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from revolting pictures of crime, touched, retouched, and dwelt upon even to weariness; from long depressing complaints of the miseries of life; from the persevering malignity which pains us in reading the works of some of our most approved satirists; from the tinge of impurity, which makes us dread the pleasure we receive from some exquisitely wrought descriptions; from the want which we feel in many a favourite character of fiction-Poetry would be as cheerful as the spring sun, and as vivifying. All the sources of delight would remain, only heightened and rectified; our pleasure would be more full, and it would be without fear.
We come now to Cowper's own Memoirs. We are not sure that the publication of them is proper in itself, or can be otherwise than unacceptable to his family and friends. Doubtless, it is always consoling to know, that crime has been followed by repentance; and it is the greatest triumph which can be desired for virtue, when the offender is reclaimed from profligacy and brought to a joyful acknowledgment of the obligations of religion. But there is a propriety of manner which belongs to such representations. While we hail the sanctity which shines forth in the later days of the sinner reformed, we do not like to be carried back to all the particulars of his early offences. It is quite sufficient that we know their general truth. When they are pressed once more upon our notice, with all their minuteness, they have a tendency, in spite of our feelings, to detract somewhat from our respect. This proceeding joins, as it were, a living body with a dead one, and we shrink from the forced and unnatural connexion. If it be said, that the Memoirs are the confessions of Cowper concerning himself, we answer, that what it might be proper and beneficial for Cowper to write for his own private admonition, it may not be equally proper to publish to the world. It is evident, indeed, with what feelings Cowper drew up these Memoirs. He meant to punish himself for his late offences. With the spirit of a true penitent, he placed them before his eyes as a memorial and a terror to his own heart,-as a guard against all future relapses. If he contemplated the perusal of them by any other eye, it was that of the friendly and affectionate family under whose roof he was now placed, and where his good principles received, if not their beginning, yet their principal strength and growth. We will not enlarge, however, on this subject, but pass on to the Memoirs' themselves. They contain a short history of his religious life during his first thirtyfour years, including the great change which was known to have taken place in his mind on these points. The publisher of the larger edition (we call it the larger for the sake of distinction, though both are small) gives no account of his copy; but from the preface of the other, and from the work itself, we learn that it was ori
ginally written for the author and some of his friends, without any purpose of publication; and that after his death manuscript copies of it were possessed by many persons, from one of whom the editor received it to which we may add, of our own information, that it has been in the hands of several gentlemen in one of the universities.
Cowper describes himself as having had few religious thoughts till his thirty-second year. For the consolation which he received under the pressure of juvenile tyranny, by the recollection of a passage in the Psalms, and for all that relates to his early life, previously to his settlement in the Temple, we refer to the work. Not long after this event, he was seized with a depression of spirits, utterly insurmountable by amusement or literary pursuits; lying down in horror, and rising up in despair.' At length he found Herbert's Devotional Poems, the reading of which much alleviated his melancholy; he was, however, persuaded to put them by, as being calculated to exasperate his wound. His misery then returned.
In this state of mind I continued nearly a twelvemonth; when, having experienced the inefficacy of all human means, I at length betook myself to God in prayer. Weak as my faith was, the Almighty, who will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, was graciously pleased to hear me.
I embraced an opportunity of going with some friends to Southampton, where I spent several months. Soon after our arrival, we walked about two miles from the town. The morning was mild and serene, the sun shone brightly upon the sea, and the country upon the borders of it was the most beautiful I had ever seen. We sat down upon an eminence at the end of that arm of the sea which is between Southampton and the New Forest. Here it was that on a sudden, as if another sun had been kindled that instant in the heavens, on purpose to dispel sorrow and vexation of spirit, I felt the weight of all my misery taken off, my heart became light and joyful in a moment. I could have wept with transport, had I been alone. I must needs believe that nothing less than the Almighty could have filled me with such an inexpressible delight; not by a gradual dawning of peace, but, as it were, with a flash of his lifegiving countenance. I think I remember something like a glow of gratitude to the Father of Mercies for this unexpected blessing; and that I ascribed it to His gracious acceptance of my prayers.'-pp. 18, 19, 20.
