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hand, and tenderly inquired why he wished him to remain. “O brother,' said he, I am full of what I could say to you; if I live, you and I shall be more like one another than we have been; but, whether I live, or not, all is well, and will be so ; I know it well; I have felt that wbich I never felt before; and am sure that God has visited me with this sickness, to teach me what I was too proud to learn in health. I never had satisfaction till now, baving no ground to rest my hopes upon; but now I have a foundation which nothing can shake. I bave peace in myself; and if I live, I hope it will be that I might be a messenger of peace to others. I have learned that in a moment, which I could not have learned by reading many books for many years. The light I have received comes late, but not too late, and it is a comfort to me that I never made the gospel-truths a subject of ridicule. This bed would be to me a bed of misery, and it is so; but it is likewise a bed of joy, and a bed of discipline. Was I to die this night, I know I should be happy. This assurance, I hope, is quite consistent with the word of God. It is built upon a sense of my own utter insufficiency, and all-sufficiency of Christ. There is but one key to the New Testament; there is but one Interpreter. I cannot describe to you, nor shall I ever be able to describe to you, what I felt when this was given to me. May I make a good use of it! How I shudder when I think of the danger I have just escaped! How wonderful is it that God should look upon me! Yet he sees me, and takes notice of all that I suffer. I see him too, and can hear him say, Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you peace.' 'He survived this change only a few days, and died happily, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God." pp. 82, 83.
Notwithstanding the blessed consolation with which this severe loss was accompanied, Cowper felt it acutely. It had, however, the effect of de. taching his mind from earthly objects, and fixing them upon that Almighty Friend who changes not, but is “ the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." He says to Mr. Hill, in his own affecting style: “I have not done conversing with terrestrial objects, though I should be happy were I able to hold more continual converse with a Friend above the skies. He has my heart, but he allows a corner of it for all who shew me kindness, and therefore one for you. The storm of 1763 made a wreck of the friendships I had contracted in the course of many years, yours only excepted, which has survived the tempest.”
About this time, and perhaps in part to divert his sombre thoughts, Mr. Newton engaged him to assist in the composition of the Olney Hymns. Of these valuable and popular effusions of sacred poesy it were superfluous to repeat the eulogy. Cowper's portions of them, as is remarked by Mr. Montgomery, were chiefly the communings of his own heart, and the avowals of his own religious experience. These were golden moments; but they lasted not long : Cowper had completed but sixty-eight of these hymns when his fragile mind again gave way, and the hour of darkness returned upon him. The last hymn, as is supposed, which he wrote previous to the attack, was that upon the Mysteries of Divine Providence, (“God moves in a mysterious way,”) which shewed the strength of his faith at the very moment when he was about to be surrounded with the clouds and tempests he describes. He composed this sublime hymn during a solitary walk in the fields around Olney.
We have now arrived at the third epoch of his life. It opens, in the year 1773, with a protracted period of five years of partial insanity and constant despair, during which he scarcely allowed any person to approach him but Mr. Newton, and his faithful friend and companion Mrs. Unwin, his chief occupation and amusement being to tend and tame his hares. It is melancholy to witness the sad blank in the series of his letters during this long period ; almost all that we find being one or two brief notes in Dr. Johnson's collection, thanking Mr. Hill for sending him down a turbot or a salmon.
