Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Imagine receiving this from your best friend…

“It was on Tuesday, the 20th of June 1797,” wrote William Hayley in the second of his unpublished Two Memorials of Hayley’s Endeavours to serve His Friend Cowper, “that after long lamenting the calamitous suspension of our Correspondence, I received in Sussex a Letter with the Post Mark of Dereham, containing the following Words, in the Hand-writing of Cowper, but with no signature.”

William Hayley Esqr
near Chichester

Ignorant of every thing but my own instant & impending Misery, 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 possessed any Mind, has had Possession of mine, you know how long, and knowing that, will not need to be Told, who writes.

Hayley adored Cowper: his love for the older poet was "as strong as manly friendship can be" and so he was, unsurprisingly, deeply affected by this letter. “I believe," he wrote "it is hardly possible for Language to describe all the various Emotions, that this dark billet of my desponding Friend produced in my Heart.”

But he was also ever-hopeful and his “fervent affection for the dear Sufferer”, combined with “a Fancy naturally inclined to cherish the most sanguine Hopes of what it ardently wishes”, to inspire him to try something quite extraordinary to improve Cowper’s state of mind. It was, in his words, "a large & Complicated Intellectual Machine", and I’ll tell you all about it in my next post