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without study, and engross, perhaps, a larger share of the attention than the subject itself. Persons fond of music will sometimes find pleasure in the tune, when the words afford them none. There are, however, subjects that do not always terrify me by their importance; sach, I mean, as relate to Christian life and manners; and when such a one presents itself, and finds me in a frame of mind that does not absolutely forbid the employment, I shall most readily give it my attention, for the sake, however, of your request merely. Verse is my favourite occupation, and what I compose in that way, I reserve for my own use hereafter.'
One feature of Cowper's complaint, and one medium of suffering to him as to almost all patients labouring under nervous disorder, was dreams. He alludes, in the above letter, to the salutary influence on his spirits of unbroken slumbers. In another letter, he says: I have been lately more dejected • and more distressed than usual; more harassed by dreams • in the night, and more deeply poisoned by them in the • following day.' There are many persons not labouring under any alienation of reason, who will feelingly understand this language. Poor Bloomfield used to complain of the unutterable horror of his dreams, dreams reiterated night after night, from which he awoke more exhausted than when he retired to rest, and the dread of which would pursue him through the day. The letter in which the description given by Cowper, occurs, closes with the following striking expressions.
• I now see a long winter before me, and am to get through it as I can. I know the ground, before I tread upon it. It is hollow ; it is agitated; it suffers shocks in every direction ; it is like the soil of Calabria--all whirlpool and undulation. But I must reel through it; at least, if I be not swallowed up by the way.
We have said enough to shew the nature of Cowper's malady ; but, strange to say, the misunderstanding which has prevailed in consequence of the partial disclosure of his history, has, in some directions, extended to the Poet's character—we mean his religious character, which has been censoriously charged with apparent inconsistencies, for want, partly, of better information, and partly of more Christian charity. We find, indeed, from these Letters, that even in his life-time, Cowper's conduct was made the subject of much unfeeling and impertinent observation among the good people of Olney; and nothing can be more characteristic of the genuine humility of the Christian, or more decisively shew the Writer's tenderness of conscience, than the letter in which he vindicates himself to Mr. Newton from these ungenerous aspersions.
........... Your letter to Mrs. Unwin concerning our conduct and the offence taken at it in our neighbourhood, gave us both a great deal of concern; and she is still deeply affected by it. Of this you may assure yourself ; that, if our friends in London have been grieved, they have been misinformed; which is the more probable, because the bearers of intelligence hence to London are not always very scrupulous concerning the truth of their reports ; and that if any of our serious neighbours have been astonished, they have been so without the smallest real occasion. Poor people are never well employed even when they judge one another; but when they undertake to scan the motives and estimate the behaviour of those whom Prom vidence has exalted a little above them, they are utterly out of their province and their depth. They often see us get into Lady Hesketh's carriage, and rather uncharitably suppose that it always carries us into a scene of dissipation, which, in fact, it never does. We visit, indeed, at Mr. Throckmorton's and at Gayhurst; rarely, however, at Gayhurst, on account of the greater distance; more frequently, though not very frequently, at Weston, both because it is nearer, and because our business in the house that is making ready for us often calls us that way. The rest of our journeys are to Beaujeat turnpike and back again ; or, perhaps, to the cabinel-maker's at New. port. As Othello says,
The very head and front of my offending
Hath this extent, no more. What good we can get or can do in these visits, is another question, which they, I am sure, are not at all qualified to solve. Of this we are both `sure, that under the guidance of Providence we have formed these connexions ; that we should have hurt the Christian Cause, rather than bare served it, by a prudish abstinence from them; and that St. Paul himself, conducted to them as we have been, would have found it expedient to have done as we have done.......... I speak a strict truth, and as in the sight of God, when I say, that we are neither of us at all more addicted to gadding than heretofore. We both naturally love seclusion from company, and never go into it vithout putting a force upon our disposition. At the same time I will confess, and you will easily conceive, that the melancholy incident to such close confinement as we have so long endured, finds itself a little relieved by such amusements as a society so innocent affords. You may look round the Christian world, and find few, I believe, of our station, who have so little intercourse as we with the world that is not Christian.
We place all the uneasiness that you have felt for us upon this subject, to the account of that cordial friendship of which you have long given us proof. But you may be assured, that, notwithstanding all rumours to the contrary, we are exactly what we were when you saw us last:--I miserable on account of God's departure from me, which I believe to be final, and she, seeking his return to me in the path of duty, and by continual prayer. Yours, my dear friend, W.C.'
Persons who could affect to be scandalized at an invalid's
taking an airing every day in a friend's carriage, and that friend his own cousin, would not be very likely to form either a competent or a charitable judgement of Cowper's conduct in other matters. One would have thought, if any human being could be safe from the busy malice of slander or the more specious detraction of professed friends, that this amiable recluse might have enjoyed such an exemption, to which his virtues, his af, fliction, and his retiring habits alike entitled him. But the good folks at Olney thought otherwise, and some individuals who ought to have known better, took part against the most unoffending of mortals. We have sufficiently disposed of one charge, that which related to his worldly connexions. The others may, we believe, be reduced to three; they relate to his non-attendance on public worship, his Homer, and his domestication with Mrs. Unwin. With respect to each of these, the disclosures contained in these Letters are amply satisfactory.
