Harriet Cowper Hesketh.

Letters of Lady Hesketh to the Rev. John Johnson, concerning their kinsman William Cowper the poet online

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LAOV HESKETH.— Rv F. Coates.

Letters of Lady Hesketh







(n^e Donne)




LONDON: JARROLD & SONS Ail rights reserved

lo & II, WARWICK LANE, E.G. iqoi



It was a hundred years on April 25th, 1900, since William Cowper passed

There have been many lives written of him, so that the world is
familiar with such names as " Lady Hesketh " and " Johnny of Norfolk,"
and needs not to be reminded how lovingly these two cousins watched
over him during his later years, the one from a distance and the other
near at hand. The following hitherto unpublished letters, written from
1790 — 1806, including as they do the last ten years of Cowper's life, speak
for themselves.

The outlines of Lady Hesketh's life are to be found in any of the
" Lives of Cowper," but little is said of the life of " Johnny of Norfolk,"
so we have appended a short biography of him and his sister Catharine,
also of Mrs. Bodham, Anne Vertue Donne, and Miss Perowne, all
mentioned in these letters,

N.B. — It has not been thought necessary to alter Lady Hesketh's


John Johnson was born at Ludham, in Norfolk, November 15th, 1769,
His mother, Catharine, was daughter of Roger Donne, of Catfield,
Norfolk (brother of Cowper's mother). She died, when he was nine
months old, at the age of twenty-nine, having married Mr. Johnson, a
well-to-do old gentleman, twice married before, instead of the poor young
one of her heart, her cousin, Tom Donne. John was the only son by any
of the wives, and much indulged by his father. He was sent early to the
Holt Grammar School (one of Sir Thos. Gresham's foundations), after-
wards was placed with a Rev. Mr. Reeve, of Bungay, and finally, previous



to going to Caius College, Cambridge, read with a clergyman named
Buck, near Saffron Walden, where he constructed his " Audley End "
poem, and thence and therewith visited Cowper in 1789; from that time
he was a constant guest at Weston, and when Mrs. Unwin became
paralyzed and it became necessary to be constantly in attendance. Dr.
Johnson gave up his Curacy at Dereham, and removed both Cowper and
Mrs. Unwin to Norfolk — first to North Tuddenham, then to Mutidesley
and Dunham Lodge, and finally to East Dereham, where Dr. Johnson and
his sister had been living, and where Mrs. Unwin died December 17th,
1796, and Cowper April 25th, 1800. Dr. Johnson married in 1808 Maria
Livius, daughter of George Livius, of Bedford (who had served in India
as Chief of the Commissariat Department, under Warren Hastings),
and died September 29th, 1833, leaving three sons, viz.: —

(i.) The Rev. William Cowper Johnson, Hon. Canon of Norwich,
Rector of Yaxham, and afterwards of Northwold, Norfolk ;

(2.) The Rev. John Barham Johnson, Rector of Welborne, Norfolk ;

(3.) Henry Robert Vaughan Johnson, one of the conveyancing
counsel of the Chancery Division of the High Court ;

and two daughters, viz. : —

(i.) Mary Theodora, afterwards Mrs. Rogers.
(2.) Catharine Anne, died unmarried.


Doctor John.SON'S sister Catharine was two years older than her
brother, and was born in 1767. She nursed her aged father during his
last illness, and never really recovered the strain on her health. When he
died, she came to her brother, and remained with him till she married her
cousin, Charles Hewitt, a lawyer in East Dereham.

Cowper was much attached to his cousin Catharine, and called her
"one of my idols, from the resemblance she bears to my mother." Before
her first visit to Weston, she received the following charming little note
from him : —


May lyth, 1791 {unpublished).
My Dear Cousin,

That you may know somewhat of me, at least before you
come, I send you my handwriting, just to tell you that Mrs. Unwin
and I expect you here with a pleasure which no pleasure can exceed,
except what we shall feel on your actual arrival. I learn from your
brother that you are in a degree beyond himself apprehensive of
strangers, but be not afraid of us, my sweet Catharine, before you
come, for we will venture to assure you that you shall have no reason
to be so afterward.

With Mrs. Unwin's best love, I am,

Very affectionately yours,

Wm. Cowper.

Mrs. Hewitt died September 29th, 1820, leaving one daughter, who
married her cousin, William Bodham Donne, late Licensor of Plays.


