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THE TRIALS OF COWPER'S CHILDHOOD.-COMPANIONS AND INFLUENCES AT SCHOOL.-HIS OWN IMPRESSIONS.
THE birthplace of the poet Cowper, one of the few poets in our world, beloved as well as admired by those who read him, was in the town of Great Birkhamstead, in Hertfordshire county, in England. He was born in 1731, November the 15th, at the rectory of his father, Dr. John Cowper, who was chaplain to George II., and rector of Birk's Parish. Cowper's mother died at the age of thirtyfour, in 1737, when the future poet was but six years of age. Yet at this early period her tenderness and love made an impression on the whole heart and nature of her child, never to be effaced. It came out more strongly, as such early impressions often do, and perhaps always, when they are lasting, at a far later age. Near fifty years after his beloved mother's death, Cowper wrote "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
CHILDHOOD OF COWPER.
upon me, though the opportunity she had for showing it was so short."
John Randolph once said to an intimate friend, "I used to be called a Frenchman, because I took the French side in politics; and though this was unjust, yet the truth is, I should have been a French atheist, if it had not been for one recollection; and that was the memory of the time when my departed mother used to take my little hand in hers, and cause me on my knees to say, 'Our Father who art in heaven.""
How sweet a picture of maternal tenderness and care! Sometimes, in the midst of darkness and despondency, in after years, Randolph would write, "I am a fatalist! I am all but friendless. Only one human being ever knew me. She only knew me!" The idea of that being who knew him in the dear relation of mother, continued to be as a guardian angel to him; many a time it seemed the only separation between him and death. Oh the power of a mother's love and prayers!
Short, indeed, was the opportunity granted to Cowper's mother to manifest her tenderness and care. Yet that opportunity was the time of tenderest, fondest love; between three years old and seven or eight, a mother loves her children more tenderly, and does more for the formation of their character than in any other equal period. And
CHILDHOOD OF COWPER.
one of the reasons plainly is, because in that interval the development of being and of character is sweeter, fresher, more attractive and original, than in any other. The poet remembered to his latest day, with the warm memory of love, that period of an affectionate mother's gentle and incessant He remembered his hours in the nursery, remembered when the gardener Robin drew him day by day to school in his own little bauble coach, carefully covered with his velvet cap and warm scarlet mantle. He remembered when he sat by his mother at her feet, and played with the flowers wrought upon her dress, and with imitative art amused himself and her with pricking the forms of the violet, the pink, the jasmin, into paper with a pin; the soft maternal hand from moment to moment laid upon his head, with endearing words and smiles that went into the depths of his heart. The pastoral home of his infancy, so dear for such inexpressibly delightful hours of the enjoyment of a mother's love, was his but for a brief interval.
"Short-lived possession! but the record fair,
A thousand other themes less deeply traced.
Thy nightly visits to my chamber made,
That thou mightst know me safe and warmly laid;
The fragrant waters on my cheek bestowed
By thine own hand, till fresh they shone and glowed;
Thy constant flow of love, that knew no fall,
Ne'er roughened by those cataracts and breaks
Adds joy to duty, makes me glad to pay
Perhaps a frail memorial, but sincere,
Not scorned in heaven, though little noticed here."
The morning brightness of such a mother's love, the child, passed into a man, could not forget, though all things were forgotten. He remembered the sound of the tolling bells on the day of her burial, and his seeing the black hearse that bore her away slowly moving off, and the grief with which he turned from the nursery window and wept bitterly; and he remembered how the sympathizing maidens, distressed at his sorrow, beguiled him day by day with the promise that his dear mother would soon return again, and how for a long time he believed what he so ardently wished, and from day to day was disappointed, till the expectation and the grief wore out together.
"Thus many a sad to-morrow came and went,
I learned, at last, submission to my lot,
Had Cowper's mother, so gentle, so affectionate,
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so careful, been spared to him, his course in life would have been very different; but perhaps the poetical peculiarities of his nature would never have been so exquisitely developed. The crushing of the flower, which was to yield so precious and perpetual a fragrance, began in childhood. From the care and gentleness of such a mother, and the quiet of an English rural home so peaceful, so like an earthly paradise, the sensitive, delicate child was immediately passed to the discipline of a boarding-school. This would have been a desolate and cruel change at best; but to Cowper, in this case, it was terrible, for there was in the school a brute pupil of fifteen years of age, who made himself the tyrant of the younger boys with unheard-of persecutions, and for two years the sorrowful and shrinking child was the peculiar subject of this wretch's tyranny and cruelty, until, the habits of the villain being discovered, he was expelled from the school. Cowper also was released, and for a couple of years was placed in the family of an eminent oculist, to be treated for a complaint threatening his eyesight. From that care and discipline he was removed, at the age of ten, and was placed at Westminster, where seven of the most important years of his life were passed in the study of the classics, till he was seventeen. His taste was cultivated, and his mind richly stored by these years of classical discipline, but