Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

providentially blended with the calamities of my friend.

It was on the 23d of April, 1794, in one of those melancholy mornings, when his compassionate relation Lady Hesketh and myself were watching together over this dejected sufferer, that a letter from Lord Spencer arrived at Weston, to announce the intended grant of such a pension from his Majesty to Cowper, as would ensure an honourable competence for the residue of his life. This intelligence produced, in the friends of the poet very lively emotions of delight, yet blended with pain almost as powerful; for it was painful, in no trifling degree, to reflect, that these desirable smiles of good fortune could not impart even a faint glimmerirg of joy to the dejected invalide.

His friends however had the animating hope that a day would arrive when they might see him receive, with a cheerful and joyous gratitude, this royal recompence for merit universally acknowledged. They knew that when he recovered his suspended faculties, he must be particularly pleased to find himself chiefly indebted for his good fortune to the active benevolence of that nobleman, who, though not personally

acquainted with Cowper, stood, of all his noble friends, the highest in his esteem.

Indeed it is a justice due to the great to declare, that many of them concurred in promoting on this occasion, the interest of the poet; and they spoke of him with a truth, and a liberality of praise, that did honour both to him, and to themselves. It is not often that majesty has opportunities of granting a reward for literary merit, where the individual who receives it, has so clear and unquestionable a title both to royal munificence, and to popular affection. But the heart and spirit of Cowper were eminently loyal, and patriotic. He has spoken occasionally of his sovereign in verse, with personal regard, but without a shadow of servility; and his poetry abounds with eloquent and just descriptions of that double duty which an Englishman owes to the crown and to the people.

Perhaps no poet has more clearly and forcibly delineated the respective duties that belong both to subjects and to sovereigns: I allude to an admirable passage on this topic in the fifth book of the Task:It is time to return to the sufferer at Weston. He was unhappily disabled from feeling the favour he received, but an annuity of three hundred a year

was graciously secured to him, and rendered payable to his friend Mr. Rose, as the trustee of Cowper.

After devoting a few weeks to Weston, I was under a painful necessity of forcing myself away from my unhappy friend, who though he appeared to take no pleasure in my society, expressed extreme reluctance to let me depart. I hardly ever endured an hour more dreadfully distressing, than the hour in which I left him. Yet the anguish of it would have been greatly increased, had I been conscious that he was destined to years of this dark depression, and that I should see him no more. I still hoped from the native vigour of his frame, that, as he had formerly struggled through longer fits of this oppressive malady, his darkened mind would yet emerge from this calamitous eclipse, and shine forth again with new lustre. These hopes were considerably encreased at a subsequent period; but alas! they were delusive ; for although he recovered sufficient command of his faculties to write a few occasional poems, and to retouch his Homer, yet the prospect of his perfect recovery was never realized. I had beheld the poet of unrivalled genius, the sympathetic friend, and the delightful companion, for the last time; and I must now relate the gloomy residue of his life, not from

re

my own personal observation, but from the faithful account of his young kinsman of Norfolk, who de voted himself to the care of this beloved sufferer, and persevered to the last in that delicate and awful charge.

From the time when I left my unhappy friend at Weston, in the spring of the year 1794, he remained there under the tender vigilance of his affectionate relation, Lady Hesketh, till the latter end of July 1795:-a long season of the darkest depression! in which the best medical advice, and the influence of time appeared equally unable to lighten that afflictive burthen which pressed incessantly on his spirits.

At this period it became absolutely necesary to make a great and painful exertion for the mental relief of the various sufferers at Weston. Mrs. Unwin was sinking very fast into second childhood; the health of Lady Hesketh was much impaired, and the dejection of Cowper was so severe, that a change of scene was considered as essential to the preservation of his life.

Under circumstances so deplorable, his kinsman of Norfolk most tenderly and generously undertook to conduct the two venerable invalides from Buckinghamshire into Norfolk, and so to regulate their

Nas

future lives that every possible expedient might be tried for the recovery of his revered relation.

It is hardly possible for friendship to undertake a charge more delicate and arduous, or to sustain all the pains that must necessarily attend it, with a more constant exertion of gentle fortitude and affectionate fidelity.

The local attachment of Cowper to his favourite village of Weston was strong in no common degree, and rendered his migration from it, though an event of medical necessity, yet a scene of peculiar sufferings. Those who knew his passionate attachment to that pleasant village, how deeply he lamented his absence from it, and how little he gained by a change of situation, though considered as important to the revival of his health, can hardly help regretting that he did not close his days in that favourite scene, and find at last, according to the wish that he tenderly expresses in the conclusion of the Task,

A safe retreat

Beneath the turf, that he had often trod.

But painful and unprofitable as it proved in a medical point of view, his removal from Weston was very pro

« PoprzedniaDalej »