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wheelbarrow served us for a tea-table. We then friend, and your obliging self, having allowed me the took a walk into the wilderness, about half a mile liberty of application, I make it without apology. off, and were at home again a little after eight, The solitude, or rather the duality of our conhaving spent the day together from noon till eve- dition at Olney, seems drawing to a conclusion. ning, without one cross occurrence, or the least You have not forgot, perhaps, that the building weariness of each other. A happiness few parties we inhabit consists of two mansions. And beof pleasure can boast of.
cause you have only seen the inside of that part Yours, with our joint love, W.C. of it which is in our occupation, I therefore in
form you, that the other end of it is by far the
most superb, as well as the most commodious. TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN.
Lady Austen has seen it, has set her heart upon it
, is going to fit it up and furnish it, and if she MY DEAR FRIEND,
August 25, 1781.
can get rid of the remaining two years of the lease We rejoice with you sincerely in the birth of of her London house, will probably enter upon it in another son, and in the prospect you have of Mrs. a twelve-month. You will be pleased with this Unwin's recovery; may your three children, and intelligence, because I have already told you, that the next three, when they shall make their ap- she is a woman perfectly well-bred, sensible, and pearance, prove so many blessings to their parents, in every respect agreeable; and above all, because and make you wish that you had twice the num- she loves your mother dearly. It ha
my eyes ber. But what made you expect daily that you (and I doubt not it will have the same in yours) should hear from me? Letter for letter is the law strong marks of providential interposition. A feof all correspondence whatsoever, and because 1 male friend, and one who bids fair to prove herwrote last, I have indulged myself for some time self worthy of the appellation, comes, recommended in expectation of a sheet from you.- Not that I by a variety of considerations, to such a place as govern myself entirely by the punctilio of recipro- Olney. Since Mr. Newton went, and till this cation, but having been pretty much occupied of lady came, there was not in the kingdom a retirelate, I was not sorry to find myself at liberty to ment more absolutely such than ours. We did exercise my discretion, and furnished with a good not want company, but when it came, we found excuse if I choose to be silent.
it agreeable. A person that has seen much of the I expected, as you remember, to have been pub- world, and understands it well, has high spirits, lished last spring, and was disappointed. The a lively fancy, and great readiness of conversation, delay has afforded me an opportunity to increase introduces a sprightliness into such a scene as this, the quantity of my publication by about a third; which if it was peaceful before, is not the worse and if my muse has not forsaken me, which 1 for being a little enlivened. In case of illness too, rather suspect to be the case, may possibly yet add to which all are liable, it was rather a gloomy prosto it. I have a subject in hand, which promises pect, if we allowed ourselves to advert to it, that me a great abundance of poetical matter, but there was hardly a woman in the place from whom which, for want of a something I am not able to it would have been reasonable to have expected describe, I can not at present proceed with. The either comfort or assistance. The present curate's name of it is Retirement, and my purpose, to re- wife is a valuable person, but has a family of her commend the proper improvement of it, to set forth own, and though a neighbour, is not a very near the requisites for that end, and to enlarge upon one. But if this plan is cflected, we shall be in a the happiness of that state of life, when managed manner one family, and I suppose never pass a as it ought to be. In the course of my journey day without some intercourse with each other. through this ample theme, I should wish to touch Your mother sends her warm affections, and upon the characters, the deficiencies, and the mis- welcomes into the world the new-born William. takes of thousands, who enter on a scene of retire
Yours, my dear friend, W.C. ment, unqualified for it in every respect, and with such designs as to have no tendency to promote either their own happiness or that of others. But
TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN. as I have told you before, there are times when I am no more a poet than I am a mathematician: MY DEAR FRIEND,
October 6, 1781. and when such a time occurs, I always think it What a world are you daily conversant with, better to give up the point, than to labour it in which I have not seen these twenty years, and vain. I shall yet again be obliged to trouble you shall never see again! The arts of dissipation (I for franks; the addition of three thousand lines, suppose) are no where practised with more refineor near that number, having occasioned a demand ment or success, than at the place of your present which I did not always foresee; but your obliging residence. By your account of it, it seems to be
just what it was when I visited it, a scene of idle-cock, but knows no more of verse than the cock ness and luxury, music, dancing, cards, walking, he imitates. riding, bathing, eating, drinking, coffee, tea, scan- Whoever supposes that Lady Austen's fortune dal, dressing, yawning, sleeping, the roonis per- is precarious, is mistaken. I can assure you, upon haps more magnificent, because the proprietors are the ground of the most circumstantial and authengrown richer, but the manners and occupations tic information, that it is both genteel and perof the coinpany just the same. Though my life fectly safe.
