Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. III. Addison to Blake
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
 
An Epistle to Joseph Hill, Esq.
By William Cowper (1731–1800)
 
DEAR Joseph,—Five and twenty years ago—
Alas, how time escapes!—’tis even so—
With frequent intercourse, and always sweet,
And always friendly, we were wont to cheat
A tedious hour, and now we never meet!        5
As some grave gentleman in Terence says
(’Twas therefore much the same in ancient days),
Good lack, we know not what to-morrow brings—
Strange fluctuation of all human things!
True. Changes will befall, and friends may part,        10
But distance only cannot change the heart:
And were I called to prove the assertion true,
One proof should serve—a reference to you.
  Whence comes it, then, that in the wane of life,
Though nothing have occurred to kindle strife,        15
We find the friends we fancied we had won,
Though numerous once, reduced to few or none?
Can gold grow worthless, that has stood the touch?
No; gold they seemed, but they were never such.
  Horatio’s servant once, with bow and cringe,        20
Swinging the parlour door upon its hinge,
Dreading a negative, and overawed
Lest he should trespass, begged to go abroad.
‘Go, fellow!—whither?’—turning short about—
‘Nay. Stay at home—you ’re always going out.’        25
‘’Tis but a step, sir; just at the street’s end.’—
‘For what?’—‘An please you, sir, to see a friend.’—
‘A friend!’ Horatio cried, and seemed to start—
‘Yea marry shalt thou, and with all my heart.
And fetch my cloak; for, though the night be raw,        30
I ’ll see him too—the first I ever saw.’
  I knew the man, and knew his nature mild,
And was his plaything often when a child;
But somewhat at that moment pinched him close,
Else he was seldom bitter or morose.        35
Perhaps, his confidence just then betrayed,
His grief might prompt him with the speech he made;
Perhaps ’twas mere good humour gave it birth,
The harmless play of pleasantry and mirth.
Howe’er it was, his language, in my mind,        40
Bespoke at least a man that knew mankind.
  But not to moralize too much, and strain
To prove an evil of which all complain,
(I hate long arguments verbosely spun,)
One story more, dear Hill, and I have done.        45
Once on a time, an emperor, a wise man,
No matter where, in China or Japan,
Decreed, that whosoever should offend
Against the well-known duties of a friend,
Convicted once, should ever after wear        50
But half a coat, and show his bosom bare:
The punishment importing this, no doubt,
That all was naught within, and all found out.
  O happy Britain! we have not to fear
Such hard and arbitrary measure here;        55
Else, could a law like that which I relate
Once have the sanction of our triple state,
Some few that I have known in days of old,
Would run most dreadful risk of catching cold;
While you, my friend, whatever wind should blow,        60
Might traverse England safely to and fro,
An honest man, close buttoned to the chin,
Broadcloth without, and a warm heart within.
 
 
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