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´╗┐Title: Cowper
Author: Smith, Goldwin, 1823-1910
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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COWPER

BY

GOLDWIN SMITH

London, 1880



  CONTENTS.

  CHAPTER I.
  Early Life

  CHAPTER II.
  At Huntingdon--The Unwins

  CHAPTER III.
  At Olney--Mr. Newton

  CHAPTER IV.
  Authorship--The Moral Satires

  CHAPTER V.
  The Task

  CHAPTER VI.
  Short Poems and Translations

  CHAPTER VII.
  The Letters

  CHAPTER VIII.
  Close of Life



COWPER.


CHAPTER I.

EARLY LIFE.

Cowper is the most important English poet of the period between Pope
and the illustrious group headed by Wordsworth, Byron, and Shelley,
which arose out of the intellectual ferment of the European Revolution.
As a reformer of poetry, who called it back from conventionality to
nature, and at the same time as the teacher of a new school of
sentiment which acted as a solvent upon the existing moral and social
system, he may perhaps himself be numbered among the precursors of the
revolution, though he was certainly the mildest of them all.  As a
sentimentalist he presents a faint analogy to Rousseau, whom in natural
temperament he somewhat resembled.  He was also the great poet of the
religious revival which marked the latter part of the eighteenth
century in England, and which was called Evangelicism within the
establishment and Methodism without.  In this way he is associated with
Wesley and Whitefield, as well as with the philanthropists of the
movement, such as Wilberforce, Thornton, and Clarkson.  As a poet he
touches, on different sides of his character, Goldsmith, Crabbe, and
Burns.  With Goldsmith and Crabbe he shares the honour of improving
English taste in the sense of truthfulness and simplicity.  To Burns he
felt his affinity, across a gulf of social circumstance, and in spite
of a dialect not yet made fashionable by Scott.  Besides his poetry, he
holds a high, perhaps the highest place, among English letter writers:
and the collection of his letters appended to Southey's biography
forms, with the biographical portions of his poetry, the materials for
a sketch of his life.  Southey's biography itself is very helpful,
though too prolix and too much filled out with dissertations for common
readers.  Had its author only done for Cowper what he did for Nelson!
[Our acknowledgments are also due to Mr. Benham, the writer of the
Memoir prefixed to the Globe Edition of Cowper.]

William Cowper came of the Whig nobility of the robe.  His great-uncle,
after whom he was named, was the Whig Lord Chancellor of Anne and
George I.  His grandfather was that Spencer Cowper, judge of the Common
Pleas, for love of whom the pretty Quakeress drowned herself, and who,
by the rancour of party, was indicted for her murder.  His father, the
Rev.  John Cowper, D.D., was chaplain to George II.  His mother was a
Donne, of the race of the poet, and descended by several lines from
Henry III.  A Whig and a gentleman he was by birth, a Whig and a
gentleman he remained to the end.  He was born on the 15th November
(old style), 1731, in his father's rectory of Berkhampstead.  From
nature he received, with a large measure of the gifts of genius, a
still larger measure of its painful sensibilities.  In his portrait; by
Romney the brow bespeaks intellect, the features feeling and
refinement, the eye madness.  The stronger parts of character, the
combative and propelling forces he evidently lacked from the beginning.
For the battle of life he was totally unfit.  His judgment in its
healthy state was, even on practical questions, sound enough, as his
letters abundantly prove; but his sensibility not only rendered him
incapable of wrestling with a rough world, but kept him always on the
verge of madness, and frequently plunged him into it.  To the malady
which threw him out of active life we owe not the meanest of English
poets.

At the age of thirty-two, writing of himself, he says, "I am of a very
singular temper, and very unlike all the men that I have ever conversed
with.  Certainly I am not an absolute fool, but I have more weakness
than the greatest of all the fools I can recollect at present.  In
short, if I was as fit for the next world as I am unfit for this--and
God forbid I should speak it in vanity--I would not change conditions
with any saint, in Christendom." Folly produces nothing good, and if
Cowper had been an absolute fool, he would not have written good
poetry.  But he does not exaggerate his own weakness, and that he
should have become a power among men is a remarkable triumph of the
influences which have given birth to Christian civilization.

The world into which the child came was one very adverse to him, and at
the same time very much in need of him.  It was a world from which the
spirit of poetry seemed to have fled.  There could be no stronger proof
of this than the occupation of the throne of Spenser, Shakespeare, and
Milton by the arch-versifier Pope.  The Revolution of 1688 was
glorious, but unlike the Puritan Revolution which it followed, and in
the political sphere partly ratified, it was profoundly prosaic.
Spiritual religion, the source of Puritan grandeur and of the poetry of
Milton, was almost extinct; there was not much more of it among the
Nonconformists, who had now become to a great extent mere Whigs, with a
decided Unitarian tendency.  The Church was little better than a
political force, cultivated and manipulated by political leaders for
their own purposes.  The Bishops were either politicians or theological
polemics collecting trophies of victory over free-thinkers as titles to
higher preferment.  The inferior clergy as a body were far nearer in
character to Trulliber than to Dr. Primrose; coarse, sordid, neglectful
of their duties, shamelessly addicted to sinecurism and pluralities,
fanatics in their Toryism and in attachment to their corporate
privileges, cold, rationalistic and almost heathen in their preachings,
if they preached at all.  The society of the day is mirrored in the
pictures of Hogarth, in the works of Fielding and Smollett; hard and
heartless polish was the best of it; and not a little of it was
_Marriage a la Mode_.  Chesterfield, with his soulless culture, his
court graces, and his fashionable immoralities, was about the highest
type of an English gentleman; but the Wilkeses, Potters, and
Sandwiches, whose mania for vice culminated in the Hell-fire Club, were
more numerous than the Chesterfields.  Among the country squires, for
one Allworthy or Sir Roger de Coverley there were many Westerns.  Among
the common people religion was almost extinct, and assuredly no new
morality or sentiment, such as Positivists now promise, had taken its
place.  Sometimes the rustic thought for himself, and scepticism took
formal possession of his mind; but, as we see from one of Cowper's
letters, it was a coarse scepticism which desired to be buried with its
hounds.  Ignorance and brutality reigned in the cottage.  Drunkenness
reigned in palace and cottage alike.  Gambling, cockfighting, and
bullfighting were the amusements of the people.  Political life, which,
if it had been pure and vigorous, might have made up for the absence of
spiritual influences, was corrupt from the top of the scale to the
bottom: its effect on national character is pourtrayed in Hogarth's
_Election_.  That property had its duties as well as its rights, nobody
had yet ventured to say or think.  The duty of a gentleman towards his
own class was to pay his debts of honour and to fight a duel whenever
he was challenged by one of his own order; towards the lower class his
duty was none.  Though the forms of government were elective, and
Cowper gives us a description of the candidate at election time
obsequiously soliciting votes, society was intensely aristocratic, and
each rank was divided from that below it by a sharp line which
precluded brotherhood or sympathy.  Says the Duchess of Buckingham to
Lady Huntingdon, who had asked her to come and hear Whitefield, "I
thank your ladyship for the information concerning the Methodist
preachers; their doctrines are most repulsive, and strongly tinctured
with disrespect towards their superiors, in perpetually endeavouring to
level all ranks and do away with all distinctions.  It is monstrous to
be told you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on
the earth.  This is highly offensive and insulting; and I cannot but
wonder that your ladyship should relish any sentiments so much at
variance with high rank and good breeding.  I shall be most happy to
come and hear your favourite preacher."  Her Grace's sentiments towards
the common wretches that crawl on the earth were shared, we may be
sure, by her Grace's waiting-maid.  Of humanity there was as little as
there was of religion.  It was the age of the criminal law which hanged
men for petty thefts, of life-long imprisonment for debt, of the stocks
and the pillory, of a Temple Bar garnished with the heads of traitors,
of the unreformed prison system, of the press-gang, of unrestrained
tyranny and savagery at public schools.  That the slave trade was
iniquitous hardly any one suspected; even men who deemed themselves
religious took part in it without scruple.  But a change was at hand,
and a still mightier change was in prospect.  At the time of Cowper's
birth, John Wesley was twenty-eight and Whitefield was seventeen.  With
them the revival of religion was at hand.  Johnson, the moral reformer,
was twenty-two.  Howard was born, and in less than a generation
Wilberforce was to come.

When Cowper was six years old his mother died; and seldom has a child,
even such a child, lost more, even in a mother.  Fifty years after her
death he still thinks of her, he says, with love and tenderness every
day.  Late in his life his cousin Mrs. Anne Bodham recalled herself to
his remembrance by sending him his mother's picture.  "Every creature,"
he writes, "that has any affinity to my mother is dear to me, and you,
the daughter of her brother, are but one remove distant from her, I
love you therefore, and love you much, both for her sake and for your
own.  The world could not have furnished you with a present so
acceptable to me as the picture which you have so kindly sent me.  I
received it the night before last, and received it with a trepidation
of nerves and spirits somewhat akin to what I should have felt had its
dear original presented herself to my embraces.  I kissed it and hung
it where it is the last object which I see at night, and the first on
which I open my eyes in the morning.  She died when I completed my
sixth year; yet I remember her well, and am an ocular witness of the
great fidelity of the copy, I remember too a multitude of the maternal
tendernesses which I received from her, and which have endeared her
memory to me beyond expression.  There is in me, I believe, more of the
Donne than of the Cowper, and though I love all of both names, and have
a thousand reasons to love those of my own name, yet I feel the bond of
nature draw me vehemently to your side."  As Cowper never married,
there was nothing to take the place in his heart which had been left
vacant by his mother.

  My mother! when I learn'd that thou wast dead,
  Say, wast thou conscious of the tears I shed?
  Hover'd thy spirit o'er thy sorrowing son,
  Wretch even then, life's journey just begun?
  Perhaps thou gayest me, though unfelt, a kiss;
  Perhaps a tear, if souls can weep in bliss--
  Ah, that maternal smile!--it answers--Yes.
  I heard the bell toll'd on thy burial day,
  I saw the hearse that bore thee slow away,
  And, turning from my nursery window, drew
  A long, long sigh, and wept a last adieu!
  But was it such?--It was.--Where thou art gone
  Adieus and farewells are a sound unknown.
  May I but meet thee on that peaceful shore,
  The parting word shall pass my lips no more!
  Thy maidens, grieved themselves at my concern,
  Oft gave me promise of thy quick return.
  What ardently I wish'd, I long believed,
  And disappointed still, was still deceived;
  By expectation every day beguiled,
  Dupe of to-morrow even from a child.
  Thus many a sad to-morrow came and went,
  Till, all my stock of infant sorrows spent,
  I learn'd at last submission to my lot,
  But, though I less deplored thee, ne'er forgot.

In the years that followed no doubt he remembered her too well.  At six
years of age this little mass of timid and quivering sensibility was,
in accordance with the cruel custom of the time, sent to a large
boarding school.  The change from home to a boarding school is bad
enough now; it was much worse in those days.

"I had hardships," says Cowper, "of various kinds to conflict with,
which I felt more sensibly in proportion to the tenderness with which I
had been treated at home.  But my chief affliction consisted in my
being singled out from all the other boys by a lad of about fifteen
years of age as a proper object upon whom he might let loose the
cruelty of his temper.  I choose to conceal a particular recital of the
many acts of barbarity with which he made it his business continually
to persecute me.  It will be sufficient to say that his savage
treatment of me impressed such a dread of his figure upon my mind, that
I well remember being afraid to lift my eyes upon him higher than to
his knees, and that I knew him better by his shoe-buckles than by any
other part of his dress.  May the Lord pardon him, and may we meet in
glory!"  Cowper charges himself, it may be in the exaggerated style of
a self-accusing saint, with having become at school an adept in the art
of lying.  Southey says this must be a mistake, since at English public
schools boys do not learn to lie.  But the mistake is on Southey's
part; bullying, such as this child endured, while it makes the strong
boys tyrants, makes the weak boys cowards, and teaches them to defend
themselves by deceit, the fist of the weak.  The recollection of this
boarding school mainly it was that at a later day inspired the plea for
a home education in _Tirocinium_.

  Then why resign into a stranger's hand
  A task as much within your own command,
  That God and nature, and your interest too,
  Seem with one voice to delegate to you?
  Why hire a lodging in a house unknown
  For one whose tenderest thoughts all hover round your own?
  This second weaning, needless as it is,
  How does it lacerate both your heart and his
  The indented stick that loses day by day
  Notch after notch, till all are smooth'd away,
  Bears witness long ere his dismission come,
  With what intense desire he wants his home.
  But though the joys he hopes beneath your roof
  Bid fair enough to answer in the proof,
  Harmless, and safe, and natural as they are,
  A disappointment waits him even there:
  Arrived, he feels an unexpected change,
  He blushes, hangs his head, is shy and strange.
  No longer takes, as once, with fearless ease,
  His favourite stand between his father's knees,
  But seeks the corner of some distant seat,
  And eyes the door, and watches a retreat,
  And, least familiar where he should be most,
  Feels all his happiest privileges lost.
  Alas, poor boy!--the natural effect
  Of love by absence chill'd into respect.

From the boarding school, the boy, his eyes being liable to
inflammation, was sent to live with an oculist, in whose house he spent
two years, enjoying at all events a respite from the sufferings and the
evils of the boarding school.  He was then sent to Westminster School,
at that time in its glory.  That Westminster in those days must have
been a scene not merely of hardship, but of cruel suffering and
degradation to the younger and weaker boys, has been proved by the
researches of the Public Schools Commission.  There was an established
system and a regular vocabulary of bullying.  Yet Cowper seems not to
have been so unhappy there as at the private school; he speaks of
himself as having excelled at cricket and football; and excellence in
cricket and football at a public school generally carries with it,
besides health and enjoyment, not merely immunity from bullying, but
high social consideration.  With all Cowper's delicacy and
sensitiveness, he must have had a certain fund of physical strength, or
he could hardly have borne the literary labour of his later years,
especially as he was subject to the medical treatment of a worse than
empirical era.  At one time he says, while he was at Westminster, his
spirits were so buoyant that he fancied he should never die, till a
skull thrown out before him by a gravedigger as he was passing through
St. Margaret's churchyard in the night recalled him to a sense of his
mortality.

The instruction at a public school in those days was exclusively
classical.  Cowper was under Vincent Bourne, his portrait of whom is in
some respects a picture not only of its immediate subject, but of the
schoolmaster of the last century.  "I love the memory of Vinny Bourne.
I think him a better Latin poet than Tibullus, Propertius, Ausonius, or
any of the writers in his way, except Ovid, and not at all inferior to
him.  I love him too with a love of partiality, because he was usher of
the fifth form at Westminster when I passed through it.  He was so
good-natured and so indolent that I lost more than I got by him, for he
made me as idle as himself.  He was such a sloven, as if he had trusted
to his genius as a cloak for everything that could disgust you in his
person; and indeed in his writings he has almost made amends for all. .
. . .  I remember seeing the Duke of Richmond set fire to his greasy
locks and box his ears to put it out again."  Cowper learned, if not to
write Latin verses as well as Vinny Bourne himself, to write them very
well, as his Latin versions of some of his own short poems bear
witness.  Not only so, but he evidently became a good classical
scholar, as classical scholarship was in those days, and acquired the
literary form of which the classics are the best school.  Out of school
hours he studied independently, as clever boys under the unexacting
rule of the old public schools often did, and read through the whole of
the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_ with a friend.  He also probably picked up at
Westminster much of the little knowledge of the world which he ever
possessed.  Among his schoolfellows was Warren Hastings, in whose guilt
as proconsul he afterwards, for the sake of Auld Lang Syne, refused to
believe, and Impey, whose character has had the ill-fortune to be
required as the shade in Macaulay's fancy picture of Hastings.

On leaving Westminster, Cowper, at eighteen, went to live with Mr.
Chapman, an attorney, to whom he was articled, being destined for the
Law.  He chose that profession, he says, not of his own accord, but to
gratify an indulgent father, who may have been led into the error by a
recollection of the legal honours of the family, as well as by the
"silver pence" which his promising son had won by his Latin verses at
Westminster School.  The youth duly slept at the attorney's house in
Ely Place.  His days were spent in "giggling and making giggle" with
his cousins, Theodora and Harriet, the daughters of Ashley Cowper, in
the neighbouring Southampton Row.  Ashley Cowper was a very little man
in a white hat lined with yellow, and his nephew used to say that he
would one day he picked by mistake for a mushroom.  His fellow-clerk in
the office, and his accomplice in giggling and making giggle, was one
strangely mated with him; the strong, aspiring, and unscrupulous
Thurlow, who though fond of pleasure was at the same time preparing
himself to push his way to wealth and power.  Cowper felt that Thurlow
would reach the summit of ambition, while he would himself remain
below, and made his friend promise when he was Chancellor to give him
something.  When Thurlow was Chancellor, he gave Cowper his advice on
translating Homer.

At the end of his three years with the attorney, Cowper took chambers
in the Middle, from which he afterwards removed to the Inner Temple.
The Temple is now a pile of law offices.  In those days it was still a
Society.  One of Cowper's set says of it: "The Temple is the barrier
that divides the City and suburbs; and the gentlemen who reside there
seem influenced by the situation of the place they inhabit.  Templars
are in general a kind of citizen courtiers.  They aim at the air and
the mien of the drawing-room, but the holy-day smoothness of a
'prentice, heightened with some additional touches of the rake or
coxcomb, betrays itself in everything they do.  The Temple, however, is
stocked with its peculiar beaux, wits, poets, critics, and every
character in the gay world; and it is a thousand pities that so pretty
a society should be disgraced with a few dull fellows, who can submit
to puzzle themselves with cases and reports, and have not taste enough
to follow the genteel method of studying the law." Cowper at all events
studied law by the genteel method; he read it almost as little in the
Temple as he had in the attorney's office, though in due course of time
he was formally called to the Bar, and even managed in some way to
acquire a reputation, which when he had entirely given up the
profession brought him a curious offer of a readership at Lyons Inn.
His time was given to literature, and he became a member of a little
circle of men of letters and journalists which had its social centre in
the Nonsense Club, consisting of seven Westminster men who dined
together every Thursday.  In the set were Bonnell Thornton and Colman,
twin wits, fellow-writers of the periodical essays which were the rage
in that day, joint proprietors of the _St. James's Chronicle_,
contributors both of them to the _Connoisseur_, and translators, Colman
of Terence, Bonnell Thornton of Plautus, Colman being a dramatist
besides.  In the set was Lloyd, another wit and essayist and a poet,
with a character not of the best.  On the edge of the set, but
apparently not in it, was Churchill, who was then running a course
which to many seemed meteoric, and of whose verse, sometimes strong but
always turbid, Cowper conceived and retained an extravagant admiration.
Churchill was a link to Wilkes; Hogarth too was an ally of Colman, and
helped him in his exhibition of Signs.  The set was strictly confined
to Westminsters.  Gray and Mason, being Etonians, were objects of its
literary hostility and butts of its satire.  It is needless to say much
about these literary companions of Cowper's youth: his intercourse with
them was totally broken off, and before he himself became a poet its
effects had been obliterated by madness, entire change of mind, and the
lapse of twenty years.  If a trace remained, it was in his admiration
of Churchill's verses, and in the general results of literary society,
and of early practice in composition.  Cowper contributed to the
_Connoiseur_ and the _St.  James's Chronicle_.  His papers in the
_Connoisseur_ have been preserved; they are mainly imitations of the
lighter papers of the _Spectator_ by a student who affects the man of
the world.  He also dallied with poetry, writing verses to "Delia," and
an epistle to Lloyd.  He had translated an elegy of Tibullus when he
was fourteen, and at Westminster he had written an imitation of
Phillips's _Splendid Shilling_, which, Southey says, shows his manner
formed.  He helped his Cambridge brother, John Cowper, in a translation
of the _Henriade_.  He kept up his classics, especially his Homer.  In
his letters there are proofs of his familiarity with Rousseau.   Two or
three ballads which he wrote are lost, but he says they were popular,
and we may believe him.  Probably they were patriotic.  "When poor Bob
White," he says, "brought in the news of Boscawen's success off the
coast of Portugal, how did I leap for joy!  When Hawke demolished
Conflans, I was still more transported.  But nothing could express my
rapture when Wolfe made the conquest of Quebec."

The "Delia" to whom Cowper wrote verses was his cousin Theodora, with
whom he had an unfortunate love affair.  Her father, Ashley Cowper,
forbade their marriage, nominally on the ground of consanguinity,
really, as Southey thinks, because he saw Cowper's unfitness for
business and inability to maintain a wife.  Cowper felt the
disappointment deeply at the time, as well he might do if Theodora
resembled her sister, Lady Hesketh.  Theodora remained unmarried, and,
as we shall see, did not forget her lover.  His letters she preserved
till her death in extreme old age.

In 1756 Cowper's father died.  There does not seem to have been much
intercourse between them, nor does the son in after-years speak with
any deep feeling of his loss: possibly his complaint in _Tirocinium_ of
the effect of boarding-schools, in estranging children from their
parents, may have had some reference to his own case.  His local
affections, however, were very strong, and he felt with unusual
keenness the final parting from his old home, and the pang of thinking
that strangers usurp our dwelling and the familiar places will know us
no more.

  Where once we dwelt our name is heard no more,
  Children not thine have trod my nursery floor;
  And where the gardener Robin, day by day,
  Drew me to school along the public way,
  Delighted with my bauble coach, and wrapp'd
  In scarlet mantle warm and velvet capp'd.
  'Tis now become a history little known,
  That once we call'd the pastoral house our own.

Before the rector's death, it seems, his pen had hardly realized the
cruel frailty of the tenure by which a home in a parsonage is held.  Of
the family of Berkhampstead Rectory there was now left besides himself
only his brother John Cowper, Fellow of Caius College, Cambridge, whose
birth had cost their mother's life.

