Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

also the treasure of many beautiful pieces of poetry, not before published. The sketch we shall attempt, instead of superseding the occasion for so valuuble and so laudable a publication, will, we hope, promote the perusal of it, as well as tend to increase its utility to religious readers.

Mr. Cowper's family was illustrious, both for rank and talents.. His grandfather, Spencer Cowper, was a judge in the court of Common Picas, and brothfr of the first Earl Cowper, who was Lord Chancellor in the reign of Queen Ann and George 1. Beside Dr. John Cowper, Rector of Berkhampstead, the poet's father, Judge Cowper had several children; among whom was the mother of the late Rev. Martin Madan, and of the pious and ingenious Frances Maria Madan, who married her first cousin Major Cowper, son of Dr. Cowper's elder brother, and heir of the family-estate hear Hertford. This lady was recently well known, and highly esteemed, among the politer religious people of the metropolis; and she published a volume of devotional poems, which was reviewed in an early Number of our Magazine. By his mother's side, our poet is supposed to have been related to Dr. Donne, the celebrated satirist, whose name she bore. Her character is immortalized bv the most beautiful of Mr. Cowper's shorter poems; and it is similarly depicted in an epitaph inscribed on her tomb at Berkhampstead, by her niece the late Lady YValsinghain. She died in \7:i7, leaving two sons by Dr. Cowper, who married again. Her elder son, who is the subject of this Memoir, was born Nov. 13 Colli style) 1731. The birth of John, the younger, wag coeval with his mother's decease. His character, and his remarkable conversion, are admirably described in a narrative by his brother, with which the Rev. Mr. Newton has lately Javouied the public.

. William Cowper, when nine years old, was sent' to Westminster school. The literary .advantages acquired .by him in til at celebrated seminary, were purchased at the expenec of his future peace. Among the numerous and irrefragable proofs of human depravity, the disposition of children to inflict pain, is not the least obvious. Their delight in tormenting animals (if not early repressed by education) might be supposed to originate in childish ignorance and thoughtiulness; but the tyranny they exercise, if permitted, over servants and weaker children, does not admit of a similar extenuation. A public school affords free scope for the cruelty of the greater boys toward their helpless juniors; and Cowper's tender-age and constitutional timidity, exposed him peculiarly to this species of oppression. It produced an indelible eHect upon his mind through life; and it affords the clue by which his future circumstances are to be explained. Occasional symptoms of derangement, in his early youth, may apparently be ascribed to.the same cause. Having endured this trial for nine years, it was succeeded by another, which he wa? ill prepared to encounter. His natural bashful-' ness, and his broken spirits, however unsuitable to the profession of a barrister, were not suffered to exempt him from a calling in which his powerful connexions afforded the fairest prospects of advancing his temporal interests: At the age of eighteen, he was articled to'an eminent attorney; and three years afterwards, he entered, as a student of law, in the society of the Inner Temple. His genius and inclinations were no better adapted to this pursuit, than his acquired habits. He amused himself with light poetical compositions; and divided his social hours .between the convivial or literary intercourse of eminent persons who had been his school-fellows, and the more domestic conversation of his polite and affectionate relations. In 1756 he lost his father, from whom he did not inherit a fortune adequate to his situation in life. He formed about that time, a peculiar intimacy with Sir William Kussol, whoso premature decease greatly afflicted him. He also cherished a tender attachment to an amiable and accomplished young lady, whose hand was expected to crown his approaching establishment in life. ,

This important crisis was deferred till he reached his thirtyfirst year; and its result at that time produced the final disappointment of his earthly hopes. Being nominated, by-the interest of his family, to the lucrative posts of reading-clerk, and clerk of private committees, in the House of Lords, he conceived so great a dread of officiating before the assembled peers, tbat notwithstanding the delay and danger to which it exposed his temporal prospects, he determined upon relinquishing the appointment. The effects of such a conflict in his mind, are pathetically represented in the following verses, addressed to one of his female relations, whose faithful memory has enabled Mr, Hayley to communicate them to the public.

