Изображения страниц


Pressing invitations of his friends to write a poem on the Slave Trade —

Reasons for declining it - Correspondence with Mrs. King — Par-.
ticular description of his feelings — Death of Sir Ashley Cowper -
Description of his character — Great severity of Cowper's depres-
sion — Is again urged to write on the Slave Trade - Again declines
it-Assigns particular reasons for it — His indefatigable application
to Homer— Notice he took of passing events — Mr. and Mrs. New-
ton's visit to Weston — The pleasure it afforded Cowper - Lady
Hesketh's visit — Completion of the Iliad, and commencement of
the Odyssey — His unwearied application to Homer not allowed
to divert his attention from religion - Occasional composition of
original poetry – Readiness to listen to any alteration that might
be suggested in his productions.

MANY of Cowper's friends were anxious to have him employ his admirable powers in a poem on the abolition of slavery, and Lady Hesketh wrote him several pressing invitations on the subject; to which he gave the following reply. “ I have now three letters of yours, my dearest cousin, before me, all written in the space of a week, and must be, indeed, insensible of kindness, did I not feel yours on this occasion. I cannot describe to you, neither could you comprehend it if I could, the manner in which my mind is sometimes impressed with melancholy on particular subjects. Your late silence was such a subject. I heard, saw, and felt, a thousand terrible things, which had no real existence, and was haunted by them night and day, till they at last extorted from me that doleful epistle, which

I have since wished had been burnt before I sent it. But the cloud has passed, and, as far as you are concerned, my heart is once more at rest. Before you gave me the hint contained in your last, letters, I had once or twice, as I lay on my bed, watching the break of day, ruminated on the subject which you kindly recommended to me. Slavery, or a release from slavery, such as the poor negroes have endured, or perhaps both these topics together, appeared to me a theme so important at the present juncture, and at the same time so susceptible of practical management, that I more than once perceived myself ready to start in that cause, could I have allowed myself to desert Homer for so long a time as it would have cost me to do them justice. While I was pondering these things, the public prints informed me that Miss More was on the point of publication, having actually finished what I had not began. The sight of her advertisement convinced me that my best course would be that to which I felt myself most inclined; to persevere without turning aside to attend to any other call, however alluring, in the business I have in hand. It occurred to me likewise, that I have lately borne my testimony in favour of my black brethren, and that I was one of the earliest, if not the first, of those who have, in the present day, expressed their detestation of the diabolical trade in question. On all these accounts I judged it best to be silent. I shall be glad to see Hannah More's poem; she is a favourite writer with me, and has more nerve and energy, both in her thoughts and language, than half the rhymers in the kingdom.”

It will be seen by the last extract made from Cowper's letters to Mr. Newton, that he had now commenced a correspondence with Mrs. King, and as his letters to that lady are highly interesting, we shall make such use of them as will be descriptive of the state of his mind at that

period. “A letter from a lady who was once intimate with my brother, could not fail of being most acceptable to me. I lost him just at a moment when those truths which have recommended my volumes to your approbation, were become his daily sustenance, as they had long been mine. But the will of God was done. I have sometimes thought that had his life been spared, being made brothers by a stricter tie than ever, in the bonds of the same faith, hope, and love, we should have been happier in each other than it was in the power of mere natural affection to make us. But it was his blessing to be taken from a world in which he had no longer any wish to continue; and it will be mine, if, while I live in it, my time may not be altogether wasted : in order to effect that good end, I wrote what I am happy to find has given you pleasure to read. But for that pleasure, Madam, you are indebted neither to me nor to my muse ; but (as you are well aware) to Him who alone can make divine truths palatable, in whatever vehicle conveyed. It is an established philosophical axiom, that nothing can communicate what it has not in itself; but in the effects of christian communion, a very strong exception is found to this general rule, however self-evident it may seem. A man, himself destitute of all spiritual consolation, may by occasion, impart it to others. Thus I, it seems, who wrote those very poems, to amuse a mind oppressed with melancholy, and who have myself derived from them no other benefit, (for mere success in authorship will do me no good,) have nevertheless, by so doing, comforted others, at the same time that they administer to me no consolation. But I will proceed no further in this strain, lest my prose should damp a pleasure that my verse has happily excited. On the contrary, I will endeavour to rejoice in your joy, and especially, because I have myself been the instrument of conveying it.”

I owe you many acknowledgments, dear Madam, for that unreserved communication both of your history and of your sentiments, with which you honoured me in your last, it gives me great pleasure to learn that you are so happily circumstanced, both in respect of situation and frame of mind. With your view of religious subjects, you could not indeed, speaking properly, be pronounced unhappy in any circumstances; but to have received from above, not only that faith which reconciles the heart to affliction, but many, outward comforts also, and especially that greatest of all earthly comforts, a comfortable home, is happiness indeed. May you long enjoy it! As to health or sickness, you have learned already their true value, and know well that the former is no blessing, unless it be sanctified, and that the latter is one of the greatest we can receive, when we are enabled to make a proper use of it.”

The melancholy that I have mentioned to you, and concerning which you are so kind as to inquire, is of a kind, so far as I know, peculiar to myself. It does not at all affect the operations of my mind, on any subject to which I can attach it, whether serious or ludicrous, or whatever it may be, for which reason I am almost always employed either in reading or writing, when I am not engaged in conversation. A vacant hour is my abhorrence; because, when I am not occupied, I suffer under the whole influence of my unhappy temperament. I thank you for your recommendation of a medicine from which you have derived benefit yourself; but there is hardly anything that I have not proved, however beneficial it may have been found to others, in my own case, utterly useless. I have, therefore, long since bid adieu to all hope from human means—the means excepted of perpetual employment. I will not say that we shall never meet, because it is not for a creature, who knows not what will be to-morrow, to assert anything positively concerning the future. Things more unlikely I have seen come to pass ; and things which, if I had expressed myself on them at all, I should have said were impossible. But, being respectively circumstanced as we are, there seems no present probability of it. You speak of insuperable hindrances, and I also have hindrances that would be equally difficult to surmount. One is, that I never ride; that I am not able to perform so long a journey on foot ; and that chaises do not roll within the sphere of that economy which my circumstances oblige me to observe. If this were not of itself a sufficient excuse, when I decline so obliging an invitation as yours, I could mention yet other obstacles. But to what end? One impracticability makes as effectual a barrier as a thousand : it will be otherwise in other worlds : either we shall not bear about us a body, or it will be more easily transportable than this. The world in which we live is indeed, as you say, a foolish world, and is likely to continue such, till the Great Teacher himself shall vouchsafe to make it wiser. I am persuaded that time alone will never mend it. But there is doubtless a day appointed when there will be a more general manifestation of the beauty of holiness, than mankind have ever yet beheld. When that period shall arrive, there will be an end of profane representations, whether of heaven or hell, on the stage, of which you complain—the great realities of religion will supersede them.”

“ You must think me a tardy correspondent, unless you have charity enough to suppose that I have met with other hindrances than those of indolence and inattention. With these I cannot charge myself, for I am never idle by choice; and inattentive to you I certainly have not been. My silence has been occasioned by a malady to which I have all my life been subject-an inflammation of the

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »