Изображения страниц

nagement, that I more than once perceived myself ready to start in that cause, could I have allowed myself to desert Homer for so long a time as it would have cost me to do them justice. While I was pondering these things, the public prints informed me that Miss More was on the point of publication, having actually finished what I had not began. The sight of her advertisement convinced me that my best course would be that to which I felt myself most inclined ; to persevere without turning aside to attend to any other call, however alluring, in the business I have in hand. It occurred to me likewise, that I have lately borne my testimony in favour of my black brethren, and that I was one of the earliest, if not the first, of those who have, in the present day, expressed their detestation of the diabolical trade in question. On all these accounts I judged it best to be silent. I shall be glad to see Hannah More's poem; she is a favourite writer with me, and has more nerve and energy, both in her thoughts and language, than half the rhymers in the kingdom."

It will be seen by the last extract made from Cowper's letters to Mr. Newton, that he had now commenced a correspondence with Mrs. King, and as his letters to that lady are highly interesting, we shall make such use of them as will be descriptive of the state of his mind at that period. "A letter from a lady who was once intimate with my brother, could not fail of being most acceptable to me. I lost him just at a moment when those truths which have recommended my volumes to your approbation, were become his daily sustenance, as they had long been mine. But the will of God was done. I have sometimes thought that had his life been spared, being made brothers by a stricter tie than ever, in the bonds of the same faith, hope, and love, we should have been happier in each other than it was in the power of mere natural affection to make us. But it was his blessing to be taken from a world in which he had no longer any wish to continue; and it will be mine, if, while I live in it, my time may be not altogether wasted: in order to effect that good end, I wrote what I am happy to find has given you pleasure to read. But for that pleasure, Madam, you are indebted neither to me nor to my muse; but (as you are well aware) to Him who alone can make divine truths palatable, in whatever vehicle conveyed. It is an established philosophical axiom, that nothing can communicate what it has not in itself; but in the effects of Christian communion, a very strong exception is found to this general rule, however selfevident it may seem. A man, himself destitute of all spiritual consolation, may by occasion, impart it to others. Thus I, it seems, who wrote those very poems, to amuse a mind oppressed with melancholy, and who have myself derived from them no other benefit, (for mere success in authorship will do me no good,) have nevertheless, by so doing, comforted others, at the same time that they administer to me no consolation. But I will proceed no farther in this strain, lest my prose should damp a pleasure that my verse has happily excited. On the contrary, I will endeavour to rejoice in your joy, and especially, because I have myself been the instrument of conveying it."

"I owe you many acknowledgments, dear Madam, for that unreserved communication both of your history and of your sentiments, with which you honoured me in your last, it gives me great pleasure to learn that you are so happily circumstanced, both in respect of situation and frame of mind. With your view of religious subjects, you could not indeed, speaking properly, be pronounced unhappy in any circumstances; but to have received from above, not only that faith which reconciles the heart to affliction, but many outward comforts also, and especially that greatest of all earthly comforts, a comfortable home, is happiness indeed. May you long enjoy it! As to health or sickness, you have learned already their true value, and know well that the former is no blessing, •unless it be sanctified, and that the latter is the greatest we can receive, when we are enabled to make a proper use of it."

"The melancholy that I have mentioned to you, and concerning which you are so kind as to inquire, is of a kind, so far as I know, peculiar to myself. It does not at all affect the operations of my mind, on any subject to which I can attach it, whether serious or ludicrous, or whatever it may be, for which reason I am almost always employed either in reading or writing, when I arn not engaged in conversation. A vacant hour is my abhorrence; because, when I am not occupied, I suffer under the whole influence of my unhappy temperament. I thank you for your recommendation of a medicine from which you have derived benefit yourself; but there is hardly anything that I have not proved, however beneficial it may have been found to others, in my own case, utterly useless. I have, therefore, long since bid adieu to all hope from human means—the means excepted of perpetual employment. I will not say that we shall never meet, because it is not for a creature, who knows not what will be to-morrow, to assert anything positively concerning the future. Things more unlikely I have seen come td pass; and things which, if I had expressed myself on them at all, I should have said were impossible. But, being respectively circumstanced as we are, there seems no present probability of it. You speak of insuperable hinderances, and I also have hinderances that would be equally difficult to surmount. One is, that I never ride; that I am not .able to perform so long a journey on foot; and that chaises do not roll within the sphere of that economy which my circumstances oblige me to observe. If this were not of itself a sufficient excuse, when I decline so obliging an invitation as yours, I could mention yet other obstacles. But to what end? One impracticability makes as effectual a barrier as a thousand: it will be otherwise in other worlds: either we shall not bear about us a body, or it will be more easily transportable than this. The world in which we live is indeed, as you say, a foolish world, and is likely to continue such, till the Great Teacher himself shall vouchsafe to make it . wiser. I am persuaded that time alone will never mend it. But there is doubtless a day appointed when there will be a more general manifestation of the beauty of holiness, than mankind have ever yet beheld. When that period shall arrive, there will be an end of prophane representations, whether of heaven or hell, on the stage, of which you complain—the great realities of religion will supersede them."

