« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
pretty poem; and the insult was so powerfully avenged, that its punishment can never be forgotten.
The irritability of authors appears to have been in all ages, a subject of regret to their friends, but the author, whose posthumous work I am now introducing to the public, either happily escaped, or had the virtue to correct in himself that infectious failing which a Roman poet who had studied mankind has mentioned as a characteristic of his fraternity.
The pure mind of Cowper was a stranger, in its own feelings, to the common animosities of the world; and he was, on all occasions, evangelically disposed to promote peace, and good-will among men. How much he was influenced by an amiable desire to avoid what might awaken, or increase, enmity, and bitterness of spirit, he has shewn in the course of these translations from Milton, by omiting to translate compositions of extreme severity against the Catholics, and by thus declaring his reason for the omission.
"The Poems on the subject of the Gunpowder Treason I have not translated; both because the matter of them is unpleasant, and because they are written with an asperity, which, however it might be warranted in Milton's day, would be extremely unseasonable now !”
In writing to Mr. Johnson, on this subject, he explained his sentiments still further.
Weston, Oct. 30, 1791.
"We and the Papists are at present on amicable terms. They have behaved them- · selves peaceably many years, and have lately received favours from government: I should think therefore, that the dying embers of antient animosity had better not be troubled."
The translator likewise omitted a few of the minuter poems, which he thought not worthy of ranking with the rest; a privilege, that the editor has also exerted!
When Cowper was preparing to comment on the Paradise Lost, his bookseller furnished him with an interleaved copy of Newton's edition: in this he inserted a series of occasional remarks, proceeding regularly as far as the 341st line of the 3d book. When he was with me in Sussex, I suggested to him a little alteration in his plan, supposing that his projected work might be more pleasing, both to himself, and his readers, if he converted a multitude of notes into a few dissertations, devoting one to each book of the poem. He approved the suggestion, and resolved to pursue it on his return to Weston.
But the distress of heart, which he felt in contemplating the shattered state of his venerable companion, Mrs. Unwin, and his own declining health precluded him most severely from advancing in this, and other literary intentions. To every reader, who has proper compassion, and respect, for the calamities of afflicted genius, the following account, which Cowper gave me of his fruitless endeavour to proceed in his work, must be interesting, in no common degree.
"Weston, Oct. 2, 1792.
"Yesterday was a day of assignation with myself, the day, of which I said, some days before it came, when that day comes, I will begin my dissertations. Accordingly when it came, I prepared to do so, filled a letter-case with fresh paper, furnished myself with a pretty good pen, and replenished my ink-bottle; but, partly from one cause, and partly from another, chiefly however from distress and dejection, after writing and obliterating about six lines, in the composition of which I spent near an hour, I was obliged to relinquish the attempt. An attempt so unsuccessful could have no other effect than to dishearten me, and it has had that effect to such a degree, that I know not, when I shall find courage to make another."
In a subsequent letter of the same month he
"The consciousness, that there is much to do, and nothing done, is a burthen, I am not able to bear. Milton especially is my grievance; and I might almost as well be haunted by his ghost, as goaded with continual reproaches for neglecting him. I will therefore begin: I will do my best; and if, after all, that best prove good for nothing, I will even send the notes, worthless as they are, that I have made already."
Anxious, as Cowper was, to complete his design, the variety of avocations and afflictions, that -encreased upon him in his latter years rendered such a completion impossible. Yet I have reason to believe, that he actually finished two of the intended dissertations but they have unfortunately perished in the confusion of his papers, and I can only afford his reader the mournful gratification of perusing the imperfect notes, that I have mentioned.
These I believe every reader of taste will contemplate with a melancholy delight, for they are sufficient to shew, that the minds of Milton and Cowper were most truly congenial, and to excite a sincere regret, that a commentator so worthy of our divine bard was calamitously precluded from attend
ing him according to his intention. Let us however enjoy, what he has happily accomplished! For my own part I am persuaded, that Milton could hardly receive an earthly honour more acceptable to his spirit, than the honour of having his Latin poems translated by Cowper. I feel a cordial satisfaction in beholding two poets so exquisite in genius, and so pure of heart, thus united in their posthumous renown. And hope these volumes may be found not unworthy of the two associated bards, who not only resembled each other in the purity and prevalence of their poetical talents, but in suffering as authors, though in very different degrees, both detraction and neglect:-The reputation of Milton in particular, after sinking like a Titan overwhelmed under mountains of obloquy and oppression, has arisen with all the energy of a giant refreshed by slumber, and taken its proper place of pre-eminence among the few names of universal celebrity, that are privileged to sleep no more.