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Clerk of the House of Lords; John, the father of the Poet; and Ashley Cowper, a barrister, and one of the Clerks of Parliament, who left two daughters his coheirs, of whom Harriet was the wife of Sir Thomas Hesketh.
The Reverend John Cowper, the second son of Judge Cowper, was chaplain in ordinary to the King, and married Ann, daughter of Roger Donne, of Ludham Hall, in Norfolk, Esq. a descendant, it is said, of the celebrated Dr. Donne, and by her had WILLIAM, the Poet, a son named John, who took orders, and other children who died young.
When in his sixth year Cowper lost his mother, who died in childbed, in 1737, an event which is presumed to have had a fatal influence on his happiness through life. The filial tenderness with which he revered her memory was manifested many years afterwards, on receiving her portrait, and in the affecting lines which he addressed to it. That poem contains also a pleasing notice of his childhood, and of his remembrance of his early home.
Soon after his mother's death he was sent to the school of Dr. Pitman, at Market Street, in Hertfordshire.* In no instance was the error of not attending to the peculiar mental organization of a child before a particular plan of education
Hayley; but Cowper himself says, in a Memoir of his Early Life, that he was then sent to a considerable school in Bedfordshire.-8vo, 2nd Edit. 1816.
was pursued more serious than in the case of Cowper. Possessed of a mind that shrunk from severity with a morbid sensitiveness, and endowed with faculties that required the most gentle culture to bring them to maturity, he was at once exposed to the discipline of a public school; and, as usual, was placed at the mercy of a stripling, who had purchased the right to be a tyrant by having first been a slave. "I was," he says, singled out from all the other boys, by a lad about fifteen years of age, as a proper object upon whom he might let loose the cruelty of his temper, who, by his savage treatment of me, impressed such a dread of his figure upon my mind that I well remember being afraid to lift up my eyes upon him higher than his knees, and that I knew him by his shoe-buckles better than any other part of his dress." The boy's cruelty being at length discovered, he was expelled from the school, and Cowper was removed from it at the same time.
Whatever may be said of the advantages of a public school, no reasonable person will assert that the same system of education is desirable in every case, without reference to the constitution, or capacity of the child; for the absurdity of such an argument would only be exceeded by pretending that a delicate exotic, if exposed to the wintry winds of our northern climate, will flourish with the same vigour as under its native sky.
On quitting school he was placed under the care of an eminent surgeon and oculist for a complaint in his eyes, where he remained about twelve months, and was then sent to Westminster. He was at that time nine years of age, and even at this early period he was attacked with a depression of spirits, to which he became more or less the victim during the remainder of his life.
In 1749, being about eighteen, he left Westminster, and, after spending some months at home, was placed in the office of Mr. Chapman, an attorney, where he remained for three years, being intended for the law, a pursuit chosen without the slightest regard to his fitness or inclination, and one for which nature had entirely disqualified him. Diffident, bashful, and solicitous to avoid observation, he was expected to rise in a profession requiring immediately opposite qualities.
He left the solicitor's office in his twenty-first year, and took chambers in the Middle Temple, of which society he was admitted a member on the 29th of April, 1748; and on the 14th of June, 1754, he was called to the bar. Three years afterwards, on the 15th of April, 1757, he removed from the Middle, to the Inner Temple, possibly to enable him to hold chambers of that Society; and about this period he obtained the situation of Commissioner of Bankrupts. But the law occupied little of his thoughts, for soon after he
settled in the Temple he was, he says, in a memoir written by himself, seized "with such a dejection of spirits as none but they who have felt the same can have the least conception of. Day and night I was upon the rack, lying down in horror, and rising up in despair. I presently lost all relish for those studies to which I had before been closely attached the classics had no longer any charms for me; I had need of something more salutary than amusement, but I had no one to direct me where to find it. At length I met with Herbert's Poems; and, gothic and uncouth as they are, I yet found in them a strain of piety which I could not but admire. This was the only author I had any delight in reading. I pored over him all day long; and though I found not in them what I might have found-a cure for my malady, yet it never seemed so much alleviated as while I was reading him. At length I was advised by a very near and dear relative to lay him aside, for he thought such an author more likely to nourish my disorder than to remove it. In this state of mind I continued near a twelvemonth; when, having experienced the inefficacy of all human means, I at length betook myself to God in prayer."
A change of scene being recommended to him, he went to Southampton, where he spent several months; and soon after his arrival the weight of mental misery was suddenly removed, and he recovered his cheerfulness. The next twelve years of his life were spent in the Temple; not, how
ever, in the study of jurisprudence, but in pursuits far more congenial to his elegant mind. Friendship, poesy, and love proved far more attractive, and to their charms he seems to have resigned himself. The fruits of his intercourse with the Muses were given to the world as the offsprings of others, and though happy in his friends, he was, from objection being made to his want of fortune, disappointed in his attachment to a fair cousin, who, it may be inferred, was the lady that afterwards married Sir Thomas Hesketh.
In July, 1756, Cowper lost his father, an event which does not appear to have affected him much; but a short poem which he addressed to the lady alluded to, in which he noticed the death of his intimate friend Sir William Russell, presents a gloomy picture of his situation:
"Doom'd, as I am, in solitude to waste