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SPECIMEN OF BURKE'S PROSE,
by this ungenerous attack, stands next to the "French Revolution' as a specimen of Burke's powerful style. Other works of his last years were Letters on a Regicide Peace and Observations on the Conduct of the Minority. At last he began to sink daily, for his heart was still bleeding for his son. In vain for four months the waters of Bath were tried.
He returned home to die,
and was laid in a vault under Beaconsfield Church, beside
the dust of his darling Richard.
It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in-glittering like the morning star, full of life, and splendour, and joy. Oh, what a revolution! and what a heart must I have to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of distant, enthusiastic, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever. Never, never more shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone! It is gone,-that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness.
If we compare our English literature to a beautiful garden, where Milton lifts his head to heaven in the spotless chalice of the tall white lily, and Shakspere scatters his dramas round him in beds of fragrant roses, blushing with a thousand various shades-some stained to the core as if with blood, others unfolding their fair pink petals with a lovely smile to the summer sun,-what shall we find in shrub or flower so like the timid, shrinking spirit of William Cowper, as that delicate sensitive-plant, whose leaves, folding up at the slightest touch, cannot bear even the brighter rays of the cherishing sun?
The Reverend Doctor John Cowper, a royal chaplain, the son of a judge, and the nephew of a lord-chancellor, was rector of Great Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire, when his son William was born there in 1731. A tender mother- a lady of the highest descent-watched the infancy and childhood of the boy. Her hand it was that wrapped his little scarlet cloak around him, and filled his little bag with biscuits, every morning before he went to his first school. By her knee was his happiest place, where he often amused himself by marking out the flowered pattern of her dress on paper with a pin, taking a child's delight in his simple skill. He was only six years old when this fond mother died; thus early upon the childish head a pitiless storm began to beat. More than fifty years after the day on which a sad little face, looking from the nursery window, had seen a dark hearse moy
STUDYING LAW WITH THURLOW.
ing slowly from the door, an old man, smitten with incurable madness but then enjoying a brief lucid interval, bent over a picture, and saw the never-forgotten image of that kindest earthly friend, from whom he had so long been severed, but whom he was so soon to join in the sorrowless land. There are no more touching and beautiful lines in English poetry or prose than Cowper's Verses to his Mother's Picture.
The circumstance to which his morbid nervousness and melancholy may most of all be traced, is full of warning for the young. The poor motherless boy of six was sent to a boarding-school at Market Street in Hertfordshire, where a senior pupil, whose brutality and cowardice cannot be too strongly condemned, led the child a terrible life for two years, crushing down his young spirit with cruel blows and bitter persecution. It was a happy release, when he was removed from this scene of misery to the house of an eminent oculist, for the treatment of his eyes, which the poor little fellow had probably cried into a state of violent inflammation. His seven years at Westminster School were less unpleasant to the timid boy, though there too he had to take his full share of buffeting and sneers.
The law being his appointed profession, he entered an attorney's office at eighteen, and there spent three years. This period and a few succeeding years formed almost the only spot of sunshine in the poet's life. Many a hearty laugh echoed through the gloomy office, where Cowper and his fellow-apprentice-afterwards LordChancellor Thurlow-made believe that they were studying the English law. Called to the bar in 1754, he lived for some time an idle, agreeable life, in his Temple chambers, writing a little for the serials of the day, and taking a share in the wit-combats of the "Nonsense Club," which consisted nearly altogether of Westminster men. It was during this part of his life that he fell in love with his cousin Theodora,—a passion the unfortunate issue of which gave a darker colouring to the naturally sombre spirit of the young lawyer.
A relative presented him in the year 1763 to a valuable clerkship in the Lords, which required the holder of the office to
FRIENDSHIP OF THE UNWINS.
appear frequently before the House. The idea of such a thing
A deep religious melancholy was the form of his mental disease an awful terror that his soul was lost for ever, beyond the power of redemption, hung in a thick night-cloud upon his life. Three times after the first attack the madness returned, for nearly four years previous to 1776-for about six months in 1787—and during his last six years, from 1794 to 1800.
The friendship of the Unwins was the great blessing of his life. At Huntingdon he became intimate with this kind family, then consisting of the Reverend Morley Unwin, his wife, son, and daughter; and the friendship grew so strong, that Cowper went in 1766 to live in their calm and cheerful home. 1766 The good clergyman was killed in the following year by a fall from his horse, and the widow and her daughter went to live at Olney in Buckinghamshire. Thither Cowper accompanied them, for he was now unalterably one of the quiet household.
Here the timid spirit nestled in a pleasant home. A walk with his dog by the reedy banks of the placid Ouse, to admire the white and gold of the water-lilies that floated on the deep stream -a round of visits to the cottages of the neighbouring poor-the composition of some hymns for his friend John Newton, the curate of the parish,-filled up his peaceful days for a time. But the terrible shadows were thickening again round his brain. A second fit of madness came in 1773, and all was dark for more than three years.
FIRST APPEARANCE AS A POET.
When light once more broke through the clouds, the need of some graver and more constant work made the man of fifty, who had already produced light occasional verses, take pen in hand, and sit down seriously to write a book of poems. For recreation he had his flowers, his pet hares, his landscape drawing, and his manufacture of bird-cages; but poetry now became the serious business of his life.
His first volume was issued in 1782. It contained three grave and powerful satires, Truth, Table-talk, and Expostulation, 1782 with poems on Error, Hope, Charity, and kindred subjects, written chiefly in pentameter rhymes. No great success rewarded this first instalment of Cowper's poetic toil; but at least two men, whose good opinion was worth more than gold, saw real merit in the modest book. Johnson and Franklin recognised in the recluse of fifty a true and eminent poet.
But higher efforts lay before the literary hermit. The widow of Sir Robert Austen, coming to live at Olney, soon became intimate with the melancholy Cowper. To cheer him, she told the story of John Gilpin, whose comical equestrianism became the subject of. a famous ballad. In this rattling tale and other minor pieces, as well as in numberless satiric and ironical touches scattered through the mass of his poems, we catch gleams of a sunny humour lurking below the shy and sensitive moods which wrapt the poet from public gaze. To Lady Austen, Cowper owed the origin of his greatest work, The Task. She asked him to write some blankverse, and playfully gave him the Sofa as a subject. Beginning a poem on this homely theme, he produced the six books 1785 of The Task, which took its name from the circumstances of its origin. From a humorous historical sketch of the gradual improvement of seats, the three-legged stool growing into the softly cushioned sofa, he glides into the pleasures of a country walk, and following out the natural train of thought, draws a strong contrast between rural and city life, lavishing loving praise upon the former. The second book, entitled The Time-piece, opens with a just and powerful denunciation of slavery, and proceeds to declare the blessings and the need of peace among the nations.