When Cowper was thirty-two and still living in the Temple, came the sad
and decisive crisis of his life.  He went mad and attempted suicide.
What was the source of his madness?  There is a vague tradition that it
arose from licentiousness, which, no doubt is sometimes the cause of
insanity.  Hut in Cowper's case there is no proof of anything of the
kind; his confessions, after his conversion, of his own past sinfulness
point to nothing worse than general ungodliness and occasional excess
in wine; and the tradition derives a colour of probability only from
the loose lives of one or two of the wits and Bohemians with whom he
had lived.  His virtuous love of Theodora was scarcely compatible with
low and gross amours.  Generally, his madness is said to have been
religious, and the blame is laid on the same foe to human weal as that
of the sacrifice of Iphigenia.  But when he first went mad, his
conversion to Evangelicism had not taken place; he had not led a
particularly religious life, nor been greatly given to religious
practices, though as a clergyman's son he naturally believed in
religion, had at times felt religious emotions, and when he found his
heart sinking had tried devotional books and prayers.  The truth is his
malady was simple hypochondria, having its source in delicacy of
constitution and weakness of digestion, combined with the influence of
melancholy surroundings.  It had begun to attack him soon after his
settlement in his lonely chambers in the Temple, when his pursuits and
associations, as we have seen, were far from Evangelical.  When its
crisis arrived, he was living by himself without any society of the
kind that suited him (for the excitement of the Nonsense Club was sure
to be followed by reaction); he had lost hiss love, his father, his
home, and as it happened also a dear friend; his little patrimony was
fast dwindling away; he must have despaired of success in his
profession; and his outlook was altogether dark.  It yielded to the
remedies to which hypochondria usually yields, air, exercise, sunshine,
cheerful society, congenial occupation.  It came with January and went
with May.  Its gathering gloom was dispelled for a time by a stroll in
fine weather on the hills above Southampton Water, and Cowper said that
he was never unhappy for a whole day in the company of Lady Hesketh.
When he had become a Methodist, his hypochondria took a religious form,
but so did his recovery from hypochondria; both must be set down to the
account of his faith, or neither.  This double aspect of the matter
will plainly appear further on.  A votary of wealth when his brain
gives way under disease or age fancies that he is a beggar.  A
Methodist when his brain gives way under the same influences fancies
that he is forsaken of God.  In both cases the root of the malady is
physical,

In the lines which Cowper sent on his disappointment to Theodora's
sister, and which record the sources of his despondency, there is not a
touch of religious despair, or of anything connected with religion.
The catastrophe was brought on by an incident with which religion had
nothing to do.  The office of clerk of the Journals in the House of
Lords fell vacant, and was in the gift of Cowper's kinsman Major
Cowper, as patentee.  Cowper received the nomination.  He had longed
for the office, sinfully as he afterwards fancied; it would exactly
have suited him and made him comfortable for life.  But his mind had by
this time succumbed to his malady.  His fancy conjured up visions of
opposition to the appointment in the House of Lords; of hostility in
the office where he had to study the Journals; of the terrors of an
examination to be undergone before the frowning peers.  After
hopelessly poring over the Journals for some months he became quite
mad, and his madness took a suicidal form.  He has told with unsparing
exactness the story of his attempts to kill himself.  In his youth his
father had unwisely given him a treatise in favour of suicide to read,
and when he argued against it, had listened to his reasonings in a
silence which he construed as sympathy with the writer, though it seems
to have been only unwillingness to think too badly of the state of a
departed friend.  This now recurred to his mind, and talk with casual
companions in taverns and chophouses was enough in his present
condition to confirm him in his belief that self-destruction was
lawful.  Evidently he was perfectly insane, for he could not take up a
newspaper without reading in it a fancied libel on himself.  First he
bought laudanum, and had gone out into the fields with the intention of
swallowing it, when the love of life suggested another way of escaping
the dreadful ordeal.  He might sell all he had, fly to France, change
his religion, and bury himself in a monastery.  He went home to pack
up; but while he was looking over his portmanteau, his mood changed,
and he again resolved on self-destruction.  Taking a coach he ordered
the coachman to drive to the Tower Wharf, intending to throw himself
into the river.  But the love of life once more interposed, under the
guise of a low tide and a porter seated on the quay.  Again in the
coach, and afterwards in his chambers, he tried to swallow the
laudanum; but his hand was paralysed by "the convincing Spirit," aided
by seasonable interruptions from the presence of his laundress and her
husband, and at length he threw the laudanum away.  On the night before
the day appointed for the examination before the Lords, he lay some
time with the point of his penknife pressed against his heart, but
without courage to drive it home.  Lastly he tried to hang himself; and
on this occasion he seems to have been saved not by the love of life,
or by want of resolution, but by mere accident.  He had become
insensible, when the garter by which he was suspended broke, and his
fall brought in the laundress, who supposed him to be in a fit.  He
sent her to a friend, to whom he related all that had passed, and
despatched him to his kinsman.  His kinsman arrived, listened with
horror to the story, made more vivid by the sight of the broken garter,
saw at once that all thought of the appointment was at end, and carried
away the instrument of nomination.  Let those whom despondency assails
read this passage of Cowper's life, and remember that he lived to write
_John Gilpin_ and _The Task_.

Cowper tells us that "to this moment he had felt no concern of a
spiritual kind;" that "ignorant of original sin, insensible of the
guilt of actual transgression, he understood neither the Law nor the
Gospel, the condemning nature of the one, nor the restoring mercies of
the other."  But after attempting suicide he was seized, as he well
might be, with religious horrors.  Now it was that he began to ask
himself whether he had been guilty of the unpardonable sin, and was
presently persuaded that he had, though it would be vain to inquire
what he imagined the unpardonable sin to be.  In this mood, he fancied
that if there was any balm for him in Gilead, it would be found in the
ministrations of his friend Martin Madan, an Evangelical clergyman of
high repute, whom he had been wont to regard as an enthusiast.  His
Cambridge brother, John, the translator of the _Henriade_, seems to
have had some philosophic doubts as to the efficacy of the proposed
remedy; but, like a philosopher, he consented to the experiment.  Mr.
Madan came and ministered, but in that distempered soul his balm turned
to poison; his religious conversations only fed the horrible illusion.
A set of English Sapphics, written by Cowper at this time, and
expressing his despair, were unfortunately preserved; they are a
ghastly play of the poetic faculty in a mind utterly deprived of
self-control, and amidst the horrors of inrushing madness.  Diabolical,
they might be termed more truly than religious.

There was nothing for it but a madhouse.  The sufferer was consigned to
the private asylum of Dr. Cotton, at St. Alban's.  An ill-chosen
physician Dr. Cotton would have been, if the malady had really had its
source in religion; for he was himself a pious man, a writer of hymns,
and was in the habit of holding religious intercourse with his
patients.  Cowper, after his recovery, speaks of that intercourse with
the keenest pleasure and gratitude; so that in the opinion of the two
persons best qualified to judge, religion in this case was not the
bane.  Cowper has given us a full account of his recovery.  It was
brought about, as we can plainly see, by medical treatment wisely
applied; but it came in the form of a burst of religious faith and
hope.  He rises one morning feeling better; grows cheerful over his
breakfast, takes up the Bible, which in his fits of madness he always
threw aside, and turns to a verse in the Epistle to the Romans.
"Immediately I received strength to believe, and the full beams of the
Sun of Righteousness shone upon me.  I saw the sufficiency of the
atonement He had made, my pardon in His blood, and the fulness and
completeness of His justification.  In a moment I believed and received
the Gospel."  Cotton at first mistrusted the sudden change, but he was
at length satisfied, pronounced his patient cured, and discharged him
from the asylum, after a detention of eighteen months.  Cowper hymned
his deliverance in _The Happy Change_, as in the hideous Sapphics he
had given religious utterance to his despair.

  The soul, a dreary province once
  Of Satan's dark domain,
  Feels a new empire form'd within,
  And owns a heavenly reign.

  The glorious orb whose golden beams
  The fruitful year control,
  Since first obedient to Thy word,
  He started from the goal,

  Has cheer'd the nations with the joys
  His orient rays impart;
  But', Jesus, 'tis Thy light alone
  Can shine upon the heart.

Once for all, the reader of Cowper's life must make up his mind to
acquiesce in religious forms of expression.  If he does not sympathize
with them, he will recognize them as phenomena of opinion, and bear
them like a philosopher.  He can easily translate them into the
language of psychology, or even of physiology, if he thinks fit.



CHAPTER II.

AT HUNTINGDON--THE UNWINS.

The storm was over; but it had swept away a great part of Cowper's
scanty fortune, and almost all his friends.  At thirty-five he was
stranded and desolate.  He was obliged to resign a Commissionership of
Bankruptcy which he held, and little seems to have remained to him but
the rent of his chambers in the Temple.  A return to his profession
was, of course, out of the question.  His relations, however, combined
to make up a little income for him, though from a hope of his family,
he had become a melancholy disappointment; even the Major contributing,
in spite of the rather trying incident of the nomination.  His brother
was kind and did a brother's duty, but there does not seem to have been
much sympathy between them; John Cowper did not become a convert to
Evangelical doctrine till he was near his end, and he was incapable of
sharing William's spiritual emotions.  Of his brilliant companions, the
Bonnell Thorntons and the Colmans, the quondam members of the Nonsense
Club, he heard no more, till he had himself become famous.  But he
still had a staunch friend in a less brilliant member of the Club,
Joseph Hill, the lawyer, evidently a man who united strong sense and
depth of character with literary tastes and love of fun, and who was
throughout Cowper's life his Mentor in matters of business, with regard
to which he was himself a child.  He had brought with him from the
asylum at St.  Albans the servant who had attended him there, and who
had been drawn by the singular talisman of personal attraction which
partly made up to this frail and helpless being for his entire lack of
force.  He had also brought from the same place an outcast boy whose
case bad excited his interest, and for whom he afterwards provided by
putting him to a trade.  The maintenance of these two retainers was
expensive and led to grumbling among the subscribers to the family
subsidy, the Major especially threatening to withdraw his contribution.
While the matter was in agitation, Cowper received an anonymous letter
couched in the kindest terms, bidding him not distress himself, for
that whatever deduction from his income might be made, the loss would
be supplied by one who loved him tenderly and approved his conduct.  In
a letter to Lady Hesketh, he says that he wishes he knew who dictated
this letter, and that he had seen not long before a style excessively
like it.  He can scarcely have failed to guess that it came from
Theodora.

It is due to Cowper to say that he accepts the assistance of his
relatives and all acts of kindness done to him with sweet and becoming
thankfulness; and that whatever dark fancies he may have had about his
religious state, when the evil spirit was upon him, he always speaks
with contentment and cheerfulness of his earthly lot.  Nothing
splenetic, no element of suspicions and irritable self-love, entered
into the composition of his character.

On his release from the asylum he was taken in hand by his brother
John, who first tried to find lodgings for him at or near Cambridge,
and failing in this, placed him at Huntingdon, within a long ride, so
that William becoming a horseman for the purpose, the brothers could
meet once a week.  Huntingdon was a quiet little town with less than
two thousand inhabitants, in a dull country, the best part of which was
the Ouse, especially to Cowper, who was fond of bathing.  Life there,
as in other English country towns in those days, and indeed till
railroads made people everywhere too restless and migratory for
companionship or even for acquaintance, was sociable in an unrefined
way.  There were assemblies, dances, races, card-parties, and a
bowling-green, at which the little world met and enjoyed itself.  From
these the new convert, in his spiritual ecstasy, of course turned away
as mere modes of murdering time.  Three families received him with
civility, two of them with cordiality; but the chief acquaintances he
made were with "odd scrambling fellows like himself;" an eccentric
water-drinker and vegetarian who was to be met by early risers and
walkers every morning at six o'clock by his favourite spring; a
char-parson, of the class common in those days of sinecurism and
non-residence, who walked sixteen miles every Sunday to serve two
churches, besides reading daily prayers at Huntingdon, and who regaled
his friend with ale brewed by his own hands.  In his attached servant
the recluse boasted that he had a friend; a friend he might have, but
hardly a companion.

For the first days and even weeks, however, Huntingdon seemed a
paradise.  The heart of its new inhabitant was full of the unspeakable
happiness that comes with calm after storm, with health after the most
terrible of maladies, with repose after the burning fever of the brain.
When first he went to church he was in a spiritual ecstasy; it was with
difficulty that he restrained his emotions, though his voice was
silent, being stopped by the intensity of his feelings, his heart
within him sang for joy; and when the Gospel for the day was read, the
sound of it was more than he could well bear.   This brightness of his
mind communicated itself to all the objects round him, to the sluggish
waters of the Ouse, to dull, fenny Huntingdon, and to its commonplace
inhabitants.

For about three months his cheerfulness lasted, and with the help of
books, and his rides to meet his brother, he got on pretty well; but
then "the communion which he had so long been able to maintain with the
Lord was suddenly interrupted."  This is his theological version of the
case; the rationalistic version immediately follows: "I began to
dislike my solitary situation, and to fear I should never be able to
weather out the winter in so lonely a dwelling." No man could be less
fitted to bear a lonely life; persistence in the attempt would soon
have brought back his madness.  He was longing for a home; and a home
was at hand to receive him.  It was not perhaps one of the happiest
kind; but the influence which detracted from its advantages was the one
which rendered it hospitable to the wanderer.  If Christian piety was
carried to a morbid excess beneath its roof, Christian charity opened
its door.

The religious revival was now in full career, with Wesley for its chief
apostle, organizer, and dictator, Whitefield for its great preacher,
Fletcher of Madeley for its typical saint, Lady Huntingdon for its
patroness among the aristocracy and the chief of its "devout women."
From the pulpit, but still more from the stand of the field-preacher
and through a well-trained army of social propagandists, it was
assailing the scepticism, the coldness, the frivolity, the vices of the
age.  English society was deeply stirred; multitudes were converted,
while among those who were not converted violent and sometimes cruel
antagonism was aroused.  The party had two wings, the Evangelicals,
people of the wealthier class or clergymen of the Church of England,
who remained within the Establishment; and the Methodists, people of
the lower middle class or peasants, the personal converts and followers
of Wesley and Whitefield, who, like their leaders, without a positive
secession, soon found themselves organizing a separate spiritual life
in the freedom of Dissent.  In the early stages of the movement the
Evangelicals were to be counted at most by hundreds, the Methodists by
hundreds of thousands.  So far as the masses were concerned, it was in
fact a preaching of Christianity anew.  There was a cross division of
the party into the Calvinists and those whom the Calvinists called
Arminians; Wesley belonging to the latter section, while the most
pronounced and vehement of the Calvinists was "the fierce Toplady."  As
a rule, the darker and sterner element, that which delighted in
religious terrors and threatenings was Calvinist, the milder and
gentler, that which preached a gospel of love and hope, continued to
look up to Wesley, and to bear with him the reproach of being Arminian,

It is needless to enter into a minute description of Evangelicism and
Methodism; they are not things of the past.  If Evangelicism has now
been reduced to a narrow domain by the advancing forces of Ritualism on
one side and of nationalism on the other, Methodism is still the great
Protestant Church, especially beyond the Atlantic.  The spiritual fire
which they have kindled, the character which they have produced, the
moral reforms which they have wrought, the works of charity and
philanthropy to which they have given birth, are matters not only of
recent memory, but of present experience.  Like the great Protestant
revivals which had preceded them in England, like the Moravian revival
on the Continent, to which they were closely related, they sought to
bring the soul into direct communion with its Maker, rejecting the
intervention of a priesthood or a sacramental system.  Unlike the
previous revivals in England, they warred not against the rulers of the
Church or State, but only against vice or irreligion.  Consequently in
the characters which they produced, as compared with those produced by
Wycliffism, by the Reformation, and notably by Puritanism, there was
less of force and the grandeur connected with it, more of gentleness,
mysticism, and religious love.  Even Quietism, or something like it,
prevailed, especially among the Evangelicals, who were not like the
Methodists, engaged in framing a new organization or in wrestling with
the barbarous vices of the lower orders.  No movement of the kind has
ever been exempt from drawbacks and follies, from extravagance,
exaggeration, breaches of good taste in religious matters,
unctuousness, and cant--from chimerical attempts to get rid of the
flesh and live an angelic life on earth--from delusions about special
providences and miracles--from a tendency to over-value doctrine and
undervalue duty--from arrogant assumption of spiritual authority by
leaders and preachers--from the self-righteousness which fancies itself
the object of a divine election, and looks out with a sort of religious
complacency from the Ark of Salvation in which it fancies itself
securely placed, upon the drowning of an unregenerate world.  Still it
will hardly be doubted that in the effects produced by Evangelicism and
Methodism the good has outweighed the evil.  Had Jansenism prospered as
well, France might have had more of reform and less of revolution.  The
poet of the movement will not be condemned on account of his connexion
with it, any more than Milton is condemned on account of his connexion
with Puritanism, provided it be found that he also served art well.

Cowper, as we have seen, was already converted.  In a letter written at
this time to Lady Hesketh, he speaks of himself with great humility "as
a convert made in Bedlam, who is more likely to be a stumblingblock to
others, than to advance their faith," though he adds, with reason
enough, "that he who can ascribe an amendment of life and manners, and
a reformation of the heart itself, to madness is guilty of an
absurdity, that in any other case would fasten the imputation of
madness upon himself." It is hence to be presumed that he traced his
conversion to his spiritual intercourse with the Evangelical physician
of St. Albans, though the seed sown by Martin Madan may perhaps also
have sprung up in his heart when the more propitious season arrived.
However that may have been, the two great factors of Cowper's life were
the malady which consigned him to poetic seclusion and the conversion
to Evangelicism, which gave him his inspiration and his theme.

At Huntingdon dwelt the Rev. William Unwin, a clergyman, taking pupils,
his wife, much younger than himself, and their son and daughter.  It
was a typical family of the Revival.  Old Mr. Unwin is described by
Cowper as a Parson Adams.  The son, William Unwin, was preparing for
holy orders.  He was a man of some mark, and received tokens of
intellectual respect from Paley, though he is best known as the friend
to whom many of Cowper's letters are addressed.  He it was who, struck
by the appearance of the stranger, sought an opportunity of making his
acquaintance.  He found one, after morning church, when Cowper was
taking his solitary walk beneath the trees.  Under the influence of
religious sympathy the acquaintance quickly ripened into friendship;
Cowper at once became one of the Unwin circle, and soon afterwards, a
vacancy being made by the departure of one of the pupils, he became a
boarder in the house.  This position he had passionately desired on
religious grounds; but in truth he might well have desired it on
economical grounds also, for he had begun to experience the difficulty
and expensiveness, as well as the loneliness, of bachelor housekeeping,
and financial deficit was evidently before him.  To Mrs. Unwin he was
from the first strongly drawn.  "I met Mrs. Unwin in the street," he
says, "and went home with her.  She and I walked together near two
hours in the garden, and had a conversation which did me more good than
I should have received from an audience with the first prince in
Europe.  That woman is a blessing to me, and I never see her without
being the better for her company." Mrs. Unwin's character is written in
her portrait with its prim but pleasant features; a Puritan and a
precisian she was, but she was not morose or sour, and she had a
boundless capacity for affection.  Lady Hesketh, a woman of the world,
and a good judge in every respect, says of her at a later period, when
she had passed with Cowper through many sad and trying years: "She is
very far from grave; on the contrary, she is cheerful and gay, and
laughs _de bon coeur_ upon the smallest provocation.  Amidst all the
little puritanical words which fall from her _de temps en temps_, she
seems to have by nature a quiet fund of gaiety; great indeed must it
have been, not to have been wholly overcome by the close confinement in
which she has lived, and the anxiety she must have undergone for one
whom she certainly loves as well as one human being can love another.
I will not say she idolizes him, because that she would think wrong;
but she certainly seems to possess the truest regard and affection for
this excellent creature, and, as I said before, has in the most literal
sense of those words, no will or shadow of inclination but what is his.
My account of Mrs. Unwin may seem perhaps to you, on comparing my
letters, contradictory; but when you consider that I began to write at
the first moment that I saw her, you will not wonder.  Her character
develops itself by degrees; and though I might lead you to suppose her
grave and melancholy, she is not so by any means.  When she speaks upon
grave subjects, she does express herself with a puritanical tone, and
in puritanical expressions, but on all subjects she seems to have a
great disposition to cheerfulness and mirth; and indeed had she not,
she could not have gone through all she has.  I must say, too, that she
seems to be very well read in the English poets, as appears by several
little quotations, which she makes from time to time, and has a true
taste for what is excellent in that way."

When Cowper became an author he paid the highest respect to Mrs. Unwin
as an instinctive critic, and called her his Lord Chamberlain, whose
approbation was his sufficient licence for publication.

Life in the Unwin family is thus described by the new inmate;--"As to
amusements, I mean what the world calls such, we have none.  The place
indeed swarms with them; and cards and dancing are the professed
business of almost all the gentle inhabitants of Huntingdon.  We refuse
to take part in them, or to be accessories to this way of murdering our
time, and by so doing have acquired the name of Methodists.  Having
told you how we do not spend our time, I will next say how we do.  We
breakfast commonly between eight and nine; till eleven, we read either
the scripture, or the sermons of some faithful preacher of those holy
mysteries; at eleven we attend divine service, which is performed here
twice every day, and from twelve to three we separate, and amuse
ourselves as we please.  During that interval, I either read in my own
apartment, or walk or ride, or work in the garden.  We seldom sit an
hour after dinner, but, if the weather permits, adjourn to the garden,
where, with Mrs. Unwin and her son, I have generally the pleasure of
religious conversation till tea-time.  If it rains, or is too windy for
walking, we either converse within doors or sing some hymns of Martin's
collection, and by the help of Mrs. Unwin's harpsichord, make up a
tolerable concert, in which our hearts, I hope are the best performers.
After tea we sally forth to walk in good earnest.  Mrs. Unwin is a good
walker, and we have generally travelled about four miles before we see
home again.  When the days are short we make this excursion in the
former part of the day, between church-time and dinner.  At night we
read and converse as before till supper, and commonly finish the
evening either with hymns or a sermon, and last of all the family are
called to prayers.  I need not tell you that such a life as this is
consistent with the utmost cheerfulness, accordingly we are all happy,
and dwell together in unity as brethren."

Mrs. Cowper, the wife of Major (now Colonel) Cowper, to whom this was
written, was herself strongly Evangelical; Cowper had, in fact,
unfortunately for him, turned from his other relations and friends to
her on that account.  She, therefore, would have no difficulty in
thinking that such a life was consistent with cheerfulness, but
ordinary readers will ask how it could fail to bring on another fit of
hypochondria.  The answer is probably to be found in the last words of
the passage.  Overstrained and ascetic piety found an antidote in
affection.  The Unwins were Puritans and enthusiasts, but their
household was a picture of domestic love.

