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sccupation, in which he was engaged for nearly seves rears, was the composition of some of the “Olney Hymns.” This, Hayley represents as a “perilous employment” for a mind like Cowper's; "and if,” says Southey,
Cowper expressed his own state of mind in these hymns, (and that he did so, who can doubt) Hayley has drawn the right conclusion from the fact."
His malady was now about to return. Its recurrence has been referred to various causes ;—the death of his brother, and a supposed engagement of marriage with Mrs. Unwin, have both been adduced, as the probable oc casions; the latter of which, Southey considers as utterly unfounded.
Cowper's inind was, doubtless, at all times, highly sus ceptible of derangement from several causes. The disease, which was inherent to his constitution, only required some untoward circumstance to develop it. And the chief disturbing influence at this time, appears to have been religious excitement. His tender, willing, and easily-troubled spirit, had so often thrilled with the exstasies of devotion ; and had so often been agitated and repulsed by those of its duties, which were uncongenial, and to him, even revolting, that it at last became epileptic. He sometimes speaks of his heart as if it was paralized; and the moaning burden of his later hymns is that he cannot feel.” According to Mr. Newton's own account of himself,“ his name was up through the country, for preaching people mad;" it would therefore seem to follow, that he should have been the last person in the world, to take spiritual charge of who had once been a madman. But from whatever cause, in January 1773, Cowper's case had become one of decided insanıty. Medical advice was not sought until eight months after this time; as Mr. Newton, believing his disease to be entirely the work of the Enemy, expected his cure only by the special interposition of Providence. « From what I told Dr. Coton,” Mr. Newlon writes in Argust, “he seemed to think it a difficult case. It may be so according to medical rules; but I still hope the Great Physiciun will cure him either by giving a blessing to means, or immediately His own hand.” But Cowper still continued to grow worse, and in the following Octo ber, he attempted suicide. A remarkable characteristic of his delirium, at this time, and one which shows how strongly, even in insanity, Cowper was influenced by conscience, was his perfect submission to what he believed to be the will of God. “ And he believed,” says Mr. Newton, “ that it was the will of God, he should, after the example of Abraham, perform an expensive act of obedience, and offer not a son, but himself.” He again believed, as heretofore, that, by a sort of special act, he had been excluded from salvation, and all the gifts of the spirit; and with“ deplorable consistency,” says Mr. Greatheed, “ abstained not only from public and domestic worship: but also from private prayer."
In this state of hopeless misery he remained till the ensuing May, when he began to manifest symptoms of amend ment. “ Yesterday," writes Mr. Newton, May 14th, " as he was feeding chickens,- for he is always busy if he can get out of doors,--some little incident made him
smile I am pretty sure it was the first smile that has been seen upon his face for more than sixteen months.” Soon after this he began to pay some attention to gardening: and in gardening, and other light occupations, he continued to employ himself nearly two years, gradually improving in health and spirits, but incapable of being entertained either by books or company. It was at this interval that Cowper amused himself with the far-famed hares, Tiney, Puss and Bess, which he has immortalized, both in verse and prose.
But in the auturan of 1777, though his fatal delusion re specting his spiritual welfare continued, is intellect and social feelings awoke to activity. He nuw renewed hia correspondence with some of his old friends, his love of reading revived, and he occasionally produced a small poem. Mrs. Unwin, observing the happy effect of composition on his health and spirits, now excited him to mora decided literary exertion ; and, at her suggestion, he commenced his Moral Satires. So eagerly did he pursue his new employment, that the first of these poems was written in December, 1780, and the last in the following March.
These productions met with the approbation of his friends, and by them,-for Cowper was almost indifferent on the subject, it was finally determined to publish them.
Mr. Newton had the year previous, much to Cowper's regret, removed to London. But the loss of his society, was for a time, more than made up by a new acquaintance. This was Lady Austen, a highly intelligent and agreeable woman, the widow of a baronet, who, while Cowper was preparing his volume for the press, visited Olney; and the acquaintance which was then formed, soon ripened into such warm friendship, between Cowper and Mrs. Unwin, and herself, that she ultimately, in consequence, came to Oluey to reside. Their kindly intercourse, however, after continuing about two years, was unhappily broken off; and love and jealousy have been mentioned as among the causes of their estrangement. That there may have been jealousy of attention and of influence between two women constantly in the society of one man,” and that man, Cowper, all, who know the female heart, will readily believe. But it does not appear, as has been asserted, that there was any expectation of marriage entertained by eiwer of the parties, Cowper, and Mrs. Unwin, who was considerably older than himself, had now lived together some years on joint income; and no pecuniary objection existec to their union. But the only union, that either desired, had long since been formed. It was a union purely of the nobler sympathiesof religious and social feelings of self-sacrificing devotedness, and of consequent grateful affection ;-such as must, almost of necessity, arise between a man and a woman, possessed of the highest moral qualities, and relatively situated, as they were to each other, but which the vulgar and censorious (great and small) cannot or will not understand. As to Lady Austen, Cowper's own account of the matter is, that she had too much vivacity for their staid course of life, that the attentions she exacted inter. fered with his studies, and that she was too easily offended ; hence a coldness ensued, and finally a separation. But while the intimacy continued, Lady Austen undoubtedly exercised a highly valuable influence on Cowper's literary efforts. “Had it not been for Mrs. Unwin," says Southey, “Cowper would probably never have appeared in his owu person as an author; had it not been for Lady Austen, he would never have been a popular one." His first volume of Poems, which was published in 1782, obtained but little notice, except among his friends; but to please his friends was sufficient for Cowper, and he continued to write, not withstanding the disregard of the public. Lady Austen, whose conversation, for a time, is said to have had “as happy an effect on his spirits as the harp of David upon Saul,” one afternoon, when he was unusually depressed, told him the story of John Gilpin, which she had heard in her childhood. The story amused him greatly, and before the next morning, he had turned it into a ballad. This boon found its way into the newspapers, and sometime afterwards, it was recited, with wonderful effect, by Hen. derson, the actor, who was then delivering public recita tions at Freemason's H T ba
sud denly popular, and Gilpin was to be seen in every printshop, while tha anthor was unknown. Meantime the
Task, suggested also by Lady Austen, and far the ben and most popular of his longer poems, had been completed it was published in 1785, and with it, was printed John Gilpin. Cowper was therefore known to be its author; and those who had been amused with the ballad, now read the Task, and inquired for his previous volume, and Cowper vecame, at once, the most popular poet of the day.
In November, 1784, immediately after the completion of the Task, Cowper began the translation of Homer. He had now found by experience that regular employment was essential to his well-being ;-employment too, of a really intellectual nature, such as would call into activity, without too much exciting, the best powers of his mind. “A long and perplexing thought,” he said, “ buzzed about m his brain, till it seemed to be breaking all the fibres of it.” “ Plaything-avocations" wearied him; while such as engaged him much, and attached him closely, were rather Berviceable than otherwise.
The unfaithfulness of Pope's translation of Homer had long been universally acknowledged by scholars, and Cowper, who was well qualified for the task, after translating one book, as he says, for want of employment, “ became convinced that he could render an acceptable service to the literary world by translating the whole." The under taking thus commenced, he availed himself of the Gentleman's Magazine to produce on the public, an impression favorable to his design, and issued proposals to publish by subscription. His Poems had been given away, and when published, he had been careless of popular favor in respect to them. But fame, coming, as it did, unexpectedly, was not the less welcome to him; and he was now, not only anxious to sustain it, by the success of his present undertaking, but also to secure a profitable result to himself. “ Five hundred names," he writes, "at three guineas will put about a thousand pounds in my purse; and