« ElőzőTovább »
It is th' allotment of the skies,
And plans and orders our connexions. These charming verses strike with peculiar force on my heart, when I recollect, that it was an idle endeavour to make us enemies, which gave rise to our intimacy; and that I was providentially conducted to Weston at a season, when my presence there afforded peculiar comfort to my affectionate friend, under the pressure of a domestic affliction, which threatened to overwhelm his very tender spirits.
The entreaty of many persons, whom I wished to oblige, had engaged me to write a Life of Milton, before I had the slightest suspicion, that my work could interfere with the projects of any man; but I was soon surprised and concerned in hearing, that I was represented in a news-paper, as an antagonist of Cowper.
I immediately wrote to him on the subject, and our correspondence soon endeared us to each other in no common degree. The series of his letters to me I value not only as memorials of a most dear and honorable friendship, but as exquisite examples of epistolary excellence. My pride might assuredly be gratified by inserting them all, as I have been requested to do, in this publication; but, I trust, I am influenced by a proper sense of duty towards my departed friend in withholding many of them, at present, from the eye of the public. The truth is, I feel that the extreme sensibility of my affectionate correspondent led him, very frequently, to speak of me in such terms of tender partiality, that the world must not be expected to forgive him for so overrating even the merit of a friend, till that friend is sharing with him the hallowed rest of the grave. In the mean time my readers, I hope, will approve my confining myself to such a selection from them, as appears to me necessary for the completion of this narrative; which I seize every opportunity of embellishing with numerous letters to his other correspondents.
It is time to resume the series of such letters, and in doing so I embrace with a melancholy gratification an opportunity of paying tender respect to the memory of a scholar and a poet, who in 1791 solicited and obtained the regard of Cowper, and saw him for the first time at Eartham in the following year.—I speak of the late professor of poetry, the reverend James Hurdis; a man whose death must be lamented as peculiarly unseasonable, did not piety suggest to the persons most deeply afflicted by a loss so little expected, that it is irrational and irreligious to repine at those decrees of Heaven, which summon to early beatitude the most deserving of its servants. This exemplary divine was tenderly idolized by several accomplished Sisters; and since the first appearance of these volumes, they have republished his collected works, with a memorial of the learned, elegant, and moral writer, adapted to the extent and variety of his merit. My intercourse with him was brief indeed, but terminated with expressions of kindness, when every kind syllable derives an affecting power from the approach of death. I had applied to him, requesting the sight of letters, that I knew he had been long in the habit of receiving from Cowper. My application, to my surprise and concern, found him sinking into a fatal illness; but he kindly intimated to a beloved sister a wish to comply with my request. To the fidelity of her affection towards a deserving brother I am indebted for the papers which I wished to see, and from (which I have made such a selection, as I deem most consistent with the regard I owe to both the departed poets. Their reciprocal esteem will reflect honor on both; and it is particularly pleasing to observe the candid and liberal spirit, with which Cowper attended to the wishes, and encouraged the exertions of a young and modest writer, who was justly ambitious of his applause.
The date of his first letter to the author of the Village Curate appears to claim an earlier place in this work, but a variety of circumstances conspired to fix it here. . .
TO THE REV. MR. HURDIS.
Weston, March 6, 1791. SIR,
I HAVE always entertained, and have occasionally avowed, a great degree of respect for the abilities of the unknown author of the Village Curate, unknown at that time, but now well-known, and not to me only, but to many. For before I was favored with your obliging letter, I knew your name, your place of abode, your profession, and that you had four sisters; all which I neither learned from our bookseller, nor from any of his connexions; you will perceive therefore, that you are no longer an author incognito. The writer indeed of many passages, that have fallen from your pen, could not long continue so. Let genius, true genius, conceal itself where it may, we may say of it, as the young man in Terence of his beauful mistress, “ Diu latere non potest.”
· I am obliged to you for your kind offers of service, and will not say, that I shall not be troublesome to you hereafter; but at present I have no need to be so. I have within these two days given the very last stroke of my pen to my long Translation, and what will be my next career I know not. At any rate we shall not, I hope, hereafter be known to each other as poets only, for your writings have made me ambitious of a nearer approach to you. Your door however will never be opened to me. My fate and fortune have combined with my natural disposition to draw a circle round me which I cannot pass; nor have I been more than thirteen miles from home these twenty years, and so far very seldom. But you are a younger man, and therefore may not be quite so immovable; in which case, should you choose at any time to move Weston-ward, you will always find me happy to receive you, and in the mean time I remain, with much respect, Your most obedient servant, critic, and friend,
P.S. I wish to know what you mean to do with Sir Thomas*. For though I expressed doubts about his theatrical possibilities, I think
• Sir Thomas More, a Tragedy.