With the name of Mrs. Cowper is connected an incident which, occurred
at this time, and which illustrates the propensity to self-inspection
and self-revelation which Cowper had in common with Rousseau.
Huntingdon, like other little towns, was all eyes and gossip; the new
comer was a mysterious stranger who kept himself aloof from the general
society, and he naturally became the mark for a little stone-throwing.
Young Unwin happening to be passing near "the Park" on his way from
London to Huntingdon, Cowper gave him an introduction to its lady, in a
letter to whom he afterwards disclosed his secret motive.  "My dear
Cousin,--You sent my friend Unwin home to us charmed, with your kind
reception of him, and with everything he saw at the Park.  Shall I once
more give you a peep into my vile and deceitful heart?  What motive do
you think lay at the bottom of my conduct when I desired him to call
upon you?  I did not suspect, at first, that pride and vainglory had
any share in it, but quickly after I had recommended the visit to him,
I discovered, in that fruitful soil, the very root of the matter.  You
know I am a stranger here; all such are suspected characters, unless
they bring their credentials with them.  To this moment, I believe, it
is a matter of speculation in the place, whence I came, and to whom I
belong.  Though my friend, you may suppose, before I was admitted an
inmate here, was satisfied that I was not a mere vagabond, and has,
since that time, received more convincing proofs of my _sponsibility_;
yet I could not resist the opportunity of furnishing him with ocular
demonstration of it, by introducing him to one of my most splendid
connexions; that when he hears me called 'that fellow Cowper,' which
has happened heretofore, he may be able, upon unquestionable evidence,
to assert my gentlemanhood, and relieve me from the weight of that
opprobrious appellation.  Oh pride! pride! it deceives with the
subtlety of a serpent, and seems to walk erect, though it crawls upon
the earth.  How will it twist and twine itself about to get from under
the Cross, which it is the glory of our Christian calling to be able to
bear with patience and goodwill.  They who can guess at the heart of a
stranger,--and you especially, who are of a compassionate temper,--will
be more ready, perhaps, to excuse me, in this instance, than I can be
to excuse myself.  But, in good truth, it was abominable pride of
heart, indignation, and vanity, and deserves no better name."

Once more, however obsolete Cowper's belief, and the language in which
he expresses it may have become for many of us, we must take it as his
philosophy of life.  At this time, at all events, it was a source of
happiness.  "The storm being passed, a quiet and peaceful serenity of
soul succeeded," and the serenity in this case was unquestionably
produced in part by the faith.

  I was a stricken deer that left the herd
  Long since; with many an arrow deep infixed
  My panting side was charged, when I withdrew
  To seek a tranquil death in distant shades,
  There was I found by one who had himself
  Been hurt by the archers.  In his side he bore
  And in his hands and feet the cruel scars,
  With gentle force soliciting the darts,
  He drew them forth and healed and bade me live.

Cowper thought for a moment of taking orders, but his dread of
appearing in public conspired with the good sense which lay beneath his
excessive sensibility to put a veto on the design.  He, however,
exercised the zeal of a neophyte in proselytism to a greater extent
than his own judgment and good taste approved when his enthusiasm had
calmed down.



CHAPTER III.

AT OLNEY--MR. NEWTON.

Cowper had not been two years with the Unwins when Mr. Unwin, the
father, was killed by a fall from his horse; this broke up the
household.  But between Cowper and Mrs. Unwin an indissoluble tie had
been formed.  It seems clear, notwithstanding Southey's assertion to
the contrary, that they at one time meditated marriage, possibly as a
propitiation to the evil tongues which did not spare even this most
innocent connexion; but they were prevented from fulfilling their
intention by a return of Cowper's malady.  They became companions for
life.  Cowper says they were as mother and son to each other; but Mrs.
Unwin was only seven years older than he.   To label their connexion is
impossible, and to try to do it would be a platitude.  In his poems
Cowper calls Mrs. Unwin Mary; she seems always to have called him Mr.
Cowper.  It is evident that her son, a strictly virtuous and religious
man, never had the slightest misgiving about his mother's position.

The pair had to choose a dwelling-place; they chose Olney in
Buckinghamshire, on the Ouse.  The Ouse was "a slow winding river,"
watering low meadows, from which crept pestilential fogs.  Olney was a
dull town, or rather village, inhabited by a population of lace-makers,
ill-paid, fever-stricken, and for the most part as brutal as they were
poor.  There was not a woman in the place excepting Mrs. Newton with
whom Mrs. Unwin could associate, or to whom she could look for help in
sickness or other need.  The house in which the pair took up their
abode was dismal, prison-like, and tumble-down; when they left it, the
competitors for the succession were a cobbler and a publican.  It
looked upon the Market Place, but it was in the close neighbourhood of
Silver End, the worst part of Olney.  In winter the cellars were full
of water.  There were no pleasant walks within easy reach, and in
winter Cowper's only exercise was pacing thirty yards of gravel, with
the dreary supplement of dumb-bells.  What was the attraction to this
"well," this "abyss," as Cowper himself called it, and as, physically
and socially, it was?

The attraction was the presence of the Rev. John Newton, then curate of
Olney.  The vicar was Moses Brown, an Evangelical and a religious
writer, who has even deserved a place among the worthies of the
revival; but a family of thirteen children, some of whom it appears too
closely resembled the sons of Eli, had compelled him to take advantage
of the indulgent character of the ecclesiastical polity of those days
by becoming a pluralist and a non-resident, so that the curate had
Olney to himself.  The patron was the Lord Dartmouth, who, as Cowper
says, "wore a coronet and prayed."  John Newton was one of the shining
lights and foremost leaders and preachers of the revival.  His name was
great both in the Evangelical churches within the pale of the
Establishment, and in the Methodist churches without it.  He was a
brand plucked from the very heart of the burning.  We have a memoir of
his life, partly written by himself, in the form of letters, and
completed under his superintendence.  It is a monument of the age of
Smollett and Wesley, not less characteristic than is Cellini's memoir
of the times in which he lived.  His father was master of a vessel, and
took him to sea when he was eleven.  His mother was a pious Dissenter,
who was at great pains to store his mind with religious thoughts and
pieces.  She died when he was young, and his stepmother was not pious.
He began to drag his religious anchor, and at length, having read
Shaftesbury, left his theological moorings altogether, and drifted into
a wide sea of ungodliness, blasphemy, and recklessness of living.  Such
at least is the picture drawn by the sinner saved of his own earlier
years.  While still but a stripling he fell desperately in love with a
girl of thirteen; his affection for her was as constant as it was
romantic; through all his wanderings and sufferings he never ceased to
think of her, and after seven years she became his wife.  His father
frowned on the engagement, and he became estranged from home.  He was
impressed; narrowly escaped shipwreck, deserted, and was arrested and
flogged as a deserter.  Released from the navy, he was taken into the
service of a slave-dealer on the coast of Africa, at whose hands, and
those of the man's negro mistress, he endured every sort of
ill-treatment and contumely, being so starved that he was fain
sometimes to devour raw roots to stay his hunger.  His constitution
must have been of iron to carry him through all that he endured.  In
the meantime his indomitable mind was engaged in attempts at
self-culture; he studied a Euclid which he had brought with him,
drawing his diagrams on the sand, and he afterwards managed to teach
himself Latin by means of a Horace and a Latin Bible, aided by some
slight vestiges of the education which he had received at a grammar
school.  His conversion was brought about by the continued influences
of Thomas a Kempis, of a very narrow escape, after terrible sufferings,
from shipwreck, of the impression made by the sights of the mighty deep
on a soul which, in its weather-beaten casing, had retained its native
sensibility, and, we may safely add, of the disregarded but not
forgotten teachings of his pious mother.  Providence was now kind to
him; he became captain of a slave ship, and made several voyages on the
business of the trade.  That it was a wicked trade he seems to have had
no idea; he says he never knew sweeter or more frequent hours of divine
communion than on his two last voyages to Guinea.  Afterwards it
occurred to him that though his employment was genteel and profitable,
it made him a sort of gaoler, unpleasantly conversant with both chains
and shackles; and he besought Providence to fix him in a more humane
calling,

In answer to his prayer came a fit of apoplexy, which made it dangerous
for him to go to sea again.  He obtained an office in the port of
Liverpool, but soon he set his heart on becoming a minister of the
Church of England.  He applied for ordination to the Archbishop of
York, but not having the degree required by the rules of the
Establishment, he received through his Grace's secretary "the softest
refusal imaginable." The Archbishop had not had the advantage of
perusing Lord Macaulay's remarks on the difference between the policy
of the Church of England and that of the Church of Rome, with regard to
the utilization of religious enthusiasts.  In the end Newton was
ordained by the Bishop of Lincoln, and threw himself with the energy of
a newborn apostle upon the irreligion and brutality of Olney.  No
Carthusian's breast could glow more intensely with the zeal which is
the offspring of remorse.  Newton was a Calvinist of course, though it
seems not an extreme one, otherwise he would probably have confirmed
Cowper in the darkest of hallucinations.  His religion was one of
mystery and miracle, full of sudden conversions, special providences
and satanic visitations.  He himself says that "his name was up about
the country for preaching people mad:" it is true that in the eyes of
the profane Methodism itself was madness; but he goes on to say
"whether it is owing to the sedentary life the women live here, poring
over their (lace) pillows for ten or twelve hours every day, and
breathing confined air in their crowded little rooms, or whatever may
be the immediate cause, I suppose we have near a dozen in different
degrees disordered in their heads, and most of them I believe truly
gracious people." He surmises that "these things are permitted in
judgment, that they who seek occasion for cavilling and stumbling may
have what they want."  Nevertheless there were in him not only force,
courage, burning zeal for doing good, but great kindness, and even
tenderness of heart.  "I see in this world," he said, "two heaps of
human happiness and misery; now if I can take but the smallest bit from
one heap and add it to the other I carry a point--if, as I go home, a
child has dropped a half-penny, and by giving it another I can wipe
away its tears, I feel I have done something."  There was even in him a
strain, if not of humour, of a shrewdness which was akin to it, and
expressed itself in many pithy sayings.  "If two angels came down from
heaven to execute a divine command, and one was appointed to conduct an
empire and the other to sweep a street in it, they would feel no
inclination to change employments."  "A Christian should never plead
spirituality for being a sloven; if he be but a shoe-cleaner, he should
be the best in the parish."  "My principal method for defeating heresy
is by establishing truth.  One proposes to fill a bushel with tares;
now if I can fill it first with wheat, I shall defy his attempts." That
his Calvinism was not very dark or sulphureous, seems to be shown from
his repeating with gusto the saying of one of the old women of Olney
when some preacher dwelt on the doctrine of predestination--"Ah, I have
long settled that point; for if God had not chosen me before I was
born, I am sure he would have seen nothing to have chosen me for
afterwards."  That he had too much sense to take mere profession for
religion appears from his describing the Calvinists of Olney as of two
sorts, which reminded him of the two baskets of Jeremiah's figs.  The
iron constitution which had carried him through so many hardships,
enabled him to continue in his ministry to extreme old age.  A friend
at length counselled him to stop before he found himself stopped by
being able to speak no longer.  "I cannot stop," he said, raising his
voice.  "What! shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can
speak?"

At the instance of a common friend, Newton had paid Mrs. Unwin a visit
at Huntingdon, after her husband's death, and had at once established
the ascendancy of a powerful character over her and Cowper.  He now
beckoned the pair to his side, placed them in the house adjoining his
own, and opened a private door between the two gardens, so as to have
his spiritual children always beneath his eye.  Under this, in the most
essential respect, unhappy influence, Cowper and Mrs. Unwin together
entered on "a decided course of Christian happiness."  That is to say
they spent all their days in a round of religious exercises without
relaxation or relief.  On fine summer evenings, as the sensible Lady
Hesketh saw with dismay, instead of a walk, there was a prayer-meeting.
Cowper himself was made to do violence to his intense shyness by
leading in prayer.  He was also made to visit the poor at once on
spiritual missions, and on that of almsgiving, for which Thornton, the
religious philanthropist, supplied Newton and his disciples with means.
This, which Southey appears to think about the worst part of Newton's
regimen, was probably its redeeming feature.  The effect of doing good
to others on any mind was sure to be good; and the sight of real
suffering was likely to banish fancied ills.  Cowper in this way gained
at all events a practical knowledge of the poor, and learned to do them
justice, though from a rather too theological point of view.  Seclusion
from the sinful world was as much a part of the system of Mr. Newton,
as it was of the system of Saint Benedict.  Cowper was almost entirely
cut off from intercourse with his friends and people of his own class.
He dropped his correspondence even with his beloved cousin, Lady
Hesketh, and would probably have dropped his correspondence with Hill,
had not Hill's assistance in money matters been indispensable.  To
complete his mental isolation it appears that having sold his library
he had scarcely any books.  Such a course of Christian happiness as
this could only end in one way; and Newton himself seems to have had
the sense to see that a storm was brewing, and that there was no way of
conjuring it but by contriving some more congenial occupation.  So the
disciple was commanded to employ his poetical gifts in contributing to
a hymnbook which Newton was compiling.  Cowper's Olney hymns have not
any serious value as poetry.  Hymns rarely have.  The relations of man
with Deity transcend and repel poetical treatment.  There is nothing in
them on which the creative imagination can be exercised.  Hymns can be
little more than incense of the worshipping soul.  Those of the Latin
church are the best; not because they are better poetry than the rest
(for they are not), but because their language is the most sonorous.
Cowper's hymns were accepted by the religious body for which they were
written, as expressions of its spiritual feeling and desires; so far
they were successful.  They are the work of a religious man of culture,
and free from anything wild, erotic, or unctuous.  But on the other
hand there is nothing in them suited to be the vehicle of lofty
devotion, nothing, that we can conceive a multitude or even a
prayer-meeting uplifting to heaven with voice and heart.  Southey has
pointed to some passages on which the shadow of the advancing malady
falls; but in the main there is a predominance of religious joy and
hope.  The most despondent hymn of the series is _Temptation_, the
thought of which resembles that of _The Castaway_.

Cowper's melancholy may have been aggravated by the loss of his only
brother, who died about this time, and at whose death-bed he was
present; though in the narrative which he wrote, joy at John's
conversion and the religious happiness of his end seems to exclude the
feelings by which hypochondria was likely to be fed.  But his mode of
life under Newton was enough to account for the return of his disease,
which in this sense may be fairly laid to the charge of religion.  He
again went mad, fancied as before that he was rejected of heaven,
ceased to pray as one helplessly doomed, and again attempted suicide.
Newton and Mrs. Unwin at first treated the disease as a diabolical
visitation, and "with deplorable consistency," to borrow the phrase
used by one of their friends in the case of Cowper's desperate
abstinence from prayer, abstained from calling in a physician.  Of this
again their religion must bear the reproach.  In other respects they
behaved admirably.  Mrs. Unwin, shut up for sixteen months with her
unhappy partner, tended him with unfailing love; alone she did it, for
he could bear no one else about him; though to make her part more
trying he had conceived the insane idea that she hated him.  Seldom has
a stronger proof been given of the sustaining power of affection.
Assuredly of whatever Cowper may have afterwards done for his kind, a
great part must be set down to the credit of Mrs. Unwin.

  Mary!  I want a lyre with other strings,
  Such aid from heaven as some have feigned they drew,
    An eloquence scarce given to mortals, new
  And undebased by praise of meaner things,
  That, ere through age or woe I shed my wings,
    I may record thy worth with honour due,
    In verse as musical as thou art true,
  And that immortalizes whom it sings.
  But thou hast little need.  There is a book
    By seraphs writ with beams of heavenly light,
  On which the eyes of God not rarely look,
    A chronicle of actions just and bright;
  There all thy deeds, my faithful Mary shine,
  And, since thou own'st that praise, I spare thee mine.

Newton's friendship too was sorely tried.  In the midst of the malady
the lunatic took it into his head to transfer himself from his own
house to the Vicarage, which, he obstinately refused to leave; and
Newton bore this infliction for several months without repining,
though, he might well pray earnestly for his friend's deliverance.
"The Lord has numbered the days in which I am appointed to wait on him
in this dark valley, and he has given us such a love to him, both as a
believer and a friend, that I am not weary; but to be sure his
deliverance would be to me one of the greatest blessings my thoughts
can conceive."  Dr. Cotton was at last called in, and under his
treatment, evidently directed against a bodily disease, Cowper was at
length restored to sanity.

Newton once compared his own walk in the world to that of a physician
going through Bedlam.  But he was not skilful in his treatment of the
literally insane.  He thought to cajole Cowper out of his cherished
horrors by calling his attention to a case resembling his own.  The
case was that of Simon Browne, a Dissenter, who had conceived the idea
that, being under the displeasure of Heaven, he had been entirely
deprived of his rational being and left with merely his animal nature.
He had accordingly resigned his ministry, and employed, himself in
compiling a dictionary, which, he said, was doing nothing that could
require a reasonable soul.  He seems to have thought that theology fell
under the same category, for he proceeded to write some theological
treatises, which he dedicated to Queen Caroline, calling her Majesty's
attention to the singularity of the authorship as the most remarkable
phenomenon of her reign.  Cowper, however, instead of falling into the
desired train of reasoning, and being led to suspect the existence of a
similar illusion in himself, merely rejected the claim of the pretended
rival in spiritual affliction, declaring his own case to be far the
more deplorable of the two.

Before the decided course of Christian happiness had time again to
culminate in madness, fortunately for Cowper, Newton left Olney for St.
Mary Woolnoth.  He was driven away at last by a quarrel with his
barbarous parishioners, the cause of which did him credit.  A fire
broke out at Olney, and burnt a good many of its straw-thatched
cottages.  Newton ascribed the extinction of the fire rather to prayer
than water, but he took the lead in practical measures of relief, and
tried to remove the earthly cause of such visitations by putting an end
to bonfires and illuminations on the 5th of November.  Threatened with
the loss of their Guy Fawkes, the barbarians rose upon him, and he had
a narrow escape from their violence.  We are reminded of the case of
Cotton Mather, who, after being a leader in witch-burning, nearly
sacrificed his life in combatting the fanaticism which opposed itself
to the introduction of inoculation.  Let it always be remembered that
besides its theological side, the Revival had its philanthropic and
moral side; that it abolished the slave trade, and at last slavery;
that it waged war, and effective war, under the standard of the gospel,
upon masses of vice and brutality, which had been totally neglected by
the torpor of the Establishment; that among large classes of the people
it was the great civilizing agency of the time.

Newton was succeeded as curate of Olney by his disciple, and a man of
somewhat the same cast of mind and character, Thomas Scott the writer
of the _Commentary on the Bible_ and _The Force of Truth_.  To Scott
Cowper seems not to have greatly taken.  He complains that, as a
preacher, he is always scolding the congregation.  Perhaps Newton had
foreseen that it would be so, for he specially commended the spiritual
son whom he was leaving, to the care of the Rev. William Bull, of the
neighbouring town of Newport Pagnell, a dissenting minister, but a
member of a spiritual connexion which did not stop at the line of
demarcation between Nonconformity and the Establishment.  To Bull
Cowper did greatly take, he extols him as "a Dissenter, but a liberal
one," a man of letters and of genius, master of a fine imagination--or,
rather, not master of it--and addresses him as _Carissime Taurorum_.
It is rather singular that Newton should have given himself such a
successor.  Bull was a great smoker, and had made himself a cozy and
secluded nook in his garden for the enjoyment of his pipe.  He was
probably something of a spiritual as well as of a physical Quietist,
for he set Cowper to translate the poetry of the great exponent of
Quietism, Madame Guyon.  The theme of all the pieces which Cowper has
translated is the same--Divine Love and the raptures of the heart that
enjoys it--the blissful union of the drop with the Ocean--the
Evangelical Nirvana.  If this line of thought was not altogether
healthy, or conducive to the vigorous performance of practical duty, it
was at all events better than the dark fancy of Reprobation.  In his
admiration of Madame Guyon, her translator showed his affinity, and
that of Protestants of the same school, to Fenelon and the Evangelical
element which has lurked in the Roman Catholic church since the days of
Thomas a Kempis.



CHAPTER IV.

AUTHORSHIP.  THE MORAL SATIRES.

Since his recovery, Cowper had been looking out for what he most
needed, a pleasant occupation.  He tried drawing, carpentering,
gardening.  Of gardening he had always been fond; and he understood it
as shown by the loving though somewhat "stercoraceous" minuteness of
some passages in _The Task_.  A little greenhouse, used as a parlour in
summer, where he sat surrounded by beauty and fragrance, and lulled by
pleasant sounds, was another product of the same pursuit, and seems
almost Elysian in that dull dark life.  He also found amusement in
keeping tame hares, and he fancied that he had reconciled the hare to
man and dog.  His three tame hares are among the canonized pets of
literature, and they were to his genius what "Sailor" was to the genius
of Byron.  But Mrs. Unwin, who had terrible reason for studying his
case, saw that the thing most wanted was congenial employment for the
mind, and she incited him to try his hand at poetry on a larger scale.
He listened to her advice, and when he was nearly fifty years of age
became a poet.  He had acquired the faculty of verse-writing, as we
have seen; he had even to some extent formed his manner when he was
young.  Age must by this time have quenched his fire, and tamed his
imagination, so that the didactic style would suit him best.  In the
length of the interval between his early poems and his great work he
resembles Milton; but widely different in the two cases had been the
current of the intervening years.  Poetry written late in life is of
course free from youthful crudity and extravagance.  It also escapes
the youthful tendency to imitation.  Cowper's authorship is ushered in
by Southey with a history of English poetry; but this is hardly in
place; Cowper had little connexion with anything before him.  Even his
knowledge of poetry was not great.  In his youth he had read the great
poets, and had studied Milton especially with the ardour of intense
admiration.  Nothing ever made him so angry as Johnson's Life of
Milton.  "Oh!" he cries, "I could thrash his old jacket till I made his
pension jingle in his pocket."  Churchill had made a great--far too
great--an impression on him, when he was a Templar.  Of Churchill, if
of anybody, he must be regarded as a follower, though only in his
earlier and less successful poems.  In expression he always regarded as
a model the neat and gay simplicity of Prior.  But so little had he
kept up his reading of anything but sermons and hymns, that he learned
for the first time from Johnson's Lives the existence of Collins.  He
is the offspring of the Religious Revival rather than of any school of
art.  His most important relation to any of his predecessors is, in
fact, one of antagonism to the hard glitter of Pope.

