Cowper’s ‘The Snail’

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I am a kind of human snail, locked in and condemned by my own nature. The antients believed that the moist track left by the snail as it crept was the snail’s own essence, depleting its body little by little; the farther the snail toiled, the smaller it became, until it finally rubbed itself out. Cynthia Ozick1 The paradox of Cowper and home Domestic happiness, thou only bliss Of Paradise that has survived the fall! Though few now taste thee unimpair’d and pure, Or tasting, long enjoy thee … (The Task, III, 39–42) Cowper has been described as ‘the poet of home life’, but in fact he never tasted ‘pure’ domestic life, as the poem puts it, inasmuch as he remained unmarried and preferred to avoid responsibility for the households in which he lived.2 This is one of several apparent paradoxes about this ‘self-contradictory man’3 and one which is contained perfectly by ‘The Snail’, Cowper’s 1799 translation of Vincent Bourne’s ‘Limax’ and perhaps the best of his Bourne translations.4 The poem describes a portable home, unified with its tenant, and is translated from a Latin poem by one of Cowper’s schoolmasters; in its content and in its intertextual links with other works, ‘The Snail’ describes Cowper’s need to generate a personal homeliness during his time in Norfolk, and the very act of producing the poem amounts to the creation of a protective shell at this very vulnerable stage in Cowper’s own life. This essay will briefly address the idea of home in Cowper’s life and work, in general terms, before explicating some specific details of the poem; it will then trace some lines of affiliation between speaker and subject and explore the comforting and nostalgic implications of the very act of translation, to show how this poem embodies Cowper’s relationship

I am a kind of human snail, locked in and condemned by my own nature.

The antients believed that the moist track left by the snail as it crept was the

snail’s own essence, depleting its body little by little; the farther the snail

toiled, the smaller it became, until it finally rubbed itself out.

Cynthia Ozick1

The paradox of Cowper and home

Domestic happiness, thou only bliss

Of Paradise that has survived the fall!

Though few now taste thee unimpair’d and pure,

Or tasting, long enjoy thee …

(The Task, III, 39–42)

Cowper has been described as ‘the poet of home life’, but in fact he never

tasted ‘pure’ domestic life, as the poem puts it, inasmuch as he remained

unmarried and preferred to avoid responsibility for the households in

which he lived.2 This is one of several apparent paradoxes about this

‘self-contradictory man’3 and one which is contained perfectly by

‘The Snail’, Cowper’s 1799 translation of Vincent Bourne’s ‘Limax’

and perhaps the best of his Bourne translations.4 The poem describes

a portable home, unified with its tenant, and is translated from a Latin

poem by one of Cowper’s schoolmasters; in its content and in its

intertextual links with other works, ‘The Snail’ describes Cowper’s need

to generate a personal homeliness during his time in Norfolk, and the

very act of producing the poem amounts to the creation of a protective

shell at this very vulnerable stage in Cowper’s own life. This essay will

briefly address the idea of home in Cowper’s life and work, in general

terms, before explicating some specific details of the poem; it will then

trace some lines of affiliation between speaker and subject and explore

the comforting and nostalgic implications of the very act of translation,

to show how this poem embodies Cowper’s relationship to the idea of

home.

57

The Task depicts various idealised versions of home, including the

‘low-roofed lodge’ which is called ‘the peasant’s nest’ (I, 227):

Oft have I wished the peaceful covert mine.

Here, I have said, at least I should possess

The poet’s treasure, silence, and indulge

The dreams of fancy, tranquil and secure.

