William Cowper was one of the greatest English letter writers. The Correspondence of William Cowper contains hundreds of letters that Cowper sent to family and friends. These letters reveal not only his acts and surroundings but also the innermost workings of his mind. While Cowper himself—the shy, lovable, self-torturing, playful, just, honorable, and warm-hearted poet—is the center of this correspondence, the personalities of his correspondents are as vivid as characters from a Dickens novel. Volume four contains letters from the years 1790 to 1799.
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William Cowper (1731–1800) was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England. Studying for a career in law, he was offered a clerkship of journals in the House of Lords in 1763. Before he could take his final exams, he suffered a mental breakdown and spent time in an asylum to recover from several suicide attempts. It was after his recovery that he moved in with the Unwin family—a retired clergyman and his wife. Through this family he would meet John Newton, and the two of them would collaborate on the Olney Hymns. Cowper continued to battle depression, but he also continued to write and publish poems; he was a prolific letter writer. In 1786, Cowper began translating Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey into blank verse. They were published to great acclaim in 1791. Over the next years, he would take on other translation projects, including works of Greek and Italian poetry. In 1800, Cowper was suddenly hit with edema and passed away. He was buried in the chapel of St. Thomas of Canterbury, St. Nicholas Church, East Dereham.