In urging her companion to write poetry, Mrs. Unwin was on the right
path, her puritanism led her astray in the choice of a theme.  She
suggested _The Progress of Error_ as a subject for a "Moral Satire." It
was unhappily adopted, and _The Progress of Error_ was followed by
_Truth_, _Table Talk_, _Expostulation_, _Hope_, _Charity_,
_Conversation_, and _Retirement_.  When the series was published,
_Table Talk_ was put first, being supposed to be the lightest and the
most attractive to an unregenerate world.  The judgment passed upon
this set of poems at the time by the _Critical Review_ seems
blasphemous to the fond biographer, and is so devoid of modern
smartness as to be almost interesting as a literary fossil.  But it
must be deemed essentially just, though the reviewer errs, as many
reviewers have erred, in measuring the writer's capacity by the
standard of his first performance.  "These poems," said the _Critical
Review_, "are written, as we learn from the title-page, by Mr. Cowper
of the Inner Temple, who seems to be a man of a sober and religious
turn of mind, with a benevolent heart, and a serious wish to inculcate
the precepts of morality; he is not, however, possessed of any superior
abilities or the power of genius requisite for so arduous an
undertaking. . . . .  He says what is incontrovertible and what has
been said over and over again with much gravity, but says nothing new,
sprightly or entertaining; travelling on a plain level flat road, with
great composure almost through the whole long and tedious volume, which
is little better than a dull sermon in very indifferent verse on Truth,
the Progress of Error, Charity, and some other grave subjects.  If this
author had followed the advice given by Caraccioli, and which he has
chosen for one of the mottoes prefixed to these poems, he would have
clothed his indisputable truths in some more becoming disguise, and
rendered his work much more agreeable.  In its present shape we cannot
compliment him on its beauty; for as this bard himself sweetly sings:--

  "The clear harangue, and cold as it is clear,
  Falls soporific on the listless ear."

In justice to the bard it ought to be said that he wrote under the eye
of the Rev. John Newton, to whom the design had been duly submitted,
and who had given his _imprimatur_ in the shape of a preface which took
Johnson the publisher aback by its gravity.  Newton would not have
sanctioned any poetry which had not a distinctly religious object, and
he received an assurance from the poet that the lively passages were
introduced only as honey on the rim of the medicinal cup, to commend
its healing contents to the lips of a giddy world.  The Rev. John
Newton must have been exceedingly austere if he thought that the
quantity of honey used was excessive.

A genuine desire to make society better is always present in these
poems, and its presence lends them the only interest which they possess
except as historical monuments of a religious movement.  Of satirical
vigour they have scarcely a semblance.  There are three kinds of
satire, corresponding to as many different views of humanity and life,
the Stoical, the Cynical, and the Epicurean.  Of Stoical satire, with
its strenuous hatred of vice and wrong, the type is Juvenal.  Of
Cynical satire, springing from bitter contempt of humanity, the type is
Swift's Gulliver, while its quintessence is embodied in his lines on
the Day of Judgment.  Of Epicurean satire, flowing from a contempt of
humanity which is not bitter, and lightly playing with the weakness and
vanities of mankind, Horace is the classical example.  To the first two
kinds, Cowper's nature was totally alien, and when he attempts anything
in either of those lines, the only result is a querulous and censorious
acerbity, in which his real feelings had no part, and which on mature
reflection offended his own better taste.  In the Horatian kind he
might have excelled, as the episode of the _Retired Statesman_ in one
of these poems shows.  He might have excelled, that is, if like Horace
he had known the world.  But he did not know the world.  He saw the
"great Babel" only "through the loopholes of retreat," and in the
columns of his weekly newspaper.  Even during the years, long past,
which he spent in the world, his experience had been confined to a
small literary circle.  Society was to him an abstraction on which he
discoursed like a pulpiteer.  His satiric whip not only has no lash, it
is brandished in the air.

No man was ever less qualified for the office of a censor; his judgment
is at once disarmed, and a breach in his principles is at once made by
the slightest personal influence.  Bishops are bad, they are like the
Cretans, evil beasts and slow bellies; but the bishop whose brother
Cowper knows is a blessing to the Church.  Deans and Canons are lazy
sinecurists, but there is a bright exception in the case of the Cowper
who held a golden stall at Durham.  Grinding India is criminal, but
Warren Hastings is acquitted, because he was with Cowper at
Westminster.  Discipline was deplorably relaxed in all colleges except
that of which Cowper's brother was a fellow.  Pluralities and
resignation bonds, the grossest abuses of the Church, were perfectly
defensible in the case of any friend or acquaintance of this Church
Reformer.  Bitter lines against Popery inserted in _The Task_ were
struck out, because the writer had made the acquaintance of Mr. and
Mrs. Throckmorton, who were Roman Catholics.  Smoking was detestable,
except when practised by dear Mr. Bull.  Even gambling, the blackest
sin of fashionable society, is not to prevent Fox, the great Whig, from
being a ruler in Israel.  Besides, in all his social judgments, Cowper
is at a wrong point of view.  He is always deluded by the idol of his
cave.  He writes perpetually on the twofold assumption that a life of
retirement is more favourable to virtue than a life of action, and that
"God made the country, while man made the town."  Both parts of the
assumption are untrue.  A life of action is more favourable to virtue,
as a rule, than a life of retirement, and the development of humanity
is higher and richer, as a rule, in the town than in the country.  If
Cowper's retirement was virtuous, it was so because he was actively
employed in the exercise of his highest faculties: had he been a mere
idler, secluded from his kind, his retirement would not have been
virtuous at all.  His flight from the world was rendered necessary by
his malady, and respectable by his literary work; but it was a flight
and not a victory.  His misconception was fostered and partly produced
by a religion which was essentially ascetic, and which, while it gave
birth to characters of the highest and most energetic beneficence,
represented salvation too little as the reward of effort, too much as
the reward of passive belief and of spiritual emotion.

The most readable of the Moral Satires is _Retirement_, in which the
writer is on his own ground expressing his genuine feelings, and which
is, in fact, a foretaste of _The Task_.  _Expostulation_, a warning to
England from the example of the Jews, is the best constructed: the rest
are totally wanting in unity, and even in connexion.  In all there are
flashes of epigrammatic smartness.

  How shall I speak thee, or thy power address,
  Thou God of our idolatry, the press?
  By thee, religion, liberty, and laws
  Exert their influence, and advance their cause;
  By thee, worse plagues than Pharaoh's land befel,
  Diffused, make earth the vestibule of hell:
  Thou fountain, at which drink the good and wise,
  Thou ever-bubbling spring of endless lies,
  Like Eden's dread probationary tree,
  Knowledge of good and evil is from thee.

Occasionally there are passages of higher merit.  The episode of
statesmen in _Retirement_ has been already mentioned.  The lines on the
two disciples going to Emmaus in _Conversation_, though little more
than a paraphrase of the Gospel narrative, convey pleasantly the
Evangelical idea of the Divine Friend.  Cowper says in one of his
letters that he had been intimate with a man of fine taste who had
confessed to him that though he could not subscribe to the truth of
Christianity itself, he could never read this passage of St. Luke
without being deeply affected by it, and feeling that if the stamp of
divinity was impressed upon anything in the Scriptures, it was upon
that passage.

  It happen'd on a solemn eventide,
  Soon after He that was our surety died,
  Two bosom friends, each pensively inclined,
  The scene of all those sorrows left behind,
  Sought their own village, busied as they went
  In musings worthy of the great event:
  They spake of him they loved, of him whose life,
  Though blameless, had incurr'd perpetual strife,
  Whose deeds had left, in spite of hostile arts,
  A deep memorial graven on their hearts.
  The recollection, like a vein of ore,
  The farther traced enrich'd them still the more;


  They thought him, and they justly thought him, one
  Sent to do more than he appear'd to have done,
  To exalt a people, and to place them high
  Above all else, and wonder'd he should die.
  Ere yet they brought their journey to an end,
  A stranger join'd them, courteous as a friend,
  And ask'd them with a kind engaging air
  What their affliction was, and begg'd a share.
  Inform'd, he gathered up the broken thread,
  And truth and wisdom gracing all he said,
  Explain'd, illustrated, and search'd so well
  The tender theme on which they chose to dwell,
  That reaching home, the night, they said is near,
  We must not now be parted, sojourn here.--
  The new acquaintance soon became a guest,
  And made so welcome at their simple feast,
  He bless'd the bread, but vanish'd at the word,
  And left them both exclaiming, 'Twas the Lord!
  Did not our hearts feel all he deign'd to say,
  Did they not burn within us by the way?

The prude going to morning church in _Truth_ is a good rendering of
Hogarth's picture:--

  Yon ancient prude, whose wither'd features show
  She might, be young some forty years ago,
  Her elbows pinion'd close upon her hips,
  Her head erect, her fan upon her lips,
  Her eyebrows arch'd, her eyes both gone astray
  To watch yon amorous couple in their play,
  With bony and unkerchief'd neck defies
  The rude inclemency of wintry skies,
  And sails with lappet-head and mincing airs
  Daily at clink of hell, to morning prayers.
  To thrift and parsimony much inclined,
  She yet allows herself that boy behind;
  The shivering urchin, bending as he goes,
  With slipshod heels, and dew-drop at his nose,
  His predecessor's coat advanced to wear,
  Which future pages are yet doom'd to share,
  Carries her Bible tuck'd beneath his arm,
  And hides his hands to keep his fingers warm.

Of personal allusions there are a few; if the satirist had not been
prevented from indulging in them by his taste, he would have been
debarred by his ignorance.  Lord Chesterfield, as the incarnation of
the world and the most brilliant servant of the arch-enemy, comes in
for a lashing under the name of Petronius.

  Petronius! all the muses weep for thee,
  But every tear shall scald thy memory.
  The graces too, while virtue at their shrine
  Lay bleeding under that soft hand of thine,
  Felt each a mortal stab in her own breast,
  Abhorr'd the sacrifice, and cursed the priest.
  Thou polish'd and high-finish'd foe to truth,
  Gray-beard corruptor of our listening youth,
  To purge and skim away the filth of vice,
  That so refined it might the more entice,
  Then pour it on the morals of thy son
  To taint _his_ heart, was worthy of _thine own_.

This is about the nearest approach to Juvenal that the Evangelical
satirist ever makes.  In _Hope_ there is a vehement vindication of the
memory of Whitefield.  It is rather remarkable that there is no mention
of Wesley.  But Cowper belonged to the Evangelical rather than to the
Methodist section.  It may be doubted whether the living Whitefield
would have been much to his taste.

In the versification of the moral satires there are frequent faults,
especially in the earlier poems of the series, though Cowper's power of
writing musical verse is attested both by the occasional poems and by
_The Task_.

With the Moral Satires may be coupled, though written later,
_Tirocinium, or a Review of Schools_.  Here Cowper has the advantage of
treating a subject which he understood, about which he felt strongly,
and desired for a practical purpose to stir the feelings of his
readers.  He set to work in bitter earnest.  "There is a sting," he
says, "in verse that prose neither has nor can have; and I do not know
that schools in the gross, and especially public schools, have ever
been so pointedly condemned before.  But they are become a nuisance, a
pest, an abomination, and it is fit that the eyes and noses of mankind
should be opened if possible to perceive it."  His descriptions of the
miseries which children in his day endured, and, in spite of all our
improvements, must still to some extent endure in boarding schools, and
of the effects of the system in estranging boys from their parents and
deadening home affections, are vivid and true.  Of course the Public
School system was not to be overturned by rhyming, but the author of
_Tirocinium_ awakened attention to its faults, and probably did
something towards amending them.   The best lines, perhaps, have been
already quoted in connexion with the history of the writer's boyhood.
There are, however, other telling passages such as that on the
indiscriminate use of emulation as a stimulus:--

  Our public hives of puerile resort
  That are of chief and most approved report,
  To such base hopes in many a sordid soul
  Owe their repute in part, but not the whole.
  A principle, whose proud pretensions pass
  Unquestion'd, though the jewel be but glass,
  That with a world not often over-nice
  Ranks as a virtue, and is yet a vice,
  Or rather a gross compound, justly tried,
  Of envy, hatred, jealousy, and pride,
  Contributes moat perhaps to enhance their fame,
  And Emulation is its precious name.
  Boys once on fire with that contentious zeal
  Feel all the rage that female rivals feel;
  The prize of beauty in a woman's eyes
  Not brighter than in theirs the scholar's prize.
  The spirit of that competition burns
  With all varieties of ill by turns,
  Each vainly magnifies his own success,
  Resents his fellow's, wishes it were less,
  Exults in his miscarriage if he fail,
  Deems his reward too great if he prevail,
  And labours to surpass him day and night,
  Less for improvement, than to tickle spite.
  The spur is powerful, and I grant its force;
  It pricks the genius forward in its course,
  Allows short time for play, and none for sloth,
  And felt alike by each, advances both,
  But judge where so much evil intervenes,
  The end, though plausible, not worth the means.
  Weigh, for a moment, classical desert
  Against a heart depraved, and temper hurt,
  Hurt, too, perhaps for life, for early wrong
  Done to the nobler part, affects it long,
  And you are staunch indeed in learning's cause,
  If you can crown a discipline that draws
  Such mischiefs after it, with much applause.

He might have done more, if he had been able to point to the
alternative of a good day school, as a combination of home affections
with the superior teaching hardly to be found, except in a large
school, and which Cowper, in drawing his comparison between the two
systems, fails to take into account.

To the same general class of poems belongs _Anti-Thelypthora_, which it
is due to Cowper's memory to say was not published in his lifetime.  It
is an angry pasquinade on an absurd book advocating polygamy on
Biblical grounds, by the Rev. Martin Madan, Cowper's quondam spiritual
counsellor.  Alone among Cowper's works it has a taint of coarseness.

The Moral Satires pleased Franklin, to whom their social philosophy was
congenial, as at a later day, in common with all Cowper's works, they
pleased Cobden, who no doubt specially relished the passage in
_Charity_, embodying the philanthropic sentiment of Free Trade.  There
was a trembling consultation as to the expediency of bringing the
volume under the notice of Johnson.  "One of his pointed sarcasms, if
he should happen to be displeased, would soon find its way into all
companies and spoil the sale."  "I think it would be well to send in
our joint names, accompanied with a handsome card, such an one as you
will know how to fabricate, and such as may predispose him to a
favourable perusal of the book, by coaxing him into a good temper, for
he is a great bear, with all his learning and penetration."  Fear
prevailed; but it seems that the book found its way into the dictator's
hands, that his judgment on it was kind, and that he even did something
to temper the wind of adverse criticism to the shorn lamb.  Yet parts
of it were likely to incur his displeasure as a Tory, as a Churchman,
and as one who greatly preferred Fleet Street to the beauties of
nature; while with the sentimental misery of the writer, he could have
had no sympathy whatever.  Of the incompleteness of Johnson's view of
character there could be no better instance than the charming weakness
of Cowper.  Thurlow and Colman did not even acknowledge their copies,
and were lashed for their breach of friendship with rather more vigour
than the Moral Satires display, in _The Valedictory_, which unluckily
survived for posthumous publication, when the culprits had made their
peace.

Cowper certainly misread himself if he believed that ambition, even
literary ambition, was a large element in his character.  But having
published, he felt a keen interest in the success of his publication.
Yet he took its failure and the adverse criticism very calmly.  With
all his sensitiveness, from irritable and suspicious egotism, such as
is the most common cause of moral madness, he was singularly free.  In
this respect his philosophy served him well.

It may safely be said that the Moral Satires would have sunk into
oblivion if they had not been buoyed up by _The Task_.



CHAPTER V.

THE TASK.

Mrs. Unwin's influence produced the Moral Satires.  _The Task_ was born
of a more potent inspiration.  One day Mrs. Jones, the wife of a
neighbouring clergyman, came into Olney to shop, and with her came her
sister, Lady Austen, the widow of a Baronet, a woman of the world, who
had lived much in France, gay, sparkling and vivacious, but at the same
time full of feeling even to overflowing.  The apparition acted like
magic on the recluse.  He desired Mrs. Unwin to ask the two ladies to
stay to tea, then shrank from joining the party which he had himself
invited, ended by joining it, and, his shyness giving way with a rush,
engaged in animated conversation with Lady Austen, and walked with her
part of the way home.  On her an equally great effect appears to have
been produced.  A warm friendship at once sprang up, and before long
Lady Austen had verses addressed to her as Sister Anne.  Her ladyship,
on her part, was smitten with a great love of retirement, and at the
same time with great admiration for Mr. Scott, the curate of Olney, as
a preacher, and she resolved to fit up for herself "that part of our
great building which is at present occupied by Dick Coleman, his wife
and child, and a thousand rats." That a woman of fashion, accustomed to
French salons, should choose such an abode, with a pair of Puritans for
her only society, seems to show that one of the Puritans at least must
have possessed great powers of attraction.  Better quarters were found
for her in the Vicarage; and the private way between the gardens, which
apparently had been closed since Newton's departure, was opened again.

Lady Austen's presence evidently wrought on Cowper like an elixir:
"From a scene of the most uninterrupted retirement," he writes to Mrs.
Unwin, "we have passed at once into a state of constant engagement.
Not that our society is much multiplied; the addition of an individual
has made all this difference.  Lady Austen and we pass our days
alternately at each other's Chateau.  In the morning I walk with one or
other of the ladies, and in the evening wind thread.  Thus did
Hercules, and thus probably did Samson, and thus do I; and were both
those heroes living, I should not fear to challenge them to a trial of
skill in that business, or doubt to beat them both."  It was perhaps
while he was winding thread that Lady Austen told him the story of John
Gilpin.  He lay awake at night laughing over it, and next morning
produced the ballad.  It soon became famous, and was recited by
Henderson, a popular actor, on the stage, though, as its gentility was
doubtful, its author withheld his name.  He afterwards fancied that
this wonderful piece of humour had been written in a mood of the
deepest depression.  Probably he had written it in an interval of high
spirits between two such moods.  Moreover he sometimes exaggerated his
own misery.  He will begin a letter with a _de profundis_, and towards
the end forget his sorrows, glide into commonplace topics, and write
about them in the ordinary strain.  Lady Austen inspired _John Gilpin_.
She inspired, it seems, the lines on the loss of the Royal George.  She
did more: she invited Cowper to try his hand at something considerable
in blank verse.  When he asked her for a subject, she was happier in
her choice than the lady who had suggested the _Progress of Error_.
8he bade him take the sofa on which she was reclining, and which, sofas
being then uncommon, was a more striking and suggestive object than it
would be now.  The right chord was struck; the subject was accepted;
and _The Sofa_ grew into _The Task_; the title of the song reminding us
that it was "commanded by the fair."  As _Paradise Lost_ is to militant
Puritanism, so is _The Task_ to the religious movement of its author's
time.  To its character as the poem of a sect it no doubt owed and
still owes much of its popularity.  Not only did it give beautiful and
effective expression to the sentiments of a large religious party, but
it was about the only poetry that a strict Methodist or Evangelical
could read; while to those whose worship was unritualistic and who were
debarred by their principles from the theatre and the concert, anything
in the way of art that was not illicit must have been eminently
welcome.  But _The Task_ has merits of a more universal and enduring
kind.  Its author himself says of it:--"If the work cannot boast a
regular plan (in which respect, however, I do not think it altogether
indefensible), it may yet boast, that the reflections are naturally
suggested always by the preceding passage, and that, except the fifth
book, which is rather of a political aspect, the whole has one
tendency, to discountenance the modern enthusiasm after a London life,
and to recommend rural ease and leisure as friendly to the cause of
piety and virtue."  A regular plan, assuredly, _The Task_ has not.  It
rambles through a vast variety of subjects, religious, political,
social, philosophical, and horticultural, with as little of method as
its author used in taking his morning walks.  Nor as Mr. Benham has
shown, are the reflections, as a rule, naturally suggested by the
preceding passage.  From the use of a sofa by the gouty to those, who
being free from gout, do not need sofas,--and so to country walks and
country life is hardly a natural transition.  It is hardly a natural
transition from the ice palace built by a Russian despot, to despotism
and politics in general.  But if Cowper deceives himself in fancying
that there is a plan or a close connexion of parts, he is right as to
the existence of a pervading tendency.  The praise of retirement and of
country life as most friendly to piety and virtue, is the perpetual
refrain of The Task, if not its definite theme.  From this idea
immediately now the best and the most popular passages: those which
please apart from anything peculiar to a religious school; those which
keep the poem alive; those which have found their way into the heart of
the nation, and intensified the taste for rural and domestic happiness,
to which they most winningly appeal.  In these Cowper pours out his
inmost feelings, with the liveliness of exhilaration, enhanced by
contrast with previous misery.  The pleasures of the country and of
home, the walk, the garden, but above all the "intimate delights" of
the winter evening, the snug parlour, with its close-drawn curtains
shutting out the stormy night, the steaming and bubbling tea-urn, the
cheerful circle, the book read aloud, the newspaper through which we
look out into the unquiet world, are painted by the writer with a
heartfelt enjoyment, which infects the reader.  These are not the joys
of a hero, nor are they the joys of an Alcaeus "singing amidst the
clash of arms, or when he had moored on the wet shore his storm-tost
barque." But they are pure joys, and they present themselves in
competition with those of Ranelagh and the Basset Table, which are not
heroic or even masculine, any more than they are pure.

The well-known passages at the opening of _The Winter Evening_, are the
self-portraiture of a soul in bliss--such bliss as that soul could
know--and the poet would have found it very difficult to depict to
himself by the utmost effort of his religious imagination any paradise
which he would really have enjoyed more.

    Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
  Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
  And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
  Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
  That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
  So let us welcome peaceful evening in.

      *        *        *        *

  This folio of four pages, happy work!
  Which not even critics criticise, that holds
  Inquisitive attention while I read
  Fast bound in chains of silence, which the fair,
  Though eloquent themselves, yet fear to break,
  What is it but a map of busy life,
  Its fluctuations and its vast concerns?

