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WILLIAM COW PER, ESQ.
FROM HIS CORRESPONDENCE,
AUTHENTIC SOURCES OF INFORMATION:
REMARKS ON YIS WRITINGS, AND ON THE PECULIARITIES OF HIS
N EVER BEFORE PUBLISH ED.
BY THOMAS TAYLOR.
“Untainted with the blandishments of vice,
CHRISTIAN LIBRARY EDITION.
THOMAS GEORGE, JR. 162 NASSAU STREET
R. D. ALEXANDER, ESQ. F.L.S.
THIS LIFE OF THE AMABLE, PIOUS, AND HIGHLY-GIFTED, BUT DEEPLY-AFFLICTED POET,
WHICH OWES ITS EXISTENCE ENTIRELY TO HIS SUGGESTION,
IS MOST RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED,
FOR THE NUMEROUS UNMERITED FAVORS RECEIVED FROM HIM,
BY HIS OBEDIENT SERVANT, THE AUTHOR.
Many lives of Cowper have already been pub In every instance where he could well accomlished. Why, then, it may be asked, add to their plish it, he has made Cowper his own biographer, number? Simply because, in the opinion of com convinced that it is utterly impossible to narrate any petent judges, no memoir of him has yet appeared circumstance in a manner more striking, or in a ihat gives a full, fair, and unbiassed' view of his style more chaste and elegant, than Cowper has character.
employed in his iniinitable letters. It is remarked by Dr. Johnson, the poet's kins To impart ease and perspicuity to the memoir, man, in his preface to the two volumes of Cowper's and to compress it into as small a compass as was Private Correspondence," that Mr. Hayley omitted consistent with a full development and faithful rethe insertion of several interesting letters in his cord of the most interesting particulars of Couper's excellent Life of the poet, out of kindness to his life, the author has, in a few cases, inserted in one readers.” In doing this, however, amiable and con- paragraph, remarks extracted from different letters, siderate as his caution must appear, the gloominess addressed more frequently, though not invariably, which he has taken from the mind of Cowper, has to the same individual. He has, however, taken the effect of involving his character in obscuriiy. care to avoid doing this where it could lead to any People read " The Letters” wiih “ The Task” in obscurity. their recollection, (and vice versa,) and are per He has made a free use of all the published repiexed. They look for the Cowper of each in the cords of Cowper within his reach, besides availing viher, and tind him not. Hence the character of himself of the valuable advice of the Rev. Dr. John Cowper is unde:ermined; mys:ery hangs over it; son, Cowper's kinsman, to whom he hereby respectand ihe opinions formed of him are as various as fully tenders his grateful acknowledgments for his the minds of the inquirers.
condescension and kindness, in undertaking to exaIn alluding to these suppressed letters, the late mine the manuscript, and for the useful and judihighly-esteemed Rev. Leigh Richmond, once em cions hints respecting it he was pleased to suggest. phatically remarked "Cowper's character will Without concealing a single fact of real importance, never be clearly and satisfactorily understood with the author has carefully avoided giving that degree out ihem, and they should be permitted to exist for the of prominence to any painful circumsiance in the demonstration of the case. I know the importance poei's life, which would be likely to exci:e regret in of it from varions conversations I have had both in the minds of any of his surviving relatives, and which Scotland and in England, on this most interesting for reasons the most amiable and perfectly excusasubject. Persons of truly religious principles, as ble, they might have wished had been suppressed; well as those of little or no religion at all, have and he hopes it will be found that he has admitted greatly erred in their estimate of this great and nothing that can justly offend the most fastidious. good man."
It is particularly the wish of the author to state, Dr. Johnson's two volumes of Private Correc. that he makes no pretensions to originality in this pondence sa'isfactorily supplied this deficiency to all memoir. He wishes it be regarded only as a comihose who have the means of consulting them, and pilation; and all the merit he claims for il, if in. the four volumes by Mr. Hayley. The author of deed it has any, is for the arrangement of those this memoir has attempted not only to bring the materials which were already furnished for his use. subsance of these six volumes into one, but to com. He has at'empted to make the work interesting mnica e informa'ion ressecling the poet which to all classes, especially to the lovers of li erature cannot be found in ei her of hoe works. He is and g nuine piery, and to place within the reach of fully aware of the peculiari ies of Cowper's case, general readers, many of whom have nei her 'he and has endeavored to exhibit them as prominentlv means nor the leisure to consult larger works, all as was compa ible with his design, withot giving that is really interesting respec'ing that singularly to the memoir too much of that mclancholv tinge afflicted individual, whose productions, bo: b poetic by which the life of its subject was so painfully dis- and prose, can never be read but with delight. tinguished.
OCTOBER 27, 1832.
"My mother! when I learned that thon wast dead.
Say, wast thou conscious of the tears I shed ? His parentage. Loss of his mother. Poetic description of her cha Hovered thy spirit o'er thy sorrowing son, racter. First school. Cruelty he experienced there. First serious Wretch even then, life's journey just begun ? impressions. placed under the care of an eminent oculist. En Perhaps thou gav'st me, though unseen, a kiss trance upon Westminster School. Character while there. Remo Perhaps a tear, if souls can weep in bliss ! val thence. Entrance upon an attorney's office. Want of employ
I heard the bell tolled on thy burial day, ment there. Unfitness for his profession. Early melancholy im I saw the hearse that bore thee far away, pressions.
And, turning from my nursery-window, drew in
A long, long sigh, and wept a last adieu ! William Cowper was born at Great Berkham But was it such? It was-Where thou art gone stead, in Hertfordshire, November 15, 1731. His Adieus and farewells are a sound unknown. father, Dr. John Cowper, chaplain to King George May I but meet thee on that peaceful shore, the Second, was the second son of Spencer
The parting sound shall pass my lips no more! who was Chief Justice of Cheshire, and afterwards
Thy maidens grieved themselves at my concern, a Judge in the Court of Common Pleas, and whose
Oft gave me promise of a quick return.
What ardently I wished, I long believed, brother William, first Earl Cowper, was, at the And disappointed still, was still deceived. same time, Lord High Chancellor of England. His By disappointment every day beguiled, mother was Anne, daughter of Roger Donne, Esq. Dupe of to-morrow, even from a child. of Ludham Hall, Norfolk, who had a common an
Thus many a sad to-morrow came and went, restry with the celebrated Dr. Donne, Dean of St.
Till, all my stock of infant sorrow spent,
I learned at last submission to my lot, Paul's.
But though I less deplored thee, ne'er forgot. In reference to this lady, it has been justly observ Could Time, his flight reversed, restore the hours ed by one of the poet's best biographers, " That the When playing with thy vesture's tissued flowers, highest blood in the realm flowed in the veins of the
The violet, the pink, and jessamine, modest and unassuming Cowper ; his mother hav
I pricked them into paper with a pin, ing descended through the families of Hippesley
(And thou wast happier than myself the while,
Would softly speak, and stroke my head, and smile) of Throughley, in Sussex, and Pellet, of Bolney, Could these few pleasant hours again appear, in the same county, from the several noble houses Might one wish bring them, would I wish them here, of West, Knollys, Carey, Bullen, Howard, and I would not trust my heart, the dear delight Mowbray, and so, by four different lines, from Henry
Seems so to be desired, perhaps I might; the Third, King of England." Though, as the
But no-what here we call our life is such,
So little to be loved, and thou so much, same writer properly remarks, " distinctions of this nature can shed no additional lustre on the memory
That I should ill requite thee to constrain
Thy unbound spirit into honds again. of Cowper, yet genius, however exalted, disdains Thou, as a gallant bark from Albion's coast not, while it boasts not, the splendor of ancestry; and (The storm all weathered and the ocean crossed, royalty itself may be pleased, and perhaps benefit Shoots into port at some well-havened isle, ed, by discovering its kindred in such piety, such
Where spices breathe, and brighter
There sits quiescent on the floods, that show purity, and such talents as his."
Her beauteous form reflected clear below, Very little is known of the habits and disposition While airs impregnated with incense play of Cowper's mother. From the following epitaph, Around her, fanning light her streamers gay: however, inscribed on a monument, erected by her So thou, with sails how swift! hast reached the shore husband in the chancel of St. Peter's church, Ġreat Where tempests never beat, nor billows roar. Berkhamstead, and composed by her niece, who af
And thy loved consort on the dangerous tide terwards became Lady Walsingham, she appears to
Of life, long since, has anchored at thy side. have been a lady of the most amiable temper and
But me, scarce hoping to attain that rest,
Always from port withheld, always distressed agreeable manners:
Me, howling winds drive devious, tempest tost; Here lies, in early years hereft of life,
Sails ript, seams opening wide, and compass lost,
And day by day some current's thwarting force The best of mothers, and the kindest wife,
Sets me more distant from a prosperous course.
But, oh! the thought that thou art safe, and he!
That thought is joy, arrive what may to me:
her latest breath.
My boast is not that I deduce my birth
From loins enthroned, and rulers of the earth, dan
But higher far my proud pretensions rise-
The son of parents passed into the skies!"
Deprived thus early of his excellent and most af-
fectionate parent, he was sent, at this tender age, to Enjoyed the comforts of a life well spent; Resigned when heaven demanded back her breath,
a large school at Market-street, Hertfordshire, Her mind heroic 'midst the pangs of death.
under the care of Dr. Pitman. llere he had hardWhoe'er thou art that dost this tomb draw near,
ships of different kinds to conflict with, which he O, stay awhile, and shed a friendly tear;
feli more sensibly, in consequence of the tender These lines, though weak, are as herself sincere. manner in which he had been treated at home. His After giving birth to several children, this lady ment he met with from a boy in the same school,
chief sorrow, however, arose from the cruel treatdied in child-bed, in her thirty-seventh year; leav- about fifteen years of age, who on all occasions pering only two sons, John the younger, and William secuted him with the most unrelenting barbarity; the elder, who is the subject of this memoir. Cow- and who never seemed pleased except when he was per was only six years old when he lost his mother; tormenting him. This savage treatment impressed and how deeply he was affected by her early death, such a dread upon Cowper's tender mind, of this may be inferred from the following exquisitely ten- boy, that he was afraid to lift up his eyes upon him der lines, composed more than fifty years after- higher than his knees; and he knew him better by wards, on the receipt of her portrait from a relation his shoe-buckles than by any other part of his dress. in Norfolk:
It was at this school, and on one of these painful FILIP za ponov
occasions, that the mind of Cowper, which was af- prayer in secret, but being little accustomed to thas terwards to become imbued with religious feelings exercise of the heart, and having very childish of the highest order, received its first serious impres- notions of religion, he found it a difficult and sions—a circumstance which cannot fail to be inte painful task, and was even then alarmed at his own resting to every Christian reader, and the more so insensibility. These impressions, however, like as detailed in his own words.
those made upon his mind before, soon wore off, "One day, as I was sitting alone on a bench in and he relapsed into a total forgetfulness of God, the school, melancholy, and almost ready to weep with the usual disadvantage of being more hardenat the recollection of what I had already suffered, ed, for having been sottened to no purpose. This and expecting at the same time my tormentor every was evidently the case with him, for on being aftermoment, these words of the Psalmist came into my wards seized with the small pox, though he was in mind—I will not be afraid of what man can do unto the most imminent danger, yet neither in the course me.' I applied this to my own case, with a degree of the disease, nor during his recovery from it, bad of trust and confidence in God, that would have he any sentiments of contrition, or any thoughts of been no disgrace to a much more experienced Chris- God or eternity. He, however, derived one advantian. Instantly I perceived in myself a briskness tage from it-it removed, to a great degree, if it did and cheerfulness of spirit which I had never be not entirely cure, the disease in his eyes, proving, fore experienced, and took several paces up and as he afterwards observed in a letter to Mr. Hayley, down the room with joyful alacrity. Happy had a better oculist than the lady who had him under it been for me, if this early effort towards a depend- her care." ence on the blessed God, had been frequently re Such was the character of young Cowper, in his peated. But, alas! it was the first and the last, be- eighteenth year, when he left Westminster school. tween infancy and manhood."
He had made a respectable proficiency in all his From this school he was removed in his eighth studies; but notwithstanding his previous serious year; and having at that time specks on both his impressions, he seems not to have had any more eyes, which threatened to cover them, his father, knowledge of the nature of religion, nor even to alarmed for the consequences, placed him under the have discovered any more concern about it, than care of an eminent female oculist in London; in many other individuals have been known to feel, at whose house he abode nearly two years. In this an early age, who have never afterwards given it lady's family, religion was neither known nor prac- any attention. After spending six months at home, tised; the slightest appearance of it, in any shape, he was articled to a solicitor, with whom he was was carefully concealed; even its outward forms engaged to remain three years In this gentleman's were entirely unobserved. In a situation like this, family, he neither saw nor heard any thing that it was not to be expected that young Cowper would could remind him of a single Christian duty; and long retain those serions impressions he had expe- here he might have lived utterly ignorant of the rienced; nor is it surprising, that before his remo- God that made him, bad he not been providentially val thence he should have lost them entirely. situated near his uncle's, in Southampton-row. At
In his ninth year, he was sent to Westminster this favorite retreat, he was permitted to spend all School, then under the care of Dr. Nicholls; who, his leisure time, and so seldom was he employed, though an ingenious and learned man, was never that this was by far the greater part of it. With his theless a negligent tutor; and one that encouraged uncle's family' he passed nearly all his Sundays, his pupils in habits of indolence, not a little injuri- and with some part of it he regularly attended pub ous to their future welfare. Here he remained lic worship, but for which, probably, he would otherseven years, and had frequent reason to complain wise, owing to the force of evil example, have enof the same unkind treatment from some of his tirely neglected. school-fellows, which he had before experienced. The choice of a profession for a youth, is ever of His timid, meek, and inoffensive spirit iotally un- paramount importance; if injudiciously made, it fitted him for the hardships of a public school; and not unfrequently lays the foundation for much fuin all probability, the treatment he there received, ture disappointment and sorrow. It would certainly produced in him an insuperable aversion to this have been difficult, and perhaps impossible, to have method of instruction. We know but little of the selected one more unsuitable to the mind of Cor. actual progress he made while under the care of per than that of the law. As Mr. Hayley justly ob Dr. Nicholis; his subsequent eminence, however, serves," the law is a kind of soldiership, and, like as a scholar, proves that he must have been an at- the profession of arms, it may be said to require for tentive pupil, and must have made, at this period, the constitution of its heroes, a highly creditable proficiency in his studies. While at this school, he was roused a second time
"A frame of adamant, a soul of fire." to serious consideration. Crossing a churchyard "The soul of Cowper had, indeed, its fire, but fire late one evening, he saw a glimmering light in so refined and ethereal, that it could not be expected rather a remote part of it, which so excited his cu- to shine in the gross atmosphere of worldly contenriosity, as to induce him to approach it. Just as he tion." Reserved, to an unusual and extraordinary arrived at the spot, a grave-digger, who was at work degree, he was ill qualified to contend with the acby the light of his lanthorn, threw up a skull-bone, tivity unavoidably connected with this profession. which struck him on the leg. This little incident Though he possessed the strongest powers of mind, alarmed his conscience, and drew from him many and a richly cultivated understanding, yet were they painful reflections. The impression, however,
was combined with such extreme sensibility, as totally only temporary, and in a short time the event was disqualified him for the bustle of a court. An exa entirely forgotten.
cessive tenderness, associated with a degree of shy, On another occasion, not long afterwards, he ness, not easily to be accounted for, utterly unfitted again at this early age, became the subject of reli- him for a profession that would often have placed gious impressions. It was the laudable practice of him before the public, and brought him into contact Br. Nicholls to take great pains to prepare his pu- with individuals not remarkable for such qualities. pils for confirmation. The Doctor acquitted him. His extreme modesty, however, while it precluded self of this duty like one who had a deep sense of the possibility of his being successful in this profesits importance, and young Cowper was struck by sion, endeared him inexpressibly to all who had the his manner, and much affected by his exhortations
. felicity to enjoy his society. Never was there a He now, for the first time in his life, attempted I mind more admirably formed for communicating
to others, in private life, the richest sources of en And daily threaten to drive thence joyment; and yet, such were the peculiarities of his
My little garrison of sense ;
The fierce banditti which I mean, nature, that often, while he delighted and interested all around him, he was himself extremely unhappy.
Are gloomy thoughts, led on by spleen." The following lines, composed by him about this While he remained in the Temple, he cultivated time, are not less valuable, for the development the friendship of the most distinguished writers of they give of the state of his mind at that period, than the day; and took a lively interest in their publicathey are remarkable for their exquisite tenderness tions, as they appeared. Instead, however, of apand poetic beauty:
plying his richly furnished mind to the composition “Doomed as I am in solitude to waste
of some original work, for which, the pieces he inThe present moments, and regret the past;
cidentally wrote, proved him fully competent, his Deprived of every joy I valued most,
timid spirit contented itself with occasional displays My friend torn from me, and my mistress lost; of its rich and varied capabilities. Translation Call not this gloom I wear, this anxious mien, from ancient and modern poets was one of his most The dull effect of humor or of spleen.
favorite amusements. So far, however, was he Still, still I mourn, with each returning day, Him* snatched by fate in early youth away;
from deriving any benefit from these compositions, And her through tedious years of doubt and pain,
most of which were masterly productions, that he Fix'd in her choice, and faithful-but in vain ! invariably distributed them gratuitously among his O, prone to pity, generous and sincere,
friends, as they might happen to request them. In Whose eye ne'er yet refused the wretch a tear;
this way he assisted his amiable friend and scholar, Whose heart the real claim of friendship knows
Mr. Duncombe; for we find in Duncombe's Horace, Nor thinks a lover's are but fancied woes; See me-ere yet my destined course half done,
published by him in 1759, that two of the satires Cast forth a wanderer on the world unknown'! were translated by Cowper. See me neglected on the world's rude coast,
When Cowper entered the Temple, he paid little Each dear companion of my voyage lost !
or no attention to religion; all those serious impresNor ask why clouds of sorrow shade my brow, sions which he had once experienced were gone; And ready tears wait only leave to flow!
and he was left, at that dangerous and critical seaWhy all that soothes a heart from anguish free,
son of life, surrounded by innumerable most powerAll that delights the happy, palls with me!"
ful temptations, without any other principles for his
guide, than the corrupt affections of our common CHAPTER II.
nature. It pleased God, however, at the very outset,
to prevent him from pursuing that rash and ruinous Entrance into the Temple. Employment there. Depression of his career of wickedness, into which many plunge with mind. Religious impressions. Visit to Southampton. Sudden re- heedless and awful insensibility. The feelings of moval of sorrow. Death of his father. Appointment to the office his peculiarly sensitive mind on this occasion he of reading clerk in the House of Lords. Dread of appearing in public. Consequent abandonment of the situation. Is proposed as
thus describes. clerk of the Journals Feelings on the occasion. Visit to Margate.
“Not long after my settlement in the Temple, I Return to London. Preparation for entering upon his office. was struck with such a dejection of spirits, as none Distressing sensations on the occasion. Is compelled to relinquish but those who have felt the same can have the least it for ever. Serious attack of depression. Visit of his brother. conception of. Day and night I was upon the rack,
At the age of 21, in 1752, Cowper left the soli- lying down in horror, and rising up in despair. Í citor's house, and took possession of a complete set presently lost all relish for those studies to which i of chambers in the Inner Temple.
Here he re
had before been closely attached; the classics had mained nearly twelve years. And as this may justly no longer any charms for me; I had need of somebe considered the most valuable part of life, it must thing more salutary than amusement, but I had no ever be regretted that he suffered it to pass away so
one to direct me where to find it. unprofitably. During this important and lengthened thic and ancouth as they are, 1 yet found in them a
“At length I met with Herbert's poems; and, goperiod he scarcely did any thing more than compose strain of piety which
I could not but admire. This sist some literary friend. Prompted by benevolent was the only author I had any delight in reading. I motives, he furnished several pieces for a work, en
pored over him all day long; and though I found titled " The Connoisseur,” edited by Robert Lloyd, not in his work what I might have found—a cure Esq., to whom he was sincerely and warmly at- for my malady, yet my mind never seemed so much tached.
alleviated as while I was reading it. At length I The following extract from a most playful poetic
was advised, by a very near and dear relative, to cpistle, addressed to that gentleman, will be read lay it aside, for he thought such an author more with interest, as it shows that he began at that time likely to nourish my disorder than to remove it. to feel symptoms of the depressive malady, which
“In this state of mind I continued near a twelve. afterwards became to him a source of so much month; when, having experienced the inefficacy of misery
all human means, I at length betook myself to God "Tis not that I design to rob,
in prayer. Such is the rank our Redeemer holds in Thee of thy birthright gentle Bob,
our esteem, that we never resort to him but in the For thou art born sole heir, and single,
last instance, when all creatures have failed to sucof dear Mat Prior's easy jingle;
cor us! My hard heart was at length softened, and Nor that I mean, while thus I knit
my stubborn knees brought to bow. I composed & My thread-bare sentiments together, To show my genius, or my wit,
set of prayers, and made frequent use of them. When God and you know I have neither;
Weak as my faith was, the Almighty, who will not Or such as might be better shown,
break the bruised reed, nor qnench the smoking By letting poetry alone.
flax, was graciously pleased to listen to my cry, in'Tis not with either of these views
stead of frowning me away in anger. That I presume to address the muse ;
"A change of scene was recommended to me; But to divert a fierce banditti
and I embraced an opportunity of going with some (Sworn soes to every thing that's witty :) That with a black infernal train,
friends to Southampton, where I spent several Make cruel inroads on my brain,
months. Soon after our arrival, we walked to a
place called Freemantle, about a mile from the Sir William Russell, Bart. a favorite friend of the town; the morning was clear and calm ; the sun young poet.
shone brightly upon the sea, and the country on the