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LIFE OF W. COWPER, Esq.
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,
I llame not those who, with what çåre they
Ye once were justly funi'd, for bringing forth
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,
Though time will wear us, and we must grow old;
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,
V. 1, p. 118. of Not rich, I render what I may
I seize thy name in haste,
Lest this should prove the last.
Cowper to Mr. Unwin. V. 1, p. 294; 1 Old winter, halting o'er the mead,
Bids me and Mary mourn;
And wispers your return.
Shall chase him from the l'ou’rs,
To crown the smiling hours.
Of happier times, appear,
Invitation to Mr. Newton,
into the Country. V.1, p. 28W,