EARLY a century has passed since the death of William Cowper, and few poets have had more written about them. The first to commence a systematic life of him was his old friend the Rev. John Newton, in 1800, a few months after the poet's death. No more than sixteen pages, however, were actually written, the burden of the author's years proving too great an obstacle. The Life by Hayley, the friend of Cowper's last decade—a work containing much valuable material-first appeared in two volumes in 1803, to which two more were added in 1806. Hayley's correspondence with Lady Hesketh, now in the British Museum (Addit. MS. 30803 A, B) shows under what difficulties this Life was written. Hayley had the hardest work imaginable to get Lady Hesketh and Theodora to tell him anything. Never, perhaps, in the history of literature was biographer so handicapped. "The biographer of Cowper," her ladyship told him, "whoever he might be, should not consider himself as the writer of a Novel, and indeed I am firmly of opinion that you should deal only in generals, and by no means give a particular account of the life of our friend." That there is no need to make a novel of

a biography we admit, but for a biographer "to deal only in generals" would be to make his work absolutely valueless. What Lady Hesketh would not tell, it has taken nearly a hundred years to arrive at; bit by bit practically the whole of Cowper's story has been laid bare, and there cannot now be much of importance concerning him that we do not know.

The same year that saw the first issue of Hayley's work (1803) saw also Cowper Illustrated, &c., by James S. Storer, a volume containing interesting descriptions of the scenery alluded to in the Task. This popular publication, which went through at least ten editions, was reissued in 1822 with the title of The Rural Walks of Cowper, a book which exceeded its predecessor in popularity. The distressing "Memoir" written by the poet himself was first published in 1816. It covers only the first thirty-five years of his life. A brief account of the poet, prefixed to a quantity of new letters-the Private Correspondence— was issued in 1823 by the Rev. Dr. Johnson (Cowper's Johnny of Norfolk). In 1825 Mr. James Croft published the early love poems, &c., of the poet, and likewise a few anecdotes selected from the letters of Lady Hesketh. The Life and Letters of Cowper, by the Rev. T. S. Grimshawe, Rector of Biddenham (8 vols.), appeared in February, 1835. The "Life" is merely that by Hayley revised. This work was put together very hurriedly, and is crowded with mistakes. Scores of the letters, too, are greatly mutilated, and for no reason whatever except the bad taste of the compiler. Nevertheless, with all its faults, "Grimshawe" is not utterly valueless to the student of

Cowper. The Life and Letters by Southey-a truly excellent work-was issued in October of the same year (1835). In 1863 appeared the Aldine edition with a good life by the painstaking John Bruce, who died six years later. The various writings (18641869) of the Rev. Josiah Bull also threw fresh light on the poet's story, and the Rev. W. (now Canon) Benham was able to give a few fresh facts in the Globe edition (1870). The author's Town of Cowper appeared in 1886. An article entitled Some Unpublished MSS. of the Poet Cowper, by Mrs. D'Arcy Collyer, in the Universal Review for June, 1890, contains, along with some useful notes, a poem never before published (see Chapter V.), entitled "A Song of Mercy and Judgment," one of the most striking things Cowper

ever wrote.

This brings us to the present volume. In it I have dealt with the poet's life exhaustively, embodying not only the various discoveries of my predecessors, but also a large number of new facts-facts of which previous biographers were ignorant. I would also observe that it has been my privilege to read what is, broadly speaking, the whole of Cowper's correspondence (as contained in Southey, Grimshawe, Gauntlett, Bull, &c., &c.) in consecutive order, a thing which probably has never been done before, except possibly by Mr. Bruce. The correspondence being scattered up and down the pages of so many volumes, my task was no easy one, but it has amply repaid me, for it has enabled me to discover what may be described as the central incident of the poet's life, the incident that coloured, and made wretched, the whole of his

last twenty-seven years; and in no other way could I have discovered it. Religion, the miasmata of Olney, the influence of Newton, the sudden death of his brother-all these have at various times been held responsible for much of his misery. Undoubtedly the cause of Cowper's afflictions was inherited melancholia, but one of its effects has, curiously enough, escaped his former biographers, and that I am not wrong in attributing some importance to it is proved, I think, by the fact that we can trace its reaching influence throughout Cowper's life. The thing that caused him to believe that he was damned was a dream, a dream which he had at the end of February, 1773. It will of course be held, and rightly held, that this dream is only a specific instance of an habitual morbid frame of mind. Cowper, for his part, says over and over again, though not of course in so many words, that it was this dream, and nothing but this dream, that brought about the state of mind which rendered horrible the last twenty-seven years of his life. This belief of poor Cowper's cannot, alas! shake, but will only strengthen, the general view of his disease; but it is interesting to remark that as a rule he did not believe in dreams, and we often find him ridiculing them. It is not necessary to say more in the Preface on this point: an account of the dream and the accompanying circumstances will be found in Chapter IX.

I observed that Cowper's letters are scattered up and down the pages of a number of different works. These are (1) Southey's "Life of Cowper," which contains several letters not in the correspondence as by

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him arranged; (2) Southey's "Letters of Cowper";
Southey's Appendix; (4) Grimshawe, which
contains a few not in Southey; (5) "The Memoir
of the Rev. Henry Gauntlett" (thirty-eight letters
from Cowper to Teedon); (6) Bell's Edition of the
Poems (two letters to Mrs. Balls); (7) Several letters
in various periodicals (e.g., Gentleman's Magazine,
November, 1854). Besides these there is a goodly
number of unpublished letters in the British Museum,
and a considerable number in the hands of private
persons. It has been my practice whenever possible to
obtain copies of all unpublished letters, and also of the
excised portions (which are very numerous) of those
that have been published, my desire being, as soon as
possible, to publish the whole in consecutive order
with annotations. The whereabouts, indeed, of every
letter ought to be known, and I should be greatly
obliged to any person who has letters of the poet if
he would compare them with what is given in Southey
(not Grimshawe), and communicate with me.
It will,
I believe, be readily conceded that a complete collection
of the correspondence of the prince of English letter-
writers is a great desideratum.

Some account may now be given of the sources from which fresh facts have been obtained. These are(1) The unpublished letters in the British Museum and in the hands of private persons; (2) The Diary of Samuel Teedon, schoolmaster of Olney, who died in 1798. Southey, as I shall show, though he was aware of the existence of this book, never took the trouble to consult it. After being lost for many years, it was discovered by Mr. W. J. Harvey, of Champion Hill,

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