watering-places of Cromer and Mundesley," whilst other writers have been equally loud in their praises, not only of its "broad, firm sands smooth as a billiard-table," and its "bracing air blown direct and uninterruptedly from the North Sea," but also of its other attractive features-the gigantic cliffs, rugged and verdure-covered, rising aloft almost perpendicularly to the height of between 100 and 200 feet; the oldfashioned cottages of the village, " prettily situate," to quote Mr. Walter Rye, "huddled round the banks of an impetuous little river, which is distinctly visible to the naked eye after heavy rain"; its comfortable old inns, the "Royal," the "Old Ship," and the "Lifeboat "; and the tumbledown parish church on the cliffs-to which church, by-the-bye, people are called by a bell that in former days was made to ring by the primitive method of thrusting a wooden prop against its clapper.

One wonders whether it was not the old church of Mundesley Cowper had in his mind when he wrote his "Letter from Mr. Village to Mr. Town," that appeared in the Connoisseur. After speaking of the indifference of people in those days to keeping the fabric of their churches in repair, he says, "Sometimes, the foundation being too weak to support the steeple any longer, it has been found expedient to pull down that part of the building, and to hang the bells under a wooden shed on the ground beside it. This is the case in a parish in Norfolk, through which I lately passed, and where the clerk and the sexton, like the two figures of St. Dunstan's, serve the bells in the capacity of clappers, by striking them alternately with a hammer."




9. The First Derangement.-1752.


AVING concluded the term of his engagement with Mr. Chapman, Cowper in 1752, at the age of 21, settled himself as a regular student of law in chambers in the Middle Temple, at which he had been entered three years previously, before he left school (April 29, 1748).

"This," says he ("Memoir"), "being a critical season of my life, and one upon which much depended, it pleased my all-merciful Father in Jesus Christ to give a check to my rash and ruinous career of wickedness at the very onset. I was struck, not long after my settlement in the Temple, with such a dejection of spirits, as none but they who have felt the same can have the least conception of. Day and night I was upon the rack, lying down in horror, and rising up in despair."

In short, Cowper had been seized with what it is usual to call his First Derangement, though it must be remembered that he had several times previously given way, though for but very brief periods, to fits of despondency.

To imagine, as some have done, that the origin of this malady is to be sought in the grief felt by him when a child of six for the death of his mother, is simply ridiculous; nor need we suppose that the illusage he received at his first school had anything to do with it. By the time he was 21 he would certainly have got over the death of his mother, and as regards the school, it is certain that his time there was succeeded at Westminster by some very happy years. The cause of it appears to me very plain. The poet himself assures us that a tendency to lowness of spirits was observable in his family, and the case of his brother John, to inquire no further, at once occurs to the mind. This constitutional despondency, in a man of Cowper's morbid temperament, coupled with the fact of his having had far too much time at his disposal, is quite sufficient to account for what happened.

By the rash and ruinous career of wickedness he meant perhaps no more than his practice of abstaining from attending places of worship and from private devotion.

As his malady increased he lost all relish for the various studies, including the classics that had so often afforded him pleasure. He needed, he says, something more salutary than amusement, but had no one to direct him where to find it. At length, however, there fell into his hands a copy of Herbert's poems, and in

them, "gothic and uncouth as they were," he found a strain of poetry which he could not but admire.

It was a happy thought to commemorate Cowper and George Herbert in one window in Westminster Abbey, as was done by Mr. Childs, of Philadelphia, some years ago. They stand side by side, Herbert in clerical costume, by his "church porch," and Cowper in his well-known cap and dressing-gown, under the shadow of Olney steeple.

The two poets have much in common, and it is. pleasing to learn that "Holy George Herbert " afforded the latter poet so much pleasure, especially in so dark an hour. No other author then gave Cowper any delight, and he pored over the book all day long. "I found," he says, "not here what I might have found, a cure for my malady, yet it never seemed so much alleviated as while I was reading him." Then he goes on to say, "In this state of mind I continued near a twelvemonth, when, having experienced the inefficacy of all human means, I at length betook myself to God in prayer: such is the rank which our Redeemer holds in our esteem, never resorted to but in the last instance, when all creatures have failed to succour us. My hard heart was at length softened, and my stubborn knees brought to bow; I composed a set of prayers and made frequent use of them. Weak as my faith was, the Almighty, who will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, was. graciously pleased to hear me.”

« ForrigeFortsett »