« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
as a subject of much gratitude, that a merciful providence should again have appointed his afflicted relative the employment alluded to, as, more than anything else, it diverted his mind from a contemplation of its miseries, and seemed to extend his breathing, which was at other times short, to a depth of respiration more compatible with ease."
The happy means pursued by Mr. Johnson to induce Cowper to complete the revisal of his Homer, and its successful result, ought not to go unrecorded. He thus relates it in the excellent sketch above referred to:—" His kinsman resolved, if it were possible, to reinstate him in the revisal of his Homer. One morning, therefore, after breakfast, in the month of September, 1797, he placed the commentaries on the table one by one, namely, Villoison, Barnes, and Clarke, opening them all, together with the poet's translation, at the place where he had left off a twelvemonth before; but, talking with him as he paced the room, upon a very different subject, namely, the impossibility of the things befalling him, which his imagination had represented; when, as his companion had wished, Cowper said to him, 'And are you sure that I shall be here till the book you are reading is finished.' Quite sure, replied his kinsman, and that you will also be here to complete the revisal of your Homer, pointing to the books, if you will resume it to-day. As he repeated these words, he left the room, rejoicing in the well-known token of their having sunk deep into the poet's mind, namely, his seating himself on the sofa, taking up one of the books, and saying, in a low and plaintive voice, 'I may as well do this, for I can do nothing else.'"
In July, 1798, the Dowager Lady Spencer paid the afflicted poet a visic. Had he been in the enjoyment of health, he would undoubtedly have received her with the greatest respect and affection, and the conversation between them would have been equally pleasing to both parties; such, however, was his melancholy depression, that he seemed not to derive any pleasure from the visit, and on no occasion could he be prevailed upon to converse with his distinguished visitor with any apparent pleasure.
While residing at Mundesley, in October, 1798, Cowper felt himself so far relieved from his depressive malady as to undertake, without solicitation, to write to Lady Hesketh. The following extract from this letter, will show the severity of his mental anguish, even at that period:—"You describe delightful scenes, but you describe them to one, who, if he even saw them, could receive no delight from them, who has a faint recollection, and so faint as to be like an almost forgotten dream, that once he was susceptible of pleasure from such causes. The country that you have had in prospect, has been always famed for its beauties; but the wretch who can derive no gratification from a view of nature, even under the disadvantage of her most ordinary dress, will have no eyes to admire her in any. In one day,—in one minute, I should rather have said,—she became an universal blank to me, and though from a different cause, yet with an effect as • difficult to remove as blindness itself."
Mr. Johnson again removed from Mundesley to Dereham, towards the end of October, and pursuing their journey, on this occasion, with himself, Miss Perowne, and Cowper, in the postchaise, they were overturned. Cowper discovered no particular alarm on the occasion, and through the blessing of Providence, they all escaped unhurt.
As soon as Cowper had finished the revisal of his Homer, Mr. Johnson laid before him the papers containing the commencement of his projected poem—The Four Ages. He, however, declined undertaking it, as a work far too important for him to attempt in his present situation. Several other literary projects, of easier accomplishment, were then suggested to him by his kinsman, who was aware of the great benefit he had derived from employment, and was seriously apprehensive that the want of it would add to his depression: all of them, however, were objected to by the poet, who, at length, replied, that he had just thought of six Latin verses, and if he could do anything, it must be in pursuing something of that description. He, however, gratified his friends, by occasionally employing the powers of his astonishing mind, which still remained in full vigour, in the composition of some short original poems. In this way he produced the poem entitled Montes Glaciales, founded upon an incident, which he had heard read from the Norwich paper, several months previous; to which, at the time, owing to his depression, he appeared to pay no attention. This poem he afterwards, at the request of Miss Perowne, translated into Latin. Translation was his principal amusement; sometimes from Latin and Greek into English, and occasionally from English into Latin. In this way he translated several of Gay's Fables, and communicated to them, in their new dress, all that ease and vivacity which they have in the original. Thus elegantly employed, he continued, with some intermissions, almost to the close of his life.
The last original poem he composed was entitled The Castaway, and was founded upon an incident, related in Anson's Voyage, of a mariner who was washed overboard in the Atlantic, and lost, which he remembered to have read in that work many years ago, and which, according to the following stauzas, selected from it, he appears to have regarded as an illustration of his own case:
"Obscurest night involved the sky,
The Atlantic billows roared,
Washed headlong from on board,
He long survives who lives an hour
In ocean self-upheld,
His destiny repelled;
No poet wept him, but the page
Of narrative sincere,
Is wet with Anson's tear:
I therefore purpose not, or dream,
Descanting on his fate!
