1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Cowper

Henry Crabb Robinson, 6 May 1812; Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence (1870; 1872) 1:199.



R. says Johnson, the bookseller, made at least 10,000 by Cowper's poems. The circumstances show the hazard of bookselling speculations. Cowper's first volume of poems was published by Johnson, and fell dead from the press. Author and publisher were to incur equal loss. Cowper begged Johnson to forgive him his debt, and this was done. In return, Cowper sent Johnson his Task, saying: "You behaved generously by me on a former occasion; if you think it safe to publish this new work, I make you a present of it." Johnson published it. It became popular. The former volume was then sold with it. When Cowper's friends proposed his translating "Homer," Johnson said: "I owe Cowper much for his last book, and will therefore assist in the publication of Homer without any compensation. The work shall be published by subscription. I will take all the trouble and risk, and Cowper shall have all the profit." Johnson soon had occasion to inform the poet that a thousand pounds were at his disposal.