At length Mr. Bull, whom Mr. Newton on leaving Olney introduced to him, or rather forced upon him, and whom he soon greatly loved and esteemed (only, said he," he smokes tobacco-nothing is perfect”), induced him to translate some of Madame Guyon's spiritual songs; and the pleasure he felt in this occupation gave the first symptoms that his oscillating mind was returning to its balance. Mrs. Unwin, perceiving the benefit he had derived from this mental exertion, urged him to turn his thoughts to some original composition; and hence sprang “ Table Talk," then “ The Progress of Error," then “Truth," &c. tillat length came out, in 1782, the first volume of his Poems, while the author had not even yet fully emerged from his black cloud. His second volume followed in 1785. Then succeeded his laborious translation of the Iliad and Odyssey, which he prosecuted even amidst the deep gloom which began again to hover over him, and finally published in 1791. Then came on poor Mrs. Unwin's illness, which issued in her death in 1796, at a time when Cowper was scarcely able to feel the full weight of his suffering, having relapsed in the beginning of 1794 into that fearful state of melancholy from which he never recovered. From 1794 to his death, in April 1800, scarcely a lucid hour occurred to cast a gleam of hope over the dark and protracted gloom; and the only letter which is extant from his prolific pen during all those years, is one short one to Lady Hesketh, dated October 13, 1798, which, short as it is, is a most distressing evidence of a profound grief which had worn away the very traces of all former pleasurable sensations.
“ You describe delightful scenes, but you describe them to one, who, if he even saw them, could receive no delight from them ; who has a faint recollection, and so faint as to be like an almost forgotten dream, that once he was susceptible of pleasure from such causes. The country that you bave had in prospect, has been always famed for its beauties; but the wretch who can derive no gratification from a view of nature, even under the disadvantage of her most ordinary dress, will have no eyes to admire her in any. In one day, in one minute, I should rather have said-she became an universal blank to me, and though from a different cause, yet with an effect as difficult to remove as blindness itself.” p. 324.
A few extracts from Mr. Taylor's collections during this third period, from the preparation of Cowper's first volume to the period of his death, will conclude our notices. Some of the passages are familiar to those who are conversant with Hayley and the other biographies ; but the general reader will find them neither hackneyed nor uninteresting
The following passage, on the due observation of the Lord's day, is found in a letter to Mr. Unwin, dated March 28, 1780. It deserves attentive perusal at the present moment.
“ With respect to the advice you are required to give to a young lady, that she may be properly instructed in the manner of keeping the Sabbath, I just subjoin a few hints that have occurred to me on the occasion. I think the Sabbath may be considered, first, as a commandment, no less binding upon Christians than upon Jews. The spiritual people among them did not think it enough, merely to abstain from manual occupations on that day, but entering more deeply into the meaning of the precept, allotted those hours, they took from the world, to the cultivation of holiness in their own souls; which ever was, and ever will be, incumbent upon all, who have the Scripture in their hands, and is of perpetual obligation, both upon Jews and Christians; the Commandment enjoins it, and the Prophets have enforced it: and, in many instances, the breach of it has been punished with a providential severity, that has made bystanders tremble. Secondly, it may be considered as a privilege, which you will know how to dilate upon better than I can tell you ; thirdly, as a sign of that covenant by which believers are entitled to a rest that yet remaineth; fourthly, as the sine qua non of the Christian character, and, upon this head, I should guard against being misunderstood to mean no more than two attendances upon public worship, which is a form, observed by thousands, who never kept a Sabbath in their lives. Consistency is necessary to give substance and solidity to the whole. To sanctify the day at church, and to trifle it away out of church, is profanation, and vitiates all. After all, I should say to my catechumen, Do you love the day, or do you not ? If you love it, you will never inquire how far you may safely deprive yourself of the enjoyment of it. If you do not love it, and you find yourself in conscience obliged to acknowledge it, that is an alarming symptom, and ought to make you tremble. If you do not love it, then it is a weariness to you, and you wish it over. The ideas of labour and rest, are not more opposite to each other than the idea of a Sabbath, and that dislike and disgust, with which it fills the souls of thousands, to be obliged to keep it, it is worse than bodily labour.” pp. 106, 107.
