Monday, October 25, 2010


The Tail End of a Letter by Cowper

In August 1758, William Cowper wrote a letter in Latin to his friend Clotworthy Rowley. The letter ends with this paragraph:
Quod ad amicum nostrum Alston attinet, neque Epistolam mihi misit quamlibet, neque missurum reor; scio enim jamdudum ignavam hominis naturam, et obliviosam. Si videris, objurgationes aliquos a me in eum confer, Culumque meum osculetur, jube.
James King and Charles Ryskamp, in their edition of The Letters and Prose Writings of William Cowper, Vol. I: Adelphi and Letters 1750-1781 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), p. 82, content themselves with reproducing the following English translation of the final paragraph, by Thomas Wright, from his edition of The Correspondence of William Cowper Arranged in Chronological Order, Vol. I (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), p. 17:
As to our friend Alston, he has not written to me, nor is he likely to write; for I have long understood the sluggish and forgetful nature of the man. Should you see him, give him a sound rating for me.
This translation omits the last half of Cowper's final sentence ("Culumque meum osculetur, jube"), that is, "And bid him kiss my arse." As the omitted imperative presents to us a side of Cowper rarely seen, I think it is worthy of translation and publication. It is also not out of place here to quote from a poetical riddle by Cowper:
I am just two and two, I am warm, I am cold,
And the parent of numbers that cannot be told.
I am lawful, unlawful—a duty, a fault,
I am often sold dear, good for nothing when bought.
An extraordinary boon, and a matter of course,
And yielded with pleasure—when taken by force.
Alike the delight of the poor and the rich,
Tho' the vulgar is apt to present me his breech.
The answer to the riddle is a kiss.

For another glimpse at this hidden side of William Cowper, see a post by fellow blogger Tom Turdman: I Lose No Time.

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