Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

attainment to a confident reliance on the infallible promises of the gospel. Yet, as these delightful intervals occurred during the time that he was most fully occupied with poetical labours, it does not appear that they proved at all inimical to his spiritual recovery. Nor is it certain that an equal time spent in original composition, would have afforded himn a similar relief; especially, if of so laborious a nature as he had experienced “The Task" to be, to his intellectual powers. The repeated solicitations of his friends induced him, notwithstanding, as soon as his Homer was completed, to direct his thoughts toward a third volume of poems. Occasional pieces, of which several have been published in successive editions of his former volumes, and others, are interspersed by Mr. Hayley in his biographical narrative, had already accumulated ; and he designed to introduce them with a larger work, somewhat resembling his Task, the subject of which, the “ Four Ages" of man's life, was suggested to him by Mr. Buchanan, a neighbouring clergyman of classical taste and character. His attention, nevertheless, was soon diverted from this object, by a proposal from his bookseller to publish a splendid edition of Milton's poetical works; in which the Latin and Italian Poems were to be trans. lated, and Notes on the whole to be subjoined by Mr. Cowper. Both these projects were frustrated by unexpected events; but a prose translation which had been executed by him, while correcting his Homer, was published in 1792, by Mr. Newton, at whose request it had been undertaken. It consists of six letters, written in Latin by the late Mr. Vanlier, a minister of the gospel in the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope. They are descriptive of his conversion from scepticism to the love of Christ, which was exceedingly remarkable in most of its circumstances.

Soon after Mr. Cowper, had entered upon his translation from Milton, his spirits received a severer shock than they had experienced since the death of Mr. Unwin. The mother of that beloved friend, who, as he expresses himself on the occasion, had been his own “ faithful and affectionate nurse for many years," was attacked, in December 1790, with a disorder which afterwards proved to be paralytic. It was not at first attended with perinanent effects; and ber apparent recovery afforded him speedy relief. In the following March, Mr. Cowper's acquaintance with Mr. Hayley commenced, by a friendly, letter and sonnet which he received from that gentleman, in consequence of his proposed work on Milton. Mr. Ilayley having engaged his scrvices to another bookseller for a similar purpose, kindly offcred to Mr. Cowper the use of some scarce. books, with which Milton had been conversant; and, intreated him to visit his rural retreat in Sussex, that they might confer, upon their respective performances. Mr. Cowper declined au invitation to go so far from home; but pressed Mr. Hayley

to visit him at Weston ; and they met there about the middle of May. The gratification afforded to Mr. Cowper by the company of his benevolent poetical brother, was unexpectedly dashed, by a new and alarming attack of Mrs. Unwin's disorder. Mr. Greatheed, having been invited to meet Mr. Hayley at Weston, was alone with her, waiting for their return from a walk, when she was suddenly deprived of the use of her limbs, her speech, and faculties, in a very distressing degree. The discovery threw Mr. Cowper at first into a paroxysm of despe- , ration ; but the tender sympathy of his literary associate, and the apparent benefit derived from medicinal exertions for Mrs. Unwin's relief, in some measure recruited his spirits. She gradually, but imperfectly recovered her powers ; and Mr. Cowper laid aside all other occupations, that he might incessantly attend to her help and comfort. Mr. Hayley being obliged, after a fortnight's stay, to return home, Mr. Cowper's neighbouring friends attempted to supply the want of his services at Weston. At the commencement of August, Mrs. Unwin had sufficiently regained her strength to accompany Mr. Cowper and Mr. Johnson to Mr. Hayley's elegant house at Eartham ; his solicitations, and the hope of benefit from the journey, and a change of scenes, having prompted them to the enterprize. They were absent from home, for the first time in twenty-six years, about seven weeks : and this extraordinary exertion, if not productive of effects so beneficial as were wished, yet was attended with none of the evils that inight have been apprehended from its novelty. On the road, at Kingston, Mr. Cowper had an interview, both in going and returning, with General Spencer Cowper, son of a younger brother of the poet's father, with whom he had frequently corresponded since the publication of the Task.

