« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
LAW STUDIES IN
some anxious deliberation, which such a step must have cost him, the profession of the law was fixed upon as the path of his future life, and he was articled with Mr. Chapman, an attorney, for three years. It was a choice most unsuited to his mental constitution, and his tastes and habits; and had it not been so, the poetical development of his genius must have been prevented by the absorption of his whole being in legal studies and pursuits. A genuine poet would have been sacrificed for the very common growth of an indifferent lawyer; for by no possibility could Cowper have ever risen to eminence in that profession: at the uttermost he would but amiably have adorned the gift of some friendly professional sinecure.
In the attorney's office, Cowper had for a fellowclerk the celebrated Thurlow, afterward lord-chancellor. At a later period, Cowper wrote to Lady Hesketh in reference to the tenor of his life in that three years' probation of it, that he and Thurlow were employed "from morning till night in giggling and making giggle," instead of studying law. In his own memoir of himself he says that he might have lived and died without seeing or hearing any thing that might remind him of one single Christian duty, had it not been that he was at liberty to spend his leisure time (which, he says, was well-nigh all my time) at his aunt's in Southampton Row. "By this means I had opportunity
of seeing the inside of a church, whither I went with the family on Sundays, and which, probably, I should otherwise never have seen."
Cowper was twenty-one years of age when he left the attorney's office, and took rooms in the Middle Temple to continue his studies, in a manner, as he says, complete master of himself. And here commences the profoundly interesting and instructive account by himself of the development of his own character, and the change of his own being from carelessness to despondency, and from despondency to despair, madness, and attempted suicide; from suicide, frustrated by the providential mercy of God, he advanced to the deepest conviction of guilt, with an apprehension of the Divine vengeance, carried for months almost to the extreme of despair; from that time he was brought, by the wonderful grace of God, to a simple, humble faith in the Lord Jesus, a clear, joyful, experimental understanding and appreciation of the conditions of salvation through his blood, and a profound peace and happiness in believing.
At his residence in the Temple began the first experience of that terrible despondency of soul, which at length grew into an enshrouding mental and physical disease, broken only by the grave. Day and night he describes himself under this dejection of spirits, as being upon the rack, lying down in horror, and rising up in despair. He lost
GLOOM AND GAYETY.
all relish even for his classical studies; and singularly enough, the only book in which he took any delight was a volume of Herbert's poems, which he then first met with, and pored over him all day long. After nearly a year spent in this wretched disquietude, without any relief, he at length betook himself to prayer, that is, he composed what he calls a set of prayers, and made frequent use of them. About the same time, spending several months with friends at Southampton, the cloud of insupportable gloom was very suddenly and unexpectedly removed from his soul while gazing at the lovely scenery. The deliverance thus experienced, which at first he ascribed to God's merciful answer to his prayers, he soon concluded to have been owing to nothing but a change of season and the amusing varieties of the place; and he consequently argued that nothing but a continued circle of diversions and indulgence of appetite could secure him from a relapse. Acting on this principle, as soon as he returned to London he burned his prayers, and he says that inasmuch as they had been a mere prepared form, away with them went all his thoughts of devotion and of dependence upon God his Saviour.
Twelve years were spent in this manner, with companions and associates who, like himself, were (in his own description) professed Christians, or else professed infidels, in what Cowper calls an
GLOOM AND GAYETY.
uninterrupted course of sinful indulgence. It is not necessary to exaggerate the meaning of this expression to all the intensity it would bear; on the contrary, this would be false and unjust. To the awakened conscience and the smitten heart, beneath the sense of God's holiness, the uninterrupted pursuit of worldly enjoyment, though in the most moral style, without grossness, and in the best possible taste and dignity, would appear in reality an uninterrupted course of sinful indulgence. There may be the supreme worship of self, and a heart wholly unchanged by grace, even in connection with the most irreproachable morality. We suppose that Cowper's life was, briefly, that of a gay, careless man, a man of the world; and he declares that he obtained at length so complete a victory over his conscience that all remonstrances from that quarter were vain, and in a manner silenced. Yet, in the company of deists, when he heard the Gospel blasphemed, he never failed to assert the truth of it with much vehemence, and was sometimes employed, when half intoxicated, in vindicating the truth of Scripture. A deistical friend, on one such occasion, answered his arguments by declaring that if what he said was true then he was certainly damned by his own showing and choosing.
In 1754, at the age of twenty-three, with such habits begun, he was admitted to the bar, and in
RESIDENCE IN THE TEMPLE.
1756 suffered the loss of his father; an affliction of which he does not once speak in his memoirs of himself, nor, singularly enough, do we ever find him adverting to it in any of his letters, save only on one occasion, in a letter to his friend Mr. Rose, in 1787. 66 'A sensible mind can not do violence even to a local attachment, without much pain. When my father died, I was young, too young to have reflected much. He was rector of Berkhamstead, and there I was born. It had never occurred to me that a parson has no fee-simple in the house and glebe he occupies. There was neither tree, nor gate, nor stile, in all that country, to which I did not feel a relation, and the house itself I preferred to a palace. I was sent for from London to attend him in his last illness, and he died just before I arrived. Then, and not till then, I felt for the first time that I and my native place were disunited forever. I sighed a long adieu to fields and woods, from which I once thought I should never be parted, and was at no time so sensible of their beauties as just when I left them all behind me, to return no more."
Three years afterward he removed to the Inner Temple, and at the age of twenty-eight was made Commissioner of Bankrupts. He was at this time strongly attached to one of his cousins, a most intelligent, interesting, and lovely person, Miss Theodora Cowper, whom he would have married, for