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And life's last shade be brightened by thy ray:
Tetrastic— From the Persian.
NATHANIEL COTTON (1721–1788) wrote Visions in Verse, for children, and a volume of poetical" Miscellanies.' He followed the medical profession in St. Albans, and was distinguished for his skill in the treatment of cases of insanity. Cowper, his patient, bears evidence to his . well-known humanity and sweetness of temper.'
The Fireside. Dear Chloe, while the busy crowd, Our babes shall richest comforts bring; The vain, the wealthy, and the proud, If tutored right, they'll prove a spring In folly's maze advance;
Whence pleasures ever rise: Though singularity and pride
We'll form their minds, with studious Be called our choice, we'll step aside,
care, Nor join the giddy dance.
To all that's manly, good, and fair,
And train them for the skies.
While they our wisest hours engage, Where love our hours employs; They'll joy our youth, support our age, No noisy neighbour enters here;
Aud crown onr hoary hairs : Nor intermeddling stranger near, They'll grow in virtue every day; To spoil our heartfelt joys.
And thus our fondest loves repay,
And recompense our cares.
No borrowed joys, they're all our own, And they are fools who roam :
While to the world we live unknown, The world has nothing to bestow;
Or by the world forgot:
We look with pity on the great,
And bless our huinbler lot.
But then how little do we need!
For nature's calls are few : The disappointed bird once more
In this the art of living lies, Explored the sacred bark.
To want no more than may suffice
And make that little do. Though fools spurn Hymen's gentle powers,
We'll therefore relish with content We, who improve his golden hours, Whate'er kind providence has sent, By sweet experience know,
Nor aim beyond our power; That marriage, rightly understood, For, if our stock be very small, Gives to the tender and the good
'Tis prudence to enjoy it all, A paradise below.
Nor lose the present hour.
* The following is the last sentence of the Siris: 'He that would make a real progress in knowledge must dedicate his age as well as youth, the latter growth as well as the first-fruits, at the altar of Truth.'
To be resigned when ills betide,
And pleased with favours given;
Whose fragrance smells to heaven.
But when our feast is o'er,
The relics of our store.
Thus, hand in hand, through life we'll go;
With cautious steps we'll tread;
And mingle with the dead :
And cheer oor dying breath;
And smooth the bed of death,
WILLIAM COWPER (1731–1800), “the most popular poet of his generation, and the best of English letter-writers,' as Southey has designated him, belonged emphatically to the aristocracy of England. His father, the Rev. Dr. Cowper, chaplain to George II., was the son of Spencer Cowper, one of the judges of the court of Common Pleas, and a younger brother of the first Earl Cowper, lord chancellor. His mother was allied to some of the noblest families of England, descended by four different lines from King Henry III. This lofty lineage cannot add to the lustre of the poet's fame, but it sheds additional grace on his piety and humility. Dr. Cowper, besides his royal chaplaincy, held the rectory of Great Birkhamstead, in the county of Hertford, and there the poet was born, November 15, 1731. In his sixth year he lost his mother-whom he tenderly and affectionately remembered through all his life-and was placed at a boarding-school, where he continued two years. The tyranny of one of his school-fellows, who held in complete subjection and abject fear the timid and home-sick boy, led to his removal from this seminary, and undoubtedly prejudiced him against the whole system of public education. He was next placed at Westminster School, where he had Churchill and Warren Hastings as schoolfellows, and where, as he says, he served a seven years' apprenticeship to the classics. At the age of eighteen he was removed, in order to be articled to an attorney. Having passed through this training with the future Lord Chancellor Thurlow for his fellow-clerk-Cowper, in 1754, was called to the bar. He never made the law a study: in the solicitor's office he and Thurlow were constantly employed from morning to night in giggling and making giggle,' and in his chambers in the Temple le wrote gay verses, and associated with Bonnel Thornton, Colman, Lloyd, and other wits. He contributed a few papers to the Connoisseur' and to the 'St. James's Chronicle,' both conducted by his friends. Darker days were at hand.
