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Our readers will recoil with astonishment. Their pity they certainly will not refuse to the devoted sufferer. Nor will they feel less honest indignation than ourselves, that a man of feelings so exquisite,
fo whose nerves were more tender than the fibres of the most delicate mimosa, should have been so inconsiderately exposed to pain, by those who ought to have guarded his highly sensitive constitution from injury, instead of having ambitiously exposed it to the touch of rudeness. To this foolish circumstance alone, thall we ever ascribe the greater part of that infelicity, under which the unfortunate poet laboured to the latest hour of his life.
“ The manner of his preservation in life, or rather of his restoration to it, indicated an unusual interpolition of Providence. His friends no longer persisted in urging him to retain his office. It was resigned; and with it his flattering prospects vanished, and his connexions with the world dissolved."
We know not the particulars of the attempt on his life, and how he was preserved from destruction; nor have we ever understood
; that he was in actual possession of the place reserved for him. If far other expectations were entertained by his friends, they seem not to have been sensible, that the first thing to be considered in determining a young man's future occupation and profession, is the degree of fitness and capability with which nature has endowed him. It is in vain to resist obstacles which she has placed in the way: expelles furcâ, tamen usque recurret. The relatives of Mr. C. were obliged to practise, at last, that forbearance, which good sense ought to have taught them was requisite at first : but, alas ! how much mischief was done, before they would be persuaded to defift!
" His manners were in general, decent and amiable; and the course of pleasure in which he indulged himself being customary with persons in fimilar circumstances, he remained insensible of his state as a finner, &c.”
What reader will not be disposed to conclude, from this passage, that the manners of Mr. Cowper, which were in general decent and amiable, were also sometimes indecent and unamiable? Who will not imagine, that he suffered himself to be carried away by the vortex of dilipation and vice, with as much indifference as the gayeft libertine that ever lived ? Yet does his biographer quaintly add, some twenty pages afterwards :
“ So if any of you think, that because Mr. Cowper was so eminent sufferer he must have been a finner above others; I tell you, no.....
... I have good ground to believe, that before our decealed friend was brought to a knowledge of the Gospel, his conduet, instead of being notoriously wicked, was generally inoffenfive and amiable. I have still more reason to be convinced, that fince he professed the knowledge and love of Christ, he never allowed himself in the practice of any thing tbat he apprehended to be contrary to the will God.”
It is incumbent on the preacher to explain this extemporaneous inconsistency,
" He remained in sensible of his state as a sinner, till he was brought to reflect upon the guilt of that action, by which he had nearly plunged himfelf into endless perdition. His mind was then, for the first time, convinced of the evil of sin, as a transgression of the law of God; and he was terrified by the apprehension, that his late offence was unpardonable in its nature. Instead of finding relief from reading, every book he opened, of whatever kind, seemed to him adapted to increase his distress; which became so pun. gent as to deprive him of his usual rest, and to render his broken lumbers equally miserable with his waking hours. While in this state, he was visited by the late Rev. Martin Madan.
In our impatience at the first reading of this passage, we uncharitably wished Mr. Martin Madan at the devil. But without configning him, in our more rational moments, to so warm a climate, we shall content ourselves with pronouncing his apparition, at this critical mo. ment, to have been a circumstance the most unfortunate. The un. happy patient needed the alistance of a physician of the first order: his malady was too complicated, and too deeply seated, to be removed by an empiric. Accordingly, we find that Mr. C. instead of being made better, is instantaneously made worse, by the intervention of this sophistical, hypothetical, doating, polygamous confessor.
“ The following day he again funk under the horrors of perdition; and that distraction, which he had fought as a refuge from the fear of man, now feized him amidst his terrors of eternal judgment. A vein of self-loathing ran through the whole of his insanity; and his faculties were so completely deranged, that the attempt which he had so lately deplored as an unpardonable trasgression, now appeared to him an indispensible work of piety. He therefore repeated his assault upon his own life.”
