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A SERIES of Lectures on the Life and Poetry of Cowper, delivered a few years since, became the origin of this present volume. On a new and more thorough examination of the Autobiography and Letters of Cowper, in connexion with the Poet's Memoir by Southey, the impression has been deepened of the injustice done to both Cowper and Newton by the tenor of that Memoir. The evil and the imperfection are in what is omitted, as well as in some things injuriously set down. The remarkable lessons of Divine Providence and Grace, the spiritual discipline through which Cowper was carried, and the manifestations of a Saviour's love to his soul, were slightly passed over, and in some cases misinterpreted and perverted.
The literary task-work of Southey, in whatever he undertook, was almost perfect for its exquisite ease and quietness, and for the good sense and truth of his criticisms, illustrated at will from the singular variety of his reading. But when he came to speak of personal religion, the good angel of his genius, if separated from the Prayer-book and the Church, seemed suddenly in gloom. Like Dante's guide, who could lead the way through hell and purgatory, but was not sufficient for the mysteries of heaven, a mind ever so cultivated and poetical may be unable to behold the things of the Spirit of God, and they may even be regarded as foolishness.
“Thou art arrived where of itself
Southey knew no more of religion, in its spiritual discernment, than Virgil, unless he had been taught it by the Spirit of God in his heart; and if he had been thus taught, he would certainly have been more careful not to deride, or caricature, or deny, the work of the Spirit of God in other hearts.
One of the main purposes in this volume has been to illustrate more fully the religious experience of Cowper, and to trace the causes and the manner of his religious gloom. Some very manifest sources or occasions of its exasperation there lie scattered along in the course and manner of his life, which might have been removed by the wisdom of experience, and would have been, could his life have been lived over again ; but the secret spring disordered, the point and manner of entanglement and confusion remain as much a mystery as ever, and always will. The chords of the mental harp elude the sight, and so do the pressures that interfere with its freedom and melody.
The first dethronement of Cowper's reason being before his conversion, his coming forth from so thick a gloom an entirely changed being, a new creature in Christ Jesus, was so surprising a phenomenon, that it is not much to be wondered at that the world could not comprehend the
If Cowper had returned to his chambers in the Temple, and to his gay and irreligious life, they would have thought him perfectly cured. But it was as if some magician had come forth from a prison in the shape of an