William Cowper

William Cowper
Short Name: William Cowper
Full Name: Cowper, William, 1731-1800
Birth Year: 1731
Death Year: 1800

William Cowper (pronounced "Cooper"; b. Berkampstead, Hertfordshire, England, 1731; d. East Dereham, Norfolk, England, 1800) is regarded as one of the best early Romantic poets. To biographers he is also known as "mad Cowper." His literary talents produced some of the finest English hymn texts, but his chronic depression accounts for the somber tone of many of those texts. Educated to become an attorney, Cowper was called to the bar in 1754 but never practiced law. In 1763 he had the opportunity to become a clerk for the House of Lords, but the dread of the required public examination triggered his tendency to depression, and he attempted suicide. His subsequent hospitalization and friendship with Morley and Mary Unwin provided emotional stability, but the periods of severe depression returned. His depression was deepened by a religious bent, which often stressed the wrath of God, and at times Cowper felt that God had predestined him to damnation.

For the last two decades of his life Cowper lived in Olney, where John Newton became his pastor. There he assisted Newton in his pastoral duties, and the two collaborated on the important hymn collection Olney Hymns (1779), to which Cowper contributed sixty-eight hymn texts.

Bert Polman

Cowper, William, the poet. The leading events in the life of Cowper are: born in his father's rectory, Berkhampstead, Nov. 26, 1731; educated at Westminster; called to the Bar, 1754; madness, 1763; residence at Huntingdon, 1765; removal to Olney, 1768; to Weston, 1786; to East Dereham, 1795; death there, April 25, 1800.
The simple life of Cowper, marked chiefly by its innocent recreations and tender friendships, was in reality a tragedy. His mother, whom he commemorated in the exquisite "Lines on her picture," a vivid delineation of his childhood, written in his 60th year, died when he was six years old. At his first school he was profoundly wretched, but happier at Westminster; excelling at cricket and football, and numbering Warren Hastings, Colman, and the future model of his versification. Churchill, among his contemporaries or friends. Destined for the Bar, he was articled to a solicitor, along with Thurlow. During this period he fell in love with his cousin, Theodora Cowper, sister to Lady Hesketh, and wrote love poems to her. The marriage was forbidden by her father, but she never forgot him, and in after years secretly aided his necessities. Fits of melancholy, from which he had suffered in school days, began to increase, as he entered on life, much straitened in means after his father's death. But on the whole, it is the playful, humorous side of him that is most prominent in the nine years after his call to the Bar; spent in the society of Colman, Bonnell Thornton, and Lloyd, and in writing satires for The Connoisseur and St. James's Chronicle and halfpenny ballads. Then came the awful calamity, which destroyed all hopes of distinction, and made him a sedentary invalid, dependent on his friends. He had been nominated to the Clerkship of the Journals of the House of Lords, but the dread of appearing before them to show his fitness for the appointment overthrew his reason. He attempted his life with "laudanum, knife and cord,"—-in the third attempt nearly succeeding. The dark delusion of his life now first showed itself—a belief in his reprobation by God. But for the present, under the wise and Christian treatment of Dr. Cotton (q. v.) at St. Albans, it passed away; and the eight years that followed, of which the two first were spent at Huntingdon (where he formed his lifelong friendship with Mrs. Unwin), and the remainder at Olney in active piety among the poor, and enthusiastic devotions under the guidance of John Newton (q. v.), were full of the realisation of God's favour, and the happiest, most lucid period of his life. But the tension of long religious exercises, the nervous excitement of leading at prayer meetings, and the extreme despondence (far more than the Calvinism) of Newton, could scarcely have been a healthy atmosphere for a shy, sensitive spirit, that needed most of all the joyous sunlight of Christianity. A year after his brother's death, madness returned. Under the conviction that it was the command of God, he attempted suicide; and he then settled down into a belief in stark contradiction to his Calvinistic creed, "that the Lord, after having renewed him in holiness, had doomed him to everlasting perdition" (Southey). In its darkest form his affliction lasted sixteen months, during which he chiefly resided in J. Newton's house, patiently tended by him and by his devoted nurse, Mrs. Unwin. Gradually he became interested in carpentering, gardening, glazing, and the tendance of some tame hares and other playmates. At the close of 1780, Mrs. Unwin suggested to him some serious poetical work; and the occupation proved so congenial, that his first volume was published in 1782. To a gay episode in 1783 (his fascination by the wit of Lady Austen) his greatest poem, The Task, and also John Gilpin were owing. His other principal work was his Homer, published in 1791. The dark cloud had greatly lifted from his life when Lady Hesketh's care accomplished his removal to Weston (1786): but the loss of his dear friend William Unwin lowered it again for some months. The five years' illness of Mrs. Unwin, during which his nurse of old became his tenderly-watched patient, deepened the darkness more and more. And her death (1796) brought “fixed despair," of which his last poem, The Castaway, is the terrible memorial. Perhaps no more beautiful sentence has been written of him, than the testimony of one, who saw him after death, that with the "composure and calmness" of the face there “mingled, as it were, a holy surprise."

