chapter  5
4 Pages

Recovery: occasional poems and letters

For all their spiritual despair, the Latin verses and the English sapphics on 'hatred and vengeance' marked a stage in Cowper's regaining his wits. His recovery of emotional composure during 1774 was further helped by the gift of three pet hares from some neighbours' children who had tired of them as playthings. Ten years later, when one of the hares was still alive, he published in the Gentleman's Magazine Oune 1784) a detailed, affectionate account of their history, habits, and characters, in which he expressed abhorrence at the treatment such animals receive from huntsmen. Cowper's advocacy of kindness to dumb animals, except, of course, snakes, snails, and other such vermin (see Task VI, 568-83 notes), is not as novel as is sometimes claimed; Alexander Pope's essay 'Against Barbarity to Animals' in the Guardian no. 61 (1713) refers, for instance, to the Old Testament, Ovid, Plutarch, Montaigne, and others on this subject; but Cowper's sentiments in The Task (e.g. III, 108-11, 301-51; VI, 321-631, 719-28) attained a particularly wide circulation. For him, as for other humanitarians of his day,

sympathy with any animal in pain was both a Christian duty of love towards God's creatures and one of the pleasures of the man of feeling; but for Cowper this sympathy arose also perhaps from selfidentification with a helpless creature tormented by an implacable, all-powerful enemy. Furthermore, his care for and amusement at the antics of his pet hares and caged birds, his spaniels, Beau and Marquis, and his bulldog Mungo, were an easy and comforting diversion when he found human company too emotionally demanding.