An Epistle To Robert Lloyd, Esq.

A poem by William Cowper

‘Tis not that I design to rob
Thee of thy birthright, gentle Bob,
For thou art born sole heir, and single,
Of dear Mat Prior’s easy jingle;
Not that I mean, while thus I knit
My threadbare sentiments together,
To show my genius or my wit,
When God and you know I have neither;
Or such as might be better shown
By letting poetry alone.
‘Tis not with either of these views
That I presumed to address the muse:
But to divert a fierce banditti
(Sworn foes to every thing that’s witty!)
That, with a black, infernal train,
Make cruel inroads in my brain,
And daily threaten to drive thence
My little garrison of sense;
The fierce banditti which I mean
Are gloomy thoughts led on by spleen.
Then there’s another reason yet,
Which is, that I may fairly quit
The debt, which justly became due
The moment when I heard from you;
And you might grumble, crony mine,
If paid in any other coin;
Since twenty sheets of lead, God knows
(I would say twenty sheets of prose),
Can ne’er be deem’d worth half so much
As one of gold, and yours was such.
Thus, the preliminaries settled,
I fairly find myself pitchkettled,[1]
And cannot see, though few see better,
How I shall hammer out a letter.
First, for a thought—since all agree—
A thought—I have it—let me see—
‘Tis gone again—plague on’t! I thought
I had it—but I have it not.
Dame Gurton thus, and Hodge her son,
That useful thing, her needle, gone!
Rake well the cinders—sweep the floor,
And sift the dust behind the door;
While eager Hodge beholds the prize
In old grimalkin’s glaring eyes;
And Gammer finds it, on her knees,
In every shining straw she sees.
This simile were apt enough;
But I’ve another, critic-proof!
The virtuoso thus, at noon,
Broiling beneath a July sun,
The gilded butterfly pursues,
O’er hedge and ditch, through gaps and mews;
And, after many a vain essay,
To captivate the tempting prey,
Gives him at length the lucky pat,
And has him safe beneath his hat:
Then lifts it gently from the ground;
But, ah! ‘tis lost as soon as found;
Culprit his liberty regains,
Flits out of sight, and mocks his pains.
The sense was dark; ‘twas therefore fit
With simile to illustrate it;
But as too much obscures the sight,
As often as too little light,
We have our similes cut short,
For matters of more grave import.
That Matthew’s numbers run with ease,
Each man of common sense agrees!
All men of common sense allow
That Robert’s lines are easy too:
Where then the preference shall we place,
Or how do justice in this case?
Matthew (says Fame), with endless pains
Smooth’d and refined the meanest strains;
Nor suffer’d one ill-chosen rhyme
To escape him at the idlest time;
And thus o’er all a lustre cast,
That, while the language lives shall last.
An’t please your ladyship (quoth I),
For ‘tis my business to reply;
Sure so much labour, so much toil,
Bespeak at least a stubborn soil:
Theirs be the laurel-wreath decreed,
Who both write well, and write full speed!
Who throw their Helicon about
As freely as a conduit spout!
Friend Robert, thus like chien savant
Lets fall a poem en passant,
Nor needs his genuine ore refine—
“Tis ready polish’d from the mine.

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