Such were the healing effects of Mr. Madan's religious medicine, We cannot but impute to him this second attempt of the poet on his own life, as we imputed the first to his other friends : especially when we are informed that the reason Mr. C. urged for suicide in this in. stance, was that the fooner it was accomplished, his future misery would be the more tolerable! We doubt not that hell and damnation had been falled into the poet's face, after the manner of pages 37 and 38 of the sermon before us. He was also probably instructed, as in p. 45, ihat " whom God foreknew as heirs of eternal life, he predestinated to be conformed :" he was initiated into certain narrow notions of election and repudiation, which make the gate of heaven more strait and difficult to the finner, than the needle's eye to the camel.
“ His purpose being again mercifully frustrated, he became at length fazniliar with despair, and luffered it to be alleviated by conversation with a pious and humane physician at St. Alban's, under whole care he had hap. pily been placed. The comfort he enjoyed, induced him to prolong his Itay at St. Alban's for twelve months after his recovery. He then retired, first to Huntingdon, and two or three years afterwards to this place [Olney] in order to induige, amidst rural scenes, those religious plealures and occupations which experience had taught him to value, &c."
Here we reach a most curious period of our poet's life ; a period in
which he appears to have connected himself, without hesitation, with sectaries of every description ; with the author of the discourse now before us, and with his venerable friend Mr. Newton, as he is ftiled. The latter wrote the preface prefixed to a late edition of Mr. Cowper's poems, which sits like a patch of dowlas upon a robe of lawn. But we hasten to exhibit our bard, as a seceder from the Church, in which we cannot doubt of his having been brought up.
" At your stated meetings for prayer (would there were fuch in every parish*!) you have heard him, with benefit and delight, pour forth his heart before God in earnest intercession, with a devotion equally simple, sublime, and fervent; adapted to the unusual combination of elevated genius, exquisite sensibility, and profound piety, that distinguished his mind. It was, I believe, only on such occasions as these, that his constitutional diffidence was felt by him as a burden, during this happy portion of his life. I have heard him say, that when he expected to take the lead in your united prayers; his mind was greatly agitated for some hours preceding; but he obferved, that his trepidation wholly subsided as soon as he began to speak in prayer !”
We think our pity will not be applied amifs, if we shed a small portion of it here. It shall be accompanied with no remark.-With a blush, and with a figh, we draw the veil over these pardonable deviations of a mind, which seems to have been sported with by every gale, till it had no more steadiness than a feather. One little anecdote, however, of the poet, we must here communicate to our readers, which was for many years a riddle to us, till we were apprized of the non-conformity above-mentioned. A party of literati, among whom was Mr. Cowper, an eminent writer of poetical epiftles, a celebrated Authoress, and a divine of the Church of England, spent a short time together in a country village. The reverend divine was requested by the minister of the place to give him a fermon. Afrer much hesitation, he at length consented, and prepared himself with all the nicety and care requisite to render his discourse tolerable to the critical ear's of the ingenious party with which he was alsociated. Sunday morning arrived, the bell summoned to the church which was very near at hand, the divine made his motion to proceed. Not one of the learned junto, manifested the least inclination to follow him, till one of the bards, politely offered to attend him to the church door. To the church door he accordingly attended him, and then withdrew to the company which he had left. In the mean time the fair writer proceeded with her novel, and Mr. Cowper took his walk. As this anecdote was related to us, some years ago, by the reverend preacher himself, we can vouch for its authenticity,
A third attack of insanity now overtook this unfortunate poet. We are told that he conceived some presentiment of this fad reverse as it drew near.'
* We thank God, there are not: and we trust, there never will be. R.
“ His mind became immovably fixed. He cherished an unalterable pero suasion, that the Lord, after having renewed him in holiness, had doomed him to everlasting perdition. He luppoled himlelf to be the only person that ever believed with the heart unto righteousness, and was not withstanding excluded from salvation. In this state of mind, he cealed, not only from attendance upon public worship, but likewife from every attempt at private prayer : apprehending that for him to implore mercy, would be op. posing the determinate counsel of God. Amidst these dreadful temptations, luch was his unshaken submission to what he imagined to be the divine pleasure, that he was accustomed to say, “if holding up my finger would save me from endless torments, I would not do it against the will of God." It was only at seasons, when (racked by the immediate expectation of being plunged into everlasting misery) his mind became wholly distracted, that he ever uttered a rebellious word against that God of love, whom his lamentable delusion transformed into an implacable oppressor. His efforts at self-destruction were repeatedly renewed; but they were stimulated by a strong impression that God had commanded him to perpetrate this act; and he even supposed that his involuntary failure in the performance had incurred the irrevocable vengeance of the Almighty! To this, and never to any other deficiency of obedience, have I heard him ascribe his imaginary exclusion from mercy. P. 21.
