Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 12.djvu/407

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the household. Cowper and Mrs. Unwin were accordingly removed, under the guardianship of his devoted cousin, Johnson, in July 1795. They went first to North Tuddenham, near Johnson's residence at East Dereham. In August they visited Mundsley, on the Norfolk coast, where Cowper enjoyed walks by the shore, and began his last melancholy letters to Lady Hesketh. In October they settled at Danham Lodge, where they passed the winter, and after another visit to Mundsley settled at East Dereham. Here Mrs. Unwin died, on 17 Dec. 1796, Cowper receiving the news without emotion. His bodily health improved. Hayley tried to cheer him by the singular plan of obtaining testimonials to the religious effects of his works from Thurlow and Kenyon, whose judgments would have been more valuable in a question of law. Johnson tempted him with occasional success into literary occupation, and he finished a revisal of Homer and a new preface in March 1798. Shortly afterwards he wrote the pathetic ‘Castaway,’ his last original piece. He afterwards listened to his own poems, declining only to hear ‘John Gilpin,’ and translated some of Gay's fables into Latin. The last lines he ever wrote were a correction of a passage in his Homer, on a suggestion from Hayley. He gradually became weaker, and died peacefully on 25 April 1800. He was buried (2 May) in St. Edmund's Chapel, Dereham Church, where tablets, with inscriptions by Hayley, were erected to him and to Mrs. Unwin.

Cowper's portraits by Romney, Abbott, and Lawrence have been frequently engraved. Lady Hesketh thought Lawrence's admirable, but was shocked by a copy of Romney's, which gave, she thought, the impression of insanity instead of poetic inspiration (to Hayley, 5 and 19 March 1801, Add. MS. 30803 A). The portrait by Romney was sent by Mr. H. R. Vaughan Johnson to the Portrait Exhibition of 1858, to which Mr. W. Bodham Donne sent the portrait of Cowper's mother (by D. Heims). An engraving of the last by Blake is in Hayley's ‘Life of Cowper.’

Cowper pronounced his name as Cooper (see Notes and Queries, i. 272).

Perhaps the best criticism of Cowper's poetry is in Ste.-Beuve's ‘Causeries du Lundi,’ 1868 (xi. 139–97). The ‘Task’ may have owed some popularity to its religious tone; but its tenderness, playfulness, and love of nature are admirably appreciated by the French critic, who was certainly not prejudiced by religious sympathy. The pathos of some minor poems is unsurpassable. Cowper is attractive whenever he shows his genuine self. His letters, like his best poetry, owe their charm to absolute sincerity. His letters are written without an erasure—at leisure but without revision; the spontaneous gaiety is the more touching from the melancholy background sometimes indicated; they are the recreation of a man escaping from torture; the admirable style and fertility of ingenious illustration make them perhaps the best letters in the language. A selection, edited by W. Benham, was published in 1884.

Cowper's life was written by Hayley chiefly from materials supplied by Lady Hesketh. She was very reluctant to permit the publication of letters, and positively forbade any reference to Theodora, who was still living, and sent some information, but said that a personal interview with Hayley would kill her on the spot. To spare Theodora's feelings, Cowper's relations to Mrs. Unwin were carefully represented as resembling devotion to a ‘venerable parent,’ and a false colouring given to the narrative. No reference was permitted to ‘Anti-Thelyphora.’ The correspondence with Lady Hesketh is now in the Addit. MS. 30803 A, B. The first edition, called ‘Life and Posthumous Writings,’ 2 vols. quarto, was published at Chichester in 1803; a second in the following year. A third, called ‘Life and Letters,’ appeared in 1809, and a fourth in 1812. The later editions gave much additional correspondence, Lady Hesketh having been gratified by the success of the book. Lady Hesketh's ‘Letters to J. Johnson’ concerning Cowper were published in 1901.

Cowper's works are: 1. ‘Anti-Thelyphthora,’ 1781 (anonymous). 2. ‘Poems by William Cowper of the Inner Temple, Esq.,’ 1782; preface by Newton is in some copies of first edition. 3. ‘The Task,’ to which are added the ‘Epistle to Joseph Hill,’ ‘Tirocinium,’ and ‘John Gilpin,’ 1785, described on the fly-leaf as second volume of poems by William Cowper (a second edition of both volumes appeared in 1786; other editions in 1787, 1788, 1793, 1794, 1798 (two), and 1800). ‘John Gilpin’ had appeared in various forms as a chapbook in 1783 (Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xi. 207, 373, 395). 4. ‘Homer's Iliad and Odyssey,’ 1791 (2 vols.); a second edition, revised by Cowper, was edited by Johnson in 1802. Southey represents the first edition as preferable. 5. ‘The Power of Grace illustrated; in six letters from a minister of the reformed church (Van Lier) to John Newton, translated by … Cowper,’ 1792. 6. ‘Poems’ (on his mother's picture and on the dog and water-lily), 1798. Posthumous were: 7. ‘Poems … from the French of Mme. de la Motte Guyon, to which are added some original