William Cowper

26 November 1731 – 25 April 1800 / Hertfordshire

An Epistle To Robert Lloyd, Esq.

'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 threadbare 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 to address the Muse:
But to divert a fierce banditti,
(Sworn foes to everything 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 deemed worth half so much
As one of gold, and yours was such.
Thus the preliminaries settled,
I fairly find myself pitch-kettled;
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 (--?)
With simile to 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
Smoothed and refined the meanest strains,
Nor suffered one ill-chosen rhyme
To 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 scavant,
Lets fall a poem en passant,
Nor needs his genuine ore refine;
'Tis ready polished from the mine.
217 Total read