      *        *        *        *

    'Tis pleasant through the loop-holes of retreat
  To peep at such a world.  To see the stir
  Of the great Babel and not feel the crowd.
  To hear the roar she sends through all her gates
  At a safe distance, where the dying sound
  Falls a soft murmur on the injured ear.
  Thus sitting and surveying thus at ease
  The globe and its concerns, I seem advanced
  To some secure and more than mortal height,
  That liberates and exempts me from them all.
  It turns submitted to my view, turns round
  With all its generations; I behold
  The tumult and am still.  The sound of war
  Has lost its terrors ere it reaches me,
  Grieves but alarms me not.  I mourn the pride
  And avarice that make man a wolf to man,
  Hear the faint echo of those brazen throats
  By which he speaks the language of his heart,
  And sigh, but never tremble at the sound.
  He travels and expatiates, as the bee
  From flower to flower, so he from land to land,
  The manners, customs, policy of all
  Pay contribution to the store he gleans;
  He sucks intelligence in every clime,
  And spreads the honey of his deep research
  At his return, a rich repast for me,
  He travels, and I too.  I tread his deck,
  Ascend his topmast, through his peering eyes
  Discover countries, with a kindred heart
  Suffer his woes and share in his escapes,
  While fancy, like the finger of a clock,
  Runs the great circuit, and is still at home.
    Oh winter! ruler of the inverted year,
  Thy scatter'd hair with sleet like ashes fill'd,
  Thy breath congeal'd upon thy lips, thy cheeks
  Fringed with a beard made white with other snows
  Than those of age; thy forehead wrapt in clouds,
  A leafless branch thy sceptre, and thy throne
  A sliding car indebted to no wheels,
  And urged by storms along its slippery way;
  I love thee, all unlovely as thou seem'st,
  And dreaded as thou art.  Thou hold'st the sun
  A prisoner in the yet undawning East,
  Shortening his journey between morn and noon,
  And hurrying him impatient of his stay
  Down to the rosy West.  But kindly still
  Compensating his loss with added hours
  Of social converse and instructive ease,
  And gathering at short notice in one group
  The family dispersed by daylight and its cares.
  I crown thee king of intimate delights,
  Fire-side enjoyments, home-born happiness,
  And all the comforts that the lowly roof
  Of undisturb'd retirement, and the hours
  Of long uninterrupted evening know.

The writer of _The Task_ also deserves the crown which he has himself
claimed as a close observer and truthful painter of nature.  In this
respect, he challenges comparison with Thomson.  The range of Thomson
is far wider, he paints nature in all her moods, Cowper only in a few
and those the gentlest, though he has said of himself that "he was
always an admirer of thunderstorms, even before he knew whose voice be
heard in them, but especially of thunder rolling over the great
waters."  The great waters he had not seen for many years; he had
never, so far as we know, seen mountains, hardly even high hills; his
only landscape was the flat country watered by the Ouse.  On the other
hand he is perfectly genuine, thoroughly English, entirely emancipated
from false Arcadianism, the yoke of which still sits heavily upon
Thomson, whose "muse" moreover is perpetually "wafting" him away from
the country and the climate which he knows to countries and climates
which he does not know, and which he describes in the style of a prize
poem.  Cowper's landscapes, too, are peopled with the peasantry of
England; Thomson's, with Damons, Palaemons, and Musidoras, tricked out
in the sentimental costume of the sham idyl.  In Thomson, you always
find the effort of the artist working up a description; in Cowper, you
find no effort; the scene is simply mirrored on a mind of great
sensibility and high pictorial power.

  And witness, dear companion of my walks,
  Whose arm this twentieth winter I perceive
  Fast lock'd in mine, with pleasure such as love,
  Confirm'd by long experience of thy worth
  And well-tried virtues, could alone inspire--
  Witness a joy that thou hast doubled long.
  Thou know'st my praise of nature most sincere,
  And that my raptures are not conjured up
  To serve occasions of poetic pomp,
  But genuine, and art partner of them all.
  How oft upon yon eminence our pace
  Has slacken'd to a pause, and we have borne
  The ruffling wind, scarce conscious that it blew,
  While Admiration, feeding at the eye,
  And still unsated, dwelt upon the scene!
  Thence with what pleasure have we just discerned
  The distant plough slow moving, and beside
  His labouring team that swerved not from the track,
  The sturdy swain diminish'd to a boy!
  Here Ouse, slow winding through a level plain
  Of spacious meads, with cattle sprinkled o'er,
  Conducts the eye along his sinuous course
  Delighted.  There, fast rooted in their bank,
  Stand, never overlook'd, our favourite elms,
  That screen the herdsman's solitary hut;
  While far beyond, and overthwart the stream,
  That, as with molten glass, inlays the vale,
  The sloping land recedes into the clouds;
  Displaying on its varied side the grace
  Of hedge-row beauties numberless, square tower,
  Tall spire, from which the sound of cheerful bells
  Just undulates upon the listening ear,
  Groves, heaths, and smoking villages, remote.
  Scenes must be beautiful, which, daily viewed,
  Please daily, and whose novelty survives
  Long knowledge and the scrutiny of years--
  Praise justly due to those that I describe.

This is evidently genuine and spontaneous.  We stand with Cowper and
Mrs. Unwin on the hill in the ruffling wind, like them, scarcely
conscious that it blows, and feed admiration at the eye upon the rich
and thoroughly English champaign that is outspread below.

  Nor rural sights alone, but rural sounds,
  Exhilarate the spirit, and restore
  The tone of languid Nature.  Mighty winds,
  _That sweep the skirt of some far-spreading wood
  Of ancient growth, make music not unlike
  The dash of Ocean on his winding shore_,
  And lull the spirit while they nil the mind;
  Unnumber'd branches waving in the blast,
  And all their leaves fast fluttering, all at once.
  Nor less composure waits upon the roar
  Of distant floods, or on the softer voice
  Of neighbouring fountain, or of _rills that slip
  Through the cleft rock, and chiming as they fall
  Upon loose pebbles, lose themselves at length
  In matted grass that with a livelier green
  Betrays the secret of their silent course_.
  Nature inanimate employs sweet sounds,
  But animated nature sweeter still,
  To soothe and satisfy the human ear.
  Ten thousand warblers cheer the day, and one
  The livelong night: nor these alone, whose notes
  Nice-finger'd Art must emulate in vain,
  But cawing rooks, and kites that swim sublime
  In still-repeated circles, screaming loud,
  The jay, the pie, and e'en the boding owl
  That hails the rising moon, have charms for me.
  Sounds inharmonious in themselves and harsh,
  Yet heard in scenes where peace for ever reigns,
  And only there, please highly for their sake.

Affection such as the last lines display for the inharmonious as well
as the harmonious, for the uncomely, as well as the comely parts of
nature has been made familiar by Wordsworth, but it was new in the time
of Cowper.  Let us compare a landscape painted by Pope in his Windsor
forest, with the lines just quoted, and we shall see the difference
between the art of Cowper, and that of the Augustan age.

  Here waving groves a checkered scene display,
  And part admit and part exclude the day,
  As some coy nymph her lover's warm address
  Not quite indulges, nor can quite repress.
  There interspersed in lawns and opening glades
  The trees arise that share each other's shades;
  Here in full light the russet plains extend,
  There wrapt in clouds, the bluish hills ascend,
  E'en the wild heath displays her purple dyes,
  And midst the desert fruitful fields arise,
  That crowned with tufted trees and springing corn.
  Like verdant isles the sable waste adorn.

The low Berkshire hills wrapt in clouds on a sunny day; a sable desert
in the neighbourhood of Windsor; fruitful fields arising in it, and
crowned with tufted trees and springing corn--evidently Pope saw all
this, not on an eminence, in the ruffling wind, but in his study with
his back to the window, and the Georgics or a translation of them
before him.

Here again is a little picture of rural life from the _Winter Morning
Walk_.

  The cattle mourn in corners, where the fence
  Screens them, and seem half-petrified to sleep
  In unrecumbent sadness.  There they wait
  Their wonted fodder; not like hungering man,
  Fretful if unsupplied; but silent, meek,
  And patient of the slow-paced swain's delay.
  _He from the stack carves out the accustomed load
  Deep-plunging, and again deep-plunging oft,
  His broad keen knife into the solid mass:
  Smooth as a wall the upright remnant stands,
  With such undeviating and even force
  He severs it away_: no needless care,
  Lest storms should overset the leaning pile
  Deciduous, or its own unbalanced weight.
  Forth goes the woodman, leaving unconcern'd
  The cheerful haunts of man; to wield the axe
  And drive the wedge in yonder forest drear,
  from, morn to eve, his solitary task.
  Shaggy, and lean, and shrewd, with pointed ears
  And tail cropp'd short, half lurcher and half cur,
  His dog attends him.  Close behind his heel
  Now creeps he slow; and now, with many a frisk
  Wide-scampering, snatches up the drifted snow
  With ivory teeth, or ploughs it with his snout;
  Then shakes his powder'd coat, and barks for joy.
  Heedless of all his pranks, the sturdy churl
  Moves right toward the mark; nor stops for aught
  But now and then with pressure of his thumb
  To adjust the fragrant charge of a short tube,
  That fumes beneath his nose: the trailing cloud
  Streams far behind him, scenting all the air.

The minutely faithful description of the man carving the load of hay
out of the stack, and again those of the gambolling dog, and the
woodman smoking his pipe with the stream of smoke trailing behind him,
remind us of the touches of minute fidelity in Homer.  The same may be
said of many other passages.

    The sheepfold here
  Pours out its fleecy tenants o'er the glebe.
  _At first, progressive as a stream they seek
  The middle field: but, scatter'd by degrees,
  Each to his choice, soon whiten all the land_.
  There from the sun-burnt hay-field homeward creeps
  _The loaded wain: while lighten'd of its charge,
  The wain that meets it passes swiftly by_;
  The boorish driver leaning o'er his team
  Vociferous and impatient of delay.

A specimen of more imaginative and distinctly poetical description is
the well-known passage on evening, in writing which Cowper would seem
to have had Collins in his mind.

  Come, Evening, once again, season of peace,
  Return, sweet Evening, and continue long!
  Methinks I see thee in the streaky west,
  With matron-step slow-moving, while the Night
  Treads on thy sweeping train; one hand employed
  In letting fall the curtain of repose
  On bird and beast, the other charged for man
  With sweet oblivion of the cares of day:
  Not sumptuously adorn'd, nor needing aid,
  Like homely-featured Night, of clustering gems!
  A star or two just twinkling on thy brow
  Suffices thee; save that the moon is thine
  No less than hers, not worn indeed on high
  With ostentatious pageantry, but set.
  With modest grandeur in thy purple zone,
  Resplendent less, but of an ampler round.

Beyond this line Cowper does not go, and had no idea of going; he never
thinks of lending a soul to material nature as Wordsworth and Shelley
do.  He is the poetic counterpart of Gainsborough, as the great
descriptive poets of a later and more spiritual day are the
counterparts of Turner.  We have said that Cowper's peasants are
genuine as well as his landscape; he might have been a more exquisite
Crabbe if he had turned his mind that way, instead of writing sermons
about a world which to him was little more than an abstraction,
distorted moreover, and discoloured by his religious asceticism.

  Poor, yet industrious, modest, quiet, neat,
  Such claim compassion in a night like this,
  And have a friend in every feeling heart.
  Warm'd, while it lasts, by labour, all day long
  They brave the season, and yet find at eve,
  Ill clad, and fed but sparely, time to cool.
  The frugal housewife trembles when she lights
  Her scanty stock of brushwood, blazing clear,
  But dying soon, like all terrestrial joys.
  The few small embers left, she nurses well;
  And, while her infant race, with outspread hands
  And crowded knees sit cowering o'er the sparks,
  Retires, content to quake, so they be warm'd.
  The man feels least, as more inured than she
  To winter, and the current in his veins
  More briskly moved by his severer toil;
  Yet he too finds his own distress in theirs,
  The taper soon extinguish'd, which I saw
  Dangled along at the cold finger's end
  Just when the day declined; and the brown loaf
  Lodged on the shelf, half eaten without sauce
  Of savoury cheese, or batter, costlier still:
  Sleep seems their only refuge: for, alas'
  Where penury is felt the thought is chained,
  And sweet colloquial pleasures are but few!
  With all this thrift they thrive not.  All the care
  Ingenious Parsimony takes, but just
  Saves the small inventory, bed and stool,
  Skillet, and old carved chest, from public sale.
  They live, and live without extorted alms
  from grudging hands: but other boast have none
  To soothe their honest pride that scorns to beg,
  Nor comfort else, but in their mutual love.

Here we have the plain, unvarnished record of visitings among the poor
of Olney.  The last two lines are simple truth as well as the rest.

"In some passages, especially in the second book, you will observe me
very satirical."  In the second book of _The Task_, there are some
bitter things about the clergy, and in the passage pourtraying a
fashionable preacher, there is a touch of satiric vigour, or rather of
that power of comic description which was one of the writer's gifts.
But of Cowper as a satirist enough has been said.

"What there is of a religious cast in the volume I have thrown towards
the end of it, for two reasons; first, that I might not revolt the
reader at his entrance, and secondly, that my best impressions might be
made last.  Were I to write as many volumes as Lope de Vega or
Voltaire, not one of them would be without this tincture.  If the world
like it not, so much the worse for them.  I make all the concessions I
can, that I may please them, but I will not please them at the expense
of conscience." The passages of _The Task_ penned by conscience, taken
together, form a lamentably large proportion of the poem.  An ordinary
reader can be carried through them, if at all, only by his interest in
the history of opinion, or by the companionship of the writer, who is
always present, as Walton is in his Angler, as White is in his
Selbourne.  Cowper, however, even at his worst, is a highly cultivated
methodist; if he is sometimes enthusiastic, and possibly superstitious,
he is never coarse or unctuous.  He speaks with contempt of "the twang
of the conventicle."  Even his enthusiasm had by this time been
somewhat tempered.  Just after his conversion he used to preach to
everybody.  He had found out, as he tells us himself, that this was a
mistake, that "the pulpit was for preaching; the garden, the parlour,
and the walk abroad were for friendly and agreeable conversation."  It
may have been his consciousness of a certain change in himself that
deterred him from taking Newton into his confidence when he was engaged
upon _The Task_.  The worst passages are those which betray a fanatical
antipathy to natural science, especially that in the third book
(150--190).  The episode of the judgment of heaven on the young atheist
Misagathus, in the sixth book, is also fanatical and repulsive.

Puritanism had come into violent collision with the temporal power, and
had contracted a character fiercely political and revolutionary.
Methodism fought only against unbelief, vice, and the coldness of the
establishment; it was in no way political, much less revolutionary; by
the recoil from the atheism of the French Revolution its leaders,
including Wesley himself, were drawn rather to the Tory side.  Cowper,
we have said, always remained in principle what he had been born, a
Whig, an unrevolutionary Whig, an "Old Whig" to adopt the phrase made
canonical by Burke.

  'Tis liberty alone that gives the flower
  Of fleeting life its lustre and perfume,
  And we are weeds without it.  All constraint
  Except what wisdom lays on evil men
  Is evil.

The sentiment of these lines, which were familiar and dear to Cobden,
is tempered by judicious professions of loyalty to a king who rules in
accordance with the law.  At one time Cowper was inclined to regard the
government of George III as a repetition of that of Charles I,
absolutist in the State and reactionary in the Church; but the progress
of revolutionary opinions evidently increased his loyalty, as it did
that of many other Whigs, to the good Tory king.  We shall presently
see, however, that the views of the French Revolution, itself expressed
in his letters are wonderfully rational, calm, and free from the
political panic and the apocalyptic hallucination, both of which we
should rather have expected to find in him.  He describes himself to
Newton as having been, since his second attack of madness, "an
extramundane character with reference to this globe, and though not a
native of the moon, not made of the dust of this planet."  The
Evangelical party has remained down to the present day non-political,
and in its own estimation extramundane, taking part in the affairs of
the nation only when some religious object was directly in view.  In
speaking of the family of nations, an Evangelical poet is of course a
preacher of peace and human brotherhood.  He has even in some lines of
_Charity,_ which also were dear to Cobden, remarkably anticipated the
sentiment of modern economists respecting the influence of free trade
in making one nation of mankind.  The passage is defaced by an
atrociously bad simile:--

  Again--the band of commerce was design'd,
  To associate all the branches of mankind,
  And if a boundless plenty be the robe,
  Trade is the golden girdle of the globe.
  Wise to promote whatever end he means,
  God opens fruitful Nature's various scenes,
  Each climate needs what other climes produce,
  And offers something to the general use;
  No land but listens to the common call,
  And in return receives supply from all.
  This genial intercourse and mutual aid
  Cheers what were else an universal shade,
  Calls Nature from her ivy-mantled den,
  And softens human rock-work into men.

Now and then, however, in reading _The Task_, we come across a dash of
warlike patriotism which, amidst the general philanthropy, surprises
and offends the reader's palate, like the taste of garlic in our butter.

An innocent Epicurism, tempered by religious asceticism of a mild
kind--such is the philosophy of _The Task_, and such the ideal embodied
in the portrait of the happy man with which it concludes.  Whatever may
be said of the religious asceticism, the Epicurism required a
corrective to redeem it from selfishness and guard it against
self-deceit.  This solitary was serving humanity in the best way he
could, not by his prayers, as in one rather fanatical passage he
suggests, but by his literary work; he had need also to remember that
humanity was serving him.  The newspaper through which he looks out so
complacently into the great "Babel," has been printed in the great
Babel itself, and brought by the poor postman, with his "spattered
boots, strapped waist, and frozen locks," to the recluse sitting
comfortably by his fireside.  The "fragrant lymph" poured by "the fair"
for their companion in his cosy seclusion, has been brought over the
sea by the trader, who must encounter the moral dangers of a trader's
life, as well as the perils of the stormy wave.  It is delivered at the
door by

    The waggoner who bears
  The pelting brunt of the tempestuous night,
  With half-shut eyes and puckered cheeks and teeth
  Presented bare against the storm;

and whose coarseness and callousness, as he whips his team, are the
consequences of the hard calling in which he ministers to the recluse's
pleasure and refinement.  If town life has its evils, from the city
comes all that makes retirement comfortable and civilized.  Retirement
without the city-would have been bookless and have fed on acorns.

Rousseau is conscious of the necessity of some such institution as
slavery, by way of basis for his beautiful life according to nature.
The celestial purity and felicity of St. Pierre's _Paul and Virginia_
are sustained by the labour of two faithful slaves.  A weak point of
Cowper's philosophy, taken apart from his own saving activity as a
poet, betrays itself in a somewhat similar way.

  Or if the garden with its many cares
  All well repaid demand him, he attends
  The welcome call, conscious how much the hand
  Of lubbard labour, needs his watchful eye,
  Oft loitering lazily if not o'er seen;
  Or misapplying his unskilful strength
  But much performs himself, _no works indeed
  That ask robust tough sinews bred to toil,
  Servile employ_, but such as may amuse
  Not tire, demanding rather skill than force.

We are told in _The Task_ that there is no sin in allowing our own
happiness to be enhanced by contrast with the less happy condition of
others: if we are doing our best to increase the happiness of others,
there is none.  Cowper, as we have said before, was doing this to the
utmost of his limited capacity.

Both in the Moral Satires and in _The Task_, there are sweeping
denunciations of amusements which we now justly deem innocent, and
without which or something equivalent to them, the wrinkles on the brow
of care could not be smoothed, nor life preserved from dulness and
moroseness.  There is fanaticism in this no doubt: but in justice to
the Methodist as well as to the Puritan, let it be remembered that the
stage, card parties, and even dancing once had in them something from
which even the most liberal morality might recoil.

In his writings generally, but especially in _The Task_, Cowper,
besides being an apostle of virtuous retirement and evangelical piety,
is, by his general tone, an apostle of sensibility.  _The Task_, is a
perpetual protest not only against the fashionable vices and the
irreligion, but against the hardness of the world; and in a world which
worshipped Chesterfield the protest was not needless, nor was it
ineffective.  Among the most tangible characteristics of this special
sensibility is the tendency of its brimming love of humankind to
overflow upon animals, and of this there are marked instances in some
passages of _The Task_.

  I would not enter on my list of friends
  (Though graced with polished manners and fine sense,
  Yet wanting sensibility) the man
  Who needlessly sets foot upon a worm.

Of Cowper's sentimentalism (to use the word in a neutral sense), part
flowed from his own temperament, part was Evangelical, but part
belonged to an element which was European, which produced the _Nouvelle
Heloise_ and the _Sorrows of Werther_, and which was found among the
Jacobins in sinister companionship with the cruel frenzy of the
Revolution.  Cowper shows us several times that he had been a reader of
Rousseau, nor did he fail to produce in his time a measure of the same
effect which Rousseau produced; though there have been so many
sentimentalists since, and the vein has been so much worked, that it is
difficult to carry ourselves back in imagination to the day in which
Parisian ladies could forego balls to read the _Nouvelle Heloise_, or
the stony heart of people of the world could be melted by _The Task_.

In his versification, as in his descriptions, Cowper flattered himself
that he imitated no one.  But he manifestly imitates the softer
passages of Milton, whose music he compares in a rapturous passage of
one of his letters to that of a fine organ.  To produce melody and
variety, he, like Milton, avails himself fully of all the resources of
a composite language.  Blank verse confined to short Anglo-Saxon words
is apt to strike the ear, not like the swell of an organ, but like the
tinkle of a musical-box.

