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wisdom which cometh from above, because it was from above that I received it. May they receive it too! For whether they drink it out of the cistern, or whether it falls upon them immediately from the clouds as it did on me, it is all one. It is the water of life, which whosoever drinketh shall thirst no more. As to the famous horseman above-mentioned, he and his feats are an inexhaustible source of merriment. At least we find him so, and seldom meet without refreshing ourselves with the recollection of them. You are perfectly at liberty to deal with them as you please. Auctore tantùm anonymo imprimantur; and when printed send me a copy."
Alluding to a fever with which he was attacked in August, 1783, Cowper remarked that wine never had any effect upon his head, and that a fever did not render him in any degree delirious, excepting when it was of a highly dangerous nature, facts as anomalous as many others, in relation to his physical and mental constitution. His correspondence, in the years 1782 and 1783, treated chiefly of religious topics and politics, and contains comparatively few allusions to himself. It is manifest, from the following passage in a letter in November, 1782, that his situation, in relation to exterior circumstances, was one of happiness and contentment; and, but for the occasional attacks of his mental infirmity, that his lot was an enviable one:
"I lead the life I always wished for; and,
the single circumstance of dependence excepted, (which, between ourselves, is very contrary to my predominant humour and disposition), have no want left broad enough for another wish to stand upon."
Indications of the presence of his malady are sometimes perceptible even in the most cheerful of his letters, and the conclusion of one, on miscellaneous subjects, to Mr. Newton, in February, 1783, is in these remarkable words; "We truly love you both, think of you often, and one
of us prays for you-the other will, when he can pray for himself." The state of his mind, in April following, is thus beautifully, but affectingly described:
My device was intended to represent, not my own heart, but the heart of a Christian, mourning and yet rejoicing, pierced with thorns, yet wreathed about with roses. I have the thorn without the rose. My brier is a wintry one, the flowers are withered, but the thorn remains. My days are spent in vanity, and it is impossible for me to spend them otherwise. No man upon earth is more sensible of the unprofitableness of a life like mine than I am, or groans more heavily under the burthen; but this too is vanity, because it is in vain; my groans will not bring the remedy, because there is no remedy for me. The time when I seem to be most rationally employed is when I am reading."
His view of his spiritual state was so wretched,
that, for many years, he thought himself unworthy of going to church, or of addressing the Almighty in prayer. This appears in the fragment of a curious letter written to Mr. Unwin in May, 1783: "They that have found a God, and are permitted to worship him, have found a treasure, of which, highly as they may prize it, they have but very scanty and limited conceptions. Take my word for it, the word of a man singularly well qualified to give his evidence in this matter, who having enjoyed the privilege some years, has been deprived of it more, and has no hope that he shall live to recover it. These are my Sunday morning speculations, the sound of the bells suggested them, or rather, gave them such an emphasis that they forced their way into my my pen, in spite of me; for, though I do not often commit them to paper, they are never absent from my mind."
In September following he observes:
"I have been lately more dejected and more distressed than usual; more harassed by dreams in the night, and more deeply poisoned by them in the following day. I know not what is portended by an alteration for the worse, after eleven years of misery; but firmly believe that it is not designed as the introduction of a change for the better. I now see a long winter before me, and am to get through it as I can. I know the ground before I tread upon it. It is hollow; it is agitated; it suffers shocks in every direction; it is
like the soil of Calabria-all whirlpool and undulation. But I must reel through it; at least, if I be not swallowed up by the way."
In this strain does he frequently advert to himself; but in the early part of 1783, Lady Austen strove to allure him from his reflections by calling his poetic talents again into action, and urged him to try his powers in blank verse. After repeated solicitations, he promised, if she would suggest a subject, he would comply with her request. "Oh," she replied, "you can never be in want of a subject, you can write upon any: write upon this sofa." Such was the origin of "The Sofa." As soon as it was completed he commenced the other pieces which form "The Task," and he was occupied upon the contents of that volume until September 1784, when it was sent to press. His next piece was the Tirocinium, of which he gave the following account in a letter, in November, 1784:
"The Task, as you know, is gone to the press since it went I have been employed in writing another poem, which I am now transcribing, and which, in a short time, I design shall follow. It is intituled, Tirocinium, or a Review of Schools: the business and purpose of it are, to censure the want of discipline, and the scandalous inattention to morals, that obtain in them, especially in the largest; and to recommend private tuition as a mode of education preferable on all accounts; to call upon fathers to become tutors of their own
sons, where that is practicable; to take home a domestic tutor where it is not; and if neither can be done, to place them under the care of such a man as he to whom I am writing; some rural parson, whose attention is limited to a few."
It has been well observed, that the year 1784 was an eventful one in Cowper's life, not only from his having completed "the Task," and commenced the translation of Homer, but from his losing the society of Lady Austen. The cause of the interruption to their friendship is glossed over with Mr. Hayley's usual skill, nor have either of the other biographers of the poet explained the circumstance. There can be no doubt that Mrs. Unwin became jealous of the influence which that lady possessed over him, and he was reduced to the alternative of sacrificing his intimacy with one of them. To his credit he did not permit the fascinating qualities of her Ladyship to outweigh the claims of services and friendship, but wrote a farewell letter to her, explaining the painful circumstances which obliged him to renounce her society. Hayley says, Lady Austen confirmed him in his opinion, that a more admirable letter could not have been written, but admirable as it was, it wounded her feelings so much as to induce her to destroy it. From that moment they met no more; and as the materials have been suppressed, which would elucidate the history of this unfortunate affair, no speculations on the subject will be hazarded. "The Task" appeared in