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JOHN S. MEMES, LL. D.
SCULPTURE, AND ARCHITECTURE,” &c.
IN THREE VOLUMES.
It is not a little extraordinary, that while the task of illustrating the literature of the past has been graced by many eminent names of the present age, the writings of the first Christian classic since the days of Milton have been hitherto overlooked. The Letters and Poems of Cowper have continued to be published, not only without those explanations which circumstances had rendered necessary, and with little regard to uniformity, but unaccompanied even by any extended, yet generally accessible account of the author. In these volumes, comprising the Life, and an illustrated edition of the collected Works of the “great poet of the Cross,” the editor has endeavoured to supply this omission. Though disposed to rest his chief claim to favour on the usefulness of a design so favourable to the promotion of taste, virtue, and of religion, he is, at the same time, not conscious of having shunned any exertion, omitted any care, or neglected any research, which might conduce to the perfection, as well as the utility of his labours.
The Memoir, it is hoped, occupies a due position between the diffuse generalities of Hayley's voluminous narrative, and that numerous class of meagre biographies usually appended to the Works,—both hitherto, though for opposite reasons, very inadequate descriptions of a life, simply led indeed, but deeply interesting in its moral applications and intellectual vicissitudes. His Correspondence and Poems, also, form together a recital, progressive in its pathos, of whatever is most touching in the history of the man. Hence, the peculiar propriety of applying the principle of mutual illustration upon which the present Memoir and the poet's writings are reciprocally connected. The former, complete in itself as a display of character and events, thus becomes a desirable accompaniment to the latter. This plan farther admitted the advantage, of which the editor has willingly availed himself, of incorporating with the Life whatever important compositions could not be included among the collected works of Cowper. His own Narrative ; his private letters, not published by Hayley; his devotional pieces; his translations, commentaries, and prefaces, have, in this respect, proved valuable original sources of information. The peculiar and awful characteristics of the subject, -Cowper's mental afflictions - the nature of his faith— the religious temper and state of his mind, are now, it is hoped, exhibited in a just light, being tried, apart both from indiscriminate eulogy and unfeeling censure, by the great tests of practical example and Scripture precept. To regard such topics in a case of great moral authority, as at once affecting and sacred, appeared to be the only method of humanely dealing with a spirit oppressed by its own sensibilities, and of vindicating religion from the thoughtless aspersion of causing these sorrows. The explanation and defence are founded on the sufferer's own confessions; and had it not appeared a duty equally useful and practicable here to reconcile friends, and to silence enemies, the editor would not have ventured on his present undertaking.