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

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A
UNCOLLECTED LETTERS AND ESSAYS: 1750-67

[1]

THIS IS the earliest surviving Cowper letter. It was known to Hayley and Lady Hesketh, and to John Johnson, but in accordance with Lady Hesketh's wishes was not included in Hayley's or Johnson's editions of the letters. Hayley had been 'much pleased with its humorous and innocent vivacity', and had thought of printing it, but acceded to her unexpected request, for it was 'only a point of feminine delicacy and taste'.1 Lady Hesketh's surprisingly finical taste in this matter shows her reluctance to present to the world any intimate knowledge of Cowper's early life. The protective Harriot was especially unwilling that the world should know anything which might concern her sister Theadora and Cowper's love for her. The obliging Hayley easily submitted.

It seems likely that Cowper had not been at Mr Chapman's very long. He sends his close friend Walter Bagot his new address. On 29 April 1748, while still at Westminster School, he was admitted to the Society of the Middle Temple. 2 His name appears in the school lists until 1749. He is then in the sixth form: Richard Sutton, an especially good friend, was first in the form; Cowper, third; Morgan (named in this letter), sixteenth; and Bagot, eighteenth. Morgan and Bagot are there in 1750, Morgan in the sixth form and Bagot among the 'Alumni'. 3 Cowper probably left Westminster, as was customary, when the school was dispersed for the Whitsuntide holidays, after the Election ceremonies (for the scholarships to Christ Church, Oxford, and Trinity, Cambridge).4 In 1749 the Election took place on 8 May. He writes in his Memoir: 'At the age of eighteen . . . I was taken from

____________________
1
Hayley's Memoirs, 11, 56; Hayley to Lady Hesketh, 11 Sept. (with the part of the letter to Bagot which Hayley intended to publish), and from Lady Hesketh in return, 17 Sept. 1805: Cowper Mus., Olney.
2
Mid. Temp. Reg. 1, 339.
3
'Westminster School Lists: 1744-53', ff. 76, 78, 86: Westminster MSS.
4
Tanner, Westminster School ( 1951), pp. 105-7; Rec. Old Wesim. 1, v.

-177-

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