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her society'; and which Lady Austen 'in a moment of natural mortification' destroyed. It was in May, 1784, that she took her final leave of Olney. She was afterwards married to M. de Tardiff, a scholar and a poet; and died in Paris, August 12, 1802.
Lady Austen's loss was in some measure made up to the Poet by a new friendship, which commenced in the same month. Mr. John Courtenay Throckmorton, the 'Benevolus' of 'The Task' (i. 262), had come into residence at Weston Underwood two years before. He continued to Cowper the use of a private key to the park gates, which had been allowed him by the former occupant of the House (Ibid. 1. 330): but the Squire of Weston and the Poet of Olney did not meet till May, 1784. Cowper and Mrs. Unwin then went by invitation to witness the ascent of a balloon from Weston Park. A week had scarcely elapsed ere they were on terms of easy intimacy with the Throckmortons, which soon ripened into a lasting friendship, notwithstanding that the latter were Roman Catholics. After the publication of 'The Task,' other friends came forward to assert their claim to stand in that
relation to its author. This poem was read and admired by everybody. The volume had been seized with avidity by the public; not as being the production of the author of 'Table Talk,' but out of a curiosity to see something more from the hand of one who could write 'John Gilpin.' Those relatives of Cowper's who continued their allowance to him as one hopelessly incapacitated for the real business of life, were proud to resume personal intercouse with a poet whose fame now rendered him an ornament to their house. His uncle Ashley, and his old friend and patron the Major (now become General Cowper), were of this number: and his cousin Harriet, left a widow by the death of Sir Thomas Hesketh in 1778, re-opened the correspondence which had been dropped on her leaving England in 1767. If Cowper was gratified by this renewal of the old correspondence, all English readers Have reason to be grateful for it; as the letters written to Lady Hesketh form the most charming models of epistolary composition in our language.
Cowper was at this time employed on his translation of Homer, which he had begun three or four days after the completion of 'Tirocinium,' Nov. 10, 1784. He had entered on the work as a refuge from despondency; but in the course of a twelvemonth he had got through twenty books of the Iliad, and resolved to print his translation by subscription. His Proposals led to the revival of old friendships, and the formation of new ones. His old schoolfellows, Colman, Walter Bagot, and Lord Dartmouth, as well as some strangers, like Fuseli the artist, were interested in the project, and entered into correspondence with him, either in the character of friends or of critics.
In the month of June, 1786, the vicarage of Olney was again tenanted by a lady; again the lady was in reality a visitor to Orchard Side; and again, till the November of the same year, there were walks, and drives, and harmless gaiety on all sides. But this time the visitor was Lady Hesketh; nor did any ill results ensue, save that Mr. Newton became alarmed lest the spirituality of Cowper's mind should suffer by contact with worldly relatives who had carriages, and bore titles. One very good result however did follow. Lady Hesketh saw that the house at Olney was falling fast into decay, and that the place itself was just such as might drive a sane man insane. She therefore took the matter into her own hands, and hired a house at Weston Underwood, known as 'The Lodge,' which she furnished comfortably for her cousin. He expressed his 'Gratitude' to her in the poem of that name; and, mainly through her exertions, was enabled to make the remove with 'an addition of a clear £100 per annum to his income '-£50 of this being an annuity from the anonymous friend, whom we have seen reason to identify with Theodora Jane Cowper.
On the 15th of November, 1786, Cowper left Olney after passing nineteen years there, for Weston Lodge; where a bright prospect of happiness seemed to lie before him. But within a fortnight (and three days after he had attained his fifty-fifth year) a heavy calamity fell upon him and the faithful friend who shared his home. This was the death,
after a few days' illness, of William Unwin, the only son of the one, and the best-loved friend of the other. The effect on Cowper was disastrous. His decennial attack had been evaded in 1783; at which time both mind and sentiment were pleasingly engaged by the writing of 'The Task' on the one hand, and the enjoyment of Lady Austen's vivacious society on the other. But the shock of his friend's death, occurring at that gloomy period of the year when his spirits were always at their lowest ebb, proved too severe for him; and in January, 1787, his mind again gave way. The derangement was of shorter duration than on the previous occasions; and in about six months' time the patient suddenly recovered, with the full power of resuming at once his correspondence and his Homeric labours. He was even equal to the exertion of receiving a succession of vis.tors at Weston. Among these was Samuel Rose, who had first called during Cowper's illness, on the way home from Glasgow University. He came ostensibly to offer the thanks of the Scottish Professors to the author of 'The Task,' for whom he left at the same time the welcome gift of a copy of Burns' Poems. Mr. and Mrs. Newton visited Weston in 1788, a year which was saddened by the death of Lady Hesketh's father, Mr. Ashley Cowper; and in the following year the Poet had the happiness of renewing his intercourse with his mother's family, after an interval of more than a quarter of a century. Young John Johnson, the son of Mrs. Cowper's niece, Catharine Donne, came to visit his kinsman in the Christmas vacation of 1789. On his return into Norfolk, with much Homer to transcribe, and much to tell of the Poet's tender reminiscences of his mother, Mrs. Bodham (another of her nieces) sent Cowper 'the only picture of his mother to be found in all the world.' This picture, which he prized 'more highly than the richest jewel in the British crown,' reached Weston on February 25, 1790, and inspired the elegy which has for ever linked together the names of mother and son.
