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MEMOIRS

OF THE

LIFE OF W. COWPER, Esq.

WITH

OBSERVATIONS ON HIS WRITINGS.

PERHAPS it has never before fallen to the lot of the biographer,

to contemplate a life so painfully interesting as that of the amiable author of The Task,

Mr. Cowper was born in 1722, at Berkhamstead in Ilertfordshire. His father, a respectable clergyman, and at that time in possession of the living of Berkhamstead, was immediately descended from the lord Chancellor Cowper. But the poet appears to have been particularly attached to his mother, a most excellent woman, of whose tenderness and assiduities he was by death very early deprived; this was a severe shock to the feelings of Cowper, and from which, indeed, he never perfectly recovered.

He was sent to Westminster school, preparatory to that course of study which it was designed he should complete at the university. Here, however, the natural timidity of his temper so much depressed him, that his friends saw the impropriety of attempting to transport him to scenes of augmented turbulence and anxiety;* and they entirely

*The reflections which were suggested to the mind of Mr.Cowper by a knowledge of public schools, are thụs :pointedly expressed in the Tirocinium.

There shall he learn, ere sixteen winters old,
That authors are most useful pawn'd or sold;
That perantry is all that schools impart;
But taverns teach the knowledge of the heart:
There waiter Dick, with lacchanalian làys,
Shall win his heart and have his drunken praise,
His counsellor and losom-friend shall prove;
And some street-pacing harlot his first love.

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I llame not those who, with what çåre they
O'erwatch the numerous and unruly clan;
Or if I blame, 'tis only that they dare
Promise a work of which they must despair.

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Ye once were justly funi'd, for bringing forth
Undoubted scholarship and genuine worth;
And in the firmament of fame still shines
A glory, bright as that of all the signs,
Of poeis rais'd ly you, and states men, and divines.
Peace to them all! those lrilliant times are fled,
And no such lights are kindling in their stead.
Our striplings shine, indeed, lut with such rays
As set the midnight riot in a blaze;
And seem, if judg'd ly their expressive looks,
Deeper in none than in their surgeons' books.

relinquished the plan of sending him to Oxford: he was, therefore, entered at the Temple, in order to prosecute those wishes and hopes which were still indulged by his connexions.

By a certain mode of arrangement, the patent place of clerk of the House of Lords had been reserved for Mr. Cowper; and to this appointment he was directed to look forward, as a station highly advantageous to himself, and honourable to his family. He had, while at Westminster, become intimate with Edward Thurlow,* who was afterwards promoted to the Woolsack; and, in addition to this, contracted several attachments with characters whose influence might have greatly accelerated his future advancement in the world. It was, therefore, natural that the hopes of his friends should be elevated to a high degree, nor is it surprising that they should suffer themselves to be blinded to those impediments which were likely to disappoint their expectations. Their delusion was not, however, of long duration. No reasonings, no entreaties, could overcome the aversion of Mr. Cowper, for what he denominated publick life; he even solicited madness, as a relief from the importunities of his friends, who, convinced of the folly of any longer persisting against nature and inclina. tion, at length relinquished their entreaties, and permitted him to retire into that seclusion, the desire of which was the ruling passion of his breast.

* Vide Mr. Cowper's elegant tribute to Lord Thurlou, p. 243 of the First Volume of his Poems.-Edit. 1800.

About this time, Mr. Cowper was first attacked by those religious convictions, which cast so deep a gloom over too many of his succeeding years. While harrassed by these impressions, he received a visit from Mr. Madan, * the celebrated author of Thelypthora, to whom he was related, and who explained to him the nature of christian repentance, regeneration, and faith ; but without the desired effect. On

* Many circumstances seem to warrant an opinion, that the following beautiful verses, in Mr. Cowper's Poem on Conversation, refer to Mr. Madan.

0!, I have seen-nor hope, perhaps, in vain,
Ere life go down, to see such sights again-
A Veteran Warrior in the Christian field,
Who never saw the sword he could not wield;
Grave without vulness, learned without pride,
Exact, though noi precise, though meek, kecn-ryed;
A man that would have foild at their own play,
A dozen would-be's of the modern day;
Who, when occasion justified its use,
Had wit as lright, as ready to produce,
Coulil fetch from records of an earlier age,
Or from philosophy's enlightened page,
His rich materials, and regale your ear
With strains it was a privilege to hear :
Yet, above all, his luxury supreme,
And his chief glory was the gospel theme;
There, he was copious as old Greece or Rome,
His happy eloquence was there at home,
Ambitious not to shine or to excel,
But to treat jusily what he lov'd so well

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Though time will wear us, and we must grow old;
Such men are not forgot as soon as cold.

an excursion to Dr. Cotton's, * at St. Albans, Mr. Cowper was, however, restored to serenity and peace. Soon after, he retired to Huntingdon, where he resided upwards of three years in the strictest friendship with the Rev. Mr. Unwin,t to whom he has addressed the Tirocinium. The death of Mr. Unwin inducing him again to change his residence, he removed to Olney, accompanied by that gentleman's widow.

AT Olney, he became acquainted with the Rev. Mr. Newton, I

* Perhaps, a grave physician, gathering fees,
Punctually paid for length’ning out disease;
No Cotton, whose humanity sheds rays
That make superior skill his second praise.

V. 1, p. 118. of Not rich, I render what I may

I seize thy name in haste,
And place it in this first essay,

Lest this should prove the last.
Tis where it should be-in a plan
That holds in view the good of man:

Cowper to Mr. Unwin. V. 1, p. 294; 1 Old winter, halting o'er the mead,

Bids me and Mary mourn;
But lovely spring peeps o'er his head,

And wispers your return.
Then April, with her sister May,

Shall chase him from the l'ou’rs,
And weave fresh garlands, every day,

To crown the smiling hours.
And if a tear, that speaks regret

Of happier times, appear,
A glimpse of joy, that we have met,
Shall shine and dry the tear.

Invitation to Mr. Newton,

into the Country. V.1, p. 28W,

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