« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
interview between these talented individuals proved reciprocally delightful. Though Cowper was now in his sixty-first year, he felt none of the infirmities of advanced life, but was as active and vigorous, both in mind and body, as his best friends could wish him. Mrs. Unwin had nearly recovered from her late severe attack, and as her health was every day progressively improving, there seemed every probability of their enjoying a long continuance of domestic comfort. Mr. Hayley thus describes the manner in which he was received,
and his sensations on the occasion "Their reception of me
was kindness itself; I was enchanted to find that the manners and conversation of Cowper resembled his poetry, charming by unaffected elegance, and the graces of a benevolent spirit. I looked with affectionate veneration and pleasure on the lady, who, having devoted her life and fortune to the service of this tender and sublime genius, in watching over him with maternal vigilance, through so many years of the darkest calamity, appeared to be now enjoying a reward justly due to the noblest exertions of friendship, in contemplating the health, and the renown of the poet, whom she had the happiness to preserve. It seemed hardly possible to survey human nature in amore touching, and a more satisfactory point of view. Their tender attention to each other, their simple, devout gratitude for the mercies which they had experienced together, and their constant but unaffected propensity to impress on the mind and heart of a new friend, the deep sense which they incessantly felt, of their mutual obligations to each other; afforded me very singular gratification."
This scene of exquisite enjoyment to all parties, as is frequently the case in a world like ours, was suddenly exchanged for one of the deepest melancholy and distress. Mr. Hayley has related the painful event with so much tenderness and simplicity, that we cannot do better than present it to our readers in his own words.—" After passing our mornings in social study, we usually walked out together at noon; in returning from one of our rambles round the pleasant village of Weston, we were met by Mr. Greethead, an accomplished minister of the gospel, who resides at Newport Pagnel, and whom Cowper described to me in terms of cordial esteem. He came forth to meet us, as we drew near the house, and it was soon visible from his countenance and manner, that he had ill news to impart. After the most tender preparation that humanity could devise, he informed Cowper, that Mrs. Unwin was under the immediate pressure of a paralytic attack. My agitated friend, rushed to the sight of the sufferer; he returned to me in a state that alarmed me in the highest degree for his faculties: his first speech was wild in the extreme; my answer would appear little less so, hut it was addressed to the predominant fancy of my unhappy friend, and with the blessing of heaven, it produced an instantaneous calm in his troubled mind. From that moment he rested on my friendship with such mild and cheerful confidence, that his affectionate spirit regarded me as sent providentially to support him in a season of the severest affliction." The best means to promote the recovery of Mrs. Unwin, that could have been used under similar circumstances, were resorted to. Happily, they proved to a considerable degree successful, and she gradually recovered both her strength and the use of her faculties. The effect of this attack, however, upon Cowper's tender mind, was in the highest degree painful. This will not perhaps be surprising, when it is recollected how sincerely he was attached to his afflicted inmate, and how deeply he interested himself in everything that related to her welfare. The following beautiful lines will convey to the reader some idea of the exalted opinion he had formed of her character."
"Mary! I want a lyre with other strings,
Such aid from heaven as some have feigned they drew,
An eloquence scarce given to mortals, new
And undebased by praise of meaner things!
That ere through age or woe I shed my wings,
I may record thy worth, with honour due,
In verse as musical as thou art true—
Verse that immortalizes whom it sings!
But thou hast little need: there is a book,
By seraphs writ, with beams of heavenly light,
On which the eyes of God not rarely look!
A chronicle of actions just and bright!
There all thy deeds, my faithful Mary, shine,
And since thou own'st that praise, I spare thee mine."
The following extracts from Cowper's correspondence, immediately after this painful event, describe satisfactorily the state of his mind:—" I wish with all my heart, my dearest cousin, that I had not ill news for the subject of this letter: my friend, my Mary, has again been attacked by the same disorder that threatened me last year with the loss of her, of which you were yourself a witness. The present attack has been much the severest. Her speech has been
almost unintelligible from the moment that she was struck: it is with difficulty she can open her eyes; and she cannot keep them open, the muscles necessary for that purpose being contracted; and as to self-moving powers from place to place, and the right use of her hand and arm, she has entirely lost them. I hope, however, she is beginning to recover: her amendment is indeed but very slow, as must be expected at her time of life. I am as well myself, and indeed better than you have ever known me in such trouble. It has happened well for me that, of all men living, the man best qualified to assist and comfort me, is here; though, till within these few days, I never saw him, and a few weeks since had no expectation that I ever should. You have already guessed that I mean Hayley—Hayley, who loves me as if he had known me from my cradle. When he returns to town, as he must, alas! he will pay his respects to you. He has, I assure you, been all in all to us, on this very afflictive occasion. Love him, I charge you, dearly, for my sake. Where could I have found a man, except himself, so necessary to me, in so short a time, that I absolutely know not how to live without him V
Mr. Hayley left Weston early in June, at which time many pleasing symptoms of Mrs. Unwin's ultimate recovery began to appear. Cowper's letters to his friend after his departure, which were written almost daily, afford ample proofs of the warmth of his affection for him, and of the deep interest he took in promoting Mrs. Unwin's recovery. He thus commences his first letter to Mr. Hayley:—" All's Well! which words I place as conspicuously as possible, and prefix them to my letter, to save you the pain, my friend and brother, of a moment's anxious speculation. Poor Mary proceeds in her amendment, and improves, I think, even at a swifter rate than when you left her. The stronger she grows, the faster she gathers strength, which is perhaps the natural course of recovery. Yesterday was a noble day with her: speech, almost perfect—eyes, open almost the whole day, without any effort to keep them so,—and her step, wonderfully improved! Can I ever honour you enough for your zeal to serve me 1 Truly I think not. I am, however, so sensible of the love I owe to you on this acoount, that I every day regret the acuteness of your feelings for me, convinced that they expose you to much trouble, mortification and disappointment. I have, in short, a poor opinion of my destiny, as I told you when you were here; and though I believe, if any man living can do me good, you will, I cannot yet persuade myself that even you will be successful in attempting it. But it is no matter: you are yourself a good which I can never value enough; and, whether rich or poor in other respects, I shall always account myself better provided for than I deserve, with such a friend as you, that I can call my own. Let it please God to continue to me my William and Mary, and I shall be more reasonable than to grumble. I rose this morning, wrapt round with a cloud of melancholy, and with a heart full of fears; but if I see my Mary's amendment a little advanced, I shall be better."
