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under the circumstances, take up the appointment which had been conferred upon him. On the very day fixed for his examination—dies ilia—he resigned.
The poet (as he has left it on record) did not remember having felt any serious religious impressions earlier than this his thirty-second year—save one or two that proved altogether transitory. His time was now come. He felt a terrible conviction of sin, and despair of salvation: he thought that he had, long before at Southampton, committed " the unpardonable sin," by not ascribing to direct divine illumination a very sudden and strong sensation of happiness which he had then experienced. At last, early in December 1763, he became clearly and undeniably mad, immediately after feeling as if a mighty blow had struck his brain; mad to the eyes of those about him, and mad to his own afterknowledge. We need not, however, date Cowper's insanity so late as December, nor be very confident that it was over for the time (for it undoubtedly returned afterwards) by the middle of July 1764, which is the date specified by himself. The man who could make up his mind to drink laudanum out of a basin, solely in order to escape an examination before the House of Lords preliminary to occupying a snug berth, may be pronounced mad at that moment, as safely as at the time, shortly ensuing, when he supposed he had committed the unpardonable sin by not assuming himself to be God-inspired when he was happy, or at that other time when he had a sensation of a blow on his brain. And the man who could in after years, and believing himself entirely rational, write of his attempt with the laudanum, "With the most confirmed resolution I reached forth my hand towards the basin, when the fingers of both hands were so closely contracted as if bound with a cord, and became entirely useless,—it had the air of a divine interposition"— was still in a state of mind that one would hardly call sane. In fact, it appears to me more than questionable whether Cowper was strictly sound-minded in any stage of his exceptional religious experiences. If he was insane when he believed himself to be secure of damnation, intermediately between the attempted suicide and the acknowledged raving madness, I do not see why we should suppose that he was perfectly sane when the religious exaltation took another turn, and he regarded himself as converted, and a monument of the invisible miracle of grace. In his autobiographical narrative he treats himself as sane at all these dates, although insane for some months betwixt his first conviction of damnation, and his conviction of salvation; and in the same narrative he relates, as real facts of divine interposition against his suicidal attempts, various details which were seemingly no more than his own hallucinations of the time, or deranged reminiscences in after years. There are clearly the strongest grounds, from the evidence of dates and otherwise, for saying that the conviction of damnation was a form of religious mania; and I know of no very good reason why the conviction of salvation should have been an inspiration of unclouded intellect. The most clearly perceptible difference between the two cases is that the convictien of damnation naturally made Cowper extremely unhappy, and culminated in ravings; while the conviction of salvation made him happy, and culminated in placidity and in hymn-writing. Whether the latter conviction was any more rational than the former is quite a separate question.
At the present moment we have to deal with Cowper confessedly and violently mad. He was placed under the care of Dr. Cotton at St. Alban's; and remained there under careful tending many months, constantly oppressed at first with the sense of everlasting reprobation. One day in July 1764 he opened a Bible at the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans—" Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past." Cowper read the words, was relieved from his load of anguish, and was from that day a converted man. Still, it was not considered expedient to discharge him as yet from the asylum—and this fact again is a weighty suggestion that his religious felicity was as much a form of mania as his religious despair : he remained under Dr. Cotton's superintendence for nearly a year ensuing. In June 1765 he did at last quit the asylum. He resigned, chiefly in order to avoid resuming a London life, his position as Commissioner of Bankrupts, which brought him only the small income of about ,£60 per annum : his means thus became extremely straitened. He took up his residence at Huntingdon, with a view to being near a younger brother then at Cambridge.
