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Again, the record of Christian experience in a letter to the Rev. Mr. Hurdis, in 1793, is not consistent with the entire absence of hope, but intimates both the possession of a personal faith in the Lord Jesus, and the experience of deep gratitude for the privilege of being permitted to exercise it. Cowper is speaking of the effect of adversity. "Your candid account," says he, "of the effect that your afflictions have, both on your spirits and temper, I can perfectly understand, having labored much in that fire myself, and perhaps more than any other man. It is in such a school, however, that we must learn, if we ever truly learn it, the natural depravity of the human heart, and of our own in particular, together with the consequence that necessarily follows such wretched premises; our indispensable need of the atonement, and our inexpressible obligations to Him who made it. This reflection can not escape a thinking mind, looking back to those ebullitions of fretfulness and impatience to which it has yielded in a season of great affliction."
Our inexpressible obligations. It is clear that Cowper felt them personally; but how could this have been, had he really and truly believed himself shut out, by a solitary and anomalous decree, from the eternal benefit of the atonement? Here, then, an unacknowledged, and almost unconscious, yet imperishable hope, contradicted the logic of
366 LIFE IN A VINEGAR BOTTLE.
his despair, as profoundly as his despair itself contradicted the assurances of Scripture and of
"Every proof of attention to a man who lives in a vinegar bottle," said Cowper to his friend Mr. Unwin, "is welcome from his friends on the outside of it." Even in this vinegar bottle, Cowper could make merry with the surrounding world, as seen through the prism of his own melancholy. He told Mr. Unwin, in this same letter, that he forgave Dr. Johnson all the trivial and superstitious dotage in his diary, for the sake of one piece of instruction, namely, never to banish hope entirely, because it is the cordial of life, although it be the greatest flatterer in the world. He adds, in regard to his own case, "such a measure of hope as may not endanger my peace by a disappointment, I would wish to cherish upon every subject in which I am interested. A cure, however, and the only one, for all the irregularities of hope and fear, is found in submission to the will of God. Happy they that have it.”
He told Newton, during that same year, 1785, that within eight months he had had his hopes, though they had been of short duration, and cut off like the foam upon the waters. "Some previous adjustments, indeed, are necessary, before a lasting expectation of comfort can have place in me. There are persuasions in my mind, which either entirely
LETTERS TO NEWTON.
forbid the entrance of hope, or, if it enter, immediately eject it. They are incompatible with any such inmate, and must be turned out themselves, before so desirable a guest can possibly have secure possession. This, you say, will be done. It may be, but it is not done yet, nor has a single step in the course of God's dealings with me been taken toward it. If I mend, no creature ever mended so slowly that recovered at last. I am like a slug, or snail, that has fallen into a deep well; slug as he is, he performs his descent with an alacrity proportioned to his weight; but he does not crawl up again quite so fast. Mine was a rapid plunge, but my return to daylight, if I am indeed returning, is leisurely enough."
Cowper then beautifully refers to the value which he set upon Newton's letters, and to the circumstances under which the two friends first knew each other. "Your connection with me was the work of God. The kine that went up with the ark from Bethshemesh left what they loved behind them, in obedience to an impression which to them was perfectly dark and unintelligible. Your journey to Huntingdon was not less wonderful. He, indeed, who sent you, knew well wherefore, but you knew not." He then speaks of his own change under the gloom that had afflicted him, and of the constant affection of his friends. “I can say nothing of myself at present; but this
I can venture to foretell, that should the restoration, of which my friends assure me, obtain, I shall undoubtedly love those who have continued to love me, even in a state of transition from my former self, much more than ever. I doubt not that Nebuchadnezzar had friends in his prosperity; all kings have many. But when his nails became like eagles' claws, and he ate grass like an ox, I suppose he had few to pity him."
In one of his letters to Mr. Rose, in 1783, Cowper apologized at the close of it for the sermonizing strain in which he said he had written it. But he added, "I always follow the leading of my unconstrained thoughts when I write to a friend, be they grave or otherwise." At the beginning of this letter, Cowper excused himself for not answering Mr. Rose's epistle sooner, and told him that an unanswered letter troubled his conscience in some degree like a crime, and that he approached him once more in the correspondence not altogether despairing of forgiveness. If this letter had been written to Newton instead of Mr. Rose, Southey would probably have taken the opportunity to renew his insinuation that Cowper was always sermonizing to Newton, and went to his correspondence with him as unwillingly as if were going to confession. This letter to Mr. Rose is a complete answer to so dishonorable an imputation. Cowper never wrote, never would write, under constraint,
much less would he sermonize to please others, when his heart did not dictate the strain of remark. His correspondence with Newton is as free and familiar as with any of his friends, and it was always unaffectedly and delightfully easy with them all.
One of his letters to Newton beautifully describes the insupportable irksomeness of a state of confinement or restraint. Other letters equally manifest his independence and frankness, and the indignation with which he could repel a false accusation. “I could not endure the room in which I now write," says he, "were I conscious that the door were locked. In less than five minutes I should feel myself a prisoner, though I can spend hours in it, under an assurance that I may leave it when I please, without experiencing any tedium at all. It was for this reason, I suppose, that the yacht was always disagreeable to me. I make little doubt but Noah was glad when he was enlarged from the ark; and we are sure that Jonah was when he came out of the fish; and so was I to escape from the good sloop Harriet."
All the efforts of Cowper's original genius were spontaneous efforts, and even the translation of Homer was a great work, into which he fell as by accident, while pursuing a mere experiment, and afterward continued it to the end, as a ship by stress of weather must sometimes run before the