(I, 233–6)

This recalls the summer house at Orchard Side, which Cowper describes

in a letter to Joseph Hill written in the same year in which The Task was

published:

I write in a nook that I call my Bouderie; It is a Summer house not much

bigger than a Sedan chair, the door of which opens into the garden which is

now crowded with pinks, roses, and honey-suckles, and the window into my

neighbour’s orchard […] Having lined it with garden-mats and furnished it

with a table and two chairs, here I write in summer-time […] secure from all

noise, and a refuge from all intrusion.5

Despite the garden-mat lining and the cuteness of the summer-house,

Cowper comically acknowledges the likely reality of the peasant’s nest

and the hyperbole of pastoral tropes, in a letter to Lady Hesketh the

following year:

You must always understand, my Dear, that when poets talk of Cottages,

hermitages, and such like matters, they mean a house with 6 sashes in front,

two comfortable parlours, a smart stair-case, and three bed-chambers of

convenient dimensions; in short, exactly such a house as this.6

Elsewhere in his letters and poetry, especially in ‘Tirocinium’ and

‘Retirement’, Cowper advocates passionately for the importance

of home life, an emphasis which has led to some exaggeration and

misrepresentation of his domesticity; for example, J. C. Bailey says that

Cowper ‘lived in a dull and obscure country village among old maids

and dissenting clergymen and knew nothing of the commanding minds

of his day’.7 This judgement is heavy-handed almost to the point of

falsehood, but does reflect the high importance given to the domesticity

of domestic bliss in Cowper’s work.

With all this in mind, let us remind ourselves that from an early age

Cowper did not have a home. After his mother’s death when he was six,

he lived at the miserable boarding school run by Dr Pittman, then with

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Mrs Disney the oculist; after his years at Westminster, he lived with Mr

Chapman the solicitor and at the Inns of Court. Although there seems

to have been the opportunity for settled domestic life with Theadora in

1763, he found himself unable or unwilling to act, and a short time later

he had his most well-documented breakdown and left London, living

first at Dr Nathaniel Cotton’s and then as a bachelor in Huntingdon for

a time before moving in with the Unwins. Cowper’s life with Mary

Unwin was a long period of domestic stability, only brought to an end

by her death. Cowper spent his last days in Norfolk, and ‘The Snail’ was

written during this last displacement from his home.

The poem

The Snail

To grass, or leaf, or fruit, or wall,

The snail sticks close, nor fears to fall,

As if he grew there, house and all,

Together.

Within that house secure he hides 5

When danger imminent betides

Of storm, or other harm besides

Of Weather.

Give but his horns the slightest touch,

His self-collecting pow’r is such, 10

He shrinks into his house with much

Displeasure.

Where’er he dwells, he dwells alone,

Except himself has chatells none,

Well satisfied to be his own 15

Whole treasure.

Thus hermit-like his life he leads,

Nor partner of his banquet needs,

And if he meet one, only feeds

The faster. 20

Who seeks him must be worse than blind,

(He and his house are so combined),

If, finding it, he fails to find

Its master.8

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I propose to tease out the resonances of some key phrases in the poem

in which Cowper is alluding to other English poets in his verbal choices

as translator; the use of allusion combines with Cowper’s thematic

exploration of home, such that the very act of writing the poem generates

an inward comfort and homeliness that cannot be taken from him.

‘house and all’

The phrase ‘house and all’ in line three briefly misleads the reader – for a

moment we understand this as an image of continuance or integration in

which the snail is a natural part of the house on whose wall he is affixed.

This reading is corrected by ‘that house’ in line five: the real home of the

snail is not the one to which he temporarily affixes himself, but rather

the one which surrounds and extends from his own body.

‘danger imminent’

With this phrase, we shift from a material to a spiritual register. The poetic

inversion certainly achieves a good deal more metrical smoothness than

‘imminent danger’, and is a Spenserian, rather than Miltonic, phrase.9

The phrase ‘imminent danger’ is common in evangelical literature, found,

for example, in Doddridge’s works and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress,

and its presence here hints at a spiritual, even allegorical, reading of the

snail as soul.

