chapter  2
4 Pages

Madness, salvation, and Mary Unwin

Cowper came into a small patrimony when his father died in 1756 and, like the poet James Thomson before him, he briefly enjoyed one of the innumerable sinecures in the gift of the Lord Chancellor. He was never well-off, but for most of his life he lived like a modest gentleman on a tiny private income, supplemented by gifts and annuities from friends and relations. In his twenties he was the nervous, sensitive, fidgety man he always would be, but for a while he led the dandified, lackadaisical existence of a young manabout-town. He associated with former Westminster schoolmates in the Nonsense Club, the business of which was dining, drinking, and writing comic verses; his Matthew-Prioresque 'An Epistle to Robert Lloyd, Esqr.' exemplifies the high-spirited cameraderie of the club, though this lively piece of light verse is darkened briefly by the shadow of its author's melancholy (lines 13-20), p. 235 below).