are prurient, but he was most unselfish and generous towards his friends; his reading was extensive, and his critical power considerable. Gibbon visited Eartham, and called it a little paradise, but declared that its owner's mind was even more elegant than it. Thurlow, Flaxman, Warton, all loved and admired him, and Miss Seward poured forth admiring verses upon him.

Cowper, who had hardly ever seen a hill in his life, was of course delighted with the South Downs, the wide landscape, the sea, and the Isle of Wight. He could not write, however; all was so strange to him. "I am like the man in the fable," he said, "who could leap nowhere but at Rhodes." He gave some help to Hayley in translating "Adam," an Italian dramatic poem, a wretchedly poor work, not worth reprinting. Poor Charlotte Smith was staying there, writing "The Old Manor House." She was wonderfully rapid, and used each evening to read to them what she had written in the day. On this occasion, too, Romney, who was Hayley's dearest friend, took the portrait by which Cowper is so well known to us. The portrait by Abbot had been taken just before starting for Eartham.

Six weeks were spent here—happy weeks; but Cowper began to pine for quiet Weston again. Repose and seclusion had always suited him best; he felt them indispensable to him now. Mrs. Unwin's continued infirmities, and the declining season of the year, concurred in making him anxious to be gone, and they returned to Weston in September. How he wrote to Teedon day after day, and week after week, we pause not to relate; it is most distressing to read the letters. Newton never exercised a greater power over him than this man, who received all his confidences, prescribed to him what prayers to use, and how long a time to spend in them, and prognosticated his future. Cowper paid him from time to time much more money than he could afford, even while, sound in all respects but one, he was making hearty fun of his absurdity and vanity. Mrs. Unwin, too, got worse; and he who had been the object of her care so long now became her tender and attentive nurse. The poor woman became so irritable and exacting that his health, comfort, and peace of mind were sacrificed to her fancies. She sat silent, looking into the fire, unable to work or to read; under such circumstances he had little heart to write. His state became more wretched and dark than ever. Small doses of James' powders, or a small quantity of laudanum taken at night, were the best remedies that he had found, he says. "I seem to myself," he wrote to Newton,* "to be scrambling always in the dark, among rocks and precipices, without a guide, but with an enemy ever at my heels, prepared to push me headlong. Thus I have spent twenty years, but thus I shall not spend twenty years more. Long ere that period arrives, the grand question concerning everlasting weal or woe will be decided." Lady Hesketh might have wrought him good, perhaps, but she had fallen out of health, and was ordered to Bath. Besides, she

* Nov. ii, 1792,

knew nothing of the Teedon delusion, and was quite abroad in her thoughts of the doings at Weston. The schoolmaster's promises of relief within a specified period failed, and, as a matter of course, Cowper, who had trusted to them implicitly, came to the conclusion that God had finally forsaken him and cast him off.

But what is so especially touching in the history of this sad period is that he fought so hard against his insanity. His letters to his friends are still playful and witty, and a great number of his smaller poems belong to this year. He worked at Milton as long as it was possible, and he studied the old commentaries on Homer, with a view of improving his second edition when it should be called for. There are passages in his letters which lead one to believe that if he had only .lad.-. fair chance his mind might have recovered itself. But what chance was there, with Teedon on one side and poor Mrs. Unwin on the other? In one of his letters he says that while he is writing it, she is sitting in her corner, sometimes bursting into a laugh at nothing, sometimes talking nonsense, to which no one thinks of paying attention. And yet this was, for months, the only "conversation" that he had; and she would not even let him read, except aloud to her. The only way by which he could gain any leisure was to rise at six, begin work at once, and breakfast at eleven; and this he did in winter as well as in summer. In the autumn of 1793 Lord Spencer invited him to Althorpe to meet Gibbon, who was making a long stay there, and he was much tempted to go. But the state of his spirits, as well as Mrs. Unwin's infirm condition, unhappily compelled him to d chne the invitation.