“ I argued with him on the impossibility that God should command him to tranfgress his own law. He supported his opinion by this plea ; that the force with which the impreslion of such a duty had been made upon his mind, was equal to that of any he had received from the truths of fcripture. He alleged, in his vindication, the example of Abraham, who hesitated not to put to death his beloved and only son, at the command of God; and judging himself called in like manner to perform an extraordinary act of faith, he concluded that his failure was therefore an unparalleled offence, beyond the reach of pardon. P. 43.
“ He entered no place of worthip. When invited to do so, he has said,
Had I the universe, I would give it to go with you ; but I dare not do it against the will of God.” P. 36.
6 Habituated to the fearful expectation of judgement, it became by degrees less insupportable. He became accellible to a few intimate friends in fuccellion, who laboured to divert his thoughts from the dreadful object that engrolled them, and to excite them to activity on other subjects. Thus originated most of those poems, which, when published, charmed and furprised both the literary and the religious world.” P. 21.
In one of these moments was produced that truly laughable ballad, in which the poet has described the ridiculous adventures of John Gilpin. The Task also, as its title imports, was a labour imposed upon him by a lady, during one of these periods. Of the latter we are able to report, that when it was finished, the poet was not aware of its excellence, and little dreamed that it would become so great a favourite with the world. He had previously published the fir/ volume of his poems, which met with no success, and served only bring him into debt to his bookseller. The Talk, therefore, was offered for publication, upon the condition that the bookseller Thould have all the profits, and that Mr. C. should be excused from paying
the charges incurred by his first volume. The Task was annexed to the puems already published as a second volume; and, by its fingular merit, very shortly produced a rapid and extensive sale of both volumes. Considerable profits must consequently have arisen from the sale ; and yet we have been informed, and we fear the tale is too true, that the poet was never one penny the richer for his Talk. The tranflation of Homer followed; and Mr. C. being now aware of the esteem in which his writings were held, offered it for sale. A sum was proposed to him, from the receipt of which he recoiled with indignation; considering it as a trilling and inadequate recompence of his labours. One thousand pounds more were added to the offer, and the poet thought proper to acquiesce.
“ After more than twelve years of uninterrupted despair, some transient changes of his mental sensations admitted a gleam of hope. He prayed in private, as before his affli&tion. These lucid intervals were unhappily lo short, that he never resumed his attendance on public worship. The most tolerable days that he spent, he has described to me as begun with traces of horror. The forenoon, being employed in composition, became gradually less distressing Before dinner, he usually walked two hours; and the air, the rural prospects, and muscular exercise, contributed to his farther relief. If at dinner, and during the afternoon, he had the company of an intimate friend or two, which was frequently the case during the last ten years that he lived in this neighbourhood [at Western Underwood, near Olney] their conversation seemed to afford the principal alleviation to his burthen."
Mr. Cowper was peculiarly well qualified by nature, to be an agreeable companion in a small circle. We have seen him dwell, with exquisite delight, on that delicate vein of humour, which gives to high a relish to the spectators of Mr. Addison. Nor is it flattery to say, that be possessed the same kind of humour, in a degree not inferior to Mr, Addison himself. With a low voice, and much apparent gravity and composure, he was accustomed repeatedly to surprise his hearers with observations, which not only proved him to be possessed of knowledge and taste, but evinced an extraordinary power of being ludicrous whenever he pleased :
“ The evening was commonly employed in reading aloud to some friend who refided with him."
We believe his chief companions were Mrs. Unwin and Lady Hesketh. To the former, who had for many years paid him great attention during his sufferings, he always confessed himself to be most affectionately attached, for her multitudinous kindnesses to him. She was a widow after the pattern of St. Paul, whose delight was to relieve the afflicted.
“ As night approached, his gloom of mind regularly increased ; and when he went to his bed, it was not to rest, but to be again harrassed in Plumber with the terrifying images of a bewildered fancy.”
In this manner did the poet advance in years, and a tolerable state of mental as well as coporeal health seemed to be established: when