Cowper came to me and said: 'O that I were insane always. I will never rest. Can you not make me truly insane? I will never rest till I am so. O that in the bosom of God I was hid. You retain health and yet are as mad as any of us all--over us all-- mad as a refuge from unbelief--from Bacon, Newton and Locke.'
Such is mans life, and such is mine
The worst of men, and yet still thine.
VAUGHAN, 'Misery': couplet marked by Cowper
in his copy of Silex Scintillans, 16502
THE year 1763, Mr Quennell says, was a year of 'planning and renewed activity' for England after her seven- years' war with France. 'It was one of those moments, not uncommon in the history of a period, when several gifted human beings happen at the same time to reach a decisive stage, from which their subsequent courses wind away in various directions.' At the very end of the previous year, Edward Gibbon, aged twenty-five, had left the militia to begin in earnest his life as historian. On 16 May, James Boswell, only twenty-three, met Johnson. Tristram Shandy, the work of a middle-aged Yorkshire parson, Laurence Sterne, was one of the sensations of London, which was at the same time being politically disrupted by the activities of the patriot John Wilkes.3 But for William Cowper the year 1763 brought depression and failure, a terribly decisive end to his early years. It brought madness;____________________