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Gradually the malady from which he had previously suffered returned, and in January 1773 Cowper had become decidedly insane. He was then unwilling to enter Mr. Newton's house, but having been persuaded to stay one night, he refused altogether to leave. Mrs. Unwin was his unwearied nurse and attendant by day and night, unmindful of her own health or the remarks of the uncharitable ; and with great gentleness and skill she ministered to her diseased friend. Mr. Newton, too, was most kind and patient, though, when weeks were prolonged into months, and Cowper still persisted in staying, the means of the good minister were considerably burdened. After remaining more than a year, Cowper decided to leave as suddenly as he had resolved to stay. For some time after, his terrible illness continued to oppress him ; but then he got sufficiently better to take an interest in life, and especially in some leverets that grew up under his care, and which he immortalised in Latin and in English, in prose and in verse. Mr. Newton was at length removed to London, and it was then that Mrs. Unwin succeeded in persuading Cowper to attempt some work of more consequence than any which he had at present produced. She suggested “The Progress of Error,” and as it gave him the opportunity for the exercise of his powers of satire, he found in it a considerable amount of pleasure. This was soon followed by “Truth,” “Table Talk,” and “Expostulation,” the four poems containing about two thousand five hundred lines, and these, with a few select small pieces, were enough to make a book. Mr. Newton undertook to find a publisher, who was forthcoming in the person of Joseph Johnson, of St. Paul's Churchyard. Cowper found the waiting for the appearance of his book very long, but the tedium was relieved by an acquaintance that he then made. He observed two ladies in a shop, and very much liking the appearance of one, he requested Mrs. Unwin to invite her and her friend to tea. Lady Austin, the widow of a baronet, was one, and the other was her sister, Mrs. Jones, the wife of a clergyman. It was strange that so shy a man should make such a request ; but the invitation was accepted, and Cowper, whose shyness returned, had yet to compel himself to talk to Lady Austin. But he was so delighted with her that he felt for her soon the most profound regard, and the vivacity and sprightliness of the lady became more to him than medicine, notwithstanding that they soon had a quarrel, and were reconciled. In a letter to Mr. Unwin, he said—“From a scene of the most uninterrupted retirement we have passed at once snto a state of constant engagement. Not that our society is much multiplied : the addition of an individual has made all this difference. Lady Austin and we pass our days alternately at each other's chateau. In the morning I walk with one or other of the ladies, and in the afternoon wind thread. Thus did Hercules, and thus, probably, did Samson, and thus do I ; and were both those heroes living, I should not fear to challenge them to a trial of skill in that business, or doubt to beat them both.” It was Lady Austin who related to Cowper the story of John Gilpin, which had been told to her in her childhood, and which amused the poet, as it has since done thousands of his readers. It was on one occasion, when his melancholy was returning, that she related the history, and he told her next morning that he had been kept awake the greater part of the night by thinking and laughing at it, and that he had turned it into a ballad. The ballad was sent to Mr. Unwin, and subsequently found its way into a print called the Public Advertiser. It was to Lady Austin that Cowper was indebted for the ideas of several of his poems. His dirge for the Royal George was written to suit an air which she often played on the harpsichord. A very different piece, almost matching “John Gilpin” in its playfulness, was also suggested by an incident in which Lady Austin was one of the actors—“The Distressed Travellers, or Labour in Vain.” But, best of all, Lady Austin it was who induced Cowper to try his powers in blank verse. She urged him so often that at last he said he would if she gave him the subject. She replied, “Oh, you can never be in want of a subject ; you can write upon anything—write upon this sofa.” He at once decided that he would do so, and The Task was commenced in the summer of 1783. But it was The Task, according to Cowper's own words, that brought the friendship between the three—Lady Austin, Mrs. Unwin, and the poet—to a close. Some biographers have endeavoured to suggest that the two women were jealous of each other—that Mrs. Unwin had wished to marry the poet, and Lady Austin wanted to marry him herself; but there is no proof whatever of this—the proof, indeed, is altogether to the contrary. Cowper found that the friendly attention he paid took more time than he could give. “I was forced to neglect The Task to attend upon the Muse who had inspired the subject ; ” besides which, Lady Austin's health was not good, and on that account it became desirable that she should leave Olney, which she did. In the meantime Cowper's first volume had been read and duly criticised. His style was so new that it took the public some little time to make up its mind respecting it. Some of the Reviews praised, and others regarded the poems doubtfully ; but those whose judgment was the most to be depended upon were the most delighted. The utter absence of the sentimentalism which was then the rage was regarded by some as the absence of all poetry; but others felt that a new era had commenced, and that Cowper was destined to exert no inconsiderable influence upon the literature of the time. The first volume did not contain the greatest proofs of his genius : there is frequently more rhetoric than poetry in “Table Talk” and the “Progress of Error:” and “Truth,” though it contains many fine lines, has much in it that is commonplace. The poet's mind grew stronger as he proceeded. “Expostulation,” “Hope,” and “Charity,” though strongly tinged with the religious impressions made upon him by his intercourse with Mr. Newton, are as good to read in our day as when they were written more than a hundred years ago; nor has the satire lost its keen edge even yet. “Retirement” exhibits greater genius than the others of the series. In it Cowper's own taste found expression, for he delighted

“To mark the matchless workings of the Power
That shuts within the seed the future flower,
Sends Nature forth, the daughter of the skies,
To dance on earth and charm all human eyes.”

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