Yours, W.C. has long been like that of a recluse, I have not the temper of one, nor am I in the least an enemy to cheerfulness and good humour; but I can not envy
TO MRS. COWPER. you your situation; I even feel myself constrained to prefer the silence of this nook, and the snug fire- MY DEAR COUSIN,
Oct. 19, 1781. side in our own diminutive parlour, to all the splen- Your fear lest I should think you unworthy dour and gaiety of Brighton.
of my correspondence, on account of your delay to You ask me, how I feel on the occasion of my answer, may change sides now, and more properly approaching publication? Perfectly at my ease. belongs to me. It is long since I received your If I had not been pretty well assured before hand last, and yet I believe I can say truly, that not a that my tranquillity would be but little endangered post has gone by me since the receipt of it, that by, such a measure, I would never have engaged in has not reminded me of the debt I owe you, for it; for I can not bear disturbance. I have had in your obliging and unreserved communications both view two principal objects; first to amuse myself; in prose and verse, especially for the latter, because and secondly, to compass that point in such a man- I consider them as marks of your peculiar confiner, that others might possibly be the better for dence. The truth is, I have been such a versemy amusement. If I have succeeded, it will give maker myself, and so busy in preparing a volume me pleasure; but if I have failed, I shall not be for the press, which I imagine will make its apmortified to the degree that might perhaps be ex-pearance in the course of the winter, that I hardly pected. I remember an old adage (though not had leisure to listen to the calls of any other enwhere it is to be found), bene rixit, qui bene latuit, gagement. It is however finished, and gone to and if I had recollected it at the right time, it the printer's, and I have nothing now to do with should have been the motto to my book. By the it, but to correct the sheets as they are sent to way, it will make an excellent one for Retire- me, and consign it over to the judgment of the pubment, if you can but tell me whom to quote for it
. lic. It is a bold undertaking at this time of day, The critics can not deprive me of the pleasure I when so many writers of the greatest abilities have have in reflecting, that so far as my leisure has gone before, who seem to have anticipated every been employed in writing for the public, it has valuable subject, as well as all the graces of poetibeen conscientiously employed, and with a view cal embellishment, to step forth into the world in to their advantage. There is nothing agreeable, the character of a bard, especially when it is con-. to be sure, in being chronicled for a dunce; but I sidered, that luxury, idleness, and vice, have debelieve there lives not a man upon earth, who bauched the public taste, and that nothing hardly would be less affected by it than myself. With is welcome but childish fiction, or what has at least all this indifference to fame, which you know me a tendency to excite a laugh. I thought, however, too well to suppose me capable of affecting, I have that I had stumbled upon some subjects, that had taken the utmost pains to deserve it. This may never before been poetically treated, and upon appear a mystery or a paradox in practice, but it some others, to which I imagined it would not be is true. I considered that the taste of the day is difficult to give an air of novelty by the manner refined, and delicate to excess, and that to disgust of treating them. My sole drift is to be useful; that delicacy of taste, by a slovenly inattention to a point which however I knew I should in vain it, would be to forfeit at once all hope of being aim at, unless I could be likewise entertaining. I useful; and for this reason, though I have written have therefore fixed these two strings upon my more verse this last year, than perhaps any man bow, and by the help of both have done my best in England, I have finished, and polished, and to send my arrow to the mark. My readers will touched, and retouched, with the utmost care. hardly have begun to langh, before they will be If after all I should be converted into waste paper, called upon to correct that levity and peruse me it may be my misfortune, but it will not be my with a more serious air. As to the effect, I leave fault. I shall bear it with the most perfect se-'it alone in His hands, who can alone produce it: renity.
neither prose nor verse can reform the manners I do not mean to give a copy: he is a' of a dissolute age, much less can they inspire a good-natured little man, and crows exactly like a sense of religious obligation, unless assisted and
inade efficacious by the power who superintends to turn his affections toward their proper centre. the truth he has vouchsafed to impart.
