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and exhausts the country, by evacuating it of all its principal inhabitants; and collaterally, and as far as is consistent with this double intention, to have a stroke at vice, vanity, and folly wherever I find them. What there is of a religious cast, in the volume, I have thrown towards the end of it, for two reasons; first, that I might not revolt the reader at his entrance; and, secondly, that my best impressions might be made last. Were I to write as many volumes as Lopez de Vega, or Voltaire, not one of them would be without this tincture. If the world like it not, so much the worse for them. I make all the concessions I can that I may please them, but I will not do this at the expense of my conscience. My descriptions are all from nature, not one of them secondhanded. My delineations of the heart are from my own experience; not one of them borrowed from books, or in the least degree conjectural."
The close of the year 1784, witnessed the completion of this extensive performance, and the commencement of another of greater magnitude, though of a different description, and less adapted for general usefulness, the translation of Homer; undertaken at the united request of Mrs. Unwin and Lady Austin. This was a remarkable period in Cowper's life, Circumstances arose, altogether unforeseen by him, and over which he had no control, which led to the removal of Lady Austin from Olney. He had so often been benefited by her company, had in so many instances been cheered by her vivacity when suffering under the influence of his depressive malady, and had received such repeated proofs of affability and kindness, that he could not entertain the thought of parting with her without considerable disquietude. Immediately, however, on perceiving that separation became requisite for the maintenance of his own peace, as well as to ensure the tranquillity of his faithful and long-tried inmate, Mrs. Unwin, he wisely and firmly, took such steps as were necessary to promote it, though it was at the expense of much mental anguish.
Some of Cowper's biographers have, unjustly, and without the slightest foundation, attempted to cast considerable odium upon the character of Mrs. Unwin, for her conduct in this affair, as if all the blame of Cowper's separation from Lady Austin were to be laid at her door. One has even gone so far as to state, that her mind was of such a sombre hue, that it rather tended to foster, than to dissipate, Cowper's melancholy. An assertion utterly incapable of proof, and which, were the poet living, he would be the first to deny. The fact is, that Cowper never felt any other attachment to either of these ladies than that of pure friendship, and much as he valued the society of Lady Austin, when he found it necessary, for his own peace, to choose which he should please to retain, he could not hesitate for a moment to prefer the individual who had watched over him with so much tenderness, and probably to the injury of her own health. The whole of his conduct in this affair, and indeed, the manner in which he has everywhere spoken of his faithful inmate, proves this indubitably.
Aware of the benefit he had received from Lady Austin's company, many of his friends were apprehensive that her removal would be attended with consequences seriously injurious to the poet. Deep, however, as was the impression which it made upon his mind, he bore it with much more fortitude than could have been expected, as will be seen by the manner in which he adverted to it in a letter to Mr. Hill:— "We have, as you say, lost a lively and sensible neighbour in Lady Austin, but we have been so long accustomed to a state of retirement, within one degree of solitude, and being naturally lovers of still life, we can relapse into our former duality without being unhappy in the change. To me, indeed, a third individual is not necessary, while I can have the faithful companion I have had these twenty years."
It might be imagined, from the production of Cowper's pen at this period, that he was entirely recovered from his depressive malady; such, however, was far from the case. His letters to his correspondents prove, that whatever gaiety and vivacity there was in his writings, there was nothing in his own state of mind that bore any resemblance to such emotions; but that, on the contrary, his fits of melancholy were frequent, and often painfully acute. To his friend, Mr. Newton, he thus feelingly discloses his peculiarly painful sensations: "My heart resembles not the heart of a Christian, mourning and yet rejoicing, pierced with thorns, yet wreathed about with roses; I have the thorn without the rose. My brier is a wintry one, the flowers are withered, but the thorn remains. My days are spent in vanity, and it is impossible for me to spend them otherwise. No man upon earth is more sensible of the unprofitableness of such a life as mine than I am, or groans more heavily under the burden; but this too is vanity: my groans will not bring the remedy, because there is no remedy for me. I have been lately more dejected and more depressed than usual; more harassed by dreams in the night, and more deeply poisoned by them in the following' day. 1 know not what is portended by an alteration for the worse after eleven years of misery; but firmly believe, that it is not designed as the introduction of a change for the better. 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 which 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 envelopes 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 to 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 immovable conviction. If I am recoverable, why am I thus 1 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 expense of the fallow f 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.
"I could easily, were it not a subject that would make us melancholy, point out to you some essential difference between the state of the person you mentioned and my own, which would prove mine to be by far the most deplorable of the two. I suppose no man would despair if he did not apprehend something singular in the circumstances of his own story, something that discriminates it from that of every other man, and that induces despair as an inevitable consequence. You may encounter his unhappy persuasion with as many instances as you please, of persons who, like him, having renounced all hope, were yet restored, and may thence infer that he, like them, shall meet with a season of restoration—but it is in vain. Every such individual accounts himself an exception to all rules, and, therefore, the blessed reverse that others have experienced, affords no ground of comfortable expectation to him. But you will say, it is reasonable to conclude that as all your predecessors in this vale of misery and horror have found themselves delightfully disappointed, so may you. I grant the reasonableness of it; it would be sinful, perhaps, as well as uncharitable to reason otherwise; but an argument hypothetical in its nature, however rationally conducted, may lead to a false conclusion; and in this instance so will yours. But I forbear, and will say no more, though it is a subject on which I could write more than the mail could carry. I must deal with you as I deal with poor Mrs. Unwin, in all our disputes about it. Cutting all controversy short by the event."
To a request from Mr. Newton that Cowper would favour the editor of the Theological Magazine with an occasional essay, he thus writes:—" I converse, you say, upon other subjects than that of despair, and may therefore write upon others. Indeed, my friend, I am a man of very little conversation upon any subject. From that of despair, I abstain as much as possible, for the sake of my company, but I will venture to say that it is never out of my mind one minute in the whole day. I do not mean to say that I am never cheerful. I am often so; always, indeed, when my nights have been undisturbed for a season. But the effect of such continual listening to the language of a heart hopeless- and deserted, is, that I can never give much more than half my attention to what is started by others, and very rarely start anything myself. You will easily perceive that a mind thus occupied, is but indifferently qualified for the consideration of theological matters. The most useful, and the most delightful topics of that kind, are to me forbidden fruit; I tremble as I approach them. It has happened to me sometimes that I have found myself imperceptibly drawn in and made a party in such discourse. The consequence has been dissatisfaction and self-reproach. You will tell me, perhaps, that I have written upon those subjects in verse, and may therefore in prose. But there is a difference. The search after poetical expression, the rhymes, and the numbers, are all af