The first circumstance, unexplained, might seem a legiti, mate subject for surprise and regret; but it ceases to be so, when the truth is once told, that he considered himself as Divinely excluded by an imaginary sentence from all his religious privileges. A single passage from a letter to Mr. Newton (June 1785), will sufficiently shew the nature of the cause which kept him from the house of prayer. Mr. Greathéed had been preaching at Olney.. · I should have been glad, writes Cowper, to have been a hearer ; but that privilege is not allowed me yet. Indeed, since I told you that I had hope, I have never ceased to despair, and have repented that I made my boast so soon, more than once. A king may forbid a man to appear before him, and it were strange if the King of kings might not do the same. I know it to be his will that I should not enter into his presence now: when the prohibition is taken off, I shall enter ; but, in the mean time, I should neither please him, nor serve myself, by intruding.'
To this we need only add a reference to the letter addressed to Mr. Bull, which we gave to the public in a former article,* and which we regret not to find in the present collection, as it is one of the most singular and interesting of all Cowper's epistolary effusions. Hayley has printed it only in a mutilated form, and the present Editor knew where to apply for the original. Prove to me,' he says to his venerable friend in that letter,' that I have a right to pray, and I will pray without
* See Art. Memoirs of Cowper. E. R. Vol. vi. p. 337.
• ceasing, -yes, and praise too, even in the belly of this hell,
compared with which Jonah's was a palace, a temple of the • living God.' Yet, the sin by which he was excluded, he admits that his Correspondent would account no sin, would even consider as a duty. He goes on to tell him: 'I have not even
asked a blessing on my food these ten years. This was written in 1782. To have urged on a person labouring under such an imagination as this, an attendance upon public worship as a duty, would have been as injudicious as ineffectual; ·and we can scarcely find words harsh enough to characterise - the unfeeling pharisaism that would found a reproach or a surmise unfavourable to his piety, on his involuntary seclusion.
The next charge of inconsistency-we almost blush at re. peating them,-founded itself on his giving so much of his
time, to. a translation of Homer, when he might, as his self'constituted judges have been pleased to determine, have employed his talents so much more for the honour of God and the good of society. That he should select a heathen bard for his unremitting study, has been thought a sad proof of religious declension, a sign, if not a cause, of deteriorated spirituality. How unkindly he was wronged by such suspicions, shall be shewn from his own language. In the following letter, he tells Mr. Newton how he came to undertake the translation. Its date is Dec. 1785.
....... Employment, and with the pen, is, through habit, become essential to my well-being; and to produce always original poems, especially of considerable length, is not so easy. For some weeks after I had finished the Task, and sent away the last sheet corrected, I was through necessity idle, and suffered not a little in my spirits for being so. One day, being in such distress of mind as was hardly supportable, I took up the Iliad ; and merely to divert attention, and with no more preconception of what I was then entering upon, than I have at this moment of what I shall be doing this day twenty years hence, translated the first twelve lines of it. The same necessity pressing me again, I had recourse to the same expedient, and translated more. Every day bringing its occasion for employment with it, every day 'consequently added something to the work ; till at last I began to reflect thus:- The Iliad and the Odyssey together consist of about forty thousand verses.' To translate these forty thousand verses will furnish me with occupation for a considerable time. I have already made some progress, and I find it a most agreeable amusement. Homer, in point of purity, is a most blameless writer, and, though he was not an enlightened man, has interspersed many great and valuable truths throughout both his poems. In short, he is in all respects a most venerable old gentleman, by an acquaintance with whom no man can disgrace himself. The literati are all agreed to a man, that although Pope has given us two pretty poems under Homer's titles, there is not to be found in them the least portion of Homer's spirit, nor the least resemblance of his manner. I will try, therefore, whether I cannot copy him somewhat more happily myself. .
He afterwards intimates bis intention to issue proposals for a subscription to it; ' and if,' he says, 'it should prove a pro• fitable enterprise, the profit will not accrue to a man who • may be said not to want.' This hope was amply realised, and Homer proved both his physician and his banker. The employment had the happiest effect upon his spirits, and his temporal comfort was not a little promoted by the profits of the work. Towards the close of this very letter, we find him stating that his spirits were somewhat better than they had been.
. In the course of the last month, I have perceived a very sensible amendment. The hope of better days seems again to dawn upon me; and I have now and then an intimation, though slight and transient, that God has not abandoned me for ever.'
A clear proof that his attention's being diverted from himself, had no tendency to lessen either his religious comfort or his spirituality. It is remarkable, that he complains at this time of obstinate dyspeptic symptoms, while, when his mental ailments seem at their height, he uniformly speaks of himself as well in body,-a circumstance not unimportant in a medical point of view, as illustrating the morbid affection under which he har bitually laboured: it looks as if there was at this period a partial metastasis of the complaint. This comparatively bright interval lasted for rather more than a year, and the references to his own feelings, contained in several of the succeeding letters, are of a far more cheerful kind. Mr. Newton, with his characteristic good sense, encouraged his friend to proceed, anxious only that he should not over-work himself, or indulge too sanguine expectations of public success. Cowper replies :
• I thank you heartily, both for your wishes and prayers, that should a disappointment occur, I may not be too much hurt by it. Strange as it may seem to say it, and unwilling as I should be to say it to any person less candid than yourself, I will nevertheless say, that I have not entered on this work, unconnected as it must needs appear with the interests of the cause of God, without the direction of his providence, nor altogether unassisted by him in the performance of it. "Time will shew to what it ultimately tends. I am inclined to believe that it has a tendency to which I myself am, at present, perfectly a stranger. Be that as it may, He knows my frame, and will consider that I am but dust ; dust, into the bargain, that has been so trampled under foot and beaten, that a storm less violent than an unsuccessful issue of such a business might occasion, would be sufficient