_The Task_ made Cowper famous.  He was told that he had sixty readers
at the Hague alone.  The interest of his relations and friends in him
revived, and those of whom he had heard nothing for many years
emulously renewed their connexion.  Colman and Thurlow reopened their
correspondence with him, Colman writing to him "like a brother."
Disciples, young Mr. Rose, for instance, came to sit at his feet.
Complimentary letters were sent to him, and poems submitted to his
judgment.  His portrait was taken by famous painters.  Literary
lion-hunters began to fix their eyes upon him.  His renown spread even
to Olney.  The clerk of All Saints', Northampton, came over to ask him
to write the verses annually appended to the bill of mortality for that
parish.  Cowper suggested that "there were several men of genius in
Northampton, particularly Mr. Cox, the statuary, who, as everybody
knew, was a first-rate maker of verses." "Alas!" replied the clerk, "I
have heretofore borrowed help from him, but he is a gentleman of so
much reading that the people of our town cannot understand him." The
compliment was irresistible, and for seven years the author of The Task
wrote the mortuary verses for All Saints', Northampton.  Amusement, not
profit, was Cowper's aim; he rather rashly gave away his copyright to
his publisher, and his success does not seem to have brought him money
in a direct way, but it brought him a pension of 300 pounds in the end.
In the meantime it brought him presents, and among them an annual gift
of 50 pounds from an anonymous hand, the first instalment being
accompanied by a pretty snuff-box ornamented with a picture of the
three hares.  From the gracefulness of the gift, Southey infers that it
came from a woman, and he conjectures that the woman was Theodora.



CHAPTER VI.

SHORT POEMS AND TRANSLATIONS.

The task was not quite finished when the influence which had inspired
it was withdrawn.  Among the little mysteries and scandals of literary
history is the rupture between Cowper and Lady Austen.  Soon after the
commencement of their friendship there had been a "fracas," of which
Cowper gives an account in a letter to William Unwin.  "My letters have
already apprised you of that close and intimate connexion, that took
place between the lady you visited in Queen Anne Street and us.
Nothing could be more promising, though sudden in the commencement.
She treated us with as much unreservedness of communication, as if we
had been born in the same house and educated together.  At her
departure, she herself proposed a correspondence, and, because writing
does not agree with your mother, proposed a correspondence with me.
This sort of intercourse had not been long maintained before I
discovered, by some slight intimations of it, that she had conceived
displeasure at somewhat I had written, though I cannot now recollect
it; conscious of none but the most upright, inoffensive intentions, I
yet apologized for the passage in question, and the flaw was healed
again.  Our correspondence after this proceeded smoothly for a
considerable time, but at length, having had repeated occasion to
observe that she expressed a sort of romantic idea of our merits, and
built such expectations of felicity upon our friendship, as we were
sure that nothing human could possibly answer, I wrote to remind her
that we were mortal, to recommend her not to think more highly of us
than the subject would warrant, and intimating that when we embellish a
creature with colours taken from our own fancy, and so adorned, admire
and praise it beyond its real merits, we make it an idol, and have
nothing to expect in the end but that it will deceive our hopes, and
that we shall derive nothing from it but a painful conviction of our
error.  Your mother heard me read the letter, she read it herself, and
honoured it with her warm approbation.  But it gave mortal offence; it
received, indeed, an answer, but such an one as I could by no means
reply to; and there ended (for it was impossible it should ever be
renewed) a friendship that bid fair to be lasting; being formed with a
woman whose seeming stability of temper, whose knowledge of the world
and great experience of its folly, but, above all, whose sense of
religion and seriousness of mind (for with all that gaiety she is a
great thinker) induced us both, in spite of that cautious reserve that
marked our characters, to trust her, to love and value her, and to open
our hearts for her reception.  It may be necessary to add that by her
own desire, I wrote to her under the assumed relation of a brother, and
she to me as my sister.  _Ceu fumus in auras_."  It is impossible to
read this without suspecting that there was more of "romance" on one
side, than there was either of romance or of consciousness of the
situation on the other.  On that occasion the reconciliation, though
"impossible," took place, the lady sending, by way of olive branch, a
pair of ruffles, which it was known she had begun to work before the
quarrel.  The second rupture was final.  Hayley, who treats the matter
with sad solemnity, tells us that Cowper's letter of farewell to Lady
Austen, as she assured him herself, was admirable, though unluckily,
not being gratified by it at the time, she had thrown it into the fire.
Cowper has himself given us, in a letter to Lady Hesketh, with
reference to the final rupture, a version of the whole affair:--"There
came a lady into this country, by name and title Lady Austen, the widow
of the late Sir Robert Austen.  At first she lived with her sister
about a mile from Olney; but in a few weeks took lodgings at the
vicarage here.  Between the vicarage and the back of our house are
interposed our garden, an orchard, and the garden belonging to the
vicarage.  She had lived much in France, was very sensible, and had
infinite vivacity.  She took a great liking to us, and we to her.  She
had been used to a great deal of company, and we, fearing that she
would feel such a transition into silent retirement irksome, contrived
to give her our agreeable company often.  Becoming continually more and
more intimate, a practice at length obtained of our dining with each
other alternately every day, Sundays excepted.  In order to facilitate
our communication, we made doors in the two garden-walls aforesaid, by
which means we considerably shortened the way from one house to the
other, and could meet when we pleased without entering the town at all;
a measure the rather expedient, because the town is abominably dirty,
and she kept no carriage.  On her first settlement in our
neighbourhood, I made it my own particular business (for at that time I
was not employed in writing, having published my first volume and not
begun my second) to pay my _devoirs_ to her ladyship every morning at
eleven.  Customs very soon became laws.  I began _The Task_, for she
was the lady who gave me the _Sofa_ for a subject.  Being once engaged
in the work, I began to feel the inconvenience of my morning
attendance.  We had seldom breakfasted ourselves till ten; and the
intervening hour was all the time I could find in the whole day for
writing, and occasionally it would happen that the half of that hour
was all that I could secure for the purpose.  But there was no remedy.
Long usage had made that which was at first optional a point of good
manners, and consequently of necessity, and I was forced to neglect
_The Task_ to attend upon the Muse who had inspired the subject.  But
she had ill-health, and before I had quite finished the work was
obliged to repair to Bristol."  Evidently this was not the whole
account of the matter, or there would have been no need for a formal
letter of farewell.  We are very sorry to find the revered Mr.
Alexander Knox saying, in his correspondence with Bishop Jebb, that he
had a severer idea of Lady Austen than he should wish to put into
writing for publication, and that he almost suspected she was a very
artful woman.  On the other hand, the unsentimental Mr. Scott is
reported to have said, "Who can be surprised that two women should be
continually in the society of one man and quarrel, sooner or later,
with each other?" Considering what Mrs. Unwin had been to Cowper, and
what he had been to her, a little jealousy on her part would not have
been highly criminal.  But, as Southey observes, we shall soon see two
women continually in the society of this very man without quarrelling
with each other.  That Lady Austen's behaviour to Mrs. Unwin was in the
highest degree affectionate, Cowper has himself assured us.  Whatever
the cause may have been, this bird of paradise, having alighted for a
moment in Olney, took wing and was seen no more.

Her place, as a companion, was supplied, and more than supplied, by
Lady Hesketh, like her a woman of the world, and almost as bright and
vivacious, but with more sense and stability of character, and who,
moreover, could be treated as a sister without any danger of,
misunderstanding.  The renewal of the intercourse between Cowper and
the merry and affectionate play-fellow of his early days, had been one
of the best fruits borne to him by _The Task_, or perhaps we should
rather say by _John Gilpin_, for on reading that ballad she first
became aware that her cousin had emerged from the dark seclusion of his
truly Christian happiness, and might again be capable of intercourse
with her sunny nature.  Full of real happiness for Cowper were her
visits to Olney; the announcement of her coming threw him into a
trepidation of delight.  And how was this new rival received by Mrs.
Unwin.  "There is something," says Lady Hesketh in a letter which has
been already quoted, "truly affectionate and sincere in Mrs. Unwin's
manner.  No one can express more heartily than she does her joy to have
me at Olney; and as this must be for his sake it is an additional proof
of her regard and esteem for him."  She could even cheerfully yield
precedence in trifles, which is the greatest trial of all.  "Our
friend," says Lady Hesketh, "delights in a large table and a large
chair.  There are two of the latter comforts in my parlour.  I am sorry
to say that he and I always spread ourselves out in them, leaving poor
Mrs. Unwin to find all the comfort she can in a small one, half as high
again as ours, and considerably harder than marble.  However, she
protests it is what she likes, that she prefers a high chair to a low
one, and a hard to a soft one; and I hope she is sincere; indeed, I am
persuaded she is."  She never gave the slightest reason for doubting
her sincerity; so Mr. Scott's coarse theory of the "two women" falls to
the ground, though, as Lady Hesketh was not Lady Austen, room is still
left for the more delicate and interesting hypothesis.

By Lady Hesketh's care Cowper was at last taken out of the "well" at
Olney and transferred with his partner to a house at Weston, a place in
the neighbourhood, but on higher ground, more cheerful, and in better
air.  The house at Weston belonged to Mr. Throckmorton of Weston Hall,
with whom and Mrs. Throckmorton, Cowper had become so intimate that
they were already his Mr. and Mrs. Frog.  It is a proof of his freedom
from fanatical bitterness that he was rather drawn to them by their
being Roman Catholics, and having suffered rude treatment from the
Protestant boors of the neighbourhood.  Weston Hall had its grounds,
with the colonnade of chestnuts, the "sportive light" of which still
"dances" on the pages of _The Task_; with the Wilderness,--

    Whose well-rolled walks,
  With curvature of slow and easy sweep,
  Deception innocent, give ample space
  To narrow bounds--

with the Grove,--

  Between the upright shafts of whose tall elms
  We may discern the thresher at his task,
  Thump after thump resounds the constant flail
  That seems to swing uncertain, and yet falls
  Full on the destined ear.  Wide flies the chaff,
  The rustling straw sends up a fragrant mist
  Of atoms, sparkling in the noonday beam.

A pretty little vignette, which the threshing-machine has now made
antique.  There were ramblings, picnics, and little dinner-parties.
Lady Hesketh kept a carriage.  Gayhurst, the seat of Mr. Wright, was
visited as well as Weston Hall; the life of the lonely pair was fast
becoming social.  The Rev. John Newton was absent in the flesh, but he
was present in the spirit, thanks to the tattle of Olney.  To show that
he was, he addressed to Mrs. Unwin a letter of remonstrance on the
serious change which had taken place in the habits of his spiritual
children.  It was answered by her companion, who in repelling the
censure mingles the dignity of self-respect with a just appreciation of
the censor's motives, in a style which showed that although he was
sometimes mad, he was not a fool.

Having succeeded in one great poem, Cowper thought of writing another,
and several subjects were started--_The Mediterranean_, _The Four Ages
of Man_, _Yardley Oak_.  _The Mediterranean_ would not have suited him
well if it was to be treated historically, for of history he was even
more ignorant than most of those who have had the benefit of a
classical education, being capable of believing that the Latin element
of our language had come in with the Roman conquest.  Of the _Four
Ages_ he wrote a fragment.  Of _Yardley Oak_ he wrote the opening; it
was apparently to have been a survey of the countries in connexion with
an immemorial oak which stood in a neighbouring chace.  But he was
forced to say that the mind of man was not a fountain but a cistern,
and his was a broken one.  He had expended his stock of materials for a
long poem in _The Task_.

These, the sunniest days of Cowper's life, however, gave birth to many
of those short poems which are perhaps his best, certainly his most
popular works, and which will probably keep his name alive when _The
Task_ is read only in extracts.  _The Loss of the Royal George_, _The
Solitude of Alexander Selkirk_, _The Poplar Field_, _The Shrubbery_,
the _Lines on a Young Lady_, and those _To Mary, will hold their places
for ever in the treasury of English Lyrics.  In its humble way _The
Needless Alarm_ is one of the most perfect of human compositions.
Cowper had reason to complain of Aesop for having written his fables
before him.  One great charm of these little pieces is their perfect
spontaneity.  Many of them were never published, and generally they
have the air of being the simple effusions of the moment, gay or sad.
When Cowper was in good spirits his joy, intensified by sensibility and
past suffering, played like a fountain of light on all the little
incidents of his quiet life.  An ink-glass, a flatting mill, a halibut
served up for dinner, the killing of a snake in the garden, the arrival
of a friend wet after a Journey, a cat shut up in a drawer, sufficed to
elicit a little jet of poetical delight, the highest and brightest jet
of all being _John Gilpin_.  Lady Austen's voice and touch still
faintly live in two or three pieces which were written for her
harpsichord.  Some of the short poems on the other hand are poured from
the darker urn, and the finest of them all is the saddest.  There is no
need of illustrations unless it be to call attention to a secondary
quality less noticed, than those of more importance.  That which used
to be specially called "wit," the faculty of ingenious and unexpected
combination, such as is shown in the similes of _Hudibras_, was
possessed by Cowper in large measure.

  A friendship that in frequent fits
  Of controversial rage emits
    The sparks of disputation,
  Like hand-in-hand insurance plates,
  Most unavoidably creates
    The thought of conflagration.

  Some fickle creatures boast a soul
  True as a needle to the pole,
    Their humour yet so various--
  They manifest their whole life through
  The needle's deviations too,
    Their love is so precarious.

  The great and small but rarely meet
  On terms of amity complete;
    Plebeians must surrender,
  And yield so much to noble folk,
  It is combining fire with smoke,
    Obscurity with splendour.

  Some are so placid and serene
  (As Irish bogs are always green)
    They sleep secure from waking;
  And are indeed a bog, that bears
  Your unparticipated cares
    Unmoved and without quaking.

  Courtier and patriot cannot mix
  Their heterogeneous politics
    Without an effervescence,
  Like that of salts with lemon juice,
  Which does not yet like that produce
    A friendly coalescence.

Faint presages of Byron are heard in such a poem as _The Shrubbery_,
and of Wordsworth in such a poem as that _To a Young Lady_.  But of the
lyrical depth and passion of the great Revolution poets Cowper is
wholly devoid.  His soul was stirred by no movement so mighty, if it
were even capable of the impulse.  Tenderness he has, and pathos as
well as playfulness; he has unfailing grace and ease; he has clearness
like that of a trout-stream.  Fashions, even our fashions, change.  The
more metaphysical poetry of our time has indeed too much in it, besides
the metaphysics, to be in any danger of being ever laid on the shelf
with the once admired conceits of Cowley; yet it may one day in part
lose, while the easier and more limpid kind of poetry may in part
regain, its charm.

The opponents of the Slave Trade tried to enlist this winning voice in
the service of their cause.  Cowper disliked the task, but he wrote two
or three anti-Slave-Trade ballads.  _The Slave Trader in the Dumps_,
with its ghastly array of horrors dancing a jig to a ballad metre,
justifies the shrinking of an artist from a subject hardly fit for art.

If the cistern which had supplied _The Task_ was exhausted, the rill of
occasional poems still ran freely, fed by a spring which, so long as
life presented the most trivial object or incident could not fail.  Why
did not Cowper go on writing these charming pieces which he evidently
produced with the greatest facility?  Instead of this, he took, under
an evil star, to translating Homer.  The translation of Homer into
verse is the Polar Expedition of literature, always failing, yet still
desperately renewed.  Homer defies modern reproduction.  His primeval
simplicity is a dew of the dawn which can never be re-distilled.  His
primeval savagery is almost equally unpresentable.  What civilized poet
can don the barbarian sufficiently to revel, or seem to revel, in the
ghastly details of carnage, in hideous wounds described with surgical
gusto, in the butchery of captives in cold blood, or even in those
particulars of the shambles and the spit which to the troubadour of
barbarism seem as delightful as the images of the harvest and the
vintage?  Poetry can be translated into poetry only by taking up the
ideas of the original into the mind of the translator, which is very
difficult when the translator and the original are separated by a gulf
of thought and feeling, and when the gulf is very wide, becomes
impossible.  There is nothing for it in the case of Homer but a prose
translation.  Even in prose to find perfect equivalents for some of the
Homeric phrases is not easy.  Whatever the chronological date of the
Homeric poems may be, their political and psychological date may be
pretty well fixed.  Politically they belong, as the episode of
Thersites shows, to the rise of democracy and to its first collision
with aristocracy, which Homer regards with the feelings of a bard who
sang in aristocratic halls.  Psychologically they belong to the time
when in ideas and language, the moral was just disengaging itself from
the physical.  In the wail of Andromache for instance, _adinon epos_,
which Pope improves into "sadly dear," and Cowper, with better taste at
all events, renders "precious," is really semi-physical, and scarcely
capable of exact translation.  It belongs to an unreproducible past,
like the fierce joy which, in the same wail, bursts from the savage
woman in the midst of her desolation at the thought of the numbers whom
her husband's hands had slain.  Cowper had studied the Homeric poems
thoroughly in his youth, he knew them so well that he was able to
translate them, not very incorrectly with only the help of a Clavis; he
understood their peculiar qualities as well as it was possible for a
reader without the historic sense to do; he had compared Pope's
translation carefully with the original, and had decisively noted the
defects which make it not a version of Homer, but a periwigged epic of
the Augustan age.  In his own translation he avoids Pope's faults, and
he preserves at least the dignity of the original, while his command of
language could never fail him, nor could he ever lack the guidance of
good taste.  But we well know where he will be at his best.  We turn at
once to such passages as the description of Calypso's Isle,

  Alighting on Pieria, down he (Hermes) stooped.
  To Ocean, and the billows lightly skimmed
  In form a sea-mew, such as in the bays
  Tremendous of the barren deep her food
  Seeking, dips oft in brine her ample wing.
  In such disguise o'er many a wave he rode,
  But reaching, now, that isle remote, forsook
  The azure deep, and at the spacious grove
  Where dwelt the amber-tressed nymph arrived
  Found her within.  A fire on all the hearth
  Blazed sprightly, and, afar diffused, the scent
  Of smooth-split cedar and of cypress-wood
  Odorous, burning cheered the happy isle.
  She, busied at the loom and plying fast
  Her golden shuttle, with melodious voice
  Sat chanting there; a grove on either side,
  Alder and poplar, and the redolent branch
  Wide-spread of cypress, skirted dark the cave
  Where many a bird of broadest pinion built
  Secure her nest, the owl, the kite, and daw,
  Long-tongued frequenters of the sandy shores.
  A garden vine luxuriant on all sides
  Mantled the spacious cavern, cluster-hung
  Profuse; four fountains of serenest lymph,
  Their sinuous course pursuing side by side,
  Strayed, all around, and everywhere appeared
  Meadows of softest verdure purpled o'er
  With violets; it was a scene to fill
  A God from heaven with wonder and delight.

There are faults in this and even blunders, notably in the natural
history; and "serenest lymph" is a sad departure from Homeric
simplicity.  Still on the whole the passage in the translation charms,
and its charm is tolerably identical with that of the original.  In
more martial and stirring passages the failure is more signal, and here
especially we feel that if Pope's rhyming couplets are sorry
equivalents for the Homeric hexameter, blank verse is superior to them
only in a negative way.  The real equivalent, if any, is the romance
metre of Scott, parts of whose poems, notably the last canto of
_Marmion_ and some passages in the _Lay of the Last Minstrel_, are
about the most Homeric things in our language.  Cowper brought such
poetic gifts to his work that his failure might have deterred others
from making the same hopeless attempt.  But a failure his work is; the
translation is no more a counterpart of the original, than the Ouse
creeping through its meadows is the counterpart of the Aegean rolling
before a fresh wind and under a bright sun.  Pope delights school-boys;
Cowper delights nobody, though on the rare occasions when he is taken
from the shelf, he commends himself, in a certain measure, to the taste
and judgment of cultivated men.

In his translations of Horace, both those from the Satires and those
from the Odes, Cowper succeeds far better.  Horace requires in his
translator little of the fire which Cowper lacked.  In the Odes he
requires grace, in the Satires urbanity and playfulness, all of which
Cowper had in abundance.  Moreover, Horace is separated from us by no
intellectual gulf.   He belongs to what Dr. Arnold called the modern
period of ancient history.  Nor is Cowper's translation of part of the
eighth book of Virgil's Aeneid bad, in spite of the heaviness of the
blank verse.  Virgil, like Horace, is within his intellectual range.

As though a translation of the whole of the Homeric poems had not been
enough to bury his finer faculty, and prevent him from giving us any
more of the minor poems, the publishers seduced him into undertaking an
edition of Milton, which was to eclipse all its predecessors in
splendour.  Perhaps he may have been partly entrapped by a chivalrous
desire to rescue his idol from the disparagement cast on it by the
tasteless and illiberal Johnson.  The project after weighing on his
mind and spirits for some time was abandoned, leaving as its traces
only translations of Milton's Latin poems, and a few notes on _Paradise
Lost,_ in which there is too much of religion, too little of art.

Lady Hesketh had her eye on the Laureateship, and probably with that
view persuaded her cousin to write loyal verses on the recovery of
George III.  He wrote the verses, but to the hint of the Laureateship
he said, "Heaven guard my brows from the wreath you mention, whatever
wreaths beside may hereafter adorn them.  It would be a leaden
extinguisher clapt on my genius, and I should never more produce a line
worth reading." Besides, was he not already the mortuary poet of All
Saints, Northampton?



CHAPTER VII.

THE LETTERS.

Southey, no mean judge in such a matter, calls Cowper the best of
English, letter-writers.  If the first place is shared with him by any
one it is by Byron, rather than by Gray, whose letters are pieces of
fine writing, addressed to literary men, or Horace Walpole, whose
letters are memoirs, the English counterpart of St.  Simon.  The
letters both of Gray and Walpole are manifestly written for
publication.  Those of Cowper have the true epistolary charm.  They are
conversation, perfectly artless, and at the same time autobiography,
perfectly genuine, whereas all formal autobiography is cooked.  They
are the vehicles of the writer's thoughts and feelings, and the mirror
of his life.  We have the strongest proofs that they were not written
for publication.  In many of them there are outpourings of wretchedness
which could not possibly have been intended for any heart but that to
which they were addressed, while others contain medical details which
no one would have thought of presenting to the public eye.  Some, we
know, were answers to letters received but a moment before; and Southey
says that the manuscripts are very free from erasures.  Though Cowper
kept a note-book for subjects, which no doubt were scarce with him, it
is manifest that he did not premeditate.  Grace of form he never lacks,
but this was a part of his nature, improved by his classical training.
The character and the thoughts presented are those of a recluse who was
sometimes a hypochondriac; the life is life at Olney.  But simple
self-revelation is always interesting, and a garrulous playfulness with
great happiness of expression can lend a certain charm even to things
most trivial and commonplace.  There is also a certain pleasure in
being carried back to the quiet days before railways and telegraphs,
when people passed their whole lives on the same spot, and life moved
always in the same tranquil round.  In truth it is to such days that
letter-writing, as a species of literature belongs, telegrams and
postal cards have almost killed it now.

