1800 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Cowper

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 70 (May, June 1800) 487, 584.



25 May. At East Dereham, Norfolk, William Cowper, esq. of the Inner Temple, author of a poem intituled "The Task," and many other beautiful productions. This truly admirable and very interesting character was born at Great Berkhamstead, Herts, Nov. 15, 1731. His father, the rector of that parish, was John Cowper, D.D. nephew to the Lord High Chancellor Cowper; and his mother was Anne, daughter of Roger Donne, gent, late of Lindham-hall, Norfolk. Mr. Cowper's merit as a poet was exceeded only by his benevolent and truly Christian spirit. His religion inspired him with sentiments of universal philanthropy, to which his conduct was strictly conformable; and his genius produced those works which will continue to be admired as long as sublimity, pathos, and imagination, are considered as the prime ornaments of poetical composition. His manners were unassuming, gentle, unaffected; and the whole tenor of his life as not merely blameless but exemplary. The first volume of his poems was published in 1782 (LII. 412); the second 1785 (LV. 985). Our acquaintance with him commenced about that time (see his communications LIV. 412). In 1791 he undertook the arduous task of translating the Iliad and Odyssey into blank verse (LXI. 845, 929, 1034, 1133; LXII. 53, 122, 159, 537, 1085; LXIV. 495; LXVIII. 652). Of his younger brother, John, fellow of Corpus Christi college, Cambridge, who died 1770, see LIII. 152; and a poetic tribute to his memory, LIV. 198....

Mr. Cowper was born at Berkhamstead in 1722, and educated at Westminster school; and, as the place of clerk of the House of Lords was reserved for him, he was sent to the Temple instead of the University, but never applied himself to the drudgery of the law or public business. He spent much of his time in retirement, at the house of his relation, Earl Cowper, at Cole green, Herts, or at Huntingdon, with the Rev. Mr. Unwin; and, after his death, he retired with his widow to Olney, Bucks, where was then minister Mr. Newton, who inserted in "The Olney Collection" some poems marked with his initial. At Huntingdon he formed a close friendship with Dr. Cotton, of St. Alban's; and he was also intimate with Lord Thurlow. By intermarriage he was related to the author of "Thelyphthora," and to the present Bishop of Peterborough. He died of a lingering illness; and his funeral sermon was preached by Mr. Newton, at St. Mary Woolnoth church, May 11.