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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From a Letter to Rev. John Newton
By William Cowper (1731–1800)
 
OLNEY, NOVEMBER 30TH, 1783.    
My dear Friend:
I HAVE neither long visits to pay nor to receive, nor ladies to spend hours in telling me that which might be told in five minutes; yet often find myself obliged to be an economist of time, and to make the most of a short opportunity. Let our station be as retired as it may, there is no want of playthings and avocations, nor much need to seek them, in this world of ours. Business, or what presents itself to us under that imposing character, will find us out even in the stillest retreat, and plead its importance, however trivial in reality, as a just demand upon our attention. It is wonderful how by means of such real or seeming necessities my time is stolen away. I have just time to observe that time is short, and by the time I have made the observation, time is gone.
  1
  I have wondered in former days at the patience of the antediluvian world, that they could endure a life almost millenary, and with so little variety as seems to have fallen to their share. It is probable that they had much fewer employments than we. Their affairs lay in a narrower compass; their libraries were indifferently furnished; philosophical researches were carried on with much less industry and acuteness of penetration, and fiddles perhaps were not even invented. How then could seven or eight hundred years of life be supported? I have asked this question formerly, and been at a loss to resolve it; but I think I can answer it now. I will suppose myself born a thousand years before Noah was born or thought of. I rise with the sun; I worship; I prepare my breakfast; I swallow a bucket of goat’s milk and a dozen good sizable cakes. I fasten a new string to my bow, and my youngest boy, a lad of about thirty years of age, having played with my arrows till he has stripped off all the feathers, I find myself obliged to repair them. The morning is thus spent in preparing for the chase, and it is become necessary that I should dine. I dig up my roots; I wash them; boil them; I find them not done enough, I boil them again; my wife is angry; we dispute; we settle the point; but in the mean time the fire goes out, and must be kindled again. All this is very amusing.  2
  I hunt; I bring home the prey; with the skin of it I mend an old coat, or I make a new one. By this time the day is far spent; I feel myself fatigued, and retire to rest. Thus, what with tilling the ground and eating the fruit of it, hunting, and walking, and running, and mending old clothes, and sleeping and rising again, I can suppose an inhabitant of the primeval world so much occupied as to sigh over the shortness of life, and to find, at the end of many centuries, that they had all slipped through his fingers and were passing away like a shadow. What wonder then that I, who live in a day of so much greater refinement, when there is so much more to be wanted and wished, and to be enjoyed, should feel myself now and then pinched in point of opportunity, and at some loss for leisure to fill four sides of a sheet like this?  3
 
 
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