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"When labour and when dulness, club in hand,
"The dial of the clock," says Northouck, in his "History of London" (1773), "projects over the street at the extremity of a beam; and over it, by a kind of whimsical conceit, is an Ionic porch, containing the figures of two savages, carved and painted, as big as life, which with knotted clubs alternately strike the hours and quarters on two bells hung between them."
In T. Thorpe's Catalogue of MSS., 1844, Art. 79, appears the following entry: "Common Place Book of William Cowper the poet, in his autograph 4to in the original wrapper 1757. Evidently compiled while studying the law." I do not know what has since become of it, but Mr. Bruce, who had apparently perused it, says that it was "devoted to legal subjects, the greater part of the volume consisting of a treatise entitled 'An Institute relative to trials at Nisi Prius, in seven parts."" As Mr. Bruce observes, this volume is "the only known evidence of Cowper's having given himself to any legal studies."
17. Cowper at the Inner Temple.
In 1759 Cowper removed to the Inner Temple, having bought chambers there for £250. The little money he had was now fast diminishing, and though he speaks lightly of his circumstances to his friends,
it is evident that his jesting manner was but the accompaniment of a very anxious heart. During the first few years the profession of a barrister is rarely lucrative, and the case of Cowper was no exception to the general rule. It is doubtful even whether he ever had a brief. Vide letter to Hill, dated October 10, 1767, in which, after asking a law question, he observes: "You are a better councillor than I was, but I think you have much such a client in me as I had in Dick Harcourt." About this time, however, through family influence, he was made a Commissioner of Bankrupts, which brought him in £60 a year.
"Being the son of a staunch Whig, and a man that loved his country," he tells us that his soul was frequently wont to glow "with that patriotic enthusiasm which is apt to break forth into poetry," and the time being prolific in stirring incidents, Cowper, who founded his style on that of Rowe and Congreve, had plenty of subjects for his pen. But these productions, whether political songs, odes, or the halfpenny ballads he speaks of, "two or three of which had the honour to be popular," have all perished, though we may guess their burden by the letter written to Mr. Hill on January 3, 1782, in which he reminds his friend of "those happier days," when they spent their evenings together and talked over the great victories that Englishmen were winning on land and sea. "When poor Bob White," says he, "brought in the news of Boscawen's success off the coast of Portugal, how I did leap for joy! When Hawke demolished Conflans I was still more transported. But nothing could express my rapture when Wolfe made the
conquest of Quebec." It may be noted that the date of Boscawen's victory was August 18, 1759, of Hawke's defeat of Admiral Conflans at Quiberon Bay, November 20, 1759, and of Wolfe's success, September 18, 1760.
With his brother John, who was about this time curate to the Rev. Mr. Fawkes, of Orpington, in Kent, Cowper continued to keep up a correspondence. John, however, did not confine himself to letters. "One morning," says Cowper, "as I was reading by the fireside, I heard a prodigious lumbering at the door. I opened it, and beheld a most rural figure, with very dirty boots, and a great-coat as dirty. Supposing that my great fame as a barrister had drawn unto me a client from some remote region, I desired him to walk in. He did so, and introduced himself to my acquaintance by telling me that he was the farmer with whom my brother lodged at Orpington. After this preliminary information he unbuttoned his great-coat, and I observed a quantity of long feathers projected from an inside pocket. He thrust in his hand, and with great difficulty extracted a great fat capon. He then proceeded to lighten the other side of him by dragging out just such another, and begged my acceptance of both. I sent them to a tavern, where they were both dressed, and I, with two or three friends whom I invited to the feast, found them incomparably better than any fowls that we had ever tasted from the London coops."
18. Cowper's Poverty.
Cowper's circumstances now got worse and worse, and he began to feel exceedingly uncomfortable on account of his worldly prospects. However, he buoyed himself up with the hope that he should always have clean linen, and in a half heroic, half despondent spirit, wrote as follows (September 2, 1762) to his friend, Mr. Clotworthy Rowley, of Tendring Hall, near Stoke-by-Nayland: "My resolution is (and I would advise you to adopt it) never to be melancholy while I have a hundred pounds in the world to keep up my spirits. God knows how long that will be; but, in the meantime, Io Triumphe! If a great man struggling with misfortunes is a noble object, a little man that despises them is no contemptible one, and this is all the philosophy I have in the world at present. It savours pretty much of the ancient Stoic; but, till the Stoics became coxcombs, they were, in my opinion, a very sensible sect.
"If my resolution to be a great man was half so strong as it is to despise the shame of being a little one, I should not despair of a house in Lincoln's Inn Fields, with all its appurtenances, for there is nothing more certain, and I could prove it by a thousand instances, than that every man may be rich if he will. What is the industry of half the industrious men in the world but avarice? and call it by which name you will, it almost always succeeds. But this provokes me, that a covetous dog who will work by candle-light in a morning, to get what he does not want, shall be
praised for his thriftiness, while a gentleman shall be abused for submitting to his wants rather than work like an ass to relieve them.
"There are some sensible folks who, having great estates, have wisdom enough too to spend them properly; there are others who are not less wise, perhaps, as knowing how to shift without 'em. Upon the whole, my dear Rowley, there is a degree of poverty that has no disgrace belonging to it; that degree of it, I mean, in which a man enjoys clean linen and good company; and if I never sink below this degree of it, I care not if I never rise above it. This is a strange epistle, nor can I imagine how the devil I came to write it, but here it is such as it is, and much good may do you with it. I have no estate, as it happens, so if it should fall into bad hands I shall be in no danger of a commission of lunacy."
Despite philosophy and forced hilarity, however, his lessening means gave him perpetual uneasiness; yet, with his usual paradoxicalness, he applied himself no more diligently to the law than he had done before.
His old fellow-student, on the other hand, had taken an entirely different course, for, possessed of a fine constitution and invincible strength of purpose, Edward Thurlow had applied himself with diligence and determination to the business of life, with the result that people already, and Cowper among them, prophesied great things of him. One evening, as the two friends were drinking tea together at a lady's house in Bloomsbury, Cowper, contrasting in melancholy foresight his own conduct and consequent prospects with those of his fellow-idler in former days, said to him, " Thurlow,