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family interest had only availed to procure for him (in 1759) a Commissionership of Bankrupts, with a salary of £60 a year. He noticed the diminution of his little patrimony with a certain vague uneasiness of mind. For some time he affected to make light of the matter, declaring to his fellow-Templar, Rowley, that 'if he never sank below that degree of poverty, in which a man enjoys clean linen and good company, he cared not if he never rose above it.' But Cowper's mind was not one that could succeed in muffling its real anxieties beneath the cloak of assumed gaiety. He was becoming more and more alarmed at the prospect before him, when an event occurred which seemed to open a way of escape out of his difficulties.
In 1763 the Clerk of the Journals of the House of Lords died; and about the same time the offices of Reading Clerk, and Clerk of Committees, were resigned. All three were patent offices in the patronage of Major Cowper, who immedia offered the two last, which were the most lucrative, to his cousin. Cowper accepted the offer: but no sooner had he done so, than his inveterate diffidence induced a dread of an official position, to which the publicity from which he shrank was of necessity attached. Yet he had always looked forward to the succession to these offices; and had even remarked lightly, that he should be glad when the holder of them was dead, that he might step into the vacant place. And now these words returned to his horrified conscience as having been uttered 'in the spirit of a murderer.' After much mental conflict, he begged Major Cowper to let him exchange these more profitable posts for the Clerkship of the Journals, the duties of which were perforthed in private. But a fresh difficulty arose, which Cowper was powerless to surmount. Objections were raised to the Major's right of presentation; and an order was issued that his nominee should be examined at the bar of the House, as to his qualifications for the post. This dreadful anticipation was too much for the nerves of the sensitive man, already overwrought by his previous agitation. 'A thunderbolt,' he says, 'would have been as welcome to me as this announcement.' Though
time was allowed him for preparation, he toiled in vain to make himself master of his new duties, by the study of the Journals. The feelings,' he adds, 'of a man when he arrives at the place of execution are probably much like mine every time I set my foot in the office, which was every day for more than half a year together.' He was not in a condition to receive instruction, much less to elicit it out of manuscripts without direction.' Yet if he should throw up the appointment, he would not merely be 'casting away the only chance he had of being well provided for,' but would be virtually ceding his cousin's right of nomination. He fled to Margate during the vacation, and for a time was restored to cheerfulness. But as the hour drew near when he must undergo the dreaded ordeal, his terrors returned with redoubled force. They,' he says, 'whose spirits are formed like mine, to whom a public exhibition of themselves on any occasion is mortal poison, may have some idea of the horror of my situation: others can have none.' It was to no purpose that he consulted 'virtuous and faithful Heberden: 'quiet forsook him by day, and peace by night.' He longed for madness, as his only chance of escape. It came. And in his madness he strove to kill himself. In each successive attempt he found himself foiled: until at last he was startled into a conviction of the guilt of the act, which he had so often ineffectually set himself to perpetrate. But this sense of guilt proves more maddening than all besides. He is convinced that he is a reprobate, that he is singled out for eternal perdition, that he has committed the unpardonable sin. At length his friends were compelled to take the only course that seemed open to them; and they removed him to a private asylum at St. Alban's, kept by Dr. Nathaniel Cotton.
Cowper entered Dr. Cotton's house on the 7th of December, 1763. For the first five months his intellect seemed to be utterly destroyed. Gradually however the soothing influence of daily converse with a man of cultivated mind, refined feelings, literary tastes, and strong Christian principles, made itself felt. In July, 1764, Cowper received a visit from
his brother John. When the latter heard his brother repeat his settled assurance of sudden judgment,' he quietly told him that it was 'all a delusion.' The words were eagerly caught up. 'I burst into tears,' writes Cowper, and cried out, "If it be a delusion, then am I the happiest of beings." Something like a ray of hope was shot into my heart.' He opened his Bible, long since flung aside as a book in which a doomed man like him had no interest. The first verse that met his eye was Romans iii. 25: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.' 'Immediately,' proceeds Cowper, 'I received strength to believe, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness fell upon me.' And now all was
joy and peace. The excellent and judicious Dr. Cotton
Idid what he could to moderate the ecstasies of the young convert; tending him not simply with the skill of a practised psychologist, but with the sympathy of a brother in Christ. Well might Cowper write to Lady Hesketh, ‘I reckon it one instance of the Providence that has attended me .. that I was carried to Dr. Cotton. I was not only treated by him with the greatest tenderness while I was ill, and attended with the utmost diligence; but when my reason was restored to me, and I had so much need of a religious friend to converse with, to whom I could open my mind upon the subject without reserve, I could hardly have found a fitter person for the purpose.' And well did the Physician deserve that the Poet should make for him a niche in the temple of fame, by the grateful allusion in the poem on Hope (1. 205).