This circumstance, however, making no impression, he passes twelve years of dissipation in the Temple, and having nearly consumed his patrimony, and being hopeless of repairing it by his own exertions, by a train of circumstances which we shall omit he is appointed Clerk of the Journals. Being ordered to prove his sufficiency for the place before the bar of the House, he attends daily at the Office to examine the Journals, in total despair of ever qualifying himself for the station.
'I read,' he says, without perception, and was so distressed, that had every clerk in the office been my friend, it would have availed me little for I was not in a condition to receive instruction, much less to elicit it out of manuscripts without direction.'-pp. 29, 30.
After more than half a year thus spent, he repairs to Margate, and at length, by dismissing the subject, obtains a transitory relief of mind. He is again, however, required to attend the office, and to prepare for the push.' With this labour, his misery returns. He finds himself reduced to the alternative of exposing himself to public degradation, or resigning the office, and bringing his benefactor's discretion into question. His despair vents itself in angry murmurs against Providence; he seeks in vain for relief in medicine, wishes for madness, and often expresses his expectations of its approach.
The decisive day draws near, and the horrid expedient of selfmurder occurs to him:-the history of his attempts will be read with fearful interest. Eight or nine assaults made by this unhappy man upon his own life, and some repeated more than once, successively fail: for the particulars we refer to the book, from which it appears that, amidst incipient derangement, reason still predominated in his mind. He resigns the office; and, from circumstances which occurred in one of these dreadful attempts, apprehending au apoplexy, he consults a physician, and, finding there is no danger, resolves to continue in his Temple residence. Here at length a natural horror of his late intention, and the recollection of his past life, overwhelm him with remorse; obviously aggravated by his increasing derangement.
I never went into the street, but I thought the people stared and laughed at me, and held me in contempt; and I could hardly persuade myself, but that the voice of my conscience was loud enough for every body to hear it. Those who knew me, seemed to avoid me; and if they spoke to me, they seemed to do it in scorn. I bought a ballad of one who was singing it in the street, because I thought it was written on me. I dined alone, either at the tavern, where I went in the dark, or at the chop-house, where I always took care to hide myself in the darkest corner of the room. I slept generally an hour in the evening, though it was only to be terrified in dreams; and when I awoke it was some time before I could walk steadily through the passage into the dining room; I staggered and reeled like a drunken man. The eyes of man I could not bear; but to think that the eyes of God were upon me, which I was assured of, gave me intolerable anguish.'-pp. 56, 57.
His fevered mind is now deluded into a supposition, that he has committed an unpardonable sin; and neither reason, nor Scripture, nor the arguments of his brother, who had come to his relief, are of any avail under this conviction.
'I had indeed a sense of eternity impressed upon my mind, which almost amounted to a full comprehension of it, My brother, grieved to
the heart with the sight of my misery, tried to comfort me; but all to no purpose. I refused comfort, and my mind (sins) appeared to me in such colours, that to administer it to me, was only to exasperate me, and mock my fears.'
Subjoined to the smaller edition from which we quote, is a short poem supposed to be written at this time; no account is given of it, but from internal evidence, we have no doubt that it is his: it is a dreadful picture of despondency. After having experienced a temporary relief from the religious consolations of his friend Martin Madan, the distemper, which had been so long hovering over him, takes full possession of his mind.
A strange and horrible darkness fell upon me. If it were possible that a heavy blow could light upon the brain without touching the skull, such was the sensation I felt. I clapped my hand to my forehead, and cried aloud through the pain it gave me. At every stroke my thoughts and expressions became more wild and incoherent; all that remained to me clear, was the sense of sin and the expectation of punishment. These thoughts kept undisturbed possession of my mind all the way through my illness, without interruption or abatement.'p. 66.
