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variations in shape, dress, and colour, of vanity and affectation, the real internal workings of nature, in the bosoms of human beings, have the strongest similitude. It is by pictures of this kind that the best knowledge is attained, and the most valuable quality of the memoirs of individuals discovered, These delineations afford the best topics for reflection and remark, and cannot be contemplated without deep improvement as well as pleasure. The ordinary incidents of personal history, those superficial events which give no insight into the feelings and sentiments of the individual, are of little attraction, and as little use. For this reason, those letters, which were never intended for the public eye; those effusions in moments of strong agitation, in which the emotions of the soul prevail over all form and ceremony and ostentation, constitute the most precious materials for the lives of eminent
But however easy it may seem to throw forth these patural and unaffected touches; to seize the primary, genuine, and unforced impressions of the head and the heart; it is a power which few have possessed at all, and still fewer in an exquisite degree. Yet there is a lately deceased author, who was most eminently endowed with this talent. I scarcely need mention the name of CowPER, who, in his Poems, and above all, in his Letters, has continually exhibited, by a few simple strokes of his pen, these affecting traits. We behold him with a mixture of humility and conscious innocence laying bare all the secrets of his breast, and pointing to all those amiable singularities and imbecilities, of which the discovery would have made more ordinary minds sbrink with abasenient. Well indeed does he illustrate how fearfully and wonderfully we are made ! In thought so vigorous; in action so timid and weak; in the closet so easy, fluent, natural, copious, and bold; in public so confused, overwhelmed, and dispossessed of himself! Delighted with the cheapest, purest, and most virtuous amusements, yet often losing the relish for every earthly occupation, sinking into the most immoveable gloom, and deprest by the horrors of imaginary despair. Thence, when the deranged chords of his exquisite frame had again recovered their tone, trembling with new sensibility at every breeze, throwing forth new notes of poetic rapture to every air of heaven, and rising, almost to the very last, into notes of music and inspiration, which will never cease to charm as long as our language exists !
When age and sorrow had at length seemed to plunge him into irrecoverable melancholy, when he took little notice of any thing around him, and appeared to labour under all the imbecilities of departed intellect, still he could occasionally write poetry. When he was as helpless as an infant, and had not spoke for days, and perhaps weeks, he still possessed, and occasionally exercised, that high faculty with which nature had pre-eminently endowed him; he could translate, he could write in Latin, and execute that kind of composition which is supposed to require the full command of the best and loftiest powers of his mind. When he sat mute and helpless, and as it seemed totally lost, day after day by the side of Lady Hesketh, as she
employed herself with unexampled kindness in transcribing the rough MSS. of his Homer for the press, still he could promptly resolve any difficulties she found in making out the copy, and had the memory of every passage ready at her call.
I must not pronounce the lot of Cowper on earth happy; but I cannot refrain from saying that I should have preferred it with all its miseries to ordinary felicity. I revere the talents and qualities, which Heaven bestowed on him, with an uncontrollable ardor which no worldly prudence, no cold ungenerous convictions of experience can weaken ; and I view the just reputation he attained, and the inexpressible gratification of having been adınitted to have possessed and exerted the charm of delighting the world by his poetry, not with envy, but with unabated love and admiration! It is true that such pursuits do not often gratify the mere ostentatious ambition of friends and relations; slights, and vulgar scorn and neglect are the most inevitable attendant of the bard among his neighbours; and the indulgencies, luxuries, and popular respect of wealth and rank and grandeur, which are generally considered the most substantial advantages, must not be hoped for. Yet I am unable to diminish my predilection for the empire of the mind! Many there might be, who, having risen by the exertion of coarser faculties, in the paths of public life, to the pinnacle of honours and riches, surveyed Cowper in his humble abodes at Olney or Weston with pity, or contempt, or rudeness ! But while these are already forgotten in the grave where their bones are mouldering with the dirt above which their base
spirits never rose, the voice of the poet is still speaking to all our hearts and fancies, we behold his illuminated countenance, we wander with him over the fields and woods; our souls expand with his sentiments; we moisten his tomb with our tears ; we guard his reliques with holy idolatry, and while his immortal part still hovers over us, we propitiate it in heaven!
But let us hear this humble, yet energetic, genius give a few touches of his own character.
1763. “Oh, my good cousin ! if I was to open my heart to you, I could shew you strange sights; nothing, I flatter myself, that would shock you, but a great deal that would make you wonder. I am of a very singular temper, and very unlike all the men that I have ever conversed with. Certainly I am not an absolute fool; but I have more weaknesses than the greatest of all the fools I can recollect at present. In short, if I was as fit for the next world, as I am unfit for this, and God forbid I should speak it in vanity, I would not change conditions with any saint in Christendom.I know not what you expect, but ever since I was born, I have been good at disappointing the most natural expectations. Many years ago, cousin, there was a possibility that I might prove a very different thing from what I am at present. My character is now fixt, and, between friends, is not a very splendid one, or likely to be guilty of much fascination."
1781. “What nature expressly designed me for, I have never been able to conjecture, I seem to myself so universally disqualified for the common and customary occupations and amusements of mankind. When I was a boy, I excelled at cricket and football ; but the fame. I acquired by achievements that way, is long since forgotten; and I do not know that I have made a figure in any thing since.”.
1780.,“ So long as I am pleased with an employment, I am capable of unwearied application, because my feelings are all of the intense kind; I never received a little pleasure from any thing in my life; if I am delighted it is in the extreme. The unhappy consequence of this temperature is that my attachment to any occupation seldom outlives the novelty of it. That nerve of my inagination, that feels the touch of any particular amusementy twangs under the energy of the pressure with so much vehemence, that it soon becomes sensible of weariness and fatigue. , Hence I draw an unfavour: able prognostic, and expect that I shall shortly be constrained to look out for something else” (than drawing). “Then perhaps I may string the harp again, and be able to comply with your demand.”
1782. 6. Caraccioli says, There is something very bewitching in authorship, and that he, who has once written will write again. It may be so I can subscribe to the former part of his assertion from my own experience, having never found an amusement, among the many I have been obliged to have recourse to, that so well answered the purpose for which I used it. The quieting and composing effect of it was such, and so totally absorbed bave I sometimes been in my rhiming occupation, that neither the past nor the future (those themes which to me are so fruitful in regret at other times) had any longer a share in my contemplation. For this reason