[Page 284]

[ed.] "Joseph Hill (1733–1811) came of a legal family and probably met Cowper in the late 1740s through the poet's uncle, Ashley Cowper, who was a trustee of Hill's father's will. He was to become Cowper's lifelong friend." (Baird/Ryskamp [1980-95], vol. 1, 57.) (AH)

1 DEAR JOSEPH five and twenty years ago
2 Alas! how time escapes 'tis even so
3 With frequent intercourse and always sweet
4 And always friendly, we were won't to cheat
5 A tedious hour and now we never meet.
6 As some grave gentleman in Terence says,
7 ('Twas therefore much the same in ancient days)
8 Good lack, we know not what to-morrow brings
9 Strange fluctuation of all human things!
10 True. Changes will befall, and friends may part,
11 But distance only cannot change the heart:
[Page 286]
12 And were I call'd to prove th' assertion true,
13 One proof should serve, a reference to you.
14 Whence comes it then, that in the wane of life,
15 Though nothing have occurr'd to kindle strife,
16 We find the friends we fancied we had won,
17 Though num'rous once, reduced to few or none?
18 Can gold grow worthless that has stood the touch?
19 No: Gold they seemed, but they were never such
20 Horatio's servant once, with bow and cringe
21 Swinging the parlour door upon its hinge,
22 Dreading a negative, and overawed
23 Lest he should trespass, begg'd to go abroad.
24 Go fellow! whither? turning short about
25 Nay. Stay at home; you're always going out.
26 'Tis but a step, sir, just at the street's end
27 For what? An please you sir, to see a friend.
28 A friend? Horatio cried, and seem'd to start
29 Yea marry shalt thou, and with all my heart
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30 And fetch my cloak, for though the night be raw
31 I'll see him too the first I ever saw.
32 I knew the man, and knew his nature mild,
33 And was his play-thing often when a child,
34 But somewhat at that moment pinch'd him close,
35 Else he was seldom bitter or morose.
36 Perhaps his confidence just then betray'd,
37 His grief might prompt him with the speech he made,
38 Perhaps 'twas mere good-humour gave it birth,
39 The harmless play of pleasantry and mirth.
40 Howe'er it was, his language in my mind
41 Bespoke at least a man that knew mankind:
42 But not to moralize too much, and strain
43 To prove an evil of which all complain,
44 (I hate long arguments, verbosely spun)
45 One story more, dear Hill, and I have done:
46 Once on a time, an Emp'ror, a wise man,
47 No matter where, in China or Japan,
48 Decreed that whosoever should offend
49 Against the well known duties of a friend,
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50 Convicted once, should ever after wear
51 But half a coat, and show his bosom bare.
52 The punishment importing this, no doubt,
53 That all was naught within, and all found out.
54 Oh happy Britain! we have not to fear
55 Such hard and arbitrary measure here.
56 Else could a law like that which I relate,
57 Once have the sanction of our triple state,
58 Some few that I have known in days of old
59 Would run most dreadful risk of catching cold.
60 While you, my friend, whatever wind should blow,
61 Might traverse England safely to and fro,
62 An honest man, close-buttoned to the chin,
63 Broad-cloth without, and a warm heart within.


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About this text

Title (in Source Edition): AN EPISTLE TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ.
Themes: friendship
Genres: heroic couplet; epistle

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Source edition

Cowper, William, 1731-1800. The task: a poem, in six books. By William Cowper, ... To which are added, by the same author, An epistle to Joseph Hill, Esq. ... To which are added, ... an epistle ... and the history of John Gilpin. London: printed for J. Johnson, 1785, pp. [284]-288. [8],359,[1]p. ; 8⁰. (ESTC T14896; OTA K027776.000)

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The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 4.0.0.

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