His brother and friends, consulting on his case, agreed that he should be removed to a house belonging to the skilful and humane Dr. Cotton, and appropriated to such persous. Here, after many months of misery, reason in a great measure returned, but unaccompanied by hope. Soon, however, a great change took place it is thus related:
"In about three months more, July 25th, 1764, my brother came from Cambridge to visit me. Dr. Cotton having told him he thought me greatly mended, he was rather disappointed at finding me almost as silent and reserved as ever; for the first sight of him struck me with many painful sensations, both of sorrow for my own remediless condition, and envy of his happiness. As soon as we were alone, he asked me how I found myself; I answered, “As much better as despair can make me." We went together into the garden. Then on expressing that settled assurance of sudden judgment, he protested to me that it was all a delusion, and protested it so strongly, that I could not help giving some attention to him-I burst into tears, and cried out, "If it is a delusion, then I am the happiest of beings." Something like a ray of hope was shot into my heart. Still I was afraid to indulge it. We dined together, and I spent the afternoon in a more cheerful manner. Something seemed to whisper to me every moment, "Still, however, there is mercy." Even after he had left me, this change of sentiment gathered ground continually, yet my mind was in such a fluctuating state, that I can only call it a vague presage of better things to come, without being able to assign a reason for it.' I went to bed, and slept well. In the morning I dreamt that the sweetest boy I ever saw came daneing up to my bedside. He seemed just out of leading
strings; yet I took particular notice of the firmness of his tread. The sight affected me with pleasure, and served at least to harmonize my spirits; so that I awoke for the first time with a sensation of delight upon my mind. Still, however, I knew not where to look for the establishment of the comfort I felt.
Within a few days of my first arrival at St. Albans, I had thrown aside the word of God, as a book in which I had no longer any interest or portion. The only instance in which I can recollect reading a single chapter, was about two months before my recovery. Having found a Bible upon the bench in the garden, I opened it upon the eleventh of St. John, where Lazarus is raised from the dead; and saw so much benevolence, mercy, goodness, and sympathy with miserable man, in our Saviour's conduct, that I almost shed tears even after the relation; little thinking that it was an exact type of the mercy that Jesus was upon the point of extending towards myself. I sighed and said, “Oh that I had not rejected so good a Redeemer, that I had not forfeited all his favour!" Thus was my heart softened, though not yet enlightened. I closed the book without intending to open it again. Having risen with somewhat of a more cheerful feeling, I repaired to the room where breakfast waited for me. While I sat at the table, I found the cloud of horror, which had so long hung over me, every moment passing away; and every moment came fraught with hope. I was continually more and more persuaded, that I was not utterly doomed to destruction. The way of salvation, however, was still hid from my eyes, nor did I see at all more clearly than before my illness.'
'But the happy period which was to shake off my fetters, and afford me a clear opening of the free mercy of God in Christ Jesus, was now arrived; I flung myself into a chair near the window, and seeing a Bible there, ventured once more to apply to it for comfort and instruction. The first verse I saw was the twenty-fifth of the third chapter of Romans: 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, through the forbearance of God." I immediately received strength to believe, and the full beams of the sun of righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement he had made, my pardon sealed in his blood, and all the fulness and completeness of his justification. In a moment I believed, and received the Gospel. Whatever my friend Madan had said to me so long before, revived in all its clearness, with demonstration of the Spirit, and with power.
Unless the Almighty arm had now been under me, I think I should have died with gratitude and joy. My eyes filled with tears, and my voice choked with transport; I could only look to heaven in silence, overwhelmed with love and wonder.? How glad should I have now been to have spent every moment in prayer and thanksgiving! I lost no opportunity of repairing to a throne of grace, but flew to it with an eagerness irresistible, and never to be satisfied. Could I help it? could I do otherwise than to love and rejoice in my reconciled Father in Christ Jesus? The Lord had enlarged my heart, and “I ran in the way of his commandments."
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