Cowper's father was now dead, his patrimony was small, and he was in his thirty-second year, almost unprovided with an aim,' for the law was with him a mere nominal profession. In this crisis of his fortunes his kinsman, Major Cowper, presented him to the office of clerk of the journals to the House of Lords--a desirable and lucrative appointment. Cowper accepted it; but the labour of studying the forms of procedure, and the dread of qualifying himself by appearing at the bar of the House of Lords, plunged him in the deepest misery and distress. The seeds of insanity were then in his frame ; and after brooding over his fancied ills till reason had fled, he attempted to commit suicide. Happily this desperate effort failed; the appointment was given up, and Cowper was removed to a private madhouse at St. Albans, kept by Dr.' Cotton. The cloud of horror gradually passed away, and on his recovery, he resolved to withdraw entirely from the society and business of the world. He had still a small portion of his funds left, and his friends subscribed a further sum, to enable him to live frugally in retirement. The bright hopes of Cowper's youth seemed thus to have all vanished: his prospects of advancement in the world were gone; and in the new-born zeal of his religious fervour, his friends might well doubt whether his reason had been completely restored. He retired to the town of Huntingdon, near Cambridge, where his brother resided, and there formed an intimacy with the family of the Rev. Morley Unwin, a clergyman resident in the place. He was adopted as one of the family; and when Mr. Unwin himself was suddenly removed, the same connection was continued with his widow. Death only could sever a tie so strongly knit-cemented by mutual faith and friendship, and by sorrows of which the world 'knew nothing. To the latest generation the name of Mary Unwin will be united with that of Cowper, partaker of his fame as of his sad decline;
By seraphs writ with beams of heavenly light. After the death of Mr. Unwin in 1767, the family were advised by the Rev. John Newton—a remarkable man in many respects—to fix their abode at Olney, in the northern division of Buckinghamshire, where Mr. Newton himself officiated as curate. This was accordingly done, and Cowper removed with them to a spot which he has consecrated by his genius. He had still the river Ouse with him, as at Huntingdon, but the scenery is more varied and attractive, and abounds in fine retired walks. His life was that of a religious recluse; he ceased corresponding with his friends, and associated only with Mrs. Unwin and Newton. The latter engaged his assistance in writing a volume of hymns, but his morbid melancholy gained ground, and in 1773 it became a case of decided insanity. About two years were passed in this unhappy state. The poet, as appears from a diary kept by Newton, would have been married to Mrs. Unwin but for this calamity, On his recovery, Cowper took to gardening, rearing hares, drawing landscapes, and composing poetry. The latter was fortunately the most permanent enjoyment; and its fruits appeared in a volume of poems published in 1782. The sale of the work was slow; but his friends were eager in its praise, and it received the approbation of Johnson and Franklin. His correspondence was resumed, and cheerfulness again became an inmate of his retreat at Olney. This happy change was augmented by the presence of a third party, Lady Austen, a widow, who came to reside in the immediate neighbourhood of Olney,and whose conversation for a time charmed away the melancholy spirit of Cowper. She told him the story of John Gilpin, and the famous horseman and his feats were an inexhaustible source of merriment. Lady Austen also prevailed upon the poet to try his powers in blank verse, and from her suggestion sprung the noble poem of “The Task.'. This memorable friendship was at length dissolved. The lady exacted too much of the time and attention of the poet, perhaps a shade of jealousy on the part of Mrs. Unwin, with respect to the superior charms and attractions of her rival, intervened to increase the alien
' ney without any intention of returning to it." In 1785 the new volume was published. Its success was instant and decided. The public were glad to hear the true voice of poetry and