The large collection of Cowper's letters is probably seldom taken from
the shelf; and the "Elegant Extracts" select those letters which are
most sententious, and therefore least characteristic.  Two or three
specimens of the other style may not be unwelcome or needless as
elements of a biographical sketch; though specimens hardly do justice
to a series of which the charm, such as it is, is evenly diffused, not
gathered, into centres of brilliancy like Madame de Sevigne's letter on
the Orleans Marriage.  Here is a letter written, in the highest spirits
to Lady Hesketh.


  "Olney, _Feb. 9th_, 1786.

"MY DEAREST COUSIN,--I have been impatient to tell you that I am
impatient to see you again.  Mrs. Unwin partakes with me in all my
feelings upon this subject, and longs also to see you.  I should have
told you so by the last post, but have been so completely occupied by
this tormenting specimen, that it was impossible to do it.  I sent the
General a letter on Monday, that would distress and alarm him; I sent
him another yesterday, that will, I hope, quiet him again.  Johnson has
apologized very civilly for the multitude of his friend's strictures;
and his friend has promised to confine himself in future to a
comparison of me with the original, so that, I doubt not, we shall jog
on merrily together.  And now, my dear, let me tell you once more, that
your kindness in promising us a visit has charmed us both.  I shall see
you again.  I shall hear your voice.  We shall take walks together.  I
will show you my prospects, the hovel, the alcove, the Ouse and its
banks, everything that I have described.  I anticipate the pleasure of
those days not very far distant, and feel a part of it at this moment.
Talk not of an inn!  Mention it not for your life!  We have never had
so many visitors, but we could easily accommodate them all; though we
have received Unwin, and his wife, and his sister, and his son all at
once.  My dear, I will not let you come till the end of May, or
beginning of June, because before that time my greenhouse will not be
ready to receive us, and it is the only pleasant room belonging to us.
When the plants go out, we go in.  I line it with mats, and spread the
floor with mats; and there you shall sit with a bed of mignonette at
your side, and a hedge of honeysuckles, roses, and jasmine; and I will
make you a bouquet of myrtle every day.  Sooner than the time I mention
the country will not be in complete beauty.

"And I will tell you what you shall find at your first entrance.
Imprimis, as soon as you have entered the vestibule, if you cast a look
on either side of you, you shall see on the right hand a box of my
making.  It is the box in which have been lodged all my hares, and in
which lodges Puss at present; but he, poor fellow, is worn out with
age, and promises to die before you can see him.  On the right hand
stands a cupboard, the work of the same author, it was once a
dove-cage, but I transformed it.  Opposite to you stands a table, which
I also made; but a merciless servant having scrubbed it until it became
paralytic, it serves no purpose now but of ornament; and all my clean
shoes stand under it.  On the left hand, at the further end of this
superb vestibule, you will find the door of the parlour, into which I
will conduct you, and where I will introduce you to Mrs. Unwin, unless
we should meet her before, and where we will be as happy as the day is
long.  Order yourself, my cousin, to the Swan at Newport, and there you
shall find me ready to conduct you to Olney.

"My dear, I have told Homer what you say about casks and urns, and have
asked him whether he is sure that it is a cask in which Jupiter keeps
his wine.  He swears that it is a cask, and that it will never be
anything better than a cask to eternity.  So if the god is content with
it, we must even wonder at his taste, and be so too.

  "Adieu! my dearest, dearest cousin.
    W. C."


Here, by way of contrast, is a letter written in the lowest spirits
possible to Mr. Newton.  It displays literary grace inalienable even in
the depths of hypochondria.  It also shows plainly the connexion of
hypochondria with the weather.  January was a month to the return of
which the sufferer always looked forward with dread as a mysterious
season of evil.  It was a season, especially at Olney, of thick fog
combined with bitter frosts.  To Cowper this state of the atmosphere
appeared the emblem of his mental state; we see in it the cause.  At
the close the letter slides from spiritual despair to the
worsted-merchant, showing that, as we remarked before, the language of
despondency had become habitual, and does not always flow from a soul
really in the depths of woe.


  TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON.

  "_Jan. 13th_, 1784.

"MY DEAR FRIEND,--I too have taken leave of the old year, and parted
with it just when you did, but with very different sentiments and
feelings upon the occasion.  I looked back upon all the passages and
occurrences of it, as a traveller looks back upon a wilderness through
which he has passed with weariness, and sorrow of heart, reaping no
other fruit, of his labour, than the poor consolation that, dreary as
the desert was, he has left it all behind him.  The traveller would
find even this comfort considerably lessened, if, as soon as he had
passed one wilderness, another of equal length, and equally desolate,
should expect him.  In this particular, his experience and mine would
exactly tally.  I should rejoice, indeed, that the old year is over and
gone, if I had not every reason to prophesy a new one similar to it.

"The new year is already old in my account, I am not, indeed,
sufficiently second-sighted to be able to boast by anticipation an
acquaintance with the events of it yet unborn, but rest convinced that,
be they what they may, not one of them comes a messenger of good to me.
If even death itself should be of the number, he is no friend of mine.
It is an alleviation of the woes even of an unenlightened man, that he
can wish for death, and indulge a hope, at least, that in death he
shall find deliverance.  But, loaded as my life is with despair, I have
no such comfort as would result from a supposed probability of better
things to come, were it once ended.  For, more unhappy than the
traveller with whom I set out, pass through what difficulties I may,
through whatever dangers and afflictions, I am not a whit nearer the
home, unless a dungeon may be called so.  This is no very agreeable
theme; but in so great a dearth of subjects to write upon, and
especially impressed as I am at this moment with a sense of my own
condition, I could choose no other.  The weather is an exact emblem of
my mind in its present state.  A thick fog envelopes everything, and at
the same time it freezes intensely.  You will tell me that this cold
gloom will be succeeded by a cheerful spring, and endeavour to
encourage me to hope for a spiritual change resembling it;--but it will
be lost labour.  Nature revives again; but a soul once slain lives no
more.  The hedge that has been apparently dead, is not so; it will
burst into leaf and blossom at the appointed time; but no such time is
appointed for the stake that stands in it.  It is as dead as it seems,
and will prove itself no dissembler.  The latter end of next month will
complete a period of eleven years in which I have spoken no other
language.  It is a long time for a man whose eyes were once opened, to
spend in darkness; long enough to make despair an inveterate habit; and
such it is in me.  My friends, I know, expect that I shall see yet
again.  They think it necessary to the existence of divine truth, that
he who once had possession of it should never finally lose it.  I admit
the solidity of this reasoning in every case but my own.  And why not
in my own?  For causes which to them it appears madness to allege, but
which rest upon my mind with a weight of immovable conviction.  If I am
recoverable, why am I thus?--why crippled and made useless in the
Church, just at that time of life when, my judgment and experience
being matured, I might be most useful?--why cashiered and turned out of
service, till, according to the course of nature, there is not life
enough left in me to make amends for the years I have lost,--till there
is no reasonable hope left that the fruit can ever pay the expense of
the fallow?  I forestall the answer:--God's ways are mysterious, and He
giveth no account of His matters--an answer that would serve my purpose
as well as theirs to use it.  There is a mystery in my destruction, and
in time it shall be explained.

"I am glad you have found so much hidden treasure; and Mrs. Unwin
desires me to tell you that you did her no more than justice in
believing that she would rejoice in it.  It is not easy to surmise the
reason why the reverend doctor, your predecessor, concealed it.  Being
a subject of a free government, and I suppose fall of the divinity most
in fashion, he could not fear lest his riches should expose him to
persecution.  Nor can I suppose that he held it any disgrace for a
dignitary of the church to be wealthy, at a time when churchmen in
general spare no pains to become so.  But the wisdom of some men has a
droll sort of knavishness in it, much like that of a magpie, who hides
what he finds with a deal of contrivance, merely for the pleasure of
doing it.

"Mrs. Unwin is tolerably well.  She wishes me to add that she shall be
obliged to Mrs. Newton, if, when an opportunity offers, she will give
the worsted-merchant a jog.  We congratulate you that Eliza does not
grow worse, which I know you expected would be the case in the course
of the winter.  Present our love to her.  Remember us to Sally Johnson,
and assure yourself that we remain as warmly as ever,

  "Yours,
     W. C.
     M. U."


In the next specimen we shall see the faculty of imparting interest to
the most trivial incident by the way of telling it.  The incident in
this case is one which also forms the subject of the little poem called
_The Colubriad_.


  To THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN.

    "_Aug. 3rd_, 1782.

"MY DEAR FRIEND,--Entertaining some hope that Mr. Newton's next letter
would furnish me with the means of satisfying your inquiry on the
subject of Dr. Johnson's opinion, I have till now delayed my answer to
your last; but the information is not yet come, Mr. Newton having
intermitted a week more than usual since his last writing.  When I
receive it, favourable or not, it shall be communicated to you; but I
am not very sanguine in my expectations from that quarter.  Very
learned and very critical heads are hard to please.  He may perhaps
treat me with levity for the sake of my subject and design, but the
composition, I think, will hardly escape his censure.  Though all
doctors may not be of the same mind, there is one doctor at least, whom
I have lately discovered, my professed admirer.  He too, like Johnson,
was with difficulty persuaded to read, having an aversion to all
poetry, except the _Night Thoughts_; which, on a certain occasion, when
being confined on board a ship he had no other employment, he got by
heart.  He was, however, prevailed upon, and read me several times
over; so that if my volume had sailed with him, instead of Dr. Young's,
I might perhaps have occupied that shelf in his memory which he then
allotted to the Doctor; his name is Renny, and he lives at Newport
Pagnel.

"It is a sort of paradox, but it is true: we are never more in danger
than when we think ourselves most secure, nor in reality more secure
than when we seem to be most in danger.  Both sides of this apparent
contradiction were lately verified in my experience.  Passing from the
greenhouse to the barn, I saw three kittens (for we have so many in our
retinue) looking with fixed attention at something, which lay on the
threshold of a door, coiled up.  I took but little notice of them at
first, but a loud hiss engaged me to attend more closely, when
behold--a viper! the largest I remember to have seen, rearing itself,
darting its forked tongue, and ejaculating the afore-mentioned hiss at
the nose of a kitten, almost in contact with his lips.  I ran into the
hall for a hoe with a long handle, with which I intended to assail him,
and returning in a few seconds missed him: he was gone, and I feared
had escaped me.  Still, however, the kitten sat watching immovably upon
the same spot.  I concluded, therefore, that, sliding between the door
and the threshold, he had found his way out of the garden into the
yard.  I went round immediately, and there found him in close
conversation with the old cat, whose curiosity being excited by so
novel an appearance, inclined her to pat his head repeatedly with her
fore foot; with her claws, however, sheathed, and not in anger, but in
the way of philosophical inquiry and examination.  To prevent her
falling a victim to so laudable an exercise of her talents, I
interposed in a moment with the hoe, and performed an act of
decapitation, which though not immediately mortal proved so in the end.
Had he slid into the passages, where it is dark, or had he, when in the
yard, met with no interruption from the cat, and secreted himself in
any of the outhouses, it is hardly possible but that some of the family
must have been bitten; he might have been trodden upon without being
perceived, and have slipped away before the sufferer could have well
distinguished what foe had wounded him.  Three years ago we discovered
one in the same place, which the barber slew with a trowel.

"Our proposed removal to Mr. Small's was, as you suppose, a jest, or
rather a joco-serious matter.  We never looked upon it as entirely
feasible, yet we saw in it something so like practicability, that we
did not esteem it altogether unworthy of our attention.  It was one of
those projects which people of lively imaginations play with, and
admire for a few days, and then break in pieces.  Lady Austen returned
on Thursday from London, where she spent the last fortnight, and
whither she was called by an unexpected opportunity to dispose of the
remainder of her lease.  She has now, therefore, no longer any
connexion with the great city, she has none on earth whom she calls
friends but us, and no house but at Olney.  Her abode is to be at the
vicarage, where she has hired as much room as she wants, which she will
embellish with her own furniture, and which she will occupy, as soon as
the minister's wife has produced another child, which is expected to
make its entry in October.

"Mr. Bull, a dissenting minister of Newport, a learned, ingenious,
good-natured, pious friend of ours, who sometimes visits us, and whom
we visited last week, has put into my hands three volumes of French
poetry, composed by Madame Guyon;--a quietist, say you, and a fanatic,
I will have nothing to do with her.  It is very well, you are welcome
to have nothing to do with her, but in the meantime her verse is the
only French verse I ever read that I found agreeable; there is a
neatness in it equal to that which we applaud with so much reason in
the compositions of Prior.  I have translated several of them, and
shall proceed in my translations, till I have filled a Lilliputian
paper-book I happen to have by me, which, when filled, I shall present
to Mr. Bull.  He is her passionate admirer, rode twenty miles to see
her picture in the house of a stranger, which stranger politely
insisted on his acceptance of it, and it now hangs over his parlour
chimney.  It is a striking portrait, too characteristic not to be a
strong resemblance, and were it encompassed with a glory, instead of
being dressed, in a nun's hood, might pass for the face of an angel.

"Our meadows are covered with a winter-flood in August; the rushes with
which our bottomless chairs were to have been bottomed, and much hay,
which was not carried, are gone down the river on a voyage to Ely, and
it is even uncertain whether they will ever return.  Sic transit gloria
mundi!

"I am glad you have found a curate, may he answer!  Am happy in Mrs.
Bouverie's continued approbation; it is worth while to write for such a
reader.  Yours,

  "W. C."


The power of imparting interest to commonplace incidents is so great
that we read with a sort of excitement a minute account of the
conversion of an old card-table into a writing and dining-table, with
the causes and consequences of that momentous event, curiosity having
been first cunningly aroused by the suggestion that the clerical friend
to whom the letter is addressed might, if the mystery were not
explained, be haunted by it when he was getting into his pulpit, at
which time, as he had told Cowper, perplexing questions were apt to
come into his mind.

A man who lived by himself could have little but himself to write
about.  Yet in these letters there is hardly a touch of offensive
egotism.  Nor is there any querulousness, except that of religious
despondency.  From those weaknesses Cowper was free.  Of his proneness
to self-revelation we have had a specimen already.

The minor antiquities of the generations immediately preceding ours are
becoming rare, as compared with those of remote ages, because nobody
thinks it worth while to preserve them.  It is almost as easy to get a
personal memento of Priam or Nimrod as it is to get a harpsichord, a
spinning-wheel, a tinder-box, or a scratch-back.  An Egyptian wig is
attainable, a wig of the Georgian era is hardly so, much less a tie of
the Regency.  So it is with the scenes of common life a century or two
ago.  They are being lost, because they were familiar.  Here are two of
them, however, which have limned themselves with the distinctness of
the camera obscura on the page of a chronicler of trifles.


  TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON.

  "_Nov. 17th_, 1783.

"MY DEAR FRIEND,--The country around is much alarmed with apprehensions
of fire.  Two have happened since that of Olney.  One at Hitchin, where
the damage is said to amount to eleven thousand pounds; and another, at
a place not far from Hitchin, of which I have not yet learnt the name.
Letters have been dropped at Bedford, threatening to burn the town; and
the inhabitants have been so intimidated as to have placed a guard in
many parts of it, several nights past.  Since our conflagration here,
we have sent two women and a boy to the justice, for depredation, S. R.
for stealing a piece of beef, which, in her excuse, she said she
intended to take care of.  This lady, whom you well remember, escaped
for want of evidence; not that evidence was wanting, but our men of
Gotham judged it unnecessary to send it.  With her went the woman I
mentioned before, who, it seems, has made some sort of profession, but
upon this occasion allowed, herself a latitude of conduct rather
inconsistent with it, having filled her apron with wearing-apparel,
which she likewise intended to take care of.  She would have gone to
the county gaol, had William Raban, the baker's son, who prosecuted,
insisted upon it; but he, good-naturedly, though I think weakly,
interposed in her favour, and begged her off.  The young gentleman who
accompanied these fair ones is the junior son of Molly Boswell.  He had
stolen some iron-work, the property of Griggs the butcher.  Being
convicted, he was ordered to be whipped, which operation he underwent
at the cart's tail, from the stone-house to the high arch, and back
again.  He seemed to show great fortitude, but it was all an imposition
upon the public.  The beadle, who performed it, had filled his left
hand with yellow ochre, through which, after every stroke, he drew the
lash of his whip, leaving the appearance of a wound upon the skin, but
in reality not hurting him at all.  This being perceived by Mr.
Constable H., who followed the beadle, he applied his cane, without any
such management or precaution, to the shoulders of the too merciful
executioner.  The scene immediately became more interesting.  The
beadle could by no means be prevailed upon to strike hard, which
provoked the constable to strike harder, and this double flogging
continued, till a lass of Silver-End, pitying the pitiful beadle thus
suffering under the hands of the pitiless constable, joined the
procession, and placing herself immediately behind the latter, seized
him by his capillary club, and pulling him backwards by the same,
slapped his face with a most Amazon fury.  This concatenation of events
has taken up more of my paper than I intended it should, but I could
not forbear to inform you how the beadle thrashed the thief, the
constable the beadle, and the lady the constable, and how the thief was
the only person concerned who suffered nothing.  Mr. Teedon has been
here, and is gone again.  He came to thank me for some left-off
clothes.  In answer to our inquiries after his health, he replied that
he had a slow fever, which made him take all possible care not to
inflame his blood.  I admitted his prudence, but in his particular
instance, could not very clearly discern the need of it.  Pump water
will not heat him much, and, to speak a little in his own style, more
inebriating fluids are to him, I fancy, not very attainable.  Ho
brought us news, the truth of which, however, I do not vouch for, that
the town of Bedford was actually on fire yesterday, and the flames not
extinguished when the bearer of the tidings left it.

"Swift observes, when he is giving his reasons why the preacher is
elevated always above his hearers, that let the crowd be as great as it
will below, there is always room enough overhead.  If the French
philosophers can carry their art of flying to the perfection they
desire, the observation may be reversed, the crowd will be overhead,
and they will have most room who stay below.  I can assure you,
however, upon my own experience, that this way of travelling is very
delightful.  I dreamt a night or two since that I drove myself through
the upper regions in a balloon and pair, with the greatest ease and
security.  Having finished the tour I intended, I made a short turn,
and, with one flourish of my whip, descended; my horses prancing and
curvetting with an infinite share of spirit, but without the least
danger, either to me or my vehicle.  The time, we may suppose, is at
hand, and seems to be prognosticated by my dream, when these airy
excursions will be universal, when judges will fly the circuit, and
bishops their visitations; and when the tour of Europe will be
performed with much greater speed, and with equal advantage, by all who
travel merely for the sake of having it to say, that they have made it.

"I beg you will accept for yourself and yours our unfeigned love, and
remember me affectionately to Mr. Bacon, when you see him.

  "Yours, my dear friend,
    WM. COWPER."


  TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON.

  "_March 29th_, 1784.

"MY DEAR FRIEND,--It being his Majesty's pleasure, that I should yet
have another opportunity to write before he dissolves the Parliament, I
avail myself of it with all possible alacrity.  I thank you for your
last, which was not the less welcome for coming, like an extraordinary
gazette, at a time when it was not expected.

"As when the sea is uncommonly agitated, the water finds its way into
creeks and holes of rocks, which in its calmer state it never reaches,
in like manner the effect of these turbulent times is felt even at
Orchard Side, where in general we live as undisturbed by the political
element as shrimps or cockles that have been accidentally deposited in
some hollow beyond the water-mark, by the usual dashing of the waves.
We were sitting yesterday after dinner, the two ladies and myself, very
composedly, and without the least apprehension of any such intrusion in
our snug parlour, one lady knitting, the other netting, and the
gentleman winding worsted, when to our unspeakable surprise a mob
appeared before the window; a smart rap was heard at the door, the boys
bellowed, and the maid announced Mr. Grenville.  Puss was unfortunately
let out of her box, so that the candidate, with all his good friends at
his heels, was refused admittance at the grand entry, and referred to
the back door, as the only possible way of approach.

"Candidates are creatures not very susceptible of affronts, and would
rather, I suppose, climb in at the window, than be absolutely excluded.
In a minute, the yard, the kitchen, and the parlour, were filled.  Mr.
Grenville, advancing toward me, shook me by the hand with a degree of
cordiality that was extremely seducing.   As soon as he, and as many
more as could find chairs, were seated, he began to open the intent of
his visit.  I told him I had no vote, for which he readily gave me
credit.  I assured him I had no influence, which he was not equally
inclined to believe, and the less, no doubt, because Mr. Ashburner, the
draper, addressing himself to me at this moment, informed me that I had
a great deal.  Supposing that I could not be possessed of such a
treasure without knowing it, I ventured to confirm my first assertion,
by saying, that if I had any I was utterly at a loss to imagine where
it could be, or wherein it consisted.  Thus ended the conference.  Mr.
Grenville squeezed me by the hand again, kissed the ladies, and
withdrew.  He kissed likewise the maid in the kitchen, and seemed upon
the whole a most loving, kissing, kind-hearted gentleman.  He is very
young, genteel, and handsome.  He has a pair of very good eyes in his
head, which not being sufficient as it should seem for the many nice
and difficult purposes of a senator, he has a third also, which he
suspended from his buttonhole.  The boys halloo'd, the dogs barked,
puss scampered, the hero, with his long train of obsequious followers,
withdrew.  We made ourselves very merry with the adventure, and in a
short time settled into our former tranquillity, never probably to be
thus interrupted more.  I thought myself, however, happy in being able
to affirm truly that I had not that influence for which he sued; and
which, had I been possessed of it, with my present views of the dispute
between the Crown and the Commons, I must have refused him, for he is
on the side of the former.  It is comfortable to be of no consequence
in a world where one cannot exercise any without disobliging somebody.
The town, however, seems to be much at his service, and if he be
equally successful throughout the country, he will undoubtedly gain his
election.  Mr. Ashburner, perhaps, was a little mortified, because it
was evident that I owed the honour of this visit to his
misrepresentation of my importance.  But had he thought proper to
assure Mr. Grenville that I had three heads, I should not, I suppose,
have been bound to produce them.

