Изображения страниц

fairs of some difficulty, they amuse indeed, but are not to be attained without study, and engross, perhaps, a larger share of the attention than the subject itself."

In the spring of 1785, his friends became more sanguine in their expectations of his ultimate recovery, and they felt persuaded, it would take place at no very distant period. It appears also, by the following extract, that Cowper was not himself, wholly destitute of hope, on the subject. Writing to Mr. Newton, he says:—" I am sensible of the tenderness and affectionate kindness with which you recollect our past intercourse, and express your hopes of my future restoration. I too, within the last eight months, have had my hopes, though they have been of short duration, cut off; like the foam upon the waters. Some previous adjustments, indeed are necessary before a lasting expectation of comfort can take place in me. There are those persuasions in my mind, which either entirely forbid the entrance of hope, or, if it enter, immediately eject it. They are incompatible with any such inmate, and must be turned out themselves before so desirable a guest can possibly have secure possession. This you say, will be done. It may be; but it is not done yet; nor has a single step in the course of God's dealings with me been taken towards it. If I mend, no creature ever mended so slowly, that recovered at last. I am like a slug, or a snail, that has fallen into a deep well; slug as he is, he performs his descent with a velocity proportioned to his weight; but he does not crawl up again quite so fast. Mine was a rapid plunge; but my return to daylight, if I am indeed returning, is leisurely enough. "Were I such as I once was, I should say that I have a claim upon your particular notice, which nothing ought to supercede. Most of your connections you may fairly be said to have formed by your own act; but your connection with me was the work of God. The kine that went up with the ark from Bathshemesh, left what they loved behind them, in obedience to an impression which to them was perfectly dark and unintelligible. Your journey to Huntingdon was not less wonderful. He indeed, who sent you, knew well wherefore, but you knew not. That dispensation, therefore, would furnish me as long as we can both remember it, with a plea for some distinction at your hands, had I occasion to use and urge it, which I have not. But I am altered since that time; and if your affection for me had ceased, you might very reasonably justify your change by mine. I can say nothing for myself at present: but this I can venture to foretell, that should the restoration of which my friends assure me obtain, I shall undoubtedly love those who have continued to love me, even in a state of transformation from my former self, much more than ever."

It is gratifying to know, that, while such was the melancholy state of Cowper's mind, and while he steadily refused all religious comfort, come whence it might, he nevertheless afforded the most pleasing proofs by his amiable and consistent conduct, of the firm hold which religion still had of his affections. The excellent remarks that are to be found in his letters, written at this period, show that he had some lucid intervals, and that occasional gleams of light shot across the darkened horizon of his mind. "It strikes me," (he says on one occasion,) "as a very observable instance of providential kindness to man, that such an exact accordance had been contrived between his ear and the sounds with which, at least in a rural situation, it is almost every moment visited. All the world is sensible of the uncomfortable effect that certain sounds have upon the nerves, and consequently upon the spirits: and if a sinful world had been filled with such as would have curdled the blood, and have made the sense of hearing a perpetual inconvenience, I do not know that we should have had a right to complain. But now the fields, the woods, and the gardens, have each their concerts, and the ear of man is for ever regaled by creatures, who, while they please themselves, at the same time delight him. Even the ears that are deaf to the gospel, are continually entertained, though without appreciating it, by sounds, for which they are solely indebted to its author. There is somewhere in infinite space, a world that does not roll within the precincts of mercy, and as it is reasonable, and even scriptural to suppose, that there is music in heaven, in these dismal regions perhaps the reverse of it is found; tones so dismal, as to make woe itself more insupportable, and even to acuminate despair."

In a letter to Mr. Newton, the following serious reflections occur:—" People that are but little acquainted with the terrors of divine wrath, are not much afraid of trifling with their Maker. But for my own part, I would sooner take Empledocles' leap, and fling myself into mount Etna, than I would do it in the slightest instance, were I in circumstances to make an election. In the scripture we find a broad and clear exhibition of mercy, it is displayed in every page. Wrath is in comparison, but slightly touched upon, because it is not so much a discovery of wrath as of forgiveness. But had the displeasure of God been the principal subject of the book, and had it circumstantially set forth that measure of it only which may be endured in this life, the Christian world would perhaps, have been less comfortable; but I believe presumptuous meddlers with the gospel would have been less frequently met with."

To Mr. Unwin he thus writes: "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 force 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."

"You express sorrow, that your love of Christ was excited in you, by a picture. Could the most insignificant thing suggest to me the thought that Christ is precious, I would not despise the thought. The meanness of the instrument cannot debase the nobleness of the principle. He that kneels to a picture of Christ is an idolater; but he in whose heart, the sight of such a picture kindles a warm remembrance of the Saviour's suffering, must be a Christian. Suppose that I dream as Gardiner did, that Christ walks before me, that he turns and smiles upon me, and fills my soul with ineffable love and joy. Will a man tell me that I am deceived, that I ought not to love or rejoice in him for such a reason, because a dream is merely a picture drawn upon the imagination? I hold not with such divinity. To love Christ is the greatest dignity of man, be that affection wrought in him how it may."

