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His brother, perceiving he had received some benefit from this interview, in his desire to relieve the poet's depressed mind, wisely overlooked the difference of sentiments on the great subjects of religion, which then existed between himself and Mr. Madan, and discovered the greatest anxiety, that he should embrace the earliest opportunity to converse with him again. He now urged Cowper to visit Mr. Madan at his own house, and offered to accompany him thither. After much entreaty Cowper consented; and though the conversation was not then the means of affording him any permanent relief, it was not without its use. He was easier, but not easy; the wounded spirit within him was less in pain, but by no means healed. A long train of still greater terrors than any he had yet endured was at hand; and when he awoke the next morning, after a few hours' sleep, he seemed to feel a stronger alienation from T3od than ever. He was now again the subject of the deepest mental anguish; the sorrows of death seemed to encompass, and the pains of hell to get hold of him; his ears rang with the sound of the torments that seemed to await him; his terrified imagination presented to him many horrible visions, and led him to conceive that he heard many horrible sounds; his heart seemed at every. pulse to beat its last; his conscience scared him; the avenger of blood seemed to pursue him; and he saw no city of refuge into which he could flee; every moment he expected the earth would open, and swallow him up.
He was now suddenly attacked with that nervous affection, of which the peculiar form of his mind seemed to have made him susceptible, which, on several subsequent occasions darkened his brightest prospects, and which, ultimately overwhelmed his meek and gentle spirit, and caused him to end his days in circumstances the most gloomy and sorrowful. So violent was the attack on this occasion, that his friends instantly perceived the change, and consulted on the best manner to dispose of him. Dr. Cotton then kept an establishment at St. Alban's for the reception of such patients. His skill as a physician, his well-known humanity and sweetness of temper, and the acquaintance that had subsisted between him and the afflicted patient, slight as it was, determined them to place him under the doctor's care. No determination could have been more wisely taken; and subsequent events proved it to have been under His superintendence, who orders all things according to the councils of his own will, and who, with the tenderest solicitude, watches over his people; managing those events which to us appear contingent, on principles of unerring wisdom; and overruling them for the accomplishment of his gracious and benevolent intentions.
"An anxious world may sigh in vain for what
His removal to St. Albans—Painful state of his mind there— Receives a visit from his brother—Good effects of it—His recovery—How it was effected—His subsequent happiness—Pleasing conversation with Dr. Cotton—The delightful manner in which he now passed his time—Description of his experience —His gratitude to God—Employs his brother to look out for him a new residence—Leaves St. Albans—Feelings on the occasion.
Ok the 7th December, 1763, he was removed to St. Albans, and placed under the care of Dr. Cotton. And, notwithstanding the skilful and judicious treatment pursued to effect his restoratron, he remained in the same gloomy and desponding state for five months. Every means that ingenuity could devise, and that benevolence and tenderness could prompt, were resorted to for this protracted period in vain. To describe in lengthened detail the state of his mind during this long interval, would justly be deemed injudicious. As Mr. Hayley very properly remarks, " Mental derangement is a topic of such awful delicacy, that it is the duty of a biographer, rather to sink in tender silence, than to proclaim with offensive temerity, the minute particulars of a calamity to which all human beings are exposed, and, perhaps, in proportion as they have received from nature, those delightful but dangerous gifts—a heart of exquisite tenderness, and a mind of creative energy." This, as Cowper most beautifully sings;—
"This is a sight for pity to peruse,
Without, however, entering minutely into particulars, on this painful subject, it will not be deemed improper to mention some of the leading facts respecting it, and here we shall allow the poet again to become his own biographer.
11 The accuser of the brethren was ever busy with me night and day, bringing to my recollection, the commission of long-forgotten sins, and charging upon my conscience, things of an indifferent nature as atrocious crimes. Conviction of sin and despair of mercy, were the two prominent evils with which I was continually tormented. But, blessed be the God of my salvation for every sigh I drew, and for every tear I shed, since thus it pleased him to judge me here, that I might not be judged hereafter."
"After five months' continued expectation that the divine vengeance would plunge me into the bottomless pit, I became so familiar with despair, as to have contracted a sort of hardiness and indifference as to the event. I began to persuade myself, that while the execution of the sentence was suspended, it would be for my interest to indulge a less horrible train of ideas, than I had been accustomed to muse upon. I entered into conversation with the doctor, laughed at his stories, and told him some of my own to match them; still, however, carrying a sentence of irrevocable doom in my heart. He observed the seeming alteration with pleasure, and began to think my recovery well nigh completed; but the only thing that could promote and effectuate my cure, was yet wanting; an experimental knowledge of the redemption which is in Christ Jesus."
"About this time my brother came from Cambridge to pay me a visit. Dr. C. having informed him, that he thought me better, he was disappointed at finding me almost as silent and reserved as ever. As soon as we were left alone, he asked me how I found myself; I answered, as much better as despair can make me. We went together into the garden. Here, on my expressing a settled assurance of sudden judgment, he protested to me that it was all a delusion; and protested so strongly, that I could not help giving some attention to him. I burst into tears, and cried out, If it be a delusion, then am I the happiest of beings. Something like a ray of hope was now shot into my heart; but still I was afraid to indulge it. We dined together, and I spent the afternoon in a more cheerful manner. Something seemed to whisper to me, every moment, still there is mercy. Even after he left me, this change of sentiment gathered ground continually; yet, my mind was in such a fluctuating state, that I can only call it a vague presage of better things at hand, without being able to assign any reason for it."
"A few days after my arrival at St. Albans, I had thrown I aside the Bible as a book in which I had no longer any in
terest or portion. The only instance in which I can recollect reading a single chapter, was about two months before my recovery. Having found .a Bible on the bench in the garden, I opened it upon the 11th of John, where the miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead is described; and I saw so much benevolence, goodness, and mercy, in the Saviour's conduct, that I almost shed tears at the relation, little thinking that it was an exact type of the mercy, which Jesus was on the point of extending towards myself. I sighed, and said, Oh, that I had not rejected so good a Redeemer, that I had not forfeited all his favour! Thus was my hard heart softened ; and though my mind was not yet enlightened, God was gradually preparing me for the light of his countenance, and the joys of his salvation."
"The cloud of horror which had so long hung over my mind began rapidly to pass away, every moment came fraught with hopes. I felt persuaded that I was not utterly doomed to destruction. The way of salvation was still, however, hid from my eyes; nor did I see it clearer than before my illness, I only thought, that if it pleased God to spare me, I would lead a better life; and that I would yet escape hell, if a religious observance of my duty would secure me from it. Thus, may the terror of the Lord make a pharisee; but only the sweet voice of mercy in the gospel can make a Christian."
"But the happy period, which was to shake off my fetters, and afford me a clear discovery of the free mercy of God in Christ Jesus, was now arrived. I flung myself into a chair, near the window, and seeing a Bible there, ventured once more to apply to it for comfort and instruction. The first verse I saw, was, the 25th of the 3rd of Romans: ' Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.'' Immediately I received strength to believe, and the full beams of the sun of righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement he had made for my pardon and complete justification. In a moment I believed, and received the peace of the gospel. Whatever my friend Madan had said to me, long before, revived in all its clearness, with the demonstration of the spirit, and with power."
"Unless the Almighty arm had been under me, I think I should have been overwhelmed with gratitude and joy. My eyes filled with tears, and my voice choked with transport. I could only look up to heaven in silent fear, overwhelmed with love and wonder. But the work of the Holy Spirit is