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In the thirty-five years that have elapsed since Canon Benham published the last one-volume edition of Cowper's poems, a certain number of new poems have appeared in various books, much new light has been thrown on Cowper's life, but little or no work has been done on the actual text of the poems. It seemed worth while therefore to collect these scattered poems and print them with the rest conveniently in one volume; to utilize the new facts by carefully testing thereby the dates hitherto accepted for the composition of the poems; and to examine the text afresh and if possible constitute it on scientific principles.
The poems first here collected do not, with two or three exceptions, add much to Cowper's poetic reputation; but the aim of this series is to provide complete texts, and readers of the OXFORD COWPER have before them every poem of his hitherto printed (besides a few from MS.), except the translations of Homer and Adamo. No modern edition has reprinted these ; the translation of Homer is dead, that of Adamo was never alive.
The dates at which most of the poems were composed are fairly certain ; nor have the new facts displayed by Mr. Wright in his Life of Cowper (1892) and Correspondence of Cowper (1904) much disturbed the traditional order. But a search through various magazines and periodicals of the time, especially The Gentleman's Magazine, has enabled me to give earlier dates than have hitherto been known for the first publication of many of the miscellaneous poems; and the first published version often shows a large number of variations from later versions. I cannot hope to have traced all these early versions; an exhaustive search through the files of the Northampton Mercury, General Evening Post, and other papers not easily accessible, would be necessary for this. But the copies disinterred by previous editors and by myself supply ample evidence of the constant minute alterations made by Cowper in his least important poems; and this is the main interest of the early versions and the variants they supply ; for the various readings are often intrinsically of equal value : the alteration has produced no improvement.
Consideration of this point leads naturally to the question of the text. It is in the constitution and presentation of the text that I hope to have made some advance on my predecessors. I have not, of course, attempted to chronicle all the misprints of all the early editions, or all the aberrations of Hayley and other editors; such a chronicle would serve no useful purpose and would take up an intolerable deal of space. But in the editions of the poems printed in Cowper's lifetime all variants which indicate a difference of reading have been noted: where two editors—Croft and Hayley, or Johnson and Hayley-of equal or nearly equal authority, print different versions of posthumous poems, one version has been followed throughout the poem, the variants from the other being placed in the notes : and, as already stated, readings involving verbal changes from early printed or MS. copies are given either in the footnotes or at the end of the volume. Thus an attempt has for the first time been made to supply a sufficiently full critical apparatus '.
For the text of the poems contained in the two volumes published by Cowper himself I have followed the royal 8vo edition dated 1800. There were eleven editions of each volume before 1801 : namely, 1782 and 1785 (first edition of each volume separately), 1786 (first two-volume edition), 1787, 1788, 1793, 1794-5, 1798 (2), 1799, 1800 (2)?. These fall into two main groups, those from 1782 (1785) to 1788 forming the first group, the remainder the second.
The second group differs from the first mainly by its adoption of a slightly more consistent and more modern spelling and a less haphazard punctuation ; actual differences of text are very few, as may be seen by inspection of the critical notes. No doubt changes of spelling and punctuation were not definitely adopted by Cowper himself or even by his friends; at any rate there is no direct evidence that Cowper saw the proofs of any but the first edition of each volume, and we know that he gave away his copyright in them to Johnson the publishers, who doubtless produced editions as they were wanted, on his own responsibility. But the fresh poems added to several later editions (see pp. xx-xxii) can only have been obtained from one or other of Cowper's friends, probably Newton, Lady Hesketh, or John Johnson; and the list
i Bruce gave a considerable number of variants; his notes, though incomplete and not always accurate, are valuable.
2 See p. xx-xxii for a further description of these editions. * See Letters (ed. Wright), ii. 419,
of books in the possession of Cowper at his death includes two copies of a 1798 edition'. So we may conclude that Cowper's friends and perhaps Cowper himself had no objection to the newer style ; and we are therefore not compelled to give the text an American air with 'favor,' 'honor,' 'labor,' &c., nor to print 'satyr' (= satire), ‘sieze,' 'cloathes,' and other spellings which check the reader, when nine-tenths of the text is spelt according to modern usage?. In punctuation the second group, especially in Table Talk, &c., tends to be more 'logical,' less ‘rhetorical' (a word which nowadays covers some vagueness about a difficult subject); and Cowper's heroic couplets are even improved by a frequent use of stops. His blank verse is less heavily stopped, as is natural ; and the second group, if somewhat inclined to insert unnecessary commas, marks out the boundaries of the comma and the semi-colon far more clearly, to the benefit of sense and rhythm ?.
