Attorney-General, he was advanced to the dignity of Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and subsequently, in 1780, elevated to the Peerage by the title of Baron Walsingham. Cowper thus refers to him in a letter to Hill (August 10, 1780): "I recollect that we both pitied Mr. De Grey when we called at his cottage at Taplow, and found, not the master indeed, but his desk, with his white-leaved folio upon it, which bespoke him as much a man of business in his retirement as in Westminster Hall. But by these steps he ascended the bench. Now he may read what he pleases and ride where he will, if the gout will give him leave."

Such is a brief account of the various members of the Nonsense Club. But of these seven, four, Thornton, Lloyd, Bensley, and De Grey, presently drop out of Cowper's history, the first three, as we have seen, dying in early life; and with Colman even, Cowper was not destined to have much further connection.

The meetings of the Nonsense Club, besides fostering the wit and humour that exhibited itself in the various literary productions of its members, had also a good deal to do with several displays of practical drollery that at different times gave amusement to the town, the leading spirit in the fun generally being Thornton. Among the best remembered of these pieces of nonsense was Thornton's exhibition of sign-paintings, in Bow Street, Covent Garden, which was opened on the same day as, and in good-humoured ridicule of, the exhibition of pictures made by the Society for the Promoting of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce-an institution whose place has since been taken by the Royal


Academy. Thornton styled his show "An Exhibition
by the Society of Sign-Painters of all the curious signs
to be met with in town or country, together with such
original designs as might be transmitted to them as
specimens of the native genius of the nation," and most
of the daubings had actually hung in irons. Among
those who entered into the humour of the adventure
was Hogarth, who gave a few touches in chalk where
effect could be added by it-changing, for instance, in
the portraits of the King of Prussia and the Empress
Maria Theresa, the cast of their eyes, so as to make
them leer significantly at each other. Other signs ex-
hibited were the following: "A Man "-nine tailors at
"The Spirit of Contradiction"-two brewers
bearing a cask, the men going different ways; “A
Man loaded with Mischief"-a fellow with a woman,
a magpie, and a monkey on his back. Encouraged by
the success of the Sign-post Exhibition, Thornton now
wrote a mock Ode for St. Cecilia's Day, "adapted to
the ancient British music of the salt-box, jew's harp,
marrow bones and cleavers, and humdrum, or hurdy-
gurdy;" and not only wrote it, but had it set to
music, and actually performed at Ranelagh to a
crowded audience-though it must be observed that
the performers were excellent musicians, the cleavers
had been cast in bell-metal for the occasion, and even
the jew's harp, in the mouth of a specialist, was made
to produce sweet tones. So the nonsense-mongers had
their harmless jests, and the town was amused.


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12. Charles Churchill.

Another of Cowper's London acquaintances, though not a member of the Nonsense Club, was his old school-fellow, the gifted but dissipated Charles Churchill, the poet, who was born in February, 1731, the same year that Cowper himself first saw light. After attending Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, he made a clandestine marriage, which proved a very unhappy one, with a young lady of the name of Scott, in Westminster. In 1756 we find him curate at Rainham, under his father, the Rev. Charles Churchill, rector of that parish, who also held the curacy and lectureship of St. John's, Westminster. At the death of his father, in 1758, Churchill, who was in his 27th year, and whose conduct had been hitherto irreproachable, was appointed his successor in the curacy and lectureship. He now, however, renewed his intimacy with Lloyd and other school companions, and at once launched into a career of dissolution and extravagance. Moreover, his poetry having brought him into notice, and his excesses having been bruited abroad, he finally threw off the restraints of his order, and, as if to show contempt for it, appeared in a goldlaced waistcoat, a gold-laced hat, and ruffles. In a poetical epistle entitled "Night," addressed to Lloyd, he attempted a defence of their nocturnal orgies-a defence, however, which contained a mournful avowal that they met for the sake of drowning reflection, each seeking in the other's society a refuge from himself. Says Churchill:

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"Let slaves to business, bodies without soul,
Important blanks in Nature's mighty roll,
Solemnize nonsense in the day's broad glare,
We night prefer, which heals or hides our care."

Churchill was big in build, brawny and broadshouldered.

"Vast were his bones, his muscles twisted strong;
His face was short, but broader than 'twas long;
His arms were two twin oaks; his legs so stout
That they might bear a mansion-house about;
Nor were they, look but at his body there,
Designed by fate a much less weight to bear."


The companionship of the profligate John Wilkes did nothing to improve him, and he became at length an avowed infidel. The "Rosciad" (published in 1761), which raised him to fame, was followed by "The Ghost," "Gotham "(called by Cowper a noble and beautiful poem), "The Candidate," and other poems. Separating from his wife, with whom he had long lived unhappily, he now formed a connection with a Miss Carr, the daughter of a Westminster tradesman. October, 1764, having gone to France to pay a visit to his friend Wilkes, then in exile, he was seized at Boulogne with a fever, which proved fatal on the 4th of November, and he was buried at Dover. As Byron, standing fifty years later by his grave, said, he had blazed "the comet of a season," for he was no sooner dead than people forgot him, and it need scarcely be remarked that very few now read Churchill. Cowper, who, be it observed, was never particularly intimate with him, had for the talents of "the great Churchill," as he styles him, extreme admiration, ranking him, indeed,

higher than any contemporary author; and when in after years he came to write poetry largely himself, it was Churchill, more than any other writer, that he made his model. Both poets were masters of satire, albeit that Cowper's was kindly while Churchill's was bitter and scornful, both lovers of liberty, and both lovers of their country; and Cowper, as he was apt to do in respect to those whom he admired, overlooked Churchill's faults in eagerness to do justice to his talents. At the same time, though that need hardly be said, in habits as well as temper and disposition the two men were as opposite as the poles. Cowper, much as he admired Churchill's genius, never belonged to his set, and certainly never disgraced himself with being a companion in "the great Churchill's" dissipations.

It must, nevertheless, be admitted that among these wits and littérateurs Cowper led a rather thoughtless life, and he afterwards deplored that so much of his time had been spent "among men who used the most holy Name in the universe for no purpose or a bad one, contrary to His own express commandment, who passed the day, and the succeeding days, weeks, and months, and years, without one act of private devotion, one confession of their sins, or one thanksgiving for the numberless blessings they enjoyed; who heard the Word of God in public with a distracted attention, or with none at all; who absented themselves voluntarily from the Holy Sacrament, and lived in the total neglect of it"in the company of men, in short, who lived "without God in the world." It must be remembered, however, that at the time Cowper wrote these words he was apt to forget that it is quite possible to live

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