« ForrigeFortsett »
office, the Clerkship of the Journals of the House of Lords: but this he was obliged to decline, from the same cause. His feelings and intellectual powers had received such a shock, that it became necessary to place him, in December 1763, under the care of Dr. Cotton, of St. Albans; his disorder, says his kinsman, the Rev. Dr. Johnson, having in a very early stage of it assumed the shape of hypochondriasis, which converted divine truth into a source of ' intellectual poison.'
Through the blessing of God upon the skill and tender care of his excellent medical friend, he experienced deliverance from rational bondage, and immediately the prison doors were also opened, and he enjoyed spiritual liberty, and 'that peace' and cheerfulness • which passeth all understanding.' Dr. Cotton's devotional feelings were so completely in unison with those of Cowper, that the latter did not take his departure from St. Albans till June 1765; nearly a twelvemonth after his cure. Here he composed some of his first excellent hymns.
The same year he paid an affectionate visit to his brother John, at Cambridge; and on his return, went to reside at Huntingdon, where his acquaintance commenced with young Mr. W. Cawthorne Unwin, in whose family he soon after found a most agreeable residence.
About a twelvemonth afterwards, the Rev. Mr Unwin, the father of his young friend, was unfortunately killed by a fall from his horse, when Providence removed the family to Olney, in Buckinghamshire, where Cowper became acquainted with that excellent man, the Rev. John Newton, then curate of that parish. This friendship brought to light that esteemed collection of hymns, called 'Olney Hymns,' as a monument of their congenial piety and joint labours.
In February 1770, Cowper's fraternal feelings received another shock, by a summon to attend the death-bed of his beloved brother, John, whose eyes he closed, and whom he saw die full of faith and hope in the gospel.
In 1780, he lost the company of Mr. Newton, who was called to the rectory of St. Mary Woolnoth, in London: but this vacuum in friendship was supplied by the Rev. William Bull, of Newton Pagnel, a learned and worthy dissenting minister, at whose suggestion Cowper translated Madame Guin's Poems. In the spring of 1782, he published the first volume of his Poems. Notwithstanding the gloom of mind into which he had relapsed at the death of his brother, in 1785 he published that beautiful poem the Task, which was undertaken in compliance with the request of a lady, who gave him for a subject the Sofa. This work established his reputation. In 1787, to divert his melancholy, he received an invitation from Mr. Throckmorton, to reside at his seat at Weston Underwood, about a mile from Olney, whether he was accompanied by his tender friend, Mrs. Unwin, whose affectionate friendship neither time nor circumstance could diminish.
In 1790, he completed his translations of the Iliad and Odyssey. In 1792, the death of his friend, Sir Robert Throckmorton, occasioned the removal of the family to a seat in Oxfordshire, when he was introduced to his amiable biographer, Mr. Hayley, his kinsman, the Rev. Mr. Johnson, and other literary acquaintances, who kept his mind continually engaged in poetical avocations.
Owing to the interest of friends, his finances were now increased by a grant from royal munificence of three hundred pounds a year; but such was the state of his mind, that he was disabled from receiving any enjoyment at the disclosure of the circumstance.
In the summer of 1795, the poet and his aged companion, Mrs. Unwin, who had had a shock of the palsy, was taken by their friends, by gentle stages, to Mundsley, on the Norfolk coast. Here one of his greatest comforts was in the family devotions, the church being at a great distance. From Mundsley, the two invalids retired to Dereham, where, on the 17th December, the excellent Mrs. Unwin closed a long and exemplary life; the best part of which had been devoted to alleviate the sufferings, and sooth the wounded spirit, of our poet.
At the close of the winter, 1799, his unhappy despondency brought on a rapid decline; and on the 25th of April, 1800, after remaining several hours in a state of insensibility, he resigned his ' spirit into the hands of God who gave it,' in the sixty-ninth year of his age. His remains were buried in St. Edmund's Chapel, in the Church of East Dereham, on the 2nd of May, and a monument was erected over his grave, on which was inscribed the following elegant epitaph, from the pen of his friend Mr. Hayley:-
in flUtmovp of
Boni in Hertfordshire, 1731.
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 Cowpert dust!
England, exulting in his spotless fame,
Hanks with her dearest cons his fav'rite name:
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.
Cowper has justly been called the poet of Domestic Life; but his writings are so diversified, as to have a charm for every taste, and for every age. They are calculated not only to awaken the genuine sympathies of the mind, but to rectify the morals, and shed the brightest lustre round the divine realities of our most holy faith.
CONTEXTS OF VOL. I.