« PreviousContinue »
ward first, and then the other, he shall be sure to accomplish it So it is in the present case, and so it is in every similar case. A letter is written as a conversation is maintained, or a journey per formed; not by preconcerted, or premeditated means, a new con trivance, or an invention never heard of before,.--but merely by maintaining a progress, and resolving as a postilion does, having once set out, never to stop till we reach the appointed end. If a man may talk without thinking, why may he not write upon the same terms? A grave gentleman of the last century, a tie-wig square-toe, Steinkirk figure, would say, “My good sir, a man hag no right to do either.” But it is to be hoped that the present cen tury has nothing to do with the mouldy opinions of the last; and so, good Sir Launcelot, or Sir Paul, or whatever be your name, step into your picture-frame again, and look as if you thought for another century, and leave us moderns, in the meantime, to think when we can, and to write whether we can or not, else we might as well be dead, as you are.
When we look back upon our forefathers, we seem to look back upon
the people of another nation, almost upon creatures of another species. Their vast rambling mansions, spacious halls, and painted casements, the Gothic porch smothered with honeysuckles, their little.gardens and high walls, their box-edging, balls of holly, and yew-tree statues, are become so entirely unfashionable now, that we can hardly believe it possible, that a people who resembled us so little in their tastes, should resemble us in any thing else. But in every thing else, I suppose, they were our counterparts exactly; and time, that has sewed up the slashed sleeve, and reduced the large trunk hose to a neat pair of silk-stockings, has left human nature just where it found it. The inside of the man, at least, lias undergone no change. His passions, appetites, and aims, are just what they ever were. They wear, perhaps, a handsomer disguise than they did in days of yore; for philosophy and literature will have their effect upon the exterior; but in every other respect a modern is only an ancient in a different dress.
AN EPISTLE IN RHYME.
To the Rev. JOHN NEWTON.I
July 12, 1781. I am going to send, what when you have read, you may scratch your head, and say, I suppose, there's nobody knows, whether what I have got, be verse or not; by the tune and the time, it ought to be rhyme; but if it be, did you ever see, of late or of yore, such a ditty before? The thought did occur, to me and to her, as madam and I, did walk and not fly, over the hills and dales, with spreading sails, before it was dark to Weston Park.
1 * Cowper, in one of his letters, complained to Mr. Newton of the wanderings of his mind; his friend acknowledged a similar weakness;Yes,' replied the poet, but you have always a serious thought standing at the door, like a justice of peace, with the riot-act in his hand, ready to disperse tie mob. Cowper's correspondence with Newton presents few specimens of this delightful badiJage. He loved and respected, but he also feared his friend."-Willmott.
The news at Oney is little or noney ; but such as it is, I send it, viz. : Poor Mr. Peace cannot yet cease, addling his head with what you said, and has left parish-church quite in the lurch, having almost swore to go there no more.
Page and his wife, that made such a strife, we met them twain in Dog-lane; we gave them the wall, and that was all. For Mr. Scott, we have seen him not, except as he pass’d, in a wonderful haste, to see a friend in Silver End. Mrs. Jones proposes, ere July closes, that she and her sister, and her Jones mister, and we that are here, our course shall steer, to dine in the Spinney ;1 but for a guinea, if the weather should hold, so hot and so cold, we had better by far, stay where we are. For the grass there grows, while nobody mows, (which is very wrong,) so rank and long, that so to speak, 'tis at least a week, if it happens to rain, ere it dries again.
I have writ Charity, not for popularity, but as well as I could, in hopes to do good ; and if the Reviewer should say “ To be sure, the gentleman's Muse, wears methodist shoes; you may know by her pace, and talk about grace, that she and her bard have little regard, for the taste and fashions, and ruling passions, and hoidening play, of the modern day; and though she assume a borrowed plume, and here and there wear a tittering air, 'tis only her plan, to catch if she can, the giddy and gay, as they go that way, by a production on a new construction. She has baited her trap in hopes to snap all that may come, with a sugar-plum."
His opinion in this, will not be amiss ; ?tis what I intend, my principal end ; and if I succeed, and folks should read, till a few are brought to a serious thought, I shall think I am paid, for all I have said and all I have done, though I have run, many a time, after a rhyme, as far as from hence, to the end of my sense, and by hook or crook, write another book, if I live and am here, another year. I have heard before, of a room with a floor, laid upon springs, and such-like things, with so much art, in every part, that when you went in, you was forced to begin a ininuet
1 The Spinney was a delightful rural retirement-a grove---belonging to Mrs. Throckmorton of Weston, and about a mile from Olney. The word is used for a thicket, or clump of trees.
2 Cowper's summer-house still exists, but his favorite Spinney was cut down in 1785. Writing to Newton, he said, “In one year the whole will be a thicket; that which was once the serpentine-walk is now in a state of transformation, and is already become as'woody as the rest. Poplars and elms, without number, are springing in the turf. They are now as high as the knee. Before the summer is ended they will be twice as high; and the growth of another season will make them irees. The desolation of the whole scene is such that it sunk our spirits."
pace, with an air and a grace, swimming about, now in and now out, with a deal of state, in a figure of eight, without pipe or string, or any such thing; and now I have writ
, in a rhyming fit, what will make you dance, and as you advance, will keep you still, though against your will
, dancing away, alert and gay, till you come to an end of what I have penn’d; which that you may do, ere madam and you are quite worn out with jigging about, I take my leave, and here you receive a bow profound, down to the ground, from your humble me,
W. C. P.S. When I concluded, doubtless you did think me right, as well you might, in saying what I said of Scott; and then it was true, but now it is due to him to note, that since I wrote, himself and he has visited me.
