To Mary.Most of his country life was spent at Olney, where he met John Newton, the ardent evangelical preacher. He contributed to Newton's Olney Hymns (1779) several poems, including the two commencing
Oh for a closer walk with Godand
God moves in a mysterious way.His hymns, while expressing the hope of the new humanitarian religious revival, often gave way to religious despair and self-distrust. After Newton left Olney, Cowper, having recovered from another period of insanity, turned to writing about simple homely subjects, producing his famous long poem, The Task (1785). Its descriptions of the sights and sounds of country life foreshadowed 19th-century romanticism. Cowper's sweet-tempered, playful moods found a way into many of his poems, the most notable being
The Diverting History of John Gilpin.He also made a relatively unsuccessful translation of Homer (1791). After the death of Mrs. Unwin in 1796, his old malady returned, and he wrote little except the anguished poem,
The Castaway.His letters are considered among the most brilliant in English literature.
See his verse and letters selected by B. Spiller (1968); letters and prose writings (ed. by J. King and C. Ryskamp, 5 vol., 1979–86); biographies by D. Cecil (1947) and J. King (1986); studies by J. A. Roy (1914, repr. 1972) and V. Newey (1982).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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