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R. D. ALEXANDER, Esq. F.L.S.
THE STEADY, DETERMINED, AND PERSEVERING FRIEND OF HUMANITY,
OF THE AMIABLE, PIOUS, AND HIGHLY-GIFTED, BUT DEEPLY-AFFLICTED POET,
WHICH OWES ITS EXISTENCE ENTIRELY TO HIS SUGGESTION,
IS MOST RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED,
AS A SLIGHT, BUT SINCERE AND GRATEFUL, TRIBUTE OF ESTEEM,
FOR THE NUMEROUS UNMERITED FAVOURS RECEIVED FROM HIM,
BY HIS OBEDIENT SERVANT,
Many lives of Cowper have already been published. Why, then, it may be asked, add to their number? Simply because, in the opinion of competent judges, no memoir of him has yet appeared that gives a full, fair, and unbiassed view of his character.
It is remarked by Dr. Johnson, the poet's kinsman, in his preface to the two volumes of Cowper's Private Correspondence, "that Mr. Hayley omitted the insertion of several interesting letters in his excellent Life of the poet, out of kindness to his readers." In doing this, however, amiable and considerate as his caution must appear, the gloominess which he has taken from the mind of Cowper, has the effect of involving his character in obscurity. People read ' The Letters' with ' The Task' in their recollection, (and vice versa,) and are perplexed. They look for the Cowper of each in the other, and find him not. Hence the character of Cowper is undetermined; mystery hangs over it; and the opinions formed of him are as various as the minds of the inquirers.
In alluding to these suppressed letters, the late highly-esteemed Rev. Legh Richmond, once emphatically remarked— "Cowper's character will never be clearly and satisfactorily understood without them, and they should be permitted to exist for the demonstration of the case. I know the importance of it from numerous conversations I have had both in Scotland and in England, on this most interesting subject. Persons of truly religious principles, as well as those of little or no religion at all, have greatly erred in their estimate of this great and good man."
Dr. Johnson's two volumes of Private Correspondence satisfactorily supplied this deficiency to all those who have the means of consulting them, and the four volumes by Mr. Hayley. The author of this memoir has attempted not only to bring the substance of these six volumes into one, but to communicate information respecting the poet which cannot be found in either of those works. He is fully aware of the peculiarities of Cowper's case, and has endeavoured to exhibit them as prominently as was compatible with his design, without giving to the memoir too much of that melancholy tinge by which the life of its subject was so painfully distinguished.
In every instance where he could well accomplish it, he has made Cowper his own biographer, convinced that it is utterly impossible to narrate any circumstance in a manner more striking, or in a style more chaste and elegant, than Cowper has employed in his inimitable letters.
To impart ease and perspicuity to the memoir, and to compress it into as small a compass as was consistent with a full developement and faithful record of the most interesting particulars of Cowper's life, the author has, in a few cases, inserted in one paragraph, remarks extracted from different letters, addressed more frequently, though not invariably, to the same individual. He has, however, taken care to avoid doing this where it could lead to any obscurity.
He has made a free use of all the published records of Cowper within his reach, besides availing himself of the valuable advice of the Rev. Dr. Johnson, Cowper's kinsman, to whom he hereby respectfully tenders his grateful acknowledgments for his condescension and kindness, in undertaking to examine the manuscript, and for the useful and judicious hints respecting it he was pleased to suggest.
Without concealing a single fact of real importance, the author has carefully avoided giving that degree of prominence to any painful circumstance in the poet's life, which would be likely to excite regret in the minds of any of his surviving relatives, and which, for reasons the most amiable and per