Obrazy na stronie

The consolation, which, after having endured the severest distress, he at that time derived from a life of faith in the Son of God, who lov. ed him and gave himself for him, he thus describes, in an affecting allegory.

“ I was a stricken deer, that left the herd
Long since, with many an arrow, deep infix'd, -
My panting side was charg'd ; when I withdrew
To seek a tranquil death in distant shades,
There was I found by one who had himself
Been hurt by the archers. In his side he bore,
And in his hands and feet, the cruel scars,
With gentle force soliciting the darts,
Hedrew them fortb, and heal'd, and bade me live."

THE TASK, B. III. The degree and the uninterrupted duration of his spiritual comforts had, perhaps, exceeded the usual experience of pious people. But he now conceived some presentiment of a sad reverse ; and, during a solitary walk in the fields, he composed a hymn, strongly expressive of his sensations. (See No. 32, in Vol. III.) The bright, yet serene lustre, which had lisually marked his road, was now succeeded by impenetrable darkness. After the clearest views of the love of God, and the expansion of heart which he had enjoyed in his ways, his mind became obscured, confused and dismayed. That vivid imagination, which often attained the utmost limits of the sphere of reason, did but too easily transgress them ; and his spirits, no longe er sustained upon the wings of faith and hope, sunk, with their weight of natural depression, into the abyss of despair. In this state his mind became fixed ; yet he ever cherished an unshaken-submission to what he imagined the Divine pleasure. .. .

Gradually habituated as at a former period, to his situation, he became accessible to a few intimate friends in succession, who laboured to excite his thoughts to activity on different subjects. Thus originated most of those Poems, which, when published, charmed and surprised both the literary and religious world. Some times his mind was led so far from his distress, as to indulge in playful essays ; but these intervals were extremely transient. In general his Poems are the evident dictates of that reverence for God, that esteem for the Gospel, and that benevolence toward fellow-creatures, which characterized his familiar conversation.

Of the general condition of his mind, during the last seven years of his abode in the vicinity of Olney, which certainly were the most tranquil that he passed in the latter part of his life, the best judgment may be formed from his own expressions, in a poem written towards the close of that interval, part of which we have al. ready quoted. It was occasioned by the unex. pected acquisition of a small portrait of his mother, whom he had lost more than half a century before, but had never ceased to remem. ber with the warmest gratitude and the fondest affection. Having described her's and his father's passage through this life to a heavenly world, under the figure of a voyage speedily terminated, he naturally reverts, in the same metaphorical language, to the distressing contrast which his own situation and prospects presented. “ But me, scarce hoping to attain that rest, Always from port withheld, always distress'd, . Me howling winds drive devious, tempest-toss'd, Sails ript, seams opening wide, and compass lost :.

Aad, day by day, some current’s thwarting force
Sets me more distant from a prosperous course.
But, oh! that thou art safe, and he !
That thought is joy, arrive what may to me."

The principal pleasure that he appeared capable of receiving was, indeed, that which he derived from the happiness of others. Instead of being provoked to discontent and envy, by contrasting their comforts with his own afflictions, there evidently was not a benefit that he knew to be enjoyed by others, which did not afford him sensible satisfaction ; not a suffering they endured that did not add to his pain. To the happiness of those who were privileged with opportunities of shewing their esteem for him, he was most tenderly alive. The advancement of the knowledge of Christ in the world at large was always near his heart ; and whatever concerned the general welfare of mankind was interesting to him, secluded as he was from the public, and, in common, from religious society. In like manner, from his distant retreat, he viewed, with painful sensations, the progress of infidelity, and of sin in every shape. His love to God, though unassisted by a cheerful hope of divine favour, was invariably manifested by an abhorrence of every thing that he thought dishonourable to the Most High, and a delight in all that tended to his glory.

Mr. Cowper was latterly under the care of his affectionate and intelligent young relative, the Rev. John Johnson, who, during the last year or two of his life, had sometimes indulged the hope of witnessing his complete restoration to health. Suddenly, however, this expectation was fatally disappointed ; and towards the close

of 1799, it became sufficiently evident that he could not successfully contend with the ravages of a rapid decay ; that, ere long, the mortal must put on immortality. Conscious of the speedy approach of this important change, however agonizing to himself, Mr. Johnson unremittingly exercised that attention which Young so truly describes as

--The dreadful post of observation,

Darker every hour. On the 25th of April, 1800, friendship was at length discharged from these afflicting duties, and its object happily released from this scene of suffering and sorrow. Early on the morning of that day, Mr. Cowper sunk into a state of such apparent insensibility, that, had no his eyes remained half open, it might have been conjectured a tranquil slumber. In this situation_his respiration regular, though feeble ; his countenance and frame perfectly serene-he continued about twelve hours, when he expired without heaving his breath.

To the preceding remarks, on the life of Cowper may be added the following modest and characterestic epitome, drawn by himself in a letter to a literary friend, dated March the 10th, 1792. “You are in danger, I perceive,” says he, of “thinking of me more highly than you ought to think.

I am not one of the Literati, among

whom you seem disposed to place me ;far from it. I told you how heinously I am unprovided with the means of being so, having long since sent all my books to market. My learning accordingly lies in a very narrow compass. It is school-boy learning somewhat improved, and very little more. From the age of

0 to 33 tudy oe in the apologera massa cadener,

20 to 33, I was occupied, or ought to have been, in the study of the law. From 33 to 60 I have spent my time in the country, where my reading has been only an apology for idleness, and where, when I had not either a magazine or a review in my hand, I was sometimes a carpenter, at others, a bird-cage maker, or a gardener, or a drawer of landscapes. At 50 years of age I commenced an author. It is a whim that has served me longest and best, and which will probably be my last. Thus you see I have had very little opportunity to become what is properly called-learned. In truth, having given myself so entirely of late to poetry, I am not sorry for this deficiency ; since great learning, I have been sometimes inclined to suspect, is rather a hindrance to the fancy than a furtherance."

THE Writings of Cowper, though not voluminous, are yet such as have secured to their author no mean rank among the standard poets of his country ;--an elevation not at this day attainable, without sound and prominent excel. lence.

The first volume of poems which he published consists of various pieces, on various subjects. It seems that he had been assiduous in cultivating a turn for grave and argumentative versification on moral and ethical topics. Of this kind is the Table Talk, and several other pieces in the collection.

The lighter poems are well known. Of these the verses supposed to be written by Alexander Selkirk, on the island of Juan Fernandes, are in high estimation. It would be absurd to give one general character of the pieces that were

« PoprzedniaDalej »