Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

24

GLOOM AND GAIETY.

joyment, though in the most moral style, without grossness, and in the best possible taste and dignity, would appear in reality an uninterrupted course of sinful indulgence. There may be the supreme worship of self, and a heart wholly unchanged by grace, even in connexion with the most irreproachable morality. We suppose that Cowper's life was, briefly, that of a gay, careless man, a man of the world ; and he declares that he obtained at length so complete a victory over his conscience, that all remonstrances from that quarter were vain, and in a manner silenced. Yet, in the company of deists, when he heard the gospel blasphemed, he never failed to assert the truth of it with much vehemence, and was sometimes employed, when half intoxicated, in vindicating the truth of Scripture. A deistical friend, on one such occasion, answered his arguments by declaring that if what he said was true, then he was certainly damned by his own shewing and choosing

In 1754, at the age of twenty-three, with such habits begun, he was admitted to the bar, and in 1756 suffered the loss of his father; an affliction of which he does not once speak in his memoirs of himself, nor, singularly enough, do we ever find him adverting to it in any of his letters, save only on one occasion, in a letter to his friend, Mr Rose, in 1787. “ A sensible mind cannot do violence even to a local attachment, without much pain. When my father died, I was young, too young to have reflected much. He was rector of Berkhamstead, and there I was born. It had never occurred to me that a parson has no fee-simple in the house and glebe he occupies. There was neither tree, nor gate, nor stile, in all

RESIDENCE IN THE TEMPLE.

25

ever.

that country, to which I did not feel a relation, and the house itself I preferred to a palace. I was sent for from London to attend him in his last illness, and he died just before I arrived. Then, and not till then, I felt for the first time that I and my native place were disunited for

I sighed a long adieu to fields and woods, from which I once thought I should never be parted, and was at no time so sensible of their beauties as just when I left them all behind me, to return no more.”

Three years afterward he removed to the Inner Temple, and at the age of twenty-eight was made Commissioner of Bankrupts. He was at this time strongly attached to one of his cousins,—a most intelligent, interesting, and lovely person,-Miss Theodora Cowper, whom he would have married, for her own affections were as deeply concerned as his; but the father absolutely refused his consent on account of their relationship. It was a deep, painful, disastrous disappointment, and unquestionably increased for a season his constitutional tendency to gloom and depression. He expressed his feelings in some affecting verses, which were sent to Lady Hesketh, the sister of the young lady whom he loved.

During his twelve years' residence in the Temple, he was member of a club consisting of several literary gentlemen, among whom were Thornton, Colman, Lloyd, and Joseph Hill, Esq., Cowper’s constant correspondent for thirty years. Wilkes and Churchill, whose vigorous poetry Cowper admired, were of the same circle of associates. The character and life of some of these men of genius have been fitly characterised in three words— thoughtlessness, extravagance, and dissipation. Lloyd

26

RESIDENCE IN THE TEMPLE.

died, the victim of his own excesses, at the early age of thirty-one years. Colman, after an immoral life, died in a lunatic asylum. Such might have been Cowper's fate, had not the mercy of Divine providence and grace rescued him from a participation in such ruin. He had mixed with such companions on equal terms, Southey has remarked, till a time of life in which habits take so strong a hold that they are not easily cast off. The period of his early intimacy with Lloyd is marked by a poetical epistle from Cowper to his friend in 1754, in which there occurs a reference to his own habitual depression of spirits, in lines that are to be marked as connected with the speedy development of his disorder. He remarks that he did not design, in writing verse, to rob his friend of his birthright to the inheritance, undivided, of Prior's easy jingle, nor to shew his own genius or wit,-possessing neither. Yet both were proved, and some of the strongest characteristics of the future poet are visible.

“'Tis not with either of these views
That I presume to address the Muse,
But to divert a fierce banditti,
(Sworn foes to everything that's witty)
That with a black, infernal train,
Make cruel inroads in my brain,
And daily threaten to drive thence
My little garrison of sense.
The fierce banditti that I mean
Are gloomy thoughts, led on by spleen."

The deepening of this depression into almost horror and despair is marked in his own memoirs of himself, as well as the means he took to dissipate the gloom. He seems to have been for years successful in removing it, or at

RESIDENCE IN THE TEMPLE.

27

least keeping it at arm's length; and had it gone no further, it might have proved his irremediable ruin, by continuing him in the society of his dissipated companions too long and late for any recovery. But it pleased God that it should be permitted to deepen into absolute frenzy ; and despair and suicide were made the providential angels that snatched Cowper from destruction.

28

STATE OF RELIGION IN ENGLAND.

CHAPTER III.

State of religion in England at the time of Cowper's conversion-Lady

Huntingdon-Mr Madan-Lord Bolingbroke-Dr Stonehouse-Dr
Cotton-Romaine-Venn-Some remarkable instances of grace.

The year 1762, when Cowper was first under the cloud and passed through the sea, introductory to his being baptized, not into Moses but into Christ, may be taken as the centre of a most remarkable religious, if not literary period. We prefer it for a starting-point and vision of survey to the year of the half-century, mainly because it was nearer to the central development of the great religious awakening and revival in England, in which the revered and beloved Lady Huntingdon occupies a position so vital and important, so honoured and admired. And Cowper's conversion was one of the fruits of that revival, one of the precious ingatherings to the fold of the Redeemer, under that same general dispensation of the Spirit under which Newton and Scott, Whitefield and Wesley, were made instruments of such amazing power and brightness in advancing the kingdom of God.

Cowper's afflictions first brought him within reach of one of the eddies, as it were, of this mighty movement, in presenting him as the subject of deep spiritual distress to the Rev. Martin Madan for sympathy and guidance. Mr

« AnteriorContinuar »