‘Give but his horns the slightest touch, / […] shrinks’

With the third stanza, the language and allusions engineer a slightly

more surprising shift, from the spiritual to the erotic. The sympathetic

image and especially the use of ‘shrinks’ recalls this passage from

Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis:

Or as the snail, whose tender horns being hit,

Shrinks backward in his shelly cave with pain,

And there, all smoth’red up, in shade doth sit,

Long after fearing to creep forth again … 10

These lines describe Venus reacting as she sees that Adonis has

been gored by a boar. This usage can be admitted into the sense set

up by Cowper’s poem through the function of eyes, which may gaze

attentively, as in ‘The Snail’, or with love, as in Venus and Adonis, but

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do not come into direct contact with the objects of their curiosity or

desire. Venus shows a pronounced preference for not-seeing when the

object of her desire is injured, made more hurtful because touching has

been refused by Adonis and because he has been touched and penetrated

by the boar – her love rival, for Adonis declined her company in favour

of hunting. The almost playful layering in Venus and Adonis is inverted

in ‘The Snail’: we witness the implicit meeting of the eyes of the snail,

inquisitively extended on stalks, and the eyes of the poet, generously

taking in the detail of the creature.

The flaccid withdrawal of the snail’s horns matches the softness of

Venus’s desires, which are based on looking. Adonis has snubbed these

desires, choosing to hunt rather than see Venus. The hard and violently

penetrative tusk is the culmination of this rivalry between Venus and

the boar, and the sudden inversion of Adonis’s desire to pursue by his

quarry’s refusal to flee brings his preference for action to its terminal

point, after which Venus can never have him. This is a characteristically

complex overlaying of power, gaze, and rejection, and the quietly

reported sexual narrative is almost lost in the sensitively drawn image

of these lines. The poem does not show us the mortal thrust, instead

describing the reaction of Venus when she looks once again at Adonis.

This positioning of the narrative view and its emphasis on the act of

looking reflects the voyeuristic position of the reader, bringing them

into a closer identification with Venus in her misery and heightening

the emotional pitch. The passage suggests other ramifications, but the

effect of the lines proceeds from the perceptive and caring vision of the

snail rather than the latent tale of fraught longing evoked by the snail in

Venus and Adonis – and part of this effect is the memorably evocative

shrinking that we find in Cowper’s poem.11

Shakespeare’s shrinking snail also exerts an indirect influence on

Cowper, mediated by Erasmus Darwin. Cowper wrote his admiring

verses ‘Lines Addressed to Dr. Darwin, Author of the Botanic Garden’

in 1792, having in 1789 reviewed for The Analytical Review ‘The Loves

of Plants’, the second part of Erasmus Darwin’s long poem The Botanic

Garden.12 In the review, Cowper speaks highly of the poem in general

and particularly admires the following passage: ‘Now with young

wonder touch the sliding snail, / Admire his eye-tip’d horns, and painted

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mail’ (ll. 147-8). He notes that ‘There is a beauty in that expression, the

eye-tip’d horns of the snail, which an ordinary writer would not have

attained in half a dozen laboured couplets’.13 Although horns is not being

set to unusual use here, and there is a great deal of poetic precedent for

Cowper’s use of the word, the praise given to Darwin’s lines in this review

marks them as an influence, and earlier in the same poem Darwin uses the

same image – ‘Slide here, ye horned snails, with varnish’d shells’ (l. 29).14

Both Cowper and Darwin shared a curiosity about the natural world,

but their approaches could hardly be more different: Cowper’s nature

descriptions are organised by the principle of association, Darwin’s

by taxonomic rigour; Cowper writes empathetically of the snail, and

perhaps would not have included its response to touch except for the

literary precedent, whereas Darwin’s speaker performs the touching

himself and describes his keenness to do it.15

‘feeds / The faster’

Like Darwin, Cowper was not only a keen observer of the natural world

but an avid gardener, and as such we can be sure that he knew about

the potential for snails to damage or destroy his handiwork. Snails are

warded off in the early Latin poem ‘Horti Ad Floram Dedicato. 1753’. In

‘The Snail’, the creature’s dinner is essentially antisocial, as he prefers

no company, seeks to deprive any guests of a meal, and plunders the

agronomic efforts of others. However, the poem’s empathetic rendering

relates partly to a sense of shared identity between snail and poet. As

such, there is tension between Cowper’s recognition of the snail’s greedy

dependence and his own parasitic lifestyle. This may be fully resolved

by reading the poet as a gardener and the snail as a pest, which permits

some liberality of feeling about the snail so long as it does not intrude or

aggress – we see this in The Task:

I would not enter on my list of friends

(Though graced with polish’d manners and fine sense,

Yet wanting sensibility) the man

Who needlessly sets foot upon a worm.