No person ever formed more correct views of what really constitutes Christianity than Cowper, nor could any one ever feel a greater aversion to a mere profession of it. In a letter to one of his correspondents, the" following remarks occur: "I say amen, with all my heart, to your observations on religious characters. Men who profess themselves adepts in mathematical knowledge, in astronomy, or jurisprudence, are generally as well qualified as they would appear. The reason may be, that they are always liable to detection, should they attempt to impose upon mankind, and therefore take care to be what they pretend. In religion alone, a profession is often slightly taken Tip, and slovenly carried on, because forsooth, candour and charity require us to hope the best, and to judge favourably of our neighbour; and because it is easy to deceive the ignorant, who are a great majority, upon this subject. Let a man attach himself to a particular party, contend furiously for what are properly called evangelical doctrines, and enlist himself under the banner of some popular preacher, and the business is done. Behold a Christian! a saint! a phoenix! In the meantime perhaps his heart, his temper, and even his conduct, is unsanctified; possibly less exemplary than that of some avowed infidels. No matter, he can talk, he has the Bible in his pocket, and a bead well stored with notions. But the quiet, humble, modest, and peaceable person, who is in his practice what the other is only in his profession, who hates a noise about religion, and therefore makes none, who, knowing the snares that are in the world, keeps himself as much out of it as he can, and never enters it but when duty calls, and even then with fear and trembling—is the Christian that will always Stand highest in the estimation of those who bring all characters to the test of true wisdom, and judge of the tree by its fruits." .

In another letter, on a similar subject, he thus writes :— "It is indeed a melancholy consideration, that the gospel, whose direct tendency is to promote the happiness of mankind in the present, as well as in the life to come, which so effectually answers the design of its author, whenever it is well understood and sincerely believed, should, through the ignorance, the bigotry, the superstition of its professors, and tie ambition of popes and princes, have produced incidentally so much mischief; only furnishing the world with a plausible pretext to worry each other, while they sanctified the worst cause with the specious pretext of zeal, for the furtherance of the best. Angels descend from heaven to publish peace between man and his Maker—the Prince of Peace himself comes to confirm and establish it; and war, hatred, and desolation are the consequence. Thousands quarrel about the interpretation of a book, which none of them understand. He that is slain, dies firmly persuaded that the crown of martyrdom awaits him; he that slew him, is equally convinced that he has done God service. In reality they are both mistaken and equally unentitled to the honour they have arrogated to themselves. If a multitude of blind men should set out for a certain city, and dispute about the right road till a battle ensued between them, the probable effect would be that none of them would ever reach it: and such a fray, preposterous and shocking in the extreme, would exhibit a picture in some degree resembling the original of which we have been speaking. And why is not the world thus occupied at present 1 only because they have exchanged a zeal that was no better than madness for an indifference equally pitiable and absurd. The holy sepulchre has lost its importance in the eyes of nations, called Christians, not because the light of true wisdom has' delivered them from a superstitious attachment to the spot, but because he that was buried in it is no longer regarded by them as the Saviour of the world. The exercise of reason, enlightened by philosophy, has cured them indeed of the misery of an abused understanding, but together with the delusion they have lost the substance, and for the sake of the lies that were grafted upon it, have quarrelled with the truth itself. Here then we see the neplus ultra of human wisdom, at least in affairs of religionIt enlightens the mind with respect to non-essentials, but with respect to that in which the essence of Christianity consists, leaves it perfectly in the dark. It can discover many errors that in different ages have disgraced the faith, but it is only to make way for one more fatal than them all, which represents that faith as a delusion. Why those evils have been permitted shall be known hereafter. One thing, in the meantime, is certain, that the folly and frenzy of the professed disciples of the gospel, have been more dangerous to its interests, than all the avowed hostilities of its adversaries, and perhaps for this cause, these mischiefs might be suffered to prevail for a season, that its divine original and nature might be the more illustrated, when it should appear that it was able to stand its ground for ages, against that most formidable of all attacks—the indiscretion of its friends. The outrages that have followed this perversion of the truth, have proved, indeed a stumbling-block 'to individuals; the wise of this world, with all their wisdom, have not been able to distinguish between the blessing and the abuse of it. Voltaire was offended, and Gibbon has turned his back, but the flock of Christ is still nourished, and still increases, notwithstanding the unbelief of a philosopher is able to convert bread into a stone, and fish into a serpent."

The following very serious reflections occur, in a letter to Mr. Newton, about this time, adverting to the sufferings of the poor at Olney, whose distressing circumstances on all occasions excited the tenderest sympathies of the poet:— "The winter sets in with great severity. The rigour of the

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »