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mother from a cousin in Norfolk.
Memories flooded his mind. The
years had been traumatic and
threatening. His mind wandered
back to the only time in his life
that he had known complete
safety. He studied the picture of his
He mediated on every feature of her
face—loving her, adoring her, and
remembering the gentle touch of
so long ago.
Westminster, then one of
the foremost public schools in
England. Here he excelled in the
classics and general academics.
When he left Westminster, he
could write as easily in Latin as
he could in English.
At eighteen Cowper became the
apprentice to an attorney and in
1754 was called to the Bar. Two
years later he was appointed to
the post of Commissioner of
Bankrupts with a salary of £60 a
oon after his mother’s death,
year. Cowper was sent to a boarding
school in the nearby village of That lifestyle came to an abrupt end
Market Street. The little boy, in 1763 when Cowper was 32 years
grappling with the death of his old. There is no clear explanation
mother, now had to experience as to what happened to Cowper’s
the absence of his father in a health in 1763. He became very
strange place. One of the older melancholic and at times greatly
boys bullied young William depressed. Some writers have
into a complete state of terror. suggested that he could not stand
Years later, William recalled the the pressures of his law profession.
Many causes have been suggested
experience in complete detail.
such as psychological, religious,
and even nutritional. 1 No
one can speak with absolute
The examination loomed over
him like the incoming clouds of a
storm. As the date drew near, the
pressure increased. Now the seeds
of all of William Cowper’s fears
and insecurities germinated. The
death of his mother, the brutal
treatment in his early school days,
and the upcoming examination
now all met in one emotional
moment. Cowper had reached
the breaking point. Growing up
without the guiding hand of his
mother he struggled between the
extreme Calvinism of the day
and the reality and assurance of
personal faith. Inside of the great
man was a doctrine that said, “You
might be cursed and damned as
the non-elect” and another voice
of personal faith and experience.
T here seemingly was no one
in his life to steady him from
the depths of despair. One foggy
night he called for a horse-drawn
carriage and asked to be taken to
the London Bridge on the Thames
River. He was so overcome by
depression that he intended to
commit suicide. But after two
hours of driving through the mist,
Modern terminology would Cowper’s coachman reluctantly
describe Cowper’s dilemma confessed that he was lost.
as a “complete nervous
Disgusted by the delay, Cowper
left the carriage and decided
the happy, carefree face of
to find the London Bridge on
William Cowper was a storm
foot. After walking only a short
ready to break. The breaking
distance though, he discovered
point came when he faced an
that he was at his own doorstep!
examination before a public
The carriage had been going
panel as a candidate for the
in circles. Immediately, he
Clerkship of the Journals for
recognized the restraining hand
the House of Lords.
of God in it all. Convicted by the
Spirit, he realized that the way
1 William Cowper, Selected Poem,
out of his troubles was to look to
Nick Rhodes, Carcanet Press LtD.,
12 Manchester, England.