Cowper affords a good lesson to those off-hand authors and preachers, who consider themselves men of genius because they are too impatient to study and too idle to revise. His inimitably smooth and easy productions were not cast bright and polished at one fusion, but were finishedup, after they left the mould, to their present simple elegance. He says in one of his letters :
“ To touch, and retouch, is, though some writers boast of negligence, and others would be ashamed to show their foul copies, the secret of almost all good writing, especially in verse. I am never weary of it myself, and if you would take as much pains as I do, you would not need to ask for my corrections. With the greatest indifference to fame, which you know me too well to suppose me capable of affecting, I have taken the utmost pains to deserve it. This may appear a mystery, or a paradox, in practice, but it is true. I considered that the taste of the day is refined, and delicate to excess, and that to disgust that delicacy of the taste by a slovenly inattention to it, would be to forfeit at once all hope of being useful; and for this reason, though I have written more verse this year than perhaps any man in England, I have finished, and polished, and touched and retouched, with the utmost care. Whatever faults I may be chargeable with as a poet, I cannot accuse myself of negligence; I never suffer a line to pass till I have made it as good as I can; and though some may be offended at my doctrines, I trust none will be disgusted by slovenly inaccuracy, in the numbers, the rhymes, or the language. If, after all, I should be converted into waste paper, it may be my misfortune, but it will not be my fault; and I sball bear it with perfect serenity," p. 115.
It was cruel to object to Cowper, as some have done, that his Letters in his latter years were less characterized by religious sentiment than formerly ; and that he seemed to think more of Homer than of the Bible. The truth was, Homer was his occupation; and the Bible, to his diseased imagination, was an interdicted book, at least as to any ray of hope which it was commissioned to afford to console his agitated spirits. That religion was not out of his thoughts appears abundantly in his most painful letters ; and the reason why he said little of it appears equally conspicuous. For example, writing to Mr. Unwin, he says,
“ Take my word for it, the word of a man singularly qualified to give his evidence in this matter, who, having enjoyed the privilege some years, has been deprived of it more, and has no hope that he shall live to recover it. Those that have found a God, and are permitted to worship him, have found a treasure of which, highly as they may prize it, they have but very scanty and limited conceptions. These are my Sunday morning speculations—the sound of the bells suggested them, or rather gave them such an emphasis, that they forced their way into my pen in spite of me; for though I do not often commit them to paper, they are never absent from my mind." p. 143.
Again, he writes to Mr. Newton:
“ You wish you could employ your time to better purpose, yet are never idle, in all that you do; whether you are alone, or pay visits, or receive them ; whether you think or write, or walk or sit still, the state of your mind is such as discovers even to yourself, in spite of all its wanderings, that there is a principle at the bottom, whose determined tendency is towards the best things. I do not at all doubt the truth of what you say, when you complain of that crowd of trifling thoughts that pesters you without ceasing; but then you always have a serious thought standing at the door of your imagination, like a justice of the peace, with the Riot Act in his hand, ready to read it and disperse the mob. Here lies the difference between you and me. You wish for more attention, I for less. Dissipation itself would be welcome to me, so it were not a vicious one; but however earnestly invited, it is coy and keeps at a distance. Yet with all this distressing gloom upon my mind, I expe. rience, as you do, the slipperiness of the present hour, and the rapidity with which time escapes me. Every thing around us, and every thing that befals us, constitutes a variety, which, whether agreeable or otherwise, has still a thievish propensity; and steals from us days, months, and years, with such unparalleled suddeness, that even while we say they are here, they are gone. From infancy to manhood is rather a tedious period, chiefly, I suppose, because at that time we act under the controul of others, and are not suffered to have a will of our own. But thence downward into the vale of years, is such a declivity, that we have just an opportunity to reflect upon the steepness of it and then find ourselves at the bottom." pp. 120, 121.
The resignation with which he bore his supposed rejection from the mercy of God, and the eagerness with which he defends the wisdom of the Divine dispensations, are affecting features of his character. He always asserted that it was a mystery, but never that it was unjust, or contrary to
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infinite goodness or wisdom. We must quote, as one specimen of his feelings, the following letter to Mr. Newton.
“ You know not what I suffered while you were here, nor was there any need you should. Your friendship for me would have made you in some degree a partaker of my woes, and your share in them would have been increased by your inability to help me. Perhaps, indeed, they took a keener edge, from the consideration of your presence.