At Huntingdon he formed the friendship which constituted the tranquil happiness of the great majority of his remaining life : he became acquainted with the Rev. Mr. Unwin and his family. These kindly and sympathizing neighbours, observing his depressed spirits and scanty means, readily entered into an arrangement whereby Cowper became a boarder and inmate in their house : he entered the hospitable doors on the nth of November 1765, and seldom had any other home thenceforward than with the Unwin family. Mr. Unwin himself was soon lost from the circle, dying in 1767. Cowper and Mrs. Unwin—the " Mary" of his poems —then removed to Olney in Buckinghamshire, being attracted thither by their special esteem for the curate, Mr. Newton, the well-known evangelical clergyman. Here Cowper zealously identified himself with the religious interests of the society around him; his charities of mind and heart expanded; and he became, as far as the interruptions of his constitutional malady allowed, a happy man. Mr. Newton obtained nis co-operation on the volume of Hymns he was then preparing, so well known as The Olney Hymns, published in 1776. A fair proportion of the whole number are by Cowper, who thus, at the more than mature age of forty-four or forty-five, first took an appreciable position in the field of literature and of poetry. This daylight of his manhood was not without its clouds. Attacks of mania recurred between 1773 and 1776, consequent partly upon the death of his brother; and they put a stop to the writing of his hymns before he had gone to any great length with the work. At another time he connected himself with the fantastic religionist Teedon; a vagary in which again the taint of insanity is to be surmised.
In this same year, 1776, and after Cowper's recovery, Mr. Newton quitted Olney : one of the mainstays of the poet's activity and cheerfulness was thus removed. At Mrs. Jnwin's solicitation, he now began his poem on The Progress of Error; followed by three others—Truth, Table-talk, and Expostulation. These, along with Error, Hope, Charity, Conversation, Retirement, and some shorter pieces, were published in one volume in 1782, without exciting particular notice. Though no longer a young man, he entered with youthful ardour and impulse on the poetic career; for it is said thatthe contents of this volume, about 6000 lines of verse, were the production of a quarter of a year. It was followed in 1785 by The Task and Tirociniumj and now at last, at the age of fifty-three, Cowper became a man of renown. The book was greatly admired, and raised him, in public estimation, to a level with any contemporary writer of poetry. The lady who (as intimated at the opening of The Task) pressed Cowper to undertake the writing of that work, was Lady Austen, a clever and lively widow whose society at this period possessed great attractions for him: gradually, however, her hold upon him weakened— whether through a change in his own feelings, or, as has sometimes been said, through the influence of Mrs. Unwin, who apprehended that Lady Austen might be preferred even to herself. The sprightly widow was the suggestcr also of John Gilpin—which endlessly popular effusion, the delight of succeeding generations of the juvenile, and not of the juvenile only, was first published anonymously, in 1783, in a collection named The Repository. Thus Lady Austen is entitled to a considerable royalty on the gratitude which all are so ready to pay to Cowper for his poetic performances. In 1784 he began—partly in the hope of banishing his hypochondriacal distresses—the formidable work of translating Homer's Iliad and Odyssey into blank verse". This occupied him during six years. The book was at last published in 1791, and afterwards, in deference to the views of some of his critics, remodelled to a considerable extent in respect of poetic manner and diction, and reissued in its revised form. We all know that Cowper was (as he resolved to be, both in letter and in spirit) a much more faithful translator of Homer than Pope, who, in his successor's opinion, had had no real relish for the Grecian poet—whatever may be the ultimate balance of merit on a comparison of the two works. His version therefore deserved a very respectful reception, and holds its own to this day against the many subsequent adventures which have been made in the same field—some of them not much unlike Cowper's own in range of attempt, others markedly dissimilar. In the way of original work, the only other leading performance by Cowper which remains to be mentioned is the Anti-Thelyphthora, written to confute the opponents of marriage: this was not published till after his death.
While his translation of Homer was in progress, the poet removed from Olney to the neighbouring village of Weston, at the recommendation of his cousin Lady Hesketh, with whom he had recently renewed a long-suspended correspondence, and who actively co-operated with Mrs. Unwin in comforting his later years. Hardly was the Homer completed when he undertook to superintend a new edition of Milton's works; this included the translating of his Latin and Italian poems.* In 1792 a great affliction befell him: Mrs. Unwin was affected by a paralytic seizure, and the mournful wane of her faculties bespoke but too surely the approaches of death. Her end was delayed, however, for some while, and did not ensue till the 17th of December 1796. When this occurred, Cowper was himself already worse than dead—he was finally and without recovery insane.
His mental malady had re-appeared for about six months in 1787: in 1794 it again set in—not unconnected probably
* In the present series of reprints, these translations from Milton hy Courier will be found included, not among the works of Copper, but among tho>e of Milton—to which they form a useful, and I conceive almost a necessary, adjunct As far as I know, there had not as yet been any edition of Milton published, supplying a translation of these poems.