Anne Donne, Cowper's early playmate and cousin, was daughter of
Roger Donne, the brother of Cowper's mother. She was born at Catfield,
Norfolk, June 24th, 1748. She married in 178 1 Rev. Thomas Bodham,
M.A., of Mattishall Hall, Norfolk, born 1742, Fellow of Gonville and
Caius College, Cambridge. He had a long and trying illness, and died at
Mattishall, June 20th, 1796, Mrs. Bodham surviving him many years.
She died January 3rd, 1846.

Having no children they adopted their niece, Anne Vertue Donne.

It was Mrs. Bodham who sent Cowper " His Mother's PICTURE,"
which called forth those beautiful lines, " Oh that those lips had language,"
on hearing from her nephew, John Johnson, after his first visit to Cowper
in 1789, how tenderly he recollected that mother. From that time Mrs.
Bodham and Cowper became regular correspondents, and some of his
most charming letters are written to her.



Allusions are made in the letters to a fair cousin living at Mattishall —
this was Anne Vertue Donne, the adopted daughter of Mr. and Mrs.
Bodham — she was the daughter of Castres Donne, Rector of Loddon,
Norfolk, born 1781. "Johnny of Norfolk" was very tenderly attached to
this cousin Anne, and would like to have made her his wife, but she
preferred another cousin, Edward Charles Donne, and married him in
1803. Anne Vertue Donne died in 1859.

Mattishall Hall (or South Green, as it used to be called,) is still in the
possession of the Donne family, the present owner being the Rev. C. E.
Donne, late Vicar of Faversham, Kent, now of i8b, Ladbroke Grove Road,


Lady Hesketh, wife of Sir Thomas Hesketh, as is well known, was
first cousin to Cowper, and sister of his early love, Theodora. Both were
daughters of Mr. Ashley Cowper, the uncle, whose house in Southampton
Row became a home to Cowper, when, at eighteen years of age, he was
articled to a solicitor in London for three years. Lady Hesketh did not
become a regular correspondent of Cowper's until twenty years after he
left London, viz., October, 1792, but from that time till his death they
wrote to each other frequently, and the following letters written to Doctor
Johnson show how anxious she was to hear every detail of the last sad
years of her dear cousin's life. Her own health and nerves were shattered
by the strain of attending him at Weston.
Lady Hesketh died on January 15th 1807.


Miss Margaret Perowne was lady housekeeper to Dr. Johnson and
his sister, and remained with him until he married in 1808, when she went
to live with Mrs. Bodham at Dereham, in whose house she died.


When Cowper went into lodgings in Huntingdon, he made the acquaint-
ance of Mary Unwin and her husband, the Rev. Morley Unwin, who had


been Master of the Free School, and Lecturer of the two Churches in
Huntingdon for several years. Cowper soon became intimate with the
family, and went to live with them in 1765. Mr. Unwin died in 1767, and
Mrs. Unwin and Cowper removed to Olney, and then to Weston, from
whence they both went to Norfolk in 1795, and Mrs. Unwin died there
December 17th, 1796, aged seventy-two. Cowper, in a letter to Mrs.
King, March 12th, 1790, says of her: "She has supplied to me the place
of my own mother, my own invaluable mother, these six-and-twenty
years. Some sons may be said to have had many fathers, but a plurality
of mothers is not common." It is to her that Cowper addressed those
beautiful lines " To Mary."

Mrs. Unwin's son was a devoted friend of Cowper, and some of his
most delightful letters are written to him.

Catharine BodhaxM Johnson.

We/dorne Rectory^ E. Dereham,


Chief Justice of Common Pleas,
second son of Sir Wm. Cowper, Bart.

N'E, = John Cowper, D.D.,

i Rector of Great Berkhampsled,
died July loth, 1756, aged 61.
Married Anne Donne.


AsiiLEV Cowper.

Lady Hesketh.

Lady Croft.



viUSi», „siiu «.n5

.r L.,SS' »iS!fe™. SPESCEB COWPEK.



Facing Page

COWPER ....... ig




(First Cousin once removed of Cowper) - - - -70

COWPER's house, front VIEW ..... g^






John Johnson was introduced to Lady Hesketh at the end of 1789.
He was then just twenty years of age and an undergraduate of Caius
College, Camb. The following letter was the first of a series, which,
beginning in Feb., 1790, lasted till her death in 1807. It begins
in the third person, and thanks him for copying out all the poems
and unpublished verses of Cowper he could find. These he continued to
send her from time to time, and allusions to this practice of his occur in
the letters.

