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N moments of fantastic playfulness, COWPER THE POET claimed for himself a Scottish descent. He spoke of a family of his name seated in Fifeshire, probably at Cupar, and speculated on one of his ancestors having crossed the border, more Scotico, in very humble plight. Whether this were merely a flight of imagination, whether he built on some traditional misinformation, or whether, as has been supposed, he desired in this manner to claim kindred with a worthy namesake a bishop of Galloway-whose writings breathe the purest spirit of evangelical piety, cannot now be determined. If the supposition were not altogether baseless, the migration must have taken place at a very early period, for the poet's paternal pedigree is altogether unquestionable from the time of Edward IV. In the sixth year of that sovereign's reign a JOHN COWPER was settled at Strode, a hamlet in the parish of Slinfold, near Horsham, situate in a country which was described,
in 1690, by his descendant, who afterwards became Lord Chancellor, as "a sink of about fourteen miles broad, which receives all the water that falls from two long ranges of hills, on both sides of it, and not being furnished with convenient draining, is kept moist and soft by the water, until the middle of a dry summer." John Cowper married an heiress of consideration, a lady whose maiden name was Stanbridge, although at the time of her marriage with John Cowper she was the widow of Stephen Brode. By this fortunate union, the importance of which was borne in mind among the Cowpers even down to the times of the poet, John Cowper laid the foundation of the higher fortunes of his family, although upon his death the attractive widow, by a third marriage, carried her person, and probably a part of her property, into the well-known family of the Auchers, of Westwell in Kent.
The Cowper descendants of Joan Stanbridge severed, in the second or third generation, into two branches. The elder son remained at Strode on his paternal acres; a younger son, the first WILLIAM of the family, pushed his fortunes in the metropolis. His descendants soon became leading citizens. The particular branch of industry to which they devoted themselves does not appear, but the memory of their locality is preserved in the name of Cowper's Court, Cornhill. From monuments to Cowpers, both in St.
The poet used a book plate which bore the arms of Cowper and Stanbridge quarterly.
Michael's Church (rebuilt by Wren after the fire, and lately restored by Scott), and also in its less attractive neighbour, St. Peter's, it seems probable that the Cowpers resided in the former parish, but were connected with the latter by the acquisition of property, through the intermarriage of a second WILLIAM COWPER with Margaret Spencer, daughter of a leading inhabitant of St. Peter's, at the end of the reign of Henry VIII.
With the increase of wealth the citizen branch of the Cowpers renewed its connection with the south of England, but not with Strode, nor with Sussex. Without abandoning London, they purchased Ratling Court, in the parish of Nonington, which lies between Canterbury and Sandwich, a modest manorial residence, which became thenceforward the chief seat of that branch of the family.
JOHN COWPER, a son of the second William and of Margaret Spencer, served Sheriff of London in 1551, and was subsequently Alderman of Bridge Ward. On his death in 1609, he was interred in St. Peter's, Cornhill, under a monument, which shared the common fate in the fire of London.
WILLIAM COWPER, a son of the Alderman, is traced during the reigns of James I. and Charles I. as a collector of imposts or impositions, that is, of certain extra customs' duties not granted by parliament but imposed, and hence the name, by royal authority alone. An imposition of £3 per tun, levied on wines brought into the port of London, was entrusted to his management. He