Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 12.djvu/405

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delicate one, only to be maintained by a perfect congeniality of disposition. Lady Austen afterwards married an accomplished Frenchman, M. de Tardiff, and died in Paris 12 Aug. 1802 (Hayley). Cowper was left chiefly dependent upon the friendship of Bull, at whose suggestion he translated Mme. Guyon's poems. Thomas Scott, the biblical commentator, who had succeeded Newton, was respected, but apparently not loved, by Cowper. Meanwhile the ‘Task’ was finished, sent to Unwin, and accepted by Johnson in the autumn of 1784. Cowper's sensitive shyness had made him conceal the existence of his former volume from Unwin, who was hurt by his reticence. He now tried to make matters straight by confiding in Unwin instead of Newton, and gave some offence to Newton. While the ‘Task’ was in the press, Richard, or ‘Conversation’ Sharp met with ‘John Gilpin,’ and gave it to his friend, the actor Henderson (Southey, ii. 82). Henderson introduced it into some recitations which he was giving in 1785, and it had an astonishing success. One bookseller sold six thousand copies. It was inserted in the volume containing the ‘Task,’ which appeared in July 1785, and with the help of Gilpin made an immediate success. The success called attention to the previous poems, which were again published with the second edition of the ‘Task,’ in 1786. Cowper at once obtained a place as the first poet of the day. In the ‘Task,’ his playfulness, his exquisite appreciation of simple natural beauties, and his fine moral perceptions found full expression. Cowper now revealed himself in his natural character. He speaks as the gentle recluse, describes his surroundings playfully and pathetically, and is no longer declaiming from the rostrum or pulpit of the old-fashioned satirist. He gave the copyright of the volumes to his publisher, who would afterwards have allowed him to resume the gift. Cowper did not consent. Besides general applause, the ‘Task’ brought him a renewed intercourse with his relations. Lady Hesketh, a widow since April 1778, now wrote to him. Her long silence had been due to absence abroad, ill health, and domestic troubles, as well as want of religious sympathy. He replied in a charming letter (12 Oct. 1785), the first of a delightful series.

As soon as Cowper had finished the ‘Tirocinium,’ published with the ‘Task,’ he began (12 Nov. 1784) a translation of Homer. By 9 Nov. 1785 he had finished twenty-one books of the ‘Iliad.’ He began the work ‘merely to divert attention’ (Southey, ii. 192), and found the employment delightful. He translated forty lines a day, about the same number as Pope (to Newton, 30 Oct. 1784). He published a letter in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for August 1785, and signed ‘Alethea,’ giving the usual reasons for dissatisfaction with Pope's false ornaments and sophistication of Homer in English rhyme. He now sent out proposals for publishing by subscription, and with some reluctance accompanied them with specimens of his work. Old friends, Walter Bagot, Colman, his cousin, General Cowper, and new acquaintances, especially Fuseli, the painter, corresponded with him upon the undertaking. Newton was a little alarmed at his increasing intercourse with the world. Lady Hesketh persuaded him to see a Dr. Kerr of Northampton for troubles of digestion. In 1786 he received a communication from an anonymous benefactor, who not only sent various presents, but settled upon him an annuity of 50l. a year. Cowper supposed the anonymous benefactor to be a man, and some one known to Lady Hesketh. In all probability it was his old love, Theodora. In June 1786 Lady Hesketh obtained additional subscriptions from his relations; of 20l., and afterwards 40l. a year from Lord Cowper, and 10l. from W. Cowper of Hertingfordbury (probably the son of Major Cowper), besides adding 20l. herself (Add. MS. 24155, f. 123). Lady Hesketh herself came to Olney, having taken part of the curate's house. Her first good office was to induce Cowper and Mrs. Unwin to remove from Olney to the neighbouring village of Weston. Lady Hesketh paid the expenses, and they occupied their new abode in November 1786. The move had the advantage of facilitating the intercourse with the Throckmortons, a Roman catholic family, whose family seat was at Weston. In 1791 Throckmorton, now Sir John, left Weston, and was succeeded by his second brother George, then Mr. Courtenay, and afterwards Sir George Throckmorton. The intimacy, though valuable to Cowper, again alarmed Newton, who addressed a stern warning to Cowper upon the dangers of ‘gadding’ after friends who were scarcely christian in his sense. Cowper was wounded, though not alienated, and defended himself with excellent temper. In November 1786 William Unwin caught a fever from Henry Thornton, with whom he was travelling as tutor, and died at Winchester 29 Nov. 1786. Cowper's letters show a calm which is perhaps forced. He tried to distract himself by Homer, but a nervous fever followed, and in 1787 he had a fresh attack of insanity, lasting six months. He tried to hang himself, and was only saved by Mrs. Unwin accidentally entering the room and cutting him down. His recovery was rapid, but never