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MEMOIR OF W. COWPER, ESQ. of Aspasia and Clara ; , and extracts from several letters of the latter, as well as a poetical epistle to her from Mr. Cowper, were published in the subsequent numbers of that Magazine, and in another, called “ The Divine Treasury.” Lady Ansten, accompanying Mrs. Jones on a visit to Mrs. Unwin, Mr. Cowper, though with much hesitation, joined the party; and he shortly discovered, in Lady Austen's animated conversation, a powerful antidote to his melancholy. Their mutual visits soon becaine very frequent; and Lady Austen removing to the vicaragehouse, then occupied by Mr. Scott, who had succeeded Mr Newton at Olney, her intercourse with Mrs. Unwin and Mr. Cowper was made as easy and as constant as Mr. Newton's had been. She exerted her unequalled powers to rouse Mr. Cowper from dejection, which often seized bis mind, even in company; and the first printed poem which he produced after the publication of his volume, the well-known ballad of John Gilpin, resulted from a story which she repeated for his diversion at such a crisis. Many short poetical effusions likewise were occasioned by their intimacy; among others, “ The Rose," and several which are now first published. Mr. Bull-also, in 1782, suggested employment for Mr. Cowper, which resulted in his beautiful translations from Madam Guion. In the following year he began, at the instance of Lady Austen, his grand work, « The Task ;" which was finished and committed to the press in 1784. Immediately on closing it, he wrote his “ Tirocinium," with a desire to avert from the rising generation the evils he had experienced, or observed, at public schools. The connection of Lady Austen with him and Mrs. Unwin, was suddenly terminated about that period, by the apprehensions of the latter, that Lady Austen had formed an attachment to Mr. Cowper, inconsistent with the engagements which subsisted belween herself and him. As these remained profoundly secret, Lady Austen might inadvertently afford ground for the suspicion; but she soon became aware of its consequences, by a farewellletter from Mr. Cowper, whom she never afterwards met. Previously, however, to the cessation of their intercourse, she had suggested to him an undertaking that occupied the remainder of his life. Many of their social hours had been amused with literary information or entertainment. Among the numerous books which Mr. Cowper read, in the long evenings of winter, to his female friends, was Pope's elegant version of Homer. His own familiar and accurate knowledge of the original, prompted him frequently lo complain of the translator's deviations from his author; and to express his wish, that some person, equal to the performance, would produce a more exact version. Lady Austen naturally urged him to undertake it; and he followed her advice after he had relinquished ber company. He began to translate the Iliad in November 1784, immediately upon completing the Tirocinium..
The constant exercise of his mind in composition, so far 'succeeded to divert him from habitual despair, that he became more attached to society; and in the spring of 1785, he invited Mr. Greatheed to participate with MÎr. Bull in their stated interviews. It was not, however, by arguing against his inveterate melancholy, that his religious friends could promote its relief. An allusion to the subject was usually productive of its symptoms ; although, upon any other spiritual topic than that of bis own prospect of futurity, Mr. Cowper would converse freely and profitably. The necessity, however, of avoiding so interesting a theme, could not but make an essential difference, both in his eonversation and correspondence, from what either had been previous to his unhappy relapse. In writing to his friends, to whom he again became gradually babituated as his poetical exercises advanced, he touches sparingly and cautiously upon religion. He more freely indulges a vein of humour, which contributed to the momentary dissipation of his gloom ; while he could scarcely advert to spiritual subjects without approximating the source of his distress. This remark applies to most of his subsequent letters, as well as to the sportive sallies of his poetical writings. The flow of wit, which, in both instances, displays the peculiar powers of his mind, and fascinates the literary reader, was employed by him merely as a substitute for spiritual reflection, in which he esteemed it presumptuous to indulge himself, or as a forcible etiort to resist the intrusion of distress and terror, The following passage, in a much later epistle to Mr. Hayley, affords a general key to his correspondence, from the time of its revival at Olney : -" Non sum quod simulo, -"I am not what I affect to be," my dearest brother I seem cheerful upon paper sometimes, when I am absolutely the most dejected of all creatures. Desirous, however, to gain something myself by my own letters, unprofitable as they may, and must be, to my friends, I keep melancholy out of them as much as I can, that I may, if possible, hy assuming a less gloomy air, deceive myselt, and, by feigning with a continuo ance, improve the fiction into reality.” His habitual conversation was, as might be apprehended from this passage, very different from the style of his letters. It was serious, sensible, and affectionate; but usually dejected, and seldom brilliant. In his letters, as printed, there are many obvious chasins, which were most probably occupied with expressions of religious despondency.
His correspondence, and his sphere of society, was greatly enlarged, in consequence of the publication of his second volume of poems, which appeared in June 1785. The height to which it raised his reputation as an author, rouized the attention of his polite relations; with whom, during his more depressed condition, his intercourse had been wholly suspended; and the hilarity of his lighter productions, encouraged them to renew
MEMOIR OF W. COWPER, ESQ.