But when I see or hear of a crowd of voluptuaries, You made my heart ache with a sympathetic who have no ears but for music, no eyes but for sorrow, when you described the state of your mind splendour, and no tongue but for impertinence and on occasion of your late visit into Hertfordshire. folly-I say, or at least I see occasion to sayHad I been previously informed of your journey This is madness—This persisted in must have a before you made it, I should have been able to tragical conclusion- It will condemn you, not only have foretold all your feeling with the most un- as christians unworthy of the name, but as intellierring certainty of prediction. You will never gent creatures—You know by the light of nature, cease to feel upon that subject; but with your prin- if you have not quenched it, that there is a God, ciples of resignation, and acquiescence in the di- and that a life like yours can not be according to vine will, you will always feel as becomes a chris- his will. tian. We are forbidden to murmur, but we are I ask no pardon of you for the gravity and gloominot forbidden to regret; and whom we loved ten- ness of these reflections, which I stumbled on when derly while living, we may still pursue with an af- I least expected it; though, to say the truth, these fectionate remenibrance, without having any oc- or others of a like complexion are sure to occur to casion to charge ourselves with rebellion against me when I think of a scene of public diversion the sovereignty that appointed a separation. A like that you have lately left. day is coming, when I am confident you will see I am inclined to hope that Johnson told you the and know, that mercy to both parties was the prin- truth, when he said he should publish me soon afcipal agent in a scene, the recollection of which is ter Christmas. His press has been rather more still painful.
punctual in its remittances, than it used to be; we have now but little more than two of the longest
pieces, and the small ones that are to follow, by TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN.
way of epilogue, to print off, and then the affair
is finished. But once more I am obliged to gape MY DEAR FRIEND,
Nor. 5, 1781. for franks; only these, which I hope will be the I give you joy of your safe return from the lips last I shall want, at yours and Mr. 's convcof the great deep. You did not indeed discern nient leisure. many signs of sobriety, or true wisdoin, among the We rejoice that you have so much reason to be people of Brighthelmstone, but it is not possible to satisfied with John's proficiency. The more spiobserve the manners of a multitude, of whatever rit he has, the better, if his spirit is but managearank, without learning something; I mean, if a ble, and put under such management as your pruman has a mind like yours, capable of refiection. dence and Mrs. Unwin's will suggest. I need not If he sees nothing to imitate, he is sure to see guard you against severity, of which I conclude something to avoid; if nothing to congratulate his there is no need, and which I am sure you are not fellow creatures upon, at least much to excite his at all inclined to practise without it; but perhaps compassion. There is not, I think, so melancholy if I was to whisper beware of too much indulgence a sight in the world (an hospital is not to be com- -I should only give a hint that the fondness of a pared with it) as that of a thousand persons dis- father for a fine boy might seem to justify. I have tinguished by the name of gentry, who, gentle no particular reason for the caution, at this disperhaps by nature, and made more gentle by edu- tance it is not possible I should, but in a case liko cation, have the appearance of being innocent and yours, an admonition of that sort seldom wants inoffensive, yet being destitute of all religion, or propriety. Yours, my dear friend, W. C. not at all governed by the religion they profess, are none of them at any great distance from an eternal state, where self-deception will be impossi
TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN. ble, and where amusements can not enter. Somc of them, we may say, will be reclaimed-it is most MY DEAR FRIEND,
Nor. 26, 1781. probable indeed that some of them will, because I wrote to you by the last post, supposing you mercy, if one may be allowed the expression, is at Stock; but lest that letter should not follow you fond of distinguishing itself by seeking its objects to Laytonstone, and you should suspect me of unamong the most desperate class; but the Scripture reasonable delay, and lest the frank you have sent gives no encouragement to the warmest charity to me should degenerate into waste paper, and perishi hope for deliverance for them all. When I see an upon my hands, I write again. The former letafflicted and an unhappy man, I say to myself, ter, however, containing all my present stock of there is perhaps a man whom the world woukl intelligence, it is more than possible that this may enry, if they knew the value of his sorrows, which prove a blank, or but little worthy your acceptance. are possibly intended only to soften his heart, and you will do me the justice to suppose, that if I
