Page:Notes and Queries - Series 9 - Volume 5.djvu/425

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9* s. v. MAY 26, i9oo.] NOTES AND QUERIES.


THE COWPER CENTENARY. (9 th S. v. 301, 357.)

IT may be of interest to readers of ' N. &, Q.' to know that the issues of the Eastern Daily Press (Norwich) of 23, 24, and 25 April contain articles on the Cowper Cen- tenary by his Honour Judge Willis, Q.C. The judge deals in trenchant fashion with the inaccuracies of the poet's biographers and critics, from Hayley to Mr. Wright and Mr. Augustine Birrell. Towards the end of the final article Judge Willis gives us the follow- ing interesting particulars :

"It is also to be regretted that at the close of a hundred years inaccuracies should still be common in the various lives of the poet. In his recent article in the Leisure Hour, Mr. Birrell says that in 1803 ' Hayley published a life and letters of Cowper in four cumbrous volumes.' There is not such an edition. Hayley published a life and letters in two volumes quarto in 1803, and a third volume quarto was published in 1804. As showing the popularity of the ' Life,' it may be mentioned that there was a second edition of the two volumes quarto in the same year (1803). There was no edition in four volumes until 1806. Mr. Birrell, without any investigation of his own, appears to have adopted the statement of Mr. Benham in his preface to the Globe edition, where he speaks of a ' Life and Letters of William Cowper, by William Hayley, 4 vols., 1803.' Mr. Wright gets a little nearer the truth in saying that Hayley^ ' Life ' first appeared in two volumes in 1803. The fact is that it ap- peared in three volumes, two in 1803 and the third in 1804. The second edition of Hayley's ' Life,' which consisted of four octavo volumes in 1806, is worthy of a passing notice, because it contains an account of Hayley's attempt to procure a public monument for Cowper. The list of subscribers to the fund is given, and amongst them is the name of the Right Hon. William Pitt, ten guineas. An asterisk is placed against those who had paid their subscriptions : William Pitt's name appears without an asterisk. He died insolvent, and the nation paid his debts. Amongst the other names of the sub- scribers is a name which one reads now with inter- est, for we can put more meaning into the fact of the subscription than could those who read it when the list first came out, the name of Theodora Jane Cowper. She as the last expression of her love subscribed and paid six guineas. As showing the manners of the time in addressing an elderly single lady, it may be mentioned that she is styled Mrs. Theodora Cowper. Hayley proposed to raise the money by giving to each subscriber of six guineas a CO P V * Milton's poems in three quarto volumes. The appeal was not responded to sufficiently to allow of the raising of a public monument."


Some of the Scottish newspapers have taken the present opportunity to revive the legend which connects Cowper with the county of Fife. It may be remembered

that the poet makes a jocular reference on this subject in his letter to Mrs. Courtenay, dated 15 September, 1793. He observes :

" While Pitcairne whistles for his family estate in Fifeshire, he will do well if he will sound a few notes for me. I am originally of the same shire, and a family of my name is still there, to whom, perhaps, he may whistle on my behalf not altogether in vain."

In the Fife People's Journal for 28 April an account is given of the Cowpers or Coupers of S ten ton, parish of Abercrombie, St. Monans, to which family the poet's remark probably applies. The writer of the article fails to show any connexion between the poet and his Fifeshire name- sakes, and yet he does not hesitate to speak of a Stenton contemporary as "the poet's kinsman." According to the Couper tomb- stone in Abercrombie churchyard, John Couper, who died in 1828, aged ninety-one, had a son named John, who died in London, and it is surmised that this son may have "come into contact with some of his aristocratic kinsmen " in the metropolis, thereby getting to the knowledge of the poet. But all this is mere guesswork, and, at any rate, casual acquaintance is not even on the road to relationship. On the whole, one is forced to the conclusion that, while Cowper happened to be right in saying that there were people of his name in Fifeshire worthily represented, it may be added, at the present moment there is no evidence to show that he and his Fifeshire contemporaries of his name came of the same stock. From the Howe of Fife to the east and the south-east of the county the in- fluence of the Coupers for good has been felt for many generations ; and it is not im- possible that the indomitable " wee cooper o' Fife," with his drastic methods of uxorial discipline, may be one of the clan.


The interesting record of Cowper which appeared in 'N. & Q.' induces me to ask space in your columns for some reminis- cences of my own concerning Olney and the neighbourhood, arising from the unforgotten past. I may say that I once held a curacy in the vicinity for more than three years, and on one occasion took charge of the parish of Olney for a month, residing in the vicarage. It is, however, more than thirty years ago, yet the memory is still retentive and receptive.

There were, indeed, many places full of interest in the neighbourhood. For instance, at no great distance was the Yardley Oak