When Dr. Thomas Warton, the learned historian of English Poetry, died in 1790, it was Lady Hesketh's desire to use
her interest on Cowper's behalf, to procure for him the post of Poet Laureate thus rendered vacant. But she could not prevail on the Poet to listen to the proposal; and the Laureateship was conferred on one Pye.
The Homer had now reached its completion. When Cowper first undertook the translation, he proposed to himself to write forty lines each day. But so many interruptions had occurred, and so much time was expended on revision, that nearly seven years were consumed on the work. The manuscript was sent to Johnson, September 8, 1790, and the whole appeared in June, 1791; Johnson taking all expenses on himself, and paying Cowper £1000, besides leaving the copyright in his hands. The translation was favourably received by the public. It was acknowledged to be a far more faithful and scholarly rendering of Homer than Pope's. The old traditions indeed made some readers doubt the propriety of using blank verse; and Thurlow, who was one of these, took the occasion to revive his former acquaintance with Cowper, by corresponding with him on this point; and avowed himself at last a convert. But Pope's Homer and. Cowper's Homer alike belong to the class of great works which are to be found in every library, but are seldom taken down from the shelves, unless in order to be dusted.
The years occupied by Cowper on this work might have brought him a far wider extension of fame, had Lady Austen been still at hand to prompt the composition of original poems, or had he not already embarked on the undertaking before Lady Hesketh arrived to fill the vacant post of friend and counsellor. Yet the mental excitement attendant on the comparatively mechanical employment of translation was less than that which original composition would probably have occasioned; while at the same time Homer afforded regular occupation, sufficient to interest the mind without fatiguing it.
No sooner were these labours brought to a close than the Poet began to seek new subjects for his Muse. Lady Hesketh proposed to him the Mediterranean Sea; but with the instinct of a man who knows his own powers and their
limits, he at once decided that this was a topic not within his range. He listened more kindly to the suggestion of Mr. Buchanan, a neighbouring clergyman, that he should write on 'The Four Ages'; namely, the infancy, youth, manhood, and old age of man: but he left behind him no more than a brief fragment of an extensive projected poem' on this theme. He advanced further in a poem on Yardley Oak, a subject of his own selection, which he began in 1791; and which, had he continued it, would have been in every way worthy of his fame. It is the judgment of Southey, that Cowper 'never bestowed more labour on any of his compositions than he did upon the commencement of this, nor did he ever labour more successfully.' And Mr. Hayley describes it as 'one of the richest and most highly finished pieces of versification that ever did honour to the fertile genius' of its author. Unfortunately this poem was laid aside in favour of a project of Johnson's; which was, to bring out a magnificent edition of Milton, with illustrations by Fuseli, and with Cowper for editor. Notwithstanding all his ardent admiration of Milton, Cowper could not get on with this work. He found it easy indeed to translate the Latin and Italian poems of his great master; but the labour of annotation was irksome to him. The attempt proved abortive: but out of it grew Cowper's acquaintance with Hayley. That amiable man and (in his own day) popular poet was himself engaged by another publisher, to superintend an edition of Milton. He wrote to Cowper to disclaim all idea of rivalry with him; and this graceful introduction of himself speedily led to a strong mutual regard and attachment.
The autumn of 1791 was the last season of hilarity for Cowper. Lady Hesketh was staying at the Lodge, and at Weston House was Miss Stapleton (the 'Catharina' of his song), soon to become Mrs. George Courtenay. But all gladness of heart fled when, in the month of December, Mrs. Unwin was seized with paralysis. It is true that the attack was a slight one, nor did it last long: and in May, 1792, Weston was enlivened by a visit from Hayley. He had not been there many days, when Mrs. Unwin was prostrated by