but from private prayer. "For him to implore mercy," he said, "would only anger God the more."

In order to be out of hearing of the noise of the annual fair, which was held in April, he visited Newton at the vicarage, and being there, entreated not to be sent away. There he remained till May in the following year; so piteous were his tears and entreaties to be suffered to remain, that Newton had not the heart to remove him. His malady, on the whole, was still increasing upon him. Yet it was not till October 1773 that Newton thought of consulting Dr. Cotton. It was too late then; perhaps it would have been of no use earlier. Some years later the unhappy patient described the thousand fancies which beset him; but there is no good in repeating a sick man's dreams. Mrs. Unwin watched over him all this time with the most tender solicitude. She undertook the care of him single-handed, and shared her diminished income with him. The expense of his living fell heavily also on Newton, as appears from a letter to his benefactor Thornton; but Newton's affection was too unselfish to allow him to put his poor friend from his house, During this sad time Cowper employed himself in gardening. He spoke little,never except when questioned. The first signs of improvement were seen in the garden; he began to make remarks on the state of the trees, and the growing of them. One day when feeding the chickens some trifle made him smile. "That is the first smile for sixteen months," said Newton. His companion, taking courage from this, proposed to return home. He consented, and having done so, was impatient of the few days' necessary delay. At home he again took to gardening, and also to carpentering. A friend gave him three hares, which he may be said to have immortalised. Ten years later he wrote his famous article in the Gentleman's Magazine [June, 1784], giving an account of these animals, and his arrangements for their health and comfort. His friends, pleased with his interest, gave him other animals-five rabbits, two guinea-pigs, two dogs, a magpie, a jay, a starling, and some pigeons, canaries, and goldfinches. The interest he took in them shows that his mind was partially recovering itself, though the clouds still hung heavily upon it. "As long as he is employed," says Newton of this period, "he is tolerably easy; but as soon as he leaves off, he is instantly swallowed up by the most gloomy apprehensions, though in everything that does not concern his own peace he is as sensible and discovers as quick a judgment as ever.


What I have already said will indicate the opinion to which I have been brought on the relation of his religious views to his madness. I have never forgotten-who could, in reading this strange and melancholy life?—that insanity is verily an inscrutable mystery, on which it behoves our words at all times to be wary and few. I do not believe certainly that religious opinions were the original cause of the madness. When I began the study of this life I believed that I should find that the views were merely the form which the madness happened to

* Bull, p. 202.

take. But this belief I cannot now hold. It became as clear to me as any demonstration could make it, that the Calvinistic doctrine and religious excitements threw an already trembling mind off its balance, and aggravated a malady which but for them might probably have been cured.

In 1776 he recommenced correspondence, as well as reading, and his letters are even playful. He had written none since 1772. One of the first was to Hill, thanking him for a present of fish.* He also took to sketching, and drew "mountains, valleys, woods, streams, ducks, and dabchicks." But this employment hurt his eyes. He formed a plan of taking three or four boys into his house as pupils, but none offered. Several friends, Hill especially, lent him books, on which he sent back criticisms. In one letter he asks especially for a work on the microscope, and Vincent Bourne's Poems. But his letters as yet were few.

In September 1779 Mr. Newton, who was disappointed and out of heart at his ill-success with the people of Olney, was presented by Thornton to the living of St. Mary Woolnoth, and left Olney at the end of the year. His last act before doing so was the publication of the Olney Hymns, by which Cowper was first introduced to the world. His departure naturally made great changes in Cowper's habits and doings, the chief being that he had much time thrown on his hands. In order to fill up the gap in his small circle of acquaintance, Newton, on leaving, introduced him to the Rev. W. Bull, an Independent minister residing at NewportPagnell, five miles from Olney. This choice was a happy one, and they became fast friends. Cowper had a knack of giving all his friends nicknames, and Mr. Bull become "Carissime Taurorum." But the distance between their homes, and Bull's hard work, prevented them from being much together, and Cowper was thrown on his own resources. He worked at his garden with more energy than ever, built frames for pine plants, and glazed the kitchen windows. Of his last achievement he gives a very humorous account in one of his letters. He revived his law studies a little, and gave advice gratis in a few cases. But, happily for English literature, he began to betake himself regularly to poetical composition. It is noticeable that "Nose v. Eyes," as well as the lines "On the Burning of Lord Mansfield's Library," were written now. Speaking of the first of these, -"Happy is the man," says he, "who knows just so much law as to make himself a little merry now and then with the solemnity of judicial proceedings." But in a letter to Newton a few days later, he uses a ghastly similitude about this jocularity. He compares himself to harlequin dancing round a corpse.

