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LETTERS TO NEWTON.
This was to Newton, in 1788, just after Cowper had enjoyed a visit from that dear and experienced friend, who knew his sorrows better than any other man living. Cowper had found those comforts, which had formerly sweetened all their interviews, in part restored. He knew him, he said, for the same shepherd who was sent to lead him out of the wilderness into the pasture where the chief Shepherd feeds His flock, and felt his sentiments of affectionate friendship for him the same as ever. But one thing, he said, was wanting, and that thing the crown of all; referring to a personal assurance, of redemption in Christ. "I shall find it in God's time, if it be not lost forever. When I say this, I say it trembling; for at what time soever comfort shall come, it will not come without its attendant evil."
Two years later, in October, 1790, in a very beautiful letter to the same dear friend, Cowper speaks of the sense one has, in a rural situation, of the rapidity with which time flies. The showers of Autumn leaves were falling from the trees around him, and reminded him of the shortness of his existence here. There was a time, he says, when he thought of this with pleasure, and even "numbered the seasons as they passed in swift rotation, as a school-boy numbers the days that interpose between the next vacation, when he shall see his parents and enjoy his home." But
LETTERS TO NEWTON.
under the long continuance and deepening of his religious gloom, the absence of all hope, and the prevalence of the imaginary assurance that he was to be banished from God forever, had made him look upon the shortness and the close of life with regret, though the consideration was once so grateful to him. He says he had become such another wretch as Mæcenas was, who wished for long life, he cared not at what expense of sufferings.
"The only consolation left me on this subject is, that the voice of the Almighty can in one moment cure me of this mental infirmity. That He can, I know by experience; and there are reasons for which I ought to believe that He will. But from hope to despair is a transition that I have made so often that I can only consider the hope that may come, and that sometimes I believe will, as a short prelude of joy to a miserable conclusion of sorrow that shall never end. Thus are my brightest prospects clouded, and thus to me is hope itself become like a withered flower that has lost both its hue and its fragrance."
The language and the imagery in these extracts are very affecting; yet the whole passages are proofs of what we have intimated, that Cowper's despair was not at any time absolute, but in general a singular and trembling mixture of fear and hope, so that he could seriously and soberly speak of the gloom as a mental infirmity, which God
LETTERS TO NEWTON.
could dissipate, and of the idea of his certain perdition as a notion, which the Redeemer could dispossess from his mind at any moment. If his hope was like a withered flower, still he kept it as one treasures up a flower given by a very dear friend between the leaves of a very precious book, and though the flower is dry, yet the heart that loves the giver is not, but retains the same affection and esteem as ever. For even so did Cowper love and adore an unseen Saviour, and this delightful fact was sometimes singularly asserted in his dreams, when he would not have admitted it in his hours of wakeful despondency; as in that instance to which we shall have occasion to refer, when he found himself exclaiming, "I love Thee, even now, more than many who see Thee daily!"
In connection with these letters to Newton in regard to his visit, how beautiful are the stanzas of poetry in which Cowper had sent him an invitation in the Spring. The piece closes with these three verses:
Old Winter, halting o'er the mead,
Bids me and Mary mourn;
Then April, with her sister May,
LETTERS TO NEWTON.
And if a tear that speaks regret
A glimpse of joy that we have met
These letters are still more striking, from the fact that even while writing them, Cowper was in the enjoyment of good health, and at the date of the last more than usually happy and cheerful in the family circle, Lady Hesketh being at that time a member of it. Cowper apologizes for the "dismal strain" in which he has written, and then says: "Adieu, my dear friend. We are well; and notwithstanding all that I have said, I am myself as cheerful as usual. Lady Hesketh is here, and in her company even I, except now and then for a moment, forget my sorrows."
Certainly it can not be the gloom of despair, when the presence of a beloved friend can so effectually dispel the sorrow as to make it forgotten for days together, except now and then for a moment. Cowper had acquired, in the long comparative loneliness of his state, the habit of brooding over his gloom, and if a cheerful, affectionate, and happy spirit like Lady Hesketh's could always have been with him, and especially, to separate him from the charge of a perpetual anxious watchfulness over the declining health and faculties of his dear Mary, the result would have been very different. His mind and heart were in no condition to endure
"the dreadful post of observation darkening every hour;" and it was a terrible complication of inward gloom and images of despair, with such a reality of external distress answering to them, when the deplorable condition of his dearest friend came to be the subject of incessant care and contemplation.