William Cowper

   William Cowper was an English poet. Born Great Berkhamfstead, England, Nov. 26, 1731. Died East Dereham, England, Apr. 25, 1800.
   Cowper's poetry expresses his deep religious feelings and his delight in English country life. He wrote about the beauties of nature and the simple pleasures of life with sincerity and charm. Among his best-known works are The Task (1785), a poem in six books, and the humorous ballad John Gilpin (1782). Cowper reacted against the formal Neoclassic tradition of Alexander Pope and other 18th-century poets. His relaxed, conversational style in blank verse foreshadowed the greater flexibility of the Romantics.
   Throughout much of his life, Cowper suffered from mental illness, and he was subject to long periods of intense melancholy. Although he was educated as a lawyer, he was prevented from active practice by his recurring illness. He found some degree of peace living in the country with the Unwin family, first at Huntingdon and later at Olney. At Olney, Cowper collaborated with John Newton in writing the Olney Hymns (1779), including For a Closer Walk With God and God Moves in a Mysterious Way.
   When he was well, Cowper was a witty and charming man. His complex personality is revealed in his letters, which are among the finest in the English language. Cowper's last years were saddened by the death of his long-standing friend Mrs. Unwin. His last memorable poem, The Castaway, is a moving account of Cowper's inner life of religious despair. Among his other poems are To Mrs. Unwin, On the Loss of the Royal George, and Table Talk.