Cowper's poetry marks the dawn of the return from the conventionality of Pope to natural expression, and the study of quiet nature. His ambition was higher than this, to be the Bard of Christianity. His great poems show no trace of his monomania, and are full of healthy piety. His fame as a poet is less than as a letter-writer: the charm of his letters is unsurpassed. Though the most considerable poet, who has written hymns, he has contributed little to the development of their structure, adopting the traditional modes of his time and Newton's severe canons. The spiritual ideas of the hymns are identical with Newton's: their highest note is peace and thankful contemplation, rather than joy: more than half of them are full of trustful or reassuring faith: ten of them are either submissive (44), self-reproachful (17, 42, 43), full of sad yearning (1, 34), questioning (9), or dark spiritual conflict (38-40). The specialty of Cowper's handling is a greater plaintiveness, tenderness, and refinement. A study of these hymns as they stood originally under the classified heads of the Olney Hymns, 1779, which in some cases probably indicate the aim of Cowper as well as the ultimate arrangement of the book by Newton, shows that one or two hymns were more the history of his conversion, than transcripts of present feelings; and the study of Newton's hymns in the same volume, full of heavy indictment against the sins of his own regenerate life, brings out the peculiar danger of his friendship to the poet: it tends also to modify considerably the conclusions of Southey as to the signs of incipient madness in Cowper's maddest hymns. Cowper's best hymns are given in The Book of Praise by Lord Selborne. Two may be selected from them; the exquisitely tender "Hark! my soul, it is the Lord" (q. v.), and "Oh, for a closer walk with God" (q. v.). Anyone who knows Mrs. Browning's noble lines on Cowper's grave will find even a deeper beauty in the latter, which is a purely English hymn of perfect structure and streamlike cadence, by connecting its sadness and its aspiration not only with the “discord on the music" and the "darkness on the glory," but the rapture of his heavenly waking beneath the "pathetic eyes” of Christ.

Authorities. Lives, by Hayley; Grimshaw; Southey; Professor Goldwin Smith; Mr. Benham (attached to Globe Edition); Life of Newton, by Rev. Josiah Bull; and the Olney Hymns. The numbers of the hymns quoted refer to the Olney Hymns. [Rev. H. Leigh Bennett, M.A.]

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)


Cowper, W. , p. 265, i. Other hymns are:—
1. Holy Lord God, I love Thy truth. Hatred of Sin.
2. I was a grovelling creature once. Hope and Confidence.
3. No strength of nature can suffice. Obedience through love.
4. The Lord receives His highest praise. Faith.
5. The saints should never be dismayed. Providence. All these hymns appeared in the Olney Hymns, 1779.

