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Catherina, - -
On the Receipt of my Mother’s Picture
WILLIAM CowPER was born on the 15th of November, (old style,) 1731, in the Rectory of Great Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire. His father, the Rector of the parish, was John Cowper, D.D., son of Spencer Cowper, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and next brother to the first earl Cowper, Lord Chancellor. His mother, the daughter of Roger Donne, Esq., of Norfolk, was of noble, and re. motely of royal descent. It is not, however, for her genealogy, but for being the mother of a great poet, that this lady will be remembered. She died at the age of thirtyfour, leaving of several children, only two sons. “I can truly say,” said Cowper, nearly fifty years after her death, “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.” At the time of her death, Cowper was but six years old; but young as he was, he felt his loss most poignantly, and has recorded his feelings on the occasion of her loss, in the most beautiful of his minor poems.
Soon after his mother's death, Cowper was sent to a boarding-school, where he suffered much from the cruelty
of one of the eld or boys. “Such was his savage treatment
of me,” says he, “that I well remember being afraid to lia my eyes higher than his knees, and I knew him better by his shoe-buckles than by any other part of his dress.” His infancy is said to have been “delicate innocommon degree,” and his constitution appears early to have discovered a morbid tendency to despondency. When Cowper was ten years old, he was sent to Westminster School, where he remained eight years. At Westminster he obtained an excellent classical education, and was much beloved by his companions, among whom were Lloyd, Colman, Churchill, and Warren Hastings; but he complains much of his want of religious instruction at this school. “At the age of eighteen,” he says, “being tolerably well furnished with grammatical knowledge, but as ignorant of all kinds of religion as the satchel at my back, I was taken from: Westminster.” He was now placed with an attorney, and had for his fellow clerk Thurlow, the after Lord Chancellor. He, however, made but little progress in the study of the law. “I did actually live,” he writes his cousin Lady Hesketh, many years afterwards, “three years with a Solicitor; that is to say, I slept three years in his house; but I lived, that is to say, I spent my days, in Southampton Row, as you well remember. There was I, and the future Lord Chancellor, constantly employed from morning to night, in giggling and making giggle, instead of studying the law.” In 1752, at the age of twenty-one, Cowper took chambers in the Temple; and in a Memoir which he wrote some years afterwards, he thus describes the commencement of that malady which embittered so much of his future life. “Not long after my settlement in the Temple, 1 was struck with such a dejection of spirits, as none but they who have felt the same, can have any conception of Day and night I was upon the rack, lying down in horror and rising up in despair. . . . . . In this state of mind'