Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

coming an author, made him one. He found employment necessary, and therefore took care to be constantly employed. Manual occupations do not engage the mind sufficiently, as he knew by experience, having tried many. But composition, especially of verse, absorbs it wholly. It was his practice, therefore, to write generally three hours in a morning, and in an evening he transcribed. He read also, but less than he wrote, for bodily exercise was necessary, and he never passed a day without it. All this shows that Cowper understood his own case most exactly, and that he was not one of those hypochondriacs who are said to give way to their disorder. No man could have discussed the subject with more perspicuity, or treated himself with more judgment. The returns of his malady, therefore, appear to have been wholly unavoidable, and wholly independent of his employment, whether of a religious or literary kind.

In October, 1785, he had reached the twentieth book of his translation of Homer, although, prebably, no part was finished as he could have wished. His stated number was forty lines each day, with transcription and revision. His immediate object was to publish the Homer by subscription, in order to add something to his income, which appears to have been always scanty ; and in this resolution he persisted, notwithstanding offers from his liberal bookseller far more advantageous than a subscription was then likely to produce. He seems to have felt a certain degree of pleasure, not wholly un. mixed, in watching the progress of his subscription, and the gradual accession of names known to the learned world, or dear to himself by past recollections,

During the composition of this work, he at first declined what he had done before, showing specimens to his friends, and on this subject, indeed, his opinion seems to have undergone a complete

a

change. To his friend Mrs. Unwin, who informert him that a gentleman wanted a sample, he says, with some humour, “When I deal in wine, cloih, or cheese, I will give samples, but of verse, never. No consideration could have induced me to comply with the gentleman's demand, unless he could have assured me that his wife had longed.” From this resolution he afterwards departed, in a variety of instances. He first sent a specimen, with the proposals, to his relation General Cowper : it consisted of one hundred and seven lines, taken from the interview between Priam and Achilles, in the last book. This specimen fell into the hands of Mr. Fuseli, the celebrated painter, whose critical knowledge of Homer is universally acknowledged; and Cowper likewise agreed, that if Mr. Maty, who then published a Review, wished to see a book of Homer, he should be welcome; and the first book and a part of the second were accordingly sent. Mr. Fuseli afterwards was permitted to revise the whole of the manuscript; and how well Cowper was satisfied in falling in with such a critic, appears (among other proofs of his high esteem) from the short character he gives of him in one of his letters. “For his knowledge of Homer, he has, I verily believe, no fellow.” Colman, likewise, his old companion, with whom he had renewed an epistolary intimacy, revised some parts, in a manner which afforded the author much satisfaction, and appears to have corrected the sheets for the press. With Maty he was less pleased, as his criticisms appeared “unjust, and, in part, illiberal.”

While thus intent on his Homer, he was enabled, by the kindness of Lady Hesketh, to remove (in November, 1796,) from Olney to Weston, about two miles distant, where the house provided for him was more sequestered and commodious. Here, too, he had access to the society of Mr. Throck. morton, a gentleman of fortune in that neighbourhood, whose family had for some time studied to add to his comforts, in a manner the most delicate and affectionate. It is, indeed, not easy to speak of the conduct of Cowper's friends in terms adequate to their merit, their kindness, sensibility, anci judgment. Their attentions exceeded much what we read of, and perhaps all that we commonly meet with under the name of friendship. In the midst of these fair prospects, however, he lost his. steady and beloved friend Mr. Unwin, who died in December of this year.

The translation of Homer, after innumerable in. terruptions, was sent to press about November, 1790, and published in 1791, in two quarto volumes; the Iliad he inscribed to Earl Cowper, his young kinsman, and the Odyssey to the dowager Lady Spencer. Such was its success with the subscri. bers and with non-subscribers, that the edition was nearly out of print in less than six months. Yet, after all the labour he had employed, and all the anxiety he felt for this work, it fell so short of the expectation formed by the public, and of the perfection which he hoped he had attained, that, instead of a second edition, he began, at no long distance of time, what may be termed a new translation. To himself, however, his first attempt had been of great advantage, nor were any number of his years spent in more general tranquillity, than the five which he had dedicated to Homer.

One of the greatest benefits he derived from his attention to this translation, was the renewed conviction that labour of this kind, although with intermissions, sometimes of relaxation, and sometimes of anxiety, was necessary to his health and happi. ness: and this conviction led him very soon to accede to a proposal made by his bookseller, to undertake a magnificent edition of Milton's poetical works, the beauties of which had engaged his wonder at a very early period of life. These he was

now to illustrate by notes, original and selected, and be was to translate the Latin and Italian poems, while Mr. Fuseli was to paint a series of pictures, to be engraven by the first artists. To this scheme (wlien yet in its infancy) the public are indebted for the friendship which Mr. Hayley contracted with Cowper, and one of its happiest consequences, a specimen of biography, minute, elegant, and highly instructive.

The edition of Milton went on but slowly. A revisal of Homer presented itself in the mean time, as a more urgent, as well as pleasing undertaking, and from 1792 we find our author employed in correcting, re-writing, and adding notes. In 1793, he appears to have been solely occupied in these labours, and wished to engage Mr. Hayley with him in a regular and complete revisal of his Homer. Mr. Hayley, with every inclination for an office so agreeable, and a partnership so honourable, still imagined that at this time he might render more essential service to the poet by an application to his more powerful friends. His delicate office was undertaken in consequence of what he had observed in Cowper on a late visit to Weston. “He possessed completely at this period,” says his biographer, “all the admirable faculties of his mind, and all the native tenderness of his heart; but there was something indescribable in his appearance, which led me to apprehend that, without some signal event in his favour, to re-animate his spirits, they would gradually sink into hopeless dejection. The state of his aged and infirm companion (Mrs. Unwin) afforded additional ground for increasing solicitude. Her cheerful and beneficent spirit could hardly resist her own accumulated maladies, so far as to preserve ability sufficient to watch over the tender health of him, wbom she had watched and guarded so long Imbecility of body and mind must gradually render this tender and

mer.

heroic woman unfit for the charge which she had so laudably sustained. The signs of such imbecility were beginning to be painfully visible.”

For some time, however, the fears of Mr. Cow. per's affectionate friend, appeared to be groundless. His correspondence, after the departure of Mr. Hayley, in November, 1793, bespoke a mind considerably at ease, and even cheerful and active. From various circumstances, the scheme of publishing an edition of Milton appears to have been totally relinquished, and as his enthusiasm for this undertaking had abated, he expresses considerable satisfaction that he could devote the whole of his time to the improvement of his translation of Ho.

A new scheme, more suitable to his original talents, had been suggested in 1791, by the Rev. Mr. Buchannan, curate of Ravenstone, a man of worth and genius. This was a poem, to be entitled The Four Ages, or the four distinct periods of Infancy, Youth, Manhood, and Old Age. For some time our poet meditated with great satisfac.. tion on this design, and probably revolved many of the subordinate subjects in his mind. It seems to have been peculiarly calculated for his powers of reflection, his knowledge of the human heart, and bis exquisite talent for depicting life and manners ; and it was intended likewise to unite the fascinations of the graphic art. Mr. Hayley bas published a fragment of this work, imperfect as the author left it, but more than enough to make us regret that his situation and the situation of his aged companion, soon forbade all hopes of its being executed.

In January, 1794, he informed his friend, Mr. Rose, that he had just ability enough to transcribe, and that he wrote at that moment under the pressure of sadness not to be described. In the expressive language of his biographer, “his health, bis comfort, and his little fortune, were perishing VOL. XXXVI,

С

« AnteriorContinuar »