"Doom'd as I am, in solitude to waste
The present moments, and regret the past;
Depnv'd of ev'ry joy I valued most, ■

My friend torn from me, and my mistress lost;
Call not this gloom I wear, this anxious mien,
The dull effect ot' humour, or of spleen!
Still, still, I mourn, with each returning day,
Him—snatch'd by fate, in early youth, away;
And her—thro' tedious years of doubt and pain,
Fix'd in her choice, and faithful—but in vain!
O prone to pity, gen'rous, and sincere,
Whose eye ne'er yet refus'd the wretch a tear;
Whose heart the real claim of friendship knows,
Nor think, a lover's are but fancy'd woes;
See me— re yet my destin'd course half done,
Cast tortn a wand'rer on a wild unknown I
■■ See me, neglected on the world's rude coast,
Each dear companion of my voyage lo;t 1
Nor ask why clouds ol sorrow shade my brow,
And r;ady tear* wait only leave to flowj

If these emphatic lines afforded a promise of the future excellence of Mr. Cowpei's productions, they were equally predictive of his future distress. They breathe the same wounded spirit with many of his later pieces. The principal difference consists in the author's unacquaintance, at the former period, with the consolations of the gospel; and his knowledge of their worth, with a sense of their loss, at the latter. The breach was already made, which nothing but the balm of salvation could heal; and that, no .longer than it was infused by appropriating faith. The season was at hand when that restorative became indispensably necessarj'. Mr. Cowper accepted the appointment of Clerk of the Journals in the House of Lords, in lieu of the more advantageous offices which he had relinquished, hoping that his personal attendance would not be requisite: but this expectation also was frustrated, and the necessity of appearing in public overwhelmed him with dismay; while his unwillingness to .renounce every prospect of earthly comfort, his fear of injuring the patron who had repeatedly recommended him to promotion, and the urgent exhortations of his intimate acquaintance to surmount a diffidence that appeared to them so unreasonable, excited a tumult in Uis breast which filled him with inexpressible anguish. In this deplorable condition, his brother John, who had taken clerical orders, made the utmost exertions to tranquifize his mind by such religious arguments as he could adduce; but to no purpose. Mr. Madan's conversation with his afflicted kinsman was attended with different success. Mr. Cowper felt the redemption of sinners, on which he dwelt, to be the ouly refuge for his troubled soul; and its darkness was dispelled, almost instantaneously, by a ray of hope and peace. Mr. John Cowper was astonished at a change, which then seemed to him unaccountable. It was, alas! but transient. Imagining that the faith which is essential to salvation can be attained, was attainable by his own powers, his failure in the trial involved him in aggravated distress; and the dread of appearing before an earthly tribunal was lost in the horrors of eternal judgment. It is needless here to dwell more particularly upon a scene, the particulars of which have been laid before our readers, as far as was judged expedient, in our extracts from the funeral sermon published by Mr. Greatheed.* Let it suffice to say, that it terminated in Mr. Cowper's removal to St. Alban's in December, 1763. He remained there eighteen months, under the humane care of the late Dr. Cotton, at what was entitled the College: an institution founded by that amiable and ingenious physician, for the relief of persons under mental derangement. The latter and greater part, however, of this period, was spent by Mr. Cowper, not only in the possession of his restored faculties, but in the enjoyment of peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. While in a state of cou-»

• See Evan. Mae. for iSoo. D.a<7: and 1S01. P. 361.

Valescence, he opened the book of revealed truth; and that epitome of the gospel which is comprised in Romans iii. 25, was happily rendered instrumental to his deliverance both from ■worldly sorrow and spiritual despair.

The state to which he had been reduced, had broken off for ever his former connexions and pursuits; and having found the

