Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Excerpts from William Cowper's Letters (1783)

Jan. 11 (to John Newton):
He calls Christ his Brother and God his Father in a style of familiarity that seems to bespeak no small share of spiritual pride and vanity.
Feb. 8 (to John Newton):
You will suppose me a politician; but in truth I am nothing less. These are the thoughts that occur to me while I read the newspaper; and when I have laid it down, I feel myself more interested in the success of my early cucumbers, than in any part of this great and important subject.
March 7 (to William Bull):
Can a man be a good Christian that goes without breeches?
June 3 (to William Bull):
Tobacco was not known in the golden age. So much the worse for the golden age. This age of iron, or lead, would be insupportable without it; and therefore we may reasonably suppose that the happiness of those better days would have been much improved by the use of it.
June 17 (to John Newton):
A man thinks he is fighting for Christ, and he is fighting for his own notions.
Sept. 29 (to William Unwin):
One generation blows bubbles, and the next breaks them.
Oct. 6 (to John Newton):
Angels descend from Heaven to publish peace between man and his Maker; the Prince of Peace himself comes to confirm and establish it, and war, hatred, and desolation are the consequence. Thousands quarrel about the interpretation of a book which none of them understand. He that is slain dies firmly persuaded that the crown of martyrdom expects him; and he that slew him is equally convinced that he has done God service. In reality they are both mistaken, and equally unentitled to the honour they arrogate to themselves.
Oct. 20 (to Joseph Hill):
I have nothing to say on political subjects, for two reasons: first, because I know none that at present would prove very amusing, especially to you who love your country; and, secondly, because there are none that I have the vanity to think myself qualified to discuss.
Nov. 10 (to William Unwin):
But I have observed in your two last letters somewhat of a dejection and melancholy, that I am afraid you do not sufficiently strive against. I suspect you of being too sedentary. "You cannot walk." Why you cannot is best known to yourself. I am sure your legs are long enough, and your person does not overload them. But I beseech you ride, and ride often. I think I have heard you say, you cannot even do that without an object. Is not health an object? Is not a new prospect, which in most countries is gained at the end of every mile, an object? Assure yourself that easy chairs are no friends to cheerfulness, and that a long winter spent by the fireside is a prelude to an unhealthy spring. Every thing I see in the fields is to me an object, and I can look at the same rivulet, or at a handsome tree, every day of my life, with new pleasure. This indeed is partly the effect of a natural taste for rural beauty, and partly the effect of habit; for I never in all my life have let slip the opportunity of breathing fresh air, and of conversing with nature, when I could fairly catch it. I earnestly recommend a cultivation of the same taste to you, suspecting that you have neglected it, and suffer for doing so.
Dec. 15 (to John Newton, on flying in hot air balloons):
Should the point be carried, and man at last become as familiar with the air as he has long been with the ocean, will it in its consequences prove a mercy, or a judgement? I think, a judgement. First, because if a power to convey himself from place to place, like a bird, would have been good for him, his Maker would have formed him with such a capacity. But he has been a groveller upon the earth for six thousand years, and now at last, when the close of this present state of things approaches, begins to exalt himself above it. So much the worse for him. Like a truant schoolboy, he breaks his bounds, and will have reason to repent of his presumption. -- Secondly, I think it will prove a judgement, because with the exercise of very little foresight, it is easy to prognosticate a thousand evils which the project must necessarily bring after it; amounting at last to the confusion of all order, the annihilation of all authority, with dangers both to property and person, and impunity to the offenders.

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