Cowper and William Hayley

(From Unpublished Sources)


WILLIAM HAYLEY, the warm-hearted friend and the biographer of Cowper, prepared for posthumous publication two manuscripts, each of considerable length, relating to incidents in the life of the poet which were not fully told in his biography. These, which are now in my possession, have never appeared in print, nor in the extended form in which Hayley left them would they perhaps be entitled to publication. One of them tells in detail the efforts of Hayley, at length crowned with success, to obtain a pension for Cowper. The other and the more curious is entitled, The Second Memorial of Hay ley’s endeavours to serve his friend Cowper, containing a minute account of Devices employed to restore his dejected spirits. The first is dated 1794: the second was written in 1809, after Cowper’s death, and after the appearance of the Life of Cowper.

Fragments of the story which Hayley tells are known; it is known that through his exertions several persons of eminence addressed letters to the dejected poet, which, it was hoped, might bring him cheer; but why it was an urgent matter with Hayley to obtain such letters as these has — so far as I am aware — never been told. Fragments of a well-meant plot, conceived in the service of Cowper, have come to light; but the pivot of the plot has not, if I am right, been ever exhibited, nor has it been shown in what degree Lady Hesketh and Cowper’s young kinsman Johnson (“Johnny of Norfolk ") were amiable accomplices in the plot.

The Second Memorial is addressed to Johnson, several of whose letters, as well as letters of Lady Hesketh and of others, are given in transcriptions. The startingpoint of Hayley’s well-meant efforts was a mournful communication — hitherto, I believe, unpublished — bearing the postmark of Dereham, but having no signature, which he received at Eartham on June 20, 1797. The contents of the letter and the hand-writing told clearly enough from whom it came; the same fixed wretchedness is expressed in it which appears in the unsigned letter, written a month previously, to Lady Hesketh, and printed by Southey. “Ignorant of every thing but my own instant and impending misery,” wrote Cowper to Hayley, “ I know neither what I do, when I write, nor can do otherwise than write, because I am bidden to do so. Perfect Despair, the most perfect that ever possess’d any mind, has had possession of mine, you know how long, and, knowing that, will not need to be told who writes.” The intimation in this letter that Cowper had been “bidden” to write, whether through some compelling force of his own dark mind or through some supernatural injunction, suggested to Hayley that the supernatural might be used as a device to lift Cowper out of his melancholy. His response ran as follows: —

EARTHAM, June 24th, 1797.
My very dear dejected Friend, The few lines in your hand, so often welcome to me, and now so long wished for, affected me thro’ my heart and soul, both with joy and grief — joy that you are again able to write to me, and grief that you write under the oppression of melancholy.
My keen sensations in perusing these heart-piercing lines have been a painful prelude to the following ecstatic Vision: — I beheld the throne of God, Whose splendor, though in excess, did not strike me blind, but left me power to discern, on the steps of it, two kneeling angelic forms. A kind seraph seemed to whisper to me that these heavenly petitioners were your lovely mother, and my own; both engaged in fervent supplications for your restoration to mental serenity and comfort. I sprang eagerly forward to inquire your destiny of your mother. Turning towards me with a look of seraphic benignity, she smiled upon me and said: “Warmest of earthly friends! moderate the anxiety of thy zeal, lest it distract thy declining faculties, and know, as a reward for thy kindness, that my son shall be restored to himself and to friendship. But the All-mercifu] and Almighty ordains that his restoration shall be gradual, and that his peace with Heaven shall be preceded by the following extraordinary circumstances of signal honour on earth. He shall receive letters from Members of Parliament, from Judges, and from Bishops to thank him for the service he has rendered to the Christian world by his devotional poetry. These shall be followed by a letter from the Prime Minister to the same effect; and this by thanks expressed to him on the same account in the hand of the King himself. Tell him, when these events take place he may confide in his celestial emancipation from despair, granted to the prayer of his mother; and he may rest satisfied with this assurance from her, that his peace is perfectly made with Heaven. Hasten to impart these blessed tidings to your favourite friend,” said the maternal spirit; “and let your thanksgiving to God be an increase of reciprocal kindness to each other ! ”
I obey the Vision, my dear Cowper, with a degree of trembling fear that it may be only the fruitless offspring of my agitated fancy. But if any part of the prophecy shall soon be accomplished, a faint ray of hope will then be turned into strong, luminous, and delightful conviction in my heart, and I trust in yours, my dear delivered sufferer, as completely as in that of
Your most anxious and affectionate friend,
W. H.

Postscript. If any of the incidents speedily take place, which your angelic mother announced to me in this Vision, as certain signs of your recovery, I conjure you in her name, my dear Cowper, to communicate them to me, with all the kind despatch that is due to the tender anxiety of sympathetic affection ! Heaven grant that I may hear from you again very soon ! Adieu !

Something of comedy mingles with graver matter in the good Hayley’s sincere distress and his odd flights of imagination. At the throne of God perhaps members of the British House of Commons, perhaps even judges, ermined and bewigged, perhaps — if one may be so bold as to conjecture — even Anglican bishops, shovel-hatted and aproned, are not set mighty store by, as such. As for the prime minister and the excellent George III, they, at least on earth, were exalted persons, and difficult of access. The sanguine Hermit of Eartham — Hayley often signed his letters as “Hermit”— never got within hail of prime minister or king for his purpose of raising the poet’s dejected spirits, and thus he is responsible for placing the sainted spirit of Cowper’s mother in the list of prophetesses who prophesy “a false vision and a thing of nought.”

