1792 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Cowper

Anonymous, "Biographical List of Living English Poets" Gentleman's Magazine 62 (July 1792) 615-16.



William Cowper, Esq. of the Inner Temple, Barrister at Law (grandson of Spencer Cowper, the Judge, brother of the Chancellor), was educated at Westminster-school, and Ben'et College, Cambridge, and having some years since retired from the study of the law, as probably uncongenial with his turn of mind, spent his time in the quiet of a country retirement, I believe, with his friend, Mr. Unwin, since deceased, when, in 1785, "he burst" at once "into" a "sudden blaze" by the publication of his Task, a poem so beautiful, so true an exemplification of the force of that divine art, that all language fails me, when I attempt to do it justice. Admiration was the greater, because a volume of his poems, published a year or two before, though possessing merit of a different species, shewed no traces of the fire, the rich fancy, the moral pathos of this latter production. Opinions differ about the new Translation of Homer by this true poet; but, as I am one of those who judge of a composition rather by its general fascination than an examination of its parts, and think a work excellent in proportion as it hurries me on by its powers of interesting, I am delighted with Cowper, because I cannot take him up without wishing to read him through; whereas I could never, by an exertion, get though one book of the Translation of Pope.