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William Cowper (1731-1800)
William Cowper (1731-1800) was an English poet. He was the son of Rev. John Cowper (d. 1756), Rector Great Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire, England and a chaplain to George II. His mother Ann (nee Donne) was related to the famous poet John Donne.
He was educated at Westminster school then at the age of eighteen Cowper entered a solicitor’s office in Ely Place, Holborn and at twenty-one took chambers in the Middle Temple, being called to the bar in 1754. In 1759 he removed to the Inner Temple and was made a commissioner of bankrupts. He wrote sundry verses in magazines and translated two books of Voltaire’s Henriade.
A crisis occurred in Cowper’s life when nominated to a clerkship in the House of Lords. The pressure caused a mental breakdown and he attempted suicide. Sent to a private lunatic asylum at St. Albans, he remained for eighteen months under the charge of Dr. Nathaniel Cotton, the author of Visions. Upon his recovery he removed to Huntingdon in order to be near his brother John, who was a fellow of St. Benet’s College, Cambridge and then later moved to Olney to stay with Rev. John Newton where he was to reside for nineteen years. His residence in the Market Place was converted into a Cowper Museum a hundred years after his death, in 1900.
In 1779 he made his first appearance as an author publishing the Olney Hymns in conjunction with Newton.
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