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work went on; and though by the messenger of Satan he was not only buffeted, but distressed, perplexed, and in despair, yet was he not forsaken; cast down he was, yet not destroyed; and though seemingly always delivered unto death, yet the life that is hid with Christ in God was always manifest. He whom it pleased and became to make the Captain of his saints perfect through suffering, in bringing many sons unto glory, passes the children of light also through many scenes of trial and of darkness. And Cowper certainly was one of those sons brought unto glory in the same way.
Under this extreme severity of discipline, permitted as Cowper was, to be sifted as wheat by Satan, to be driven by the wind and tossed, to be distracted with frightful dreams in the night-time, and stared at and terrified by a stony-eyed fiend in the day-time, the projection and creation of an inward sullen despair; permitted to be held in this torturing and frightful misapprehension of the Divine sovereignty in relation to himself, till he became as a withered and wrinkled goat-skin bottle in the smoke, till his very bones became as when one cutteth and cleaveth wood upon the earth; yet all the while submissive to the Divine will, and in his melancholy misery, unselfish and unrepining to the last; under such discipline there would really seem to have been in Cowper's gloomy and
despairing experiences more true piety than in many persons' confidences and hopes; for his heart was filled all the while with a yearning after God and the light of His countenance, as the only relief and blessing which his soul desired. If any man could ever adopt Watts's energetic stanza as the expression of his own feelings, Cowper could;
Thy shining grace can cheer
The prison where I dwell; "Tis Paradise if Thou art here, If Thou depart, 'tis hell!
He could not be happy without God. He was unutterably miserable in the bare imagination that God had deserted him. The thought that God had forsaken him was more agonizing to him than a world of real miseries, temporal and not spiritual, ever could have been. But even beneath such a nightmare, such an agony, as the supposition of this abandonment by his best and only everlasting Friend, he would not, knowingly, for the universe, have gone in any respect contrary to the will of that Friend; would not have chosen his own way in any thing which he might not feel was God's chosen way, or which he apprehended was contrary to God's will. Now a more convincing and affecting proof that he was a child of God, though walking in darkness, can hardly be imagined than this. He could have stayed himself, according to
the direction given in the fiftieth chapter of Isaiah to those who find themselves walking in darkness and without light, upon the name of the Lord; but the terrible point, the unconquerable fatality of his delusion was, that the very name of the Lord was against him, and that consistency and truth on the part of God toward His own attributes required Cowper's destruction. We do not remember ever to have met with any other precisely such case on record; for Cowper would reason himself into a demonstration on this point, and sometimes would unwind, to the astonishment and compassion of sympathizing friends, a portion of the chain of argument by which his soul was thus fettered; he sets the door ajar, and lets you look into the darkness of his prison; and though at the same time he sees the light, it is no light for him. The atmosphere of Divine mercy is all around him, but there is a vacuum also between his soul and it, so that, as he conceives, it can not touch him, and the congruity of God's attributes forbids that it should.
Water! water! every where,
The ladder even of Christian experience, Cowper once said, has its foot, its lowest rung, in the abyss; and there he had stood, if any step above the infernal regions, yet only there, on that lowest
round, amid the smoke and horror of thick darkness, accustomed only to infernal experiences, for thirteen years! If this had been reality, it had been intolerable misery; if it had been the midnight of absolute despair, it must have produced absolute madness. But it was a delusion, and not unaccompanied with some suspicions, and sometimes actual hopes, of its being such, and therefore it could be borne for a season. It had the unreality, yet at the same time the despotic oppression, of a vivid dream.
It was the hallucination of a mind insane on one idea, perfectly sound on every other. That one was indeed, in this case, a tremendous despotism, extending over Cowper's everlasting destiny (as he imagined) a certainty and immutability of woe. If it were a reality, instead of an imagination, and felt as a reality, it would leave no interval for cheerful occupation, it would permit no beguilement of its horror, nor forgetfulness of such a fate. But it was an imaginary despair; and though the mental dejection, along with the nervous derangement which was its physical cause, deepened and darkened even to the end, yet the misery of an absolute despair never could be inflicted by it, nor ever was endured under it. With congenial mental occupation, gentle, tender, sympathizing friends, and a heart submissive, even in its darkest midnight mood, to God's will, Cowper
enjoyed much; though as often as his attention reverted to that one point of his insanity, and became fixed upon it, all his sensibilities seemed transfixed and agonized there, and he could see and feel nothing but misery.
Nevertheless, the general tone of his correspondence, his life, and his writings, up to a very late period, was cheerful. "The Task," though written throughout beneath that intensely freezing vail of gloom which he describes, is yet a cheerful poem; neither joy nor frost is admitted in it to your sensibility or perception. A tender melancholy runs through it indeed; a pensiveness, deeply touching, and sometimes sad, but nothing of gloom. There is deep pathos, but yet a heavenly hope. Fountains of the purest happiness are opened up in it, of which you feel perfectly assured that the writer must himself have deeply tasted; and scenes of delight and of sweet, heart-felt enjoyment are presented, of which you know that the poet himself must have been a living part.
Indeed there is not a poem in the English language that carries deeper conviction, or bears more indisputable, irresistible evidence of having sprung, in every part, from the original experience of the author. It is he himself, his own thoughts, feelings, wishes, manners, habits, tastes, enjoyments, present with you, and you can not mistake him for a miserable man. He is indeed a man of trials;