An Epistle to Robert Lloyd, Esq.

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An Epistle to Robert Lloyd, Esq. (1754)
by William Cowper
1191996An Epistle to Robert Lloyd, Esq.1754William Cowper (1731-1800)

'Tis not that I design to rob
Thee of thy birthright, gentle Bob,
For thou art born sole heir, and single,
Of dear Mat Prior's easy jingle;
Nor that I mean, while thus I knit
My thread-bare sentiments together,
To show my genius or my wit.
When God and you know I have neither;
Or such, as might be better shown
By letting poetry alone.
'Tis not with either of these views,
That I presume t' address the Muse:
But to divert a fierce banditti
(Sworn foes to ev'ry thing that's witty),
That, with a black infernal train,
Make cruel inroads in my brain,
And daily threaten to drive thence
My little garrison of sense:
The fierce banditti, which I mean,
Are gloomy thoughts led on by Spleen.
Then there's another reason yet,
Which is, that I may fairly quit
The debt, which justly became due
The moment when I heard from you:
And you might grumble, crony mine,
If paid in any other coin;
Since twenty sheets of lead, God knows,
(I would say twenty sheets of prose,)
Can ne'er be deem'd worth half so much
As one of gold, and yours was such.
Thus, the preliminaries settled,
I fairly find myself pitch-kettled[1];
And cannot see, though few see better,
How I shall hammer out a letter.
   First, for a thought — since all agree —
A thought — I have it — let me see —
'Tis gone again — plague on 't! I thought
I had it — but I have it not.
Dame Gurton thus, and Hodge her son,
That useful thing, her needle, gone,
Rake well the cinders — sweep the floor,
And sift the dust behind the door;
While eager Hodge beholds the prize
In old Grimalkin's glaring eyes;
And Gammar finds it on her knees
In every shining straw she sees.
This simile were apt enough;
But I've another, critic-proof!
The virtuoso thus, at noon,
Broiling beneath a July sun,
The gilded butterfly pursues
O'er hedge and ditch, through gaps and mews;
And after many a vain essay
To captivate the tempting prey,
Gives him at length the lucky pat,
And has him safe beneath his hat:
Then lifts it gently from the ground;
But ah! 'tis lost as soon as found;
Culprit his liberty regains;
Flits out of sight and mocks his pains.
The sense was dark; 'twas therefore fit
With simile t' illustrate it;
But as too much obscures the sight,
As often as too little light,
We have our similes cut short,
For matters of more grave import.
   That Matthew's numbers run with ease
Each man of common-sense agrees;
All men of common-sense allow,
That Robert's lines are easy too;
Where then the preference shall we place,
Or how do justice in this case?
Matthew, (says Fame) with endless pains
Smooth'd and refin'd the meanest strains;
Nor suffer'd one ill-chosen rhyme
T' escape him, at the idlest time;
And thus o'er all a lustre cast,
That, while the language lives, shall last.
An 't please your Ladyship, (quoth I,
For 'tis my business to reply;)
Sure so much labour, so much toil,
Bespeak at least a stubborn soil.
Theirs be the laurel-wreath decreed,
Who both write well and write full-speed!
Who throw their Helicon about
As freely as a conduit spout!
Friend Robert, thus like chien sçavant,
Lets fall a poem en passant,
Nor needs his genuine ore refine;
'Tis ready polish'd from the mine.

Author's Notes

  1. Pitch-kettled, a favourite phrase at the time when this epistle was written, expressive of being puzzled, or what in the Spectator's time would have been called bamboozled.

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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