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of his representations, that he thought the Divine Being, by the mere exercise of his sovereignty, continued any of his creatures, except, indeed, it were himself, in a state of suffering in the present life, or placed them beyond the means of escaping from misery, in the future. His views of the atonement and of the infinite extent of its efficacy, were such as led him, whenever he had occasion to advert to it, to represent it truly, as a solid ground of hope and comfort, to every converted sinner, whatever might have been his character. He felt an entire conviction that he whose infinite compassion had prompted him to make provision for the restoration of fallen man to his favour, intended it to be universally beneficial; and that the perverseness and obstinacy of men were the only reasons why it was not so. That he should have regarded his own case as an exception, and should, consequently, have passed the greater part of his life in the bitterness of despair, is a difficulty which we are persuaded will, in the present life, for ever remain unaccounted for. To assert, as some have done, on no other foundation than that of mere opinion, that had he not been religious he would never have been melancholy, is utterly at variance with all the leading facts of his history. To every well regulated mind it will be abundantly evident, that whatever reasons may be assigned for the affecting peculiarity of his case, the deep concern he felt for religion could never have been the cause. On the contrary, it will appear clearly to have been much more likely to become the best preventive, as, in fact, the events of his life prove it to have been, though, owing to some unaccountable organic conformation, much less completely than might have been hoped.
No person was ever more alive to the benefits of real friendship, or had ever formed more correct conceptions of its obligations and delights. His inimitable stanzas, on this most interesting subject, which are perhaps superior to anything that has ever been written upon it, prove incontestibly that he understood what were its indispensable prerequisites, and his whole conduct through life shows that he felt the full force of that friendship which he so admirably described. It is difficult to make extracts from a poem, every line of which is almost alike excellent, wo cannot, however, deny ourselves the pleasure of presenting our readers with the following admirable lines:—
"Who hopes a friend, should have a heart
To show the virtue that he seeks;
A man renowned for repartee
With friendship's finest feeling )
By way of balm for healing.
Beware of tatlers! keep your ear
Fruits of their own invention!
Their sport is your dissension.
Religion should extinguish strife,
But even those who differ
No combatants are stiffer.
Then judge, before you choose your man, As circumspectly as you can;
And having made election, See that no disrespect of yours, Such as a friend but ill endures,
Enfeeble his affection.
As similarity of mind,
Or something not to be defined,
First rivets our attention;
Must save it from declension.
The man who hails you Tom, or Jack,
His sense of your great merit;
To pardon, or to bear it.
Some friends make this their prudent plan,
So barren sands imbibe the shower,
But render neither fruit nor flower
Unpleasant and ungrateful.
They whisper trivial things, and small;
Tilings serious, deem improper.
Just like a simmering copper.
Pursue the theme, and you will find
To be at least expedient;
A principal ingredient.
True friendship has, in short, a grace,
That proves it heav'n-descended:
To last till life is ended."
Cowper was, through life, the warm, though not the blind admirer of the British constitution; and though he made no pretensions to the character of a politician, yet he took the liveliest interest in all that related to the honour and prosperity of his country. In one of his letters to Mr. Newton, he thus writes:—" I learned when I was a boy, being the son of a staunch Whig, and a man that loved his country, to glow with that patriotic enthusiasm which is apt to break forth into poetry, or at least to prompt a person, if he has any inclination that way, to poetical endeavours. After I was grown up, and while I lived in the Temple, I produced several halfpenny ballads, two or three of which had the honour of being popular. But unhappily, the ardour I felt upon the occasion, disdaining to be confined within the bounds of fact, pushed me upon uniting the prophetical with the poetical character, and defeated its own purpose. I am glad it did. The less there is of this sort in my productions the better. The stage of national affairs is such a fluctuating scene, that an event which seems probable to-day becomes impossible to-morrow; and unless a man were indeed a prophet, he cannot, but with the greatest hazard of losing his labour, bestow his rhymes upon future contingencies, which perhaps are never to take place, but in his own wishes and in the reveries of his own fancy."
The time which Cowper bestowed upon his translation of Homer, and the indefatigable diligence with which he laboured in this great work, notwithstanding his melancholy depression, until he had completed it, prove that he was not easily to be diverted from what he had once undertaken; and that few men were equal, and perhaps none superior, to him, in those essential qualities of a truly great mind,—industry and perseverance.
It might be imagined that Cowper's very retired manner of life, had deprived him of that manly independence of mind, which is a prime constituent in the character of every great man. Several incidents, however, are related of him, which go to prove that such was very far from being the case. His conduct to Mr. Unwin and Mr. Newton, who both in their turns, at different times, thought themselves entitled to complain of some neglect, proves that he allowed not the affection of friendship to intrench upon his right to judge at all times for himself. Alluding to Mr. Newton's displeasure, he remarks to another friend:—" If he says more on the subject, I shall speak freely, and perhaps please him less than I have already done." Almost in the same breath, however, evincing his deep knowledge of human nature, he adds:—" But we shall jumble together again, as people, who have an affection for each other at the bottom, never fail to do." On one occasion, some friend having remarked to Cowper, that he knew a person who wished to see a sample of his verse, before subscribing for his edition of Homer, he replied,—"that when he dealt in wine, or cloth, or cheese, he would give samples, but of verse never." The same independence he evinced on another occasion, writing to the friend whom he had employed to negotiate for the publication of his second volume of poetry, he remarks:—" If Johnson should stroke his chin, look up to the ceiling, and cry nymph! anticipate him, I beseech you, at once, by saying, that you know I should be very sorry he should undertake for me to his own disadvantage, or that my volume should be in any degree pressed upon him."
The depressive malady under which Cowper laboured through the greater part of his life, might naturally be supposed to have disqualified him entirely for the kind office of comforting those who were in distress: in truth, however, no one had better learned the divine skill of strengthening the weak mind, of encouraging the timid and trembling believer, of lifting up the Teak hands that were hanging down, wiping the tear of sorrow from the mournful eye, and directing the Christian to look alone to heaven for support in all his difficulties. His poems abound with passages the most tender and consolatory; enforcing with an eloquence, persuasive and almost irresistible, humble submission to the Divine will, in circumstances the most discouraging. The following lines, forming part of a poetic epistle to a lady in France, show how admirably he could pour the healing oil of comfort into the wounded spirits of others, though he was unable to assuage the grief of his own.
"The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
But He, who knew what human hearts would prove
How slow to learn the dictates of his love;
That hard by nature, and of stubborn will,
A life of ease would make them harder still;
In pity to a chosen few, designed
To escape the common ruin of their kind,
And said—Go spend them in the vale of tears!
Oh balmy gales of soul-reviving air,
Oh salutary streams that murmur there,
These flowing from the fount of grace above!
Those breathed from lips of everlasting love!
The flinty soil indeed their feet annoys,
Chill blasts of trouble nip their springing joys,
An envious world will interpose its frown,
To mar delights superior to its own,
And many a pang, experienced still within,
Reminds them of their hated inmate, sin!
But ills of every shape, of ever}' name,
Transformed to blessings, miss their cruel aim,
And every moment's calm that soothes the breast,
Is given in earnest to eternal rest.
Ah! be not sad! although thy lot be cast
Far from the flock, and in a boundless waste;
No shepherd's tents within thy view appear,
But the Chief Shepherd even there is near.
Thy tender sorrows and thy plaintive strain
Flow in a foreign land, but not in vain;