeared. The London world which had given Henderson and Sheridan a profit of eight hundred pounds on their recitations, and had been so eager to obtain the print of John as he passed the Edmonton Bell that one dealer alone sold six thousand, was sure to provide curiosity enough to ensure the success of any volume by the same author. In fact, the edition was quickly exhausted, and next year the volume was reprinted, this time as the second of two volumes of Poems of William Cowper, Esq., of the Inner Temple, the earlier volume being now issued with it.
Of the literary importance of the “ Task ” and the “ Poems,” I shall speak presently. The immediate point is their effect on Cowper and on his life. Within a short time after their publication his name, till then hardly known outside the limits of an obscure country town, except by a few fast-fading memories, was become one of the very first in the nation to those who took any interest in English letters ; the very first, indeed, in poetry at that moment, for Crabbe's long silence had just begun, and no volume of verse published between his “ Newspaper," which preceded the “Task ” by some months, and the “ Lyrical Ballads” of 1798, can be compared for an instant with Cowper's great poem. He was read abroad as well as at home, having sixty readers at the Hague alone ; and his reputation was such that when, only two or three years later, he decided to publish his translation of Homer by subscription, his friends had little difficulty in obtaining nearly five hundred subscribers. Pope himself had only had six hundred. But what Cowper valued more than any new fame his book brought him, was the old friends it gave back to him. The first of these was his cousin, Lady Hesketh. Nearest to him, except one, of all the happy circle of his London days, she was now once more to take her place in his life, never again to resign it. It is still the second place, not the first. No rival ever came between Cowper and Mrs. Unwin; but from this time onwards, till the final removal to Norfolk, Lady Hesketh was never many months without seeing him, or many weeks without writing to him. Whether she had seen his first volume or not is uncertain; if so, she had perhaps concluded that he was still in a state in which correspondence could only consist of sermons on the one side and vain attempts on the other to go back to lighter matters once enjoyed in common. But when she had read “ Gilpin,” she knew that the cousin of her youth was alive again. She wrote at once, and he replied that very day: “ This is just as it should be: we are all grown young again.” In a second letter she placed her purse at his disposal, and he at once said that, though he had refused those of others, he would not refuse hers. With her came back a renewal of friendly intercourse with others of his relations, and “ Unwins and Unwinisms," as he called the acquaintances he had made in the twenty years since 1765, were to be his exclusive society no more. An anonymous friend, through Lady Hesketh (it was probably Theodora Cowper), sent him frequent presents, and promised an annuity of fifty pounds; his uncle offered to come and see him, and Lady Hesketh came. She was settled in Olney Vicarage by June, 1786, and before she had been there many days had arranged for Cowper and Mrs. Unwin to give up their rather cheerless house in Olney, and take one offered them by the Throckmortons at Weston. The new house was an improvement in every way; a better house, a better garden, pleasanter company, and, above all, Weston park and gardens at their own gate, instead of separated from them by a mile or two of winter mud.. Of course, the Throckmorton friendship rapidly grew under the new circumstances : and by the help of Lady Hesketh's carriage and the fame of the author of the “ Task," they made some pleasant acquaintances in the country round. Lady Hesketh and Mrs. Unwin got on admirably from the first, though not quite, it must be admitted, to the last; for there came a day when Mrs. Unwin's health failed, and with it sometimes Lady Hesketh's patience, so that we find her writing of the poor old lady rather bitterly as “the Enchantress.”* But that was not yet; and for the present, with his new friends, his new house, and the new book he had undertaken, Cowper was busier and happier than he had ever been since the catastrophe of 1763. The work he was engaged in was the translation of Homer, which grew out of an early dislike for the artificiality of Pope. He began it a week after he finished the last poem of his second volume, and set himself the task of forty lines a day. According to Hayley,t the original
suggestion here also came from Lady Austen, who, when Cowper read Pope to her and grumbled at him, asked why he should not himself make the simpler version he clamoured for. If so, her inspiration was hardly so happy in this case as when she set him to work on the “Task.” But, no doubt, the mechanical labour of translating was exactly the thing to keep nightmares at bay. The translation, and the business of revising and correcting it, was his main occupation till its appearance in the summer of 1791: and, indeed, he can hardly be said to have ever again laid Homer aside ; for the first edition was hardly out when he began a revision for the second, and he worked at a final revision even during the sad Norfolk period at the end. The blessing of translations is to the translator; and it is impossible for Cowper's readers not to regret these long years, his best, lost for the purposes of original work. But he himself says (January 8, 1787) that it was only after waiting a year, in a condition in which writing was a necessity to him, and finding no subject for original verse, that he turned to the task of translating Homer. And Homer at least gave the poet in him some chance. Milton, who followed next, only asked translation in the case of his Latin and Italian poems ; for the rest, Cowper's task was that of an editor. Johnson had planned a Milton to rival Boydell's Shakespeare: plates by Fuseli and notes by Cowper. But Cowper got no good of it except the friendship of Hayley, the poet, who afterwards wrote his life. His important literary work was, in fact, done by 1785, when the “ Task” was published. Nothing written after that, except a very few occasional pieces, has any bearing on his poetical position to-day. (It was with Cowper, as with most poets ; his work was done when he began to enjoy the honour of it.
