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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. Scot, we have seen him not, except as he pass'd, in a wonderful haste, to see a friend, in Silver end,t Mrs. Jones proposes, e'er 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, 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, e'er it dries again.
"I have writ Charity, not for popularity, but as well as I cou'd, 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 hoydening play of the modern day; and though she assume a borrowed plume, and now and then wear a tittering air, 'tis only her plan to catch if she can, the giddy and gay, as they go
* Close by Cowper's house at Olney.
+ A lane adjoining Cowper's house.
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-plumb.'-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 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 minuet 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 W. C.
“P. S. When I concluded, doubtless you did think me right, as well you might, in saying what
I said of Scot, and then it was true, but now it is due, to Him to note, that since I wrote, Himself and He has visited we."
He was at this time employed on his poem on Charity, which he considered would be a proper sequel to "Hope;" and on the 22nd of the same month he told Mr. Newton he was "in the middle of an affair called Conversation,' which, as 'Table Talk' serves, in the present volume, by way of introductory fiddle to the band that follows, I design shall perform the same office in a second.”
Neither constant occupation nor society was capable of entirely removing Cowper's constitutional dejection of spirits; and though his letters at this period evince much cheerfulness, and occasionally sportive vivacity, the seeds of his malady were far from eradicated. To Mr. Newton, in August, 1781, he observed: "My thoughts are clad in a sober livery, for the most part as grave as that of a bishop's servant's. They turn too upon spiritual subjects, but the tallest fellow, and the loudest amongst them all, is he who is continually crying, with a loud voice, Actum est de te, periisti. You wish for more attention, I for less. Dissipation itself would be welcome to me, so it were not a vicious one; but however earnestly invited, it is coy, and keeps at a distance. Yet with all this distressing gloom upon my mind, I experience, as you do, the slipperiness of the present hour, and the rapidity
with which time escapes me. Every thing around us, and every thing that befalls us, constitutes a variety, which, whether agreeable or otherwise, has still a thievish propensity, and steals from us days, months, and years, with such unparalleled address, that even while we say they are here, they are gone. From infancy to manhood is rather a tedious period, chiefly, I suppose because at that time we act under the control of others, and are not suffered to have a will of our own. But thence downward into the vale of years, is such a declivity, that we have just an opportunity to reflect upon the steepness of it, and then find ourselves at the bottom."
About this time Lady Austen became the tenant of the parsonage in Olney: as it communicated by a door in the garden wall with the Poet's residence, a constant intercourse subsisted between the two families; and they dined alternately with each other. Her Ladyship's musical acquirements induced Cowper to write several songs for her, and for three years his happiest hours were spent in her society.
His letters to Mr. Newton, in the autumn of 1781, related chiefly to the publication of his Poems, and their progress through the press. Of "Retirement" he gave him the subjoined account :
"I have already begun and proceeded a little way in a poem called Retirement. My view in choosing that subject is to direct to the proper use of the opportunities it affords for the cultivad
tion of a man's best interests; to censure the vices and the follies which people carry with them into their retreats, where they make no other use of their leisure than to gratify themselves with the indulgence of their favourite appetites, and to pay themselves, by a life of pleasure, for a life of business. In conclusion, I would enlarge upon the happiness of that state, when discreetly enjoyed and religiously improved. But all this is, at present, in embryo. I generally despair of my progress when I begin; but if, like my travelling 'squire, I should kindle as I go, this likewise may make a part of the volume, for I have time enough before me."
Cowper was peculiarly fortunate in having a publisher who, to the habits of a man of business, united considerable critical judgment and good taste. Since literature has degenerated into a mere calculation of profit and loss, publishers of this class have nearly become extinct, but of the valuable assistance which an intelligent bookseller may afford to an author, no one is more aware than the writer of the Memoirs which are prefixed to this, and the preceding volumes of the present edition of the Poets.
Cowper repeatedly expresses to Mr. Newton and others his acknowledgments for his publisher Mr. Johnson's suggestions; and the following letters to him, which have not before been printed, still farther evince the poet's obligations: