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porary publications with prose essays as well as with compo. sitions in verse, and what considering his meekness, diffidence, and purity of conduct, is certainly remarkable--he cultivated the acquaintance of Churchill, Thornton, Lloyd, and Colman, who had been his schoolfellows at Westminster. It is, undoubtedly, to Churchill and Lloyd that he alludes in a letter to Lady Hesketh, dated September 4, 1765. “Two of my friends have been cut off during my illness, in the midst of such a life as it is frightful to look upon ; and here am I in better health and spirits than I can almost remember to have enjoyed before, after having spent months in the apprehension of instant death. How mysterious are the ways of Providence! Why did I receive grace and mercy? Why was I preserved, afflicted for my good, received, as I trust into favour, and blessed with the greatest happiness I can ever know, or hope for, in this life, while these were overtaken by the great arrest, unawakened, unrepenting, and every way unprepared for it?"
He furnished Colman with some papers for the “Connoisseur," and contributed to various other periodicals; but so little was known of him in the literary world, that, on the appearance of his first volume of poems, when he had reached his fiftieth year, he was looked upon as a new writer. But his general occupations will best appear in an extract from one of his letters to Mr. Park, in 1792. “From the age of twenty to thirty-three (when he left the Temple), I was occupied, or ought to have been, in the study of the law; from thirty-three to sixty, I have spent my time in the country, where my reading has only been an apology for idleness, and where, when I had not either a magazine or a review, I was sometimes a carpenter, at others a bird-cage maker, or a gardener, or a drawer of landscapes. At fifty years of age I commenced author ;-it is a whim that has served me longest and best, and will probably be my last." His first poetical effort was a translation of an elegy of Tibullus, made at the age of fourteen; after which he occasionally displayed his poetical talents in the con position of trifling pieces ; but as little of bis juvenile poetry has been preserved, all the steps of his progress to that perfection which produced "The Task,” cannot now be traced.
In 1773 he sunk into such severe paroxysms of religious despondency, that he required an attendant of the most gentle, vigilant, and inflexible spirit. Such an attendant he found in that faithful guardian (Mrs. Unwin), whom he had professed to love as a mother, and who watched over him during his malady, which extended through several years, with that perfect mixture of tenderness and fortitude, which constitutes the inestimable influence of maternal protection.
His recovery was slow; and he knew enough of his malady,
to abstain from literary employment, while his mind was in any degree unsettled.
The first ämuisement which engaged his humane affections, was the taming of three hares; a circumstance that would scarcely have deserved notice, unless among the memoranda of natural history, if he had not given to it an extraordinary interest, by the animated account he wrote of this singular family. While he thus amused himself, his friends were indefatigable in their endeavours to promote his recovery; and, in the summer of 1778, they had the gratification of seeing their attentions rewarded by his restoration to health.
Our author continued to amuse himself with reading such new books as his friends could procure, with writing short pieces of poetry, 'tending his tame hares and birds, and drawing landscapes, a talent which he discovered in himself very late in life, and in which he displayed considerable skill. In all this, perhaps, there was not much labour, but it was not idle
A short passage in one of his letters to the Rev. William Unwin, dated May, 1780, will serve to mark the distinction. “ Excellence is providentially placed beyond the reach of indolence, that success may be the reward of industry, and that idleness may be punished with obscurity, and disgrace. So long as I am pleased with an employment, I am capable of unwearied application, because my feelings are all of the intense kind. I never received a little pleasure from anything in my life : if I am delighted, it is in the extreme. The unhappy consequence of this temperament is, that my attachment to any occupation seldom outlives the nov
elty of it."
Urged by his amiable friend and companion, Mrs. Unwin, he employed the winter of 1780-1, in preparing his first volume of poems for the press, consisting of "The Table Talk,"
Kope, “ The Progress of Error, “ Charity," &c. . But such was his diffidence in their success, that he appears to have been in doubt whether any bookseller would be willing to print them on his own account. He was fortunate enough, however, to find in Mr. Johnson (his friend Mr. Newton's publisher), one whose spirit and liberality immediately set his mind at rest. The volume was accordingly published in 1782, but its success was by no means equal to its merit; for, as Mr. Hayley has observed, “it exhibits such a diversity of poetical powers as have been given very rarely indeed to any individual of the modern or of the ancient world."
Among other small pieces which he composed at the suggestion of Lady Austen was the celebrated ballad of “ John Gilpin," the origin of which Mr. Hayley thus relates :pened one afternoon that Lady Austen observed him sinking into increasing dejection ; it was her custom, on these occasions to try ail: the resources of her sprightly rewers for his imme.
“ It hapdiate relief. She told him the story of John Gilpin (which had been treasured in her memory from her childhood) to dissipate the gloom of the passing hour. Its effect on the fancy of Cowper had the air of enchantment: he informed her the next morning, that convulsions of laughter, brought on by the recollection of her story, had kept him awake during the greater part of the night, and that he had turned it into a ballad."
The public was soon laid under a far higher obligation to Lady Austen for having suggested our author's principal poem,
“The Task,”—“a poem,” says Mr. Hayley, "of such infinite variety, that it seems to include every subject, and every style, without any dissonance or disorder; and to have fiowed without effort from inspired philanthropy, eager to impress upon the hearts of all readers whatever may lead them most happily to the full enjoyment of human life, and to the final attainment of Heaven." This admirable poem appears to have been written in 1783 and 1784, but underwent many careful revisions.