of nature, and in the rural descriptions and fireside scenes of "The Task,' they saw the features of English scenery and domestic life faithfully delineated. «« The Task, says Southey, 'was at once descriptive, moral, and satirical. The descriptive parts everywhere bore evidence of a thoughtful mind and a gentle spirit, as well as of an observant eye; and the moral sentiment which pervaded them gave a charm in which descriptive poetry is often found wanting. The best didactic poems, when compared with “The Task,” are like formal gardens in comparison with woodland scenery: As soon as he had completed his labours for the publication of his second volume, Cowper entered upon an undertaking of a still more arduous nature-a translation of Homer. He had gone through the great Grecian at Westminster School, and afterwards read him critically in the Temple, and he was impressed with but a poor opinion of the translation of Pope. Setting himself to a daily task of forty lines, he at length accomplished the forty thousand verses. He published by subscription, in which his friends were generously active. The work appeared in 1791, in two volumes quarto. In the interval the poet and Mrs. Unwin had removed to Weston, a beautiful village about a mile from Olney. His cousin, Lady Hesketh, a woman of refined and fascinating manners, had visited him; he had also formed a friendly intimacy with the family of the Throckmortons, to whom Weston belonged, and his circumstances were comparatively easy. His malady, however, returned upon him with full force, and Mrs. Unwin being rendered helpless by palsy, the task of nursing her fell upon the sensitive and dejected poet. A careful revision of his Homer, and an engagement to edit a new edition of Milton, were the last literary undertakings of Cowper. The former he completed, but without improving the first edition : his second task was never finished. A deepening gloom settled on his mind, with occasionally bright intervals. A visit to his friend
Hayley, at Eartham, produced a short cessation of his mental suffering, and in 1794 a pension of £300 was granted to him from the
He was induced, in 1795, to remove with Mrs. Unwin to Norfolk, on a visit to some relations, and there Mrs. Unwin died on the 17th of December 1796. The unhappy poet would not believe that his long-tried friend was actually dead; he went to see the body, and on witnessing the unaltered placidity of death, flung himself to the other side of the room with a passionate expression of feeling, and from that time he never mentioned her name or spoke of her again. He lingered on for more han hree years, still under the same dark shadow of religious despondency and terror, but occasionally writing, and listening attentively to works read to him by his friends. His last poem was the 'Castaway,' a strain of touching and beautiful verse, which shewed no decay of his poetical powers: at length death came to his release on the 25th of April 1800.
So sad and strange a destiny has never before or since been that of a man of genius. With wit and humour at will, he was nearly all his life plunged in the darkest melancholy. Innocent, pious, and confiding, he lived in perpetual dread of everlasting punishment: he could only see between him and heaven a high wall which he despaired of ever being able to scale; yet his intellectual vigour was not subdued by affliction. What he wrote for amusement or relief in the midst of 'supreme distress,' surpasses the elaborate efforts of others made under the most favourable circumstances; and in the very winter of his days, his fancy was as fresh and blooming as in the spring and morning of existence. That he was constitutionally prone to melancholy and insanity, seems undoubted; but the predisposing causes were as surely aggravated by his strict and secluded mode of life. Lady Hesketh was a better guide and companion than John Newton; and no one can read his letters without observing that cheerfulness was inspired by the one, and terror by the other. The iron frame of. Newton could stand unmoved amidst shocks that destroyed the shrinking and apprehensive mind of Cowper. All, however, have now gone to their account—the stern yet kind minister, the faithful Mary Unwin, the gentle high-born relations who forsook ease, and luxury, and society to soothe the misery of one wretched being, and that immortal being himself has passed away, scarcely conscious that he had bequeathed an imperishable treasure to mankind. We have greater and loftier poets than Cowper, but none so entirely incorporated, as it were, with our daily existence-none so completely a friend-our companion in woodland wanderings, and in moments of serious thought-ever gentle and affectionate, even in his transient fits of ascetic gloom-a pure mirror of affections, regrets, feelings, and desires which we have all felt or would wish to cherish. Shakspeare, Spenser, and Milton are spirits of ethereal kind; Cowper is a steady and valuable friend, whose society we may sometimes neglect for that of more splendid and attractive associates,