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É A R L COW P E R.
YOUR family, my Lord, our country itself, and the whole literary world, sustained such a loss in the death of that amiable man, and enchanting author, who forms the subject of these Volumes, as inspired the friends of genius and virtue with universal concern. It soon became a general wish, that some authentic, and copious, memorial of a character so highly interesting should ..
be produced with all becoming dispatch ; not only to render due honour to the dead, but to alleviate the regret of a nation taking a just, and liberal pride in the reputation of a poet, who had obtained, and deserved, her applause, her esteem, her affection. If this laudable wish, was very sensibly felt by the publick at large, it glowed with peculiar warmth and eagerness in the bosom of the few, who had been so fortunate as to enjoy an intimacy with Cowper in some unclouded periods of his life, and who knew from such an intimacy, that a lively sweetness, and sanctity of spirit, were as truly the characteristics of his social enjoyments, as they are allowed to constitute a principal charm in his poetical productions. It has justly been regarded as a signal blessing, to have possessed the perfect esteem, and confidence, of such a man; and not long after his decease, one of his particular friends presumed to suggest to an accomplished lady, nearly related both to him, and to your Lordship, that she herself might be the biographer the most worthy of the poet. The long intimacy, and correspondence, which she enjoyed with him, from their lively hours of infantine friendship, to the dark evening of his wonderfully chequered life; her cultivated and affectionate mind, which led her to take peculiar delight and interest in the merit and reputation of his writings, and lastly, that generous attachment to her afflicted relation, which induced her to watch over his disordered health, in a period of its most calamitous depression, these circumstances united, seemed to render it desirable that she should assume the office of Cowper's biographer, having such advantages for the perfect execution of that very delicate office, as perhaps no other memorialist could possess in an equal degree. For the interest of literature, and for the honour of many poets, whose memories have suffered from some biographers of a very different description, we may wish that the extensive series of poetical biography had been frequently enriched by the memoirs of such remembrancers, as feel only the influence of tenderness and truth. Some poets indeed of recent times have been happy in this most desirable advantage. The Scottish favourite of nature, the tender and impetuous Burns, has found in Dr. Currie, an ingenuous, eloquent, affectionate biographer; and in a lady also (whose memoir of her friend, the bard, is very properly annexed to his life) a zealous and graceful advocate, singularly happy in vindicating his character from invidious detraction. We may observe, to the honour. of Scotland, that her national enthusiasm has for some years been very laudably exerted in cherishing the memory of her departed poets. But to return to the lady,who gave rise to this
remark! The natural diffidence of her sex, uniting with extreme delicacy of health, induced her (eager as she is to promote the celebrity of her deceased relation) to shrink from the idea of submitting herself, as an author, to the formidable eye of the publick. Her knowledge of the very cordial regard with which Cowper has honoured me, as one of his most confidential friends, led her to request, that she might assign to me that arduous office, which she candidly confessed she had not the resolution to assume. She confided to my care, such materials for the work in question, as her affinity to the deceased had thrown into her hands. In receiving a collection of many private letters, and of several posthumous little poems, in the well known characters of that beloved correspondent, at the sight of whose hand I have often exulted, I felt the blended emotions of melancholy regret, and of awful