Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

"And fills high—I may say, the highest place; has immense patronage; is the maker of bishops, and deans, and judges, and every thing," said George.

"And has immense revenues," added the curate; "estates, mansions,—all that money can command."

"Poor old gentleman," said Fanny, " I am glad he has also that wool-sack to rest himself on, for I am sure he must be sadly tired and worried."

"Turn we to Olney—to that dwelling in the very heart of that shabby, butnow honoured town—to Cowper's abode:—no poet's fabled retirement, embowered in sylvan solitudes, by wild wandering brook or stately river's brink, skirted with hanging woods, or vine-clad steeps, or towering mountains.—Here is the parlour."—" But pray stop, sir," cried Sophia, " that dull house had its pleasant accessories; have you forgot the greenhouse, the plants, the goldfinches; that pleasant window, looking over the neighbour's orchard ?—and what so beautiful as an orchard, when the white plum blossom has come full out, and the pink apple flowers are just budding!"

"And Beau, and Tiney," cried Fanny.

"I have forgot none of these things, my dears," said Mr Dodsley. "Only I fear that to see them, as Cowper saw them, we must have a poet's glass; an instrument of higher powers than a Claude Lorraine glass, and clothing every object with softer, or warmer, or sunnier hues than even that pretty toy:—where could that be bought, Fanny?" a Indeed, sir, I don't know," said Fanny.

"We may borrow one for a day, or a few hours or so," said Sophia, smiling intelligently.

"It is but fair to use Mr Cowper's glass in viewing his own pictures, and Mrs Unwin's spectacles, in judging of her domestic comforts," said the curate. "There is the parlour; it looks doubly snug to-night. Now you are to recollect ladies and gentlemen, that this scene passes on a night when Mr Hastings' trial is proceeding; and while lord Thurlow is busy and distracted in his bureau. Tea is over—the hares are asleep on the rug. Beau, the spaniel, lies in the bosom of Bess, the maukin. On the table lie some volumes of voyages, which Mrs Hill has this day sent from London to Mr Cowper, with a few rare, West India seeds for his greenhouse, as he calls it. There is a kind but short letter from her husband, Cowper's old friend;—for he too, is a busy man in the courts, though not lord chancellor—and there is a polite note from herself. There has also been a letter from Mr Unwin this evening, a very kind one, filial and confidential. Mr Cowper's cumbrous writing apparatus is on the table, for he has not yet got his neat, handy writing-desk from lady Hesketh. His former writing-table had become crazj', and paralytic in its old limbs; but to-night, he has, by a happy thought of Mrs Unwin's got that forgotten card-table lugged down from the lumber garret, and he shakes it, finds it steady, and rejoices over it. And now the fire is trimmed for the evening; the candles are snuffed; they show a print of Mr Newton, and a few prints of other rather ugly, grim-looking, evangelical ministers, and black profile shades of some of Mrs Unwin's friends. Yet all looks comfortable and feels pleasant to the inmates, for this is their home. O! that magic, transfiguring word I but this home is indeed a peaceful and a happy one.

"Mr Cowper relates to his companion the events of his long, morning ramble,—a rambling narrative; simple, descriptive, somewhat pathetic too, nor unrelieved by a few delicate touches of Cowper's peculiar humour. And she listens all benevolent smiles to his ventures, happened in meadow and mire—' o'er hills, through valleys, and by rivers' banks'; and, in her turn, tells him of two poor persons distressed in mind, and pinched in circumstances, who had called at their house; and mentions what she had done for them, and consults what farther deed of mercy or charity she and her friend may jointly accomplish before that day closed. And now Sam, Mr Cowpcr's excellent and attached servant, or rather humble friend, who in adversity had cleaved to him, enters the room. Sam knew nothing of London life or London wages, or official bribes, or perquisites; but I should like to know if ever lord Thurlow had such a servant as Mr Cowper's Sam; for this is no inconsiderable item in a man's domestic happiness. And unless we know all these little matters, how can we pronounce a true deliverance."

