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able asylum in some monastery-an acquisition, he remembered, which would only involve changing his religion. Not a little pleased with this expedient, he returned to his chambers to pack up all his belongings; but while thus engaged his mind changed again, and once more he resolved on self-murder.
Not knowing where to poison himself for he was liable to continual interruption in his chambers-he laid aside that intention, and resolved upon drowning. Consequently he at once took a coach, and ordered the man to drive to Tower Wharf, intending to throw himself into the river from the Custom House quay.
He left the coach upon the wharf, but on arriving at the quay found the water low, and a porter seated upon some goods there, as if on purpose to prevent him. "This passage to the bottomless pit," he says, "being mercifully shut against me, I returned back to the coach, and ordered it to return to the Temple. I drew up the shutters, once more had recourse to the laudanum, and determined to drink it off directly; but God had otherwise ordained. A conflict, that shook me to pieces, suddenly took place; not properly a trembling, but a convulsive agitation, which deprived me in a manner of the use of my limbs, and my mind was as much shaken as my body.
"Distracted between the desire of death and the dread of it, twenty times I had the phial to my mouth, and as often received an irresistible check; and even at the time it seemed to me that an invisible hand swayed the bottle downwards as often as I set it against my lips. I well remember that I took note of this circumstance with some surprise, though it effected no change in my
purpose. Panting for breath and in an horrible agony, I flung myself back into the corner of the coach. A few drops of laudanum which had touched my lips, besides the fumes of it, began to have a stupefying effect upon me. Regretting the loss of so fair an opportunity, yet utterly unable to avail myself of it, I determined not to live; and already half dead with anguish, I once more returned to the Temple. Instantly I repaired to my room, and, having shut both the outer and inner door, prepared myself for the last scene of the tragedy. I poured the laudanum into a small basin, set it on a chair by the bedside, half undressed myself, and lay down between the blankets, shuddering with horror at what I was about to perpetrate. I reproached myself bitterly with folly and rank cowardice for having suffered the fear of death to influence me as it had done, and was filled with disdain at my own pitiful timidity; but still something seemed to overrule me, and to say, 'Think what you are doing! Consider, and live.'
"At length, however, with the most confirmed resolution, I reached forth my hand to the basin, when the fingers of both hands were as closely contracted as if bound with a cord, and became entirely useless. Still, indeed, I could have made shift with both hands, dead and lifeless as they were, to have raised the basin to my mouth, for my arms were not at all affected; but this new difficulty struck me with wonder; it had the air of a Divine interposition. I lay down in bed again to muse upon it, and while thus employed, heard the key turn in the outer door, and my laundress's husband came in."
Starting up, Cowper hastily dressed himself, hid the
basin, and affected as composed an air as he could. Moreover, the interruption had such an effect upon him, and the horror of the crime at the same time exhibited itself in so strong a light, that, seized with furious indignation, he snatched up the basin, and flung the laudanum out of the window.
23. On the Brink of Eternity.
The rest of that day he spent in a kind of “ stupid insensibility," undetermined as to the manner of dying, but still bent on self-murder as the only possible deliverance. "I went to bed," he continues, "to take, as I thought, my last sleep in this world. The next morning was to place me at the bar of the House, and I determined not to see it. I slept as usual, and woke about three o'clock. Immediately I arose, and by the help of a rushlight found my penknife, took it into bed with me, and lay with it for some hours directly pointed against my heart. Twice or thrice I placed it upright under my left breast, leaning all my weight upon it, but the point was broken off square, and it would not penetrate.
"In this manner the time passed till the day began to break. I heard the clock strike seven, and instantly it occurred to me that there was no time to be lost, the chambers would soon be opened, and my friend would call upon me to take me with him to Westminster. Now is the time,' thought I; this is the crisis, no more dallying with the love of life!' I arose, and, as I thought, bolted the inner door of my chambers, but
was mistaken, my touch deceived me, and I left it as I found it.
"Not one hesitating thought now remained, but I fell greedily to the execution of my purpose. My garter was made of a broad piece of scarlet binding, with a sliding buckle, being sewn together at the ends; by the help of the buckle I formed a noose, and fixed it about my neck, straining it so tight that I hardly left a passage for my breath, or for the blood to circulate; the tongue of the buckle held it fast. At each corner of the bed was placed a wreath of carved work, fastened by an iron pin, which passed up through the midst of it, the other part of the garter which made a loop I slipped over one of these and hung by it some seconds, drawing up my feet under me, that they might not touch the floor, but the iron bent, and the carved work slipped off, and the garter with it. I then fastened it to the frame of the tester, winding it round and tying it in a strong knot. The frame broke short and let me down again.
"The third effort was more likely to succeed. I set the door open, which reached within a foot of the ceiling; by the help of a chair I could command the top of it, and the loop being large enough to admit a large angle of the door, was easily fixed so as not to slip off again. I pushed away the chair with my feet, and hung at my whole length. While I hung there I distinctly heard a voice say three times, "'Tis over!' Though I am sure of the fact, and was so at the time, yet it did not at all alarm me, or affect my resolution. I hung so long that I lost all sense, all consciousness of exis
"When I came to myself again I thought myself in hell; the sound of my own dreadful groans was all that I heard, and a feeling like that produced by a flash of lightning, just beginning to seize upon me, passed over my whole body. In a few seconds I found myself fallen on my face to the floor. In about half a minute I recovered my feet, and, reeling and staggering, stumbled into bed again.
By the blessed providence of God the garter which had held me till the bitterness of temporal death was past, broke just before eternal death had taken place upon me. The stagnation of the blood under one eye, in a broad crimson spot, and a red circle round my neck, showed plainly that I had been on the brink of eternity. The latter, indeed, might have been occasioned by the pressure of the garter, but the former was certainly the effect of strangulation, for it was not attended with the sensation of a bruise, as it must have been, had I in my fall received one in so tender a part. And I rather think the circle round my neck was owing to the same cause, for the part was not excoriated, nor at all in pain."
Hearing him fall, his laundress came presently to inquire whether he was well, adding she feared he had been in a fit.
"I sent," continues Cowper, "to a friend, to whom I related the whole affair, and dispatched him to my kinsman at the coffee-house. As soon as the latter arrived I pointed to the broken garter, which lay in the middle of the room, and apprised him also of the attempt I had been making. His words were, My dear Mr. Cowper, you terrify me! To be sure you