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I am nobody, and shall always be nobody, and you will be Chancellor. You shall provide for me when you are!" He smiled, and replied, "I surely will." "These ladies," said Cowper, "are witnesses!" The future Chancellor still smiled, and answered, "Let them be so, for I will certainly do it." Cowper's prophecy was fulfilled, but Thurlow's promise, whether through forgetfulness or inability, never came to anything.
19. The House of Lords Affair, 1763.
In 1763 the Clerk of the Journals of the House of Lords died, and about the same time the offices of Reading Clerk and Clerk of Committees were resigned. All three were patent offices in the patronage of Cowper's kinsman, Major Cowper, of Hertingfordbury, who immediately, fulfilling the expectations which had always been entertained of him, offered the two last, which were the most lucrative, to his cousin. Dazzled by so splendid a proposal, Cowper accepted the offer; but no sooner had he done so, than his inveterate diffidence induced a dread of a position to which the publicity from which he shrank was of necessity attached. Yet he had always looked forward to the succession to these offices, and had even remarked lightly that he should be glad when the holder of them was dead, that he might step into the vacant place. But now these words returned to his horrified conscience as having been uttered "in the spirit of a murderer." After much mental conflict, he begged Major Cowper to let him exchange these more profit
able posts for the Clerkship of the Journals, the duties of which were performed in private, and, greatly as it was against the grain, the Major at length consented. The place to which Cowper had been appointed was given to a Mr. Arnold, and Cowper himself received the clerkship. But now a fresh difficulty arose. Objections were raised to the Major's right of presentation, a powerful party having been formed in the Lords to thwart it in favour of an old enemy of the family, and an order was issued that the Major's nominee should be examined at the bar of the House
to his qualifications for the post. What the consequences were had better be told in the words. of Cowper himself. "Being necessarily ignorant," says he, "of the nature of that business, it became expedient that I should visit the office daily, in order to qualify myself for the strictest scrutiny. All the horror of my fears and perplexities now returned. A thunderbolt would have been as welcome to me as this intelligence. I knew to demonstration that upon these terms the clerkship of the journals was no place for me. To require my attendance at the bar of the House, that I might there publicly entitle myself to the office, was, in effect, to exclude me from it. In the meantime, the interest of my friend, the honour of his choice, my own reputation and circumstances, all urged me forward, all pressed me to undertake that which I saw to be impracticable. They whose spirits are formed like mine, to whom a public exhibition of themselves on any occasion is mortal poison, may have some idea of the situation; others can have none.
"My continued misery at length brought on a
nervous fever; quiet forsook me by day, peace night; a finger raised against me was more than I could stand against. In this posture of mind I attended regularly at the office, where, instead of a soul upon the rack, the most active spirits were essentially necessary for my purpose. I expected no assistance from anybody there, all the inferior clerks being under the influence of my opponent, and accordingly I received none. The journal books were indeed thrown open to me, a thing which could not be refused, and from which, perhaps, a man in health, and with a head turned to business, might have gained all the information he wanted, but it was not so with me. I read without perception, and was so distressed that, had every clerk in the office been my friend, it could have availed me little, for I was not in a condition to receive instruction, much less to elicit it out of manuscripts without direction. Many months went over me thus employed, constant in the use of means, despairing as to the issue.
"The feelings of a man when he arrives at the place of execution are probably much like mine every time I set my foot in the office, which was every day for more than half a year together."
A letter which he wrote to his cousin Harriet (now the wife of Sir Thomas Hesketh) on the 9th of August, 1763, is of more than ordinary interest. "I have a pleasure," he says, "in writing to you at any time, but especially at the present, when my days are spent in reading the Journals, and my nights in dreaming of them, an employment not very agreeable to a head that has long been habituated to the luxury of choosing
its subject, and has been as little employed upon business as if it had grown upon the shoulders of a much wealthier gentleman. . . . Oh, my good cousin! if I was to open my heart to you, I could show you strange sights. . . . I am of a very singular temper, very unlike all the men that I have ever conversed with. Certainly I am not an absolute fool, but I have more weaknesses than the greatest of all the fools I can recollect at present. In short, if I was as fit for the next world as I am unfit for this, and God forbid I should speak it in vanity, I would not change conditions with any saint in Christendom."
But now came a brief respite from all the turmoil, for when we next hear of Cowper he is spending a few weeks' furlough at Margate, in accordance with the advice of his physician and friend, the gifted Dr. William Heberden, author of the Latin work, "De Curatione Morborum." To this amiable and admirable man Cowper pays a tribute in the poem called "Retirement," the opening lines of which refer to his own
"Virtuous and faithful Heberden, whose skill
20. At Margate.-August and September, 1763.
As at Southampton ten years previously, the change of scene, together with other advantages, began to work an alteration in him for the better. To quote the
Memoir, "There, by the help of cheerful company, a new scene, and the intermission of my painful employment, I presently began to recover my spirits; though even here, for some time after my arrival (notwithstanding, perhaps, that the preceding day had been spent agreeably, and without any disturbing recollection of my circumstances), my first reflections, when I awoke in the morning, were horrible and full of wretchedness. I looked forward to the approaching winter, and regretted the flight of every moment which brought it nearer; like a man borne away by a rapid torrent into a stormy sea, whence he sees no possibility of returning, where he knows he cannot submit."
Many years after, when his friends Unwin and Newton at different times visited Margate, he calls up his own recollections of the place. To Unwin (July, 1779) he says: "When I was at Margate it was an excursion of pleasure to go to see Ramsgate. The pier, I remember, was accounted a most excellent piece of stone-work, and such I found it. By this time I suppose it is finished. . . . There was not at that time much to be seen in the Isle of Thanet, besides the beauty of the country and the fine prospects of the sea, which are nowhere surpassed, except in the Isle of Wight, or upon some parts of the coast of Hampshire. One sight, however, I remember engaged my curiosity, and I went to see it-a fine piece of ruins, built by the late Lord Holland at a great expense, which, the day after I saw it, tumbled down for nothing. Perhaps, therefore, it is still a ruin; and if it is, I would advise you by all means to visit it, as it must have been much improved by this fortunate accident. It is hardly pos