An inadvertent step may crush the snail

That crawls at evening in the public path:

But he that has humanity, forewarn’d,

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Will tread aside, and let the reptile live.

The creeping vermin, loathesome to the sight,

And charged perhaps with venom, that intrudes,

A visitor unwelcome, into scenes

Sacred to neatness and repose, the alcove,

The chamber, or refectory, may die:

A necessary act incurs no blame.

[…]

The sum is this: if man’s convenience, health,

Or safety interfere, his rights and claims

Are paramount, and must extinguish theirs.

(VI, 560-73; 581-3)

This passage relates closely to an observation Cowper makes in a

letter to Unwin, written during the period at which he is working on The

Task, in which he confides that ‘I allow the life of an animal to be fairly

taken away, when it interferes either with the Interest or convenience

of Man. Consequently Snails and all reptiles that spoil our crops either

of fruit or grain may be destroyed if we can catch them’.16 In both of

these passages the snail is an absolute inferior to mankind, subject to

destruction by man, and generously allowed to live only so long as

it does not intrude – even in the first excerpt there is no engagement

with or description of the snail, only a broad censure of unnecessary

killing. ‘The Snail’ is a rather different case. The subject is brought into

such sustained and sympathetic focus that to ‘extinguish’ takes on the

character of murder.

Before further discussion of the murder of snails, we should note

Cowper’s use of the word ‘vermin’ to describe snails in The Task. We see

the same use in a 1790 letter to Clotworthy Rowley, in which Cowper

describes booksellers as ‘the most dilatory of mankind’, asks if Rowley

is ‘possessed of any secret that will make a snail gallop’, and calls them

‘tedious vermin’ – referring to their slowness, rather than any other snaillike

qualities.17 In specific relation to the idea of home, vermin, though

not specifically snails, are imagined in Cowper’s description, in a 1786

letter to Newton, of the ‘forlorn and woeful spectacle’ of Orchard Side

‘deserted of its inhabitants’, which has become ‘the habitation of vermin

and the image of desolation.’18

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Cowper’s sense of the unimportance of a snail’s death is also suggested

by his remarks on William Lawrence Brown’s An Essay on Sensibility

(published in The Analytical Review):

In page 142 we find a foe quash’d. We thought the term confined to the

bar, where long usage has made it almost tolerable, and in poetry we did

not expect it. Let indictments be quash’d; and we have no objection to the

quashing of snails, slugs, and rotten eggs, but for Sensibility’s sake let us not

quash our enemies.19

In this ‘quashing of snails’ we may hear an echo of Gay’s ‘The Butterfly

and the Snail’, where the reader is exhorted to ‘crush then the slow,

the pilfering race’.20 The suggestion of foes being quashed or crushed,

snail-like, seems especially abhorrent to Cowper in this poem, partly for

the lack of euphony but also because, as a fate which Cowper himself

visited upon the pests in his garden, it is a peculiarly undignified way to

describe the destruction of a human enemy.

‘hermit-like’

The image of the hermit is a standard figure in the Spenserian verse of

the eighteenth century; but instead of being ascetically uninterested in

his cell or even nomadic, Cowper’s snail is a hermit who is identified by

and identical with his home. The possibility of company or friendship is

fraught in the poem, and even the ‘harm besides / Of weather’ in lines

7–8 may include the arrival of a partner – which is seen as negative

if not outright threatening in lines 18–20. This leads the snail to his

‘hermit-like’ existence, and yet there is sad resignation when compared

with the desire for companionship elsewhere in Cowper’s writing:

I praise the Frenchman, his remark was shrew’d–

How sweet, how passing sweet is solitude!

But grant me still a friend in my retreat,

Whom I may whisper, solitude is sweet.

