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after. Alas! if my best friend, who laid down his life for me, were to remember all the instances in which I have neglected him, and to plead them against me in judgment, where should I hide my guilty head in the day of recompense? I will pray therefore for blessings upon my friends though they cease to be so, and upon my enemies, though they continue such."
Cowper had now been an inmate with the Unwin family a little more than eighteen months; and the above extracts, taken from his confidential letters, describe the happy frame of his mind, and the great progress he had made in divine knowledge, during this period. Living in the enjoyment of the divine presence himself, and associated with those, who experienced the same invaluable privilege, he tranquilly pursued the even tenor of his Christian course with undiverted attention, and with holy zeal; nor did there appear the slightest reason to suppose that any alteration was likely to take place in his circumstances, or in the circumstances of the family. He might fairly have calculated upon the uninterrupted continuance, for many years, of the same distinguished privileges; but the dispensations of Divine Providence are sometimes awfully mysterious. Events unforeseen, and unexpected, are often occurring, which give a bias to our affairs quite different to any that we had ever conceived. Such was the melancholy occurrence which happened in this family, about this time, and which, at no distant period, led to Cowper's removal from Huntingdon.
Mr. Unwin, proceeding to his church, one Sunday morning in July, 1767, was flung from his horse, and received a dreadful fracture on the back part of his skull, under which he languished till the followingThursday, and then died. Cowper, in relating this melancholy event to his cousin, remarks: —" This awful dispensation has left an impression upon our spirits which will not presently be worn off. May it be a lesson to us to watch, since we know not the day, nor the hour, when our Lord cometh. At nine o'clock last Sunday morning Mr. Unwin was in perfect health, and as likely to live twenty years as either of us, and by the followingThursday he was a corpse. The few short intervals of sense that were indulged him, he spent in earnest prayer, and in expressions of a firm trust and confidence in the only Saviour. To that strong-hold we must resort at last, if we would have hope in death; when every other refuge fails, we are glad to fly to the only shelter to which we can repair to any purpose; and happy is it for us, when the false ground we have chosen for ourselves, breaks under us, and we find ourselves obliged to have recourse to that Rock which can never be shaken; when this is our lot, we receive great and undeserved mercy."
"The effect of this very distressing event will only be a change of my abode; for I shall still, by God's leave, continue with Mrs. Unwin, whose behaviour to me has always been that of a mother to a son. We know not yet where we shall settle, but we trust that the Lord, whom we seek, will go before us, and prepare a rest for us. We have employed our friends, Mr. Hawes, Dr. Conyers, and Mr. Newton, to look out a place for us, but at present are entirely ignorant under which of the three we shall settle, or whether under any one of them."
Just after this melancholy event had occurred, and while the family were in the midst of their distress, Mr. Newton, then curate of Olney, while on his way home from Cambridge, providentially called upon Mrs. Unwin. The late Dr. Conyers had learned from Mrs. Unwin's son, the change that had taken place in her mind, on the subject of religion; and he accordingly requested Mr. Newton to embrace the earliest opportunity of having some conversation with her on the subject. His visit could not possibly have heen made at a more seasonable juncture. Mrs. Unwin was now almost overwhelmed with sorrow; and though the strength of her Christian principles, preserved her from losing that confidence in the Almighty, which can alone support the mind under such distressing circumstances, yet, both she and Mr. Cowper, stood in need of some judicious Christian friend, to administer to them the consolations of the gospel. Their Heavenly Father could not have sent them one more capable of binding up their wounds, and soothing their sorrow, than Mr. Newton. He knew when, instrumentally, to pour the oil of consolation into their wounded spirits; and his providential visit, proved as useful as it was seasonable. He invited them to fix their future abode at Olney, whither they repaired, in the following October, to a house he had provided for them, so near the vicarage in which he lived, that by opening a door in the garden wall, they could exchange mutual visits, without entering the street. Mrs. Unwin kept the house, and Cowper continued to board with her, as he had done during her husband's life. 5*
Commencement of Cowper's intimacy with Mr. Newton—Pleasure it afforded him—His charitable disposition—Means pro• tided for its indulgence, by the munificence of the late J. Thornton, Esq.—Mr. Thornton's death—Cowper's poetic tribute to his memory—Remarks on the insufficiency of earthly objects to afford peace to the mind—His great anxiety for the spiritual welfare of his correspondents—Consolatory remarks addressed to his cousin—Severe affliction of his brother—Cowper's great concern on his behalf—Happy change that takes place in his brother's sentiments on religious subjects.—His death—Cowper's reflections on it—Deep impression it made upon his mind—Description of his brother's character—Engages with Mr. Newton to write the Olney Hymns—Marriage of Mr. Unwin's son and daughter—Cowper's severe indisposition.