If Hayley’s fancy was somewhat clumsy his heart was generous. With extreme anxiety he waited to learn what impression his letter had produced. On July 12, Johnny of Norfolk, who was not the most regular of correspondents, wrote to assure him that the perusal of the “marvellous Vision” by Cowper himself, and, ten days later, his listening to the letter read aloud, had a much better effect than could with any confidence have been anticipated. He listened, indeed, in silence; but some movement of repugnance or revolt would not have been surprising. “ He never looked better in his life,” writes Johnson, “as to healthy complexion than he does now;” but perhaps this was less owing to the Vision than to Johnson’s own prescriptions — “half a pint of ass’s milk in a morning, an hour and a half before rising, and the yolk of an egg beat up in a glass of port wine at 12 o’clock.”

Hayley’s letter he had forwarded by the hand of an acquaintance to Lady Hesketh at Clifton. He ended by entreating Hayley to persuade some one or more who answered the description of the Vision to write to Cowper, from which confirmation of the heavenly announcements he expected the happiest results.

Lady Hesketh at first feared that “dear warm-hearted Hayley’s wonderful letter” might only have “sunk the dear soul lower, and made him think it an insult upon his distress.... I well remember,” she adds, “how angry any marks of kindness used to make him formerly.” So she writes on July 15 to Johnson; but a fortnight later, in writing to Hayley himself, she has nothing but praise for the “charming Vision,” for the “friendly heart which inspired the Idea, and the lively Genius that executed it.” She only feared that it would prove impossible to get any part of the prophecy fulfilled, and that should Cowper find none of the promised letters arrive, he might drop lower down in “that cruel gulph of Despair in which he has been so long and so deeply involved.” With much feeling she refers to the melancholy letter which she had received from Cowper in May; very warmly she commends Cowper’s young kinsman for his unwearied devotion; should Johnson be incapacitated for the service, she would herself, if sufficiently recovered from the illness which had brought her now as a convalescent from Clifton to Cheltenham, “take the charge of this lost creature;” but what could she do at present with her almost total loss of voice ?

Hayley, in his reply, is grateful for “ the friendly spirit of tender and indulgent enthusiasm ” with which Lady Hesketh entered into his purpose and his hope. He evidently wishes it to be thought that the Vision was not wholly a pious fraud, and he explains to some extent his plans for procuring the fulfillment of the “ maternal spirit’s” prophecy: —

“The Vision arose,” he writes (August 6), “ from my very acute sense of our dear friend’s sufferings and my intense desire to relieve them. After reading his most affecting billet of Despair, I fell into deep meditation upon it; and, while my eyes were covered by my hand, I seemed to behold something very like the Vision I described. The images appeared so forcible to my own fancy that I immediately resolved to make a bold, affectionate attempt to render them instrumental, if possible (with the blessing of God and good angels), to the restoration of our invaluable friend. I accordingly settled in my own thoughts different projects for producing the series of events announced in the Vision, before I ventured to send him the letter, which you so kindly and partially commend.... I have reason to believe the dear subject of the Vision has, by this time, received letters from Mr. Wilberforce and Lord Kenyon. Steps are taken that other and more important letters may follow these. . . . Your Ladyship’s excellent understanding will shew you the propriety, I might say the necessity, of keeping the device as secret as possible to promote its success. On this principle many persons, engaged to write to the dear sufferer, will not know exactly why they are engaged to write to him.”

Neither the letter of Wilberforce nor that hoped for from Lord Kenyon had in fact been written; but Hayley was apt to take his anticipations for accomplished facts. Wilberforce was a member of Parliament; Kenyon—the chief justice — was a judge; a bishop was still needed to fulfill the first part, and that least difficult of accomplishment, of the celestial prophecy. Five years previously, in June, 1792, Hayley on his return from Weston, then full of zeal to procure a pension for Cowper, had breakfasted in London with Lord Thurlow, for whom, in the early days when Thurlow was a law clerk, and the poet spent his hours with his cousins Harriet and Theodora, “giggling and making giggle,” Cowper had predicted the lord chancellorship. “You shall provide for me when you are Lord Chancellor,” said Cowper; and Thurlow with a smile assented“I surely will.” At the breakfast, to Hayley’s surprise, appeared Lord Kenyon; but, undaunted by the two great persons, the Hermit gallantly pleaded the cause of his distressed friend and was listened to with favor. He now ventured, with Cowper’s barrister acquaintance Samuel Rose as an intermediary — “that friendly little being” is Lady Hesketh’s description of Rose— to apply to the chief justice for the desired letter. Why it was needed, beyond the fact that such a letter might cheer the drooping spirits of Cowper, was not explained. To Kenyon it seemed an embarrassing task to address in this way a man of literary eminence who was personally unknown to him. The letter accordingly, to Hayley’s great mortification, did not arrive.

Meanwhile, Hayley had fixed upon Watson, Bishop of Llandaff, as the mark for his next benevolent attack, while Lady Hesketh of her own initiative, though acknowledging that Hayley was the prime controller of the “complicated machine,” hoped, through her companion at Cheltenham, Mrs. Holroyd, a sister of Lord Sheffield, to approach Beilby Porteus, “our good Lord of London,” — bishop no. 2,— with the like intent. Moreover, in a letter to Johnson (August 27) she added some lines, designed to coöperate with Hayley’s letter of the Vision, which Johnson might show to Cowper, if it seemed good to him to do so: —

“I dreamt very lately, my dearest cousin,” she wrote, “that I saw you quite well and cheerful — restored by a gracious and merciful God to all your comforts and all your religious privileges, and rejoicing in his mercy and kindness, which, you told me, had been exercised towards you in a very wonderful manner. I own I feel strongly impressed that this will prove true, and that I shall once again be enabled to rejoice in the restored health and spirits of a cousin so truly dear as you have always been to your affectionate friend and cousin H. Hesketh.”