could be very entertaining, I would be so, because, thing more than guts to satisfy; there are the yearnby giving me credit for such a willingness to please, ings of the heart, which, let philosophers say what you only allow me a share of that universal vani- they will, are more importunate than all the necesty, which inclines every man, upon all occasions, sities of the body, that will not suffer a creature, to exhibit himself to the best advantage. To say worthy to be called human, to be contented with the truth, however, when I write, as I do to you, an insulated life, or to look for his friends among not about business, nor on any subject that ap- the beasts of the forest. Yourself, for instance ! proaches to that description, I mean much less my It is not because there are no tailors or pastry-cooks correspondent's amusement, which my modesty to be found upon Salisbury plain, that you do not will not always permit me to hope for, than my choose it for your abode, but because you are own. There is a pleasure annexed to the commu- a philanthropist-because you are susceptible nication of one's ideas, whether by word of mouth, of social impressions, and have a pleasure in doing or by letter, which nothing earthly can supply the a kindness when you can. Now upon the word place of, and it is the delight we find in this mu- of a poor creature, I have said all that I have said, tual intercourse, that not only proves us to be crea- without the least intention to say one word of it tures intended for social life, but more than any when I began. But thus it is with my thoughts thing else perhaps fits us for it. I have no patience --when you shake a crab-tree the fruit falls ; good with philosophers—they, one and all, suppose (at for nothing indeed when you have got it, but still least I understand it to be a prevailing opinion the best that is to be expected from a crab-tree. among them) that man's weakness, his necessities, You are welcome to them, such as they are, and his inability to stand alone, have furnished the pre- if you approve my sentiments, tell the philosophers vailing motive, under the influence of which he of the day, that I have outshot them all, and have renounced at first a life of solitude, and became a discovered the true origin of society, when I least gregarious creature. It seems to me more reasona- looked for it. ble, as well as more honourable to my species, to suppose, that generosity of soul, and a brotherly attachment to our own kind, drew us, as it were, TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN. to one common centre, taught us to build cities, and inhabit them, and welcome every stranger, MY DEAR FRIEND,
Jan.5, 1782. that would cast in his lot amongst us, that we Did I allow myself to plead the common excuse might enjoy fellowship with each other, and the of idle correspondents, and esteem it a sufficient luxury of reciprocal endearments, without which reason for not writing, that I have nothing to write a paradise could afford no comfort. There are in- about, I certainly should not write now. But I deed all sorts of characters in the world; there are have so often found, on similar occasions, when a some whose understandings are so sluggish, and great penury of matter has seemed to threaten me whose hearts are such mere clods, that they live in with an utter impossibility of hatching a letter, society without either contributing to the sweets that nothing is necessary but to put pen to paper, of it, or having any relish for them. A man of and go on, in order to conquer all difficulties ; that, this stamp passes by our window continually-1 availing myself of past experience, I now begin never saw him conversing with a neighbour but with a most assured persuasion, that sooner or later, once in my life, though I have known him by sight one idea naturally suggesting another, I shall come these twelve years; he is of a very sturdy make, to a most prosperous conclusion. and has a round belly, extremely protuberánt, In the last Review, I mean in the last but one, which he evidently considers as his best friend, be- I saw Johnson's critique upon Prior and Pope. I cause it is his only companion, and it is the labour am bound to acquiesce in his opinion of the latter, of his life to fill it. I can easily conceive, that it because it has always been my own. I could never is merely the love of good eating and drinking, agree with those who preferred him to Dryden; and now and then the want of a new pair of shoes, nor with others (I have known such, and persons that attaches this man so much to the neighbour- of taste and discernment too) who could not allow hood of his fellow mortals; for suppose these exi- him to be a poet at all. He was certainly a megencies, and others of a like kind, to subsist no chanical maker of verses, and in every line he ever longer, and what is there that could possibly give wrote, we see indubitable marks of most indefatisociety the preference in his esteem? He might gable industry and labour. Writers who find it strut about with his two thumbs upon his hips in necessary to make such strenuous and painful exthe wilderness, he could hardly be more silent than ertions, are generally as phlegmatic as they are he is at Olney, and for any advantage, or comfort, correct; but Pope was, in this respect, exempted or friendship, or brotherly affection, he could not from the common lot of authors of that class. be more destitute of such blessings there, than in With the unwearied application of a plodding Flehis present situation. But other men have some-I mish painter, who draws a shrimp with the most
minute exactness, he had all the genius of one of agine, the last proof sheet of my volume, which the first masters. Never I believe were such ta- will consist of about three hundred and fifty pages lents and such drudgery united. But I admire honestly printed. My public entrée therefore is Dryden most, who has succeeded by mere dint of not far distant.
