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SIR JOHN HENRY KENNAWAY, BART., M.P.,
WHO HOLDS IN REVERENCE THE NAMES OF THOSE GREAT MEN, WHO
AT THE CLOSE OF THE LAST CENTURY
SOUNDED THE TRUMPET-CALL, WHICH AWOKE THE CHURCH FROM
HER LONG SLEEP, TO GIRD ON HER ARMOUR FOR
MISSIONARY ENTERPRISE ABROAD, AND
EARNEST LABOUR AT HOME ;
AND FOLLOWING IN THEIR STEPS, IS THE CHAMPION OF ALL
THAT IS PURE, LOVELY, AND OF GOOD REPORT,
WHOSE HAND IS STRETCHED OUT FOR THE HELP OF THE HELPLESS,
IN THINGS TEMPORAL, AS IN THINGS SPIRITUAL,
I DEDICATE THIS STORY
AS A TOKEN OF GRATEFUL AND AFFECTIONATE REGARD,
The incidents in this story of life at Olney at the end of the last century are, it is needless to say, imaginary. But in the slight sketches of the poet Cowper and his friend John Newton, the scenes in which they take by no means a prominent part, are in harmony with the general tenor of their lives in the old-world town on the banks of the Ouse, and may therefore be said to be possible, if not probable.
Perhaps no work ever more fully repaid the research necessary for its completion. “The lapse of time and its restless stream" has too relentlessly swept away from the notice of this generation the life and work of a man, whose pathetic story has thrown an additional charm over the fruits of his genius
genius which, in a wonderful manner, clothed the common things of everyday life with the mantle of poetic inspiration, so well expressed by Mrs.
Barrett-Browning in her own beautiful words, when
“ With quiet sadness, and no gloom, I learn to think upon him, Withmeekness that is gratefulness to God whose heaven
hath won him ; Who suffered once the madness-cloud to His own love to
blind him, But gently led the blind along where breath and bird could
find him ; And wrought within his shattered brain such quick poetic
senses As hills have language for, and stars, harmonious influences. The pulse of dew upon the grass kept his within its number, And silent shadows from the trees refreshed him like a
Anyone who reads Cowper's letters will, I think, be struck afresh, as I have been, with the wit and humour which sparkle in the pages, no less than by the graceful flow of a style which may well stand as a model worthy of imitation in these days of scrappy correspondence, and hastily-written chronicles of trivial family gossip, and not always harmless scandal.
Cowper's wit is separated by a wide gulf from the satirical shafts of a so-called fine humour, shot from a vantage-ground of superior intelligence at those who serve for a target-shafts which sometimes inflict deep wounds, slow to heal, and leaving a lifelong scar behind !
John Newton was a man who must command admiration and respect. If his exterior was rough, there was a fund of kindliness and tenderness within. And this is seen in his love for, and deep interest in, the poet Cowper. Their friendship is one of the most beautiful which is on record, and outlived separation and diversity of temperament, for it was built on a secure foundation.
The commonly received notion that John Newton, by forcing his peculiar religious opinions on Cowper, drove him mad, is refuted by following the happy intercourse and exchange of many pleasantries between them, which is as strongly marked as the outspoken zeal and earnestness with which, when occasion required, John Newton could point the sad-hearted poet to the source of all comfort ; no less than by the patience with which he tended him in his hours of miserable delusion-a delusion which sometimes took the extraordinary form of doubting John Newton's identity! And, to quote the same gifted poetess once more, John Newton held fast to the belief that:
Though in blindness he remained unconscious of the guiding, And things provided came without the sweet sense of pro
viding, He testified this solemn truth, while frenzy-desolated, Nor man nor nature satisfies whom only God created.”
I must here acknowledge that I am indebted to Mr. Thomas Wright's very interesting book, "The Town of Cowper,” for many of my descriptions of Olney and Weston-descriptions which are so truthful, that when I spent a few hours in the town and