COWPER, WILLIAM (1731-1800)
THE DEDICATION AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF HIS POEM ON TOBACCO, written as a verse letter to the dedicatee ('My dear friend'), the Rev. William Bull, signed at the end 'WmC' and dated from Olney, 22 June 1782, 73 lines, with references to [John] Newton and America, and to the goddess of tobacco, aptly written for the pipe-smoking Bull, 3 pages, quarto, hole at seal where opened not affecting the text, contemporary endorsement presumably by Bull ('June 22 - 82. A Poem / Mr Cowper'), autograph integral address panel 'The Revd. Mr. Bull / Newport / Bucks.'), Olney, 22 June 1782
If Reading Verse be your delight,
Tis mine as much, or more to write,
But what we would, so weak is man,
Lies oft remote from what we can.
For instance, at this very time,
I feel a wish, by cheerful rhime
To sooth my friend, and had I pow'r,
To cheat him of an anxious hour...
And so may smoke-inhaling Bull,
Be always filling, never full.
This manuscript was formerly in the possession of Miss C.M. Bull, a direct descendant of the Rev. William Bull, and was sold at Sotheby's in 1975. It is printed in The Letters and Prose Writings.
William Bull (1783-1814), minister of Newport Pagnell Independent Church, 'a great character in the history of the eighteenth-century' church', was deemed by Cowper to be one of the best contemporary judges of literature. Highly learned and free from confessional bigotry, he was welcomed in the pulpits of Anglicans, Baptists and Independents alike. John Newton, Cowper's spiritual adviser, would not introduce Bull and Cowper to one another, but after Newton left Olney for London, they became firm friends and the three met together. Cowper wrote of him to William Unwin: 'A Dissenter, but a liberal one; a man of Letters and of Genius, master of a fine imagination, or rather not master of it; an imagination, which when he finds himself in the company he loves and can confide in, runs away with him into such fields of speculation as amuse and enliven every other imagination that has the happiness to be of the party. At other times he has a tender and delicate sort of melancholy in his disposition, not the less agreeable in its way. No men are better qualified for companions in such a world as this, than men of such a temperament. Every scene has two sides, a dark and a bright one, and the mind that has an equal mixture of melancholy and vivacity, is best of all qualified for the contemplation of either. It can be lively without levity, and pensive without dejection. Such a man is Mr Bull. But he smokes tobacco -- nothing is perfect -- nihil est ab omni parte beatum.'
George Ella comments on Cowper's aversion to tobacco: 'Cowper...has difficulties in chatting to pipe-smoking companions. Tobacco to him was good as a weed and insect-killer but of no further use. The poet was doubly distressed with tobacco fumes as he was often the companion of pipe-smoking Newton and smoke-inhaling Bull. Cowper used to retire with his friends for quiet conversation to a very tiny garden-house situated behind Orchard Side [still standing -- illustrated by Ella opposite page 312]. The men were forced to do this as Mrs Unwin would not have people smoking in her presence. When Bull and Newton visited Cowper, as they often did together, they would get the poet to sit between them on the cramped tiny bench in the shed, take their pipes out of a little trap-door in the floor and puff away, so that Cowper found himself trapped in the middle, gasping for breath.'
THIS IS THE ONLY KNOWN MANUSCRIPT OF THE POEM. Cowper's manuscripts are in many institutional collections in Britain and America, the Ash manuscripts in the British Library being the largest.
PROVENANCE: Miss C.M. Bull, a descendant of the recipient; Bernard Quaritch.
REFERENCES: George Ella, William Cowper: Poet of Paradise, 1993, pp. 312-313; The Letters and Prose Writings of William Cowper, edited by James King and Charles Ryskamp, 1981; Index of Literary Manuscripts, Volume III, 1700-1800, compiled by Margaret M. Smith, Cowper CpW 66.