"Mr. Scott, who you say was so much admired in your pulpit, would be
equally admired in his own, at least by all capable judges, were he not
so apt to be angry with his congregation.  This hurt him, and had he
the understanding and eloquence of Paul himself, would still hurt him.
He seldom, hardly ever indeed, preaches a gentler well-tempered sermon,
but I hear it highly commended; but warmth of temper, indulged to a
degree that may he called scolding, defeats the end of preaching.  It
is a misapplication of his powers, which it also cripples, and tears
away his hearers.  But he is a good man, and may perhaps outgrow it.

"Many thanks for the worsted, which is excellent.  We are as well as a
spring hardly less severe than the severest winter will give us leave
to be.  With our united love, we conclude ourselves yours and Mrs.
Newton's affectionate and faithful,

  "W. C.
   M. U."


In 1789 the French Revolution advancing with thunder-tread makes even
the hermit of Weston look up for a moment from his translation of
Homer, though he little dreamed that he with his gentle philanthropy
and sentimentalism had anything to do with the great overturn of the
social and political systems of the past.  From time to time some crash
of especial magnitude awakens a faint echo in the letters.


  TO LADY HESKETH.

  "_July 7th_, 1790.

"Instead of beginning with the saffron-vested mourning to which Homer
invites me, on a morning that has no saffron vest to boast, I shall
begin with you.  It is irksome to us both to wait so long as we must
for you, but we are willing to hope that by a longer stay you will make
us amends for all this tedious procrastination.

"Mrs. Unwin has made known her whole case to Mr. Gregson, whose opinion
of it has been very consolatory to me; he says indeed it is a case
perfectly out of the reach of all physical aid, but at the same time
not at all dangerous.  Constant pain is a sad grievance, whatever part
is affected, and she is hardly ever free from an aching head, as well
as an uneasy side, but patience is an anodyne of God's own preparation,
and of that He gives her largely.

"The French who, like all lively folks, are extreme in everything, are
such in their zeal for freedom; and if it were possible to make so
noble a cause ridiculous, their manner of promoting it could not fail
to do so.  Princes and peers reduced to plain gentlemanship, and
gentles reduced to a level with their own lackeys, are excesses of
which they will repent hereafter.  Differences of rank and
subordination are, I believe, of God's appointment, and consequently
essential to the well-being of society; but what we mean by fanaticism
in religion is exactly that which animates their politics; and unless
time should sober them, they will, after all, be an unhappy people.
Perhaps it deserves not much to be wondered at, that at their first
escape from tyrannic shackles they should act extravagantly, and treat
their kings as they have sometimes treated their idol.  To these,
however, they are reconciled in due time again, but their respect for
monarchy is at an end.  They want nothing now but a little English
sobriety, and that they want extremely.  I heartily wish them some wit
in their anger, for it were great pity that so many millions should be
miserable for want of it."


This, it will he admitted, is very moderate and unapocalyptic.
Presently Monarchical Europe takes arms against the Revolution.  But
there are two political observers at least who see that Monarchical
Europe is making a mistake--Kaunitz and Cowper.  "The French," observes
Cowper to Lady Hesketh in December, 1792, "are a vain and childish
people, and conduct themselves on this grand occasion with a levity and
extravagance nearly akin to madness; but it would have been better for
Austria and Prussia to let them alone.  All nations have a right to
choose their own form of government, and the sovereignty of the people
is a doctrine that evinces itself; for whenever the people choose to be
masters, they always are so, and none can hinder them.  God grant that
we may have no revolution here, but unless we have reform, we certainly
shall.  Depend upon it, my dear, the hour has come when power founded
on patronage and corrupt majorities must govern this land no longer.
Concessions, too, must he made to Dissenters of every denomination.
They have a right to them--a right to all the privileges of Englishmen,
and sooner or later, by fair means or by foul, they will have them."
Even in 1793, though he expresses, as he well might, a cordial
abhorrence of the doings of the French, he calls them not fiends, but
"madcaps."  He expresses the strongest indignation against the Tory mob
which sacked Priestley's house at Birmingham, as he does, in justice be
it said, against all manifestations of fanaticism.  We cannot help
sometimes wishing, as we read these passages in the letters, that
their calmness and reasonableness could have been communicated to
another "Old Whig," who was setting the world on fire with his
anti-revolutionary rhetoric.

It is true, as has already been said, that Cowper was "extramundane,"
and that his political reasonableness was in part the result of the
fancy that he and his fellow-saints had nothing to do with the world
but to keep themselves clear of it, and let it go its own way to
destruction.  But it must also be admitted that while the wealth of
Establishments, of which Burke was the ardent defender, is necessarily
reactionary in the highest degree, the tendency of religion itself,
where it is genuine and sincere, must be to repress any selfish feeling
about class or position, and to make men, in temporal matters, more
willing to sacrifice the present to the future, especially where the
hope is held out of moral as well as of material improvement.  Thus it
has come to pass that men who professed and imagined themselves to have
no interest in this world, have practically been its great reformers
and improvers in the political and material as well as in the moral
sphere.

The last specimen shall be one in the more sententious style, and one
which proves that Cowper was capable of writing in a judicious manner
on a difficult and delicate question--even a question so difficult and
so delicate as that of the propriety of painting the face.


  TO THE REV. WILLIAM UNWIN.

  "May 3rd, 1784.

"MY DEAR FRIEND,--The subject of face painting may be considered, I
think, in two points of view.  First, there is room for dispute with
respect to the consistency of the practice with good morals; and
secondly, whether it be on the whole convenient or not, may be a matter
worthy of agitation.  I set out with all the formality of logical
disquisition, but do not promise to observe the same regularity any
further than it may comport with my purpose of writing as fast as I can.

"As to the immorality of the custom, were I in France, I should see
none.  On the contrary, it seems in that country to be a symptom of
modest consciousness, and a tacit confession of what all know to be
true, that French faces have in fact neither red nor white of their
own.  This humble acknowledgment of a defect looks the more like a
virtue, being found among a people not remarkable for humility.  Again,
before we can prove the practice to be immoral, we must prove
immorality in the design of those who use it; either that they intend a
deception, or to kindle unlawful desires in the beholders.  But the
French ladies, so far as their purpose comes in question, must be
acquitted of both these charges.  Nobody supposes their colour to be
natural for a moment, any more than he would if it were blue or green:
and this unambiguous judgment of the matter is owing to two causes;
first, to the universal knowledge we have, that French women are
naturally either brown or yellow, with very few exceptions; and
secondly, to the inartificial manner in which they paint; for they do
not, as I am most satisfactorily informed, even attempt an imitation of
nature, but besmear themselves hastily, and at a venture, anxious only
to lay on enough.  Where therefore there is no wanton intention, nor a
wish to deceive, I can discover no immorality.  But in England, I am
afraid, our painted ladies are not clearly entitled to the same
apology.  They even imitate nature with such exactness that the whole
public is sometimes divided into parties, who litigate with great
warmth the question whether painted or not?  This was remarkably the
case with a Miss E----, whom I well remember.  Her roses and lilies
were never discovered to be spurious, till she attained an age that
made the supposition of their being natural impossible.  This anxiety
to be not merely red and white, which is all they aim at in France, but
to be thought very beautiful, and much more beautiful than Nature has
made them, is a symptom not very favourable to the idea we would wish
to entertain of the chastity, purity, and modesty of our countrywomen.
That they are guilty of a design to deceive is certain.  Otherwise why
so much art? and if to deceive, wherefore and with what purpose?
Certainly either to gratify vanity of the silliest kind, or, which is
still more criminal, to decoy and inveigle, and carry on more
successfully the business of temptation.  Here, therefore, my opinion
splits itself into two opposite sides upon the same question.  I can
suppose a French woman, though painted an inch deep, to be a virtuous,
discreet, excellent character; and in no instance should I think the
worse of one because she was painted.  But an English belle must pardon
me if I have not the same charity for her.  She is at least an
impostor, whether she cheats me or not, because she means to do so; and
it is well if that be all the censure she deserves.

"This brings me to my second class of ideas upon this topic, and here I
feel that I should be fearfully puzzled, were I called upon to
recommend the practice on the score of convenience.  If a husband chose
that his wife should paint, perhaps it might be her duty, as well as
her interest, to comply.  But I think he would not much consult his
own, for reasons that will follow.  In the first place, she would
admire herself the more; and in the next, if she managed the matter
well, she might he more admired by others; an acquisition that might
bring her virtue under trials, to which otherwise it might never have
been exposed.  In no other case, however, can I imagine the practice in
this country to be either expedient or convenient.  As a general one it
certainly is not expedient, because in general English women have no
occasion for it.  A swarthy complexion is a rarity here; and the sex,
especially since inoculation has been so much in use, have very little
cause to complain that nature has not been kind to them in the article
of complexion.  They may hide and spoil a good one, but they cannot, at
least they hardly can, give themselves a better.  But even if they
could, there is yet a tragedy in the sequel, which, should make them
tremble.

"I understand that in France, though the use of rouge be general, the
use of white paint is far from being so.  In England, she that uses
one, commonly uses both.  Now all white paints, or lotions, or whatever
they may be called, are mercurial, consequently poisonous, consequently
ruinous in time to the constitution.  The Miss B---- above mentioned
was a miserable witness of this truth, it being certain that her flesh
fell from her bones before she died.  Lady Coventry was hardly a less
melancholy proof of it; and a London physician perhaps, were he at
liberty to blab, could publish a bill of female mortality, of a length
that would astonish us.

"For these reasons I utterly condemn the practice, as it obtains in
England; and for a reason superior to all these I must disapprove it.
I cannot, indeed, discover that Scripture forbids it in so many words.
But that anxious solicitude about the person, which such an artifice
evidently betrays, is, I am sure, contrary to the tenor and spirit of
it throughout.  Show me a woman with a painted face, and I will show
you a woman whose heart is set on things of the earth, and not on
things above.

"But this observation of mine applies to it only when it is an
imitative art.  For in the use of French women, I think it is as
innocent as in the use of a wild Indian, who draws a circle round her
face, and makes two spots, perhaps blue, perhaps white, in the middle
of it.  Such are my thoughts upon the matter.

  "_Vive valeque_,
     Yours ever,
       W. C."


These letters have been chosen as illustrations of Cowper's epistolary
style, and for that purpose they have been given entire.  But they are
also the best pictures of his character; and his character is
everything.  The events of his life worthy of record might all be
comprised in a dozen pages.



CHAPTER VIII.

CLOSE OF LIFE.

Cowper says there could not have been a happier trio on earth than Lady
Hesketh, Mrs. Unwin, and himself.  Nevertheless, after his removal to
Weston, he again went mad, and once more attempted self-destruction.
His malady was constitutional, and it settled down upon him as his
years increased, and his strength failed.  He was now sixty.  The Olney
physicians, instead of husbanding his vital power, had wasted it away
_secundum artem_ by purging, bleeding, and emetics.  He had overworked
himself on his fatal translation of Homer, under the burden of which he
moved, as he says himself, like an ass over-laden with sand-bags.  He
had been getting up to work at six, and not breakfasting till eleven.
And now the life from which his had for so many years been fed, itself
began to fail.  Mrs. Unwin was stricken with paralysis; the stroke was
slight, but of its nature there was no doubt.  Her days of bodily life
were numbered; of mental life there remained to her a still shorter
span.  Her excellent son, William Unwin, had died of a fever soon after
the removal of the pair to Weston.  He had been engaged in the work of
his profession as a clergyman, and we do not hear of his being often at
Olney.  But he was in constant correspondence with Cowper, in whose
heart as well as in that of Mrs. Unwin his death must have left a great
void, and his support was withdrawn just at the moment when it was
about to become most necessary.

Happily just at this juncture a new and a good friend appeared.  Hayley
was a mediocre poet, who had for a time obtained distinction above his
merits.  Afterwards his star had declined, but having an excellent
heart, he had not been in the least soured by the downfall of his
reputation.  He was addicted to a pompous rotundity of style, perhaps
he was rather absurd; but he was thoroughly good-natured, very anxious
to make himself useful, and devoted to Cowper, to whom, as a poet, he
looked up with an admiration unalloyed by any other feeling.  Both of
them, as it happened, were engaged on Milton, and an attempt had been
made to set them by the ears; but Hayley took advantage of it to
introduce himself to Cowper with an effusion of the warmest esteem.  He
was at Weston when Mrs. Unwin was attacked with paralysis, and
displayed his resource by trying to cure her with an electric-machine.
At Eartham, on the coast of Sussex, he had, by an expenditure beyond
his means, made for himself a little paradise, where it was his delight
to gather a distinguished circle.  To this place he gave the pair a
pressing invitation, which was accepted in the vain hope that a change
might do Mrs. Unwin good.

From Weston to Eartham was a three days' journey, an enterprise not
undertaken without much trepidation and earnest prayer.  It was safely
accomplished, however, the enthusiastic Mr. Rose walking to meet his
poet and philosopher on the way.  Hayley had tried to get Thurlow to
meet Cowper.  A sojourn in a country house with the tremendous Thurlow,
the only talker for whom Johnson condescended to prepare himself, would
have been rather an overpowering pleasure; and perhaps, after all, it
was as well that Hayley could only get Cowper's disciple, Hurdis,
afterwards professor of poetry at Oxford, and Charlotte Smith.

At Eartham, Cowper's portrait was painted by Romney.

  Romney, expert infallibly to trace
  On chart or canvas not the form alone
  And semblance, but, however faintly shown
  The mind's impression too on every face,
  With strokes that time ought never to erase,
  Thou hast so pencilled mine that though I own
  The subject worthless, I have never known
  The artist shining with superior grace;
  But this I mark, that symptoms none of woe
  In thy incomparable work appear:
  Well: I am satisfied it should be so
  Since on maturer thought the cause is clear;
  For in my looks what sorrow could'st thou see
  When I was Hayley's guest and sat to thee.

Southey observes that it was likely enough there would be no melancholy
in the portrait, but that Hayley and Romney fell into a singular error
in mistaking for "the light of genius" what Leigh Hunt calls "a fire
fiercer than that either of intellect or fancy, gleaming from the
raised and protruded eye."

Hayley evidently did his utmost to make his guest happy.  They spent
the hours in literary chat, and compared notes about Milton.  The first
days were days of enjoyment.  But soon the recluse began to long for
his nook at Weston.  Even the extensiveness of the view at Eartham made
his mind ache, and increased his melancholy.  To Weston the pair
returned; the paralytic, of course, none the better for her journey.
Her mind as well as her body was now rapidly giving way.  We quote as
biography that which is too well known to be quoted as poetry.


  TO MARY.

  The twentieth year is well nigh past.
  Since first our sky was overcast:--
  Ah, would that this might be the last!
    My Mary!

  Thy spirits have a fainter flow,
  I see thee daily weaker grow:--
  'Twas my distress that brought thee low,
    My Mary!

  Thy needles, once a shining store,
  For my sake restless heretofore,
  Now rust disused, and shine no more,
    My Mary!

  For though thou gladly wouldst fulfil
  The same kind office for me still,
  Thy sight now seconds not thy will,
    My Mary!

  But well thou play'dst the housewife's part,
  And all thy threads with magic art,
  Have wound themselves about this heart,
    My Mary!

  Thy indistinct expressions seem
  Like language utter'd in a dream:
  Yet me they charm, whate'er the theme,
    My Mary!

  Thy silver locks, once auburn bright,
  Are still more lovely in my sight
  Than golden, beams of orient light,
    My Mary!

  For could I view nor them nor thee,
  What sight worth seeing could I see P
  The sun would rise in vain for me,
    My Mary!

  Partakers of thy sad decline,
  Thy hands their little force resign;
  Yet gently press'd, press gently mine,
    My Mary!

  Such feebleness of limbs thou provest,
  That now at every step thou movest,
  Upheld by two; yet still thou lovest,
    My Mary!

  And still to love, though press'd with ill,
  In wintry age to feel no chill,
  With me is to be lovely still,
    My Mary!

  But ah! by constant heed I know,
  How oft the sadness that I show
  Transforms thy smiles to looks of woe,
    My Mary!

  And should my future lot be cast
  With much resemblance of the past,
  Thy worn-out heart will break at last,
    My Mary!


Even love, at least the power of manifesting love, began to betray its
mortality.  She who had been so devoted, became, as her mind failed,
exacting, and instead of supporting her partner, drew him down.  He
sank again into the depth of hypochondria.  As usual, his malady took
the form of religious horrors, and he fancied that he was ordained to
undergo severe penance for his sins.  Six days he sat motionless and
silent, almost refusing to take food.  His physician suggested, as the
only chance of arousing him, that Mrs. Unwin should be induced, if
possible, to invite him to go out with her; with difficulty she was
made to understand what they wanted her to do; at last she said that it
was a fine morning, and she should like a walk.  Her partner at once
rose and placed her arm in his.  Almost unconsciously, she had rescued
him from the evil spirit for the last time.  The pair were in doleful
plight.  When their minds failed they had fallen in a miserable manner
under the influence of a man named Teedon, a schoolmaster crazed with
self-conceit, at whom Cowper in his saner mood had laughed, but whom he
now treated as a spiritual oracle, and a sort of medium of
communication with the spirit-world, writing down the nonsense which
the charlatan talked.  Mrs. Unwin, being no longer in a condition to
control the expenditure, the housekeeping, of course, went wrong; and
at the same time her partner lost the protection of the love-inspired
tact by which she had always contrived to shield his weakness and to
secure for him, in spite of his eccentricities, respectful treatment
from his neighbours.  Lady Hesketh's health had failed, and she had
been obliged to go to Bath.  Hayley now proved himself no mere
lion-hunter, but a true friend.  In conjunction with Cowper's
relatives, he managed the removal of the pair from Weston to Mundsley,
on the coast of Norfolk, where Cowper seemed to be soothed by the sound
of the sea, then to Dunham Lodge, near Swaffham, and finally (in 1796)
to East Dereham, where, two months after their arrival, Mrs. Unwin
died.  Her partner was barely conscious of his loss.  On the morning of
her death he asked the servant "whether there was life above stairs?"
On being taken to see the corpse, he gazed at it for a moment, uttered
one passionate cry of grief, and never spoke of Mrs. Unwin more.  He
had the misfortune to survive her three years and a half, during which
relatives and friends were kind, and Miss Perowne partly filled, the
place of Mrs. Unwin.  Now and then, there was a gleam of reason and
faint revival of literary faculty, but composition was confined to
Latin verse or translation, with one memorable and almost awful
exception.  The last original poem written by Cowper was _The
Castaway_, founded on an incident in Anson's Voyage.

  Obscurest night involved the sky,
    The Atlantic billows roared,
  When such a destined, wretch as I,
    Wash'd headlong from on board,
  Of friends, of hope, of all bereft,
  His floating home for ever left.

  No braver chief could Albion boast;
    Than he with whom he went,
  Nor ever ship left Albion's coast
    With warmer wishes sent.
  He loved them both, but both in vain;
  Nor him beheld, nor her again.

  Not long beneath the whelming brine
    Expert to swim, he lay,
  Nor soon he felt his strength decline,
    Or courage die away;
  But waged with death a lasting strife,
  Supported by despair of life.

  He shouted; nor his friends had fail'd
    To check the vessel's course,
  But so the furious blast prevail'd,
    That pitiless perforce
  They left their outcast mate behind,
  And scudded still before the wind.

  Some succour yet they could afford,
    And, such as storms allow,
  The cask, the coop, the floated cord,
    Delay'd not to bestow;
  But he, they knew, nor ship nor shore,
  Whate'er they gave, should visit more.

  Nor, cruel as it seem'd, could he
    Their haste himself condemn,
  Aware that flight, in such a sea,
    Alone could rescue them;
  Yet bitter felt it still to die
  Deserted, and his friends so nigh.

  He long survives, who lives an hour
    In ocean, self-upheld;
  And so long he, with unspent power,
    His destiny repelled:
  And ever, as the minutes flew,
  Entreated help, or cried--"Adieu!"

  At length, his transient respite past,
    His comrades, who before
  Had heard his voice in every blast,
    Could catch the sound no more:
  For then by toil subdued, he drank
  The stifling wave, and then he sank.

  No poet wept him; but the page
    Of narrative sincere,
  That tells his name, his worth, his age,
    Is wet with Anson's tear;
  And tears by bards or heroes shed
  Alike immortalize the dead.

  I therefore purpose not, or dream,
    Descanting on his fate,
  To give the melancholy theme
    A more enduring date:
  But misery still delights to trace
  Its semblance in another's case.

  No voice divine the storm allay'd,
    No light propitious shone,
  When, snatch'd from all effectual aid,
    We perish'd, each alone:
  But I beneath a rougher sea,
  And whelm'd in deeper gulfs than he.


The despair which finds vent in verse is hardly despair.  Poetry can
never be the direct expression of emotion; it must be the product of
reflection combined with an exercise of the faculty of composition
which in itself is pleasant.  Still _The Castaway_ ought to be an
antidote to religious depression, since it is the work of a man of whom
it would be absurdity to think as realty estranged from the spirit of
good, who had himself done good to the utmost of his powers.

Cowper died very peacefully on the morning of April 25, 1800, and was
buried in Dereham Church, where there is a monument to him with an
inscription by Hayley, which, if it is not good poetry, is a tribute of
sincere affection.

Any one whose lot it is to write upon the life and works of Cowper must
feel that there is an immense difference between the interest which
attaches to him, and that which attaches to any one among the far
greater poets of the succeeding age.  Still there is something about
him so attractive, his voice has such a silver tone, he retains, even
in his ashes, such a faculty of winning friends that his biographer and
critic may be easily beguiled into giving him too high a place.  He
belongs to a particular religious movement, with the vitality of which
the interest of a great part of his works has departed or is departing.
Still more emphatically and in a still more important sense does he
belong to Christianity.  In no natural struggle for existence would he
have been the survivor, by no natural process of selection would he
ever have been picked out as a vessel of honour.  If the shield which
for eighteen centuries Christ by His teaching and His death has spread
over the weak things of this world should fail, and might should again
become the title to existence and the measure of worth, Cowper will be
cast aside as a specimen of despicable infirmity, and all who have said
anything in his praise will be treated with the same scorn.





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