It was reported to her by Johnson that her postscript had been shown and was well received. Lady Hesketh’s innocent “dream” hardly reached the dignity of a pious fraud; it was a genuine hope translated into dream. She had not quite approved of Hayley’s audacity in laying the scene of his Vision at the throne of God, and, if only it could be ascertained that Cowper had forgotten the details, she thought that the letter might, to its advantage, be recopied, with this particular omitted, as a revised and emended Vision. She feared that the audacious Hayley, with all his generous zeal and all his learned acquisitions, might still be a stranger to “the great truths of Christianity”— a fear which Hayley afterwards ascribed to the suggestions of some unfriendly gossip. Whatever his religious opinions might be, his code of morals, in one particular at least, had partaken, as Southey amiably puts it, of patriarchal liberty. His beloved little sculptor, the pupil of Flaxman, — a boy of rare promise, — though received by Hayley’s “dear irritable Eliza” as her own, was a natural son.

Of “those two shining lights of the age,” as Lady Hesketh names them, Wilberforce and Lord Kenyon, the former at least was willing to let his beams descend on Cowper. He directed ihat a copy of his recently published book, A Practical View, should be sent to Dereham — it proved to be a book of amazing popularity — and he accompanied the volume with a letter (August 9) conceived in the happiest spirit. Six weeks later came a letter from the Bishop of London, which Lady Hesketh justly described as a “charming performance.” Porteus was himself a poet; at least his verses on Death had won, nearly forty years previously, the Seatonian prize. In his letter he gracefully applies to Cowper himself, with “ ’T were ” altered to “ ’T was,” the lines from Table Talk,

“ ’T were new indeed to see a bard all fire,
Touched with a coal from heaven, assume the lyre,”

and the four verses that immediately follow. Lady Hesketh had playfully reproached the faithful Johnson with his somewhat spasmodic efforts at correspondence. Johnny needed a flapper from the island of Laputa; when he did write, he was always in a hurry. He was ordered to choose the calmest and quietest hour he could pick out of the twentyfour, and then he should remember not to “set out with letters a foot long at least, and literally with only three words in a line or four at most.” But now that a letter from that “wonderful mortal,” Mr. Wilberforce, had arrived and a letter from our good Lord of London, Johnny of Norfolk copied both these documents for Hayley’s “infinite gratification,” and added a narrative of his own: —

“On Thursday (Sept. 28th) came a letter from the Bishop of London, and yesterday morning I found the first favourable opportunity of reading it to our beloved Cowper. His remarks were these: ‘Never was such a letter written, never was such a letter read to a man so overwhelmed with despair as I am. It was written in derision; I know, and I am sure of it.’ ‘Oh, no! no! no! my cousin! say not so of the good Beilby, Bishop of London!’ ‘I should say so,’ he replied, ‘of an Archangel, were it possible for an Archangel to send me such a letter in such circumstances.’ This only has passed hitherto, but I suspect that he was gratified notwithstanding, upon the whole. He heard me with the silence of death, and, except at one passage in this amiable Bishop’s letter, never opened his lips.” A word of Porteus — “That Love [of God] you must possess surely in as full extent as any human being ever did” — had drawn from Cowper’s lips the exclamation, “Not an atom of it!”

Johnson believed that the sufferer’s mind was occupied very frequently about the letters having come to him, “though I am certain,” he adds, “he does not suspect why they have come so nearly together.” He supposed that Cowper did not connect them in his mind with Hayley’s Vision, and he repented a thousand times that he had sent away Hayley’s letter to Lady Hesketh. He begged that it might be returned immediately, and resolved to place it, with the letters of Wilberforce and Porteus, on Cowper’s desk, where he knew that Cowper would notice it and read it when he was alone. Johnson himself would assume an air of having entirely forgotten the Vision, lest Cowper should in any way “suspect the incomparable contrivance.”

To this design Lady Hesketh was strongly opposed. “I think and have always thought it highly necessary,” she writes with emphatic underlinings to Johnson (November 7), “that on the arrival of every letter which comes to corroborate the truth of that wonderful Vision, you should express (though not violently or in such a way as to alarm him) your surprise and satisfaction at this happy coincidence of circumstances. ... I could wish you, my dear Johnny, to sift our poor cousin a little, and endeavour to find out what he thinks of the letters he has received, which, you may say, afford to you a full proof that his dear Mother’s prophecy is very near its completion.” Lady Hesketh greatly desired that letter might follow letter, in order that Cowper’s mind might be thoroughly roused and kept in motion with an advancing assurance of hope.

Another letter had in fact arrived. Hayley, in September, had expressed his expectation that considerable aid would be derived from “episcopal coadjutors.” Lady Hesketh, herself “an angelic coadjutor,” had proved her “instantaneous and happy influence over the Lights of our Church” by securing the coöperation of that “angel on earth,” Beilby Porteus. A disappointment followed. Dr. Beadon, Bishop of Gloucester, had married a relation of Hayley, Miss Rachel Gooch, “for whom, in her childhood,” Hayley writes, “I had felt such affection that during my residence at Cambridge I painted a minute resemblance of the interesting child and had it set in a ring.” On Dr. Beadon’s marriage the poet had addressed a few friendly verses to the bride and bridegroom ; but not many of his friends escaped some kindly effusion of occasional verse. To his surprise and indignation a very ungracious refusal to write to Cowper came to Eartham, not from the bishop direct, but through his father-in-law Dr. Gooch, whereupon the manuscript before me becomes illegible with its vigorous cancelings which perhaps conceal emphatic words. Do the blurrings and blottings bear witness to one of Hayley’s “Triumphs” — or failures — “of Temper”?

