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 st… Go to person page >
To keep the lamp alive. W. Cowper. [In Trial and Despondency.] Published in the Olney Hymns, 1779, Bk. iii., No. 74, in 6 stanzas of 4 lines, and headed, "Dependence." In its original form it is in limited use. The extract from it beginning with stanzas iii., "Beware of Peter's word," is much more popular, and especially in America, where it appeared in Nettleton's Village Hymns, 1824.