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, Appendix, Part II (1907)


Cowper, W., p. 265, i. Prof. John E. B. Mayor, of Cambridge, contributed some letters by Cowper, hitherto unpublished, together with notes thereon, to Notes and Queries, July 2 to Sept. 24, 1904. These letters are dated from Huntingdon, where he spent two years after leaving St. Alban's (see p. 265, i.), and Olney. The first is dated "Huntingdon, June 24, 1765," and the last "From Olney, July 14, 1772." They together with extracts from other letters by J. Newton (dated respectively Aug. 8, 1772, Nov. 4, 1772), two quotations without date, followed by the last in the N. & Q. series, Aug. 1773, are of intense interest to all students of Cowper, and especially to those who have given attention to the religious side of the poet's life, with its faint lights and deep and awful shadows. From the hymnological standpoint the additional information which we gather is not important, except concerning the hymns "0 for a closer walk with God," "God moves in a mysterious way," "Tis my happiness below," and "Hear what God, the Lord, hath spoken." Concerning the last three, their position in the manuscripts, and the date of the last from J. Newton in the above order, "Aug. 1773," is conclusive proof against the common belief that "God moves in a mysterious way" was written as the outpouring of Cowper's soul in gratitude for the frustration of his attempted suicide in October 1773.

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, New Supplement (1907)

Wikipedia Biography

William Cowper (/ˈkuːpər/ KOO-pər; 26 November 1731 – 25 April 1800) was an English poet and hymnodist. One of the most popular poets of his time, Cowper changed the direction of 18th century nature poetry by writing of everyday life and scenes of the English countryside. In many ways, he was one of the forerunners of Romantic poetry. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called him "the best modern poet", whilst William Wordsworth particularly admired his poem Yardley-Oak. He was a nephew of the poet Judith Madan.