Towards the end of the year 1793, just after he had dropped the Miltonic engagement, Lady Hesketh came to Weston. Hayley had been there a few weeks before; but in April 1794 received a message from her entreating him to come again, for that the unhappy patient had become much worse. He came at once. It was evidently a terrible sight to them; Hayley's unaffected description is most pathetic. The poor sufferer would hardly eat anything, and refused all medicine, walking backwards and forwards incessantly in his bedroom, believing from hour to hour that the devil was coming to carry him away. At Thurlow's request, Dr. Willis, whose success in the king's insanity had made his name renowned, came to Weston, but found the case past his skill. A letter came from Lord Spencer, announcing that the king granted Mr. Cowper a pension of ^300 a year, but he was not in a condition to receive the announcement. Whilst he was worn out with fatigue, anguish, and fasting, Mrs. Unwin would insist on his dragging her round the garden. She persisted too in keeping the management of the household, and the reckless extravagance below stairs amazed and horrified Lady Hesketh, who, however, bravely struggled on for more than a year, vainly hoping to relieve him. She then wrote to his cousin Johnson, who had been recently ordained, urging the necessity of removal, and he came and succeeded in persuading Cowper to consent to it. It was spoken of as temporary, otherwise the consent would never have been given; but when it came to the last Cowper felt that he should never return. He wrote, unseen by any one, these lines on a window-shutter :—

"Farewell, dear scenes, for ever closed to me;
Oh! for what sorrows must I now exchange ye."

It was the 30th of July, 1795. He saw the Ouse once more, at St. Neots, on his journey. And as he walked with Johnson through the churchyard in the moonlight, he talked with cheerfulness. It was the last time that he was ever to do so. They went first to North Tuddenham, then to Mundsley, on the coast, where Johnson noticed that the monotonous sound of the breakers seemed to soothe him, and finally they settled at Dunham Lodge, near Swaffham. Johnson tried to coax him into composition or correspondence, but without avail. The only thing that seemed to please him was being read to, and they read Richardson's novels to him. This was evidently successful, and novel-reading was accordingly persisted in. Presently Johnson spoke in his hearing of some criticisms on his Homer, and laid the volumes where he could see them. They soon found that he had sought out the passages, and had made some corrections in his translation in consequence. But Dunham proving inconvenient, they moved to a house in the little town of East Dereham in October 1796. Two months afterwards (Dec. 17) Mrs. Unwin was released from her sufferings. Johnson took Cowper to see her corpse. He gazed for a minute or two, then uttered some half-finished exclamation of sorrow, and was led away. He regained his calmness down-stairs, asked for a glass of wine,* and from that time never alluded to her again. She was buried by torchlight, that he might not know the time of the funeral.

His friends hoped that Mrs. Unwin's release might allow of Cowper's restoration. But the hope was vain. The gloom which rested upon him was dark as ever. Means, wise and unwise, were tried to dispel itt—the only one which at all succeeded being the attempt to interest him in his Homer. In September 1797 Johnson placed the revised copy open before him at the place where he had left it off twelve months before, and opened all the commentaries at the same place. Then after talking upon other subjects to him he led up to this. After a while the Poet took up one of the books and sat down on the sofa, saying in a low and plaintive'voice, "I may as well do this, for I can do nothing else." And from that time he continued steadily at the work. There were few outward signs of any alleviation of his misery, but he was always more composed when thus engaged; and his letters to Lady Hesketh, though appalling in their fixed despair, occasionally contain "dear cousin," and "yours affectionately," both of which expressions he had quite dropped. Old friends

* " He is wonderfully calm now, and made me give him a glass of wine the moment he got down, and took two pinches of snuff, which he had not done for nearly a week."—Extract from Johnsons letter announcing the death.

t One of them was the clandestine insertion of tubes into his bedroom, through which messages were spoken, professing to be supernatural, and intended to nullify the Teedon "voices"!

