William Cowper was the son of John Cowper, rector of Great Berkampstead. At Westminster School (1742-49) he was part of the quartet of poetical wits that included Cumberland, Churchill, and Lloyd; he studied law at the Middle Temple (1752), worked as a commissioner of bankrupts (1759-64), and wrote satires and periodical essays. A government career was abruptly terminated by a first bout of mental illness in 1763. Cowper spent time in a sanatorium and was treated by Nathaniel Cotton before going to live the Rev. Morley Unwin, an evangelical minister. Upon his death, Cowper and Mrs. Unwin moved to Olney, where he wrote most of the poems for which he is remembered.
Olney hymns [with John Newton]. 1779.
T. Scott, The Force of Truth [ed. Cowper]. 1779.
Anti-Thelyphora: a tale in verse. 1781.
Poems. 2 vols, 1782.
The task, a poem, in six books. 1785.
The history of John Gilpin. 1785.
Homer, The Iliad and the Odyssey, translated into blank verse by Cowper. 2 vols, 1791.
Maria F. C. Cowper, Original poems by a lady [ed. Cowper]. 1792.
James Hurdis, Sir Thomas More [ed. Cowper]. 1792.
Latin and Italian poems of Milton translated into English verse, and a fragment of a commentary on Paradise lost by the late William Cowper, ed. William Hayley. 1808.
Memoir of the early life of William Cowper written by himself. 1816.
Correspondence, ed. John Johnson. 1817.
Private correspondence. 2 vols, 1824.
Poems, the early productions of William Cowper, now first published. 1826.
Works: poems, correspondence, and translations, ed. Robert Southey. 15 vols, 1835-37.
Correspondence, ed. Thomas Wright. 1904.
Complete poetical works, ed. H. S. Milford. 1905.
Unpublished and uncollected letters, ed. Thomas Wright. 1925.
John Milton, Poetical works, Latin and Italian [trans. Cowper]. 1935.
Correspondence of John Wilkes and Charles Churchill, ed. Edward H. Weatherly. 1954.