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I must not omit to observe one more advantage, which Cowper derived from this extensive labour, for it is an advantage which reflects great honor on his sensibility as a man. I mean a constant flow of affectionate pleasure, that he felt in the many kind offices, which he received from several friends in the course of this laborious occupation.
I cannot more clearly illustrate his feelings on this subject, than by introducing a passage from one of his letters to his most assiduous and affectionate amanuensis, his young kinsman of Norfolk. It breathes all the tender moral spirit of Cowper, and shall therefore close the second divison of my Work.
TO JOHN JOHNSON, ESQ.
Weston, June 1, 1791. MY DEAREST JOHNNY,
Now you may rest-Now I can give you joy of the period, of which I gave you hope in my last: the period of all your labours in my service.—But this I can foretell you also, that if you persevere in serving your friends at this rate, your life is likely to be a life of la
bour :-Yet persevere! your rest will be the sweeter hereafter! In the mean time I wish you; if at any time you should find occasion for him, just such a friend as you have proved to me!
:: LIFE OF COWPER.
PART THE THIRD.
Οι αρετης εφιεμενοι παντες ετι και νυν διατελεσι παντων μαλιστα πoθέντες εκείνον, ως ωφελιμωταθον οντα προς αρετης επιμελειαν.
The active and powerful mind of Cowper wanted no long interval of rest after finishing the work of five laborious years. On the contrary, he very soon began to feel that regular hours of mental exertion were essentially requisite to his comfort and welfare.
That extraordinary proficient in the knowledge of human nature, Lord Bacon, has inserted in his list of articles conducive to health (for his own use) one article, that may appear, at first sight, little suited to such a purpose“heroic desires!" If we understand by this expression, what he probably intended, a constant inclination and care to employ our faculties fervently and steadily on some grand object of laudable pursuit, perhaps the whole Materia Medica could have furnished him with nothing so likely to promote the preservation of health; especially in a frame distinguished by nerves of the most delicate and dangerous sensibility.
Cowper was himself aware of this truth, and he was looking deliberately around him for some new literary object of magnitude and importance, when his thoughts were directed to Milton, by an unexpected application from the literary merchant, with whom he had corresponded, occasionally, for some years; and with whom his acquaintance, though confined to letters of business, had ripened into a cordial esteem.
The great author of the Rambler (intimately acquainted with all the troubles, that are too apt to attend the votaries of literature) has said, “ That a bookseller is the only Mecænas of the modern world.” Without assenting to all the eulogy and all the satire implied in this remarkable sentiment, we may take a pleasure in observing, that in the class of men so magnificently and sportively commended there are several individuals, each of whom a writer of the most delicate manners and exalted mind may justly esteem as a pleasing associate, and as a liberal friend.
In this light Cowper regarded his bookseller,
Mr. Johnson, to whom he had literally given the two volumes of his Poems, with that modest and generous simplicity of spirit, which formed a striking part of his character. He entertained no presumptous ideas of their pecuniary value; and when the just applause of the world had sufficiently proved it, he nobly declined the idea of resuming a gift, which the probity of his merchant would have allowed him to recall. He was however so pleased by this, and by subsequent proofs of liberality in the conduct of Mr. Johnson, that on being solicited by him to embark in the adventure of preparing a magnificent edition of Milton, he readily entered into the project, and began his admirable Translations from the Latin and Italian poetry of that illustrious author.
As it is to Milton, that I am in a great measure indebted for what I must ever regard as a. signal blessing, the friendship of Cowper! the reader will pardon me for dwelling a little on the circumstances that produced it: circumstances which often lead me to repeat those sweet verses of my friend, on the casual origin of our most valuable attachments.
Mysterious are his ways, whose power: