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SUFFERING WITH HOPE.
But the absence of God from the soul, and an eternal banishment from Him, could not be compatible with any joy or consolation from the thoughts that wander through eternity, at least was not in the case of Cowper. And it is worthy of notice that Milton himself has ascribed those lines to a slothful and ignoble devil, ever intent on making the worse appear the better reason, and has besides supposed the light of hope still shining, and the worst not known; so that this language was not the language of despair. The fallen spirit that counseled sloth, not peace, imagined still that happier days might wait them :
"Our Supreme Foe in time may much remit
Nor mind us, not offending, satisfied
With what is punished: whence these raging fires
Our purer essence then will overcome
Their noxious vapor; or inured, not feel;
Or changed at length, and to the place conformed
In temper and in nature, will receive
Familiar the fierce heat, and, void of pain,
This horror will grow mild, this darkness light:
Of future days may bring, what chance, what change
This, then, is the reasoning, not even of imaginary despair, but of hope; while Cowper's insanity was the adoption of what the feelings and the language of absolute despair would have been,
SUFFERING IN DESPAIR.
if real. Insanity itself is truer to nature than insensibility and unbelief; and insanity is preferable, in such an interest, to ignorance, presumption, and misrepresentation.
And whatever men may think or say as to the cause of Cowper's insanity, there is a most instructive lesson from its manifestation. It is a very solemn picture of the misery which may and must be consequent on the destruction of all hope in the eternal world. It can not be borne. The best constituted and the strongest mind can not endure it. If ever any man had a combination of faculties and feelings, of genius and affection, which could enable him to bear up under the pressure of sorrows, it was Cowper. He united in his own. heart and intellect a sensitive nervous susceptibility, both natural and spiritual, to the touches both of sorrow and joy, and a tender, compassionate concern for others' distresses, along with an elastic, buoyant spirit, a native power of humor, and an exquisite relish of true wit and drollery, that could seize the element of laughter, even amid care and pain, and for the moment forget every thing but the ludicrous. Naturally, he loved to look on the bright side, not the dark, and was not to be imposed upon by the exaggeration of difficulties.
Now in all common suffering, all suffering this side that world where there is no suffering which is
A WOUNDED SPIRIT.
not endless, these faculties, this happy constitution of mind and heart, would bear up a man through great conflicts, would support and encourage him. The spirit of such a man could sustain his infirmity; but take away hope, and a spirit so wounded, who can bear? No man, even in this life, can endure even the delusion of despair, the moment it approaches much resemblance to the reality. It is truly an infernal power, a power of madness, contradictory and chaotic, demonstrated by its hurrying even through self-murder, into the reality, beforehand. The very image is so terririble that it takes away the reason. And faith in Christ, humble, affectionate confidence in Him, is the only true keeper of the reason of a fallen man. The peace of God, that passeth all understanding, keeps both heart and mind in Christ Jesus, and that only can.
And here, we must remark, what has never been properly noted, the characteristic of Cowper's insanity, as only against himself, but gentle, kind, affectionate, and loving toward all others. The whole circle and combination of his intellectual powers were transfused with adoration and love toward the Redeemer, and charity toward all mankind. His were a mind and affections sanctified, a tender conscience in reference to himself, atender sympathy and forbearance toward others, entire freedom from bigotry, yet a most holy rever
SUPERNATURAL PHENOMENON. 353
ence toward God, an ardent love of the truth, and a jealousy for its purity, glory, and defense; every fruit, and all the graces of the Spirit, in their turn, excepting that of hope only. A most extraordinary nature, a most marvelous development, a manifestation of piety, and a growth of holiness, even in a frozen zone, such as earth has rarely, if ever witnessed; the growth of righteousness, even where the beams of the Sun of Righteousness were intercepted by a malignant eclipse, nearly life-long! A warm and open Polar Sea, and banks of tropical shrubbery and flowers upon its borders, amid surrounding ice-mountains, and beneath an atmosphere so freezing, that. whole ships' crews have been rigidly fastened to their decks in death, even in the work of exploration, would not be so supernatural a phenomenon. This is what God can do, but not man; grace, even denied and invisible, but not morality.
Moreover, there was never, in Cowper's insanity, any thing of the ordinary repulsive or terrible character of madness, nor any approximation thereto; never any malignity or fierceness toward others, but even in the uttermost sullenness of gloom, a timidity and meekness; a harmlessness, as divested of the power and the disposition of violence and passion, as a crushed rose-bud, or a daisy trodden under foot. Hence the singular impropriety and want of truth in that expression of
PORTRAITS OF COWPER.
Leigh Hunt in regard to Cowper's picture, that it developed "a fire fiercer than that either of intellect or fancy, gleaming from the raised and protruded eye." If that fierceness was in Romney's painting, it was wholly false to the original; for none of his dearest and most intimate friends ever saw it, or imagined it, in Cowper's own countenance; and it certainly never existed in his melancholy. The thing lay wholly in the imagination of the critic; for neither in the mind, nor looking out at the eye, was there ever any flashing of such a fire; only a pensive or suffering expression, but never a crazy, nor aggressive, nor glaring light. If such light were in the portrait, it would be a sure test of its untruth, and of the ambitious hand of a painter striking at a caricature; but it is entirely unlikely that Romney had any such intention or idea. Hayley regarded the portrait as one of the most faithful and masterly resemblances he ever beheld; and Cowper thought it strange that it should show no marks of his own habitual sorrow. Absurd, indeed, it was to speak of a fierce fire as gleaming from the eye; absurd to imagine any ground for such a representation in the character or habitual expression of the poet. Cowper's sonnet to the painter was composed in 1792.
Romney! expert infallibly to trace
On chart or canvas, not the form alone