William Cowper (November 26, 1731 - April 25, 1800)
Born: 26th November, 1731
Died: 25th April, 1800
Nationality: English
Profession/Occupation: Poet
Region: Great Berkhamstead, England, East Dereham
Literary movement: Romanticism
Notable works: "Olney Hymns", "The Task", "The Letters and Prose Writings"
Genres: Poetry
Types of literature: Poems, Hymns

William Cowper Facts

Biography

William Cowper, (born November 26, 1731, Great Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, England—died April 25, 1800, East Dereham, Norfolk), one of the most widely read English poets of his day, whose most characteristic work, as in The Task or the melodious short lyric “The Poplar Trees,” brought a new directness to 18th-century nature poetry.

Cowper wrote of the joys and sorrows of everyday life and was content to describe the minutiae of the countryside. In his sympathy with rural life, his concern for the poor and downtrodden, and his comparative simplicity of language, he may be seen as one in revolt against much 18th-century verse and as a forerunner of Robert Burns, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. While he is often gently humorous in his verse, the sense of desolation that was never far below the surface of his mind is revealed in many of his poems, notably “The Castaway.”

After the death of his mother when he was six, Cowper (pronounced “Cooper”), the son of an Anglican clergyman, was sent to a local boarding school. He then moved to Westminster School, in London, and in 1750 began to study law. He was called to the bar in 1754 and took chambers in London’s Middle Temple in 1757. During his student days he fell in love with his cousin, Theodora Cowper, and for a while the two were engaged. But Cowper was beginning to show signs of the mental instability that plagued him throughout his life. His father had died in 1756, leaving little wealth, and Cowper’s family used its influence to obtain two administrative posts for him in the House of Lords, which entailed a formal examination. This prospect so disturbed him that he attempted suicide and was confined for 18 months in an asylum, troubled by religious doubts and fears and persistently dreaming of his predestined damnation.

Religion, however, also provided the comfort of Cowper’s convalescence, which he spent at Huntingdon, lodging with the Reverend Morley Unwin, his wife Mary, and their small family. Pious Calvinists, the Unwins supported the evangelical revival, then a powerful force in English society. In 1767 Morley Unwin was killed in a riding accident, and his family, with Cowper, took up residence at Olney, in Buckinghamshire. The curate there, John Newton, a leader of the revival, encouraged Cowper in a life of practical evangelism; however, the poet proved too frail, and his doubt and melancholy returned. Cowper collaborated with Newton on a book of religious verse, eventually published as Olney Hymns (1779).

In 1773 thoughts of marriage with Mary Unwin were ended by Cowper’s relapse into near madness. When he recovered the following year, his religious fervour was gone. Newton departed for London in 1780, and Cowper again turned to writing poetry; Mrs. Unwin suggested the theme for “The Progress of Error,” six moral satires. Other works, such as “Conversation” and “Retirement,” reflected his comparative cheerfulness at this time.

Cowper was friendly with Lady Austen, a widow living nearby, who told him a story that he made into a ballad, “The Journey of John Gilpin,” which was sung all over London after it was printed in 1783. She also playfully suggested that he write about a sofa—an idea that grew into The Task. This long discursive poem, written “to recommend rural ease and leisure,” was an immediate success on its publication in 1785. Cowper then moved to Weston, a neighbouring village, and began translating Homer. His health suffered under the strain, however, and there were occasional periods of mental illness. His health continued to deteriorate, and in 1795 he moved with Mary Unwin to live near a cousin in Norfolk, finally settling at East Dereham. Mrs. Unwin, a permanent invalid since 1792, died in December 1796, and Cowper sank into despair from which he never emerged.

Robert Southey edited his writings in 15 volumes between 1835 and 1837. Cowper is also considered one of the best letter writers in English, and some of his hymns, such as “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” and “Oh! For a Closer Walk with God,” have become part of the folk heritage of Protestant England. The Letters and Prose Writings, in two volumes, edited by James King and Charles Ryskamp, was published in 1979–80.

