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continued near a twelve-month ; when having esperience the inefficacy of all human means, 1, at length, betrok my. self to God in prayer.” Shortly after this, as he was walking in the country, “I felt,” he continues, " the weight of all my misery taken off, and my heart became light and joyful in a moment. But Satan, and my own wicked heart, soon persuaded me that I was indebted for my deliverance, to nothing but a change of scene, and on this hellish principle I burnt my prayers, and away went all my thoughts of devotion."
For ten years after being called to the bar, Cowper continued to reside in the Temple, amusing himself with literature and society, and making little or no effort to pursue his profession. He belonged to the “ Nonsense Club,” consisting of seven Westminster men, among whom were Lloyd, Colinan, and Bonnell Thornton ; assisted the two latter in the “Connoisseur,” and “though he wrote and published,” says Hayley, “both verse and
it was as the concealed assistant of less diffident authors."
Meantime, he had fixed his affections on Theodora Jane, the daughter of his uncle, Ashley Cowper; one of those ladies with whom he used to “giggle and make giggle,” in Southampton Row. She is described as a lady of great personal and mental attractions; and their affection was mutual. But her father objected to their union, both on the score of means and consanguinity. When it was found that his decision was final, the lovers never met again. It does not appear that this disappointment had any influence in inducing the return of his malady. In respect to love, as well as friendship and fame, few poets, and perhaps few men, have possessed feelings more sane and healthy, than Cowper. In alter life, he said to Lady Hesketh, “ I still look back to the memory of your sister and regret her; but how strange it is; if we were to meet now, we should Dot know each other." It was different with Theodora
She lived unmarried, to extreme old age, and carefully preserved the poems which he had given her during their intercourse, to the end of her life.
At the age of thirty-one, the little patrimony, which had been left Cowper by his father, was well nigh spent. At this time, his uncle, who had the place at his disposal, offered him the clerkship of the Journals of the House of Lords. Cowper gladly accepted the offer, as the business being transacted in private, would be especially suited to his disposition, which was shy and reserved to a remarkable degree. But some political opposition arising, it was found necessary that he should prepare himself for an examination at the bar of the House. And now began a course of mental suffering, such as, perhaps, has never been described, except in his own fearful “ Memoir.” “I knew” says he, “to demonstration, that on these terms, the clerkship of the Journals was no place for me, to whom a public exhibition of myself on any occasion, was mortal poison.” As the time for his examination approached, his distress of mind increased. He even hoped, and expected, that his intellect would fail him, in time to excuse his appearance at the bar.
“But the day of decision drew near” he continues, “and I was still in my senses. At last came the grand temptation ;—the point, to which Satan had all the time been driving me; the dark and hellish purpose of self-murder.” In short, after several irresolute attempts at suicide, by poison and drowning, Cowper actually hanged himself to the door of his chamber; and only escaped death by the breaking of his garter, by which he was suspended. All thoughts of the office were now, of course, given up. His insanity remained, but its form was somewhat modified. He was no longer disposed to suicide, but “conviction of sin, and especially of that just sommitted," and despair of God's mercy, were now never absent from his thoughts. In every book that he opened h
found something which struck him to the heart. He almost believed that the voice of his conscience was loud enough for any one to hear;" and he thought that “the people in the stree! stared and laughed” at him. When he attempted to repeat the creed, which he did, in experiment of his faith, ke felt a sensation in his brain, “ like a tremulous vibration of all its fibres," and thus lost the words; and he therefore concluded, in unspeakable agony, that he had committed the unpardonable sin. At length, he became a raving madman, and his friends now placed him at St. Albans, under the care of Dr. Cotton, a skilful and humane physician. Sometime previous to his removal to St. Albans, Cowper wrote the following Stanzas, descrip tive of his state of mind :
Hatred and vengeance-my eternal portion
Soul in a moment.
Damned below Judas; more abhorred than he was
Deems the profanest.
Bolted against me.
Worse than Abiram's. “This,” says Southey," was the character of his mad. Dess -- the most dreadful in which madness can present itself. He threw away the Bił le, as a book in which he no luz
Pr had ary interest or portion. A vein of self
Ivathug and abhorrence ran through all his insanity, and he passed some months in continual expectation that the Divine vengeance would instantly plunge him into the bottomless pit. But horrors in madness are like those in dreams; the maniac and the dreamer seem to undergo what could not possibly be undergone by one awake or in his senses." With Dr. Cotton, Cowper remained five months, without amendment; but after discovering ra rious symptoms of returning reason, during the next three “my despair,” he says, “ suddenly took wings, and len me in joy unspeakable, and full of glory.”
When his recovery was considered complete, his relatives subscribed an annual allowance, just sufficient, with his own small means, to support him respectably in retireinent, and sent him to reside at Huntingdon. Here he soon became greatly attached to the family of Mr. Unwin, a clergyman, in whose house he finally took up his abode. From this excellent family he never separated, until death dissolved their connexion. Mrs. Unwin, the “ Mary” of one of his most popular minor poems, was his friend in health, and his nurse in sickness, for more than twenty years.
Of his way of life at Huntingdon, he thus writes: “ As to what the world calls amusements, we have zone. refuse to take part in them, and by so doing have acquired the name of Methodists. We breakfast between eight and nine : till eleven we read the Scriptures or the sermons of some faithful preacher, when we attend divine service, which is performed here, twice every day.” Walking, gardening, reading, religious conversation, and singing hymns, filled up the interval till evening, when they again had a sermon or hymns, and closed the day with family worship. “I need not say, ” he continues, “ that such a life as this is consistent with the utmost cheerfulness; acardingly we are all happy ” At this time Cover had
little cim.nunication with his reatives, and none with his former companions.
In July 1767, Mr. Unwin 'died; his children had previously settled in life; and Cowper and Mrs. Unwic uniting their means of living, now much reduced, went to reside at Olney. Here they lived many years under the pastoral care of the celebrated Mr. Newton, with whom they were in the strictest habits of personal intimacy.
“ Mr. Newton,” says Southey," was a man, whom it was impossible not to admire for his strength and sincerity of heart, vigorous intellect, and sterling worth. A sincerer friend Cowper could not have found: he might have found a more discreet one.” Cowper's religious duties and exercises were now much more arduous than at Huntingdon. This “ man of trembling sensibilities” attended the sick, and administered consolation to the dying; and so constantly was he employed in offices of this kind, that he was considered as a sort of curate to Mr. Newton. In the prayer-meetings which Mr. Newton established, Cowper, to whom “public exhibition of himself was mortal poison,” was expected to take a part. “I have heard him say,” says Mr. Greatheed, in Cowper's funeral sermon, " that when he was expected to take the lead in your social worship, his mind was always greatly agitated for some hours preceding."
Cowper's correspondence with his friends was now even more restricted than heretofore. This was partly owing to his engagements with Mr. Newton, from whom he was seldom seven waking hours apart;" but it was the tendency of those engagements to restrict his sympathies, and render his friendships torpid. “A letter on any other subject th an that of religion,” he writes at this time, “is more insipid to me, than even my task was when a school-boy.” He read little, and had little society except that of Mr. Newton and Mr. Unwin; and the only really intellectual