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At the expiration of his time with the solicitor, he took chambers in the Temple; but his time was still little employed on the law, and was rather engaged in classical pursuits, in which Coleman, Bonnel Thornton, and Lloyd, seem to have been his principal associates.
Cowper's spirits were naturally weak; and when his friends had procured him a nomination to the offices of reading-clerk and clerk of the Private Committees in the House of Lords, he shrunk with such terrour from the idea of making his appearance before the most august assembly in the nation, that after a violent struggle with himself, he resigned his intended employment, and with it all his prospects in life. In fact, he became completely deranged ; and in this situation was placed, in December, 1763, about the 32d year of his age, with Dr. Cotton, an amiable and worthy physician at St. Alban's. This agitation of his mind is placed by some who have mentioned it to the account of a deep consideration of his state in a religious view, in which the terrours of eternal judgment so much overpowered his faculties, that he remained seven months in momentary expectation of being plunged into final misery. Mr. Johnson, however, a near relation, has taken pains to prove to demonstration, that these views of his condition were so far from producing such an effect, that they ought to be regarded as his sole consolation. It appears, however, that his mind had acquired such an indelible tinge of melancholy, that his whole successive life was passed with little more than intervals of comfort between long paroxysms of settled despondency.
After a residence of a year and a half with Dr. Cotton, he spent part of his time at the house of his relation, Earl Cowper, and part at Huntingdon, with his intimate friend, the Rev. Mr. Unwin. The death of the latter caused his widow to remove to Olney in Buckinghamshire, which was thenceforth the principal place of Cowper's residence. At Olney he contracted a close friendship with the Rev. Mr. Newton, then minister there, and since rector of St. Mary Woolnoth, London, whose religious opinions were in unison with his own. To a collection of hymns published by him, Cowper contributed a considerable number of his own composition. He first became known to the public as a poet by a volume printed in 1782, the contents of which, if they did not at once place him high in the scale of poetic excellence, sufficiently established his claim to originality. Its topics are “ Table Talk,” “ Errour," “ Truth," “ Expostulation," “ Hope,” “ Charity,” “ Conversation,” and “ Retirement,” all treated upon religious principles, and not without a considerable tinge of that rigour and austerity which belonged to his system. These pieces are written in rhymed heroics, which he commonly manages with little grace, or attention to melody. The style, though often prosaic, is never flat or insipid ; and sometimes the true poet breaks through, in a vein of lively description or bold figure.
If this volume excited but little of the public attention, his next volume, published in 1785, introduced his name to all the lovers of poetry, and gave him at least an equality of reputation with any of bis contemporaries. It consists of a poem in six
books, entitled “ The Task," alluding to the injunction of a lady, to write a piece in blank verse, for the subject which she gave him The Sofa. It sets out, indeed, with some sportive discussion of this topic; but soon falls into a serious strain of rural description, intermixed with moral sentiments and portraitures, which is preserved through the six books, freely ranging from thought to thought with no perceptible method. But as the whole poem will here be found, it is unnecessary to enter into particulars. Another piece, entitled “ Tirocinium, or a Review of Schools," a work replete with striking observation, is added to the preceding; and several other pieces gleaned from his various writings will be found in the collection.
For the purpose of losing in employment the distressing ideas which were ever apt to recur, he next undertook the real task of translating into blank verse the whole of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. This work has much merit of execution, and is certainly a far more exact representation of the ancient poet than Pope's ornamental version; but where simplicity of matter in the original is not relieved by the force of sonorous diction, the poverty of English blank-verse has scarcely been able to prevent it from sinking into mere prose.
Various other translations denoted his necessity of seeking employment; but nothing was capable of durably relieving his mind from the horrible impressions it had undergone. He passed some of his latter years under the affectionate care of a relation at East Dereham in Norfolk, where he died on April 25th, 1800.
W HEN the British warrior queen,
Bleeding from the Roman rods,
Counsel of her country's gods,
Sage beneath the spreading oak
Sat the Druid, hoary chief;
Full of rage, and full of grief.
« Princess ! if our aged eyes
Weep upon thy matchless wrongs, 'T is because resentment ties
All the terrours of our tongues.
“ Rome shall perish — write that word
In the blood that she has spilt ;
Deep in ruin as in guilt.
“ Rome, for empire far renown’d,
Tramples on a thousand states; Soon her pride shall kiss the ground
Hark! the Gaul is at her gates !
“ Other Romans shall arise,
Heedless of a soldier's name; Sounds, not arms, shall win the prize,
Harmony the path to fame.
“ Then the progeny that springs
From the forests of our land,
Shall a wider world command.
“ Regions Cæsar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway;
None invincible as they."
Pregnant with celestial fire,
Of his sweet but aweful lyre.
She, with all a monarch's pride,
Felt them in her bosom glow;
Dying hurl'd them at the foe.
“ Ruffians, pitiless as proud,
Heav'n awards the vengeance due ;
Shame and ruin wait for you."
HEROISM. THERE was a time when Ætna's silent fire Slept unperceiv'd, the mountain yet entire ; When, conscious of no danger from below, She tower'd a cloud-capt pyramid of snow. No thunders shook with deep intestine sound The blooming groves, that girdled her around.