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called it by gentle names, or softened it by circumlocutions. The great body of Cowper's correspondence and papers was submitted to his inspection, that he might seleciwbat he deemed illustrative of his life, character, and writings, and honorable to his memory. The rule he prescribed for himself in the use of his materials, has a little of the sentimental and fastidious air, which is to be seen in his writings; but it shows tenderness to the good fame of his friend, a profound reverence for his character, and a sense of his own responsibleness in the discharge of a delicade office. “In the whole course of this work,” he says, “ I have endeavoured to recollect, on every doubtful occasion, the feelings of Cowper ; and made it a rule to reject whatever my perfect intimacy with those feelings could lead me to suppose the spirit of the departed poet might wish me to lay aside as unfit for publica
Hayley could not see that the public had any more concern with what was going on in a madman's cell than ordinarily in a sick man's chamber ; or why, because Cowper was a great moral poet, it was therefore important to give a minute history of his life at a time when he was mentally and spiritually sick or dead. A mere medical report of an important
. case of mental disease cannot be too minute, whether we consider the patient's restoration, or the light that may be thrown on a class of maladies. But in a merely biographical view, he thought it every way advisable to give the least painful representation of the poet which he could give with honesty. Accordingly, he passed over most of the particulars of Cowper's remarkable Narrative of his early years and first attack of madness; bis repeated attempts upon his own life ; his melancholy communications with the poor schoolmaster at Olney, to know what was the divine will and purpose concerning him : and while he intiinated, more or less clearly, the visitations of insanity or depression, he said nothing of the fact, that for nearly thirty years before his death, his friend was rarely, if ever, relieved from the harrowing conviction that God had forsaken him for ever, because he had failed to offer up his life, when he knew that Heaven demanded the sacrifice, and had given him power to accomplish the act of obedience. Hence his ceasing from all “attendance upon public and domestic worship and from every attempt at private prayer,” till madness in a different form tempted him to try, and try in vain, what prayer could do for him.
In a series of Letters, published by his kinsman, J. Johnson, about twelve years since, we have Cowper's communications to Newton respecting the horrors of his spiritual condition, and which Hayley had rejected. The “Memoir of his Early Life," written by himself, and before referred to, had been published a few years earlier. These, with still added disclosures of a later date, have probably informed us of all that Hayley omitted, and, it may be hoped, of all the forms of mental agony which this suffering man was called to pass through.
We know not that any general rule of selection and exclusion can be laid down to regulate posthumous publication. Hayley, in following a rule which he made for himself, may have been over-scrupulous ; while others, in printing every thing they could lay hands on, may be charged with rudeness or indiscretion. To speak from our own feelings, we must say, that we see reasons to condemn, and none to justify, the publication of a considerable part of what may be called Cowper's secret history, or that of his insane delusions. The most obvious objections are, that it is calculated, with many other stimulating kinds of composition, to create or minister to a false appetite and taste, and to give an imperfect and false idea of the man, even though every thing put down be strict matter of fact. Of these we may speak presently.
There is probably a more bidden objection, which in some minds will operate quite as powerfully as those we have stated, though it may not pass for much with others. It is, that the recent disclosures do violence to a preconceived and cherished impression of Cowper's character ; to the impression naturally received from his poetry. When Cowper first met with an extract from Dr. Johnson's Diary, he said to Newton, “ It is certain that the publisher of it is neither much a friend to the cause of religion nor to the author's memory ; for, by the specimen, it seems to contain only such stuff as bas a direct tendency to expose both to ridicule." But Johnson's memory would suffer less from such irreverent exposure than bis ; for no such delightful idea of him had been received and bound to the heart, as Cowper has breathed from his rural walks, his winter evenings, his green-house, his occupations, and his friendships. It is not pretended, on any hand, that our knowledge of the mental diseases of either has lessened one jot our respect for their general intellectual vigor. But as a mere matter of sentiment, one is loth to have a sweet
remembrance poisoned, and a love almost personal, wounded.