Texts by William Cowper (234)sort descendingAsInstances
有一血泉,血流盈滿,湧自耶穌肋邊;(Yǒuyī xuè quán, xuè liú yíng mǎn, yǒng zì yēsū lē biān;)William Cowper (Author)2
你愛所給雖然甚多,恩賜眾善者哪 ! (Nǐ ài suǒ gěi suīrán shén duō, ēncì zhòng shàn zhě nǎ)William Cowper (Author)2
神用奧祕行動前來 (Shén yòng àomì xíngdòng qián lái)William Cowper (Author)2
ينبوع جود من دم زاك جرىWilliam Cowper (Author)1
أقرب ما دمت إلى مخلصي القديرWilliam Cowper (Author)1
願更與神親密同行 (Yuàn gèng yǔ shén qīnmì tóngxíng)William Cowper (Author)2
A fountain, Holy Lamb of GodCowper (Author)1
What glory gilds the sacred pageWilliam Cowper, 1731-1800 (Author)295
Adieu, ye vain delights of earthWilliam Cowper (Author)1
Ah! reign, wherever man is found!William Cowper (Translator)3
All are indebted much to theeWilliam Cowper (Translator)3
All scenes alike engaging proveWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Almighty King, whose wondrous handWilliam Cowper (Author)16
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)William Cowper (Author, verse 5)4
Aparte del mundo, Señor, me retiroGuillermo Cowper (Author)2
Approach, my soul, the mercy seatWm. Cowper (Author)1
As birds their infant brood protectWilliam Cowper (Author)23
Aus Jesu Wunden quillt das BlutCowper (Author)2
Bear on, my soul, the bitter crossWilliam Cowper (Author)3
Bestow, O Lord, upon our youthWilliam Cowper (Author)74
Beware of Peter's wordCowper (Author)6
Blest! who, far from all mankindWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
Blinded in youth by Satan's artsWilliam Cowper (Author)4
By whom was David taughtWilliam Cowper (Author)62
Children of God lack nothingWilliam Cowper (Author)5
Christian, do you hear the Lord?W. Cowper, 1731-1800 (Author)4
Come, let us lift our joyful eyesWilliam Cowper (Author)1
Come Lord and bless the rising raceCowper (Author)10
Courage, my soul, thy bitter crossWilliam Cowper (Author)4
Dangers of every shape and nameCowper (Author)3
Dangers of every shape and name Attend the followers of the LambWilliam Cowper (Author)2
De sangre diéronnos raudalGuillermo Cowper (Author)2
Dear dying Lamb thy precious bloodWilliam Cowper (Author)3
Dear fountain of delight unknownWilliam Cowper (Author)6
Dear Lord, accept a sinful heartWilliam Cowper (Author)12
Der er en kilde fyldt med blodWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Dios obra por senderos misteriososWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Där flöt en gång från korsets stamWilliam Cowper (Author)3
E'er since, by faith, I saw the streamCowper (Author)2
Ein heil'ger Born, gefüllt mit BlutW. Cowper (Author)9
Ein Quell, voll von Immanuels BlutWilliam Cowper (Author)2
En vand ring helt, o Gud, med digWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Ere God had built the mountainsWilliam Cowper (Author)14
Ere God hath built the mountainsWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Es ist ein Born daraus heil'ges BlutWilliam Cowper (Author)9
Es ist ein Born, gefuellt mit BlutWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Es quillt ein Born gefuellt mit BlutWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Far from the world, O Lord, I fleeWilliam Cowper (Author)189
Father of mercies, in thy wordCowper (Author)1
Fierce passions discompose the mindCowper (Author)3
For thou, within no walls confinedWilliam Cowper (Author)2
For mercies, countless as the sandsWilliam Cowper, 1779 (Author)1
Forgive the song that falls so lowWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Friend of the friendless and the faintWilliam Cowper (Author)13
From Calvary's cross a fountain flowsWilliam Cowper (Author)3
From thorny wilds a monster cameWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
Geheimnisvoll, gerecht und hehrWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Geheimnisvoll in tiefer NachtWilliam Cowper (Translator)8
God gives his mercies to be spentWilliam Cowper (Author)5
God moves in a mysterious wayWilliam Cowper (Author)855
God of my life, to thee My cheerful soul I raiseCowper (Author)1
God of my life, to Thee I callWilliam Cowper (Author)105
Gottlob, auch mir stroemt dort die FlutWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Grace is a plant, where'er it growsCowper (Author)14
Grace triumphant on [in] the throneCowper (Author)4
Gracious Lord, our children seeWilliam Cowper (Author)20
Had I a throne above the restCowper (Author)11
Hark, my soul! it is the Lord!William Cowper (Author)474
Hay una fuente carmesíW. Cowper (Author)3
Hay una fuente sin igual William Cowper, 1731-1800 (Author)4
He is a freeman, whom the truth makes freeCowper (Author)2
Heal us, Emmanuel, hear our prayerWilliam Cowper (Author)9
Heal us, Emmanuel, here we standCowper (Author)45
Healer Divine, O hear our prayerWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Hear, Lord, the song of praise and prayerWiliam Cowper, 1731-1800 (Author)17
Hear what God the Lord hath spokenCowper (Author)161
His master taken from his head, Elisha sawCowper (Author)14