Great as were the advantages enjoyed by Cowper, while inmated with the Unwin family at Huntingdon, they were not to be compared with those which he experienced in his new situation at Olney. He spent his time nearly in the same manner as at Huntingdon, having the additional advantage of frequent religious intercourse with his friend, Mr. Newton, with whom he was now upon terms of the closest intimacy. The amiable manners, and exemplary piety of Cowper, greatly endeared him to all with whom he was acquainted. He gladly availed himself of the benefits of religious conversation with the pious persons in Mr. Newton's congregation, and was particularly attentive to those among them, who were in circumstances of poverty. He regularly visited the sick, and, to the utmost extent of his power, afforded them relief. He attended the social meetings for prayer established by Mr. Newton; and at such seasons, when he was occasionally required to conduct the service, agitated as were his feelings before he commenced, he no «ooner began, than he poured forth his heart unto God in earnest intercession, with a devotion equally simple, sublime, and fervent, affording to all who were present on these occa» sions proofs of the unusual combination of elevated genius, exquisite sensibility, and profound piety, by which he was pre-eminently distinguished. His conduct in private was consistent with the solemnity and fervor of these social devotional engagements. Three times a day he prayed, and gave thanks unto God, in retirement, besides the regular practice of domestic worship. His familiar acquaintance with, and experimental knowledge of the gospel, relieved him from all terror and anxiety of mind; his soul was stayed upon God; the divine promise and faithfulness were his support; and he lived in the enjoyment of perfect peace.
His hymns, most of which were composed at this period, prove that he was no stranger to those corrupt dispositions, which the best of men have to bewail, and which have so strong a tendency to draw away the mind from God. Against these dispositions, however, he was constantly upon the watch, and by the cultivation of devotional habits, with the gracious aid of the Divine Spirit, he suppressed every irregular desire, restrained every corrupt inclination, and ultimately came off successful in his spiritual warfare.
The first few years of his residence at Olney, may, perhaps, be regarded as the happiest of his life. Associated intimately with his beloved friend, Mr. Newton, and availing himself of his valuable assistance, in his efforts to acquire divine knowledge, his heart became established in the truth, and he experienced that degree of confidence in God, which alone can insure peace of mind, and real tranquillity. Aware of the pleasure which he took in visiting the poor, in his neighbourhood, and contributing to their relief, Mr. Newton procured for him, a liberal annual allowance of cash, for the purpose of distribution, from the late excellent John Thornton, Esq. It is almost needless to add, that becoming the, almoner of this distinguished philanthropist, was to Cowper a source of the greatest enjoyment. No individual was ever more alive to the cry of distress; he seemed, indeed, to possess almost an excess of this amiable sensibility. Nothing gladdened his heart more than to be the means of drying up the widow's tears, and assuaging the orphan's grief; which the liberality of this great philanthropist allowed him often to accomplish. The decease of Mr. Thornton took place in 1790, and Cowper has immqrtalized his memory, by the following beautiful and sublime eulogy:—
"Thee, Thornton, worthy in some page to shine
I mourn; or, since thrice happy thou must be,
What pleasure can the miser's fondled hoard,
Impelled thee more to that heroic course,
Owing to some cause, for which we are unable to account, Cowper's correspondence with his friends became much less frequent after his settlement at Olney, than it had been for