The friend of my heart, the person with whom I had formerly taken sweet counsel, no longer useful to me as a minister, no longer pleasant to me as a Christian, was a spectacle that must necessarily add the bitterness of mortification to the sadness of despair. I now see a long winter before me, and am to get through it as I can; I know the ground before I tread upon it. It is hollow ; it is agitated; it suffers shocks in every direction; it is like the soil of Calabria-all whirlpool and undulation; but I must reel through it, at least if I be not swallowed up by the way. I have taken leave of the old year, and parted with it just when you did, but with very different sentiments and feelings upon the occasion. I looked back upon all the passages and occurrences of it as a traveller looks back upon a wilderness, through which he has passed with weariness and sorrow of heart, reaping no other fruit of his labour than the poor consolation, that, dreary as the desert was, he left it all behind him. The traveller would find even this comfort considerably lessened, if, as soon as he passed one wilderness, he had to traverse another of equal length, and equally desolate. In this particular his experience and mine would exactly tally. I should rejoice indeed that the old year is over and gone, if I had not every reason to expect a new one similar to it. Even the new year is already old in my account. I am not, indeed, sufficiently second-sighted, to be able to boast, by anticipation, an acquaintance with the events of it yet unborn, but rest assured that, be they what they may, not one of them comes a messenger of good to me. If even death itself should be of the number, he is no friend of mine; it is an alleviation of the woes, even of an unenlightened man, that he can wish for death, and indulge a hope, at least, that in death he shall find deliverance. But, loaded as my life is with despair, I have no such comfort as would result from a probability of better things to come were it once ended. I am far more unhappy than the traveller I have just referred to; pass through whatever difficulties, dangers, or afflictions, I may, I am not a whit nearer home, unless a dungeon be called so. This is no very agreeable theme, but in so great a dearth of subjects to write upon, and especially impressed as I am at this moment with a sense of my own condition, I could choose no other. The weather is an exact emblem of my mind in its present state. A thick fog envelops every thing, and at the same time it freezes intensely. You will tell me, that this cold gloom will be succeeded by a cheerful spring, and endeavour to encourage me to hope for a spiritual change resembling it, but it will be lost labour. Nature revives again ; but a soul once slain lives no more. The hedge that has been apparently dead is not so; it will burst into leaf, and blossom at the appointed time, but no such time is appointed for the stake that stands in it. It is as dead as it seems, and will prove itself no dissembler. The latter end of next month will complete a period of eleven years, in which I have spoken no other language. It is a long time for a man, whose eyes were once opened, to spend in darkness; long enough to make despair an inveterate habit; and such it is in me. My friends, I know, expect that I shall yet enjoy health again. They think it necessary to the existence of divine truth, that he who once had possession of it should never finally lose it. I admit the solidity of this reasoning in every case but my own; and why not in my own? For causes which to them it appears madness to allege, but which rest upon my mind, with a weight of immoveable conviction. If I am recoverable, why am I thus? why crippled, and made useless in the church, just at the time of life when my judgment and experience, being matured, I might be most useful ? Why cashiered, and turned out of service, till, according to the course of years, there is not life enough left in me to make amends for the years I have lost; till there is no reasonable hope left that the fruit can ever pay the expence of the fallow? I forestall the answer-God's ways are mysterious, and he giveth no account of his matters-an answer that would serve my purpose as well as theirs that use it. There is a mystery in my destruction, and in time it will be explained.” pp. 136_139.
