Cowper, William (17311800)

Cowper, William, a popular English poet, born at Great Berkhampstead, Hertford, of noble lineage; lost his mother at six, and cherished the memory of her all his days; of a timid, sensitive nature, suffered acutely from harsh usage at school; read extensively in the classics; trained for and called to the bar; was appointed at 32 a clerk to the House of Lords; qualifying for the duties of the appointment proved too much for him, and he became insane; when he recovered, he retired from the world to Huntingdon beside a brother, where he formed an intimacy with a family of the name of Unwin, a clergyman in the place; on Mr. Unwin's death he removed with the family to Olney, in Buckinghamshire, where he lived as a recluse and associated with the Rev. John Newton and Mrs. Unwin; shortly after he fell insane again, and continued so for two years; on his recovery he took to gardening and composing poems, his first the “Olney Hymns,” the melancholy being charmed away by the conversation of a Lady Austin, who came to live in the neighbourhood; it was she who suggested his greatest poem, the “Task”; then followed other works, change of scene and associates, the death of Mrs. Unwin, and the gathering of a darker and darker cloud, till he passed away peacefully; it is interesting to note that it is to this period his “Lines to Mary Unwin” and his “Mother's Picture” belong (17311800).

Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)

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