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THE YEAR 1791.-FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN HAYLEY AND COWPER.HAYLEY'S VISIT TO WESTON, AND COWPER'S TO EARTHAM.—ILLNESS OF MRS. UNWIN.-ENGAGEMENT ON MILTON.
IN 1791 the interesting friendship between Hayley and Cowper commenced, with a frequent and affectionate correspondence by letter. Hayley then visited Cowper at Weston, and during the month of his visit, was enabled to calm and comfort his friend beneath the shock which the whole family sustained in an attack of paralysis with which Mrs. Unwin was most suddenly and unexpectedly afflicted. Electricity was found to be a successful remedy, and she gradually recovered, though very feeble still when Hayley left them. At this time Hayley was forty-seven years of age, Cowper sixty-one, and Mrs. Unwin nearly seventy. But from this period Cowper's mental malady seems to deepen and darken, while the intervals of relief and cheerfulness grow more infrequent and transient. His visit to Hayley at Eartham was a season of partial enjoyment, but Mrs. Unwin's in
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creasing illness was a cause of deep dejection and
of ceaseless care. The gloom and distress of Cowper's mind were sometimes insupportable. Despair seemed not only to have involved his heart, but threatened even a paralysis of his intellect. The dread delusion that his soul had been rejected of God still adhered to him, after his recovery from the attack in 1787, and his system was more than ever subject to nervous fever and disturbance. In his sleep he was racked with distressing dreams, and scared with visions, so that his nights were dreadful. "Distressed and full of despair, the day hardly ever comes in which I do not utter a wish that I had never been born. And the night is become so habitually a season of dread to me that I never lie down on my bed with comfort, and am in this respect a greater sufferer than Job, who, concerning his hours of rest, could hope at least, though he was disappointed; but in my case, to go to sleep is to throw myself into the mouth of my enemy."
In another letter he says, I wake almost constantly under the influence of a nervous fever, by which my spirits are affected to such a degree that the oppression is almost insupportable. Since I wrote last, I have been plunged in deeps unvisited, I am convinced, by any human soul but mine; and though the day in its progress bears away with it some part of this melancholy, I am
never cheerful, because I can never hope, and am so bounded in my prospects that to look forward to another year to me seems madness." Mrs. Unwin, too, was in a deplorable condition, which itself overtasked Cowper's sympathy and care. Her paralytic illnesses were gradually rendering her own mind gloomy and helpless, so that the combination of distresses in their condition was deplorably affecting. "Like myself," wrote Cowper, "she is dejected; dejected both on my account and on her own. Unable to amuse herself either with work or reading, she looks forward to a new day with despondence, weary of it before it begins, and longing for the return of night. Thus it is with us both. If I endeavor to pray, I get my answer in a double portion of misery. My petitions, therefore, are reduced to three words, and those not very often repeated, 'God have mercy." "
This situation was so gloomily and deplorably painful, that, as Cowper himself said, it seemed miraculous in his own eyes, that always occupied as he was in the contemplation of the most distressing subjects, he was not absolutely incapacitated for the common offices of life. "My purpose," said he, "is to continue such prayer as I can make, although with all this reason to conclude that it is not accepted, and though I have been more than once forbidden, in my own apprehension, by Him to whom it is addressed." At another time he
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says, "Neither waking nor sleeping have I any communications from God, but am perfectly a withered tree, fruitless and leafless. A consciousness that He exists, that once He favored me, but that I have offended to the forfeiture of all such mercies, is ever present with me; and of such thoughts consist the whole of my religious experiences."
Again, "I feel in the mean time every thing that denotes a man an outcast and a reprobate. I dream in the night that God has rejected me finally, and that all promises and all answers to prayers made for me are mere delusions. I wake under a strong and clear conviction that these communications are from God, and in the course of the day nothing occurs to invalidate that persuasion. As I have said before, there is a mystery in this matter that I am not able to explain. I believe myself the only instance of a man to whom God will promise every thing, and perform nothing." This impression was connected with a voice which he thought he heard in the year 1786, before the dreadful access of delirium in 1787, and which his diseased imagination interpreted as the voice of God, "I will promise you any thing."
Meanwhile, Cowper had undertaken the labor of a new edition of Milton with notes, the responsibility of which, the more clearly he saw the impossibility of accomplishing it, was as a dark
mountain before him. He was also laboriously at work in another revision of his translation of Homer; and his hours of labor were so imprudently arranged, that this alone must have been a great exasperating cause of his depression. Notwithstanding his miseries by night, and his sufferings on waking" I wake always," said he, "under a terrible impression of the wrath of God, and for the most part with words that fill me with alarm, and with the dread of woes to come”—notwithstanding this, he rose every morning at six, and worked incessantly and laboriously upon Homer till near eleven, before breakfasting! Some four hours of exhausting task-work, daily, in this cruel manner, so fatigued both body and mind as to render him utterly incapable of any other labor. This course was pursued at this time, in order that he might have the whole day, after Mrs. Unwin rose, to devote uninterrupted to the care of that dear invalid; but it was exhausting and depressing in the highest degree.
What he sometimes endured at night, as well as by day, may be judged from some of his letters. "From four this morning till after seven I lay meditating terrors, such terrors as no language can express, and as no heart, I am sure, but mine ever knew. My very finger-ends tingled with it, as indeed they often do. I then slept and dreamed a long dream, in which I argued with many tears