More than compensating satisfaction came from a highly distinguished man, Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff, the apologist for the Bible. Lady Hesketh, with a woman’s shrewdness, had expected little from Dr. Beadon. “Is he clever?” she asks Hayley, “and will he understand the nature of your request?” But “in regard to the Bishop of Llandaff . . . there can be no doubts of him.” The result in each instance agreed with Lady Hesketh’s anticipations. Watson was now settled at Calgarth Park, Kendal, but he did not fail to visit his diocese three times each year. He was occupied in improving an estate for the benefit of his family, nor did he regard it as his fault that some of the best years of his life had been thus employed. If he had “commenced an agriculturist,” he said, “it was because he desired to secure a moderate competence for eight children,” and experience had brought him to Lord Bacon’s opinion that to cultivate our Mother Earth is the most honorable mode of improving our fortunes.

Hayley, in writing to Watson, mentions the fact that Lord Thurlow had visited the Sussex coast in the autumn of 1797. The summer had been for Hayley a time of anxiety, not only on Cowper’s account, but because the dear “juvenile sculptor,” his son, had suffered in health from a cold caught from masses of wet clay used in modeling, and all medicines had failed to give him relief. His own favorite panacea, “the salutary sea,” was tried with a better result. “We came dripping from it together this morning,” he tells Lady Hesketh (September 6), “ and saw Lord Thurlow in our way, who has been prevented by the unseasonable rains from passing a morning with us, which he promises to do very soon, and he has, with great good-nature, allowed the young sculptor to prepare a lump of the finest clay to model his grand visage.” This, he tells the Bishop of Llandaff, would form “a good prelude for the awful project of modeling your countenance,” whenever “the aspiring little artist” could pay his respects at Calgarth Park. From which flattering introduction Hayley passes to his petition for a letter to be addressed to Cowper. The bishop replied in the most genial manner; he would, of course, follow the example of Lord Thurlow, a man of whom he thought highly, “tho’ he is not so good a Whig as he might be;” he would sit for the young artist; and as to Cowper he had obeyed Hayley’s commands, and dispatched a letter “by this post” (October 18). It was a manly and generous letter, written as if through an impulse of spontaneous gratitude arising from a perusal — not for the first time — of Cowper’s poems; it closed with an invitation to the Lakes, and an offer of the hospitality of Calgarth Park.

How Watson’s communication was received is told at length in a letter of Johnson to Hayley: “At the very moment of this letter s arrival and delivery into my hands (for the dear soul would not touch a letter himself on any account) we were sitting by the study fire, intent upon that admirable little book of the learned bishop, An Apology for Christianity. ‘Dear me!’ said I, ‘here is a letter from the author himself.’ You may be sure our poor friend was rather startled at the wonderful coincidence; and so in truth was I, and inwardly thankful to that kind Providence, whose finger I discern so plainly. The dear soul raised his eyes for a moment, but seemed so struck by the suddenness of the affair that I could not profitably read the letter then. I therefore laid it upon his desk, and went on with our book. Before night, however, I broke the seal, and communicated the contents to him. He said nothing while I read; nor yet when I ceased to read; and the matter was left to work upon his mind.”

Following Lady Hesketh’s advice, Johnson took the first prudent opportunity of connecting the letter from Bishop Watson with Hayley’s “inimitable Vision : ” “ One day, after dinner, as we were all using the finger-glasses, ‘Miss Perowne,’ said I, (Miss Perowne was ladyhousekeeper to Johnson) ‘don’t you recollect something about a letter’s coming to Mr. Cowper in the Summer from Mr. Hayley, containing a wonderful Vision, which he had lately had?’ ‘I certainly do remember it,’ (said she) ‘and have often thought of it since.’ ‘Sam’ (said I) ‘take away the water-glasses and set the wine upon the table.’ This, as I intended, turned the subject; but in the evening I started up in a great hurry, just as we were sitting down to tea: ‘By the bye, I will go and look for Mr. Hayley’s letter.’ Mr. Cowper immediately called out ‘No, pray don’t.’ Johnny: ‘Because it strikes me there is a kind of accomplishment of what is predicted.’ Mr. C. : ‘Well! be it so! I know there is, and I knew there would be; and I knew what it meant.’ These are the very words that passed, for I slipt out of the room, and wrote them down with a pencil on the back of a letter. Since that time I have never mentioned the subject; but the next letter that comes, I will renew the attack. It is some consolation to us in the meantime to know that he has not forgotten the Vision. And now, my dear Sir, let me say that Mr. Cowper is in bodily health much as he was when I wrote last, and much as he was in spirits. But jump for joy when I tell you that he resumed his Homer on the 10th of October, and has continued to revise it, and charmingly to correct without missing one day ever since. We go on rapidly, a Book in a week, and sometimes more; now in the 12th Iliad. Our evenings have been long devoted to Gibbon’s marvellous work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. We have delightfully travelled with him to the end of the chapter which he has given entirely to Justinian’s laws; and our poor dear friend interrupts me frequently to remark any striking passage as we go along.”