"Of what materials can you suppose me made, if, after all the rapid proofs you have given me of your friendship, I do not love you with all my heart, and regret your absence continually. But you must permit me to be melancholy now and then; or, if you will not, I must be so without your permission; for that sable thread is so interwoven with the very thread of my existence as to be inseparable from it, at least while I exist in the body. Be content, therefore: let me sigh and groan, but always be sure that I love you. You will be well assured that I should not have indulged myself in this rhapsody about myself and my melancholy, had my present state of mind been of that complexion, or had not our poor Mary seemed still to advance in her recovery. It is a great blessing to us both, that, feeble as she is, she has a most invincible courage, and a trust in God's goodness that nothing shakes. She is certainly, in some degree, better than she was yesterday; but how to measure the degree I know not, except by saying—that it is just perceptible."
In a letter dated 11th June, 1792, Cowper thus discloses his state of mind to Lady Hesketh. "My dearest cousin, thou art ever in my thoughts, whether I am writing to thee or not, and my correspondence seems to grow upon me at such a rate, that I am not able to address thee so often as I would. In fact, I live only to write letters. Hayley is, as you see, added to the number of my correspondents, and to him I write almost as duly as I rise in the morning. Since I wrote last, Mrs. Unwin has been continually improving in strength, but at so gradual a rate, that I can only mark it by saying that she moves every day with less support than the former. On the whole, I believe she goes on as well as can be expected, though not quite so well as to satisfy me."
"During the last two months I seem to myself to have
been in a dream. It has been a most eventful period, and
fruitful to an uncommon degree, both in good and in evil. I
have been very ill, and suffered excruciating pain. I recovered, and became quite well again. I received within my doors a man, but lately, an entire stranger, and who now loves me as his brother, and forgets himself to serve me. Mrs. Unwin has been seized with an illness, that for many days threatened to deprive me of her, and to cast a gloom, an impenetrable one, on all my future prospects. She is now granted to me again. A few days since I should have thought the moon might have descended into my purse as likely as any emolument, and now it seems not impossible. All this has come to pass with such rapidity as events move with in romance indeed, but not often in real life. Events of all sorts creep or fly exactly as God pleases."
While Mr. Hayley was at Weston, he had persuaded Cowper and Mrs. Unwin to promise him a..v4sit at Eartham, some time in the summer. Believing that it would greatly improve Mrs. Unwin's health, and be an agreeable relaxation to Cowper, after the anxiety of mind he had felt respecting his esteemed invalid. Mr. Hayley wrote several pressing invitations to induce them to come as early as possible. The following extracts will show the state of Cowper's mind respecting it. To Mr. Bull he writes, " We are on the eve of a journey, and a long one. On this very day se'nnight we set out for Eartham, the seat of my brother bard, Mr. Hayley, on the other side of London, nobody knows where, a hundred and twenty miles off. Pray for us, my friend, that we may have a safe going and return. It is a tremendous exploit, and I feel a thousand anxieties when I think of it. But a promise made to him when he was here, that we would go if we could, and a sort of persuasion that we can if we will, oblige us to it. The journey and the change of air, together with the novelty to us of the scene to which we are
foing, may, I hope, be useful to us both; especially to Mrs. Tnwin, who has most need of restoratives." To Mr. Newton he thus discloses his feelings on the subject. "You may imagine that we, who have been resident in one spot for so many years, do not engage in such an enterprise without some anxiety. Persons accustomed to travel would make themselves merry with mine; it seems so disproportioned to the occasion. Once I have been on the point of determining not to go, and even since we fixed the day, my troubles have been almost insupportable. But it has been made a matter of much prayer, and at last it has pleased God to satisfy me, in some measure, that his will corresponds with our purpose, and that he will afford us his protection. You, I know, will not be unmindful of us during our absence