« AnteriorContinua »
also the treasure of many beautiful pieces of poetry, not before published. The sketch we shall attempt, instead of superseding the occasion for so valuable and so laudable a publication, will, we hope, promote the perúsal of it, as well as tend to increase its utility to religious readers.
Mr. Cowper's family was illustrious, both for rank and talents. His grandfather, Spencer Cowper, was a judge in the court of Common Pleas, and brother of the first Earl Cowper, who was Lord Chancellor in the reign of Queen Ann and George 1. Beside Dr. John Cowper, Rector of Berkhampstead, the poet's father, Judge Cowper bad several children; ainong whoin was the mother of the late Rev. Martin Madan, and of the pious and ingenious Frances Maria Madan, who married her first cousin Major Cowper, son of Dr. Cowper's elder brother, and heir of the family-estate vear Hertford. This lady was recently well known, and highly esteemed, among the politer religious people of the metropolis; and she published a tolume of devotional poems, which was reviewed in an carly Number of our Magazine. By his mother's side, our poet is supposed to have been related to Dr. Donne, the ceiebrated satirist, whose name she bore. Her character is immortalized by the most beautiful of Mr. Cowper's shorter poems; and it is similarly depicted in an epitaph inscribed on her tomb at Berkhampstead, by her niece the late Lady Walsingham. She died in 1737, leaving two sons by Dr. Cowper, who married again. Her elder son, who is the subject of this Memoir, was born Nov. 15 (old style) 1731. The birth of John, the younger, was coeval with his mother's decease. His character, and his remarkable conversion, are admirably described in a narrative by his brother, with which the Rev. Mr. Newton has lately favoured the priblic.
William Cowper, when nine years old, was sent to Westminster school. The literary advantages acquired by him in that celebrated seminary, were purchased at the expence of his future peace. Among the numerous and irrefragable proots of human depravity, the disposition of children to intlici pain, is not the least obvious. Their delight in tormenting animals (if not early repressed by education) might be supposed to originale in childish ignorance and thoughtfulness; but the tyrannyibey exercise, il perinitled, over servants and weaker children, doe's not admit of a similar extenuation. A public school atîords free scope for the cruelty of the greater boys toward their helpless juniors; and Cowper's tender age and constitutional tinidity, exposed hin peculiarly to this species of oppression. It produced an indelible eflect upon his mind through life; and it atfords the clue by which his future circumstances are to be explained. Occasional symptoms of derangement, in bis early youth, may apparently be ascribed to the same cause. Having endured this trial for nine years, it was succeeded by another, which he was ill prepared to encounter,
His natural bashfulness, and his broken spirits, however unsuitable to the protession of a barrister, were not suffered to exempt him from a calling in which his powerful connexions afforded the fairest prospects of advancing his temporal interests: At the
At the age of eighteen, he was articled to an eminent attorney; and three years afterwards, he entered, as a student of law, in the society of the Inner Temple. His genius and inclinations were no better adapted to this pursuit, than his acquired babits. He ainused himself with light poetical compositions; and divided his social hours between the convivial or literary intercourse of eminent persons who had been his school-fellows, and the more domestic conversation of bis polite and affectionate relations. In 1756 he lost his father, from whoin he did not inherit a fortune adequate to his situation in life. He formed about that time, a peculiar intiinacy with Sir William Russel, whose premature decease greatly afflicted him. He also cherished a tender attachment to an amiable and accomplished young lady, whose hand was expected to crown his approaching establishment in life.
This important crisis was deferred till'he reached his thirtyfirst year; and its result at that tiine produced the final disappointinent of his earthly bopes. Being nominated, by the interest of his family, to the lucrative posts of reading-clerk, and clerk of private committees, in the House of Lords, he conceived so great a dread of officiating before the assembled peers, that notwithstanding the delay and danger to which it exposed his temporal prospects, he determined upon relinquishing the appointment. The effects of such a contlict in his mind, are pathetically represented in the following verses, addressed to one of his female relations, whose faithtul meinory has enabled Mr. Hayley to communicate them to the public.
“ Doom'd as I am, in solitude to waste
If these emphatic lines afforded a promise of the future excellence of Mr. Cowper's productions, they were equally predictive of his future distress. They breathe the same wounded spirit with many of his later pieces. The principal difference consists in the author's unacquaintance, at the former period, with the consolations of the gospel; and his knowledge of their worth, with a sense of their loss, at the latter. The breach was already made, which nothing but the balm of salvation could heal; and that, no Jonger than it was infused by appropriating faith. The season was at hand when that restorative became indispensably necessary. Mr. Cowper accepted the appointment of Clerk of the Journals in the House of Lords, in lieu of the more advantageous offices which he had relinquished, hoping that his personal attendance would not be requisite: but this expectation also was frustrated, and the necessity of appearing in public overwhelmed bin with dismay; while his unwillingness to renounce every prospect of earthly comfort, his fear of injuring the patron who had repeatedly recommended him to promotion, and the urgert exhortations of his intimate acquaintance to surmount a diffidence that appeared to them so unreasonable, excited a tumult in his breast which filled hin with inexpressible anguish. In this deplorable condition, his brother John, who had taken clerical orders, made the utmost exer- . tious to tranquilize his mind by such religious arguments as he could adduce; but to no purpose. Mr. Madan's conversation with bis afflicted kinsman was attended with different success. Mr. Cowper felt the redemption of sinners, on which he dwelt, to be the only refuge for his troubled soul; and its darkness was dispelled, almost instantaneously, by a ray of hope and peace. Mr. John Cowper was astonished at a change, which then seemed to him unaccountable. It was, alas! but transient. Imagining that the faith which is essential to salvation can be attained, was attainable by his own powers, his failure in the trial involved him in aggravated distress ; and the dread of appearing before an earthly tribunal was lost in the horrors of eternal judgment. It is needless here to dwell more particuJarly upon a scene, the particulars of which bave been laid before our readers, as far as was judged expedient, in our extracts from the funeral sermon published by Mr. Greatheed.* Let it suffice to say, tliat it terinivated in Mr, Cowper's removal to St. Alban’s in December, 1763. He remained there eighteen months, under the hunane care of the late Dr. Cotton, at what was entitled the College : an institution founded by that amiable and ingenious physician, for the relief of persons under mental derangement. The latter and greater part, however, of this period, was spent by Mr. Cowper, not only in the possession of his restored faculties, but in the enjoyment of peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. While in a state of con
See Evan. Mag. for Son. n.4and son
valescence, he opened the book of revealed truth; and that epitome of the gospel which is comprised in Romans iii. 25, was happily rendered instrumental to his deliverance both from worldly sorrow and spiritual despair.