The royal 8v edition of 1800 has been chosen rather than any other in the second group for several reasons. A comparison of it with the rest showed clearly that special pains had been taken in printing it, and points of detail, such as the elision of 'e' in preterite forms“, carefully attended to. It has a far more handsome appearance than any previous edition. Its freedom from misprints is shown by my notes, where I have attempted to report all verbal errors that occur; absolutely, there is no doubt a fair number, but comparatively, there are few; the 1786 edition especially bristles with misprints, and the 1782 volume too has many, in spite of the list of errata which gives a false air of accuracy to the edition. The earlier editions of the second group correct most of the misprints of the first group, but introduce many of their own; these are not worth specifying, any more than those of the first group. A single instance will show the carelessness with which Cowper's proofs were read : the gross mis
1 See Mr. Wright's Life, p. 664. ? But where an antiquated spelling persists throughoạt all editions up to and beyond 1800, I have felt bound to retain it; this accounts for ‘scite,' .gulph,' and a few others.
3 Cowper's own views on the punctuation of blank verse are expressed in a letter to Unwin of Oct. 2, 1784 (Letters, ii. p. 245),
Cowper theoretically held strong views on this point, which he did not carry out in print; see his letter to Lady Hesketh, April 3, 1786 (Letters, ii. 6), where he mentions Madan's criticism on his retention of the silent 'e' in words like 'placed,' and defends himself on the ground that elision might lead foreigners into mispronunciation. But the first two editions of the poems retain or elide the 'e' inconsistently with any supposed require. ments of prosody, pronunciation, or typographic beauty.
print 'umber' (The Task, Bk. I, 1. 58) was not altered to lumber' until the 1800 editions, and then only in an errata slip.
Moreover, the 1800 editions contain more poems than any previous issue (see p. xxi); and I conjecture from this fact and from the edition being dated in the year of Cowper's death, that the publisher, on hearing of the author's death, wished to produce as complete and perfect an edition of his poems as possible ; and with this object secured from Newton, Lady Hesketh, and other friends of Cowper, some additional poems that either had not been printed before or had not appeared in a uniform manner with the rest. This is of course mere conjecture; for Johnson, with a modesty rare in publishers and annoying to bibliographers, says nothing of these additional poems on the title page or in a preface, and even omits from the list of contents the titles of those printed in vol. I as an Appendix, apparently because the title-sheet was already printed when he determined to add the Appendix.
For poems printed in Cowper's lifetime but not included in his collected poems until after 1800—viz. two translations of Horace, Olney Hymns, Anti-Thelyphthora, and a few other poems—I have gone back to the first editions, never consciously deviating from their readings without a note, and altering punctuation and spelling very rarely. There is no other authority for the two translations of Horace's Satires and Anti-Thelyphthora than the first edition; but there were many editions of the Olney Hymns from which to choose, and I chose the first because there can be little doubt that Cowper saw proofs of that edition, if any: and further, some of the few alterations in later editions seem to have been made-perhaps by Newton-from a doctrinal point of view, and therefore do not concern us'.
I have followed the same plan in dealing with the poems first printed by Bull, Hayley, Johnson, Croft, Southey, and others; but it did not seem necessary to record every variation, whether misprint or 'improvement,' due to Hayley's insatiable love of tinkering, that appears in the successive editions of Hayley's Life; nor every reading silently introduced by Southey or later editors, apparently without authority and often without reason. For there
i Çp. Mr. Willis's reprint of Cowper's Olney Hymns, which was issued when most of this book was already printed. He sees the necessity of returning to what Cowper probably wrote, but goes too far in keeping some impossible readings (for instance The' for 'Though'in xlix. 25), and does not apparently realize that many of the alterations of which he justly complains were made in later editions of the Olney Hymns, not by mere compilers of Hymnals.