William Cowper, selected letters

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Clarenden Press, 1989 - Literary Collections - 236 pages
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The letters of William Cowper (1731-1800) are renowned for their seemingly effortless spontaneity, intimacy, and delicacy. William Blake said of them, "Certainly, the very best letters that ever were published." This book selects letters from every part of his life and give insight into the workings of his suicidal mind, desolate in its conviction of total abandonment by God. As a whole, the letters reveal Cowper's extraordinary skill as a writer of letters, his personality in all its guises, his deep-seated commitment to friendship, his fine critical sensiblility, and his interest in landscape, gardens, pets, and ordinary village lives and events. All the letters are printed in complete form, following the texts of the editors' acclaimed five-volume edition.

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About the author (1989)

William Cowper is an English poet whose work heavily influenced the Romantic poets. He was born in Hertfordshire, England, November 15, 1731. His father was a clergyman. His mother claimed descent from the poet John Donne. After she died when he was only six, Cowper entered a boarding school and later attended Westminster School in London. Cowper later studied with a lawyer to satisfy his father. Cowper suffered from mental illness at various times throughout his life and spent time in an asylum. His first attack came after he was nominated for a clerkship in the House of Lords. The offer was withdrawn after Cowper attempted suicide. Cowper was convinced that his madness was retribution from an angry God against whom he had unforgivably sinned. Cowper experienced at least two more major attacks of madness, one of which frustrated his only plans to marry, leading Cowper to the conviction that he was eternally damned. He sought escape from such a depressing prospect in all kinds of innocent activities, including writing poetry. With John Newton, a curate who helped Cowper recover from his first attack, Cowper composed Olney Hymns. These included God Moves in a Mysterious Way and O For a Closer Walk With God. In 1782, The Poems of William Cowper were published. His greatest contribution is The Task. Cowper died April 25, 1800.

JAMES KING is a novelist and the author of eight biographies, including an acclaimed life of Virginia Woolf. He is also a professor of English at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

Charles Ryskamp is Professor Emeritus of English at Princeton University and former director of The Pierpont Morgan Library and of the Frick Collection. Scott D. Westrem is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the City University of New York--Lehman college and the Graduate School. He is editor of "Discovering New Worlds: Essays on Medieval Exploration and Imagination.