« 前へ次へ »
able tradesman, was also of advantage to him. His house became the rendezvous of a very agreeable society, of which the famous James Watt, and Thomas Day, author of Sandford and Merton, composed a part. Miss Seward relates several very amusing anecdotes of the latter, who was a "very original philosopher, and known for his absence of mind. Darwin had also his little eccentricities: he had invented a carriage of a new form; but in trying an experiment upon it, he had the misfortune to be thrown out, and to break the cap of his right knee. In practice, as in theory, he was like Dr. Sangrado, the declared enemy of wines and spirits, preaching up to his patients the doctrine of temperance, as the great antidote and remedy of all diseases: nevertheless, he one day forgot his rigid precept during a water party, in which he was accompanied by several of his friends. Scarcely was the boat from shore, than he suddenly plunged into the river, and took the head of it like a skilful swimmer. His companions requested him vainly to return, and saw no more of him till they found him in the middle of the market place, haranguing an astonished crowd on the salubrious influence of pure air. It was with difficulty that he was induced to admit that it was high time to make some change in his apparel. He habitually stuttered ; but it is affirmed that he spoke on that memorable day with marvellous volubility of utterance.
His head was not more proof against love than against wine. He had lost his first wife, when Mrs. Pole, of Redburn, went to place her children, who had swallowed poison, under his care. The doctor persuaded the mother to remain with them till their complete recovery. Some time after, Mrs. Pole sent for him to Redburn to attend herself. The husband of this interesting patient was, probably, a jealous old man, and shewed so little hospitality as to decline offering a bed to the physician. Darwin passed the night under a tree planted opposite the window of Mrs. Pole, observing, with a restless eye, the motions of the lights, and paraphrasing the famous sonnet of Petrarch on the dream, which predicted to him the death of Laura. Luckily, his Laura did not die, and he was not reduced, like the poet of Vaucluse, to the eternal mortification of Platonic passion. Old Mr. Pole, by his death, condemned his wife to widowhood; but Darwin was enabled to prevent its being of long duration. Mrs. Pole accepted his hand, on condition that he should change his residence from Litchfield to Derby.
TO MR. PIERRUGUES.
W. Cowper is not the only English author whose character often reminds the enquirer of that of Rousseau; you will yourself be able to detect many analogies between these two interesting madmen, who demonstrate how agonizing is the subjection of a soul "entirely divine," to the infirmities of material organization. Sometimes, indeed, these individuals, so little resembling others, would prompt one to believe in the exile of some superior intelligence, condemned to the trials of mortal existence, in order to repair some onence committed in heaven. Our religion apprizes us that the angels themselves were not infallible. Such an idea as this would have shocked Cowper, who lived secluded, less through pride than despair. Religion and friendship always supported his courage, and inspired his genius. He was, in fact, too timid a Christian to become a great metaphysician. Justly claimed, as he is, by the new school, he himself almost doubted that he was a poetical innovator. Cowper wrote less for the public than for himself and a circle of friends. He is the poet of the fire-side, and domestic enjoyment. Had his muse been more ambitious, she would not have possessed that combination of vigour and simplicity, of daring and ease, of nobleness and rusticity, which contrasts with the classical, though somewhat fastidious, graces of the beaux esprits in Queen Anne's time. The life of Cowper has been written by his friend Hayley, whose narrative is interspersed with letters from Cowper himself. Mason had already furnished the model of this species of biography for the life of Gray. There was also a publication in 1816 of the remains of Cowper, which bear some analogy with Rousseau's Confessions, with this difference, that Cowper had written his with no other view than to read them occasionally, in the spirit of penitence, and in the way of a warning against the snares of the flesh and the devil.
William Cowper was born in 1731, at Berkamstead, in Herefordshire. His father, a nephew of Lord Chancellor Cowper, had been chaplain to George II. At six years of age, young William was removed from the care of a tender mother, to be placed at a boarding-school, where he was so tyrannized over by a boy older than himself, that he retained, through his entire life, a bitter rancour against the system of public education. A weakness of the eyes, which was, unhappily, a complaint for his whole life, determined his family to place him, during some time, under the care of a famous oculist; for it is, doubtless, a mistake of Mr. Hayley to say, as he does, a female oculist.
Thence Cowper was removed to Westminster school, and after having finished his studies there, he was articled to a lawyer; but although related to the celebrated Lord Thurlow, who was destined to become one of the lights of English jurisprudence, he wasted three years in that situation in idleness or dissipation. On being admitted to the Temple, he carried with him such habits of profusion, that at thirty-one years of age he had dissipated nearly the whole of his patrimony. It was high time to think of the future: a relation who possessed influence, procured his nomination as a committee clerk to the house of commons. But being menaced with a species of qualifying examination, his timidity, of which he had never been able to divest himself, converted into torture the fear which is usually experienced by all individuals who have to speak in public for the first time. His anguish was so intolerable, that it turned his brain. He frequently made attempts to destroy himself; and his friends found the implements of his projected suicide in his chamber. He sent in his resignation; and the natural horror which the fearful expedient he had conceived for the purpose of avoiding the proof required of him inspired, only tended to accelerate the entire loss of his reason.
"I never went out," he says, "without imagining that the passengers surveyed me with a smile of contempt and insult. I could scarcely persuade myself that the voice of my conscience did not speak sufficiently loud to be overheard by every body. My acquaintances appeared to avoid me, and if they spoke to me, seemed to do so in terms