Изображения страниц



Now the great superiority of this exquisite effusion over all the previous productions of Cowper, can be traced to but just one cause, the regeneration of his being by the grace of his Redeemer, and the baptism of all his faculties in the light of life. And before we pursue the deepening of his mental gloom till finally the sun of his existence itself went down in darkness, we wish to note the infinite difference, upon the mind as well as heart, between the effect of a troubled and despairing state of the conscience, and that of a mere simple destitution of hope, under a hallucination such as Cowper was afflicted with; the imagination, not that God was angry with him, nor that his sins had not been forgiven, nor that his heart was in rebellion against God, but that God, from some inexplicable necessity in His own attributes, had banished him

forever from his presence. Cowper's conscience was not distressed, but was at peace, and could not be otherwise, for his heart was profoundly submissive to God's will. And passing strange it was that these two things could exist together, love and despair, submission and the belief of being sentenced to eternal perdition; yet they did, and Cowper exhibited the marvelous phenomenon of a soul enriched with all pious feeling, and exhibiting the results of it in the most exquisite productions of sanctified genius, yet seemingly in the darkness of such despair. But if that despair had been the



fire of an angry conscience, the only exercise of his genius would have been the repetition of those awful strains of

Hatred and vengeance, my eternal portion!

The torture and despair of an angry conscience are realities that no social pleasantry can relieve, nor wit nor affection of sympathizing friends diminish. Nor could any of Cowper's literary occupations have procured him any intervals of forgetfulness or peace, if the cause of his suffering had been a conscience at war against himself, and a heart against his Maker. But with " the heart sprinkled from an evil conscience," and in humble submission to the will of God, even the delusions of insanity sometimes passed before him as a dream, and he could enjoy existence in spite of them.



THE tenderest, most affectionate, and pathetic of Cowper's poems were among the last; as he grew older his heart seemed to grow younger, notwithstanding the weary melancholy that oppressed him. It was not till 1790 that he received the gift of his mother's picture from his cousin Mrs. Bodham, and the letter in which he acknowledged it, is one of the sweetest he ever wrote, as the poem in reference to it was one of the most exquisite expressions of his genius.

"My dearest Rose, whom I thought withered and fallen from the stalk, but whom I find still alive nothing could give me greater pleasure than to know it, and to learn it from yourself. I loved you dearly when you were a child, and love you not a jot the less for having ceased to be so. Every creature that bears any affinity to my mother is dear to me, and you, the daughter of her brother,



are but one remove distant from her; I love you, therefore, and love you much, both for her sake and for your own. The world could not have furnished you with a present so acceptable to me as the picture which you have so kindly sent me. I received it the night before last, and viewed it with a trepidation of nerves and spirits somewhat akin to what I should have felt, had the dear original presented herself to my embraces. I kissed it, and hung it where it is the last object that I see at night, and of course the first on which my eyes open in the morning. She died when I had completed my sixth year, yet I remember her well, and am an ocular witness of the great fidelity of the copy. I remember, too, a multitude of the maternal tendernesses which I received from her, and which have endeared her memory to me beyond expression. There is in me, I believe, more of the Donne than of the Cowper, and though I love all of both names, and have a thousand reasons to love those of my own name, yet I feel the bond of nature draws me vehemently to your side. I was thought, in the days of my childhood, much to resemble my mother, and in my natural temper, of which, at the age of fifty-eight, I must be supposed a competent judge, can trace both her and my late Somewhat of his irritability,

uncle, your father.

and a little, I would hope, both of his and of her


(I know not what to call it, without seeming to praise myself, which is not my intention, but in speaking to you, I will even speak out, and say) good nature. Add to all this, I deal much in poetry, as did our venerable ancestor, the dean of St. Paul's, and I think I shall have proved myself a Donne at all points. The truth is, that whatever I am, I love you all,"

Cowper wrote also to Mrs. King a few days after the letter to his cousin, referring to the same picture of his mother, and saying: "I remember her perfectly, find the picture a strong likeness of her, and because her memory has been ever precious to me, have written a poem on the receipt of it; a poem which, one excepted, I had more pleasure in writing than any that I ever wrote. That one was addressed to a lady whom I expect in a few minutes to come down to breakfast, and who has supplied to me the place of my own mother-my own invaluable mother-these sixand-twenty years. Some sons may be said to have had many fathers, but a plurality of mothers is not common."

This latter poem (the Sonnet to Mrs. Unwin), and the lines on his mother's picture, may be perused together; but only Cowper could understand what himself alone had experienced, the

* Dr. John Donne, the celebrated divine and poet, born 1573, died 1631.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »