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favour this supposition ; and a writer in the Encyclopedia Britannica thought that he had found out the whole secret, when he jumped to the conclusion, that the theory of Christian jus* tification' which Cowper had adopted, was the source of all his alarming and distressful apprehensions; his natural disposition fitting him to receive all the horrors without the conso• lations of his faith.' There is nothing in Hayley's Memoirs, to say the least, to forbid this inference. Could we believe the Biographer to have been ignorant of his friend's early history and constitutional infirmity, we should imagine that this was his own opinion. Either he was not aware of all the facts that bore upon the case, or, knowing them, he withheld the information that would have obviated a most pernicious misapprehension. Either he mistook in supposing that religion was the exciting cause of Cowper's distemper, overlooking all the circumstances of the case which prove beyond contradiction the contrary, or he was not unwilling that Cowper's religious tenets should form as it were the apology for his mental aberration.
Now it is this false delicacy and disingenuousness on the part of the Biographer, that has rendered it necessary to expatiate on a topic which otherwise might have been thrown into the back-ground. Cowper's friends must thank Mr. Hayley, that it has ever been found necessary to lay bare his character to its very anatomy, in order to expose the erroneousness of the diagnosis which ascribed its morbid symptoms to his theological opinions. Our readers will recollect that we were among those who warmly deprecated the exposure to the public eye, of that agonizing memoir of his own case, (interesting as it is in a physiological or psychological respect,) which the amiable sufferer left behind him. We objected to it as an unfeeling violation of the secrets of the sepulchre, as a throwing open of the closet of the anatomist to the gape of the vulgar. But what was the plea set up for its publication? The' persuasion that its details would be the niost efficient * means of correcting certain false notions unfriendly to spiri• tual religion, which some have thought themselves sanctioned • in entertaining, by the vague and indistinct accounts which
were previously before the world.'* There ought not to have been given occasion for this plea. The memoir, in the hands of a man of philosophical mind and Christian principles, would have been invaluable as data for a just representation of all the
* See Eclectic Review, N. S. Vol. VI. p. 13. Art. Memoirs of Cowper.
phenomena of the case it describes, and some extracts might have been given from the manuscript, which would sufficiently have vouched for its correctness ; it was unpardonable not to inake this use of the document; but, this end being answered, it might then have been consigned to the sacred silence of the grave. We should have honoured the sensibility of the Biographer, if, having once · distinctly disclosed the nature and traced the origin of the malady, he had forborne to dwell on the fearful details. The case once understood, there would have been a stop put to the pryings of a prurient curiosity.
The fact is, however, that the offence which Cowper's Biographer was most sedulous to obviate, related as much to his religious character as to his physical ailments. There are persons who would far sooner tolerate a poet's being a madman, than his being a saint. That Cowper laboured under a very peculiar species of hypochondriasis, which left him the entire command of his faculties in reference to every subject but one, and that one subject himself, was so clearly understood, that there could be no pretence, on the score of delicacy, for suppressing the letters in this collection which allude to the false impression on his mind. The gloom which they bespeak, is not of a deeper shade than some of his published poems betray; in particular those exquisitely affecting stanzas entitled “The “ Castaway.” Nothing can be more touching than Cowper's story even as told by Hayley. Why then withhold these interesting illustrations of his history? We can conceive of no other reason, than because they exhibit what is far more repulsive to many of his admirers than insanity itself,--that practical sense of religion which is deemed a sort of madness. What this pious sufferer imagined that he had for ever lost, and was miserable because he despaired of regaining, was the presence and favour of God,-an object which the madness of ihe sane consists in despising. His concern would not have appeared less irrational to the irreligious, had no delusion existed in his mind to give it the character of despair. In fact, the period of his history at which he enjoyed, together with the 'unclouded sunshine of reason, the peace and joy of religion,—the interval from 1764 to 1773, during which he was most truly himself, is precisely that stage in which he retreats the furthest from the admiration of worldly-minded persons. It was then that his genuine character broke through the mists and shadows which veiled alike his morning and his sunset, and he appeared the cheerful and affectionate, though timid. and retiring man, the devout and elevated being which religion had made him. But it was then, too, that he appeared to many of his relatives the most mad, though, if his own account may
be taken, he was not only sane, but happy. With precisely the same theological views that he retained through the remainder of his life, he derived only comfort from religion, and this during a period more than sufficient to develop their characteristic influence. And when he became subsequently the victim of that afflictive hallucination, he could not avoid acknowledging, that his gloomy persuasion was at variance with every article of his creed, and he was driven to regard himself as an inexplicable exception to his own principles.
One of the most striking letters in this collection, is that addressed to the Rev. Mr. Newton, March 14, 1782, in which he comments on the closely analogous case of the learned Simon Browne, who imagined that the thinking faculty within him was annihilated by the immediate hand of an avenging God. • My Dear FRIEND,
I was not unacquainted with Mr. B—'s extraordinary case, before you favoured me with his letter and his intended dedication to the Queen, though I am obliged to you for a sight of those two curiosities, which I do not recollect to have ever seen till you sent them. I could, however, were it not a subject that would make us all melancholy, point out to you some essential differences between his state of mind and my own, which would prove mine to be by far the most deplorable of the two. I suppose no man would despair, if he did not apprehend something singular in the circumstances of his own story, something that discriminates it from that of
every other man, and that induces despair as an inevitable consequence. You may encounter his unhappy persuasion with as many instances as you please, of persons who, like him, having renounced all hope, were yet restored ; and may thence infer that he, like them, shall meet with a season of restoration--but it is in vain. Every such individual accounts himself an exception to all rules, and therefore the blessed reverse that others have experienced, affords no ground of comfortable expectation to him. But you will say, it is reasonable to conclude that, as all your predecessors in this vale of misery and horror have found themselves delightfully disappointed at last, so will you :-) grant the reasonableness of it; it would be sinful, perhaps, because uncharitable, to reason otherwise ; but an argument hypothetical in its nature, however rationally conducted, may lead to a false conclusion; and in this instance, so will yours. But I forbear. For the cause above-mentioned I will say no more, though it is a subject on which I could write more than the mail would carry. I must deal with you as I deal with poor Mrs. Unwin in all our disputes about it, cutting all controversy short by an appeal to the event.-W. C.'
The melancholy ingenuity with which a disordered mind can baffle all argument, was never perhaps so strikingly displayed. Here is an admission, or rather an anticipation, of every thing
that could be urged to shew the irrationality of despair; the Writer seems all but conscious that his own persuasion was a delusion; and yet the impression remains-it will not yield to the force of logic. How can a man be reasoned out of what he admits to be irrational, but still feels or fancies to be real? In another letter to the same invaluable friend, at the beginning of 1784, he thus pours forth the anguish of his feelings, sensible that the cause must appear to others imaginary, and that the doctrines of religion forbade his despair. • My Dear FRIEND,
• The new year is already old in my account. I am not, indeed, sufficiently second-sighted to be able to boast by anticipation an acquaintance with the events of it yet unborn, but rest convinced that, be they what they may, not one of them comes a messenger of good to me. If even death itself should be of the num. ber, he is no friend of mine. It is an alleviation of the woes even of an unenlightened man, that he can wish for death, and indulge a hope, at least, that in death he shall find deliverance. But, loaded as my life is with despair, I have no such comfort as would result from a supposed probability of better things to come, were it once ended, For, more unhappy than the traveller with whom I set out, pass through what difficulties I may, through whatever dangers and aftlictions, I am not a whit the nearer home, unless a dungeon may be called 80. This is no very agreeable theme, but, in so great a dearch of subjects to write upon, and especially impressed as I am at this moment with a sense of my own condition, I could choose no other. The weather is an exact emblem of my mind in its present state. A thick fog envelops every thing, and at the same time it freezes intensely, You will tell me that this cold gloom will be succeeded by a cheerful spring, and endeavour to encourage me to hope for a spiritual change resembling it ;-but it will be lost labour. Nature revives again ; but a soul once slain lives no more. The hedge that has been apparently dead, is not so; it will burst into leaf and blossom at the appointed time; but no such time is appointed for the stake that stands in it. It is as dead as it seems, and will prove itself no dissembler. The latter end of next month will complete a period of eleven years in which I have spoken no other language. It is a long time for a man whose eyes were once opened, to spend in darkness; long enough to make despair an inveterate habit, and such it is in me. My friends, I know, expect that I shall see yet again. They think it neeessary to the existence of Divine truth, that he who once had possession of it, should never finally lose it. I admit the solidity of this reasoning in every case but my own. And why not in my own? For causes which to them it appears madness to allege, but which rest upon my mind with a weight of immoveable conviction. If I am recoverable, why Am I thus? Why crippled and made useless in the church, just at that time of life when, my judgement and experience being matured, I might be most useful? Why cashiered and turned out of service, till, according to the course of nature, there is not life enough left in me
to make amends for the years I have lost ; till there is no reasonable hope left that the fruit can ever pay the expense of the fallow! I forestal the answer :-God's ways are mysterious, and he giveth no account of his matters :-an answer that would serve my purpose as well as theirs that use it. There is a mystery in my destruction, and in time it shall be explained.-Yours, W. C.'
“ In all this," we may truly say in the language of holy writ, “ he sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” Perhaps there never was a finer instance of filial submission to the Divine will, than is here exhibited, under the heaviest visitation that can befal an intelligent being. The sufferer does not indeed say, “ If he slay me, yet will I trust in him,” because the idea which overspread and eclipsed his mind, forbade the possibility of such a trust. But, wild and irrational as was the supposition, the surrender of soul was not less implicit, the resignation not less real and exemplary, which in effect said, Though he damn me, yet, I will justify him. Cowper's despair was, in fact, a purely physical sensation. He had not been led into it by any mental process; it was not a conclusion at which he. had arrived by the operation of either reason or conscience; for it was unconnected with any one tenet or principle which he held. It had fallen upon him as a visitation, and he struggled with it as with an incubus, half suspecting that it was a phantom that seemed to weigh him down, but still it was there; and he here argues from its continuance to its reality. IfI • am recoverable, why am I thus ?' The sensation was real : it could not be reasoned away, any more than can a head-ache or a fit of the stone. It was as clearly a case of hypochondriasis, as those instances in which the patient has fancied himself a tea-pot, or a sack of wool, or has imagined his thinking substance destroyed. Cowper's only seemed to be a more rational impression: that it was not really so, is evident from the specific nature of the idea on which he fixed, namely, that he was excluded from salvation for not having committed suicide. That this idea produced his melancholy, no one who deserves to be himself considered as rational, can pretend : it was his melancholy which produced the idea. Religion could not have given birth to it, nor could it have survived one moment the presence of distemper. The patient more than half sus. pected at times that disease was the cause of all his mental suffering; but he could not know it, the impossibility of discerning between what is delusive and what is real, constituting the very essence of the disease : that knowledge would bave involved his being sane on the very point to which his irrationality was limited; he would then have been well. It is observable, that he never attempts to give a reason for his despair,