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world, of mountains reposing in coldness and quietness for ages; and, at length, without any apparently new stimulus, awaking from their slumber, and deluging the surrounding vineyards with streams of fire. But it is, we believe, an unheard-of poetical phenomenon, for a mind teeming with such tendencies and capabilities as that of Cowper, to sleep through so long a period, and, at length, suddenly to awake, when illness and age might seem to have laid their palsying hand upon its energies, and at once to erect itself into poetical life and supremacy. In general, the poet either • lisps in numbers,' or begins to put forth his hidden powers under the exciting influence of some new passion or emotion—such as love, fear, hope, or disappointment. But, how wide of this was the history of Cowper! In his case, the muse had no infancy, but sprang full armed from the brain of the poet.
But, if the tardy developement of the poetical powers of our Author was one peculiarity in his case, the suddenness and completeness of the developement, when it did take place, was, under his circumstances, a still greater subject of surprise. In the account of his life we learn, that, after quitting Westminster school, at the age of eighteen, he spent three years in a solicitor's office; and passed from thence, at the age of twenty-one, into chambers in the Inner Temple. Soon after this event, he says of himself, “ I was struck, not long after my settlement in the Temple, with such a dejection of spirits, as none but they who have felt the same can have the least conception of. Day and night I was upon the rack, lying down in horror, rising up in despair. I presently lost all relish for the studies to which before I had been closely attached. The classics had no longer any charm
I had need of something more salutary than amusement, but I had no one to direct me where to find it.” This dejection of mind, as our readers are aware, led him onward from depth to depth of misery and despair, till at length he was borne away, helpless and hopeless, in the year 1768, to an asylum for insane patients at St. Albans. Released from the awful grasp of a perverted imagination, chiefly by the power of that religion, which, in spite of
every fact in his history, has been, with malignant hatred to Christianity, charged as the cause of his madness, he spent the two happiest
years of his life at Huntingdon. After this, he retired with the Unwin family to Olney, in Buckinghamshire; and there, after passing through the most tremendous mental conflicts, sank again into a state of despondency; from which he at length awoke, (if it might be called awaking,) not indeed to be freed from his delusions, but, whilst under their dominion, to delight, instruct, and astonish mankind, with some of the most original and enchanting poems in any language. The philosophical work of Browne, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, and composed, as the Author says, by a man who had lost his “ rational soul,” has been always reputed the miracle of literature. But Browne's case is scarcely more remarkable than that of Cowper. That a work sparkling with the most childlike gaiety and brilliant wit; exhibiting the most cheerful views of the character of God, the face of nature, and the circumstances of man, should proceed from a writer who at the time regarded God as an implacable enemy; the earth we live on, as the mere porch to a world of punishment; and human life, at least in his own case, as the cloudy morning of a day of interminable anguish-all this is to be explained only by the fact that madness disdains all rules, and reconciles all contrarieties. His history supplies an example, not without its parallel, of a mind—like some weapon drawn from its sheath to fight a particular battle, and then suspended on the walls again--called forth to accomplish an important end, and then sent back again into obscurity. And it is no less an evidence, amongst a thousand other instances, that our heavenly Father “in judgment remembers mercy;" and bestows this mitigation of the heaviest of all maladies, that those exposed to its deadliest influence and themselves denied all access to the bright sources of happiness, are sometimes privileged to pour the streams of consolation over the path of others. How truly may it be said of such persons, “ Sic vos, non vobis, mellifcatis apes.”
But, whilst we speak of certain peculiarities in the case of Cowper, as calculated to destroy all reasonable expectation of such poems as he has given to the public, we are not sure that these very peculiarities have not assisted to supply his poetry with some of its characteristic and most valuable features. Among the qualities, for example, by which his compositions are distinguished, are those of strong sense-moderation on all the subjects most apt to throw the mind off its balance-maturity in thought, reasoning, and imagination—fulness without inflation—the “strength of the oak without its nodosities”—the “inspiration of the Sybil without her contortions”—the most profound and extensive views of human nature. But perhaps every one of these qualities is oftener the growth of age than of youth; and is rather the tardy fruit of patient experience than the sudden shoot of untrained and undisciplined genius.
In like manner, the poetry of Cowper is characterised by the most touching tenderness, by the deepest sympathy with the sufferings of others, by a penetrating insight into the dark recesses of a tempted and troubled heart. But where are qualities such as these so likely to be cultivated as in the shady places of a suffering mind, and in the school of that stern mistress who teaches us “ from our own, to melt at others' woe,” and to administer to others the medicines which have healed ourselves? A celebrated physician is said to have inoculated himself with the virus of the plague, in order to practise with more efficacy in the case of others.