William Cowper of the Inner Temple, Esq: A Study of His Life and Works to the Year 1768

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IV
READING

As forth she went at early dawn
To taste the dew-besprinkled lawn,
Behind she hears the hunter's cries,
And from the deep-mouth'd thunder flies;
She starts, she stops, she pants for breath,
She hears the near advance of death,
She doubles, to mis-lead the hound,
And measures back her mazy round;
'Till fainting in the publick way,
Half dead with fear she gasping lay. . . .
. . . dearest friends, alas, must part!
How shall we all lament! Adieu.
For see the hounds are just in view.

GAY, 'The Hare and many Friends'

COWPER was from childhood a scholar. By the time he had settled himself in the Temple he was master of four languages beside his own: Greek, Latin, French, and Italian. He had read continually in the literatures of these countries and in his letters he described the great pleasure he had had in reading with his friends. He read Homer with Dick Sutton at Westminster and again in the Temple with William Alston. He stretched out on a wall by the sea to read Tasso's Jerusalem and the Pastor Fido with Joseph Hill. We see the youths sprawled in fields and meadows, at the shore, in small rooms at school or in the Temple--reading together, and talking about literature. In childhood they read 'legendary tales', 'mythologic stuff', and from mother or a nurse they learned Bible stories. At school, a lot of classics and little religion--but in young manhood, philosophy prevailed.1

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1
Hayley ( 1803), II, 226-7; Letters, I, 223-4; II, 410, 420-1; III, 233; IV, 107; 'Tirocinium', ll. 181-200; Lady Hesketh to Hayley, 5 March 1801: 'I have always understood that he read a great deal while at the Temple. (tho' not much Law I believe) & he lived with men of the first rate understandings, & who made the best use of them . . .' (Add. MSS. 30803 A, f. III).

-55-

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