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fession of arms, it may be said to require for the constitution of its heroes,
"A frame of adamant, a soul of fire."
"The soul of Cowper had, indeed, its fire, but fire so refined and ethereal, that it could not be expected to shine in the gross atmosphere of wordly contention." Reserved to an unusual and extraordinary degree, he was ill-qualified to contend with the activity unavoidably connected with this profession. Though he possessed the strongest powers of mind, and a richly-cultivated understanding, yet were they combined with such extreme sensibility, as totally disqualified him for the bustle of a court. An excessive tenderness, associated with a degree of shyness, not easily to be accounted for, utterly unfitted him for a profession that would often have placed him before the public, and brought him into contact with individuals not remarkable for such qualities. His extreme modesty, however, while it precluded the possibility of his being successful in this profession, endeared him inexpressibly to all who had the felicity to enjoy his society. Never was there a mind more admirably formed for communicating to others, in private life, the richest sources of enjoyment; and yet, such were the peculiarities of his nature, that often, while he delighted and interested all around him, he was himself extremely unhappy. The following lines, composed by him about this time, are not less valuable, for the developement they give of the state of his mind at that period, than they are remarkable for their exquisite tenderness and poetic beauty:—
"Doomed as I am in solitude to waste
* Sir William Russell, Bart, a favourite friend of the young poet.
Whose heart the real claim of friendship knows,
Entrance into the Temple—Employment there—Depression of his mind—Religious impressions—Visit to Southampton— Sudden removal of sorrow—Death of his father—Appointment to the office of reading clerk in the House of Lords—Dread of appearing in public—Consequent abandonment of the situation—Is proposed as clerk of the Journals—feelings on the occasion— Visit to Margate—Return to London—Preparation for entering upon his office—Distressing sensations on the occasion—Is compelled to relinquish it for ever—Serious attack of depression— Visit of his brother.
At the age of 31, in 1752, Oowper left the solicitor's house, and took possession of a complete set of chambers in the Inner Temple. Here he remained nearly twelve years. And as this may justly be considered the most valuable part of life, it must ever be regretted that he suffered it to pass away so unprofitably. During this important and lengthened period he scarcely did anything more than compose a few essays and poems, either to gratify, or to assist some literary friend. Prompted by benevolent motives, he furnished several pieces for a work, entitled "The Connoisseur," edited by Robert Lloyd, Esq., to whom he was sincerely and warmly attached.
The following extract from a most playful poetic epistle, addressed to that gentleman, will be read with interest, as it shows that he began at that time to feel symptoms of the depressive malady, which afterwards became to him a source of so much misery.
"'Tis not that I design to rob
Or such as might be better shown,
By letting poetry alone.
'Tis not with either of these views
That I presume to address the muse;
But to divert a fierce banditti
(Sworn foes to every thing that's witty;)
That with a black infernal train,
Make cruel inroads on my brain,
And daily threatens to drive thence
My little garrison of sense;
The fierce banditti which I mean,
Are gloomy thoughts, led on by spleen."
While he remained in the Temple he cultivated the friendship of the most distinguished writers of the day; and took a lively interest in their publications, as they appeared. Instead, however, of applying his richly furnished mind to the composition of some original work, for which, the pieces he incidentally wrote, proved him fully competent, his timid spirit contented itself with occasional displays of its rich and varied capabilities. Translation from ancient and modern poets was one of his most favourite amusements. So far, however, was he from deriving any bonefit from these compositions, most of which were masterly productions, that he invariably distributed them gratuitously among his friends, as they might happen to request them. In this way he assisted his amiable friend and scholar, Mr. Duncombe; for we find in Duncombe's Horace, published by him in 1759, that two of the satires were translated by Cowper.
When Cowper entered the Temple he paid little or no attention to religion; all those serious impressions which he had once experienced were gone; and he was left, at that dangerous and critical season of life, surrounded by innumerable most powerful temptations, without any other principles for his guide, than the corrupt affections of our common nature. It pleased God, however, at the very outset, to prevent him from pursuing that rash and ruinous career of wickedness, into which many plunge with heedless and awful insensibility. The feelings of his peculiarly sensitive mind on this occasion he thus describes.
"Not long after my settlement in the Temple, I was struck with such a dejection of spirits, as none but those who have felt the same can have the least conception of. Day and night I was upon the rack, lying down in horror, and rising up in despair. I presently lost all relish for those studies to which I had before been closely attached; the classics had no longer any charms for me; I had need of something more salutary than amusement, but I had no one to direct me where to find it."
"At length I met with Herbert's poems; and, gothic and uncouth as they are, I yet found in them a strain of piety which I could not but admire. This was the only author I had any delight in reading. I pored over him all day long; and though I found not in his work what I might have found—a cure for my malady, yet my mind never seemed so much alleviated as while I was reading it. At length I was advised, by a very near and dear relative, to lay it aside, for he thought such an author more likely to nourish my disorder than to remove it."
"In this state of mind I continued near a twelvemonth; when, having experienced the ineliicacy of all human means, I at length betook myself to God in prayer. Such is the rank our Redeemer holds in our esteem, that we never resort to him but in the last instance, when all creatures have failed to succour us! My hard heart was at length softened, and my stubborn knees brought to bow. I composed a set of prayers, and made frequent use of them. Weak as my faith was, the Almighty, who will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, was graciously pleased to listen to my cry, instead of frowning me away in anger."
"A change of scene was recommended to me; and I embraced an opportunity of going with some friends to Southampton, where I spent several months. Soon after our arrival, we walked to a place called Freemantle, about a mile from the town; the morning was clear and calm; the sun shone brightly upon the sea, and the country on the border of it was the most beautiful I had ever seen. We sat down upon an eminence, at the end of that arm of the sea which runs between Southampton and the New Forrest. Here it was, that on a sudden, as if another sun had been created that instant in the heavens on purpose to dispel sorrow and vexation of spirit, I felt the weight of all my misery taken off; my heart became light and joyful in a moment; I could have wept with transport had I been alone. I must needs believe that nothing less than the Almighty fiat could have filled me with such inexpressible delight; not by a gradual dawning of peace, but, as it were, with a flash of his life-giving countenance. I felt a glow of gratitude to the Father of mercies for this unexpected blessing, and ascribed it, at first, to his gracious acceptance of my prayers; but Satan and my own wicked heart quickly persuaded me that I was indebted for