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MOTHER OF WILLIAM COWPER.
ANNE, daughter of Roger Donne, Esq., of Ludham Hall. in Norfolk, was married early in life to John Cowper, D.D., Rector of Great Berkhampstead, in Hertfordshire, and chaplain to George II.
Little is recorded of her, but that little is sufficient to shew the amiability of her character.Several of her children died in infancy. Two sons only, William and John, lived to experience the irreparable loss of a fond and judicious mother.She died in her thirty-fourth year, 1737, and was buried at St. Peter's, Berkhampstead; yet she continued to live in the memories of those who had shared so largely in her affections.
It is probable that this sad event served to deepen the gloom, if it did not actually produce the morbid melancholy, which threw a shadow over the spirit of the amiable and gifted poet. The affectionate child of six years old missed the nameless attentions of maternal love. His young but sensitive heart yearned for the gentle voice which was wont to soothe his early griefs, and the beaming smile which encouraged to some arduous task: but it was in the utter loneliness of a Public School, and
through the long years of weakness and disease which followed, that the extent of his loss was felt.
An extract from a letter written to Joseph Hill, Esq., on the death of that gentleman's mother, nearly fifty years after the loss of his own parent, will shew the feelings with which her memory was cherished.
“ You may remember,” he writes, “ with pleasure, while you live, a blessing vouchsafed to you so long;* and I, while I live, must regret a comfort of which I was deprived so early. I can truly say that not a week passes (perhaps I might with equal
I 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. But the ways of the Lord are equal ;—and when I reflect on the pangs she would have suffered, had she been a witness of all mine, I see more cause to rejoice than to mourn that she was hidden in the grave so soon.
The Rector, his father, discharged the trust which duty and affection imposed on him to the best of his ability, yet he had not sufficient discernment to discover that the delicate constitution, and still more susceptible mind, of his son, was unfitted to bear the strict discipline of a public school. There are too many ungenerous spirits, who, taking advantage of meek and timid tempers, tyrannize over them. This was the lot of William Cowper, whilst at Westminster school. He, who was afterwards looked up to with respect and love, by admiring
thousands was then, we are told, afraid to raise his eyes above the shoe-buckles of many of his blockhead companions.
That a mother should be taken from her offspring at a time when they stand in so much need of her care, is to us inscrutable, but to quote from one of Cowper's beautiful hymns
" God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.”
Perhaps this trial was needful to fit the immortal poet for the great work for which he was designed.
When Mrs. Bodham (Cowper's cousin) presented him with a portrait of his mother, he said—“ I had rather possess that picture than the richest jewel in the British crown ; for I loved her with an affection that her death, fifty-two years since, has not in the least abated.”
The following beautiful lines are extracted from a poem he wrote on the above occasion :
"Oh ! that those lips had language ! life has passed
With me but roughly since I heard thee last !
Those lips are thine-thy own sweet smile I see
The same, that oft in childhood solaced me;
Voice only fails, else how distinct they say,
• Grieve not, my child, chase all thy fears away.'
The meek intelligence of those dear eyes
(Bless'd be the art that can immortalize !
The art that baffles Time's tyrannic claim
To quench it) here shines on me still the same,
Faithful remembrancer of one so dear.
Oh, welcome guest, though unexpected here,
Who bidd'st me honour with an artless song!
Affectionate, a mother lost so long.
I will obey--not willingly alone,-
But gladly, as the precept were her own.
And while the face renews my filial grief,
Fancy shall weave a charm for my relief
Shall steep me in Elysian reverie-
A momentary dream that thou art she.
My mother I when I learn'd that thou wast dead,
Say, wast thou conscious of the tears I shed?
Hover'd thy spirit o'er thy sorrowing son-
Wretch, even then, life's journey just begun ?
Perhaps thou gav'st me, though unfelt, a kiss,
Perhaps a tear, if souls can weep in bliss.
Ah! that maternal smile ! It answers-yes.
I heard the bell tollid on thy burial day,
I saw the hearse that bore thee slow away,
And turning from my nursery window, drew,*
A long, long sigh, and wept a last adieu !
But was it such ? It was—Where thou art gone,
Adieus and farewells are a sound unknown.
May I but meet thee on that peaceful shore,
The parting word shall pass my lips no more.
Thy maidens, grieved themselves at my concern,
Oft gave me promise of thy quick return.
What ardently I wished, I long believed,
And disappointed still, was still deceived ;
By expectation every day beguiled,
Dupe of to-morrow, even from a child.
Thus many a sad to-morrow came and went,
Till, all my stock of infant sorrow spent,
I learn'd at last submission to my lot;
But though I less deplor'd thee, ne'er forgot.
Where once we dwelt our name is heard no more,
Children not thine have trod my nursery floor;
And where the gardener Robin, day by day,
Drew me to school along the public way
Delighted with my humble coach, and wrapp'd
In scarlet mantle warm, and velvet cap.
'Tis now become a history little known
That once we call'd the pastoral house our own!
Short-lived possession! but the record fair,
That memory keeps of all thy kindness there
Still outlives many a storm, that has effaced
A thousand other themes less deeply traced,
• The house at Berkhampstead, in which the poet was born, was pulled down by the Rev. Mr. Crofts, the present incumbent, who built another rectory higher up the walk in something the same style erecting an arbour on the site of the former house,
The Frontispiece represents the first house,
Thy nightly visits to my chamber made,
That thou might'st know me safe and warmly laid,
Thy morning bounties ere I left my home,
The biscuit, or confectionary plum;
The fragrant waters on my cheeks bestow'd
By thine own hand, till fresh they shone and glow'd.
All this, and more endearing still than all,
Thy constant flow of love that knew no fall,
Ne'er roughen'd by those cataracts and breaks,
That humour interposed too often makes.
All this still legible in memory's page,
And still to be su to my latest age,
Adds joy to duty, makes me glad to pay
Such honours to thee as my numbers may;
Perhaps a frail memorial, but sincere,
Not scorn'd in heaven, though little notic'd here.
Could Time, his flight revers'd, restore the hours,
When playing with thy vesture's tissued flowers-
The violet, the pink, the jessamine,
I prick'd them into paper with a pin,
(And thou wast happier than myself the while,
Would'st softly speak, and stroke my head and smile)
Could those few pleasant days again appear,
Might one wish bring them, would I wish them here?
I would not trust my heart-the dear delight
Seems so to be desired, perhaps I might-
But no-what here we call our life is such,
So little to be loved, and thou so much,
That I should ill-requite thee to constrain
Thy unbound spirit into bonds again.
My boast is not, that I deduced my birth
From loins enthroned, and rulers of the earth;
But higher far my proud pretensions rise,
The son of parents pass’d into the skies.
And now, farewell-Time unrevoked has run
His wonted course, yet what I wished, is done
By Contemplation's help, not sought in vain,
I seem'd to have liv'd my childhood o'er again ;
To have renew'd the joys that once were mine,
Without the sin of violating thine:
And while the wings of Fancy still are free,
And I can view this mimic show of thee,
Time has but half succeeded in his theft,-
Thyself removed, thy power to soothe me left."