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exerted to obtain a subsistence for him. His friends were powerful, and they succeeded in procuring for him the lucrative offices of Reading Clerk and Clerk of the Private Committees in the House of Lords. But his insuperable timidity disqualified him for the discharge of the duties attached to these places; and he did not hesitate to resign them. Indulgent to his weakness, the kindness of his powerful friends was still active in his favour; and they soon stationed him as Clerk of the Journals, in the same House of the Legislature; an office in which it was. supposed that his personal appearance before the assembled lords would not be required. This supposition, however, accidentally proving erroneous; and his presence being demanded that his fitness for his new duties might be ascertained, poor Cowper shrank from the trial; and, after a most painful struggle, which affected the sanity of his mind, he relinquished his place, and, with it, his last hope of worldly affluence. The state of disordered intellect, into which he now immediately fell, was of so decided a character as to make his removal to the care of Doctor Cotton, a scientific and benevolent physician resident at St. Albans, a measure of paramount necessity. By the skilful and tender management, which he experienced during eighteen months under the roof of this worthy man, our poet was sufficiently recovered to be reinstated in the community of social life. For general society, however, he felt himself to be unfit; and he retired to Huntingdon, without, as it would appear, any particular motives to determine his preference, for privacy and quiet. Here he soon became acquainted with the amiable family of the Unwins; and, the acquaintance growing into mutual attachment, he was admitted, about the close of 1765, as a boarder into their house; in which situation he found all the tranquillity which his diseased
mind required, and all the enjoyment of which it was susceptible. If the intellectual malady of Cowper were not originally induced, it was certainly exasperated by the influence of perverted religion; and the heavenly balm of the wounded spirit, the great solace and the sole support of human wretchedness, became, with an altered nature, to our afflicted poet his torment and his bane. His disorder, however, admitted of frequent and long intermissions; and, for a considerable time after his departure from the college (as Dr. Cotton's house at St. Alban's was usually called), the vision of his mind seems to have been correct, and peace-the peace of God to have resided in his bosom. During this happy season, religion was in her proper office with him, pouring nectar into his cup, and making it to sparkle with life. But the religion of Cowper most unhappily was Calvinistic: and if the Christian faith be ever dangerous to the weakness of the human intellect, it is when this pure and kind faith is arrayed in darkness and in terrors not its own by the spirit of the gloomy Calvin.
The little family, in which our poet was now sheltered, consisted of Mr. Unwin, a clergyman, who received pupils into his house, his wife, Mrs. Unwin, an excellent and intelligent woman, an unmarried daughter, and a son, who was a student at Cambridge; and who, by soliciting and meriting the intimacy of Cowper, had first attracted him to the house of the Unwins. In the society of these amiable persons, into which Mr. Newton, a Calvinistic clergyman, the curate of the neighbouring parish of Olney, was received as a daily visitor and a confidential friend, our poet passed the brightest days of his sad and overshadowed life.
In 1767, the death of Mr. Unwin, in consequence of a fall from his horse, brought affliction into this little party; and, soon after this melancholy occur
rence, Mrs. Unwin removed to Olney with her family and with Cowper, who now constituted one of its inseparable members. Here his religious passion was fed by Mr. Newton, and here the friendship between these two zealous Christians became the more closely cemented. Here also did the unremitted and affectionate attentions of Mrs. Unwin to her interesting invalid gain a firmer hold upon his esteem, till he gave to her peculiar worth its full claim to the gratitude and the homage of his heart.
In the February of 1770 he was summoned to Cambridge to attend the death-bed of his beloved brother, the Rev. John Cowper, who expired in his arms on the twentieth of the succeeding month; and from the shock of this impressive scene he returned immediately to the consoling friendships and devotions of Olney.
Young Unwin was now ordained and had given himself to the church; and his sister had passed by marriage from her mother's into another family. The domestic party of Mrs. Unwin was, consequently, reduced to Cowper and herself; and it cannot surprise us that, under these circumstances, the attachment between these worthy characters, strengthened as it had been by a long mutuality of kind offices, should induce an offer of marriage from one of the parties and an acceptance of it from the other. But the completion of their union was disappointed by the relapse of the unhappy Cowper into that dreadful state of diseased mind from which he had in a great degree emerged during his residence with the Unwins. The attack of the malady, in the present instance, was fearfully severe; and, during seven years, it pressed upon the wretched man with unmitigated force. If it subsequently relented, it never wholly withdrew; but continued to depress and harass its victim to the last moment of
his mortal existence. Throughout this weary and afflictive period, the virtuous and the devout Cowper conceived himself to be under the Divine wrath, and to be the destined subject of everlasting punishment. To his diseased vision the heavens seemed to be clothed in perpetual black; and the Sovereign throne of Mercy to be filled by an implacable tyrant, inaccessible to prayer, and to whom it was even impious to lift the voice or the soul in supplication for pardon. In this most disastrous condition the miserable Cowper was incessantly tended by the faithful affection of Mrs. Unwin; and all the assistance and consolation, of which his case would admit, were supplied by the tender cares of this admirable woWhen the paroxysm of his disorder remitted, she strongly importuned him to exert his talents in compositions, for the purpose of diverting the melancholy of his mind; and, yielding to her persuasions, he produced in succession the poems which are severally entitled 'The Progress of Error,' 'Truth,' Expostulation,'' Hope,'' Charity,' 'Conversation,' and Retirement.' From the period of his retiring to Huntingdon his pen had hitherto been exercised only in the writing of hymns: but it was now discovered to be equal to higher efforts; and in 1781 its productions, united in a volume, were communicated to the public. In the autumn of the same year commenced his acquaintance and friendship with Lady Austen, the widow of Sir Robert Austen; who came at this time to reside with a sister of hers, at Clifton in the neighbourhood of Olney. From the conversation and cheerfulness of this accomplished and fascinating woman, the melancholy of our afflicted poet experienced much alleviation—more certainly than it had previously derived from all the theology of his Calvinistic friends. On a story supplied by her, he wrote his humorous and popular
ballad of John Gilpin; and it was on her suggestion that he undertook and executed his principal poem, 'The Task.' She, also, induced him, for the more durable, if not the more strenuous, occupation of his mind, to engage in the translation of Homer. But his beneficial intercourse with this lady was too soon interrupted by the very natural jealousy of Mrs. Unwin; and, in rigid accommodation to the feelings of his old faithful friend and tender nurse, he declined at once and for ever the visits of Lady Austen. The sacrifice, however, which he thus made to principle, was of great price; and it proved, in no small degree, injurious to his mental health. Happily, indeed, he still applied himself to the translation of Homer, on which he had begun in the November of 1784; and, from this resolute exertion of his faculties, his spirits acquired so much strength as to enable him to admit the society of a select few, and to blend freely in their conversation. But 'hæsit lateri fatalis arundo' —the death of his enjoyments still fatally adhered to him, and exhausted the life-spring of his heart.
In the June of 1785 the publication of the second volume of his poems, including 'The Task,' greatly extended his poetic reputation; and it excited, also, the attention of his family, from which he seems to have been withdrawn since the first occurrence of his deplorable disorder. The following year was distinguished among the uneventful years of our poor recluse's life, by the meeting, after a separation of three and twenty years, between him and his affectionate relation, Lady Hesketh. She was the daughter of his uncle, Mr. Ashley Cowper, and the widow of Sir Thomas Hesketh; and she alone of all our poet's kindred appears uniformly to have retained him in her friendly recollection. She had occasionally corresponded with him; and she had lately resigned a portion of her own income for the enlarge