Page:Notes by the Way.djvu/130
��NOTES BY THE WAY.
��Happy years at Olney.
��The ' Olney Hymns.'
��Letter to Newton.
��Jay of Bath
on Newton's influence.
��either converse within doors, or sing some hymns of Martin's collection, and, by the help of Mrs. Unwin' s harpsichord, make up a tolerable concert .... At night we read and converse as before, till supper, and commonly finish the evening either with hymns or a sermon ; and, last of all, the family are called to prayers." Letter to his cousin Mrs. Cowper, dated Huntingdon, Oct. 20, 1766. 'The Works of Cowper,' edited by the Rev. T. S. Grimshawe, vol. i. p. 82.
The first years at Olney were among the happiest and most peaceful of Cowper's life, and his friendship with Newton was a
True bliss. . . .
Of hearts in union mutually disclos'd.
Newton, desirous of a monument to perpetuate the remem- brance of this intimate and endearing friendship, suggested the joint composition, in 1771, of the ' Olney Hymns.' The morbid depression of the poet prevented the fulfilment of his share of the engagement, and of the 348 but 68 are by Cowper. Of these only the five following have found general favour : " Oh ! for a closer walk with God," " Hark, my soul ! it is the Lord," " Jesus, where'er Thy people meet," " Sometimes a light surprises," and " God moves in a mysterious way." The whole of the hymns, however, are full of interest to a student of Cowper, as they reveal, quite as much as do his letters, the inner workings of his mind.
In 1773 Cowper's terrible malady returned ; he was at the time engaged to Mrs. Unwin, but the marriage had to be broken off. The paroxysms of religious despondency became most severe. He believed that it was the will of God that he should, after the example of Abraham, perform an expensive act of obedience, and offer not a son, but himself. Mrs. Unwin and Newton did all that affection could do, but it was by very slow degrees that he recovered from his deep dejection. Newton's influence would, undoubtedly, be for the best ; but Cowper was not one to be easily led, and his correspondence with his friend shows that he would take his own course, and abide by his own views. In a letter to John Newton, dated August 21, 1781, he writes :
" Here lies the difference between you and me. My thoughts are clad in a sober livery, for the most part as grave as that of a bishop's servants. They turn, too, upon spiritual subjects, but the tallest fellow and the loudest amongst them all is he who is continually crying with a loud voice, ' Actum est de te, periisti.' '
The fact is that Newton's thoughts were not " clad in a sober livery." There was nothing about him dull, or gloomy, or puri- tanical according to the common meaning of the term ; he was full of good nature, much pleasantry, and humour ; his Calvinism was moderate ; he would say that he " used it in his writings," but in his preaching he " would mix and dilute it." The Rev. William Jay of Bath, who had a great affection for him, remarked in reference to his intimate connexion with Cowper :