His prophecy concerning Thurlow had been fulfilled in June 1778, when the latter succeeded Earl Bathurst as Lord Chancellor of England. Cowper's friends hoped that this would bring some preferment to him, and William Unwin, now

* Cowper was remarkably fond of fish. "The most ichthyophagous of Protestants" he called himself. It is most amusing, in turning over his letters, to find him asking for fish over and


A Letter to Hill, July 6, 1776.

become Rector of Stock, in Essex, urged him to write to Thurlow. But Cowper was much too sensitive to do so. "He is very liberal, generous, and discerning," he replied, "but he is well aware of the tricks that are played upon such occasions, and after fifteen years' interruption of all intercourse between us, would translate my letter into this language-Pray remember the poor." But he was not without great hope that Thurlow would do something for him unasked, and it is not impossible that the latter had the will to do so, but lacked opportunity. At any rate he appointed, without solicitation, his and Cowper's friend Hill as his secretary. There seems an expression of disappointment in the end of a letter of Cowper to Hill, dated February 15, 1781. "Farewell, my friend, better than any I have to boast of either among the Lords-or gentlemen of the House of Commons." The latter clause probably refers to his cousin, Colonel Cowper, judging from some expressions in the earlier part of the letter. The letters written at this period are among the most delightful of his compositions, full of kindly humour, and rarely morbid. Even those to Newton-there are not many-avoid religious discussion. He encloses to whomsoever he may be writing the last new poem he has thrown off, apparently with no thought but that of amusing his friends.


One piece written now requires special mention, and that not of a pleasant character. Martin Madan's name has occurred more than once in this biography; it will be remembered that he was Cowper's first cousin, and chaplain of the Lock Hospital. In 1781 he published a work in two large octavos, to which he afterwards added a third as supplement, entitled Thelyphthora; or a Treatise on Marriage," and the estimate which he made of his performance may be judged by the first sentence which it contains :-"The Author doth not scruple to call this Treatise one of the most important and interesting Publications that have appeared since the days of the Protestant Reformation." The substance of it is that Polygamy is a state which was not only allowed by the Most High to the Jews, but spoken of in His law in such a manner as to show that it received His sanction to the end of the world. There is an abundance of learned discussion of the sacred languages, and many quotations from the Fathers, the author throughout taking his position upon the strictest literalism, and holding himself bound by every word of the Sacred Book, but rejecting every other ground of argument. The book has never been reprinteù,--not even by Brigham Young. But it is a work which has left its mark. It is no wild guess to say that it had much to do with John Henry Newman's growing disgust towards, and final rejection of, Protestantism. "Protestantism," he said, long before quitting the English Church, "has sometimes developed into Polygamy.” When one remembers what the tone of his mind was from youth, what a high store he set upon the celibate life, it will be felt with what shuddering he must have penned that sentence. And when it is compared with his renewed and distinct reference to Madan's book in his celebrated correspondence with Mr. Kingsley

(pp. 17, 18), there can be no question that a system which could have produced such a book must long have raised an antagonism in his mind.

