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THE CORRESPONDENCE OF WILLIAM
IF, as I sometimes think, a man's interest in letters is almost the surest measure of his love for Letters in the larger sense of the word, the busy schoolmaster of Olney ought to stand high in favour for the labour he has bestowed on completing and rearranging the Correspondence of William Cowper.' It may be that Mr. Wright's competence as an editor still leaves something to be desired. Certainly, if I may speak for my own taste, he has in one respect failed to profit by a golden opportunity; it needed only to print the more intimate poems of Cowper in their proper place among the letters to have
The Correspondence of William Cowper. Arranged in chronological order, with annotations, by Thomas Wright, Principal of Cowper School, Olney. Four volNew York: Dodd, Mead, & Co., 1904.
produced a work doubly interesting and perfectly unique. The correspondence itself would have been shot through by a new light, and the poetry might have been restored once more to its rightful seat in our affections. The fact is that not many readers to-day can approach the verse of the eighteenth century in a mood to enjoy or even to understand it. We have grown so accustomed to over-emphasis in style and wasteful effusion in sentiment that the clarity and self-restraint of that age repel us as ungenuine; we are warned by a certain frigus at the heart to seek our comfort elsewhere. And just here was the chance for an enlightened editor. So much of Cowper's poetry is the record of his own simple life and of the little adventures that befell him in the valley of the Ouse, that it would have lost its seeming artificiality and would have gained a fresh appeal by association with the letters that relate the same events and emotions. How, for example, the quiet grace of the fables (and good fables are so rare in English!) would be brought back to us again if we could read them side by side with the actual stories out of which they grew. There is a whole charming natural history here of beast and bird and insect and flower. The nightingale which Cowper heard on New Year's Day sings in a letter as well as in the poem; and here, to name no others, are the incidents of the serpent and the kittens, and of that walk by the Ouse when the poet's dog Beau brought him the water lily. Or,