In November 1788, in a letter to his young friend Samuel Rose, William Cowper announced that
Weston has not been without its tragedies since you left us. Mrs. Frog’s piping Bull-finch has been eaten by a rat, and the villain left nothing but poor Bully’s beak behind him. It will be a wonder if this event does not at some convenient time employ my versifying passion.
And indeed he lost no time in versifying it.
The poem’s title and its verse form, the romance-six, immediately call to mind Thomas Gray’s “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes”. It, too, is a mock-heroic in which a relatively trivial event is …