After his return to Veston, Mr. Cowper attempted to proceed with his commentary on Milton ; but it proved a severer labour to him than his poetical compositions had been ; and the continual attention required by the decline of Mrs. Unwin's strength and faculties, disabled biin for application, and gradually distressed his spirits. He at length suspended his exertions on Milton, and limited them to a revisal of his Homer for a second edition ; on which he employed several hours every inorning, before Mrs. Unwin was able to quit her chamber. The rest of each day was uniforinly devoted to her consolation. Thus was spent the whole of 1793; and at the commencement of the following year, be sunk into a depth of melancholy, as desperate, though not equally violent, as that which he endured when first deprived of religious comfort. His cousin Lady Hesketh, who had usually spent a part of the year at Weston, made it her constant residence, solely for his preservation and relief; which Mrs. Cnwin, having been redncod to second childhood, through her encreasing infirmities was no longer capable of promoting. Mr. Hayley, who had revisited Weston the preceding year, repaired thither in April 1794, to unite his efforts with those of Mr. Cowper's afflicted friends, for his solace and restoration ;--but all were fruitless. It appeared extremely desirable that he should be removed to the house of Dr. Willis, at Greatford in Lincolnshire, in order to reap the utmost advantages of medical assistance; but he could not be prevailed upon to accompany Lady Hesketh thither; and a journey which she undertook, attended by Mr. Greatheed, to obtain the doctor's advice, and a visit which the latter made, in consequence, to Mr. Cowper, proved wholly unsuccessful.

It inay easily be supposed, that in such circumstances, the expences of the family at Weston were greatly enhanced. Mr. Hayley's friendly exertions had not been limited to objects of social or literary intercourse. He had zealously and pathetically applied to persons in power, with whom either Mr. Cowper or himself had formerly been connected, to obtain such an honourable mark of regard to his friend's literary merits, as might secure him from pecuniary embarrassment under accumulated burdens. In his last visit at Weston, he had the pleasure to receive from Earl Spencer (who was distantly related to Mr. Cowper, and had always testified the highest esteem of him) bis Majesty's grant to the latter, of a pension which Dr. Johnson and Mr. Gibbon had successively enjoyed, It was noininally 300l. per annum; but nearly one third was swallowed up by custoinary fees of office. Though it could not have been bestowed more seasonably for Mr. Cowper's exigencies, his state of mind was such as not to admit oỉ his learning the acquisition. Mr. Hayley was under the necessity of relinquishing his ineffectual attempts at consolation ; but Lady Hesketh endured so severe a trial till July 1795, when her health could no longer sustain its effects. Mír. Jolinson, who had taken orders two years before, had repeatedly quitted his parochial charge at Dereham, to share with her so oppressive a burden ; but he could not further prolong bis absence without impropriety. In such circumstances, no alternative reinained but to transport his afflicted kinsman, with his equally comfortless and helpless companion, from the scene which they were no longer able to enjoy, to one where he could watch over the rernnant of their lives. He conducted so difficult an enterprize, with a skill dictated by exquisite tenderness, and with a success that exceeded every hope. Mr. Cowper, who had trembled at the thoughts of passing his own threshold, not only supporting, but even, in some degree, enjoying so long a journey; and Mrs. Unwin, who had been supposed incapable of a removal, sustaining it without the slightest detriment. Their subseqnent situations were carefully accoinmodated to their wants and their inclinations; but Mr. Cowper seldom discovered any degree of sensibility, except regeit for his

Bb

banishment from the beloved scenes of Weston. His mind admitted of po other relief, than from being gorged with books of fictitious narrative ; and his allectionate kimsinan submitted to the painful drudgery of incessantly reading them to him, It was with far different feelings that he found him become willing to attend daily in Mrs. Unwin's room while a portion of scripture was read to her. At the close of 1796, she obtained a relief from earthly sufferings; and happily, Mr. Cowper no longer possessed those acute sensations, which would have rendered the event insupportable to him. She expired with perfect tranquillity: he saw her half an hour before she drew her last breath, and again some hours afterwards; and thencaforth never mentioned her panie!

