The Life and Posthumous Writings of William Cowper, Esq. with an Introductory Letter to the Right Honourable Earl Cowper...... By William Hayley, Esq.

Boston.... Manning and Loring,and E. Lincoln....8vo.

ONE of the chief ornaments of the present age was William Cowper, the subject of this work. The strength and originality of his genius will bear a favourable comparison with any of his contemporaries. Indeed, we shall be in little danger of contradiction, in asserting that none of his contemporaries have written so much, or so well.

The moral tendency of his poetry ....the elevation of his motives in writing above every thing sordid or humiliating, place him in the noblest rank of those who have employed their lives in purifying the hearts, and delighting the imagination of mankind.

The life and private character of such a man must be regarded with the most ardent curiosity, and the world has waited for few works of this kind with a more lively impatience than has been excited by the present publication.

The hopes that we had formed respecting it, have not been altogether disappointed. The letters of Cowper, which compose so large a part of this work, are fully worthy of the writer, and afford the most distinct and familiar view of his character and sentiments. In the multitude of these, it is, perhaps, unreasonable to repine at the suppression of any of his letters, or to regret that Cowper does not every where appear, instead of Hayley.

The Biographer has performed his part in a manner which we little expected, from the elegance and spirit he displayed in the life of Milton. The similarity of genius between poet and poet, by no means

qualifies one to be the biographer of the other. The sympathy of taste and pursuits, may enable the one to comprehend and relish the works; but, in no degree, fits him for analysing the motives and detailing the actions of his friend : but as, on this account, Hayley rose far above our expectations in his life of Milton, he has fallen even very much below them in his present performance. The style of this work is florid, without splendor....and puerile without simplicity: and forms the strongest contrast imaginable with the charming ease and elegant simplicity of Cowper's own letters.

The defects of this work, as a biographical performance, shew themselves in particulars more important than style. The writer seems to have been restrained by considerations, less excusable than ignorance, from entering fully into the early history of Cowper. Some fantastic and unseasonable delicacy has prevented him from dwelling on those incidents of the poet's youthful life, which probably determined his future destiny; and from which the reader might have drawn useful and important lessons in relation to his own character. From a notion, that regard for the poet's memory required silence on any topic which might reflect disgrace or disappro bation on his relations, the writer is profoundly silent on occasions where he ought to have been most communicative, and thirty years of the poet's life pass over in his narrative without any particulars with which a reasonable curiosity would be gratified, except the following from Cowper's own pen....

"I have been all my life," says Cowper, "subject to inflammations of the eye, and in my boyish days had specks on both that threatened to cover them. My father, alarmed at the consequences, sent me to a female oculist of great renown at


that time, in whose house I abode two years, but to no good purpose. From her I went to Westminster school, where, at the age of 14, the small-pox seized me, and proved the better oculist of the two, for it delivered me from them all; not however from great liableness to inflammation, to which I am in a degree still subject, though much less than formerly, since I have been constant in the use of a hot foot-bath every night, the last thing before going to rest."

Speaking of his own early life, in a letter to Mr. Park, (dated March, 1792) Cowper says, with that extreme modesty, which was one of his most remarkable characteristics ...." From the age of twenty to thirty-three, I was occupied, or ought to have been, in the study of the law; from thirty-three to sixty I have spent my time in the country, where my reading has only been an apology for idleness, and where, when I had not either a magazine or a review, I was sometimes a carpenter, at others, a bird-cage maker, or a gardener, or a drawer of landscapes. At fifty years of age, I commenced an author: it is a whim that has served me longest and best, and will probably be my last.”

The blameable, or at least, illaudable timidities of Cowper, which adhered to him through life, are described as they appeared in childhood, in the following manner..... This is a good specimen of the judgment which the biographer has brought to his task....

"It appears a strange process in education, to send a tender child from a long residence in the house of a female oculist, immediately into all the hardships that a little delicate boy must have to encounter at a public school. But the mother of Cowper was dead, and fathers, though good men, are in general utterly unfit to manage their young and tender orphans. The little Cowper was sent to his first school in the year of his mother's death,