The Poem of " Audley End," of which mention is made in Letters L
and n., was composed by John Johnson. It is a dialogue in verse
between two characters, " Corydon " and " Thyrsis," and covers thirty-three
closely written pages quarto size.


N. Norfolk Street {London),

T/iurs.,ye 29 Feb., 1790.

Lady Hesketh's best compliments wait on Mr. Johnson, and takes the
first opportunity to acquaint him that she received the Invaluable Manu-
scripts he was so obliging to send her, late last night ; they arriv'd very
safe, tho' a little Damp, on the outside only, which another time may be
avoided by putting a thin bit of slit Deal, or a bit of parchment top and
bottom. Lady Hesketh can see no possible room for apologys either for the
Pages, or the Writing of the books he has returned, and she thinks herself


particularly oblif^ed to thank Mr. Johnson for the kind trouble he has
taken, at the same time that she must beg leave to assure him there are
few people she would have trusted on this occasion, but is very certain
she can depend on the obliging promise he made her not to shew a
syllable of them or it might be an irrevocable injury to Mr. Cowper ;
Lady Hesketh returns a thousand thanks to Mr. Johnson for his own Poem
which she is much flattered at being entrusted with, though company has
prevented her from doiiig more than reading a very few pages, those few
have given her an earnest desire to peruse the whole, which she shall
immediately gratify when she has again thanked Mr. Johnson for his two
obliging and very entertaining letters and acknowledged the receipt of the
Picture which came very safe and went down yesterday to Weston.

To Mr. J. Johnson,

Caius College, Cambridge.

N. Norfolk Street,

June 15, 1790.
Dear Sir,

I am really much ashamed of having made so ungenerous a use
of the liberty you so obligingly gave me, and feel that I have many
apologies to make for having detained your elegant descriptive Poem so
long ; I am too indifferent a judge of Performances of this nature to
pretend to criticise or to fear that any Praises of mine will make you vain.
You must however allow me to say, that I received much pleasure from
the perusal of " Audley End," and those who are acquainted with the
scenes you celebrate will be sensible of increased satisfaction on this
occasion. I am persuaded that if this performance has any defects, our
excellent friend at Weston will assist you in revising it with great
pleasure. I know he expects to see you this Summer, and I hope you
will not disappoint him. It would be a subject of great joy to me, if that
good soul had it in his power to receive you as you merit, and as he would
wish — but his very limited fortune makes that impossible. Of one thmg
however you may be assured, that your Society will be a very real pleasure
and satisfaction both to him and Mrs. Unwin, and that you may depend on
a reception the most cordial and friendly from them both. Our dear good
Cousin's retired life is the worst of all possible things for nerves, and spirits
so much injured as his have been, and it is therefore a sincere happiness
to me, when those he likes and loves will be kind enough to visit him.


That you are one of those who stand high among that number though
your acquaintance is of so late a Date you may Sir take the full assurance
from the Pen of

Yr. obliged and faithfull servant,

H. Hesketh.
To Mr. Johnson,

Caius College.

Note. — John Johnson, wishing to hear Cowper's opinion of his poem,
" Audley End," took it to Weston in 1789, but being too shy
to own himself the author, he pretended it came from Lord
Howard with a request from his lordship that Cowper would
revise it. Part of a letter of Cowper to Lady Hesketh describes
the incident. It is from Southey's " Life of Cowper."

The Lodge,

Jan 23, 1790.
My Dearest Coz,

I had a letter yesterday from the wild boy Johnson, for whom
I have conceived a great affection. It was just such a letter as I like,
of the true helter-skelter kind ; and though he writes a remarkably
good hand, scribbled with such rapidity that it was barely legible.
He gave me a droll account of the adventures of Lord Howard's
note and of his own in pursuit of it. The poem he brought me
came as from Lord Howard, with his lordship's request that I
would revise it. It is in the form of a pastoral, and is entitled
" The Tale of a Lute ; or the Beauties of Audley PLnd." I read it
attentively ; was much pleased with part of it, and part of it I
equally disliked. I told him so, and in such terms as one
naturally uses when there seems to be no occasion to qualify or to
alleviate censure. I observed him afterwards somewhat more
thoughtful and silent, but occasionally as pleasant as usual ; and
in Kilwick Wood, where we walked the next day, the truth came
out, that he was himself the author; and that Lord Howard, not
approving it altogether, and several friends of his own age to whom
he had shewn it, differing from his lordship in opinion, and being
highly pleased with it, he had come at last to a resolution to abide
by my judgment ; a measure to which Lord Howard by all means
advised him. He accordingly brought it.