Still no letter had arrived from Lord Kenyon. It was believed by Hayley that a letter from him, as coming from a stranger, would be more gratifying to Cowper than one from Thurlow, with whom the poet was personally acquainted. Thurlow’s interest with the Lord Chief Justice was secured by the indefatigable Hayley. It is stated in Mr. Thomas Wright’s biography of Cowper that Lord Kenyon wrote to Cowper. This is perhaps an error. Certainly, as late as March 15, 1798, Lady Hesketh expressed to Hayley some indignation occasioned by his silence: “Lord Kenyon has never written at all, nor will you, I hope, dear Sir, apply to him any more. You have done your part sufficiently as regards this luminary of the law; and could the pleadings of friendship have prevailed you would long since have gained your cause; as it is, I hope you will plant your batteries against hearts more penetrable than that of the learned Lord in question.”

The diligence of Southey obtained for him two letters addressed by Thurlow to the Chief Justice, which Southey supposed to reveal the whole of the benevolent plot for Cowper’s restoration to hope and happiness. In fact they only show that Hayley was the chief conspirator. Lord Thurlow apologetically condenses in his opening sentence the whole situation from his own point of view: “I have been pressed by one mad poet to ask of you, for another, a favour, which savours of the malady of both.” The experiment, Thurlow thought, was at least harmless and charitable. Lord Kenyon apparently still demurred, and Thurlow was good enough to draw up for his guidance an outline of the sort of letter which he supposed to be required, or, as Southey puts it, a form of testimonial which was to accredit a man to himself. No word of Thurlow’s indicates any acquaintance with Hayley’s Vision, nor was this flight of fancy known to Southey. The “mad poet,” the Hermit of Eartham, had probably sense enough to be aware that Thurlow’ was not the man to become a partner in the task of corroborating Visions revealed at the throne of God.

Hayley flattered himself with the thought that his efforts on behalf of Cowper had not been useless. He tried to believe that the resumption of work on Homer was in some degree due to the encouragement which the Vision and the letters that followed it may have brought to the afflicted translator. In truth Cowper’s state of mind while engaged in revising his Homer presents a curious problem in mental pathology. His physical health during the year 1797 was but little affected by his malady; he rode out with Johnson, or walked out, every day; his daily half-bottle of wine had been increased to a bottle with excellent results; his cheeks had a certain ruddiness of hue. Nor was he incapable of intellectual exertion. He studied details in his own work with close attention. “ What do you think of this?” Johnson writes to Hayley on December 5, “our blessed Bard now said to me in the gentlest of all possible voices ‘Is there such a word as midmost ?’ Johnson’s Dictionary was in my hand in a moment, and no sooner did I mention Dryden and Pope as having used the very word than he was seated and scratching upon the paper in an instant.” Johnson’s description in the same letter of how the work went on may be added to somewhat similar records which are already in print: “I know you will excuse a hasty line, because a hasty line is all that I can steal from the importunate demands of Homer, who, interleaved and like a mountain, lies before me on the writing-desk, touching my very chin. I am preparing a transcript fairly and for the press of the last alterations of our beloved Cowper: incorporating also certain former variations and notes, which proceeded from his admirable pen before he left Weston, and with which I imagine you acquainted, as I frequently find your handwriting among them. The dear translator is as well as usual, and more than commonly intent upon rendering with fire and faithfulness a fiery line in the thirteenth Book of the Iliad.”

Yet while Cowper could thus for a time keep his mind above his misery, the misery lay below, and to make real escape from it was impossible. He was persecuted by both audible and visual illusions.

On the 15th of November, 1797, Johnson began to enter in a diary, which was continued during a great part of the next year, the words in which Cowper told, or shadowed forth, his distracted fancies. They are almost too pitiable to put on record, yet taken in connection with the fact that he was revising his Homer at the rate of a book each week, they make us feel as if he had, so to speak, a double mind, and that the sane mind and the insane stood independent of each other and apart. The notices of four days, copied by Hayley, probably represent what went on for weeks and months: “November 15 — While Mr. Cowper was dressing this morning, and just as the Church clock struck nine, he heard the following words, which seemed to come out of the wall behind his bedstead: ‘You shall hear that clock strike many months, in that room, upon that bed.’ In the course of the night he had heard several voices of the terrifying sort, but remembered only one which said ‘Bring him out! bring him out!’ November 19— He heard these words ‘You are welcome to all sorts of misery.’ November 28 — Mr. Cowper told me, at two different times in the course of the day, that he had these two notices upon his bed. First he had these words:— ‘When Mr. Johnson is gone they will pelt you with stones.’ This he told me before dinner; and towards evening he said — ’I saw a man come to my bedside last night, and tear my neck cloth off; and it will be so, I know it will.’ Dec. 2. He told me at breakfast he heard this:

' Sad-win ! I leave you with regret,
But you must go to gaol for debt.'