In November, 1784, "The Task,” was sent to press; and he began the “ Tirocinium,” the purport of which, in his own words, was to censure the want of discipline, and the scandalous inattention to morals, that obtain in public schools, especially in the largest, and to recommend private tuition as a mode of education preferable on all accounts; to call upon fathers to become tutors of their own sons, where that is practicable, to take home a domestic tutor, where it is not, and if neither can be done, to place them under the care of some rural clergyman, whose attention is limited to a few. In 1785 this work was published with other pieces, which composed his second volume, and which soon engaged the attention and admiration of the public, in a way that left him no regret for the cool rea ception and slow progress of his first. Its success also obtained for him another female friend and associate, Lady Hesketh, his cousin, who had long been separated from him. Their intercourse was first revived by a correspondence, of which many interesting specimens are given in Hayley's Life of Cowper, and of which it is there said, with great truth, that “Cowper's letters are rivals to his poems in the rare excellence of representing life and nature with graceful and endearing fidelity." In explaining the nature of his situation to Lady Hesketh, who came to reside at Olney in the month of June, 1786, he informs her, that he had lived twenty years with Mrs. Unwin, to whose affectionate care it was owing that he lived at all ; but that for thirteen of those years he had been in a state of mind which made all her care and attention necessary. He tells her, at the same time, that dejection of spirits, which may have prevented many a man from becoming an author, had made him one, He found employment necessary, and thcrefore he took care to be constantly employed. Manual occupations, as he well knew by experience, do not engage the mind sufficiently ; but composition, especially of verse, absorbs t wholly. It was his practice, therefore, to write generally three hours in the morning, and in the evening he transcribed. He read also, but less than he wrote, for bodily exercise was necessary, and he never passed a day without it. All this shows that Cowper understood his own case most exactly, and that he was not one of those melancholics who give themselves up to the indulgence of hopeless despair.
At length, after innumerable interruptions, the translation of Homer was sent to press, and published in two volumes quarto, in 1791 ; yet, notwithstanding it was nearly out of print in six months, it fell short of the expectations formed by the public and of the perfection which he hoped he had attained ; so that instead of printing a second edition, he began, at no long distance of time, what may be termed a new translation. To himself, however, his first attempt had been of great advantage, nor were any of his years spent in more general tranquillity, than the five which he had dedicated to Homer. One. of the greatest benefits he derived from his attention to this translation, was the renewed conviction that labor of this kind was, with occasional remissions, absolutely necessary to his health and happiness. This conviction led him very soon to. accede to a proposal made by his bookseller, to undertake a magnificent edition of Milton's works, the beauties of which had engaged his wonder at a very early period of life. These he was now to illustrate by notes, original and selected, and to translate the Latin and Italian poems, while Mr. Fuseli was to paint a series of pictures to be engraved by the first artists. To this scheme, when yet in its infancy, the public is indebted for the friendship which Mr. Hayley contracted with Cowper, and which eventually produced that excellent specimen of biography from which our present notice is mainly derived.
It was about this period that Messrs. Boydell published a splendid edition of Milton, for which Mr. Hayley had written “a Life ;" and being represented in a newspaper as the rival of Cowper, he immediately wrote to bim on the subject. Cowper answered him in such a manner as drew on a closer correspondence, which soon terminated in mutual esteem and cordial friendship, Personal interviews followed, and Mr. Hayley has gratified his readers with a very interesting account of his first visit to Weston, and of the return by Cowper and Mrs. Unwin at his seat at Eastham in Sussex, in a style peculiarly affectionate. On Cowper's journey to Eastham he passed through London, but without stopping, the only time he had seen it for thirty years.
In the year 1794 his mind began rapidly to sink into a most. Jaelancholy state of despondency. The health of his watch
ful friend, Mrs. Unwin, had also undergone an alarming change, and the united weight of time and sickness had brought her to the last stage of helpless and imbecile old age. Mr. Hayley and his other affectionate acquaintances continued to visit him and use every means to restore his health, but their solicitude was vain, and he continued sunk in a melancholy which could neither be removed nor alleviated. It was at length determined to try the experiment of a change of air, and his amiable relative, the Rev. Dr. Johnson, took upon himself the charge of conducting him into Norfolk. while residing at Dunham Lodge, and afterwards at Mundsley, his spirits, with slight exceptions, continued in the same state; and though an occasional glimpse of hope now and then encouraged his desponding friends, they at length saw the gradual and certain approaches of decay under the most distressing circumstances in which death can visit an intellectual and reasoning being. Cowper had continued to compose several minor pieces of poetry, and to employ himself occasionally in reading during some time past; but in January, 1800, his strength began rapidly to decline, and on the 25th of April, of the same year, he yielded up his gentle and suffering spirit.
In summing up the character of Cowper, a cotemporary biographer thus writes: "Among the few, the very few, who have possessed the gift of a spirit full of the sweetness and the music of poetry; with its pure morality of purpose, is Cowper.' The mind of its admirable writer was marked with the genuine traits which distinguish a poetical from other minds. He is, it is true, not to be compared with the great masters of the art, whose lofty and creative imaginations place them in a sphere of their own, but he had a power of collecting the scenes and harmonies of nature into the focus of his own heart, and of embuing them there with light and grace. He had an intensity and delicacy of feeling which made him perceive what is most beautiful in the complicated character of humanity, and he had that intuitive sense of the mind's action, which enabled him to present to others the objects and sentiments which influence with the greatest strength. By these qualities of his intellect, by the tenderness of his heart, and the extreme susceptibility of his nature, he was possessed of all the qualities, with the exception of a powerful imagination, which form the character of a poet; and in being denied the stronger excitements of fancy, he seems to have been formed by Providence to produce the works he composed. He was endowed with all the powers which a poet could want who was to be the moralist of the world—the reprover, but not the satirist of men—the teacher of simple truths, which were to be rendered gracious without endangering their simplicity."
To add much to this sketch respecting the merit of Cowper