EXPECTS LADY HESKETH PREPARATIONS FOR HERMHIS WORKSHOP.
OLNEY, May 29, 1786.
To LADY HESKETH.
Thou dear, comfortable cousin, whose letters, among all that I receive, have this property peculiarly their own, that I expect them without trembling, and never find any thing in them that does not give me pleasure; for which therefore I would take nothing in exchange that the world could give me, save and except that for which I must exchange them soon, (and happy shall I be to do so,) your own company. That, indeed, is delayed a little too long; to my impatience at least it seems so, who find the spring, backward as it is, too forward, because many of its beauties will have faded before you will have an opportunity to see
We took our customary walk yesterday in the wilderness at Weston, and saw, with regret, the labumums, syringas, and guelder-roses, some of them blown, and others just upon the point of blowing, and could not help observing-—All these will be gone before Lady Hesketh comes !
Still however there will be roses, and jasmine, and honeysuckle, and shady walls, and cool alcoves, and you will partake them with us.
But I want you to have a share of every thing that is delightful here, and cannot bear that the advance of the season should steal away a single pleasure before you can come to enjoy it.
Every day I think of you, and almost all the day long; I will venture to say, that even you were never so expected in your life. I called last week at the Quaker's to see the furniture of your bed, the fame of which had reached me. It is, I assure you, superb, of printed cotton, and the subject classical. Every morning you will open your eyes on Phaeton kneeling to Apollo, and imploring his father to grant him the conduct of his chariot for a day. May your sleep be as sound as your bed will be sumptuous, and your nights at least will be well provided for.
I shall send up the sixth and seventh books of the Iliad shortly, and shall address them to you. You will forward them to the General. I long to show you my workshop, and to see you sitting on the opposite side of my table. We shall be as close packed as two wax figures in an old-fashioned picture frame. I am writing in it now. It is the place in which I fabricate all my verse in summer time. I rose an hour sooner than usual this morning, that I might finish my sheet before breakfast, for I must write this day to the General.
The grass under my windows is all bespangled with dewdrops, and the birds are singing in the apple trees, among the blossoms. Never poet had a more commodious oratory in which to invoke his Muse.
TRANSLATION OF HOMER-THE NONSENSE CLUB.
To JOSEPH HILL, Esq.
OLNEY, June 9, 1786. The little time that I can devote to any other purpose than that of poetry is, as you may suppose, stolen. Homer is urgent. Much is done, but much remains undone, and no schoolboy is more attentive to the performance of his daily task than I am. You will therefore excuse me if at present I am both unfrequent and short,
I had a letter some time since from your sister Fanny, that gave me great pleasure. Such notices from old friends are always pleasant, and of such pleasures I have received many lately. They refresh the remembrance of early days, and
make me young again. The noble institution of the Nonsense Club will be forgotten, when we are gone who composed it; but I often think of your most heroic line, written at one of our meetings, and especially think of it when I am translating Homer,
"To whom replied the Devil yard-long-tailed."1
There never was any thing more truly Grecian than that triple epithet, and were it possible to introduce it into either Iliad or Odyssey, I should certainly steal it. I am now flushed with expectation of Lady Hesketh, who spends the summer with us. We hope to see her next week. We have found admirable lodgings both for her and her suite, and a Quaker in this town, still more admirable than they, who, as if he loved her as much as I do, furnishes them for her with real elegance.
1 See page 70 under “Moral Plays."
ON A PARTICULAR PROVIDENCE.1
How mysterious are the ways of Providence! Why did I receive grace and mercy? Why was I preserved, afflicted for my good, received, as I trust, into favor, and blessed with the greatest happiness I can ever know or hope for in this life, while others were overtaken by the great arrest, unawakened, unrepent ing, and every way unprepared for it? His infinite wisdom, to whose infinite mercy I owe it all, can solve these questions, and none beside him. If I am convinced that no affliction can befall me without the permission of God, I am convinced, likewise, that he sees and knows that I am afflicted. Believing this, I must in the same degree believe that, if I pray to him for deliverance, he hears me; I must needs know likewise with equal assurance that, if he hears, he will also deliver me, if that will, upon the whole, be most conducive to my happiness; and if he does not deliver me, I may be well assured that he has none but the most benevolent intention in declining it. He made us, not because we could add to his happiness, which was always perfect, but that we might be happy ourselves; and will he not, in all his dispensations towards us, even in the minutest, consult thai end for which he made us ? To suppose the contrary, is (which we are not always aware of) affronting every one of his attributes; and at the same time the certain consequence of disbelieving his care for us is, that we renounce utterly our dependence upon him. In this view, it will appear plainly that the line of duty is not stretched too tight, when we are told that we ought to accept every thing at his hands as a blessing, and to be thankful even while we smart under the rod of iron with which he sometimes rules us. Without this persuasion, every blessing, however we may think ourselves happy in it, loses its greatest recommendation, and every affliction is intolerable. Death itself must be welcome to him who has this faith, and he who has it not, must aim at it, if he is not a madman.
1 From a letter to Lady Hesketh, dated Sept. 4, 1765.