Hoert was gott der herr gesprochenWm. Cowper (Translator)4
Holy Lord God, I love thy truthWilliam Cowper (Author)13
Honor and happiness unite William Cowper (Author)25
How are thy servants blest, O Lord William Cowper (Author)2
How blest is man, O GodCowper (Author)6
How blest thy creature is, O GodCowper (Author)27
How happy are the new born raceWilliam Cowper (Translator)12
How long beneath the law I layCowper (Author)20
How sweet it is to walk with GodWilliam Cowper (Author)4
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds In a believer's earCowper (Author)2
How wondrous was the burning zealWilliam Cowper (Author)3
I am fond of the swallow, I learn from her flightWilliam Cowper (Translator)4
I am monarch of all I surveyWilliam Cowper (Author)2
"I love the Lord" is still the strainWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
I need thee, precious Jesus, For I am full of sinWilliam Cowper (Author)1
I place an offering at thy shrineWilliam Cowper (Translator)3
I suffer fruitless anguish day by dayWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
I thirst, but not as once I didWilliam Cowper (Author)49
I was a groveling creature onceWilliam Cowper (Author)22
I will praise thee every dayWilliam Cowper (Author)16
In holy contemplation William Cowper (Author)20
In vain ye woo me to your harmless joysWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
Infinite God, thou great unrivaled oneWilliam Cowper (Author)1
Israel in ancient daysCowper (Author)2
Israel in ancient daysCowper (Author)69
Jealous, and with love o'erflowingWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
Jehovah moves in mysteryWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Jesus, I love Thy charming NameWilliam Cowper (Author)1
Jesus, lover of my soul, Let me to thy bosom flyCowper (Author)11
Jesus! the name high over all, In hell or earth or skyWilliam Cowper (Author (B))1
Jesus, where'er thy people meetWilliam Cowper (Author)399
Jesus, whose blood so freely streamedCowper (Author)10
Judge not the Lord by feeble senseWilliam Cowper (Author)3
Ka'a mau ke Akua e hana'eWilliam Cowper, 1731-1800 (Author)3
Life can bring with it nothingW. Cowper (Author)2
Like crowded forest trees we standWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Long plunged in sorrow, I resignWilliam Cowper (Translator)3
Long unafflicted undismayedWilliam Cowper (Author)8
Lord, unafflicted, undismayedWilliam Cowper (Author)7
Love! if thy destined sacrifice am IWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
Love is the Lord whom I obeyWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
Maka oyate kiŋ owasWilliam Cowper (Author)1
Man's wisdom is to seekWilliam Cowper (Author)14
Messiah's come, with joy beholdWilliam Cowper (Author)1
My bowels yearn o'er dying menCowper (Author)3
My country, Lord, art thou aloneWilliam Cowper (Author)2
My former hopes are fledWilliam Cowper (Author)90
My God, how perfect are thy waysWilliam Cowper (Author)12
My heart is easy, and my burden lightWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
My Lord, how full of sweet contentWilliam Cowper, 1731-1800 (Translator)29
My Lord, with thee I find contentWilliam Cowper (Author)2
My Savior, whom absent I loveWilliam Cowper (Author)27
My sole possession is thy love, O LordWilliam Cowper (Author)3
My song shall bless the Lord of allWilliam Cowper (Author)32
My soul is sad, and much dismayedWilliam Cowper (Author)1
My span of life will soon be doneWilliam Cowper (Author)46
My Spouse! in whose presence I liveWilliam Cowper (Translator)3
Night! how I love thy silent shadesWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
No longer I follow a soundWilliam Cowper (Author)3
No more I ask or hope to findCowper (Author)6
No strength of nature can sufficeWilliam Cowper (Author)25
Now is the time, the accepted hourCowper (Author)32
Now may He Who from the deadCowper (Author)5
O for a heart to praise my GodWm. Cowper (Author)3
O God, whose favorable eyeWilliam Cowper (Author)20
O how I love thy holy wordCowper (Author)23
O Lord, how full of sweet contentWilliam Cowper (Author)16
O Lord, in sorrow I resignWilliam Cowper (Author)2
O Lord, my best desires fulfillWilliam Cowper (Author)199
O love, of pure and heavenly birth!William Cowper (Translator)2
O most delightful hour by manCowper (Author)5
O thou, by long experience triedWilliam Cowper (Translator)10
Of all the gifts thine hand [love] bestowsWilliam Cowper (Author)14
¡Oh Dios, si a ti pudiese aproximarmeGuillermo Cowper (Author)2
O! for a closer walk with GodWilliam Cowper (Author)988
O loved, but not enough, though dearer farWilliam Cowper (Translator)3
¡Oh! quién pudiera andar con DiosW. Cowper (Author)4
¡Oh si pudiese á Dios aproximarmeGuillermo Cowper (Author)2
Pa underbara v'gar garWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Peace has unveiled her smiling faceWilliam Cowper (Translator)3