"We may guess, that honest Sam and his qualities would have been of little utility, and of small value to Edward, lord Thurlow, any way," said Mrs Herbert; "and so throw the attached servant out of his scale altogether."

"I fear so:—Well Sam, civilly, but rather formally, neither like a footman of parts nor of figure, mentions that John Cox, the parish clerk of All Saints' Parish, Northampton, waits in the kitchen for those obituary verses engrossed with the annual bill of mortality, which Mr Cowper had for some years furnished on his solicitation.

"' Ay, Sam, say I will be ready for him in a few minutes, and give the poor man a cup of beer,' said the courteous poet. 'I must first read the verses to you, Mary,' continued he, as Sam left the parlour; 'you are my critic, my Sam Johnson, and Monthly Reviewer.-' —and he reads those fine verses beginning,' He who sits from day to day.' .

"' I like them, Mr Cowper,' said his calm friend; and that was praise enough. John Cox was ushered in, brushed his eye hastily over the paper, scraped with his foot, and said he dared to say these lines might do well enough. The gentleman he employed before was so learned, no one in the parish understood him. And Cowper smiles, and says, 'If the verses please, and are not found too learned, he hopes Mr Cox will employ him again.'

"And now the postboy's horn is heard, and Sam hies forth. Mr Cowper is not rich enough to buy newspapers; but his friends don't forget him, nor his tastes. Whenever any thing likely to interest his feelings occurs in the busy world, some kind friend addresses a paper to Olney. Thus he keeps pace with the world, though remote from its stir and contamination. He reads aloud another portion of the trial of Hastings, most reluctant as friend and as Christian to believe his old school-fellow the guilty blood-dyed oppressor that he is here described. He reads the heads of a bill brought in by the lord chancellor to change, to extend rather, the criminal code of the country; and says, passionately, 'Will they never try preventive means? There is no flesh in man's obdurate heart, it doth not feel for man.' He skims the motley contents of the 'little folio of four pages,' gathering the goings on of the great Babel, as food for future rumination ; and he would have read the speech of the Chancellor, had not more important concerns carried him away,—for old John Queeney, the shoemaker in the back street, longs to see Mr Cowper by his bed-side. Mr Newton, John's minister, is in London; and though John and Mr Cowper are in nowise acquainted, save seeing each other in church, there are dear ties and blessed hopes common to both; so Cowper goes off immediately. But since Mrs Unwin insists that it is a cold damp night, he takes his great-coat, though only to please her, and Sam marches before with the lantern. John Queeney has but one poor room, Sam would be an intruder there; and as it is harsh to have him wait in the street, like the attendant or horses of a fine lady, Sam is sent home by his amiable master.

"When, in an hour afterwards, Mr Cowper returns, he tells that John Queeney is dying, and will probably not see over the night; that he is ill indeed, but that the king and the nobles of England might gladly exchange states with that poor shoemaker, in the back street of Olney:—his warfare was accomplished! Mrs Unwin understands him! she breathes a silent inward prayer, for her dying fellow-creature, and fellow-Christian; and no more is said on this subject. Cowper, now in a steady and cheerful voice, reads the out. line of a petition he has drawn out in the name of the poor laceworkers of Olney, against an intended duty on candles. On them such a tax would have fallen grievously. 'My dear Mr Cowper, this is more like an indignant remonstrance than an humble petition,' said his friend, with her placid smile.

"' Indeed and I fear it is. How could it well be otherwise? But this must be modified; the poet's imprudence must not hurt the poor lace-workers' cause.'

"And now Sam brings in supper—a Roman meal, in the days of Rome's heroic simplicity; and when it is withdrawn, Hannah, the sole maid-servant, comes in to say that she has carried one blanket to Widow Jennings, and another to Jenny Hibberts; and that the shivering children had actually danced round, and hugged, and kissed the comfortable night-clothing, for lack of which they perished; and that the women themselves shed tears of thankfulness, for this welltimed, much-wanted supply.