He had been incited to resume, for a few weeks of the preceding summer, his revision of Homer, which was far advanced before his last relapse. He did not again take up the work till September, in the following year. He then persevered till its completion, which was effected in March, 1799. He had, since leaving Weston, written only three or four letters, all expressive of his own misery, to some of his intimate friends; and when visited by the Dowager. Lady Spencer, Sir John Throckmorton, and Mr. Rose, he declined conversing with them. The only compositions to which he could afterwards be excited, were some translations into English of short Latin and Greek poems, and of two of Gay's Fables into Latin verse ; beside two original poems, one called “ The Cast-away,” describing an event recorded in Anson's Voyage, in allusion to his own hopeless condition ; the other, which he composed in Latin, on the appearance of some ice-islands in the German Sea, and translated into English, to gratify Miss Pesoune, a female friend of Mr. Johnson, whose compassionate attention to the poet's last years, equalled that of Mrs. Unwin and Lady Hesketh. He had written two lines only of a Latin version of another of Gay's Fables, when, at the close of January, 1800, he was seized with dropeical symptoms, and on the 25th of Aprillie expired, in the manner related in his funeral sermon. To that publication, and to the extracts given in our Review of it, we must refer our jeaders for a more particular account of Mr. Cowper's religious experience, having already greatly exceeded our usual limits. . To them who desire a fuller opportunity of contemplating his literary excellence, the faithful and judicious account which Mr. Hayley has supplied, will be highly acceptable. Beside its narrative, epistolary, and critical departmeuts, his two volumes comprise above a hundred poetical pieces by Mr. Cowper, original or translated, most of wliich have never before been published. The author's translations from Milton are reserved, in order to be published, together with Mr. Dayley's labour on that' poet, iu a superb edition of Milton's works, of which the profits will be devoted to the erection of a public monument, in memory of. Mr. Cowper.

A MEDITATION

ON REVELATION XX11: 1.
And he shewed me a pure rirer of water of life, clear as chrystal,

proceeding out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb.

O My soul, retire from the world, and converse with thy God'! Look forward into that glory which is invisible to the eye of vain and sinful mortals! Let Faith draw aside the veil, and view, with rapturous joy, the great and the good things which thy God has laid up for ther, and for all who love him.

The above words are a part of the description of the glorious state, – the everlasting residence of the redeemed of the Lamb. O my soul, what a prospect now opens upon thy view ! Stand on the verge of that river which proceeds out of the throne of God and the Lamb, and invigorates the celestial paradise! Waters, rivers of water, are designed, by the inspired writers, to signify great and valuable blessings. The prophet Ezekiel was indulged with a wonderful vision of waters, which issued from under the threshold of the house of God; and the description which the prophet gives us of these waters, is precisely the same as that which we have in this chapter. It is probable, that this vision was emblematical of the gospel, and the yarious blessings resulting, which should flow out unto all nations. But in these words, the pure, unmixed, and everJasting joys of Fleaven seein to be intended ; and these Bow from the glorious gospel of the blessed God, agreeably to the declaration of Jesus, when he compared the grace of the gospel to a well of living water, springing up into everlasting life; and this appears to be the meaning of this wonderful sight in Heaven; because this chapter is a description of the employments and delights of that state, which shall exist when this globe, and all its furniture, shall be destroyed. Consider, therefore, my soul, this river, as a lively emblem of that glory, that unutterable bliss, which flows as a river through all the heavenly plains, and makes glad the city of our God. Consider it as expressive of the social vision and eternal fruition of Jehovah -- the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ; and shouldst thou ask, why is the emblem of a river of water used to express these sublime things ? it may be replied,

Water is necessary to existence and vigour. The animal and vegetable tribes would soon perish without water; and as necesa sary are the smiles of God to the humble dependant Christian. The favour of God first began the good work,-first created the sacred thirst; and, therefore, it can never more be satisfied without constant communications. Sabbaths and ordinances cannot satisfy; for they are but the channels to convey the sacred stream to the soul.

It is a river, to denote its infinite fulness. A river is a conA -en of wotore Sa in Heaven the place of the redeemed

« AnteriorContinuar »