‘“Do you know the meaning of Sadwin, my cousin?’ (said I). ‘Yes I do, the Winner of Sorrow.’ ”

Enough of these painful memoranda! Happily no Samuel Teedon was at Dereham to interpret the voices. It is clear, too, that Hayley’s device was of small avail; for one in Cowper’s state an experiment in the thyroid treatment would have been more likely to bring help than a score of “inimitable Visions,”

The death of Mrs. Hayley, the Hermit’s “pitiable Eliza,” in the late autumn of 1797, —not in 1800 as the Dictionary of National Biography erroneously states, — did not cause Hayley to forget his friend. The Hermit was hardly more a hermit after the event than he had been before it. Hayley and his wife, with kind consideration for their mutual esteem and peace of mind, had lived apart. But the threefold cord which bound together the chief conspirators for Cowper’s good seemed for a time to be broken. Johnson, indeed, wrote to Hayley, and tried, a little awkwardly, to say “what a owt to ’a said;” but Lady Hesketh found it difficult to write sympathetically in a case so peculiar, and preferred to be silent. The correspondence was reopened by Hayley himself taking the initiative, and inviting Lady Hesketh, with her “good coadjutor of Norfolk” and “the dear Cowper,” to Eartham or its neighborhood. To accept the invitation was impossible, but Lady Hesketh wrote at great length, full of hope for the complete restoration of Cowper’s health, expressing her desire that he would devote himself rather to original composition than to the task of a translator, and relieving herself of much indignation against the publisher — another of the tribe of Johnson — who had announced the appearance of Cowper’s lines On the Receipt of my Mother’s Picture, without having obtained permission from either the writer or his friends. Loud also was her complaint against the Treasury, which had neglected to send Cowper his pension. Of twelve quarters due he had received only one, and Lady Hesketh hastily assumed that such neglect was peculiar to Cowper’s case. The times bore hardly upon the Treasury, and Cowper was only one of many who suffered.

During 1798 Hayley was overwhelmed with real and deep distress caused by the early stages of the long and fatal illness of his beloved son. There is true feeling and, bearing in mind the facts, real pathos in the words which he wrote, on a closing day of January, to Lady Hesketh: “I have limited the hopes and purposes of my remaining life to these two grand objects — to promote the professional prosperity of my little artist, and to witness and contribute to the recovery of my favourite friend to the utmost of my power.” Hayley still believed that his plot had effected some good, and that Cowper was progressing towards sanity, happiness, and health. No further efforts, however, were made to obtain letters from members of Parliament, “episcopal coadjutors,” or “luminaries of the law.” This special experiment to raise the unhappy poet’s dejected spirits had come to an end. Lady Hesketh’s sense of the Hermit’s disinterested zeal on behalf of her cousin found material expression in her gift of “a most elegant standish of cut-glass and silver,” gracefullest of ornaments for a poet’s table. And never probably in the history of cut glass did an elegant standish evoke more applause and lyrical enthusiasm on the part of the receiver.

There is a passage in the Second Memorial in which Hayley digresses from his immediate narrative and recalls an incident of his visit to Weston in 1792. To extract it will add something to what he, and Southey after him, told of the moment, so dreadful to Cowper, when Mary Unwin was for the second time the victim of a paralytic seizure. His first words to Hayley were, says the Life, “wild in the extreme, and Hayley’s answer would appear little less so, but it was addressed to the predominant fancy of his unhappy friend.” The words actually spoken are recorded in the Memorial: “Returning from her apartment to me, with a countenance of absolute distraction, he exclaimed, ‘There is a wall of separation between me and my God.’ I looked fixedly in his face and answered with equal celerity and vehemence of expression, ‘ So there is, my friend, but I can inform you I am the most resolute mortal on earth for pulling down old walls, and by the living God I will not leave a stone standing in the wall you speak of.’ He examined my features intently for a few moments, and then, taking my hand most cordially, he said with a sweet appearance of recovered serenity: ‘I believe you,’ and, as I have said in his Life in mentioning that dreadful alarm, from that moment he rested on my friendship with such mild and cheerful confidence that his affectionate spirit regarded me as sent providentially to support him in a season of the severest affliction.” When the time came for Hayley to say farewell, and this was not until by his use of medical electricity he had effected a considerable improvement in Mary Unwin’s condition, the parting with Cowper was one of affectionate tenderness. Cowper dwelt on the great comfort and support which he had derived from Hayley’s visit, pressed the hand of his departing guest, and said with his own peculiar sweetness of voice and manner, “Adieu! I ne’er shall look upon thy like again.”

It may be thought, and not unreasonably, that Hayley’s visionary devices for Cowper’s restoration were the lost labors of a love which was not wise. This certainly cannot be said or thought of his long and unremitting efforts to secure a pension for his friend; nor should we know how unremitting these efforts were — for Hayley’s modesty withheld him from making the facts public either in his Life of Cowper or in the Memoirs of his own life, prepared for posthumous publication — were it not that he put them on record in a series of unpublished letters, addressed in terms of the tenderest affection to his son, and written almost immediately after the events which they recount. The alarming illness of Mrs, Unwin during Hayley’s visit to Weston in 1792 led him to think anxiously of what Cowper’s position might be, supported only by contributions from his relations, if he were deprived of her generous care. Hayley’s own finances were shrinking. He thought that some sinecure office might be bestowed upon Cowper by the government, or some office the duties of which could be performed by a deputy. The temper of the time, however, did not favor his project. Cowper was a Whig; a gentleman familiar with the prime minister had said in public that, though a man of genius, he was “an absolute Jacobin; ” from which accusation, when it was reported to him, Hayley warmly defended the gentle poet. On his way to Weston he had spoken of Cowper to Thurlow, then lord chancellor; and the solemn tenderness of Thurlow’s voice when he said, “He is a truly good man,” lived in his recollection. On his return to London he pleaded with great warmth for Cowper before Thurlow and Kenyon. He even suggested that it might be hinted to the king that to place the afflicted Cowper beyond possible want would be an appropriate act of personal thanksgiving to Heaven for his Majesty’s recovery from his own mental malady; but to attempt this, Thurlow declared, would be an affair requiring great delicacy. Though Thurlow’s temper was indolent, Hayley believed that his heart was warm. Before the close of June he addressed Thurlow in a letter, made up of verse as well as prose, in which he expressed a hope that his lordship might renew his personal acquaintance with “our dear William of Weston,” under Hayley’s own roof. He referred to Thurlow’s recent retirement from office in flattering terms:

Yes! now your hand with decent pride
Relinquishes that seal unstained,
Which Bacon, law’s less upright guide,
With many a sordid spot profaned.