Yours, W. C. genius, and in spite of a laziness and carelessness almost peculiar to himself. His faults are numberless, and so are his beauties. His faults are
TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN. those of a great man, and his beauties are such (at least sometimes) as Pope, with all his touching, MY DEAR WILLIAM,
Jan. 17, 1782. and retouching, could never equal. So far, there- I am glad we agree in our opinion of king critic, fore, I have no quarrel with Johnson. But I can and the writers on whom he has bestowed his an. not subscribe to what he says of Prior. In the imadversions. It is a matter of indifference to me first place, though my memory may fail me, I do whether I think with the world at large or not, not recollect that he takes any notice of his Solo- but I wish my friends to be of my mind. The mon; in my mind the best poem, whether we con- same work will wear a different appearance in the sider the subject of it, or the execution, that he eyes of the same man, according to the different ever wrote. In the next place, he condemns him views with which he reads it; if merely for his for introducing Venus and Cupid into his love- amusement, his candour being in less danger of a verses, and concludes it impossible his passion twist from interest or prejudice, he is pleased with could be sincere, because when he would express what is really pleasing, and is not over curious to it he has recourse to fables. But when Prior wrote, discover a blemish, because the exercise of a mithose deities were not so obsolete as they are at nute exactness is not consistent with his purpose. present. His contemporary writers, and some But if he once becomes a critic by trade, the case is that succeeded him, did not think them beneath altered. He must then at any rate establish, it their notice. Tibullus, in reality, disbelieved their he can, an opinion in every mind, of his uncomexistence as much as we do; yet Tibullus is al- mon discernment, and his exquisite taste. This lowed to be the prince of all poetical inamoratos, great end he can never accomplish by thinking in though he mentions them
almost every page. the track that has been beaten under the hoof of There is a fashion in these things, which the Doc- public judgment. He must endeavour to contor seems to have forgotten. But what shall we vince the world, that their favourite authors have say of his fusty-rusty remarks upon Henry and more faults than they are aware of, and such as Emma? I agree with him, that morally consider they have never suspected. Having marked out ed, both the knight and his lady are bad charac- a writer, universally esteemed, whom he finds it ters, and that each exhibits an example which for that very reason convenient to depreciate ought not to be followed. The man dissembles in and traduce, he will overlook some of his beaua way that would have justified the woman had ties, he will faintly praise others, and in such a she renounced him; and the woman resolves to manner as to make thousands, more modest, though follow him at the expense of delicacy, propriety, quite as judicious as himself, question whether and even modesty itself. But when the critic calls they are beauties at all. Can there be a stronger it a dull dialogue, who but a critic will believe him? illustration of all that I have said, than the severity There are few readers of poetry of either sex, in of Johnson's remarks upon Prior, I might have this country, who can not remember how that en- said the injustice? His reputation as an author chanting piece has bewitched them, who do not who, with much labour indeed but with admiraknow, that instead of finding it tedious, they have ble success, has embellished all his poems with the been so delighted with the romantic turn of it, as most charming ease, stood unshaken till Johnson to have overlooked all its defects, and to have giv- thrust his head against it. And how does he aten it a consecrated place in their memories, with tack him in this his principal fort? I can not reout ever feeling it a burthen. I wonder almost, collect his very words, but I am much mistaken, that as the Bacchanals served Orpheus, the boys indeed, if my memory fails me with respect to the and girls do not tear this husky, dry, commentator, purport of them. “His words,” he says, “ appear limb from limb, in resentment of such an injury done to be forced into their proper places; there indeed to their darling poet. I adınire Johnson as a man of we find them, but find likewise that their arrangegreat erudition and sense; but when he sets him- ment has been the effect of constraint, and that self up for a judge of writers upon the subject of without violence they would certainly have stood love, a passion which I suppose he never felt in his in a different order." By your leave, most learned life, he might as well think himself qualified to Doctor, this is the most disingenuous remark I ever pronounce upon a treatise on horsemanship, or the met with, and would have come with a better grace art of fortification.
from Curl, or Dennis. Every man conversant The next packet I receive will bring me, I inn- with verse-writing knows, and knows by painful