who came to see him, though he would not speak to them, nor appear to notice them, evidently were of some comfort to him, for he spoke of them afterwards. In March 1799 he finished with Homer. Johnson then put the unfinished "Four Ages of Man" before him. He altered a few lines, and added two or three more. But he was evidently past this. Easier subjects were mentioned. At length he said that he had thought of some Latin verses which he thought he might do, and next day he wrote "Monies Glaciales." The story had been read to him at Dunham Lodge, but he had not appeared to take any notice. A few days afterwards he translated it into English, and the next day wrote "The Castaway," founded upon a story in "Anson's Voyages," which he had heard read some months before. This was his last original poem. He still seemed to like being read to, and he listened to Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works and to his own poems, except "John Gilpin," which he forbade. Vincent Bourne was brought to him again, and he translated a few more of the poems, as well as some Fables from Gay. This was in Jan. 1800. The last words which he ever wrote were a correction of a mistranslation in Homer, which Hayley in a letter had pointed out. Two days afterwards (Feb. 1) signs of dropsy appeared in his feet, and a physician was called in. On his asking him how he felt, "I feel unutterable despair," was the answer. The last visitor who came to see him was Rose. Cowper showed evident regret at his departure.

There was a Miss Perowne, a friend of Miss Johnson, who was staying with them, who had more influence with him than any one. She only, and she not always, could persuade him to take any medicine. Mr. Johnson took courage, on one occasion, to speak to him of death as the deliverance from misery. He seemed to listen, but made no answer. Then Johnson spoke yet more encouragingly—spoke of the unutterable blessedness which God has prepared for those who love Him, and therefore for him. He was quiet until the last four words, then he passionately entreated that no such words should be spoken more. And so the sad days passed on, and no comfort appeared. So near was he to the eternal sunrise now, and yet not a ray of its light appeared to herald the day-dawn. Not an echo reached the dying man's ear of the voice of the Good Shepherd who walked by his side through that horrible valley. The ship was in the midst of the sea, all the waves and storms of despair beating and surging over it, and the Saviour was not yet visible, though He was walking on the waters.

Miss Perowne offered the sufferer a cordial. He refused it, saying, "What can it signify?" Those were his last words. Soon after, the tranquillity of unconsciousness came on, and lasted for some hours. It was five o'clock in the evening of St. Mark's Day, 1800, when the happy change came. Even so we must all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Thank God.

"From that moment," says the relative who loved him so well, "until the coffin was closed, the expression into which his countenance had settled was thai of calmness and composure, mingled as it were with holy surprise." A pretty fancy we may call this; but who can doubt that it symbolized the simple truth? All who had ever known him loved him; but the love of the best of us grows cold before the might of Thine, O most merciful Father of us all. Thy judgments are like the great deep; but Thy righteousness standeth like the strong mountains.

O poets! from a maniac's tongue, was poured the deathless singing!
O Christians! at your cross of hope, a hopeless hand was clinging!

0 men! this man, in brotherhood, your weary paths beguiling,
Groaned inly while he taught you peace, and died while ye were smiling I

And now, what time ye all may read through dimming tears his story, How discord on the music fell, and darkness on the glory, And how, when one by one, sweet sounds and wandering lights departed,

1 Ie bore no less a loving face because so broken-hearted;

He shall be strong to sanctify the poet's high vocation, And bow the meekest Christian down in meeker adoration:Nor ever shall he be, in praise, by wise or good forsaken;Named softly, as the household name of one whom God hath taken.

Elizabeth Barrett-browning.

Ho was buried on Saturday, May 2, in Dereham Church, in St. Edmund's Chapel: Mrs. Unwin is buried in the north aisle. Lady Hesketh had a monument erected to him, for which Hayley wrote the following inscription :—

In Memory
Bom in Hertfordshire 1731.
Buried in this Church 1800.

Ye, who with warmth the public triumph feel

Of talents, dignified by sacred zeal,

Here, to devotion's bard devoutly just,

Pay your fond tribute due to Cowper's dust!

England, exulting in his spotless fame,

Ranks with her dearest sons his favourite name 1

Sense, fancy, wit, suffice not all to raise

So clear a title to affection's praise:

His highest honours to the heart belong;

His virtues form'd the magic of his song.

« ForrigeFortsett »