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Since the childhood of Cowper many changes have naturally taken place in the town and neighbourhood of Berkhamsted, but it is still a pleasant spot, the scenery being picturesque and even luxuriant. On the left, as it is approached from London (distant about twenty-eight miles) by the North Western Railway, is seen the canal, "with locks and lock-keepers' white cottages, the high road about a field's length, and the uplands in the distance, crowned with groves." More to the front, on the same side, the tower of the church presents itself, "peering from out the surrounding trees, amidst which some tall poplars here and there raise their heads above their neighbours of the grove." The old rectory has long since disappeared, but an ancient ivy-clad building shelters a disused well to which the name of Cowper has attached itself; and the magnificent old parish church in which Cowper's father officiated has in its external appearance altered but little. The completion of the restoration of the church, which extended over a period of twenty years, and cost over £10,000, was commemorated in 1888. The population of Berkhamsted and the adjoining Northchurch, which are practically one, is about 8,000.
On November 7, 1737, a seventh child, which was. named John, was born to Dr. Dr. Cowper. It was the only one beside William that grew to manhood a few days later, on the 13th, the mother died, at the early age of 34. The story of Cowper's sorrow has often been told. When his mother died he "wanted two days of being six years. old," yet such an impression had her affection and tenderness made on his mind that fifty years afterwards,
on receiving her picture, he "dwelt as fondly on the cherished features as if he had just mourned her death." Writing to his cousin, Mrs. Bodham, who had sent him the portrait, he says, “I received it the night before last, and viewed it with a trepidation of nerves and spirits somewhat akin to what I should have felt had the dear original presented herself to my embraces. I kissed it, and hung it where it is the last object that I see at night, and of course the first on which I open my eyes in the morning." His lines, "On the Receipt of my Mother's Picture out of Norfolk," form one of the most touching elegies in the language. How pathetic, for example, is the following:
66 My mother! when I learned that thou wast dead,
To his friend Hill, after the lapse of forty-seven years, he wrote: "I can truly say, that not a week passes (perhaps I might with equal veracity say a day) in which I do not think of her : such was the impression her tenderness made upon me, though the opportunity she had for showing it was so short." pleased himself with thinking that he bore a very near resemblance, both in mind and body, to his mother's family To his cousin, Mrs. Bodham, in 1790, he
wrote: "There is in me, I believe, more of the Donne than of the Cowper; and though I love all of both names, and have a thousand reasons to love those of my own name, yet I feel the bond of nature draws me vehemently to your side. I was thought in the days of my childhood much to resemble my mother; and in my natural temper, of which at the of which at the age of fifty-eight I must be supposed to be a competent judge, can trace both her and my late uncle, your father. Somewhat of his irritability; and a little, I would hope, of his and of her I know not what to call it, without seeming to praise myself, which is not my intention; but speaking to you, I will even speak out, and say good-nature.
Mrs. Cowper was buried in the chancel of her husband's church, where a monument was shortly after erected to her memory, with an epitaph, composed by her niece, afterwards Lady Walsingham. This monument is affixed to the south wall of the chancel. The stone within the communion rails that actually covered the remains of the poet's mother, and that contains an inscription recording her death and the deaths of her six infant children, has since been removed to the north transept.
2. "The School at Market Street."-1737-39.
Shortly after the death of his mother, little William, who was, however, only six, was sent away to a boarding school. It may seem curious that so young a child should have been sent from home, but it must be remembered that the school (Dr. Pitman's at Market,
Street, on the borders of Beds and Herts) was distant only seven miles from Berkhamsted. Had proper supervision been placed over the pupils, all would have been well. Unfortunately it was otherwise, and the timid little fellow suffered in no common degree from the brutality of his schoolfellows. "Here," he tells us in his "Memoir," "I had hardships of different kinds to conflict with, which I felt more sensibly in proportion to the tenderness with which I had been treated at home. But my chief affliction consisted in my being 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. I choose to forbear a particular recital of the many acts of barbarity with which he made it his business continually to persecute me. It will be sufficient to say, that he had, 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."
One day as Cowper was sitting alone on a bench troubled with his sufferings, a verse of Scripture came into his mind-"I will not be afraid of what man can do unto me," with the result a briskness of spirits and a cheerfulness took possession of him, such as he had never before experienced. Many years after, Cowper cites this as his first serious impression of the religious kind, withal a transitory one. The cruelty of the tormentor, which had been practised in "so secret a manner that no creature suspected it, was at length
discovered, and he was expelled from the school." After having been at Market Street two years Cowper began to be troubled with specks in his eyes, and his father, alarmed for the consequences, removed him from Market Street, and placed him under the care of an eminent surgeon and oculist named Mr. Disney.
3. At the House of Mr. Disney the Oculist. 1739-41.
In his memoir Cowper says he was "sent to Mr. D," but he told Hayley in a letter written in 1792, and quoted on p. 5 of Hayley's "Life of Cowper," that his father sent him "to a female oculist of great renown at that time." This apparent discrepancy is explained by the fact that both Mr. Disney and his wife had obtained celebrity in the same branch of medical science. At this house, says Cowper, religion was neither known nor practised—a statement which was made when, as Southey puts it, "he looked back through a distorted medium." His words probably mean that family prayers were not performed in that house. To quote Southey again, "What the opinions. of the family were, he could as little know as he was. likely to inquire, further than as to the place of worshipwhich they frequented; and of their private devotions. it was impossible that he could know anything."
As we have seen, William Cowper, even as a child, had plenty of trouble, but he also had his joys. It was always a pleasure to look back at the time when he and his cousins from Norfolk romped together in the