But without dwelling on this point, let it be asked, whether
Both these views of Cowper ought undoubtedly to be exhibited. The letters to Newton ought to be placed in their proper connexion with the gayer ones to Unwin, and Lady Hesketh, and Rose. Nobody would mistake for an instant the true state of the case. We are not asking writers of lives to invent pleasing sketches of maniacs, but to see that their facts do not induce false judgments and impressions ; to be
prudent and discriminating in selecting their materials and in the position they give to objects. In the present case, the danger is that a minute history of insanity, preying upon a delicate and gifted mind, – the image, too, perpetually, urgently brought before us in fragments of confidential letters, and in the very heart of things most foreign to it, — will give a prevailing hue to our conception of the whole man ; that the haunting remembrance will ever be uppermost. In a life so uniform and inactive as his, the facts of bis madness will be most like stirring incident, and of course draw more attention than the ordinary habits and employments which belong to his happier state, and to far the larger portion of his existence, and which accordingly are most indicative of what he really
It will be well then, if we do not fancy a connexion far more intimate between bis sanity and his disease, than actually existed in his own mind. This very Biography before us will probably leave more than the inevitable impression that Cowper was an afflicted man, with whom, however, we can for the most part sympathize in his distress as we do in his cheerfulness. There is so much of wretchedness and degradation to shock and repel, or, at best, to create a morbid interest, that the pleased and the true menory of him we once enjoyed may fade, and those who are yet to become acquainted with him may never obtain it. There will be more curiosity about his case, than perception and love of his character. "I could draw the picture of Despair,” says he, “ at any time ; I could delineate the country through which he travels, and describe his progress, could trace him from melancholy to rage, from rage to obduracy, and from obduracy to indifference about the event; and this I could do in prose or verse with the greatest facility ; but to what good purpose ? Like Cibber's mad figures upon Bedlam gate, the representation might be allowed to be just, but if it were admired, would be so only in proportion as it shocked.”
Some may doubt the evil effect of such minute details as we have deprecated, because his little circle of friends lost nothing of the beauty of his life by living with him and knowing all, even to the grossest forms of his malady, and themselves bis keepers in the sanctuary of his home. If the rudest assaults upon their sympathy and respect harmed not the influence of his delightful qualities, why should we of another generation be thought to lose the spell of his healthy genius and VOL. XLIV. NO. 94
his happy days by passing within the veil of bis terrors and reading the secrets of his prison-house? Let it be considered, however, that personal intimacy with, and care of the sufferer, while it gives a definite character to bis calamity, limits its power over the imagination; the reality is viewed and treated by itself, and the return to health and every symptom of health is regarded as bis restoration to bis true state, to what we love, to what made us watch with trembling through his hours of darkness, waiting for the day. We should not for a moment recall what was past, and connect every thought of our friend with the distresses and bumiliation of his disease, while we were with him in his blest seasons of light, of alleviated pain, and of the free, generous exercise of his affections and powers. Knowing and feeling the truth in its precise extent, we cannot deceive ourselves, and we cannot exaggerate. He was dead, and is alive again. But, on the other hand, a mere reader of bis Lise cannot have, in equal degree, these sources of sympathy or these means of correction. He is to draw a picture for himself, of an entire stranger, by the aid of his imagination, from a history of a whole life crowded into a small space, where the good and the evil are in close connexion, and both present to his mind at once. He obtains bis whole idea of him during a brief but strong exercise of this faculty, and not in the inore temperate and gradual method by which the senses, however highly excited, conduct him to truth. And this idea once received, is established for ever ; for with him there can be no years of intimacy to obliterate or modify it, and there can be no personal affection to give his happy recollections the predominance ; and it is scarcely to be expected that a strong first impression will be much impaired by any subsequent reasoning upon the duty of discrimination.
We are not questioning here the general utility of a sound imagination to the right conception of facts, but offering a suggestion as to the kind of influence this faculty may exercise upon a reader of the history of Cowper's insanity.
But whatever were the motives or the imprudence of those who have brought this history to light; whether they sought to impair his authority on theological questions by showing that he was a madman, or to vindicate his particular theology from the reproach of having made him mad, or to set his peculiar religious opinions more fully before the reader; or