Page images















846 & 348 BKOADWAT.


This is the only edition of Cowper which contains the whole of his Poems in one pocKit volume.



Trb misfortunes of high-minded, but suffering genius, have the strongest of all claims upon our sympathies. Men of fine intellect are more exposed than any other class to the attacks of adversity, because they are less ready at providing the means of defence. They have a trust, a strong and powerful trust, in their own peculiar sources of happiness. The bright creations cf their imagination keep them in a gay and summer Eden of delight, and they rest contented in the lmmry of their thoughts, till the coldness of the world in which they are rouses them to a sense of loneli&m or dependence. That which other men are onjy in their youth, men of genius are to their latest '/ays, living on hopes which are not to be fulfilled, and direamftng on things which do not exist. But it vi to the spirit that thus wanders, and mistakes tb.e avnirance of its own thoughts for the substanre of existence, that the world owes its best meana -^f fel.'iity, *ni humanity its noblest developement. *>>,'• ui'tcnrcvra and princes when they suffer, suffer only as mei;, but the sensitive and imaginative author feels the stings of misfortune like the being of another world, like one who was destined to be a teacher upon earth, but has found his calling neglected and despised—a spirit too noble to change its nature, but too weak not to feel the bitterness of its fate. The adversities to which men of talent are exposed, arefalways thus afflicting, and in most cases destructive r>i cherrTery being, but there is a species of evil to whiph more than one child of genius has been subjected, that throws a still darker cloud upon their path, and invests them with a glo^m which makes all other afflictions seem light and taierable. To havs the mind itself made prisoner —the faculties that delight in their free and un< hesitating course bound up in a dark and heavy melancholy—and the thoughts converted into hideous shapes the moment they rise in the soul—This is to suffer indeed—to pay a price for genius which would he far too high for any other possession.

The life of Cowper is a melancholy chapter in the history of the human mind. But it is fraught with interest of a peculiar kind, and when rightly considered gives rise to a train of reflections which, painful as they may be, leave an impression on the mind partaking more of the nature of tranquillized sorrow than of despondency.

This great and afflicted poet was born at Berkhampstead, November 26th, 1731. His father was rector of that place, and Chaplain to his Majesty George the Second. The family of the Cowpers was one of the oldest .a the kingdom, and numbered among its members several men distinguished for their virtues and their talents.v The great uncle and grandfather of the poet had been both raised to the peerage for their distinguished legal abilities, and the latter, who died in the year 1728, united in himself the offices of Chief Justice of Chester, and of a judge in the court of Common Pleas. The subject of our memoir was from his earliest youth a prey to ill health, and gave signs, it is said, in infancy of that nervous sensibility which, as his years increased, gradually assumed the character of a morbid melancholy. This natural tendency of his constitution was considerably strengthened by its being unfortunately deemed necessary to send him, at a very early age; t£ a distance from home. Delicate as he was, both in mind and person, neither a school nor a boardir.g-AO'ase was likely to improve his health, or give greater elasticity to his spirits. He had not a sufficient stock of either, to meet the quick demand that is made for them, amid a set of joyous and robust boys, and his little depressed heart ehrunk back, in mere self-defence, against his un*ympathising companions. * I have been/ said he, in after years still remembering the miseries of Jhja youth,«all my life subject to inflammations of the eye, and in my boyish days had specks on both, that threatened to cover them. My father, alarmed for the consequences, sent me to a female oculist of great renown at that time, in whose house I abode two years, but to no good purpose. From her I went to Westminster school, where, at the age of fourteen, the small-pox seized me, and proved the better oculist of the two, for it delivered me from them all ;* but it did not render him better qualified to bear with a good grace the bitter annoyances to which he was subject, and we find him declaring that his timidity made him a constant object of persecution to his unfeeling school-fellows.

Cowper remained at Westminster till he was eighteen, and, notwithstanding the unfitness of his character for a public school, left it with the reputation of an excellent and accomplished classic. But the whole of his early life appears to have been misdirected, not, as Mr. Hayley says, by a perverse destiny; but by a most culpably erroneous judgment in those who had the superintendence of his education. It must have been evident to the most inconsiderate observer, that the only chance he had of gaining strength, or of possessing a sufferable existence, was his being allowed to pass his life in tranquillity and retirement. But, in defiance of every warning, which all the eighteen years of his life had given, he was devoted to the study of the law, and made to place his hopes of fortune on the exercise of a profession which must every hour do violence to his character. Notwithstanding his unfitness for the pursuit, he was immediately on leaving Westminster articled to Mr. Chapman, a soli^itoi^jn whose house he resided for three years, gwnkig'&e love of every one around him by the gentleness' of his manners, and amiable temper, but still suffering deeply from that incipient melancholy which was secretly ruining his mind.

Having completed the term for which he wa* articled to Mr. Chapman, he took chambers in the Temple for the purpose of finishing his studies as a

« PreviousContinue »