In days gone by it was no uncommon thing to hear it said, that it was religion which drove poor Cowper mad. It is much nearer the truth, to say that it was religion which restored him from madness. Long before his morbid tendencies led him to this deplorable point, there was that in religion which touched a chord in his susceptible nature, whose music soothed him in agitation of mind. When at school at Market Street, he tells us, 'one day as he sat
melancholy, and almost ready to weep, expecting his tormentor every moment, the words of the Psalmist came into his mind, 'I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.' 'I applied them,' he adds, 'to my own case, and instantly perceived in myself a briskness of spirit, and a cheerfulness I had never before experienced.' Again, on his first attack in the Temple, he met with the poems of George Herbert: and though he found not there a cure for his malady, yet it never seemed so much alleviated as while he was reading him.' And about the same time he composed a set of prayers, and found great comfort in the frequent use of them.
Though fully restored to health Cowper remained as an inmate of Dr. Cotton's house till the end of eighteen months; and on the 22nd of June, 1765, he proceeded to Huntingdon. This place had been selected for him, as being within easy reach of Cambridge, where his brother was residing on his Fellowship at Bene't College. A few weeks after his arrival, a young man fresh from Cambridge sought out the recluse in his lonely lodgings. This was William Cawthorne Unwin, 'a most unreserved and amiable young man, known almost as soon as seen,' and 'sincere in his belief and love of the Gospel.' He introduced Cowper to his family, which the latter found to be 'altogether the cheerfullest and most engaging family it is possible to conceive.' There was the father, Morley Unwin, the non-resident Rector of Grimston in Norfolk, 'a man of learning and good sense, and as simple as Parson Adams.' There was the sister, a young lady of eighteen, rather handsome and genteel,' who became the wife of the Rev. Matthew Powley, afterwards Vicar of Dewsbury in Yorkshire. And there was the mother, Mary Unwin, whose name will never die whilst Cowper's lives. She had a very uncommon understanding, had read much to excellent purpose, and was more polite than a Duchess;' and better than all, Cowper found that they had one faith, and had been baptized with the same baptism.' At Huntingdon Cowper not only enjoyed familiar intercourse with these delightful people, but had the further advantage of
regular bathing in the Ouse, and of frequent horse exercise; as visits were exchanged weekly between the brothers at Huntingdon and Cambridge, a distance of fifteen miles. All this did so much for the re-establishment of Cowper's health and spirits, that he wrote to the Major, Oct. 18, 1765, 'It is impossible I could have fixed upon a place so agreeable to me in all respects. I am much happier than the day is long, and sunshine and candlelight see me perfectly contented. I enjoy better health than for many years past.'
In less than a month later, this happiness was increased by Cowper's becoming a permanent resident in the house of the Unwins. He' took the place just vacated by one of Mr. Unwin's pupils, and was received as a lodger and boarder with the family, Nov. 11, 1765. With these dear friends he led a life of much regularity, in which however he was conscious of no monotony, in the enjoyment of those domestic pleasures which his nature specially fitted him to appreciate, but from which circumstances had hitherto combined to exclude him. A regular attendance at the daily prayers in the parish church, and much devotional reading and conversation during each day at home, were prevented from causing fatigue to the mind by a not less regular practice of taking exercise twice a day; the evening walk being seldom under four miles. Thus too the return of anxiety arising from pecuniary embarrassments was fended off. Such anxiety was impending; for not only was Cowper 'deeply in debt' to Dr. Cotton, but his resources were reduced by the resignation of the Commissionership of Bankrupts, in 1765. He had thus become almost wholly dependent upon his relatives, who showed themselves both prompt and delicate in contributing to his support; and he now found that his limited means went further at Mr. Unwin's house, than in his own lodgings, where in three months, 'by the help of good management, and a clear notion of economy, he contrived to spend the income of a twelvemonth.'
After eighteen months of peace and tranquillity, the home at Huntingdon was broken up by the death of Mr. Unwin, in June, 1767. This event rendered it necessary that the