1792 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Park

William Cowper to Thomas Park, 10 March 1792; Southey, Life and Works of Cowper (1835-37) 7:324.



You have not in the least fallen in my esteem on account of your employment [as an engraver], as you seemed to apprehend that you might. It is an elegant one, and, when you speak modestly, as you do, of your proficiency in it, I am far from giving you entire credit for the whole assertion. I had indeed supposed you a person of independent fortune, who had nothing but to gratify himself; and whose mind, being happily addicted to literature, was at full leisure to enjoy its innocent amusement. But it seems I was mistaken, and your time is principally due to an art which has a right pretty much to engross your attention, and which gives rather the air of an intrigue to your intercourse and familiarity with the Muses than a lawful connexion. No matter: I am not prudish in this respect, but honour you the more for a passion, virtuous and laudable in itself; and which you indulge not, I dare say, without benefit both to yourself and your acquaintance. I, for one, am likely to reap the fruit of your amours, and ought, therefore, to be one of the last to quarrel with them.

You are in danger, I perceive, of thinking of me more highly than you ought to think. I am not one of the literati, among whom you seem disposed to place me. Far from it. I told you in my last how heinously I am unprovided with the means of being so, having long since sent all my books to market. My learning accordingly lies in a very narrow compass. It is school-boy learning somewhat improved, and very little more. From the age of twenty to twenty-three, I was occupied, or ought to have been, in the study of the law. From thirty-three to sixty I have spent my time in the country, where my reading has been only an apology for idleness, and where, when I had not either a magazine or a review in my hand, I was sometimes a carpenter, at others a bird-cage maker, or a gardener, or drawer of landscapes. At fifty years of age I commenced an author. It is a whim that has served me longest and best, and which will probably be my last.