‘Retirement’, ll. 739–42

This hermitude of the snail recalls the ‘hermitage’ in the letter to Lady

Hesketh quoted earlier in this paper, in which Cowper poked fun at the

surprisingly material comforts of most ‘hermitages’. However, the idea

of ‘chatells none’ is one of the conditions of hermitude in the poem, and

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often in his letters Cowper (albeit disingenuously) represents himself as

having few possessions.

‘he / […] Its master’

The sexing of the snail in this poem aligns with the overwhelmingly

masculine snails found in Shakespeare, the Bible, and in literature more

broadly; and ‘limax’ is a masculine noun. However, there is a poem

by John Bunyan called ‘Upon A Snail’, in which the snail is female.

Bunyan wrote the poem for the instruction of children, but Cowper

might have known it. It was first published 1686 in a book of rhymes

for children, republished in 1724 under the title Divine Emblems for

Children. Bunyan’s poem focuses solely on the persistence and success

of the snail, with the strength of his image relying on the snail’s surprising

success in the face of her apparent resourcelessness; he does not evoke

the vulnerability of the snail, and uses no images which might evoke the

material characteristics of a snail (eyes on stalks, shell, trail, sliminess,

softness). The second half of the six-stanza poem offers a ‘comparison’

between the snail – slow but sure – and the steadfast Christian soul. It’s

difficult to know what to make of Cowper’s sexing of his snail; perhaps

it’s a gesture of masculine self-reliance?

The homeliness of translation

Cowper found employment necessary to his stability and wellbeing,

and after completion of The Task he sought this in translation. The

choice of texts to translate is revealing in its own right. His version of

Homer is a single activity that brings together the comparative exercise

of his school days, comparing the Greek to Pope’s translation; the fierce

rivalry he felt with Pope for the full length of his mature poetic life;

and his admiration of Milton’s style. The translations of Gay into Latin

and Bourne into English also represent an employment which creates

a return to childhood. Cowper’s early fondness for Gay’s fables is

well-established, and Vincent Bourne was his usher at Westminster.

Additionally, Bourne translated some of Gay’s work into Latin, and

Cowper had previously translated some of Bourne’s Latin work into

English.21 This triangulation creates a particular homeliness around the

act of translating Bourne.

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As with Churchill, whom in ‘Table-Talk’ Cowper claims ‘[c]

ontemporaries all surpassed’ (670), Cowper’s affection for Bourne may

have suggested critical positions that required post hoc justifications. In

a 1781 letter to William Unwin he explains

I love the memory of Vinny Bourne. I think him a better Latin poet than

Tibullus, Propertius, Ausonius, or any of the Writers in his way, except Ovid,

and not at all inferior to Him. I love him too with a Love of Partiality, because

he was Usher of the 5th form at Westminster when I pass’d through it.22

In similar vein, Cowper writes again to Unwin in 1783 about Bourne’s

translations of ballads by Gay and poems by Prior, observing that

The Ballads that Bourne has translated, beautifull in themselves are still

more beautifull in his version of them, infinitely surpassing in my judgment,

all that Ovid or Tibullus have left behind them. They are quite as elegant, and

far more touching and pathetic than the tenderest strokes of either.23

This is high praise indeed, and Cowper’s affection for Bourne and his

works was enduring; he is translating him during the late Norfolk period,

but as early as 1777 he had asked Hill to send a copy of Bourne’s poems

to Olney.24

There is personal warmth of feeling as well as appreciation for

Bourne’s craft of verse in Cowper’s reflections on him. He writes to

Samuel Rose in 1788 that

I shall have great pleasure in taking now and then a peep at my old friend

Vincent Bourne, the neatest of all men in his versification, though when I was

under his ushership at Westminster, the most slovenly in his person. He was

so inattentive to his boys, and so indifferent whether they brought him good

or bad exercises, or none at all, that he seem’d determined, as he was the best,

so to be the last Latin poet of the Westminster line; a plot which I believe

he has executed very successfully, for I have not heard of any who has at all

deserved to be compared with him.25

Cowper’s last point here is very witty, and debunked only by Cowper’s

own Latin poetry. The point of Cowper’s history with Vincent Bourne is

worth recalling in relation to his work on ‘The Snail’ and other poems

during his time in Norfolk. Bourne was selected by Cowper because

Bourne himself was a token reminder of Cowper’s Westminster days,

and because the translation of Bourne was an activity first undertaken

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during Cowper’s years in Olney. Intriguingly, Cowper began translating