IVesioji Lodge,

Dec. 8, 1790.
How much I love and honour your Enthusiastick (sic) Zeal in the
service of your Friends my good Sir JoJin Croydon, let this quick return
to your letter of yesterday assure you ; nothing delights me more than to
see People active in the cause they have undertaken. That passive
Spirrit (sic) which is often honour'd by the name of Good-nature, but
which is contented with sending Good wishes to those they love from a
comfortable Sofa or an Easy-Chair is not a sort of goodness which suits my
Taste — I like the Impetuosity of your Spirrit which inclines you to do and
to think of everything by which you may essentially serve those you
profess to love and esteem — Judge then how much, and more particularly
it pleases me to see that hippy Talent of yours, exerted in every possible
way in favour of our good and valuable Cousin, whom {par paretitliese) I
love as viucJi better than you do, as I have known him longer, as well at
least as any Sister can love a brother, your sister Kate not excepted. This
being the case Cousin Johnny, as it certainly is, let me proceed to tell you
how much both I, myself /, Mrs. Unwin, and this dear Cousin of ours
approve and admire at all the good you have already done us, and all that
j-ou design further to do, in our service. I can only say, " Go on, and
prosper," and the goodness of your own heart and your affection for our
Cousin will be your Recompense. I know that by this time you hate me
cordially, for asserting that my affection to the Translator of Homer is
stronger than yours, and you will ask me perhaps whether it requires half
a century to create a sincere Friendship and esteem for a deserving object 1
To this I answer. No — not exactly that, yet you must allow, Cousin
Johnny, that the Tree which has taken the firmest root is the least liable
to accidents or injury, and when you have allowed me this, I will honestly
own to you, that it is in the Term of its duration only that I believe my
attachment to excell yours, so allow me the melancholy privilege that age
gives me, and let us part Friends. Oh ! but we must not part yet, I
have several things yet to say. One is about the Mr. Cowper, and the
Miss Madan, whom your Friend Mrs. Reeves saw at Evesham House,
they are both Cousins of mine and Mr. Cowper's. Miss Madan is the
Daughter of the late Mr. Madan of Epsom, the clerg)'nian. who has written
so zvell, and so abominably, but no more of Him ; the Mr. Cowper who was
there at the same time, is the eldest son of the late Major Cowper, of
the Park Hou.se, in Hertfordshire, who was Major in the Hertfordshire
Militia, and is nephew to Gen-'ral Cowper, of whom yo.i have often heard
us talk — take notice I should have spared myself and you this account,
but that I love to Treat people with their P'avourite Dish when I can, and
considering you in the light of Rouge Dragon, or Norroy King at Arms,


I give you this faitit shadoiv of the Ghost of a pedigree, which may prove
. perhaps as a little Dainty, or Kickshow to stay your stomach, till some-
thing more satisfactory falls in your way ; apropos of pedigrees — not a
word of Paddy from Corke ! If j^our letter found him there, there I
suppose he remains, but too much stupified poor man ! by the contents of
it I daresay to allow him to think of attempting a Reply to so intricate
and so astonishing a performance, at least for many weeks to come !
should he ever recover from the ainazement and surprise, which this
wonderful Epistle must have thrown him into, I conclude he will put
advertisements into all the English newspapers, making enquiry with a
reward annexed for the discovery of one John Johnson, alias Sir John
Croydon, alias Mr. Fly-by-Night, &c., &c., &c. I expect every day to see
something of this kind and the moment I do, I shall cut it out, and send
it to you by an Express. I suppose as he considers you as a Relation, he
will give directions to whoever finds you to have you taken proper care of,
but by no means suffered to run wild about the country by }'ourself. And
now Thou Quondam Mathematician so lately turned and transformed into
a Civilian, what further can I say to thee? Oh yes one thing I must
say before I conclude, that our dear Cousin is far from objecting to the
Scheme you propose of sounding his Fame, in those Market 7'owns of
which you give so favourable an account, in other words, he sees no
Impropriety in allowing his Proposals to be placed in the shops of any
booksellers of credit whether small or great, this, He says, but I for
myself say, that as you talk of Market Towns, I shrewdly suspect you
will have his Proposals crfd on Market Days, and to this I give an absolute
No. To be serious tho' I cannot well describe to you, how much he is
pleased with your letter to me, nor the satisfaction it gives him to
stand so high, as you assure me he does in the esteem of so many worthy
people, particularly Dr. Glyn and Dr. Coleman, both whom he highly
respects. Oh ! Cousin Johnny how exactly do I represent to myself the
figure you made when called upon to read that Obsolete Poem to the
critical and well judging ears of Dr. Glyn aforesaid. I do indeed believe
that Lord Howard and his 67/^^^^/- never inspired you with half the Terror
— well but 'tis over, and happy are you that it is so ; I daresay you came
out of this fiery Tryal with more credit to yourself than you will acknow-
ledge to us. Tho' I have written so much I must not conclude without
assuring you of our good Mrs. Unwin's particular regards and affection.
She bids me assure you of her love and good wishes, but adds she
is not sorry she was not near you when you were performing those
curious Evolutions in the Capering way, which you mentioned to me.
By the way I must inform you that the dear Beau (Dog) supplys
your place very notably and shakes us in our Chairs ten times a day at