The fifteen years he had still to live when the “'Task" appeared were divided into two halves, the happiest and the saddest periods of his life. During the first (with the exception of the first six months of 1787, during which he was insane) he might seem to have got together most of the ingredients whose mixture makes the sweetest cup of happiness middle-aged bachelors can hope to taste. His health and fortune were as good as anybody has a right to expect; and he took them, after the fashion of the wise and happy, as part of the established order of things. The daily domesticities, that are only second in importance to good health and good temper in their effect on happiness, were made delightful to him by the never-broken harmony of his union with Mrs. Unwin. He had a host of friends, new and old, appearing and reappearing from all directions, and loading him not only with their love, which is best, but with their admiration, which, though only second-best, will never be a small part of happiness to any one, and most certainly not to a poet. Then, besides health and wealth, friends to his mind, and, I might almost say, wife to his heart, he had a house and garden which were exactly what he wanted, and where he wanted. And, best of all, perhaps, he was constantly busy, and his business was of that kind, the most agreeable of all, which brings to him who does it not only credit from outside but pleasure within. What can a man want more? we may ask; and answer, perhaps, Nothing, except some children to carry him on into the future. But it was not the lack of children that spoilt the thought of the future for Cowper. His awful delusion was always in the background to blacken that picture for him. Still, it seems it was not often anywhere except in the background: and probably few discovered it who were not standing very close. For weeks or months no sign of it appeared except his obstinate refusal to enter a church or even to join in the devotional exercises of his own household. Such a conviction to such a man could not but be a large drawback to the completest round of happiness; but all the evidence points to long periods of latency, leaving free play to his great natural gift of enjoyment; and in spite of an attack of insanity in 1787, this was his common condition from 1785 to 1792 or 1793; as a whole, few happier men were to be found.
There are very few eighteenth-century interiors with which we are more intimately acquainted than that of Weston Lodge during these smiling years of industry, prosperity, and peace. The best picture of it, or rather the best hundred pictures of it, are, of course, to be found in his own letters, some of the most charming letters dating from this time. But for those who love to know the little daily ways of great men, it may be worth adding a few details from unpublished sources. About what he ate I do not know that there is much to say, except that he was fond of fish; and nearly all the letters to Hill, and many to the Newtons, contain messages of thanks for fish often suppressed in the printed text. Of what he drank we know more. Like Gibbon, and unlike Johnson, he was a believer in wine. “If such be the consequences of waterdrinking,” he writes to Hill of his friend Chester's visit to Harrogate in 1788, “let us abstain from all such perilous beverages, and drink wine.” Another of the hitherto unpublished letters to Hill gives us the detail that he found it most convenient to import his wine by the hogshead from Lynn rather than by the hamper from London. What the wine was I do not know, except that it was sometimes the Madeira beloved by Gibbon, and that on one occasion, of which I have seen a detailed description, the two bottles on the table at the afternoon dessert were of port and of calcavella. A young cousin of Cowper's, one John Johnson, grandson of his uncle Roger Donne, came over to see him from Cambridge about this time-to be exact, in January, 1790,-soon became a frequent and very welcome guest at the Lodge, and played a large part in the rest of Cowper's life. Among the Cowper papers of all sorts he left behind him, there are two manuscripts of his own, which are descriptions in verse of his first day at the Lodge, and of the first time he saw Teedon, the foolish schoolmaster of Olney, a visitor there. It is the second of these which gives us this little detail of the wines. Teedon finds them at dessert on a Saturday afternoon.
“ O'er choicest fruits and wine in social chat
Thyself, thy Mary, and thy kinsman sat.” And Cowper soon asks him
“Good Mr. Teedon, which shall pass,
Port wine or calcavella to thy glass ? ” Teedon takes port, and asks, as most of us will to-day, what calcavella is ; on which Cowper derives the name “ with fear” from “ qualchevalle.” The fear was wiser than the derivation, it seems; for the wine is really a white Portuguese wine, and takes its name from the town Carcavelhos. But Teedon knew no Italian, and cheerfully added a glass of " qualchevalle” to his port. So much for Cowper in the poetical rôle of a wine-bibber, to which it is regrettable to admit that he added the prosaic character of a drinker of gin. In the printed letters there is now and then, an indication of a taste for the best Holland gin; and the unprinted indications of it are more numerous ; one may be quoted : it is the omitted opening of the letter to Johnson of April 11, 1793 : “MY DEAREST JOHNNY,
“In the first place, as a most important article, which I would not willingly forget, I wish you to send us another keg of Geneva, that excellent liquor of which we both take a tablespoonful every day after dinner. This laudable practice, together with the gift of a bottle to the Courtenays, has pretty much reduced our quantity, so that we are in danger of being left ginless unless soon supplied.”
There are also demands for white brandy. So that it is plain that neither Cowper nor Mrs. Unwin made room for total abstinence in their creed. Truth must add that both took snuff. John Johnson was not a great poet, but he is a witness to whose evidence there is no reply: and the first of these sketches tells us of the walk he took with Cowper, and paints for us the poet sitting in the Weston alcove, setting his watch by Olney church clock with the assistance of a “traveller glass," enjoying the scenery, and also enjoying the contents of a
« Silver storehouse filled With Caledonian grain that thrilled and thrilled
Thy nerve olfactory :” and when they get home they find Mrs. Unwin sitting in her chair, and, on the table by her side, “a box of silver with a pungent store.'