Pity, O Lord, my sinful heartWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Prayer is appointed to conveyWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Prayer makes the darkened cloud withdrawWilliam Cowper (Author)5
Prayer makes the darkest clouds withdrawWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Saa mange Hindringer vi saaWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Season of my purest pleasureWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
See what unbounded zeal and loveWilliam Cowper (Author)3
Seht wie der Heiland aller WeltWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Self love no grace in sorrow seesWilliam Cowper (Author)7
Sin enslaved me many yearsCowper (Author)18
Sin has undone our wretched raceCowper (Author)14
If life in sorrow must be spentWilliam Cowper (Translator)5
Sleep at last has fled these eyesWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
Sometimes a light surprisesWilliam Cowper (Author)300
Source of love, and light of dayWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
Source of love, my brighter sunWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
Still, still, without ceasingWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
Sun! stay thy course, this moment stayWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
Sweet tenants of this grove!William Cowper (Translator)2
Thankless for favors from on highWilliam Cowper (Author)1
The billows swell, the winds are highWm. Cowper (Author)106
The calm retreat, the silent shadeW. Cowper (Author)8
The dearest idol I have knownWilliam Cowper (Author)1
The dying thief rejoiced to seeWilliam Cowper (Author)3
The evils that beset our pathWilliam Cowper (Author)2
The fountain in its sourceWilliam Cowper (Translator)11
The joy that vain amusements giveCowper (Author)7
The Lord of all thingsWilliam Cowper (Author)2
The Lord proclaims his grace abroadWilliam Cowper (Author)6
The Lord receives his highest praiseCowper (Author)15
The Lord send peace, offending manWilliam Cowper (Author)2
The Lord will happiness divineCowper (Author)97
The newborn child of gospel graceCowper (Author)26
The path of sorrow, and that path aloneWilliam Cowper (Author)1
The rose had been washedWilliam Cowper (Author)2
The saints should never be dismayedWilliam Cowper (Author)22
The Savior, what a noble flameWilliam Cowper (Author)46
The Spirit breathes upon the WordWilliam Cowper (Author)220
There is a fountain filled with blood Drawn from Emmanuel's veinsWilliam Cowper, 1731-1800 (Author)1832
There is a fountain opened wide (Cowper)William Cowper (Author)6
There's not an echo round meWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
This God is the God we adoreCowper (Author)3
This is the feast of heavenly wineCowper (Author)41
Thou dying Lamb, thy precious bloodWilliam Cowper (Author)1
Thou hast no lightnings, O thou Just!William Cowper (Translator)2
Thou Spirit of eternal truthWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Thrice holy Lord, I love thy truthWilliam Cowper (Author)3
Thy mansion is the Christian's heartWilliam Cowper (Author)4
Thy providence supplies our foodWilliam Cowper (Author)2
"Tis folly all" let me no more be toldWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
'Tis my happiness belowWilliam Cowper (Author)195
'Tis my privilege belowWilliam Cowper (Author)2
To Jesus, the crown of my hopeCowper (Author)110
To keep the lamp aliveCowper (Author)57
To lay the soul that loves him lowWilliam Cowper (Translator)3
To me remains nor place, nor timeWilliam Cowper (Author)2
To tell the Savior all my wantsWilliam Cowper (Author)5
To thee our wants are knownWilliam Cowper (Author)14
Too many, Lord, abuse Thy graceWilliam Cowper (Author)2
'Twas my purpose, on a dayWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
Weak and irresolute is manCowper (Author)38
What thousands never knew the roadWilliam Cowper (Author)11
What various hindrances we meetCowper (Author)390
When all within is peaceWilliam Cowper (Author)2
When darkness long has vailed my mindWilliam Cowper (Author)97
When Hagar found the bottle spentWilliam Cowper (Author)7
When I review my waysWilliam Cowper (Author)2
When Jesus hung upon the treeCowper (Author)1
Wie herrlich leuchtet Gottes WortWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Wilds horrid and dark with o'er shadowing treesWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
With all his sufferings full in viewWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Write to Sardis, (said the Lord)William Cowper (Author)13
Ye careless ones, O, hear betimesCowper (Author)2
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage takeWilliam Cowper (Author)2
Ye linnets, let us try, beneath this groveWilliam Cowper (Translator)2
Ye sons of earth prepare the ploughWilliam Cowper (Author)14
Ye timid saints, fresh courage takeCowper, alt. and abr. (Author)11

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