« ForrigeFortsett »
sible to put stones together with that air of wild and magnificent disorder which they are sure to acquire by falling of their own accord.
"I remember (the last thing I mean to remember upon this occasion) that Sam Cox, the counsel, walking by the seaside, as if absorbed in deep contemplation, was questioned about what he was musing on. He replied, I was wondering that such an almost infinite and unwieldy element should produce a sprat."
In one of his walks along the strand Cowper experienced a rather unpleasant adventure at a spot where "the cliff is high and perpendicular." "At long intervals there are cart-ways, cut through the rock down to the beach, and there is no other way of access to it, or of return from it. I walked near a mile upon the water edge, without observing that the tide was rising fast upon me. When I did observe it, it was almost too late. I ran every step back again, and had much ado to save my distance."
This visit to Margate and vicinity is thus referred to in the "Lines to the Rev. Mr. Newton on his return from Ramsgate" (October, 1780). Cowper says :—.
"That ocean you have late surveyed,
You from the flood-controlling steep
No longer such to you.
To me the waves, that ceaseless broke
Your sea of troubles you have past,
Cowper left Margate at the beginning of October.
21. The Second Derangement:
Cowper's friends had hoped that his appearance in person might not be required in Parliament after all, but it soon became evident that such hopes were destined to be blighted.
Again," says Cowper, "I feel myself pressed by necessity on either side, with nothing but despair in prospect. To this dilemma was I reduced, either to keep possession of the office to the last extremity, and by so doing expose myself to a public rejection for insufficiency (for the little knowledge I had acquired would have quite forsaken me at the bar of the House), or else to fling it up at once, and by this means to run the hazard of ruining my benefactor's right of appointment, by bringing his discretion into question. In this situation such a fit of passion has sometimes seized me when alone in my chambers, that I have cried out aloud, and cursed the hour of my birth; lifting up my eyes to heaven at the same time, not as a suppliant, but in the hellish spirit of rancorous reproach and blasphemy against my Maker. A thought would sometimes come across my mind that my sins had perhaps brought this distress upon me, that the hand of Divine vengeance was in it; but in the pride of my heart I presently acquitted myself, and thereby implicitly charged God
with injustice, saying, 'What sins have I committed to deserve this?"
“I saw plainly that God alone could deliver me, but was firmly persuaded that He would not, and therefore omitted to ask it. Indeed at His hands I would not, but as Saul sought to the witch, so did I to the physician, Dr. Heberden, and was as diligent in the use of drugs as if they would have healed my wounded spirit, or have made the rough places plain before me."
Cowper made, indeed, one effort of a devotional kind, using a prayer which he found in that well-known anonymous work, "The Whole Duty of Man," but soon laid the volume aside, and with it all thoughts of God and hopes of a remedy.
"I now," says he, "began to look upon madness as the only chance remaining. I had a strong foreboding that so it would fare with me, and I wished for it earnestly, and looked forward to it with impatient expectation!
"My chief fear was that my senses would not fail me time enough to excuse my appearance at the bar of the House of Lords, which was the only purpose I wanted it to answer."
As the day drew near he was still, as he had dreaded, in his senses, and then there entered into his mind the terrible suggestion that he should destroy himself. He grew more sullen and reserved, fled from society, even from his most intimate friends, and shut himself up his chambers. He wished ardently for death, and found himself but little shocked at the idea of procuring it by his own hands. To continue in his own words, Perhaps," thought I, "there is no God, or if there
be, the Scriptures may be false; if so, then God has nowhere forbidden suicide. I considered life as my property, and therefore at my own disposal. But above all I was persuaded to believe, that if the act was ever so unlawful, and even supposing Christianity to be true, my misery in hell itself would be more supportable."
He then recollected the incident which we have already referred to, of his father putting into his hands. for criticism, when he was a young boy, a treatise written in vindication of self-murder; and argued because his father heard his reasons and was silent, neither approving nor disapproving that he had sided with the author, "and the circumstance," says Cowper, "now weighed mightily with me." It may be observed that in a healthier state of mind Cowper gauged with probable correctness his father's real reason for this at any rate indiscreet action.
Conversations with two persons, one at a chop-house and another at a tavern, also strengthened his determination, for each gave it as his opinion that a man had liberty to die as he saw convenient, and that it was only cowardice that prevented people in deep trouble from making away with themselves.
22. Laudanum and the River.-November, 1763.
Cowper's mind being made up, nothing remained but to put his intention into execution, and one evening, as soon as it was dark, affecting as cheerful and unconcerned an air as possible, he went into an apothecary's
shop, and asked for half an ounce of laudanum. man," says Cowper, "seemed to observe me narrowly; but if he did I managed my voice and countenance so as to deceive him. The day that required my attendance at the bar of the House being not yet come, and about a week distant, I kept my bottle close in my sidepocket, resolved to use it when I should be convinced that there was no other way of escaping. This, indeed, seemed evident already; but I was willing to allow myself every possible chance of that sort, and to protract the horrid execution of my purpose till the last moment."
The day before the dreadful ordeal, while breakfasting at Richard's coffee-house, he picked up a newspaper, and curiously enough caught sight of a letter which not only dealt in a laudatory manner with the subject of self-destruction, but which seemed to point directly to himself. He imagined, indeed, such was the disordered. state of his mind, that the author was acquainted with his purpose, and had written that letter in order to secure and hasten the execution of it. Thereupon, with the cry, "Your cruelty shall be gratified; you shall have your revenge!" he flung down the paper and rushed out of the room, directing his way towards the fields, with the determination to poison himself either in some solitary house or in a ditch.
Before he had walked a mile a thought struck him that he might yet spare his life; that he had nothing to do but to sell what he had in the funds (which might be done in an hour), go on board a ship, and transport himself to France. There, when every other way of maintenance should fail, he promised himself a comfort