Gay’s ‘The Butterfly and the Snail’ shortly before turning to ‘Limax’,

although he only produced the title and opening couplet. The links

between Gay and Bourne are clear: Cowper was always reminded of

one by the other, and sentimentally invested in both.26

Home thoughts

Martin Priestman, writing on The Task, gives several examples of

topography as an organising principle of Cowper’s poetry, one of which

is ‘The Snail’:

Another way of being comically at once abroad and at home is by taking the

home itself on the journey, like the snail in the best of Cowper’s translations

from Vincent Bourne […] The point in all these cases is protection from

exposure, and therefore from real contact with the conditions of the journey.

Such protection often seems to strike Cowper as so paradoxical that he

leaves such images simply to stand in his poems in all their absurdity or

miraculousness.27

The recognition of this ‘paradox’ is, in its simplest application, borne

out by Cowper’s pleasure in walking even when adverse conditions led

Mary Unwin to stay at home. However, this strolling is mediated and

reshaped by the reflection and versification of The Task, and the sofa

and the walk are the two poles between which the poem necessarily

oscillates.

Because the translation of ‘The Snail’ was made in the spring of

1799, it is tempting to respond to the poem in more final, grave, and

valedictory terms than the text itself invites. Nonetheless, the poem is

more than the translation of a skilled hobbyist, and both the text and the

act of its creation arise from Cowper’s relationship to the idea of home.

The closing moment of the poem is a light quip, but reminds us that

Cowper ‘once passed Pope’s Lodgings, when a boy, and looked for him

but he was not to be seen’.28 In its particular context of composition in

Dereham, 1799, the near-unity of self and home in the poem makes some

claim of homeliness in the very creation of the text and the existence of

its creator despite Cowper’s recent removal from familiar life; further

than this, the closeness of the shell is not only cosily self-containing but

also a confinement, recalling the phrases ‘fleshly tomb’ and ‘[b]uried

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above ground’ in the much earlier ‘Hatred and Vengeance’ (ll. 19-20).

Vincent Newey has written of the ‘topos of the happy-unhappy shutin’

which the poetry of Gray and Cowper inaugurated.29 If ‘Hatred and

Vengeance’ delineates the darkest and most Calvinist version of the idea

in Cowper’s poetry, ‘The Snail’ offers a more happily secular and down

to earth vision. Like ‘To Mary’, it is written in a gentler variation of

the more violent Sapphic metre which Cowper used for ‘Hatred and

Vengeance’, and the metrical similarities between ‘To Mary’ and ‘The

Snail’ suggest that the solitary domesticity of the latter is an apt emblem

for this stage in Cowper’s life, after Mary’s death in 1796.

More happily, the image of the snail also recalls the famous portrait of

Cowper in his cambric cap. Indeed, snails and hats remind us of the Fool

in King Lear, who says ‘I can tell why a snail has a house. […] Why, to

put his head in; not to give it away’ (I. v. 21, 23). This in turn reminds us

of Rosalind in As You Like It, declaring that she would be as well wooed

by a snail as by Orlando: ‘though he comes slowly, he carries his house

on his head; a better jointure, I think, than you make a woman: besides

he brings his destiny with him’ (IV. i. 49-51). Although Rosalind then

descends into banter about cuckoldry, the endearing image of the snail

resonates with Cowper’s life with women and the ‘happy man’ who

would ‘make his fate his choice’ in The Task (VI, ll. 906, 910).