But Thurlow’s retirement had been virtually enforced; it left him in no mood of amiability; and instead of the gracious reply which Hayley had expected, no answer came at all. “Judge of my surprise and mortification,” he exclaims. At length the indignant Hermit relieved his feelings in a series of stanzas which he dispatched to the good cleric Carwardine with a suggestion that, if he had courage enough, he might repeat them to his patron: —

Why, wrapt in clouds no sun pervades,
Sullen as Ajax in the shades,
Why Thurlow art thou mute,
When courtesy, unstained by art,
Addresses to thy manly heart,
An amicable suit ?

Verses — with others that follow—which indignation made.

Hayley, despairing of the ex-chancellor, now directed his hopes toward Pitt, the prime minister, whom he had known as a wonderful boy of fourteen — even a more wonderful boy, he admits, than his own sculptor, Tom—and from whom he had received, at a more recent date, an offer of the Poet-Laureateship, vacant by the death of Thomas Warton. On December 11, 1792, he wrote to Pitt, stating fully the case of Cowper, and mentioning, among other circumstances, that, in her long protection of the invalid, Mary Unwin had expended £1200, “all the ready money she possessed.” Mr. Long, of the Treasury, undertook to present the letter in person; “but after detaining my letter many months,” writes Hayley, “with continual protestations that he was forever seeking in vain an opportunity to present it in a favourable season, my unfortunate epistle, which had kept me in an agueish fever of expectation and disappointment, returned unopened and unpresented into my hands, in the beginning of June 1793.”

Thus more than a year had passed since Hayley’s attempt upon Thurlow. He could only, as he puts it, practice the military maxim of drawing courage from despair. The letter to Pitt was now dispatched by post, with some explanatory memoranda, and alas! with the inevitable verses. “The stars,” he writes, “did not appear more propitious to my verse than they had proved to my prose; neither the one nor the other obtained for me the honour of a reply.” Both “the Jupiter” and “the Pluto of politics” — Pitt and Thurlow—seemed to have scorned his rhymes. Hayley’s second visit to Weston, in October, 1793, quickened his zeal. Although Cowper was able to work with him in revising Hayley’s Life of Milton, and on his own translation of Homer, it became evident that the translator’s mind was “sinking under the influence of incipient insanity.” Had Thurlow been more active, had Pitt been more generous, Cowper’s intellect, Hayley reflected, might have been saved. Wounded as his pride bad been by Thurlow’s silence, he determined to sacrifice his pride to his friend’s service; he called on “Pluto,” the scorner of his verses, and boldly took him — in words only — by the throat.

“My Lord,” said Hayley, “you must point out to me some method by which I may serve our poor Cowper; what is it possible to do for him?” To his suggestion of an appointment for Cowper, with a deputy to undertake the work, Thurlow was adverse. “‘No!’ replied the gloomy, yet courteous, Pluto, ‘an office would only make him mad; you must get him a pension.’ ‘I fear, my Lord, these are bad times for a pension.’ ‘No! they are not bad times for it.’ ‘I rejoice to hear your Lordship say so, but how can I possibly obtain it for our friend ? I had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Pitt when a boy, and, though I have not seen him since that time, I have a great inclination to solicit the favour of a private conference with him, then state the case with all the little eloquence I have, and trust to his heart.’ ‘I am afraid you would not find he has much feeling; perhaps you had better write to him.’ ’To tell you the truth, my Lord, I have written to him on this most interesting subject already, but not successfully. My letter has not obtained the honour of a reply.’ ‘Well!’ said the softened Pluto (a little touched by this oblique reproof to himself), ‘I do not pretend to know much of political affairs at present; perhaps, as you say you have lately seen Lord Spencer, you know more than I do; but this I can tell you, that if you could get Lord Spencer to signify to the Minister an earnest desire that Mr. Cowper should have a pension he would soon have it.’”

Gibbon’s influence with Lord Spencer was considerable; he was a friend of Hayley, and was now in London. To Gibbon accordingly he immediately applied. The great historian sympathized deeply with Hayley, desired to be of service, but for political reasons at that time felt that it would not be proper to request Lord Spencer to solicit, any favor from the prime minister. He urged that Hayley should himself seek an interview with Pitt, and he assured his friend that, conscious of a disinterested motive, he would speak to the prime minister with the same ease and spirit with which he was at the present moment speaking to himself. In great uncertainty as to what was best for Cowper’s interests, Hayley turned to Lord Egremont for advice. Lord Egremont was not only friendly but eager in his anxiety to be of service. He believed that a letter addressed by Hayley to Lord Spencer as a great patron of literature would give the fairest chance of success; but Hayley considered that it would be wanting in delicacy, if not in loyalty towards Gibbon, to write to Lord Spencer without his sanction; and Gibbon still expressing his disapproval of the step, though in the kindest and gentlest way, the design was relinquished.

