« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
With strokes that time ought never to erase:
Since, on maturer thought, the cause is clear;
The absurdity of supposing that the painter had either detected or portrayed the fire of insanity in a face, the owner of which was in the perfect possession and exercise of the gentlest affections, and of a calm and reasoning mind, at the time when the portrait was taken, and had been for twenty years, with the exception of an interval of six months, is exceedingly great. The only interval of insanity from 1773 to 1792, the time when the portrait was taken, had been in the year 1787; and even in that attack there does not appear to have been any of the glaring of this unnatural fire, but simply the lowest depths of mental despondency and suffering. To suppose that the expression of such a transitory interval would predominate in Cowper's eye over the habitual character of twenty years of peacefulness and heavenly affection, would be contrary to all fact and reason; and it is the veriest affectation or frenzy of critical discernment to imagine such an expression on the canvas.
Mr. Grimshaw, indeed, says that there was an air of wildness in Romney's portrait of Cowper, expressive of a disordered mind, which the shock produced by the paralytic attack of Mrs. Unwin was rapidly impressing on his countenance. The portrait by Abbot was that of his customary and more placid features. Now since Abbot's portrait was taken more immediately after Mrs. Unwin's illness than Romney's, if Cowper's features had worn that air of wildness at all, it would most likely have been at that time; in fact, when Romney painted him, Mrs. Unwin had received so much benefit from the journey to Eartham, that Cowper was greatly comforted, and in the very letter in which he announced to Lady Hesketh the completion of Romney's picture, he says concerning himself, "I am, without the least dissimulation, in good health; my spirits are about as good as you have ever seen them; and if increase of appetite and a double portion of sleep be advantageous, such are the advantages that I have received from this migration. As to that gloominess of mind which I have had these twenty years, it cleaves to me even here, and, could I be translated to Paradise, unless I left my body behind me, would cleave to me even there also. It is my companion for life, and nothing will ever divorce
The wildness in Cowper's face at this time, if
Romney threw such an expression on the canvas, was purely fanciful, and Cowper himself would have detected and marked it sooner than any one, had there been the fierce fire of insanity glaring from the eye. But neither his friends nor himself saw any such expression, though all agreed it was the most exact resemblance possible.
In a letter written near this period to Mrs. Charlotte Smith the authoress, Cowper gives expression to a very beautiful and tender train of contemplations awakened in his pensive mind by one of her remarks to Hayley. "I was much struck," says he, "by an expression in your letter to Hayley, where you say that you will endeavor to take an interest in green leaves again. This seems the sound of my own voice reflected to me from a distance, I have so often had the same thought and desire. A day scarcely passes at this season of the year, when I do not contemplate the trees so soon to be stripped, and say, Perhaps I shall never see you clothed again. Every year as it passes makes this expectation more reasonable; and the year with me can not be very distant, when the event will verify it. Well! may God grant us a good hope of arriving in due time, where the leaves never fall, and all will be right !"
This was written in the autumn of 1792, and only one more Spring ever came, in which that
sensitive Christian poet, who had loved nature with such unaffected love, could ever again take his wonted interest in green leaves. The last years of his and Mrs. Unwin's life were like the ominous evolutions of a Greek tragedy, distinctly foreboded, and gloomily marching on with the decision of inexorable fate.
A year and more after the date of Romney's painting, Lawrence executed another portrait of Cowper, in which, if in either of the three, the indications of gloom and wildness must have been visible, if drawn from nature. For it was at this time, October, 1793, that Cowper was in the greatest distress between the pressure of his melancholy, the burden of engagements which he could not fulfill, and his anxiety of mind for poor Mrs. Unwin; yet in Lawrence's picture there was not the least trace of the imagined supernatural fire.
Early in November, Hayley paid him another visit, and it was the last in which Cowper's afflicted reason could enjoy a gleam of happiness. It was in reference to this visit that Hayley wrote his interesting description of the evils that seemed impending over the once cheerful household of his dear friend. "My fears for him in every point of view were alarmed by his present very singular condition. He possessed completely at this period all the admirable faculties of his mind, and all the
HAYLEY AT WESTON.
native tenderness of his heart; but there was something indescribable in his appearance which led me to apprehend that without some signal event in his favor, to reanimate his spirits, they would gradually sink into hopeless dejection. The state of his aged, infirm companion, afforded additional ground for increasing solicitude. Her cheerful and beneficent spirit could hardly resist her own accumulated maladies, so far as to preserve ability sufficient to watch over the tender health of him whom she had watched and guarded so long."
Only two months afterward, in 1794, Cowper wrote to his dear friend Rose, saying, "I have just ability enough to transcribe, which is all that I have to do at present; God knows that I write at this moment under the pressure of sadness not to be described." In the course of two months more, Hayley was informed by a letter from Mr. Greatheed of the deplorable condition of Cowper beneath such an increase of his gloom, as almost to deprive him of the use of every faculty, threatening indeed a speedy close of life. This letter was dated April 8th, 1794, and Hayley immediately on the receipt of it hastened to Weston; but his dear friend was so profoundly overwhelmed and oppressed beneath the anxiety and despair produced by the physical and mental malady, that he took no welcome notice of his coming, nor at any time