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all to deal with. They refuse all consolation; they will hear no reason.
God only, by his own immediate impressions, can relieve them, as after an experience of thirteen years' misery I can abundantly testify.” Like other valetudinarians of a particular class, his nerves were as sensitive to atmospheric changes as is the mercury of the barometer. He was joyful or sad, as the day was serene or cloudy. “I rise cheerless or distressed,” says he to one of his friends, “and brighten as the sun goes on.” He had his four seasons of feeling, as the revolving earth described the four grand stages of the sun's progress in the ecliptic. Thus, in another of his letters, he says: “I now see a long winter before me, and am to get through it as I can.
I know the ground before I tread upon it: it is hollow; it is agitated; it suffers shocks in every direction; it is like the soil of Calabria—all whirlpool and undulation. But I must reel through it; at least, if I be not swallowed up by the
In a brief notice of Cowper by Mr. Cecil, he alludes to an “unfounded report” in circulation, that the poet's melancholy was derived from his residence and connection at Olney. The fact, however, Mr. Cecil says, was just the reverse, as was attested both by respectable living witnesses, and by manuscripts of Cowper's own writing at the calmest period of his life. Many years before, and shortly after he began the study of law, he had a fearful attack, which was alleviated by reading the Gothic and uncouth poems of pious George Herbert. This relief, however, was only for
His thoughts were constantly tending back towards the same turbid channel from which they had been diverted. Then again he would be tempted to all sorts of evil—to murmuring against Providence, scepticism, disgust of life, and even to suicide. And yet, whenever relief came, even for a season, it was attended with a renewed interest in the Bible, and a lively faith in its distinguishing doctrines. The longest and happiest period of his life was at St. Albans, under the care of Dr. Cotton, a physician as capable of administering to the spiritual as to the natural maladies of his patients. The vast black wall which he represented as visibly erected between himself and heaven, Dr. Moore says, was some impediment to the right action of his brain in relation to thought and sight. His disease was kept up by monotony and medicine. There were none but quackish attempts at cure, except while under the care of Dr. Cotton, who for a time relieved, and, had his advice been properly followed out, would have probably cured him. It was from his treatment that Cowper first obtained a clear view of those sublime and animating truths which so distinguished and exalted his future strains as a poet. Here also he received that settled tranquillity and peace; which he enjoyed for several years afterwards. So far, therefore, was his constitutional malady from being produced or increased by his evangelical connections, either at St. Albans or at Olney, that he seems never to have had any settled peace but from the truths learned in these societies. It appears that among them
alone he found the only sunshine he ever enjoyed through the cloudy day of his afflicted life.” While residing with this excellent friend, his distress was for a long time entirely removed by the passage in Romans: Him hath God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past. In this scripture he saw the remedy which God provides for the relief of a guilty conscience, with such clearness, that, for several years after, his heart was filled with love, and his life occupied with prayer, praise, and doing good to all as he had opportunity. Mr. Newton told me, Cecil says, that from Cowper's first coming to Olney, it was observed he had studied his Bible with such advantage, and was so well acquainted with its design, that not only his troubles were removed, but that to the end of his life he never had clearer views of the peculiar doctrines of the gospel than now when he first became an habitual hearer of them. That during this period the inseparable attendants of a lively faith appeared, by his exerting himself to the utmost of his power in every benevolent service he could render to his poor neighbours; and that Mr. Newton used to consider him as a sort of curate, from his constant attendance upon the sick and afflicted in that large and necessitous parish.