The snail of the poem is very much like Cowper, easily injured,

carefully observing the world with inquisitive and mobile eye-stems;

also self-possessed and somewhat parasitic. He is no fixed and static

limpet, but moves, taking his home with him wherever he goes. ‘The

Snail’ as a translation is an example of this, as a satisfying and selfcontained

activity that reaffirms his identity as poet and reconnects

him with poems and people that he knew and loved in his youth. This

self-collecting shell is irremovably anchored to the body of the poet

or gastropod and protects it from the harshness of the world. Erasmus

Darwin wrote that ‘if a part of [a snail’s] shell be broken it becomes

repaired in a similar manner with mucus, which by degrees hardens into

shell.’30 In the same way, the poet’s defensive shell is made of language,

a perceptive and controlling tool by which he may seize and reorder

his world, which requires continual secretion and hardening in order

to protect him. Cowper’s life-long production of poetry was a way of

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carrying his home with him wherever he went; writing left a visible trail

of where he had been, and this record allowed him to revisit people,

books, and moments of earlier life so as to enter into the homely comfort

of his memory. This is, in varying degrees, true of much of Cowper’s

writing, but is neatly illustrated by this poem in particular.

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Footnotes

The Cowper and Newton Journal includes scholarly articles, notes and reviews on Cowper, Newton and their contemporaries, as well as more general articles from the 18th century.

Joint Editors

Professor Vincent NeweyTony SewardDr William Hutchings

Editorial Board:

Dr Ashley Chantler (University of Chester), Dr Michael Davies (University of Liverpool), Kate Bostock (Museum Trustee), Professor Martha J. Koehler (University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, PA), Professor Bob Owens (University of Bedfordshire).

Reviews Editor: Tony Seward

The predecessor to The Cowper and Newton Journal was The Cowper and Newton Bulletin.  Published in 8 volumes from 2002-2009, it contained museum news in each issue as well as one or more full-length scholarly articles and shorter notes.

References

1 ‘The Seam of The Snail’ in New Yorker (1989); repr. in Metaphor and Memory

(New York: Vintage Books, 1991), 109-10.

2 Charles Bullock, ed., The Poet of Home Life: Centenary Memories of William

Cowper (London: Home Words, [1900]).

3 James King, William Cowper: A Biography (Durham: Duke University Press,

1986), 93.

4 Hayley seems to have thought so. As noted by Ryskamp and Baird, ‘Hayley

published all but three of the translations from Bourne, omitting ‘The Grief

of an Heir’, ‘The Serious Trifler’, and ‘My Taper His Perpetual Aim’. He

followed the order of the poems in the Norfolk MSS, except to draw attention

to ‘The Snail’ by placing it last’; see John Baird and Charles Ryskamp, eds,

The Poems of William Cowper, 3 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980-95),

III, 358. Unless otherwise noted, all citations from Cowper’s poems are from

this edition. Although Bourne and Cowper both wrote about a snail, Limax can

refer to a snail or a slug, with strigilis and cochlea specifically indicating slug

and snail respectively. The text of Bourne’s ‘Limax’ is reproduced here in full:

Frondibus, et pomis, herbisque tenaciter hæret

Limax, et seeum portat ubique domum.

Tutus in hac sese occultat, si quando perielum

Imminet, aut subitae decidit imber aquæ.

Cornua vel leviter tangas, se protinus in se

Colligit, in proprios contrahiturque lares.

Secum habitat quacunque habitat; sibi tota supellex;

Solæ, quas adamat, quasque requirit, opes.

Secum potat, edit, dormit; sibi in ædibus isdem

Conviva et comes est, hospes et hospitium.

Limacem, quacunque sit, quacunque moretur,

(Siquis eum quærat) dixeris esse domi.

Vincent Bourne, Poematia (London: J. Bettenham, 1764), 231. The Latin text

is also printed in Baird and Ryskamp, Poems, III, 382.

69

5 Cowper to Hill, 29 June 1785 (Letters, II, 359-60). All citations from Cowper’s

letters are taken from James King and Charles Ryskamp, eds, The Letters and

Prose Writings of William Cowper, 5 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979-86).

6 Cowper to Lady Hesketh, 26 November 1786 (Letters, II, 599).

7 J. C. Bailey, ed., The Poetical Works of William Cowper (London: Methuen,

1905), ix.

8 As printed by Ryskamp and Baird, Poems, III, 235. It appears in the Milford

and Milford/Russell editions at 560; in Bailey 611-2.

