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I heard, and acquiesced: Then to and fro
Knows he his origin can he ascend By reminiscence to his earliest date? Slept he in Adam? and in those from him Through num'rous generations, till he found At length his destin'd moment to be born ? Or was he not, till fashion'd in the womb? Deep myst’ries both! which schoolmen much have toild To unriddle, and have left them myst'ries still,
It is an evil, incident to man,
It may, in some degree, alleviate the regret which lovers of poetry must feel, that this interesting project was never accomplished by Cowper, to be informed, that a modern poem on the four ages of man was written by M. Werthmuller, a citizen of Zurich, and translated into Latin verse, by Dr. Olstrochi, librarian to the Ambrosian library at Milan. This performance gave rise to another German poem on the four ages of woman, by M. Zacharie, professor of poetry at Brunswick, an elegant little work, that breathes a spirit of tenderness and piety.
The encreasing infirmities of Cowper's aged companion, Mrs. Unwin, his filial solicitude to alleviate her sufferings, and the gathering clouds of deeper despondency that began to settle on his mind, in the first month of the year 1794, not only rendered it impossible for him to advance in any great original per. formance, but to use his own expressive words, in the close of his correspondence with his highly valued friend, Mr. Rose, made all composition either of poetry or prose impracticable. Writing to that friend in January 1794, he says, “ I have just ability enough to transcribe, which is all that I have to do at present: God knows that I write, at this moment, under the pressure of sadness not to be described.""
It was a spectacle that might awaken compassion in the sternest of human characters; to see the health, the comfort, and the little fortune of a man, so distinguished by intellectual endowments, and by moral excellence, perishing most deplorably. A sight so affecting made many friends of Cowper solicitous, and importunate, that his declining life should be honourably protected by public munificence. Men of all parties agreed that a pension might be granted to an author of his acknowledged merit, with graceful propriety, and we might apply to him, on this topic, the very expressive words which the poet Claudian addresses, on a different occasion, to his favourite hero:
It was devoutly to be wished that the declining spirits of Cowper should be speedily animated, and sustained, by assistance of this nature, because the growing influence of melancholy not only filled him with distressing ideas of his own fortune, but threatened to rob him of the power to make any kind of exertion in his own behalf. His situation, and his
merits were perfectly understood, humanely felt, and honourably acknowledged by persons who, while they declared that he ought to receive an immediate public support, seemed to possess both the inclination, and the power, to ensure it. But such is the difficulty of doing real good, experienced even by the great and powerful, or so apt are statesmen to forget the pressing exigence of meritorious individuals, in the distractions of official perplexity, that month after month elapsed, in which the intimate friends of Cowper confidently, yet vainly, expected to see him happily rescued from some of the darkest evils impending over him, by an honourable provision for life.
Imagination can hardly devise any human concondition more truly affecting than the state of the poet at this period. His generous and faithful guardian, Mrs. Unwin, who had preserved him through seasons of the severest calamity, was now, with her faculties and fortune impaired, sinking fast into second childhood. The distress of heart that he felt in beholding the cruel change in a companion so justly dear to him, conspiring with his constitutional melancholy, was gradually undermining the exquisite faculties of his mind. But deprest as he was by these complicated afflictions, Providence was far from de serting this excellent man. His female relation, whose regard he had cultivated as his favourite correspondent, now devoted herself very nobly to the superintendence of a house, whose two interesting inhabitants were rendered, by age and trouble, almost incapable of attending to the ordinary offices of life.
Those only, who have lived with the superannuated, and the melancholy, can properly appreciate the value of such magnanimous friendship, or per, fectly apprehend what personal sufferings it must cost the mortal, who exerts it, if that mortal has received from nature a frame of compassionate sensibility. The lady to whom I allude, has feit too severely, in her own health, the heavy tax that mortality is forced to pay for a resolute perseverance in such painful duty.
The two last of Cowper's Letters to me, that breathe a spirit of mental activity, and cheerful friendship, were written in the close of the year 1793, and in the beginning of the next. They arose from an incident that it may be proper to relate, before I insert the Letters.
On my return from Weston, I had given an account of the poet to his old friend, Lord Thurlow,