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forward, as to a new and highly promising field for his excursive and benevolent fancy. The idea had been suggested to him in the year 1791, by a very amiable clerical neighbour, Mr. Buchanan, who in the humble curacy of Ravenstone (a little sequestered village within the distance of an easy walk from Weston) possesses, in a scene of rustic privacy, such extensive scholarship, such gentleness of manners, and such a contemplative dignity of mind, as would certainly raise him to a more suitable, and indeed to a conspicuous situation, if the professional success of a divine were the immediate consequence of exemplary merit. This gentleman who had occasionally enjoyed the gratification of visiting Cowper, suggested to him, with a becoming diffidence, the project of a new poem on the four distinct periods of life, infancy, youth, manhood, and old age. He imparted his ideas to the poet by a letter, in which he observed, with equal modesty and truth, that Cowper was particularly qualified to relish, and to do justice to the subject; a subject which he supposed not hitherto treated expressly, as its importance deserves, by any poet ancient or modern.
Mr. Buchanan added to this letter a brief-sketch of contents for the projected composition. This
hasty sketch he enlarged by the kind encouragement of Cowper. How cheerfully the poet received the idea, and how liberally he applauded the worthy divine who suggested it, will appear from the following billet, written immediately on the receipt of the more ample sketch.
To the Revd. Mr. BUCHANAN.
Weston, May 11, 1793. MY DEAR SIR,
You have sent me a beautiful poem, wanting nothing but metre. I would to heaven that you would give it that requisite yourself; for he who could make the sketch, cannot but be well qualified to finish. But if you will not, I will; provided always nevertheless, that God gives me ability, for it will require no common share to do justice to your conceptions. I am much yours,
W. C. Your little messenger vanished before I could catch him.
VOL. 4. I
Various impediments rendered it hardly possible for Cowper to devote himself, as he wished to do, to the immediate prosecution of a plan so promising; yet he cherished the idea for some years in his mind, and was particularly pleased (as the reader may recollect from a passage in one of his Letters to me) with a prospect that this intended poem might form a portion of a very ample original confederate work, which we hoped to produce in concert with the united powers of some admirable artists, who were justly dear to us both.
All who delight to accompany the genius of Cowper in animated fights of moral contemplation, will deeply regret that he was precluded by a variety of trouble from indulging his ardent imagination in a work, that would have afforded him such ample scope for all the sweetness and all the sublimity of his spirit, His felicity of description, and exqusite sensibility; his experience of life, and his sanctity of character, rendered him singularly fit and worthy to delineate the progress of nature in all the different stages of human existence.
A poem of such extent and diversity, happily completed by such-a poet, would be a national treasure, of infinite value to the country that gave it
birth, and I had fervently hoped, that England might receive it from the hand of Cowper.
This work in his first conception of it was a favourite of his fancy, but he soon entertained an apprehension that he should never accomplish it. Writto his friend of St. Paul's in 1793, the poet said “ The Four Ages is a subject that delights me when “ I think of it; but I am ready to fear, that all my “ ages will be exhausted before I shall be at leisure “ to write upon it.”
With a regret, proportioned to my former hopes of this poem, I now impart to my readers the minute and imperfect fragment of a project so mighty. Yet even the few verses which Cowper had thrown on paper as the commencement of such a work, will be read with peculiar interest, if there is truth, as I feel there is, in the following remark of the elder Pliny.-- " Suprema opera artificum imperfec“ tasque Tabulas, in majori aılmiratione esse quam “ perfecta ; Quippe in iis lineamenta reliqua ipsæque “ cogitationes artificum spectantur, atque in lenocinio “ commendationis dolor est :-Manus, cum id agerent “ extinctæ, desiderantur.”
THE FOUR AGES.
OF AN EXTENSIVE PROJECTED POEM.
· I could be well content, allowed the use
Thus, while grey evening lulld the wind, and calld Fresh odours from the shrubb’ry at my side, Taking my lonely winding walk I mus’d, And held accustom'd conference with my heart ; When, from within it, thus a voice replied.
“ Could'st thou in truth? and art thou taught at length “ This wisdom, and but this, from all the past? “ Is not the pardon of thy long arrear, “ Time wasted, violated laws, abuse “ Of talents, judgments, mercies, better far “ Than opportunity vouchsaf’d to err “ With less excuse, and baply, worse effect is