Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

angel, and it seemed a trick of legerdemain or madness. They thought it but a change in the same tragedy, the more especially as madness has its passages from tragedy to comedy, and from comedy to tragedy. Some said his religion was owing to his madness; some said his madness was owing to his religion ; some intimated both, and would not even receive his own testimony, not even after the production of a poem of such consummate, bright perfection as “ The Task” had proved that his mind was as transparent and serene in its faculties of genius and of power, almost as an angel’s.

But the second access of his malady came on, a second and sudden dethronement of reason, at the close of eight years of angelic light and peace, and enjoyment in Christ Jesus; and out of that he came as with a vail over his spiritual vision, or as one bound hand and foot with graveclothes, or as one emerging from a fog, with the remnants of the thick cloud hanging to him ; and after that, he never could recover the brightness of his former hope, nor the joy of his first experience. What a strange and melancholy intrusion of the expelled delirium, when it could go no further, when it was cured, indeed, all but that gloom! and what a caput mortuum of despair, left in the crucible after such a fiery trial of his intellect! A recovery in every other respect, save only the delusion of a gloom so profound, that it produced the reality of anguish all the keener, because of the strong and undiminished affection of his heart still turned heavenward, and, like the magnet of a compass, as true in midnight as at noon !

His prevailing insanity, so far as it could be called insanity at all, in those long intervals of many years during

[blocks in formation]

a

which his mind was serene and active, his habit of thought playful, and his affections more and more fervent, was simply the exclusion of a personal religious hope to such a degree as to seem like habitual despair. This despair was his insanity, for it could be only madness that could produce it, after such a revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ as he had been permitted in the outset to enjoy. If Paul had gone deranged after being let down from his trance and vision in the third heavens, and the type of his derangement had been the despair of ever again beholding his Saviour's face in glory, and the obstinate belief of being excluded by Divine decree from heaven, though his affections were all the while in heaven, even that derangement would have been scarcely more remarkable than Cowper's. In the case of so delicate and profound an organization as his, it is very difficult to trace the effect of any entanglement or disturbance from one side or the other, between the nervous and mental sensibilities of his frame. There was a set of border ruffians continually threatening his peace, endeavouring to set up slavery instead of freedom, and ever and anon making their incursions, and defacing the title-deeds to his inheritance, which they could not carry away; and Cowper might have assured himself with the consolation that those documents could not be destroyed, being registered in heaven, and God as faithful to them, as if their record in his own heart had been always visible. We have endeavoured to bring into plainer observation the course of the Divine discipline with this child of God walking in darkness, and to illustrate, some of the neglected but profoundly instructive lessons of the darkness and the conflict.

CHAPTER I.

The trials of Cowper's childhood-Companions and influences at school

-His own impressions.

The birthplace of the poet Cowper, one of the few poets in our world, beloved as well as admired by those who read him, was in the town of Great Birkhamstead, in Hertfordshire county, in England. He was born in 1731, November the 15th, at the rectory of his father, Dr John Cowper, who was chaplain to George II., and rector of Birk's Parish. Cowper's mother died at the age of thirtyfour, in 1737, when the future poet was but six years of age. Yet at this early period her tenderness and love made an impression on the whole heart and nature of her child, never to be effaced. It came out more strongly, as such early impressions often do, and perhaps always, when they are lasting, at a far later age. Near fifty years after his beloved mother's death, Cowper wrote “ that not a week passes (perhaps I might with equal veracity say a day) in which I do not think of her; such was the impression her tenderness made upon me, though the opportunity she had for shewing it was so short.”

John Randolph once said to an intimate friend, “I

A

2

CHILDHOOD OF COWPER.

6

[ocr errors]

me.

ز

used to be called a Frenchman, because I took the French side in politics ; and though this was unjust, yet the truth is, I should have been a French atheist, if it had not been for one recollection;

and that was,

the
memory

of the time when my departed mother used to take my little hand in hers, and cause me on my knees to say, 'Our Father who art in heaven.

How sweet a picture of maternal tenderness and care ! Sometimes, in the midst of darkness and despondency, in after years, Randolph would write, “I am a fatalist! I am all but friendless. Only one human being ever knew

She only knew me!” The idea of that being who knew him in the dear relation of mother, continued to be as a guardian angel to him ; many a time it seemed the only separation between him and death. Oh the power of a mother's love and prayers !

Short, indeed, was the opportunity granted to Cowper's mother to manifest her tenderness and care. Yet that opportunity was the time of tenderest, fondest love ; between three years old and seven or eight, a mother loves her children more tenderly, and does more for the formation of their character, than in any other equal period. And one of the reasons plainly is, because in that interval the development of being and of character is sweeter, fresher, more attractive, and original, than in any other. The poet remembered to his latest day, with the warm memory of love, that period of an affectionate mother's gentle and incessant care. He remembered his hours in the nursery, remembered when the gardener Robin drew him day by day to school in his own little bauble coach, carefully covered with his velvet cap and warm scarlet

CHILDHOOD OF COWPER.

3

mantle. He remembered when he sat by his mother at her feet, and played with the flowers wrought upon her dress, and with imitative art amused himself and her with pricking the forms of the violet, the pink, the jasmin, into paper with a pin ; the soft maternal hand from moment

1 to moment laid upon his head, with endearing words and smiles that went into the depths of his heart. The pastoral home of his infancy, so dear for such inexpressibly delightful hours of the enjoyment of a mother's love, was his but for a brief interval.

a

“Short-lived possession! but the record fair

That memory keeps of all thy kindness there,
Still outlives many a storm that has effaced
A thousand other themes less deeply traced.
Thy nightly visits to my chamber made,
That thou might'st know me safe and warmly laid;
Thy morning bounties ere I left my home,
The biscuit or confectionary plum;
The fragrant waters on my cheek bestow'd
By thine own hand, till fresh they shone and glow'd;
All this, and more endearing still than all,
Thy constant flow of love, that knew no fall,
Ne'er roughen'd by those cataracts and breaks
That humour interposed too often makes ;
All this, still legible in memory's page,
And still to be so to my latest age,
Adds joy to duty, makes me glad to pay
Such honours to thee as my numbers may;
Perhaps a frail memorial, but sincere,
Not scorn'd in heaven, though little noticed here."

The morning brightness of such a mother's love, the child, passed into a man, could not forget, though all things were forgotten. He remembered the sound of the tolling bells on the day of her burial, and his seeing the black hearse that bore her away slowly moving off, and the grief with which he turned from the nursery window

« AnteriorContinuar »