least. One observation however I must make, Mrs. Unwin never scolds
Him, but you must not wonder at this. Yoii are Mr. Cowper's Relation
'tis true, but Bcati — is his Dog, and you know the old Proverb —
well, and now it appears to be high time to bid you farewell — I will
therefore only say further that all here wish you a happy meeting with
your Norfolk Friends — none more than her who is indebted to you for
many a good laugh, and who is

Yours sincerely,

Harriot Hesketh.

p.S. — Mr Cowper desires his particular compts., with thanks to
Dr. Glyn and Dr. Coleman. We have feasted wonderfully of late by the
kind contributions of our Norfolk Friends. All has been Excellent — but
of all the Daintys I ever tasted the Oysters you sent us, were by much
the best. Adieu.

To John Johnson, Esq.,

Caius College, Cambridge.

^^^cte — I have not been able to discover the origin of the nickname " Sir
John Croydon." Whether it was a well-known name in the Liter-
ature or Drama of the day, or whether, in her hasty perusal of
" Audley End," Lady Hesketh had read " Croydon " for " Corydon,"
one of the characters in that Poem.

The " Paddy from Corke" was a certain Mr. Kellet, a Banker at
Cork, who was supposed to be a connection of Cowper's, and to
whom John Johnson had written when collecting materials for the
Poet's pedigree.

Mr. Madan was the author of " Thelyphtora," a treatise in favour
of polygamy.


Edgar House, Bath,

Nov. 15, 1792.
Dear Sir,

I have to return you my sincere thanks not only for your letter
and for the answers you sent to all my troublesome questions, but for some
of the very finest Game I ever saw : they are great raritys to me, who have
not seen a Partridge this year, and indeed I may say with great truth that
I might see hundreds without seeing any at all to compare with those you


SO kindly sent me. I know Norfolk was always famous for its Game, and
you have convinced me, how well it deserves the universal preference which
is given to it, above the other parts of England. The birds in question
arrived very safe and very sweet on Sunday, and I eat the last yesterday,
the breast and wings affording me a more plentiful dinner than I have
devoured for some time. You need not henceforth direct your letters to
be left. That precaution I thought necessary to take at first coming, but
in this place every body is so well known that Bath is suf^cient unless
you choose to add Edgar House, which is that which I inhabit, and where
I find myself perfectly comfortable. Let me now return to your answers
to my Queries, which turn out much as I expected. I have long known
in a degree the turn of mind of our friend Hayley, and feared that on a
nearer acquaintance it would be too conspicuous to our dear Cousin for
him to take that comfort in his Society, that I sincerely wished him to do
in that of one who had shown him such uncommon marks of friendship
and affection. I had a hint given me sometime ago by a Lady who said
she should not imagine from the whole turn of Mr. Cowper's writings that
he could long be intimate with Mr. Hayley, whose religious Principles
were "so different from his own," she added, but did not mean "that Mr.
H. was an hifidel, but that there were degrees of Piety and she feared
Mr. H. would fall very short of the notions Mr, Cowper had formed
on those subjects." On this account your letter my good Croydon
did not surprise, tho' it grieved me, we both know the warmth and

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Online LibraryHarriet Cowper HeskethLetters of Lady Hesketh to the Rev. John Johnson, concerning their kinsman William Cowper the poet → online text (page 1 of 13)