« PoprzedniaDalej »
pleased to remark the very promising seeds of those peculiar powers which unfolded themselves in the richest maturity, at a distant period, and rendered that beautiful and sublime poem, The Task, the most instructive and interesting of modern compositions.
Veres written at Bath, in 1748, on finding the
Heel of a Shoe. Fortune! I thank thee : gentle Goddess ! thanks! Not that my Muse, though bashful, shall deny, She would have thank'd thee rather, hadst thou cast A treasure in her way; for neither meed Of early breakfast to dispel the fumes, And bowel-racking pains of emptiness, Nor noon-tide feast, nor evening's cool repast, Hopes she from this, presumptuous, tho' perhaps The Cobler, leather-carving artist! might. Nathless she thanks thee, and accept thy boon Whatever, not as erst the fabled Cock, Vain-glorious fool! unknowing what he found, Spurn'd the rich gem thou gav'st him. Wherefore
ah! Why not on me that favour, (worthier sure!) Conferr’dst thou, Goddess ! Thou art blind, thou
Nor does my Muse no benefit exhale
Upbore : on this supported, oft he stretch'd With uncouth strides along the furrow'd glebe, Flatt’ning the stubborn clod, till cruel time, (What will not cruel time?) on a wry step, Sever'd the strict cohesion : when, alas! He' who could erst, with even, equal pace, * Pursue his destin'd way, with symmetry, And some proportion form’d, now, on one side, Curtail'd and maim'd, the sport of vagrant boys, Cursing his frail supporter, treacherous prop! With toilsome steps, and difficult, moves on. Thus fares it oft with other, than the feet Of humble villager-the statesman thus, Up the steep road, where proud ambition leads, Aspiring first, uninterrupted winds His prosp'rous way ; nor fears miscarriage foul, While policy prevails, and friends prove true : But that support soon failing, by him left, On whom he most depended, basely left, Betray'd, deserted, from his airy height Head-long he falls : and through the rest of life Drags the dull load of dissappointment on.
Of a youth, who, in a scene like Bath, could produce such a meditation, it may fairly be expected that he would,
« In riper life, exempt from public haunt, Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in every thing." These few words of Shakspeare hare often appeared to me as an absolute portrait of Cowper, at that happiest period of his days, when he exercised and eninved his rare poetical powers in privacy, at the pleasant village of Weston. But before we contemplate the poeta ical Recluse in that scene, it is the duty of his biogra. pher to relate some painful incidents, that led him, by extraordinary steps, to his favourite retreat. • Though extreme diffidence, and a tendency to despond, seemed early to preclude Cowper from the expectation of climbing to the splendid summit of the profession he had chosen; yet, by the interest of his family, he had prospects of emolument, in a line of public life, that appeared better suited to the modesty of his nature, and to his moderate ambition.
In his thirty-first year he was nominated to the of. fices of reading Clerk, and Clerk of the private Committees in the House of Lords. A situation the more desirable, as such an establishment might enable him to marry early in life; a measure to which he was doubly disposed by judgment and inclination. But the peculiarities of his wonderful mind rendered him una. ble to support the ordinary duties of his new office; for the idea of reading in public proved a source of torture to his tender and apprehensive spirit. An expedient was devised to promote his interest, without wounding his feelings. Resigning his situation of reading Clerk, he was appointed Clerk of the Journals in the same House of Parliament, with a hope that his personal appearance in that assembly might not be required; but a parliamentary dispute made it necessary for him to appear at the bar of the House of Lords to entitle himself publicly to the office.
Speaking of this important incident in a sketch, which he once formed himself, of passages in his early life, he expresses what he endured at the time, in these remarkable words: “They whose spirits are formed like mine, to whom a public exhibition of themselves is mortal poison, may have some idea of the horrors of my situation-others can have none."
- His terrors on this occasion arose to such an asto
nishing height, that they utterly overwhelmed his reason ; for although he had endeavoured to prepare him. self for his public duty, by attending closely at the office for several months, to examine the parliamentary journals, his application was rendered useless by that excess of diffidence, which made him conceive that whatever knowledge he might previously acquire, it would all forsake him at the bar of the House. This distressing apprehension increased to such a degree, as the time for his appearance approached, that when the day so anxiously dreaded arrived, he was unable to make the experiment. The very friends who called on him for the purpose of attending him to the House of Lords, acquiesced in the cruel necessity of his relinquishing
the prospect of a station so severely formidable to a I frame of such singular sensibility.
The conflict between the wishes of just affectionate ambition and the terrors of diffidence, so entirely overwhelmed his health and faculties, that after two learned and benevolent Divines (Mr. John Cowper, his bro. ther, and the celebrated Mr. Martin Madan, his first
cousin) had vainly endeavoured to establish a lasting * * tranquillity in his mind, by friendly and religious con
versation, it was found necessary to remove him to St. Alban's, where he resided a considerable time, une der the care of that eminent pliysician, Dr. Cotton, a scholar and a poet, who added to many accom. plishments a peculiar sweetness of manners, in very advanced life, when I had the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with him.
The misfortune of mental derangement is a topic of such awful delicacy, that I consider it as the duty of a biographer rather to sink in tender silence, than to proclaim, with circumstantial and offensive temerity, the
minute particulars of a calamity to which all human beings are exposed, and perhaps in proportion as they have received from nature those delightful but dangerous gifts, a heart of exquisite tenderness, and a mind of creative energy.
This is a sight for pity to peruse,
But, with a soul that ever felt the sting
'Tis not, as heads that never ach suppose,
No wounds like those a wounded spirit feels;