181 their communications with the poet. In October that year, he received an affectionate letter from his cousin, Lady Hesketh, who, in the interval that had occurred, was deprived, by death of her husband, Sir Thomas Hesketh. The fortune he had left her, enabled her generously to offer to Mr. Cowper any addition that might be desirable to his income. It could not have been made more seasonably, as Mrs. Unwin's fortune, which was equally shared between them, had recently been much reduced. From a person whom Mr. Cowper had so highly esteeined from their days of childhood, he did not scruple to receive an obligation of this nature. In June 1786, after a separation of three-and-twenty years, these endeared relations met at Olney; when some apartments in the vicarage, which had been occupied by Lady Austen, were prepared for Lady Hesketh. In order, however, that, when she renewed her visits, they might compose but one family, Mr: Cowper and Mrs. Unwin removed, in the following Noveniber, to a more commodious habitation in the pleasant village of Weston, a mile and an half distant from Olney. Mr. (now Sir John) Throckmorton and his lady, to whom the house, and most of the parish belonged, had, in the preceding summer, cultivated the acquaintance of Mr. Cowper; and they neglected no means of rendering their vicinity to him agreeable and useful. This accession of local comforts was very shortly embittered by the premature decease of Mrs. Unwin's only son, whose friend ship with Mr. Cowper had subsisted and increased from their first interview at Huntingdon. Soon afterwards, Mr. Rose, a gentleman of London, passing near Weston, introduced himself to Mr. Cowper, although he was then peculiarly difficult of access, his habitual dejection having been aggravated by the loss of Mr. Unwin. Mr. Rose's zeal surmounted every ohstacle; and the ardour of his attachment to the author of the Task, excited in bim a reciprocal friendship, which was fostered by frequent correspondence, the aetive services of Mr. Rose at London, and his occasional visits at Weston.
Mr. Cowper's spirits did not recover their usual tone till Sept. 1787, when he resumed his application to Homer. A great majority among his acquaintance and his readers, earnestly wished him rather to have been employed in original composition ; and some of his intimate friends were, moreover, apprehensive that the vast extent of his undertaking might prove detrimental to his health and comfort. A short letter to his constant and affectionate correspondent J. Hill, Esq.in Novemher the same year, satisfactorily explains his reasons for perseverance in the work he had begun.
“ Assure yourself,” says he, “ of one thing, that though to a bye-stander it may seein an occupation surpassing the powers of a constitution never very athletic, and at present not a little the worse for wear, I ean invent for myself no employment that does not exhaust my spirits more. I have even found those plaything avocations, which one may execute atmost without any attention, fatigue me, and wear me away, while such as engage me much, and attack me closely, are rather serviceable to me than otherwise." He frequently, nevertheless, composed short pieces to gratify his friends, and to record domestic incidents, that interested his feelings. At the request of some advocates of justice and bumanity, he wrote about this time some popular Lyrics against the detestable Slave-Trade ; and he obliged the inhabitants of Northampton with several copies of verses for bills of mortality; but his attention to his great undertaking was so little remitted, that he completed the first sketch of his translation of the Iliad in September 1788, and finished the seventeenth book of the Odyssey in the following May. He derived great kelp, in transcribing, from his zealous friends; the number of whom was increased, about that time, by the important acccssion of his young kidsman Mr. Johnson, of Norfolk, who repeatedly spent some time at Weston, in the intervals of his studies at Cambridge. For him, Mr. Cowper entertained a a truly paternal regard ; and it was requited by a degree of af, fection too seldom manifested by a son to his own father. Mr. Cowper's intercourse with others of his maternal kindred, was also thus renewed; and he was indebted to it for the liighly acceptable present of her picture. A good resemblance of it is engraved in Mr. Hayley's work. In September 1790, Mr. Johnson bad the satisfaction of transmitiing to the bookseller, a corrected copy of the whole translation of Homer. After it had undergone a fresh revisal, wbile passing through the press, it was published in July the following year. Having prosecuted this .laborious occupation, though closely, yet with a moderation that adınitted of needful exercise and relaxation, he accomplished it, in the possession of his health and spirits, at least equal to what he had enjoyed at its commencement.
His religious state during this period, was no otherwise likely to be improved than as the diversion of his thoughts from despair tended to relieve bis constitutional malady. The nature of his employments were such, as would probably have been, in some measure, detrimental to any person capable of religious enjoyment. It is much to be regretted, that his correspondence with Mr, Newton, by which alone the real state, of his mind was likely to be unfolded, is yet involved in impenetrable secrecy; and still more, that it probably will never be communicated to the religious world. It is only known, from Mr. Greatheed's sermon, that Mr. Cowper was not destitute, at times, of glimmering hope and dawning consolation ; and that he repcatedly resumed his intercourse with the throne of divine, grace: but these seasons were, unhappily, too transient to admit of his renewed attendance on public worsbip, or of his
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183 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 tiine spent in original composition, would have afforded hiin 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 poeins. 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 translated, and Notes on the whole to be subjoined by Mr. Cowper. Both these projects were frustrated by unespected 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 liope. They are descriptive of his conversion from scepticism to ihe love of Christ, which was exceedingly remarkable in most of its circumstances.
Soon after Mr. Cowper bad 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 permanent effects; and her 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, ini consequence of his proposed work on Milton. Mr. Hayley having engaged his services to another bookseller for a similar purpose, kindly offered 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 an invitation to go so far from home; but pressed Mr. Hayley