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Whilst engaged in this melancholy office, and endeavouring to reconcile his mind to the loss of so dear a friend, by considering the gain which that friend would experience, his reflections were suddenly interrupted by the singularly varied tone in which Cowper then began to breathe. Imagining it to be the sound of his immediate summons, after listening to it for several minutes, he arose from the foot of the bed on which he was sitting, to take a nearer, and, as he supposed, a last view of his departing relative, commending his soul to that gracious Saviour, whom, in the fulness of mental health, he had delighted to honour. As he put aside the curtains, Cowper opened his eyes, but closed them again without speaking, and breathed as usual. On Monday he was much worse; though, towards the close of the day, he revived sufficiently to take a little refreshment. The two following days he evidently continued to sink rapidly. He revived a little on Thursday, but, in the course of the night, he appeared exceedingly exhausted; some refreshment was presented to him by Miss Perowne, but, owing to a persuasion that nothing could afford him relief, though without any apparent impression that the hand of death was already upon him, he mildly rejected the cordial with these words, the last he was heard to utter: " What can it signify?"
Early on Friday morning, the 25th, a decided alteration for the worse was perceived to have taken place. A deadly change appeared in his countenance. In this insensible state he remained till a few minutes before five in the afternoon, when he gently, and without the slightest apparent pain, ceased to breathe, and his happy spirit escaped from his body, in which, amidst the thickest gloom of darkness, it had so long been imprisoned, and took its flight to the regions of perfect purity and bliss. In a manner so mild and gentle did death make its approach, that though his kinsman, his medical attendant, and three others were standing at the foot of the bed, with their eyes fixed upon his dying countenance, the precise moment of his departure was unobserved by any.
"From this mournful period," writes Mr. Johnson, "till the features of his deceased friend were closed from his view, the expression which the kinsman of Cowper observed in them, and which he was affectionately delighted to suppose an index of the last thoughts and enjoyments of his soul in its gradual escape from the depths of despondence, was that of calmness and composure, mingled, as it were, with holy surprise."
He was buried in that part of Dereham Church, called St. Edmund's Chapel, on Saturday, the 2d May, 1800; and his funeral was attended by several of his relatives. In a literary point of view, his long and painful affliction had ever been regarded as a national calamity; a deep and almost universal sympathy was felt in his behalf; and by all men of learning and of piety, his death was looked upon as an event of no common importance.
As he died without a will, his amiable and beloved relation, Lady Hesketh, kindly undertook to become his administratrix. She raised a tablet monument to his memory with the following inscription :—
IN MEMORY OF
WILLIAM COWPER, Esq.
BORN IN HERTFORDSHIRE,
BURIED IN THIS CHURCH,
Ye who with warmth the public triumph feel
Of talents, dignified by sacred zeal,
Here, to devotion's bard, devoutly just,
Pay your fond tribute, due to Cowj.er's dust!
England, exulting in his spotless fame,
Ranks with her dearest sons his favourite name!
Sense, fancy, wit, suffice not all to raise
So clear a title to affection's praise:
His highest honours to the heart belong—
His virtues formed the magic of his song.
The following lines have been kindly handed to the author by a friend, in manuscript. He is not sure they have never been in print, though he rather inclines to think such is the case.
And is the spirit of the Poet fled?
Yes, from its earthly tenement 'tis flown;
The sweetest minstrel that the world has known.
Too nice, too great, his sympathy of soul;
For, oh! his feelings were so much refined, That sense became impatient of control,
And darkness seized the empire of his mind.
But when Reflection threw her eagle eye
Faith op'd a splendid vista to the sky,
To see, whilst sceptics to the effects of chance
Ascribe creation's ever-varying form; To see distinctly, at the first slight glance,
Who wings the lightning, and who drives the storm,
To brush the cobweb follies from the great,
Uphold the honour of a sinking state,
And bid Religion raise her drooping head.
Such were the objects of the enraptured bard,
In such his lucid intervals he passed; And knowing Virtue was her own reward,
Wooed, and revered, and loved her to the last.