Top 36 William Cowper quotes

Reasoning at every step he treads, Man yet mistakes his way, Whilst meaner things, whom instinct leads, Are rarely known to stray.
Every
Every step
He
His
His way
Instinct
Known
Leads
Man
Meaner
Mistakes
Rarely
Reasoning
Step
Absence of proof is not proof of absence.
Absence
Proof
The dogs did bark, the children screamed, Up flew the windows all; And every soul bawled out, Well done! As loud as he could bawl.
Bark
Children
Could
Did
Dogs
Done
Every
Flew
He
Loud
Out
Screamed
Soul
Up
No man can be a patriot on an empty stomach.
Empty
Empty stomach
Man
Patriot
Stomach
Absence from whom we love is worse than death, and frustrates hope severer than despair.
Absence
Death
Despair
Frustrate
Hope
Love
Love is
Than
Whom
Worse
No wild enthusiast could rest, till half the world like him was possessed.
Could
Enthusiast
Half
Him
Like
Possessed
Rest
Till
Wild
World
O, popular applause! what heart of man is proof against thy sweet, seducing charms?
Against
Applause
Charms
Heart
Man
Popular
Proof
Sweet
Thy
The parson knows enough who knows a Duke.
Duke
Enough
Knows
Who
Man may dismiss compassion from his heart, but God never will.
Compassion
Dismiss
God
Heart
His
Man
May
Never
Will
The innocent seldom find an uncomfortable pillow.
Find
Innocent
Pillow
Seldom
Uncomfortable
Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon their knees.
He
Knees
Saint
Satan
Sees
Trembles
Weakest
Glory, built on selfish principles, is shame and guilt.
Built
Glory
Guilt
Principles
Selfish
Shame
How much a dunce that has been sent to roam, excels a dunce that has been kept at home.
Been
Dunce
Has-been
Home
How
How much
Kept
Much
Roam
Sent
Nature is a good name for an effect whose cause is God.
Cause
Effect
God
Good
Name
Nature
Whose
A self-made man? Yes, and one who worships his creator.
Creator
His
Man
Self-made
Who
Worships
Yes
It chills my blood to hear the blest Supreme Rudely appealed to on each trifling theme.
Appealed
Blest
Blood
Each
Hear
Supreme
Theme
Trifling
Thus happiness depends, as nature shows, less on exterior things than most suppose.
Depends
Exterior
Happiness
Less
Most
Nature
Shows
Suppose
Than
Things
Thus
Remorse, the fatal egg that pleasure laid.
Egg
Fatal
Laid
Pleasure
Remorse
Absence of occupation is not rest; A mind quite vacant is a mind distressed.
Absence
Distressed
Mind
Occupation
Quite
Rest
Vacant
No one was ever scolded out of their sins.
Ever
No-one
Out
Sins
God made the country, and man made the town.
Country
God
Made
Man
Man-made
Town
O solitude, where are the charms That sages have seen in thy face? Better dwell in the midst of alarms, Than reign in this horrible place.
Alarm
Better
Charms
Dwell
Face
Horrible
Midst
Place
Reign
Seen
Solitude
Than
Thy
Where
A fool must now and then be right, by chance.
Chance
Fool
Must
Now
Now and then
Right
Then
Existence is a strange bargain. Life owes us little; we owe it everything. The only true happiness comes from squandering ourselves for a purpose.
Bargain
Everything
Existence
Happiness
Life
Little
Only
Ourselves
Owe
Owes
Purpose
Strange
True
True happiness
Who loves a garden loves a greenhouse too.
Garden
Greenhouse
Loves
Too
Who
Wisdom is humble that he knows no more.
He
Humble
Knows
More
Wisdom
They whom truth and wisdom lead, can gather honey from a weed.
Gather
Honey
Lead
Truth
Weed
Whom
Wisdom
Variety's the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavor.
Flavor
Gives
Life
Spice
Variety
Very
The darkest day, if you live till tomorrow, will have passed away.
Away
Darkest
Day
Live
Passed
Till
Tomorrow
Will
You
Knowledge is proud that it knows so much; wisdom is humble that it knows no more.
Humble
Knowledge
Knows
More
Much
Proud
Wisdom
Where men of judgment creep and feel their way, The positive pronounce without dismay.
Creep
Dismay
Feel
Judgment
Men
Positive
Pronounce
Way
Where
Without
God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.
Footsteps
God
He
His
Moves
Mysterious
Perform
Plants
Rides
Sea
Storm
Way
Wonders
An epigram is but a feeble thing - With straw in tail, stuck there by way of sting.
Epigram
Feeble
Sting
Straw
Stuck
Tail
Thing
Way
The earth was made so various, that the mind Of desultory man, studious of change, And pleased with novelty, might be indulged.
Change
Earth
Made
Man
Might
Mind
Novelty
Pleased
Studious
Various
Meditation here may think down hours to moments. Here the heart may give a useful lesson to the head and learning wiser grow without his books.
Books
Down
Give
Grow
Head
Heart
Here
His
Hours
Learning
Lesson
May
Meditation
Moments
Ceremony leads her bigots forth, prepared to fight for shadows of no worth. While truths, on which eternal things depend, can hardly find a single friend.
Bigots
Ceremony
Depend
Eternal
Fight
Find
Forth
Friend
Hardly
Her
Leads
Prepared
Shadows
Single

William Cowper books

The Iliad of Homer

The Iliad of Homer

Olney Hymns [By J. Newton and W. Cowper]

Olney Hymns [By J. Newton and W. Cowper]

Poetical Works

Poetical Works

William Cowper

William Cowper

The Collected Poetry of William Cowper - Volume I: 'The innocent seldom find an uncomfortable pillow''

The Collected Poetry of William Cowper - Volume I: 'The innocent seldom find an uncomfortable pillow''

Selected Poems of Thomas Gray, Charles Churchill and William Cowper (Penguin Classics)

Selected Poems of Thomas Gray, Charles Churchill and William Cowper (Penguin Classics)

The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper

The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper

John Newton's Olney Hymns

John Newton's Olney Hymns

William Cowper - The Odyssey of Homer: 'Knowledge is proud that it knows so much; wisdom is humble that it knows no more''

William Cowper - The Odyssey of Homer: 'Knowledge is proud that it knows so much; wisdom is humble that it knows no more''

Letters

Letters

William Cowper - The Iliad: 'Glory, built on selfish principles, is shame and guilt''

William Cowper - The Iliad: 'Glory, built on selfish principles, is shame and guilt''

William Cowper essays

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