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In 1749, he was articled to an attorney for three years,-a profession the most unsuitable to Cowper, and consequently, although he served the period, and was afterwards entered of the Temple, yet he never practised the law as a profession. Literature had now engrossed his attention, and renewing his acquaintance with Churchill, Colman, (the elder,) and Bonnell Thornton, he contributed some papers to the Connoisseur for which others got the credit.
As the connections of Cowper were of the first respectability, he was at the age of thirty-four appointed one of the clerks to the House of Lords, but his extreme sensibility prevented his retaining the office; his constitution was weak, and had a tendency towards melancholy, which afterwards, indeed, brought on a species of insanity, and clouded the brilliant genius of Cowper. To dwell on this period of his life is to linger over infirmity and calamity the most heart-rending; nor were the incidents in the life of Cowper those which require a detailed recital. In 1765, he settled at Huntingdon, in the family of the Rev. Mr. Unwin; and when this gentleman died he continued to reside with his widow, one of the most amiable of her sex, at Olney, in Buckinghamshire, where he became acquainted with the Rev. John Newton, the author of the " Letters of Omicron."
It was not until the year 1782, that Cowper gave to the world a volume of his poems, and then it was published anonymously. The success which attended it induced him to succeed, and the result will be seen in the following pages; in addition to which he wrote a translation of Homer," in blank verse. The latter years of his life were those of mental derangement, with lucid intervals, marked generally by a resignation to the will of providence, and a fervency of devotion rarely equalled; at length, on the 25th of April, 1800, death released him of all his sufferings, and he died at Dereham, in Norfolk.
The poetical works of Cowper have been published in every variety of form, yet such is their popularity, that new editions are constantly called for. The one now offered to the public, combines economy with elegance; and is embellished with numerous engravings, from original designs, made expressly for the work. Some interesting notes from Cowper's Correspondence, as well as some additional Poems, are given in an Appendix, which render this edition the most complete that has hitherto appeared.
Si te fortè meæ gravis uret sarcina chartæ,
Hor. Lib. 1. Epist. 13.
A. You told me, I remember, "Glory, built On selfish principles, is shame and guilt; The deeds, that men admire as half-divine, Stark naught, because corrupt in their design." Strange doctrine this! that without scruple tears The laurel, that the very lightning spares; Brings down the warrior's trophy to the dust, And eats into his bloody sword like rust.
B. I grant that, men continuing what they are, Fierce, avaricious, proud, there must be war: And never meant the rule should be applied To him, that fights with justice on his side. Let laurels, drench'd in pure Parnassian dews, Reward his mem'ry, dear to ev'ry muse, Who, with a courage of unshaken root, In honour's field advancing his firm foot, Plants it upon the line that Justice draws, And will prevail or perish in her cause. "Tis to the virtues of such men, man owes His portion in the good that Heav'n bestows.
And when recording History displays
Feats of renown, though wrought in ancient days;
The wretch, to naught but his ambition true;
4. Tis your belief the world was made for man;