Cowper and Newton would of course have no such thought as this. Instead of generalizing upon it, they came to the conclusion that it was simply the work of a vicious and immorally-minded man. To one who knows so little of Madan as I have been able to discover, it is impossible to give any judgment on this point. But internal evidence does not support such a view. If Madan ever looked sorrowfully upon his charge at the Lock, and thought how each fallen woman had been once an innocent child, and might have been a happy wife with children round her knees, is it to be wondered at that he pondered on the question "On what theory might these have been wives?" Dwelling upon this,-being (let it be remembered) a Puritan in theology, and Judaizing in his view of the Scriptures,- —one is not surprised that he rushed into the notion that the polygamy of the Mosaic days is not contrary to the will of God, and that by the restoration of it harlotry might be put an end to. If we start with the assumption that the law of the Pentateuch is the basis and limit of all moral legislation whatsoever,—and such an assumption should scarcely appear startling to many Protestants, -then the whole of Madan's doctrine follows as a matter of course, for no one disputes the minor premiss, that Polygamy was allowed and practised. But those who hold that the world has been under a Divine Education, that the Christian Church has mounted on the stepping-stones of Judaism to higher things, will hold the theory to be an outrage on religion,- on the whole Bible. The consensus of Christian nations, of all nations indeed which have emerged out of barbarism, has a far higher authority in this matter than texts out of Leviticus. * It is not wonderful that the righteous instincts of Cowper revolted at the theory. But considering his kinship with Madan, and their former intercourse, his course is certainly much to be regretted. His epigrams upon the book, poor enough, were only written for Newton's eye; but he wrote, and printed anonymously (1781), a long Poem entitled " Antithelyphthora,” † and a wretched production it is. It seems almost incredible that such a foolish straining after the comic, such a coarse and vulgar effusion, could have proceeded from so delightful a humorist and such a thorough gentleman. It may be said in excuse that he was now only a novice in the art of Poetry, and that as most of the poets that he had read were coarse, he may have thought it a necessity to be the same, just as Waller could not get on without an imaginary Saccharissa.

Cowper appears to have been somewhat ashamed of the production himself, for neither he nor his executors ever included it in his works. It was only by a curious accident that its authorship was discovered. Southey found, in a book which he had borrowed, a note from Samuel Rose--a friend of Cowper's of whom mention

For some thoughts in this criticisni I am indebted to my friend Professor Plumptre.
See page 330.


will hereafter be made,―to Isaac Reid, shut between the leaves as a marker. this note Rose, in answer to a question, gives the name of the poem, and speaks of it as Cowper's. Southey made inquiry at the British Museum, and found the work, printed in quarto. Allusions in Cowper's letters confirm the proof of its authorship, and it has ever since been included in his works. If his own wishes could have been consulted, I cannot help thinking that it would have continued buried in the Museum.

It was Mrs. Unwin who first proposed to him some work of greater importance, and on his acquiescence suggested "The Progress of Error," to be made the subject of a moral satire. He found the new occupation so congenial to his taste, and so successful in dispelling his melancholy, that he worked at it incessantly. When that was finished, he wrote "Truth," "Table-Talk," "Expostulation," all in such rapid succession, that these four poems, begun in December 1780, were finished in the following March. He had acquainted Newton with what he was doing, and now requested him to find a publisher. His intention was to add a few of his smaller pieces to these large ones, and so to make a moderate-sized volume. Newton went to his own publisher, Joseph Johnson, who at once consented, and took all the risk. The volume was sent to the publisher in April 1781, and he, on the ground that the publishing season was over, proposed to Cowper to enlarge the volume. He accordingly wrote Hope," and soon afterwards "Charity." The latter occupied him about a fortnight; it was finished on the 12th of July. Whilst the book was being printed, he began once more, and wrote "Conversation," and "Retirement.” He also called upon Newton to assist him further by writing a preface. After some demur, Newton consented. When it was written, Johnson was frightened at the serious tone of it, and, though Cowper was still willing to let it appear, both he and Newton agreed to its being withdrawn, though the latter was somewhat displeased. It was first printed in the fifth edition at his request. will be found in p. 47 of the present volume; in all other respects pp. 45-179 contain a reprint of the first edition.



On the eve of publication Cowper disclosed it for the first time to Unwin. The latter, who had been the recipient of all his small pieces as they were produced, was hurt at his friend's reticence, and Cowper, evidently conscious that he had ground for annoyance, laboured, not with the best grace, to remove it. He was, however, successful, and friendship continued uninterrupted. A few stanzas were hastily written, and placed at the end of the volume, in order that if this should be the author's last publication, a memorial of his friendship with Unwin might be preserved.

All this while he was very happy, kept so by employment and by hope. It was while he was correcting his proofs, during what he called an African summer, that he hit upon a simple means of comfort. He had previously built himself a greenhouse, which a gardener, he said, would think nothing of carrying away on his back. He now converted it into a summerhouse, hanging mats all round to keep

« ForrigeFortsett »