Driven to bay by repeated disappointments, Hayley turned upon Pitt. In a short note he fervently solicited the grace of a few minutes’ conversation. An immediate answer came, appointing the place, the day and the hour—Downing Street, on Friday, at eleven o’clock. The early hours of that formidable morning Hayley spent with his friend, the painter Romney. Perceiving his agitation, Romney prescribed a glass of port wine, which medicine succeeded only in producing a stupefying headache. As Hayley stepped into the coach, Romney’s petted and coxcombical servant, Joseph, who, it was agreed, should attend Hayley, astonished him by choosing not an outer but an inner seat. Hayley, with the mildest of reproofs, explained that, though on other occasions he might welcome Joseph’s company, it was not fitting that master and man should arrive as companions at Mr. Pitt’s door; Joseph, with “an obliging alacrity,” mounted behind, and the Hermit arrived in a fit of laughter at the appointed place in Downing Street. Pitt received his visitor, not with the solemn condescension of the Atlas of the State but with the endearing gayety of a friend; he listened with the kindest attention, and every appearance of sympathy. When Hayley rose to leave, he promised to consider the various possibilities and choose that one which seemed most for Cowper’s advantage; he begged, however, that for the present no communication as to the favorable turn the interview had taken should be made to Cowper; “wait a little,” he added; “you are going immediately, you say, into Sussex; I will see what can be done, and write to you very soon on the subject.” Tears came to Hayley’s eyes and he kissed the hand of Pitt “in a transport of sensibility.”

Pitt’s promise was made on November 29, 1793. During December Hayley waited daily for the post with eager anxiety, but no letter came. The year closed with disappointment and mortification. The new year opened with the mournful tidings of the death of Gibbon. One dear friend was gone, but one remained whom still it might be in Hayley’s power to serve. In writing a letter of sympathy and condolence to Lord Spencer, he took the opportunity of urging once again the claims of Cowper, and explained the circumstances which had withheld Gibbon from being himself the advocate of Hayley’s surviving friend. He recited the story of his conference with Pitt, and begged Lord Spencer to recall to the prime minister’s mind — if a favorable occasion should arise — the promise which had not been fulfilled. The answer of Lord Spencer was sincere, frank, and gracious. The state of politics did not lead to frequent communication with Pitt; but should chance bring them together at the house of some common friend, he would not fail to recall the subject to his remembrance. The good Hayley was again sanguine of success. But now came from Pose (February 11) a report of Cowper’s melancholy state, — despondency so deep that it might seem as if no advantage in point of fortune could send any ray of sunshine through the gloom. Moved to indignation with Pitt, yet finding for him such excuses as had been suggested by Lord Spencer, Hayley determined to put his fate, as regards the effort to obtain any advantage for Cowper, to the touch, and gain or lose it all. The following courageous letter to Pitt deserves to be placed on record: —

It is not often that a Hermit can be deceived by a Prime Minister; yet I am an example that such an extraordinary incident may happen; for in truth, my dear Sir, I most credulously confided in your kind promise of writing to me soon concerning your liberal intentions in favour of my admirable friend Cowper. Alas! instead of hearing from you such tidings as I hoped would make him happy, I have just heard from another quarter that he is recently sunk into that gloomy wretchedness, and half-frantic despondency, from which I was sanguine enough to expect that your just esteem and beneficence might preserve him.

Now, perhaps even your kindness may hardly give him a gleam of satisfaction. Your enemies (a great man cannot live without enemies) affirm that you have little feeling; this opinion I have long rejected, from my disposition to cherish an enthusiastic regard for you; but the rejected opinion I am now unwillingly putting to the test. You must have little feeling indeed if this intelligence does not make you lament, as I do most cordially, that an unfortunate delay in providing for a man of marvellous genius may have conduced to plunge him in the worst of human calamities.

How far it is probable that your favour might have preserved him from this evil, or may be likely to restore him from it, perhaps my Lord Spencer may be able from fuller information to judge better than I can at present. He is a neighbour and a friend to the great afflicted poet, yet, if I remember right, not personally acquainted with him: and his Lordship has kindly promised me (should opportunity arise) to recall to your remembrance what I said to you in Cowper’s behalf. Lord Spencer enters (as you kindly did when you allowed me the honour of conversing with you) into the cruel singularity of Cowper’s situation, and I am confident you both sympathise in thinking that our Sovereign’s munificence could not be more worthily exerted than towards this wonderful man, whether it shall please Heaven to bless him with a restoration of his rare mental endowments, or still to afflict him with a melancholy alienation of mind.

I will not utterly relinquish the hope that you may yet be able to serve him; afflicting as the delay has proved, I am inclined to impute it to such difficulties as men, even of excellent hearts and high stations, too frequently find in their endeavours to befriend the unfortunate.

I write in the frank and proud sorrow of a wounded spirit, but with a cordial and affectionate wish that Heaven may bless you with unthwarted power to do good, and with virtue sufficient to exert it.

I retain a lasting sense of the very engaging kindness with which you allowed me to pour forth my heart to you on this interesting subject, and I am most sincerely, my dear Sir, your very grateful though afflicted servant,



Feb. 27, 1794.

“The Minister,” writes Hayley, “did not condescend to answer this letter.”

The rest of the story is well known — how Hayley was summoned to Weston by Mr. Greatheed, in the hope that his presence might be of some service to Cowper, how the little sculptor followed his father and was kindly received by the invalid; and how a letter (April 19, 1794) from Lord Spencer arrived, announcing that a pension of £300 a year had at last been granted. Hayley’s delight was great; his labors of two years had not been unavailing. But the delight was tempered by the circumstance that Cowper himself was in no condition at that time to be disturbed even by tidings of good cheer.