« AnteriorContinua »
had lost the allurement of novelty, recovered their influence, from the native but peculiar force with which they were proposed.
But what is man," O Lord? or who among the sons of men can plead innocence before the Thrice Holy? When trouble and anguish came upon thy aged servant, when "his sleep went from him," when in solemn recollection he "communed with his own heart upon his bed," and examined himself in the view of his last and great account, he saw wherein he had offended. Then it was, that I heard him condemn, with holy self-abasement, the pride of understanding by which he had often trespassed against the laws of courteous demeanour, and forgotten the fallible condition of his nature. Then it was, that I heard him, with ingenuous freedom, commend the virtues of forbearance and moderation in matters of belief, as more conformable to reason, and to the Gospel of thy Son, than he had long conceived. How deep was the contrition which then penetrated his soul, in the remembrance of his sins, and caused him to feel more strongly, what indeed he had ever acknowledged, that no extent of intellect, and no eminence of fame, can arm an awakened and reflecting mind against the fear of thy displeasure! Let it be known that this man, after considering the uncertainty of life, after studying the sanctity of thy law, after discovering more clearly the utter insufficiency of human attainments, and contemplating with ardent solicitude the stupendous and unspeakable importance of salvation, did with all the humility of faith cast himself on thine infinite mercy through Jesus Christ. But for the confirmation of the true believer, and to overthrow the delusive pretences and vain expectations of hypocrisy, let it be known also, that while he rested only on this foundation, he was unalterably assured it would support none but the penitent and upright, the devout and benevolent.
Whatever esteem or gratitude he deserved from his countrymen, for his diligence and skill in furthering the knowledge of their native tongue, in which they may study the Revelation of thy Will, and find withal so many treasures of useful truth and solid learning ; little, alas! would that, or his other labours and abilities, have availed him in the dread concluding hour, if in his lifetime he had abused them to thy dishonour, or neglected to secure thine acceptance by what is better than all knowledge, sagacity, or eloquence; by veneration for thee, and charity to mankind.
Father of spirits! if men without principle or feeling should exult, and say that his anxiety in the prospect of his latter end arose from the weakness and depression of disease; I record it to the honour of thy service, that never were his faculties more vigorous or animated, never were his views more raised, or his words more emphatical, than in those moments when the consideration of thine immaculate purity, and of the all-deciding trial, had full possession of his soul. Nor didst thou leave him to hopeless despondence. He knew in whom he trusted; and thou gavest him to enjoy the recollection of having long cherished an habitual reverence for thy Divine Majesty, and improved the talents he received at thy hand for the interests of truth, and the enforcement of duty, "in the midst of an evil and crooked generation." To thy goodness, O God, did he thankfully ascribe it, that he had never sought the praise of the rich by flattery, or of the licentious by imitating their manners, and prostituting his faculties to embolden vice or varnish profaneness.
But if this man boasted not that he was righteous, if he relied not on any virtue which he had practised, if he earnestly supplicated forgiveness through the merits. of his Saviour alone, and left behind him in his latest deed an open testimony of his repentance and his faith;
Will they lift up their heads with joy in the day of judgment? Will they challenge a reward at thy just tribunal ? Merciful Creator deliver them from their pride and impenitence. Show them the greatness of their error, and lead them from themselves to the Redeemer of the world for the remission of their sins.
Let not such as were strangers to the piety and benevolence of thy departed servant, censure too severely the partial or prejudiced opinions that sometimes contracted and unhappily obscured a mind otherwise comprehensive and enlightened. Teach them, O Lord, more charitable allowance for mistakes hastily imbibed in the days of youth, and afterwards from the power of early prepossession, without consciousness of evil, fondly retained and vehemently defended. It may be that in him they were permitted by thy unerring Providence, to manifest more clearly the frailty of the wisest men, and to raise our minds from the defective patterns of excellence here below, to thyself, the only standard of perfection.
Whatever gifts adorned him were alone to be regarded as emanations from thee, "from whom cometh down every good gift," every rational endowment, and exalted conception. But, O thou great sun of souls! can I believe, that those emanations are extinguished in the dust? Can I believe, that he whose writings I have perused with delight and improvement, is himself perished in the gulf of annihilation? Abhorred be the impious and unnatural thought! When his mortal part, worn with watching and study, broken by suffering and age, yielded at last to the stroke that conquers the young, the prosperous, and the strong; with what ecstasy would his never-dying spirit fly away, and kindle and flame as it approached nearer to thee, the fountain of light and intellectual being! With what friendly transports would the illuminated and holy inhabitants of heaven receive to their sublime society, a mind like his,
purified from every blemish, and beaming with the radiance of wisdom! I weep for joy to think, that good men have from the beginning survived the ruins of corporeal nature; that they will continue to exist when ages are lost in eternity; that they will live for ever blessed in thy presence, for ever dignified with thy friendship, O thou King Eternal !
Wrapt by the exalting contemplation, I rejoice more particularly in the permanent effulgence of those splendid luminaries that have shone in long succession upon earth, darting the rays of knowledge and of virtue through different periods. I rejoice at the recollection, that those rays have not been quenched in the shades of death; and that by thy good Providence we enjoy at this day the accumulated instruction of generations. Look with pity on the ignorant and the slothful; who, having such a price put into their hands, have not a heart to make use of it." Rouse them, I beseech thee, to a sense of their folly; and give them grace to redeem their past neglect, by their future diligence.
I praise thee, the God of thy late servant, that "being dead he yet speaketh," in those lasting productions which abound with the purest morality: where the conclusions of experience are added to the researches of learning, and to the fruits of meditation; where the secret recesses of the heart are explored, imagination is rendered ministerial to reason, and the reluctant passions compelled to acknowledge the claims of religion; where the conscious reader is turned inward upon himself, and blushes at the sight of his imbecility and guilt laid open before him with resistless evidence. Grant, O Lord, that we may profit by those severe but salutary instructions, and in the spirit of meekness learn from so able a teacher "the things that belong to our peace." Let not the graver dictates of his pen be lost in levity or forgetfulness. Nor yet let
truth, when we behold it embellished by his vivid wit and glowing fancy; but may we follow its guidance with faithfulness and pleasure!
686. Cowper on Johnson's Life of Dr. Watts. (1)
I have no objection in the world to your conveying a copy of my poems to Dr. Johnson; though I well know that one of his pointed sarcasms, if he should happen to be displeased, would soon find its way into all companies, and spoil the sale. He writes, indeed, like a man that thinks a great deal, and that sometimes thinks religiously: but report informs me, that he has been severe enough in his animadversions upon Dr. Watts; who was, nevertheless, if I am in any degree a judge of verse, a man of truly poetical ability; careless, indeed, for the most part, and inattentive too to those niceties which constitute elegance of expression, but frequently sublime in his conceptions, and masterly in his execution. Pope, I have heard, had placed him once in the "Dunciad;" but, on being advised to read before he judged him, was convinced that he deserved other treatment, and thrust somebody's blockhead into the gap, whose name, consisting of a monosyllable, happened to fit it. Whatever faults, however, I may be chargeable with as a poet, I cannot accuse myself of negligence; I never suffer a line to pass till I have made it as good as I can; and though my doctrines may offend this king of critics, he will not, I flatter myself, be disgusted by slovenly inaccuracy, either in the numbers, rhymes, or language. Let the rest take its chance. It is possible he may be pleased; and if he should, I shall have engaged on my side one of the best trumpeters in the kingdom. Let him only speak as favourably of me as he has spoken of Sir
(1) [This and the three following are from Cowper's " Private Correspondence," 2 vols. 8vo. 1824.]