Know, then, that Death has added to his list
As sweet a bard as ever swept a lyre: In Death's despite his memory shall exist
In numbers pregnant with celestial fire.
Yes, Cowper! with thy own expressive lays,
Thy name shall triumph o'er the lapse of days,
Description of his person, his manners, his disposition, his piety —His attachment to the Established Church-—His attainments —Originality of his poetry—His religious sentiments—The warmth of his friendship—His attachment to the British constitution—His industry and perseverance—Happy manner in which he could console the afflicted—His occasional intervals of enjoyment—Character as a writer—Powers of descriptionBeauty of his letters—His aversion to flattery, to affectation, to cruelty—His love of liberty, and dread of its abuse—Strong attachment to, and intimate acquaintance with the scriptures— Pleasure with which he sometimes viewed the viorks of creation —Contentment of his mind—Extract from an anonymous critic—Poetic tribute to his memory.
It is scarcely necessary to add anything. on the subject of Cowper's character, after the ample delineation that has already been given of it in this memoir; we shall, however, subjoin the following brief remarks, which could not so conveniently be introduced in any other part of the narrative.
Cowper was of the middle stature; he had a fine, open, and expressive countenance; that indicated much thoughtfulness, and almost excessive sensibility. His eyes were more remarkable for the expression of tenderness than of penetration. The general expression of his countenance partook of that sedate cheerfulness, which so strikingly characterizes all his original productions, and which never failed to impart a peculiar charm to his conversation. His limbs were more remarkable for strength than for delicacy of form. He possessed a warm temperament; and he says of himself, in a letter to his cousin Mrs. Bodham, dated February 27, 1790, that he was naturally " somewhat irritable," hut, if he was, his religious principle had so subdued that tendency, that a near relation, who was intimately acquainted with him the last ten years of his life, never saw his temper ruffled in a single instance.
His manners were generally somewhat shy and reserved, particularly to strangers: when, however, he was in perfec health, and in such society as was quite congenial to his taste they were perfectly free and unembarrassed; his conversation was unrestrained and cheerful, and his whole deportment was the most polite and graceful, especially to females, towards whom he conducted himself, on all occasions, with the strictest delicacy and propriety.
Much as Cowper was admired by those who knew him only as a writer, or as an occasional correspondent, he was infinitely more esteemed by his more intimate friends; indeed, the more intimately he was known, the more he was beloved and revered. Nor was this affectionate attachment so much the result of his brilliant talents, as it was of the real goodness of his disposition, and gentleness of his conduct.
Cowper was emphatically, in the strictest and most scriptural sense of the term, a good man. His goodness, however, was not the result of mere effort, unconnected with Christian principles, nor did it arise from the absence of those evil dispositions of which all have reason, more or less, to complain; on the contrary, all his writings prove that he felt and deplored the existence of evil affections, and was only able to suppress them by a cordial reception of the gospel of Christ, and the diligent use of those means enforced under that pure and self-denying dispensation. Nor was the goodness of Cowper a mere negative goodness, inducing him only to avoid doing evil; it is evident, from many passages, both from his poetic and prose productions, that he ever looked upon his talents, not as his own, but as belonging to Him from whom he had received them. Under the influence ef this impression, all his best and most important original productions were unquestionably written. Desirous of communicating to his fellow-men the same invaluable benefits which he had himself received from the simple yet sublime truths of Christianity, and incapable of attempting it in any other way than that of becoming an author, he took up his pen and produced those unrivalled poems, which, while they delight the mere literary reader for their elegance, beauty, and sublimity, are no less interesting to the Christian for the accurate and striking delineations of real religion, with which they abound. As long as the English language exists, they will most eagerly be sought after, both by the scholar and by the Christian.
Cowper was warmly attached to the religion of the established church, in which he had been trained up, and which, like his friend Mr. Newton, he calmly and deliberately preferred to any other. His attachment, however, was not that of the narrow-minded bigot which blinds the mind to the ex