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The remarks of Mr. Hayley, in his admirable life of the poet, page 144, vol. 1, are, we think, liable to some objection. He says — "So fearfully and wonderfully are we made, that man in all conditions ought, perhaps, to pray that he never may be led to think of his Creator and of his Redeemer, either too little or too much, since human misery is often seen to arise equally, from an utter neglect of all spiritual concerns, and from a wild extravagance of devotion." It is surely needless to observe, that the devotion of Cowper was as much unlike what could, with any degree of propriety, be termed wild or extravagant, as can well be imagined. To what description of devotion Mr. Hayley would apply these epithets we cannot tell, but surely not to that which is scripturally evangelical, which was eminently the character of Cowper's, and which is of a nature so heavenly and spiritual, so perfectly adapted to the circumstances of mankind, and withal so soothing and consoling, that it can never be carried to excess. The more powerfully its influence is felt upon the mind, the more extensive must be the enjoyment it produces, unless when it pleases God, as in the case of Cowper, to disorganize the mental powers, and thereby unfit it for the reception of that comfort which it would otherwise experience. Mental disorganization may undoubtedly arise from an almost infinite variety of causes, many of which, as in the poet's case, must for ever elude our search, though they are all under the control of that God who is the giver of life and its preserver. Real religion, however, which consists in a cordial reception of the truth in the heart, can never produce it in the remotest degree: evangelical devotion cannot be too intense, nor can we know too much of our Creator and Redeemer. Contemplating the Divine Being apart from the gospel of Christ, or through the distorting medium of our own fancies, may possibly, in some cases, produce depression; viewing him as he is presented to our minds in the scriptures, in all the plenitude of his goodness and benevolence, is sure to be productive of consequences directly opposite. Instead of there being any danger likely to arise from having our thoughts too much employed upon the character of God, we think a scripturally comprehensive view of his perfections the best possible preservative from despair. To represent an excess of devotion as the cause of Cowper's malady, in however slight a degree, is obviously opposed to every consistent view of religion, and is assigning that for its cause which was infinitely more likely to become its only effectual cure. The melancholy condition to which Cowper was now reduced, afforded Mrs. Unwin an opportunity of proving the warmth of her affection for, and the sincerity of her attachment to, the dejected poet. He now required to be watched with the greatest care, vigilance, and perseverance; and it pleased God to endow her with all that tenderness, fortitude, and firmness of mind, which were requisite for the proper discharge of duties so important. Her incessant care over him, during the long fit of his depressive malady, could only be equalled by the pleasure she experienced on seeing his pure and powerful mind gradually emerge from that awful state of darkness in which it had been enveloped, into the clear sunshine of liberty and peace: she hailed his approach to convalescence, slowly as it advanced, with the mingled emotions of gratitude and praise. Cowper, throughout the whole of this severe attack, was inaccessible to all, except his friend Mr. Newton, who, during the whole of its continuance, watched over him with the greatest tenderness, and was indefatigable in his efforts to administer consolation to his depressed spi
rit. He once entertained him fourteen months at the vicarage, and, with untired perseverance, labored incessantly to dissipate the dark cloud that had gathered over his mind; but to every consolatory suggestion he was utterly deaf, concluding that God had rejected him, and that, consequently, it was sinful for him even to wish for mercy. How awful are the effects of mental disorganization! how easily does it convert that into poison which was designed for solid food! how highly ought we to prize, and how thankful ought we to be, for the uninterrupted enjoyment of our mental powers!After enduring an accumulation of anguish, almost inconceivable, for the long space of five years, unalleviated by a single glimpse of comfort, the interesting sufferer began at length gradually to recover. He listened to the advice of Mrs. Unwin, and allowed her, occasionally at least, to divert his mind from those melancholy considerations by which he had so long been burdened. It now occurred to Mrs. Unwin that he might probably find it beneficial to be employed in some amusing occupation. She suggested this to some of her neighbors, who all deplored the poet's case, felt a lively interest in his welfare, and would gladly have done any thing in their power, that was the least likely to mitigate his distress. The children of one of his neighbors had recently given them, for a plaything, a young leveret; it was at that time about three months old. Understanding better how to teaze the poor creature, than to feed it, and soon becoming weary of their charge, they readily consented that their father, who saw it pining, and growing leaner every day, should offer it to Cowper's acceptance. Beginning then to be glad of anything that would engage his attention without fatiguing it, he was willing enough to take the prisoner under his protection, perceiving that, in the management of such an animal, and in the attempt to tame it, he should find just that sort of employment which his case required. It was soon known among his neighbors that he was pleased with the present; and the consequence was, that in a short time, he had as many leverets offered him, as would have stocked a paddock. He undertook the care of three, which he named Puss, Tiney, and Bess. The choice of their food, and the diversity of their dispositions, afforded him considerable amusement, and their occasional diseases excited his sympathy and tenderness. One remained with him during the whole of his abode at Olney, and was afterwards celebrated in his unrivalled poem, the Task; and, at its decease, honoured with a beautiful epitaph from his pen; another lived with him nearly nine years; but the third did not long survive the restraints of its confined situation. An admirably written narrative of these animals, from his own pen, was inserted in the Gentleman's Magazine of that day, which has since been published at the end of almost every edition of his works. For a considerable period, Cowper's only companions were Mrs. Unwin, Mr. and Mrs. Newton, and his three hares. About this time, it pleased God to remove Mr. Newton, to another scene of labor. Deeply interested in the welfare of his afflicted friend, and aware of his aversion to the visits of strangers, Mr. Newton thought it advisable, before he left Olney, to introduce to his interesting but most afflicted friend, the Rev. Mr. Bull, of Newport Pagnel. After some difficulty, Mr. Newton triumphed over Cowper's extreme reluctance to see strangers, and Mr. Bull visited him regularly once a fortnight, and gradually acquired his cordial and confidential esteem. Of this gentleman, Cowper, in one of his letters, gives the following playful and amusing description: — "You are not acquainted with the Rev. Mr. Bull, of Newport —
perhaps it is as well for you that you are not. You would regret still more than you do, that there are so many miles interposed between us. He spends part of the day with us to-morrow. A dissenter, but a liberal one; a man of letters and of genius; master of a fine imagination, or rather not master of it; an imagination which, when he finds himself in the company he loves, and can confide in, runs away with him into such fields of speculation, as amuse and enliven every other imagination that has the happiness to be of the party. At other times, he has a tender and delicatesort of melancholy in his disposition, not less agreeable in its way. No men are better qualified for companions in such a world as this, than men of such a temperament. Every scene of life has two sides, a dark and a bright one; and the mind that has an equal mixture of melancholy and vivacity, is best of all qualified for the contemplation of either. He can be lively without levity, and pensive without dejection. Such a man is Mr. Bull: but—he smokes tobacco—nothing is perfect."
Mr. Bull, who probably regarded the want of some regular employment as one of the predisposing causes of Cowper's illness, prevailed upon him to translate several spiritual songs, from the poetry of Madame de la Mothe Guyon, the friend of the mild and amiable Fenelon. The devotion of these songs is not of that purely unexceptionable character which might be wished; and if devotional excitement had been the cause of Cowper's malady; no recommendation could have been more injudicious. The result, however, was beneficial to the poet, instead of being injurious, proving irresistibly that devotion had a soothing, rather than an irritating effect upon his mind. Much as Cowper admired these songs, for that rich vein of pure and exalted devotion, which runs through the whole of them, he was not insensible to their defects, as will