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*The Title, Contents, and Index, will be given in the Number for March. Our Readers are requested to excuse the postponement.



FOR MARCH, 1824.

Art. 1. Private Correspondence of William Cowper, Esq. with several

of his most intimate Friends. Now first published from the Originals in the Possession of his Kinsman, John Johnson, LL.D. Rector of Yaxham with Welborne in Norfolk. In two Volumes.

8vo. pp. xxiv, 728. (2 Portraits) Price 11. 8s. London. 1824. W E suppose that there is now but one opinion as to the

utter unfitness of Cowper's Biographer for the office which he assumed. It proved a lucrative one to himself, and the poor Poet had, in his friend William Hayley, a rich legatee. But, within the circle of his private friends, an individual could scarcely have been selected, less qualified to do justice to the memory of Cowper, whom, in his best days, he never knew, whose character he could not appreciate, and with whose inmost feelings he could have no sympathy. If we have a reader who retains a doubt on this point, the present publication will, we think, remove it. The letters contained in these volumes were equally submitted,' we are told, to the 'selecting hand of Mr. Hayley;' and without going the length of condemning him for not inserting the whole, (for many might unquestionably have been suppressed without any serious loss to the public,) it is impossible to account for his rejecting a large proportion of them, on any supposition creditable either to his head or to his heart. The reason of their being excluded, is, however, obvious : they would have shewn the want of fidelity in the Biographer. Their insertion would not have comported with that studied concealment of the morbid peculiarities of Cowper's mind, which a sickly delicacy or an unmanly fear of giving offence led him to adopt, and to which must be ascribed the prevalence of the most unfounded and prejudicial notions respecting the true source of Cowper's singular and afflictive malady. The present Editor adverts to this conduct on the part of Mr. Hayley, in the mildest terms. Vol. XXI. N. S.


• There are,' he says, 'many letters addressed to Mr. Newton, with two or three to Mr. Bull, on the subject of religion, which, though not of general application, but confined to its aspect on the mind of the writer, were decidedly worthy of Mr. Hayley's insertion ; and the more so, indeed, on that very account, his concern, as biographer, being rather with the individual than with the community. But these, out of tenderness to the feelings of the reader, I'am persuaded, and for the gloominess they attach to the Writer's mind, he has utterly excluded. In doing this, however, amiable and considerate as his caution must appear, the gloominess which he has taken from the mind of Cowper, has the effect of involving his character in obscurity. People read the Letters with the Task in their recollection, (and vice versa,) and are perplexed. They look for the Cowper of each in the other, and find him not. The correspondency is destroyed. Hence the character of Cowper is undetermined ; mystery hangs over it; and the opinions formed of him are as various as the minds of the inquirers.'

This is perfectly just; only that, with regard to the Biographer's tenderness to the feelings of his readers, we are tempted to employ the expressive monosyllable by which Mr. Burchell intimates his provoking incredulity in the Vicar of Wakefield. Mr. Hayley, no doubt, wished to present his distinguished friend under what he judged the most advantageous aspect,--as the poet Cowper, such as Romney has portrayed him, with only that slight shade of melancholy thrown into the expression, that might give the effect of an interesting pensiveness, and only those faint traces of indisposition which might touch the reader's sympathy, without drawing upon his pity. That tasteful night-cap wonderfully aided the desired impression; and therefore, Cowper was to be exhibited only in that costume, although the picture by Abbot, from which the portrait in the present work is engraved, is much more characteristic, and is esteemed by far the best likeness; it is, moreover, excellently painted; but, alas! it exhibits the Author of the Task, habited like an ordinary gentleman of the day, and wearing, in place of the cap, a wig! Now if even Dr. Johnson's wig could not gain admittance into St. Paul's cathedral, it being deemed indispensable to Romanize the venerable inhabitant of Bolt Court before a tolerable statue could be made of the uncouth original, we need not marvel that Cowper's wig was deemed by his sentimental Biographer, quite incompatible with the effect which he sought to produce by his ideal portrait of the recluse of Weston. We could have forgiven, however, the suppression of the wig;--though worthy Mr. Wilson of Olney had a good right to be hurt at the ill compliment tacitly paid to his professional

skill; yet, out of tenderness to the feelings of the reader, we could have tolerated the concealment of this humiliating infirmity in the Poet, had the sacrifice of truth and nature to effect been carried no further than the outward man. But the same motive led Mr. Hayley to alter the whole story of Cowper's life, and to give a false view of his character. He could not endure the thought, that the Author of the Task, his friend, should be known to have been insane. He seems to have feared that it would tarnish the lustre of the Poet's name, were the secret divulged, that the mind of one who could so rule the harp of poetry as to command the feelings of others, was itself, according to his own affecting image, a harp unstrung. But this consideration, if allowed to have any other infuence than that of leading him to touch the subject with all the delicacy of friendship, should have deterred him altogether from writing and publishing the Memoirs. There was no necessity imposed upon him. Had the life of Cowper been deemed a tale unfit for the public ear, it might have been left untold. But this, the Biographer's vanity would have endured no better than the disclosure of the whole truth; and he therefore adopted the middle course,--which, when speaking the truth and saying nothing are the alternatives to be escaped from, is seldom either an honest or a wise one,-that of adapting both the selection of letters and the statement of circumstances to the imperfect view which he has given of Cowper's mental history.

It was inevitable that this ill-judged attempt at concealment should eventually produce an effect the very opposite to what was intended. Cowper's malady was not a secret : he had himself alluded to it in the poem on Retirement, in language which few readers could misinterpret; and it was impossible to avoid all reference to it in the Memoirs. But the mystery which was suffered to hang over the subject, only served the more to excite curiosity, and to draw attention to the subject. In reference to all cases of this afflictive nature, there is an invariable propensity which prompts persons busily to inquire the supposed cause; and there is a prejudice which disposes them to believe that there must always be a moral cause for this species of bodily ailment; and of all assignable causes of this description, love or religion is the first that suggests itself. Now as it was not generally known, that Cowper had ever exhibited these morbid symptoms before he was somewhat too old to become the victim of disappointed love, it was a natural conclusion, that his gloomy religion was the cause of all his suffering. The methodism and • mysticism' with which his poems are tinctured, seemed to

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