9 It occurs several times in Spenser’s Faerie Queene, for example: III, iv, 58,

4; III, x, 41, 3. See Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, ed. by Hiroshi

Yamashita et al. (London: Longman, 2006), 331, 384.

10 Venus and Adonis, ll. 1033-36. All Shakespeare quotations are taken from Gary

Taylor et al., eds, The New Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University

Press, 2016).

11 Shakespeare extends the possibilities of reading softness and hardness as

qualities of love in another use of ‘tender horns’, in Love’s Labour’s Lost:

‘Love’s feeling is more soft and sensible / Than are the tender horns of cockl’d

snails’ (IV, iii, 307). The snail is used to signify slowness in Merchant of

Venice, II, v, 45; Richard III, IV, iii, 53; As You Like It, II, vii, 145; a mere

mention of snails in Midsummer Night’s Dream II, ii, 23.

12 See Erasmus Darwin, The Botanic Garden: a poem in two parts (1791;

Menston, Yorkshire: Scolar Press, 1971). Darwin was also an influence on

Cowper’s late poem ‘Montes glaciales in oceano Germanico Natantes’ and its

English version, ‘On the Ice-Islands Seen Floating in the Germanic Ocean’

(1799), and the subject of ‘To Doctor Darwin’ (1792).

13 Letters, V, 90, 98, 99.

14 From Darwin’s ‘The Loves of Plants’: ‘Slide here, ye horned snails, with

varnish’d shells’ (l. 29; The Botanic Garden, 137).

15 Cowper also invokes the horns of a snail in a letter to Joseph Hill, 16 March

1780: ‘If I had had the Horns of a Snail I should have drawn them in, the

moment I saw the reason of your epistolary brevity, because I felt it too’

(Letters, I, 323).

16 Cowper to William Unwin, 20 October 1784 (Letters, II, 87).

17 Cowper to Clotworthy Rowley, 16 September 1790 (Letters, III, 417).

18 Cowper to John Newton, 16 December 1786 (Letters II, 618-9).

19 Letters and Prose, V, 121.

20 Fables, XXIV. 22. See Vinton Dearing and Charles Beckwith, eds, John Gay,

Poetry and Prose, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), II, 334.

70

21 ‘The Glow-Worm’, ‘The Jack Daw’, ‘The Cricket’, ‘The Parrot’, and ‘The

Cantab.’; all but ‘The Cantab.’ were included in the first edition of Cowper’s

Poems (1781).

22 Cowper to William Unwin, 23 May 1781 (Letters, I, 481-2).

23 Cowper to William Unwin, 4 August 1783 (Letters, II, 155).

24 Cowper to Joseph Hill, 13 July and 23 October 1777 (Letters, I. 272; 273).

25 Cowper to Samuel Rose, 30 November 1788 (Letters, III, 233-4).

26 Gay has a charming section on a snail in The Shepherd’s Week, ‘Thursday’,

from l. 49 onwards (Poetry and Prose, I, 110).

27 Martin Priestman, Cowper’s Task: Structure and Influence (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1983), 40; 41.

28 ‘John Johnson’s notation on the second flyleaf of Cowper’s copy of Pope’s

translation of the Iliad (London, 1715): “E. Dereham / Novr 14.1798. / Mr

Cowper told me that he once passed Pope’s Lodgings, when a boy, and

looked for him but he was not to be seen – It was in Great Queen Street at a

Goldbeater’s.” [….] it must have been between April 1742, when Cowper came

to Westminster, and May 1744, when Pope died.’ Charles Ryskamp, William

Cowper of the Inner Temple, Esq. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

1959), 58n.

29 Vincent Newey, Cowper’s Poetry: A Critical Study and Reassessment

(Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1982), 314-22.

30 Darwin’s Botanic Garden, I, ‘The Economy of Vegetation’, note to l. 162.

Book Museum Tickets

Our Museum building remains CLOSED.  We are opening our gardens on limited entry.  The Cowper & Newton Museum gardens will be open to welcome you on Wednesday 5th August 10.30 – 12.15 and Saturday 8th August 10.30 – 12.15

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