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malady, in however slight a degree, is obviously opposed to every consistent view of religion, and is assigning that for its cause which was infinitely more likely to become, its only effectual cure.
The melancholy condition to which Cowper was now reduced, 'afforded Mrs. Unwin an opportunity of proving the warmth of her affection for, and the sincerity of her attachment to, the dejected poet. He now required to be watched with the greatest care, vigilance, and perseverance; and it pleased God to endow her with all that tenderness, fortitude, and firmness of mind, which were requisite for the proper discharge of duties so important. Her incessant care over him, during the long fit of his depressive malady, could only be equalled by the pleasure she experienced, on seeing his pure and powerful mind, gradually emerge from that awful state of darkness, in which it had been enveloped, into the clear sunshine of liberty and peace: she hailed his approach to convalescence, slowly as it advanced, with the mingled emotions of gratitude and praise.
Cowper, throughout the whole of this severe attack, was inaccessible to all, except his friend Mr. Newton, who, during the whole of itr continuance, watched over him with the greatest tenderness, and was indefatigable in his efforts to administer consolation to his depressed spirit. He once entertained him fourteen months at the vicarage, and, with untired perseverance, laboured incessantly to dissipate the dark cloud that had gathered over his mind; but to every consolatory suggestion he was utterly deaf, concluding that God had rejected him, and that, consequently, it was sinful for him even to wish for mercy. How awful are the effects of mental disorganization! how easily does it convert that into poison which was designed for solid food! how highly ought we to prize, and how thankful ought we to be, for the uninterrupted enjoyment of our mental powers!
After enduring an accumulation of anguish, almost inconceivable, for the long space of five years, unalleviated by a single glimpse of comfort, the interesting sufferer began at length gradually to recover. He listened to the advice of Mrs. Unwin, and allowed her, occusionallyatleast,.to divert his mind from those melancholy considerations by which he had so long been burdened. It now occurred to Mrs. Unwin, that he might probably find it beneficial to be employed in some amusing occupation. She suggested this to some of her neighbours, who all deplored the poet's case, felt a lively interest in his welfare, and would gladly have done anything in their power, that was the least likely to mitigate his distress.
The children of one of his neighbours had recently given them, for a plaything, a young leveret; it was at that time about three months old. Understanding better how to teaze the poor creature than to feed it, and soon becoming weary of their charge, they readily consented that their father, who saw it pining, and growing leaner every day, should offer it to Cowper's acceptance. Beginning then to be glad of anything that would engage his attention without fatiguing it, he was willing enough to take the prisoner under his protection, perceiving that, in the management of such an animal, and in the attempt to tame it, he should find just that sort of employment which his case required. It was soon known among his neighbours that he was pleased with the present; and the consequence was, that in a short time, he had as many leverets offered him, as would have stocked a paddock. He undertook the care of three, which he named Puss, Tiney, and Bess. The choice of their food, and the diversity of their dispositions, afforded him considerable amusement, and their occasional diseases excited his sympathy and tenderness. One remained with him during the whole of his abode at Olney, and was afterwards celebrated in his unrivalled poem, the Task; and at its decease, honoured with a beautiful epitaph from his pen; another lived with him nearly nine years; but the third did not long survive the restraints of its confined situation. An admirably written narrative of these animals, from his own pen, was inserted in the Gentleman's Magazine of that day, which has since been published at the end of almost every edition of his works.
For a considerable period, Cowper's only companions were Mrs. Unwin, Mr. and Mrs. Newton, and his three hares. About this time, it pleased God to remove Mr. Newton, to another scene of labour. Deeply interested in the welfare of his afflicted friend, and aware of his aversion to the visits of strangers, Mr. Newton thought it advisable, before he left Olney, to introduce to his interesting but most afflicted friend, the Rev. Mr. Bull, of Newport Pagnel. After some difficulty, Mr. Newton triumphed over Cowper's extreme reluctance to se« strangers, and Mr. Bull visited him regularly once a fortnight, and gradually acquired his cordial and confidential esteem.
Of this gentleman, Cowper, in one of his letters, gives the following playful and amusing description:—" You' are not acquainted with the Rev. Mr. Bull, of Newport—perhaps it is as well for you that you are not. You would regret still more than you do, that there are so many miles inter-posed between us. He spends part of the day with us tomorrow. A dissenter, but a liberal one; a man of letters and of genius; master of a fine imagination, or rather not master of it; an imagination which, when he finds himself in the company he loves, and can confide in, runs away with him into such fields of speculation, as amuse and enliven every other imagination that has the happiness to be of the party. At other times, he has a tender and delicate sort of melancholy in his disposition, not less agreeable in its way. No men are better qualified for companions in such a world as this, than men of such a temperament. Every scene of life has two sides, a dark and a bright one; and the mind that has an equal mixture of melancholy and vivacity, is best of all qualified for the contemplation of either. He can be lively without levity, and pensive without dejection. Such a man is Mr. Bull: but—he smokes tobacco—nothing is perfect."
