« PreviousContinue »
Short-lived as we are, yet our pleasures, we see,
ON RECEIPT OF MY MOTHER'S PICTURE
“On Receipt of My Mother's Picture” was written early in 1790. Cowper, in writing to Lady Hesketh on February 26, 1790, said: “I am delighted with Mrs. Bodham's kindness in giving me the only picture of my own mother that is to be found, I suppose, in all the world. I had rather possess it than the richest jewel in the British crown, for I loved her with an affection that her death, fifty-two years since, has not in the least abated. I remember her, too, young as I was when she died, well enough to know that it is a very exact resemblance of her, and as such it is to me invaluable."
He also wrote to Mrs. Bodham: “I received it (the picture) the night before last, and viewed it with a trepidation of nerves and spirits somewhat akin to what I should have felt had the dear original presented herself to my embraces. I kissed it and hung it where it is the last object I see at night, and of course the first on which I open my eyes in the morning."
14. A mother lost so long. Cowper's mother died when he was but six years of age.
19. Elysian. Yielding the highest pleasures. The word is derived from Elysium, the name given by the early Greeks to the dwelling-place of happy souls after death.
45. Ne’er forgot. Cowper, in writing to his friend Hill in November, 1784, said: “I can truly say that not a week passes (perhaps I might with equal veracity say a day) in which I do not think of her" (his mother).
88. Albion's coast. Albion, an ancient name of England.
97. “Where tempests never beat nor billows roar." Quoted from Garth's “The Dispensary,” Canto III.
98. And thy loved consort. Cowper's father died July 9, 1756.
108–109. My boast is not, that I deduce my birth, etc. Cowper sprang from an ancestry of gentle blood. (See biographical sketch in Introduction.)
THE NEEDLESS ALARM
“The Needless Alarm was written in 1788.
3. Kilwick's echoing wood. A short distance west of Olney.
106. Cambrian ewe. Cambria, the name by which Wales was known to the Romans.
“ Boadicea" was written in 1780 after Cowper had finished reading Hume's History of England.”
Boadicea was the wife of Prasutagus, king of one of the tribes in eastern England. Her husband having died in 60 A.D., she fell into the hands of the Romans, who robbed her of her wealth and reduced her to the standing of a slave. In 62 she led a revolt against her oppressors, and is said to have perished on the field of battle.
20. The Gaul is at her gates. Rome fought many wars against the Gauls and Goths, and was several times besieged by them.
EPITAPH ON A HARE
The “Epitaph on a Hare” was written in 1783. The following account of the treatment of his pets was inserted by Cowper in the Gentleman's Magazine for June, 1784:
“In the year 1774, being much indisposed both in mind and body, incapable of diverting myself either with company or books, and yet in a condition that made some diversion necessary, I was glad of any thing that would engage my
attention without fatiguing it. The children of a neighbor of mine had a leveret given them for a plaything; it was at that time about three months old. Understanding better how to tease the poor creature than to feed it, and becoming weary of their charge, they readily consented that their father, who saw it pining and growing leaner every day, should offer it to my acceptance. I was willing enough to take the prisoner under my protection, perceiving that, in the management of such an animal, and in the attempt to tame it, I should find just that sort of employment which my case required. It was soon known among the neighbors that I was pleased with the present; and the consequence was, that in a short time I had as many leverets offered to me as would have stocked a paddock. I undertook the care of three, which it is necessary that I should here distinguish by the names I gave them Puss, Tiney, and Bess. Notwithstanding the two feminine appellatives, I must inform you that they were all males. Immediately commencing carpenter, I built them houses to sleep in; each had a separate apartment, so contrived, that their ordure would pass through the bottom of it; an earthen pan placed under each received whatsoever fell, which being duly emptied and washed, they were thus kept perfectly sweet and clean. In the daytime they had the range of a hall, and at night retired, each to his own bed, never intruding into that of another.
“Puss grew presently familiar, would leap into my lap, raise himself upon his hinder feet, and bite the hair from my temples. He would suffer me to take him up, and to carry him about in my arms, and has more than once fallen fast asleep upon my knee. He was ill three days, during which time I nursed him, kept him apart from his fellows, that they might not molest him, (for, like many other wild animals, they persecute one of their own species that is sick,)
and by constant care, and trying him with a variety of herbs, restored him to perfect health. No creature could be more grateful than my patient after his recovery; a sentiment which he most significantly expressed by licking my hand, first the back of it, then the palm, then every finger separately, then between all the fingers, as if anxious to leave no part of it unsaluted; a ceremony which he never performed but once again upon a similar occasion. Finding him extremely tractable, I made it my custom to carry him always after breakfast into the garden, where he hid himself generally under the leaves of a cucumber vine, sleeping or chewing the cud till evening: in the leaves also of that vine he found a favorite repast. I had not long habituated him to this taste of liberty, before he began to be impatient for the return of the time when he might enjoy it. He would invite me to the garden by drumming upon my knee, and by a look of such expression, as it was not possible to misinterpret. If this rhetoric did not immediately succeed, he would take the skirt of my coat between his teeth, and pull at it with all his force. Thus Puss might be said to be perfectly tamed, the shyness of his nature was done away, and on the whole it was visible by many symptoms, which I have not room to enumerate, that he was happier in human society than when shut up with his natural companions.
“Not so Tiney; upon him the kindest treatment had not the least effect. He, too, was sick, and in his sickness had an equal share of my attention, but if after his recovery I took the liberty to stroke im, he would grunt, strike with his fore feet, spring forward, and bite. He was, however, very entertaining in his way; even his surliness was matter of mirth; and in his play he preserved such an air of gravity, and performed his feats with such a solemnity of manner, that in him, too, I had an agreeable companion.
Bess, who died soon after he was full grown, and whose
death was occasioned by his being turned into his box, which had been washed, while it was yet damp, was à hare of great humor and drollery. Puss was tamed by gentle usage; Tiney was not to be tamed at all: and Bess had a courage and confidence that made him tame from the beginning. I always admitted them into the parlor after supper when the carpet affording their feet a firm hold, they would frisk, and bound and play a thousand gambols, in which Bess, being remarkably strong and fearless, was always superior to the rest, and proved himself the Vestris of the party. One evening the cat, being in the room, had the hardiness to pat Bess upon the cheek, an indignity which he resented by drumming upon her back with such violence, that the cat was happy to escape from under his paws, and hide herself. “I describe these animals as having each a character of his
Such they were in fact, and their countenances were so expressive of that character, that, when I looked only on the face of either, I immediately knew which it was. It is said that a shepherd, however numerous his flock, soon becomes so familiar with their features, that he can, by that indication only, distinguish each from all the rest; and yet, to a common observer, the difference is hardly perceptible. I doubt not that the same discrimination in the cast of countenances would be discoverable in hares, and am persuaded that among a thousand of them, no two could be found exactly similar; a circumstance little suspected by those who have not had opportunity to observe it. These creatures have a singular sagacity in discovering the minutest alteration that is made in the place to which they are accustomed and instantly apply their nose to the examination of a new object. A small hole being burnt in the carpet, it was mended with a patch, and that patch in a moment underwent the strictest scrutiny. They seem, too, to be