A more enduring date.
No voice divine the storm allay'd,
No light propitious shone,
We perished, each alone;
Anxious as all his friends now were, that he should be constantly employed, as this proved the best remedy for his depression, they were frequently pained to see him reduced to a state of hopeless inactivity, owing to the severity of his mental anguish. At these seasons, what suited him best, was, Mr. Johnson's reading to him, which he was accustomed to do, almost invariably for a length of time, every day. And so industriously had he persevered in this method of relieving the poet's mind, that after having exhausted numerous works of fiction, which had the power of attracting his attention, he began to read to his afflicted relative the poet's own works. Cowper evinced no disapprobation to this till the iteader arrived at the history of John Gilpin, when he entreated his relative to desist.
It became evident towards the close of 1799, that his bodily strength was rapidly declining, though his mental powers, notwithstanding the unmitigated severity of his depression, remained unimpaired. In January, 1800, Mr. Johnson observed in him many symptoms which he thought very unfavourable. This induced him to call in additional medical advice. His complaint was pronounced to be, not as has been generally stated, dropsical, but a breaking up of the constitution. Remedies, however, were tried, and he was recommended to take as much gentle exercise as he could bear. To this recommendation he discovered no particular aversion, and Mr. Johnson took him for a ride in a postchaise, as often as circumstances would permit; it was, however, with considerable difficulty he could be prevailed upon to use such medicines as it was thought necessary to employ.
About this time his friend Mr. Hayley wrote to him, expressing a wish that he would new-model a passage in his translation of the Iliad, where mention is made of the very ancient sculpture in which Daedalus had represented the Cretan dance for Ariadne. "On the 31st January," says Mr. Hayley, " I received from him his improved version of the lines in question, written in a firm and delicate hand. The sight of such writing from my long-silent friend, inspired me with a lively, but too sanguine hope, that I might see him once more restored. Alas! the. verses which I surveyed as a delightful omen of future letters from a correspondent so inexpressibly dear to me, proved the last effort of his pen."
Cowper's weakness now very rapidly increased, and by the end of February it had become so great as to render him incapable of enduring the fatigue of his usual ride, which was hence discontinued. In a few days he ceased to come down stairs, though he was still able, after breakfasting in bed, to adjourn to another room, and to remain there till the evening. By the end of the ensuing March, he was compelled to forego even this trifling exercise. He was now entirely confined to his bed-room; he was, however, still able to sit up to every meal, except breakfast.
His friend Mr. Rose, about this time, paid him a visit. Such, however, was the melancholy change which his complicated maladies had produced upon his mind, that he expressed no pleasure at the arrival of one whom he had previously been accustomed to greet with the most cordial reception. Mr. Rose remained with him till the first week in April, witnessing with much sorrow the sufferings of the afflicted poet, and kindly sympathising with his distressed relations and friends. Little as Cowper had appeared to enjoy his company, he evinced symptoms of considerable regret at his departure.
Both Lady Hesketh, and Mr. Hayley, would have followed the humane example of Mr. Rose, in visiting the dying poet, had they not been prevented by circumstances over which they had no control. The health of the former, had suffered considerably by her long confinement with Cowper, at the commencement of his last attack, and the latter was detained by the impending death of a darling child.
Mr. Johnson informs us, in his sketch of the poet's life, that, "on the 19th April the weakness of this truly pitiable sufferer had so much increased that his kinsman^pprehended his death to be near. Adverting, therefore, to the affliction, as well of body as of mind, which his beloved inmate was then enduring, he ventured to speak of his approaching dissolution as the signal, of his deliverance from both these miseries. After a pause of a few moments, which was less interrupted by the objections of his desponding relative than he had dared to hope, he proceeded to an observation more consolatory still—namely, that in the world to which he was hastening, a merciful Redeemer, who had prepared unspeakable happiness for all his children, and therefore for him .
To the first part of this sentence he had listened with composure, but the concluding words were no sooner uttered than his passionately expressed entreaties that his companion would desist from any further observations of a similar kind, clearly proving that though he was on the eve of being invested with angelic light, the darkness of delusion still veiled his spirit."
On the following day, which was Sunday, he revived a little. Mr. Johnson, on repairing to his room, after he had discharged his clerical duties, found him in bed and asleep. He did not, however, leave the room, but remained watching him, expecting he might, on awaking, require his assistance.