chapter  13
3 Pages

Last years

The Homer translation was the only book to bring Cowper a significant financial return. His publisher, Joseph Johnson, lost money on Poems, 1782, so Cowper allowed him to keep all the earnings from the 1785 volume, which contained The Task. Capitalizing on the success of that poem, Johnson reprinted the 1782 and 1785 collections as a profitable two-volume set in 1786, 1787, and 1788. Cowper was writing occasional verse all this time. In the early 1790s it was his intention to select the best of his hundred or more unpublished poems and add them to a new long poem in order to make a third volume. The subject of the projected long poem, in blank verse, was the four ages of man (infancy, youth, manhood, and old age); it was suggested to him in June 1791 by a neighbour, the curate of Weston Underwood, John Buchanan (Letters III, 531: 23 June 1791). By the middle of 1793, though, it appears that Cowper had written no more than three dozen lines (OSA, pp. 405-6). A longer blank-verse fragment, 'Yardley Oak' (pp. 306-13 below) can be dated 1792 on internal evidence; like the 'four ages' fragment it is concerned with time and knowledge, and seems to promise an historical panorama from Adam onwards; so it is perhaps the remains of an effort to reshape 'four ages' material into a more emblematic form.