Sarlof matchless price, lie could cheerfully relinquish them. e sought retirement and concealment at Huntingdon, where he might often have the company of bis brother alone, without being known to numerous academical friends, amidst whom he resided at Cambridge; but he could not anvwhere louir remain unnoticed. His appearance was striking and interesting. A, most intelligent and engaging countenance, a well-proportioned figure, and elegant manners, speedily drew attention from the inhabitants of a rural borough-town. An amiable young man, a student from Cambridge, whose father, VI r. Unwin, a clergyman, then superintended a private classical seminary at Huntingdon, conceived so strong a desire for tiie acquaintance of thia interesting stranger, that he surmounted Mr. Cowper's reserve, and gradually acquired his confidential friendship. Some other young men likewise ingratiated themselves in his esteem; and he was soon introduced to their families, which were among the most respectable in the place. His faithful friend, Mr. Joseph Hill, who had taken the care of his temporal concerns, both corresponded with, and visited him, from London. With1 his affectionate brother he spent some part of every week, alternately, at their respective places of abode. He resumed also his correspondence with Lady Hesketh, daughter of his uncle Mr. Ashley Cowper, clerk of parliament, in London; a::d with his cousins at Harlingfordbury, Major Cowper and h'is lady. In the last correspondent he soon discovered one, who, like himself, lived in fellowship with Christ. His letters to her, will probably appear to the serious reader the most important part of Mr. Hayley's collection. The following extract from one of them, shews how clearly Mr. Cowper discerned, and how warmly he had embraced the leading truths of the gospel, although as yet a stranger to the advantages of an evangelical ministry. "That Jesus is a present Saviour from the guilt of sin, by his most precious blood, and from the power of it by his Spirit; that corrupt and wretched in ourselves, in Him, and in Him only, we are complete; that bein,<i united to Jesus by a lively faith, we have a solid and eternal interest in his obedience and sufferings, to justify us before the face of our Heavenly Father; and that all this inestimable treasure, the earnest of which is in grace, and its consummation in glory, is given, freely given to us of God; in short, that he hath opened the kingdom of Heaven to all believers: these arc the truths which, by the Grace of God, shall ever be dearer to me than life itself; shall ever be placed next my heart, as the throne whereon the

[ocr errors]

that world of iniquity and rebellion to a state of filial and affectionate obedience to the will of the Most Holy."

Mr. Cowper shortly became more intimate with Mr. Unwin's family than with any other in Huntingdon; and at the close of 1760, he took up his residence entirely with them. Mrs. Unvrin had always been extremely fond of reading, and was esteemed for superior intelligence; but she had been remarked for gaiety and vivacity. She soon, notwithstanding, fully entered into Mr. Covvper's religious views, and discovered a change of character that was far from being agreeable to her fashionable acquaintances. Her age exceeded Mr. Cowper's but seven years; yet as she had married vory young, and wa* the mother of his academical friend, he naturally regarded her with a kind of filial, as well as with a spiritual affection. ( He thus writes of her to his cousin Mrs. Cooper:—"The lady in whose house I live, is so excellent a person, and regards me with a friendship so truly Christian, that I could almost fancy my own mother restored to life again, to compensate me for all the friends I have lost, aud all my connexions broken."

In another letter, he describes the manner in which their daily time was employed. "As to amusements, I mean what the woild calls such,—we have none. The place indeed swarms with them; and cards and dancing are the professed business of almost all liie gentle inhabitants of Huntingdon. We refuse to take part in them, or to be accessaries to this way of murdering our time; and by so doing, have acquired the name of Methodists. Having told you how we do not spend our time, 1 will next say how we do : —We breakfast commonly between eight and nine;—till eleven, we read either.the Scriptures, of the sermons of some faithful preacher of these holy mysteries. At eleven we attend divine service,,—-which is performed here twice every day ;— and. from twelve to three we separate, and amuse ourselves as we please. During that interval, I either read in my owji apartment, or walk, or ride, or work in the gatden. We seldom sit an hour after dinner; but if the weather permits, adjourn to the garden; where, with Mrs. Unwin, and her sou, I have generally the pleasure of religious conversation till tea-time. If it rains, or is, too windy for walking, we either converse within doors, or sing some hymns of Martin's* collection, and, by the help of Mrs. Unwin's harpsichord, make up a tolerable concert; in which our hearts, I hope, are the best aud most musical performers. After tea, we sally forth to walk in good earnest. Mrs. Unwin is a good walker; anel we have generally travelled about.four miles before we see home again. When the days are short, we make this excursion in the former part of the day, between church-time and dinner. At mgl»t» we reuil aud converse, as before, till supper; and commonly

* Mr. Madan-S.

« AnteriorContinuar »