The state to which he had been reduced, had broken off for ever his former connexions and pursuits; and having found the pearl of matchless price, he could cheerfully relinquish them. He sought retirement and concealment at Huntingdon, where he might often have the company of his brother alone, without being known to numerous academical friends, amidst whoin he’ resided at Cambridge; but he could not anywhere long remain unnoticed. His appearance was striking and interesting. A most intelligent and engaging countenance, a well-proportioned figure, and elegant manners, speedily drew attention from the inhabitants of a rural borough-town. An amiable young mall, a student from Cambridge, whose father, Mr. Unwin, a clergyman, then superintended a private classical se:ninary at Huntingdon, conceived so strong a desire for the acquaintance of this interesting stranger, that he surinounted Mr. Cowper's reserve, and gradually acquired his confidential friendship. Some other young men likewise ingratiated themselves in his esteem; and he was soon introduced to their families, which were among the most respectable in the place. His faithtul friend, Mr. Joseph Hill, who had taken the care of his temporal concerns, both corresponded with, and visited him, from London. With his affectionate brother he spent some part of every week, alternately, at their respective places of abode. He resumed also his correspondence with Lady Hesketh, daughter of his uncle Mr. Ashley Cowper, clerk of parliament, in London; and with his cousins at Harlingfordbury, Major Cowper and his lady. In the last correspondent he soon discovered one, who, like himself, lived in fellowship with Christ. His letters to her, will probably appear to the serious reader the most important part of Mr. Hayley's collection. The following extract from one of them, shews how clearly Mr. Cowper discerned, and how warmly he had embraced the leading truulis of the gospel, although as yet a stranger to the advantages of an evangelical ministry, « That Jesus is a present Saviour froin the guilt of sin, by his most precious blood, and from the power of it by his Spirit; that corrupt and wretched in ourselves, in Him, and in Him only, we are complete ; that being united to Jesus by a lively faith, we have a solid and eternal interest in his obedience and sufferings, to justify us before the face of our Heavenly Father; and that all this inestimable treasure, the earnest of which is in grace, and its consummation in glory, is given, freely given to us of God; in short, that he hath opened the kingdom of Heaven to all believers : these are the truths which, by the Grace of God, shall ever be dearer to me than life itself; shall ever be placed next my heart, as the throne whereon the
that world of iniquiry and rebellion to a state of filial and affeca, tionate obedience to the will of the Most Holy.”
Mr. Cowper shortly became more intimate with Mr. Unwin's family than with any other in Huntingdon; and at the close of 1765, he took up his residence entirely with them. Mrs. Unwin had always been extremely fond of reading, and was estecmed for superior intelligence; but she bad been remarķed for gaiety and vivacity. She soon, notwithstanding, fully entered into Mr. Cowper's religious views, and discovered a change of character that was far from being agreeable to ber fashionable acquaintances. Her are exceeded Mr. Cowper's but seven years; yet as she had married very young, and was the mother of his academical friend, he naturally regarded her with a kind of filial, as well as with a spiritual affeca tion. He thus writes of her to his cousin Mrs. Cooper :-"The Tady in whose house I live, is so excellent a person, and regards me with a friendship so truly Christian, that I could alınost fancy my own mother restored to life again, to compensate me for all the friends I have lost, and all iny connexions broken.”
In another letter, he describes the manner in wbich their daily time was employed. “As to amusements, I mean what the world calls such, we have none. The place indeed swarms with them; and cards and dancing are the professed business of almost all the gentle inhabitants of Huntingdon. We refuse to take part in them, or to be accessaries to this way of murdering our time; and by so doing, have acquired the name of Methodists. Having told you how we do not spend our time, I will next say how we do :-\\'e breakfast commonly between eight and wine ;-till eleven, we read either the Scriptures, or the serions of soune faithful preacher of these holy mysteries. At eleven we attend divide service, which is performed here twice every day; and from twelve to three we separate, and amuse ourselves as we please. During that interval, I either read in my own apartment, or walk, or ride, or work in the garden. We seldoin sit an hour atter dinner ; but if the weather perinits, adjourn to the garden ; where, with Mrs. Unwin, and iser son, I have generally the pleasure of religious conversation till tea-time. If it rains, or is too windy for walking, we either converse within doors, or sing some hymns of Martin's * collection, and, by the help of Mrs. Unwin's harpsichord, inake up a tolerable concert; in which our hearts, I hope, are the best and most musical performers. After tea, we sally forth to walk in good earnest. Mrs. Unwin is a good walker; and we have generally travelled about four miles before we see home again. When the days are short, we inake this excursion in the former part of the day, between church-time and dinner. At night, We read and converse, as before, till supper; and commonly