Mr. Bull, who probably regarded the want of some regular employment as one of the predisposing causes of Cowper's illness, prevailed upon him to translate several spiritual songs, from the poetry of Madame de la Mothe Guyon, the friend of the mild and amiable Fenelon. The devotion of these songs is not of that purely unexceptionable character which might be wished; and if devotional excitement had been the cause of Cowper's malady, no recommendation could have been more injudicious. The result, however, was beneficial to the poet, instead of being injurious, proving irresistibly that devotion had a soothing, rather than an irritating effect upon his mind.
Much as Cowper admired these songs, for that rich vein of pure and exalted devotion, which runs through the whole of them, he was not insensible to their defects, as will appear by the following remarks :—" The French poetess is certainly chargeable with the fault you mention, though I think it not so glaring in the piece sent you. I have endeavoured, indeed, in all the translations I have made, to cure her of the evil, either by the suppression of exceptionable passages, or by a more sober manner of expression. Still, however, she will be found to have conversed familiarly with God, but I hope not fulsomely, nor so as to give reasonable disgust to a religious reader. That God should deal familiarly with man, or, which is the same thing, that he should permit man to deal familiarly with him, seems not very difficult to conceive, or presumptuous to suppose, when some things are taken into consideration. Woe to the sinner, however, that shall dare to take a liberty with him that is not warranted by his word, or to which he himself has not encouraged him. When he assumed man's nature, he revealed himself as the friend of man. He conversed freely with him while he was upon earth, and as freely with him after his resurrection. I doubt not, therefore, that it is possible to enjoy an access to him even now, unincumbered with ceremonious awe, easy, delightful, and without constraint. This, however, can only be the lot of those who make it the business of their lives to please him, and to cultivate communion with him; and then I presume there can be no danger of offence, because such a habit of the soul is his own creation, and near as we come, we come no nearer to him than he is pleased to draw us: if we address him as children, it is because he tells us he is our Father; if we unbosom ourselves to him as our friend, it is because he calls us friends; if we speak to him in the language of love, it is because he first used it, thereby teaching us that it is the language he delights to hear from his people. But I confess, that through the weakness, the folly, and corruption of human nature, this privilege, like all other Christian privileges, is liable to abuse. There is a mixture of evil in everything we do; indulgence encourages us to encroach, and while we exercise the rights of children, we become childish. Here, I think, is the point in which my authoress failed, and here it is that I have particularly guarded my translation, not afraid of representing her as dealing with God familiarly bnt foolishly, irreverently, and without due attention to his majesty, of which she is somewhat guilty. A wonderful fault for such a woman to fall into, who spent her life in the contemplation of his glory, who seems to have been always impressed with a sense of it, and sometimes quite absorbed by the views she had of it." Mrs. Unwin, who still watched over her patient with the tenderest anxiety, saw, with inexpressible delight, the first efforts of his mind, after his long and painful depression; and perceiving that translation had a good effect, she wisely urged him to employ his mind in composing some original poem, which she thought more likely to become beneficial. Cowper now listened to her advice, and felt so powerfully the obligations under which he was laid to her, for her continued attention and kindness, that he cheerfully complied with her request. The result exceeded her most sanguine expectation. A beautiful poem was produced, entitled Table Talk; another, called the Progress of Error, was shortly composed; Truth, as a pleasing contrast, followed it; this was succeeded by others of equal excellence, proving that the poet's mind had now completely emerged from that darkness in which it had so long been confined by his depressive malady.
It is interesting to observe, that Cowper's poems were almost invariably composed at the suggestion of friends. He wrote hymns, to oblige Mr. Newton; translated Madam Guyon's songs, to gratify his friend Mr. Bull, and composed the greater part of his poems, to please Mrs. Unwin. The influence of friendship on his tender mind, was powerfully affecting; and he ever regarded it as his happiest inspiration. It kindled the warmth of his heart, into a flame, intense and ardent, stimulated into activity the rich, but dormant powers of his mind, and produced those bursts of poetic feeling and beauty, which abound in his unrivalled compositions.
Cowper regained his admirable talent for composition, both in poetry and in prose, and renewed his correspondence with some of his more intimate friends, long before his mind was wholly convalescent; and his letters, written at this period, afford the best clue to the painful peculiarities of hia case. On every other subject but that of his own feelings, his remarks are in the highest degree pleasing; and there was often a sprightliness and vivacity about them, that seemed to indicate a state of mind at the remotest distance from painful; but whenever he adverted to his own case, it was in a tone the most plaintive and melancholy.
Immediately after the removal of his esteemed friends, Mr. and Mrs. Newton, he commenceda correspondence with them, which he regularly kept up during almost the whole of his life. To Mrs. Newton, soon after this event, he thus describes his feelings on the occasion. "The vicaragehouse became a melanoholy object as soon as Mr. Newton had left it; when you left it, it became more melancholy; now it is actually occupied by another family, I cannot even look at it without being shocked. As I walked in the garden last evening, I saw the smoke issue from the study chimney, and said to myself, that used to be a sign that Mr. Newton was there; but it is so no longer. The walls of the house know nothing of the change that has taken place, the bolt of the chamber door sounds just as it used to do, and when Mr.
P goes up stairs, for ought I know, or ever shall know,
the fall of his foot can hardly perhaps, be distinguished from that of Mr. Newton. But Mr. Newton's foot will never be