"' And you were sure to tell them they came not from us,' said the poet. Hannah replied that she had, and withdrew.

"' These blankets cannot cost the generous Thornton above ten shillings a-piece, Mr Cowper,' says Mrs Unwin. 'Oh! how many a ten-shillings that would, in this severe season, soften the lot of the industrious poor, are every night lavished in the city he inhabits 1 How many blankets would the opera-tickets of this one night purchase! And can any one human creature have the heart or the right thus to lavish, yea, though not sinfully, yet surely not without blame, while but one other of the same great family perishes of hunger or of cold?'

"And they speak of their poor neighbours by name; they know many of them, their good qualities, their faults, and their necessities. And fireside discourse flows on in the easy current of old, endeared, and perfect intimacy; and Cowper is led incidentally to talk of dark passages in his earlier life; of the Providence which had guided and led him to this resting-place ' by the green pastures and still waters;' of the mercy in which he had been afflicted ; of a great deliverance suddenly wrought; of the Arm which had led him into the wilderness, while ' the banner over him was love.' And then the talk ebbs back to old friends, now absent; to domestic cares, and little family concerns and plans; the garden, or the green house, matter 'fond and trivial,' yet interesting, and clothed in the language of a poet, and adorned by a poet's fancy.

"I must again ask, had the lord high chancellor ever gained to his heart any one intelligent and affectionate woman, to whom he could thus unbend his mind—pour forth his heart of hearts—in the unchilled confidence of a never-failing sympathy: This I shall consider—the possession of this friend—an immense weight in Cowper's scale, when we come to adjust the balance," said Mr Dodsley. "' I must now read you the fruits of my morning's study, ma'am,' says our poet, after a pause; 'I had well nigh forgot that.' And he reads his sublime requiem on the loss of the Royal George.

"'I am mistaken if this be not wonderfully grand, Mr Cowper,' says his ancient critic. 'But hark! our cuckoo clock. It must be regulated—you forget your duties, sir—Tineymustbe put up, and'—

"' You must just allow me, Mary, to give one puffof the bellows to the greenhouse embers. The air feels chilly to-night—my precious orange-tree.' And Mrs Unwin smiles over his fond care, as the gentleman walks off with the bellows under his arm.

"And now is the stated hour of family worship. Sam and Hannah march forward in decent order. But I shall not attempt to describe the pious household rites, where the author of the Task is priest and worshipper. Affectionate 'goodnights,' close the scene. And this is the order of the evenings at Olney.

"Cowper regulates the cuckoo clock; for though he has no alarum watch, or impending audience of Majesty, he lays many duties on himself, lowly, yet not ignoble; so about the same hour that the chancellor rolls off for Windsor, Cowper, also alert in duty, is penning his fair copy of the lace-workers' petition to parliament, or despatching one of his playful, affectionate epistles to his cousin, Lady Hesketh, or acknowledging the bounty of the benevolent Thornton to the poor of Olney. And now, body and mind refreshed, the blessings of the night remembered, and the labours of the day dedicated in short prayer and with fervent praise, and he is in his greenhouse study, chill though it be, for it is quiet and sequestered. See here, Fanny—our last picture. But so minutely has the poet described his favourite retreat that this sketch maybe deemed superfluous labour. Yet this is and ever will be a cherished spot; for here many of his virtuous days were spent

"Why pursue the theme farther," continued the curate, "you all know the simple tenor of his life:—

'Thus did he travel on life's common way,
In cheerful godliness.'

The visitations to which his delicately-organized mind was liable, I put out of view. They were a mystery beyond his mortal being— far beyond our limited human intelligence. And tell me now, my young friends, which, at the close of his memorable life, may be pronounced the best, and, by consequence, the happiest man of our Three Westminster Boys? Each was 'sprung of earth's first blood;' and though I do not assert that any one of the three is a faultless model, it is a fair question to ask, which has your suffrage? He who, by the force of his intellect and ambition, the hardihood and energy of his character, took his place at the head of the councils iv. 9 N

« AnteriorContinuar »