Few men could paint more vividly than Cowper at this very time the vanity and vexation of spirit of the trifles that occupy a large of class persons in the less busy walks of life. Thus, writing to Mr. Unwin, he says:
« In the fashionable amusements which you will probably witness for a time, you will discern no signs of sobriety, or true wisdom. But it is impossible for a man who has a mind like yours, capable of reflection, to observe the manners of a multitude without learning something. If he sees nothing to imitate, he is sure to see something to avoid. If nothing to congratulate his fellow-creatures upon, at least much to excite his compassion. There is not, I think, so melancholy a sight in the world, (an hospital is not to be compared to it), as that of a multitude of persons, distinguished by the name of gentry, who, gentle perhaps by nature, and made more gentle by education, have the appearance of being innocent and inoffensive, yet being destitute of all religion, or not at all governed by the religion they profess, are none of them at any great distance from an eternal state, where self-deception will be impossible, and where amusements cannot enter. Some of them we may hope will be reclaimed; it is most probable that many will, because mercy, if one may be allowed the expression, is fond of distinguishing itself by seeking its objects among the most desperate class; but the Scripture gives no encouragement to the warmest charity to expect deliverance for them all. When I see an afflicted and unhappy man, I say to myself, there is perhaps a man whom the world would envy, if they knew the value of his sorrows, which are possibly intended only to soften his heart, and to turn his affections towards their proper centre. But when I see, or hear of, a crowd of voluptuaries, who have no ears but for music, no eyes but for splendour, and no tongues but for impertinence and folly-I say, or at least I see occasion to say, this is madness—this, persisted in, must have a tragical conclusion. It will condemn you, not only as Christians, unworthy of the name, but as intelligent creatures-you know by the light of nature, if you have not quenched it, that there is a God, and that a life like yours cannot be acording to his will.” pp. 121-123.
The extent of Cowper's delusions of mind was probably greater than his best friends were aware. It comes out incidentally, in one of his letters to Mr. Newton, that for thirteen years he had not believed the Mr. Newton, then so called, to be his old friend, but an impostor. His notion, therefore, that the Supreme Giver of his life had recalled the loan, and that as he had failed to restore it at the time required he was an outcast for ever as the punishment of his disobedience, was not strictly monomania; for other strings jarred also, and to such an extent as completely to shew that religion had nothing to do with the malady-except for a time to soothe it.
His absorption in greater troubles occasionally defended him from the sting of minor vexations, though it much oftener deprived him of the zest of what had otherwise been innocent enjoyments. The cares and the pleasures of successful authorship thus sat more lightly upon him than we might have expected from his sensitiveness of character. He writes on this subject to Mr. Newton :
“I suppose no man ever made his first sally from the press without a conviction that all eyes and ears would be engaged to attend him, at least without a thousand anxieties lest they should not. But, however arduous and interesting such an enterprise may be in the first instance, it seems to me that our feelings on the occasion soon become obtuse. I can answer at least for one. Mine are by no means what they were when I published my first volume. I am even so indifferent to the matter, that I can truly assert myself guiltless of the very idea of my book sometimes for whole days together. God knows, that, my mind having been occupied more than twelve years in the contemplation of the most distressing subjects, the world, and its opinion of what I write, is become as unimportant to me as the whistling of a bird in a bush. Despair made amusement necessary, and I found poetry the most agreeable amusement. Had I not endeavoured to perform my best, it would not have amused me at all. The mere blotting of so much paper, would have been but indifferent sport. God gave me grace also to wish that I might not write in vain. Accordingly I have mingled much truth with some trifle ; and such truths as deserved at least to be clad as well and as handsomely as I could clothe them. If the world approve me not, so much the worse for them, but not for me; I have only endeavoured to serve them, and the loss will be their own. And as to their commendations, if I should chance to win them, I feel myself equally invulnerable there. The view that I have had of myself, for many years, has been so truly humiliating, that I think the praises of all mankind could not hurt me. God knows that I speak my present sense of the matter at least most truly, when I say, that the admiration of creatures like myself seems to me a weapon the least dangerous that my worst enemy could employ against me. I am fortified against it by such solidity of real self-abasement, that I deceive myself most egregiously, if I do not heartily despise it. Praise belongeth to God; and I seem to myself to covet it no more than I covet divine honours. Could I assuredly hope that God would at last deliver me, I should have reason to thank him for all that I have suffered, were it only for the sake of this single fruit of my affliction—that it has taught me how much more contemptible I am in myself than I ever before suspected, and has reduced my former share of self-knowledge (of which at that time I had a tolerable good opinion)