and how ill-suited the scene was to his peculiar character, must be evident to all, who have heard him describe his sensations in that season of life, which is often, very erroneously, extolled as the happiest period of human existence. He has been frequently heard to lament the persecution, that he sustained in his childish years, from the cruelty of his school fellows, in the two scenes of his education. His own forcible expression represented him at Westminster as not daring to raise his eye above the shoe-buckle of the elder-boys, who were too apt to tyrannise over his gentle spirit. The acuteness of his feelings in his childhood rendered those important years, (which might have produced, under tender cultivation, a series of lively enjoyments) miserable years of increasing timidity and depression, which, in the most cheerful hours of his advanced life, he could hardly describe to an intimate friend without shuddering at the recollection of his early wretchedness. Yet to this perhaps the world is indebted for the pathetic and moral eloquence of those forcible admonitions to parents, which give interest and beauty to his admirable poem on public schools. Poets may be said to realize, in some measure, the poetical idea of the nightingale's singing with a thorn at her breast, as their most exquisite songs have often originated in the acuteness of their personal sufferings. Of this obvious truth, the poem I have just mentioned, is a very memorable example; and if any readers have thought the poet too severe in his strictures on that system of education, to which we owe some of the most accomplished characters that ever gave celebrity to a civilized nation, such readers will be candidly reconciled to that moral severity of reproof, in recollecting that it flowed from severe personal experience, united to the purest spirit of philanthropy and patriotism."

Who that reads the following lines but must regret the total silence of

the biographer on certain incidents to marry early in life; a measure of Cowper's life.

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"Though extreme diffidence, and a tendency to despond, seemed early to preclude Cowper from the expectations of climbing to the splendid summit of the profession, he had chosen; yet, by the interest of his family, he had prospects of emolument, in a line of public life, that appeared better suited to the modesty of his nature, and to his moderate ambition.

In his thirty-first year, he was nominated to the offices of reading clerk, and clerk of the private committees in the house of lords. A situation the more desirable, as such an establishment might enable him

to which he was doubly disposed by judgment and inclination. But the peculiarities of his wonderful mind rendered him unable to support the ordinary duties of his new office! for the idea of reading in public proved a source of torture to his An expedient was devised to protender and apprehensive spirit. mote his interest, without wounding his feelings. Resigning his situation of reading clerk, he was appointed clerk of the journals in the same house of parliament, with a hope, that his personal appearance, in that assembly, might not be required; but a parliamentary dispute made it necessary for him to appear at the bar of the house of lords, to entitle himself publicly to the office.

"Speaking of this important inci

dent, in a sketch, which he once early life, he expresses what he enformed himself, of passages in his able words: "They, whose spirits dured at the time in these remarkare formed like mine, to whom a public exhibition of themselves is mortal poison, may have some idea of the horrors of my situation.... others can have none."

"His terrors on this occasion arose to such an astonishing height, that they utterly overwhelmed his reason: for although he had endeavoured to prepare himself for his public duty, by attending closely at the office, for several months, to examine the parliamentary journals, his application was rendered useless by that excess of diffidence, which made him conceive that, whatever knowledge he might previously acquire, it would all forsake him at the bar of the house. This distressing apprehension increased to such a degree, as the time for his appearance approached, that when the day, so anxiously dreaded, arrived, he was unable to make the experiment. The very friends, who called on him for the purpose of attending him to the house of

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lords, acquisced in the cruel necessity of his relinquishing the prospect of a station so severely formidable to a frame of such singular sensibility.

"The conflict between the wishes of just affectionate ambition, and the terrors of diffidence, so entirely overwhelmed his health and faculties, that after two learned and benevolent divines, had vainly endeavoured to establish a lasting tranquillity in his mind, by friendly and religious conversation, it was found necessary to remove him to St. Alban's, where he resided a con

siderable time, under the care of doctor Cotton.

"The misfortune of mental derangement is a topic of such awful delicacy, that I consider it as the duty of a biographer, rather to sink in tender silence, than to proclaim, with circumstantial and offensive temerity, the minute particulars of a calamity, to which all human beings are exposed, and perhaps in proportion as they have received from nature those delightful, but dangerous gifts, a heart of exquisite tenderness, and a mind of creative energy.”

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With collar raised aloft, and threefold cape

Sweep below sweep in wide concen. tric curves

Low down his back dependent; on his breast

The folds he cross'd, and in its des tin'd hole

Each straining button fix'd: erect he stood,

Like huge portmanteau on its end up, rear'd.

Fearless he sallied forth; nor yet disdain'd

The heartening draught from tankard capp'd with foam,

By host officious to the horseblock borne With steady hand, and eloquently praised;

While lingering on the step his eye he turn'd

To every wind, and mark'd the embattled clouds

Ranging their squadrons in the sullen East.

How fares he now? Caught on the middle waste,

Where no deep wood its hospitable gloom

Extends; no friendly thicket bids him

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