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Deep in unfathomable mines
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take!
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
His purposes all ripen fast,
Blind unbelief is surd to err,
Great severity of Cowper's mental depression—His presentiment
of it Its consequences—Remarks upon its probable cause—
Absurdity of attributing it, in any degree, to religion—Mrs. Unwin's great attention to him—His aversion to the company of strangers—Symptoms of his recovery—Domesticates three leverets—Amusement they afford him—Mr. Newton's removal from Olney—Introduction of Mr. Bull to Cowper—His translation of Madame de la Guyon's poems, at Mr. Bull's request—Commences his original productions, at the suggestion of Mrs. Unwin—Renews his correspondence with Mr. and Mrs. Newton—Describes the state of his mind.
We are again arrived at another of those melancholy periods of Cowper's life, over which it must be alike the duty of the biographer, and the wish of the reader, to cast a veil. Mental aberration, whoever may be the subject of it, excites the tenderest commisseration of all; but if there be a time when it may be contemplated with emotions more truly distressing than another, it is when it attacks those who are endowed with talents the most brilliant, with dispositions the most amiable, and with piety the most ardent and unobtrusive. Such was eminently the case in the present instance. To see a mind like Cowper's, enveloped in the thickest gloom of despondency, and for several years, in the prime of life, remaining in a state of complete inactivity and misery, must b^ave been distressing in no ordinary degree.
A short time previous to the afflictive visitation, Cowper appears to have received some presentiment of its approach, and during a solitary walk in the fields, as was hinted above, he composed that beautiful hymn in the Olney collection with which we closed our last chapter. On this occasion, acute as may have been his feelings, he must have experienced an unshaken confidence in God; for it is scarcely possible to read this admirable production, however dark and distressing the dispensations of Divine Providence towards us may be, without enjoying the same delightful emotions. About the same time, he composed the hymn, entitled 'Temptation,'
the following lines from which will showJiow powerfully his mind was then exercised.
"The billows swell, the winds are high,
O Lord, the pilot's part perform,
Amidst the roaring of the sea,
He now relapsed into a state,, very much resembling that which had previously occasioned his removal to St. Albans. This second attack occurred in 1773; he remained in the same painful and melancholy condition, without even a sin
fle alleviation of his sufferings, for the protracted period of ve years; and it was five years more, before he wholly recovered the use of his admirable powers. His mind, which could formerly soar on the wings of faith and love, to the utmost limits of Christian knowledge and enjoyment, now sunk into the lowest depths of depression; and here seemed as if it would remain immovably fixed:.rejecting, with deplorable firmness, every species of consolation that was attempted to be administered.'
Various causes have been assigned, by different writers, for the melancholy aberration of mind of which Oowper was now, and at other seasons of his life, the subject; but none are so irreconcilable to everything like just and legitimate reasoning, as the attempt to ascribe it to religion. That unjust views of the character of God, and of the nature of the gospel, may never have been the predisposing causes of great and severe mental depression, we are not disposed to deny; though we think this a case of very rare occurrence, and one in which the subject of it must be in a state of great ignorance respecting the fundamental truths of religion. Ought this, however, when it does happen, to be identified with religion, of which, at the best, it can only be regarded as a mere -caricature 1 There was evidently, in the case of Cowper, nothing that «bore the slightest resemblance to this. Making some allowances for expressions occasionally employed by him peculiar to the system which he had embraced, perhaps it will not be saying too much to affirm, that no individual ever entertained more scriptural views of the gospel dispensation in all its parts, and of the perfections and attributes of its great Author, than this excellent man. The letters he wrote to his correspondents, and the hymns he composed, prior to this second attack, prove unquestionably that his views of religion were at the remotest distance from what can be termed visionary or enthusiastic : on the contrary, they were perfectly scriptural and evangelical, and were consequently, infinitely more adapted to support, than to depress his mind.
The living poet whom we have before quoted, remarks: —" With regard to Cowper's malady, there scarcely needs any other proof that it was not occasioned by his religion than this, that the error on which he stumbled was in direct contradiction to his creed. He believed that he had been predestinated to life, yet under his delusion imagined that God, who cannot lie, repent, or change, had, in his sole instance, and in one moment, reversed his own decree, which had been in force from all eternity. At the same time, by a perversion of the purest principles of Christian obedience, he was so submissive to what he erroneously supposed was the will of God, that, to have saved himself from the very destruction which he dreaded, he would not avail himself of any of the means of graee, even presuming they might have been efficacious, because he believed they were forbidden to him. Yet, in spite of the self-evident impossibility, of his faith, affecting a sound mind, with such a hallucination; though a mind previously diseased, might as readily fall into that as the other; in spite of chronology, his first aberration having taken place before he had 'tasted the good word of God;' in spite of geography, that calamity having befallen him in London, where he had no acquaintance with persons holding the reprobated doctrines of election and sovereign grace; and in spite of fact, utterly undeniable, that the only effectual consolations which he experienced under his first or subsequent attacks of depression, arose from the truths of the gospel;—in spite of all these unanswerable confutations of the ignorant and malignant falsehood, the enemies of Christian truth persevere in repeating, 'that too much religion made poor Cowper mad.' If they be sincere, they are • themselves under the strongest delusion; and it will be well,
if it prove not, on their part, a wilful one—it will be well, if they have not reached that last perversity of human reason, to believe a falsehood of their own invention."
The remarks of Mr. Hayley, in his admirable life of the poet, page 144, vol. 1. are, we think, liable to some objection. He says—" So fearfully and wonderfully are we made, that man in all conditions ought, perhaps, to pray that he never may be led to think of his Creator and of his Redeemer, either too little or too much, since human misery is often seen to arise equally, from an utter neglect of all spiritual concerns, and from a wild.extravagance of devotion."
It is surely needless to observe, that the devotion of Cowper was as much unlike what could, with any degree of propriety, be termed wild or extravagant, as can well be imagined. To what description of devotion Mr. Hayley would apply these epithets we cannot tell, but surely not to that which is scripturally evangelical, which was eminently the character of Cowper's, and which. is of a nature so heavenly and spiritual, so perfectly adapted to the circumstances of mankind, and withal so soothing and consoling, that it can never be carried to excess. The more powerfully its influence is felt upon the mind, the more extensive must be the enjoyment it produces, unless when it pleases God, as in the case of Cowper, to disorganize the mental powers, and thereby unfit it for the reception of that comfort which it would otherwise experience.
Mental disorganization may undoubtedly arise from an almost infinite variety of. causes, many of which, as in the poet's case, must for ever elude our search, though they are all under the control of that God who is the giver of life and its preserver. Real religion, however, which consists in a cordial reception of the truth in the heart, can never produce it in the remotest degree: evangelical devotion cannot be too intense, nor can we know too much of our Creator and Redeemer. Contemplating the Divine Being apart from the gospel of Christ, or through the distorting medium of our own fancies, may possibly, in some cases, produce depression, viewing him as he is presented to our minds in the scriptures, in all the plenitude of his goodness and benevolence, is sure to be productive of consequences directly opposite. Instead of there being any danger likely to arise from having our thoughts too much employed upon the character of God, we think a scripturally comprehensive view of his perfections the best possible preservative from.despair. To represent an excess of devotion as the cause of Cowper's