"You must think me a tardy correspondent, unless you have charity enough to suppose that I have met with other hinderances than those of indolence and inattention. With these I cannot charge myself, for I am never idle by choice; and inattentive to you I certainly have not been. My silence has been occasioned by a malady to which I have all my life been subject—an inflammation of the eyes. The last sudden change of weather, from excessive heat to a wintry degree of cold, occasioned it, and at the same time gave me a pinch of the rheumatic kind, from both which disorders I have but just recovered. I do not suppose that our climate has been much altered since the days of our forefathers, the Picts; but certainly the human constitution, in this country, has altered very much. Inured as we are from our cradles to every vicissitude, in a climate more various than any other, and in possession of all that modern refinement has been able to contrive for our security, we are yet as subject to blights as the tenderest blossoms of spring; and we are so well admonished of every change in the atmosphere by our bodily feelings, as hardly to have any need of a weatherglass to mark them. For this we are, no douht, indebted to the multitude of our accommodations; for it was not possible to retain the hardiness that originally belonged to our race, under the delicate management of which, for many ages, we have been accustomed. It is observable, however, that though we have by these means lost much of our pristine vigour, our days are not the fewer. We live as long as those whom, on account of the sturdiness of their frame, the poets supposed to have been the progeny of oaks. Perhaps, too, they had but little feeling, and for that reason might be imagined to be so descended; for a very robust, athletic habit, seems inconsistent with much sensibility. But sensibility is the sine qua non of real happiness. If, therefore, our lives have been shortened, and if our feelings have been rendered more exquisite, as our habit of body has become more delicate, on the whole we have no cause to complain, but are rather gainers by our degeneracy."

In the beginning of June, 1788, an event occurred, which, though it had been long expected by Cowper and by all his friends, could not fail to make a deep impression upon his peculiarly sensitive mind. This was the death of his esteemed and venerable relation Ashly Cowper, Esq., Clerk of the Parliaments, and brother to Cowper's father, the last moments of whose life his daughter, Lady Hesketh, had watched over with the tenderest solicitude. In reply to an affectionate letter from his friend Mr. Hill, apprizing him of the event, he thus writes:—" Your letter brought me the first intelli

fence of the event it mentions. My last from Lady Heseth gave me reason enough to expect it; but the certainty of it was unknown to me till I learned it by your information. If gradual decline, the consequence of great age, be a sufficient preparation of the mind to encounter such a loss, our minds were certainly prepared to meet it: yet to you I need not say that no preparation can supersede the feelings of the heart on such occasions. While our friends yet live, inhabitants of the same world with ourselves, they seem still to live to us—we are sure that they often think of us,- and, however improbable it may seem, it is never impossible that we may see each other once again. But the grave, like a great gulph, swallows all such expectations, and in the moment when a beloved friend sinks into it, a thousand tender recollections awaken a regret that will be felt in spite of all reasonings, and let our warnings have been what they may. My dear uncle's death awakened in me many reflections, which, for a time, sunk my spirits. A man like him would have been mourned had he doubled the age he reached. At any age his death would have been felt as a los9 that no survivor could repair. And though it was not probable that, for my own part, I should ever see him more, yet the consciousness that he still lived, was a comfort to me. Let it comfort us now, that we have lost him only at a time when nature could afford him to us no longer; that as his life was blameless, so Was his death without anguish, and that he is gone to heaven. I know not that human life, in its most prosperous state, can present anything to our wishes half so desirable as such a close of it."

In another letter, he again writes;—" We have indeed lost one who has not left his like in the present generation of our family; and whose equal, in all respects, no future generation of it will probably produce. I often think what a joyful interview there has been between him and some of his friends who went before him. The truth of the matter is, my dear, they are happy onesj and we shall never be entirely so ourselves till we have joined the party. Can there be anything so worthy of our warmest wishes as to enter on an eternal, unchangeable state, in blessed fellowship and communion with those whose society we valued most, and for the best reasons, while they continued with us? A few steps more through a vain, foolish world, and this happiness will be yours. But I earnestly hope the end of thy journey is not near. For of all that live, thou art one whom I can least spare; for thou also art one who shall not leave thy equal behind thee."

The state of Cowper's mind at this period will be discovered by the following extract from a letter to his friend Mr. Bull, who appears to have solicited him for some original hymns, to be used by him probably on some public occasion. "Ask possibilities, and they shall be performed; but ask not hymns from a man suffering with despair as I do. I would not sing the Lord's song were it to save my life, banished as I am, not to a strange land, but to a remoteness from his presence, in comparison to which the distance from east to west is no distance—is vicinity and cohesion. I dare not, either in prose or verse, allow myself to express a frame of mind which I am conscious does not belong to me; least of all can I venture to use the language of absolute resignation, lest, only counterfeiting, I should, for that very reason, be taken strictly at my word, and lose all my remaining comfort. Can there not be found, among the translations of Madame Guion, somewhat that might serve the purpose? I

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »