Item NN/5/23 - The life and posthumous writings of William Cowper, by W. Hayley, Volume 2

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The life and posthumous writings of William Cowper, by W. Hayley, Volume 2

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  • Textual record

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GB 2014 WS-01-BUS-NN/5/23

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  • 1803 (Publication)
    Chichester, United Kingdom

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Folio, 1 volume

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Biographical history

COWPER, WILLIAM, son of John Cowper (qv), and his first wife; b. 15 Nov 1731; adm. (Playford) Apr 1742; left 1749; articled to a solicitor 1750-2; adm. Middle Temple 29 Apr 1748, called to bar 14 Jun 1754; fell in love with his cousin Theodora, but the marriage was forbidden by her father; contributed verses to various papers; a member of the Nonsense Club, chiefly composed of Westminster men who dined together weekly; migrated to Inner Temple, adm. there 17 Jun 1757; owned chambers Inner Temple 1757 - still 1781; a Commissioner of Bankrupts (occurs in annual lists 1758-65); Clerk of Journals, House of Lords c. May - Nov 1763; the stress brought on by his acceptance of the appointment caused a suicide attempt and nervous breakdown; an inmate of Nathaniel Cotton’s private lunatic asylum at St. Albans, Dec 1763 - Jun 1765; lived with the Unwins at Huntingdon 1765-7 and subsequently with Mrs Unwin at Olney, where he was employed by the Rev. John Newton as a sort of lay-reader and district visitor; composed hymns, a number of which are printed in Newton’s Olney Hymns, 1779; became engaged to Mrs Unwin; again deranged 1773-5 and for part of that time a guest in Newton’s house; occupied himself in gardening and writing verse; published Anti-Thelypthora, 1781, an anonymous attack on the defence of polygamy written by his cousin Martin Madan (qv) in the previous year; published Poems, Feb 1782; wrote the famous ballad of John Gilpin, first published in The Public Advertiser, Nov 1782; began translating Homer 1784; published The Task, 1785; removed to Weston, Nov. 1786; again became insane 1787; published his translation of Homer, 1791; undertook to edit Milton; removed in 1795 to East Dereham, Norfolk, where Mrs Unwin died in the following year; a complete edition of his works was published in 15 vols. by Robert Southey (qv) in 1834-7; Cowper’s schooldays, to which he frequently refers in his correspondence, were probably the happiest days of his life, and his recollections of them afforded him much pleasure; he appears to have enjoyed playing cricket and football; his favourite friend was Sir William Russell, Bart. (qv), but he was “much intimate” with Walter Bagot (adm. 1739/40, qv); he had a “particular value” for Warren Hastings (qv), to whom he addressed some lines on his impeachment, and he showed his friendly feeling for Robert Lloyd (qv) in the verse epistle which he addressed to him in 1754; his poem Table Talk contains an interesting allusion to the custom in his time of awarding pieces of Maundy Money for a good copy of verses (lines 507-11); d. unm. 25 Apr 1800. Memorial window in baptistery of Westminster Abbey. DNB.

Custodial history

Book plate of 'The Cowper Museum, Olney'

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  • English

Script of material

  • Latin

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Access to rare books is granted to bona-fide researchers, by prior appointment, in cases where the item in unavailable at another UK repository.

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A reprographics service is available to researchers subject to the access restrictions outlined above. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the item. Copies are supplied in accordance with Westminster School's Policy on Archive and Heritage Collections, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of items in the custody of Westminster School must be sought from its Governing Body.

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GB 2014

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  • English

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  • Latin


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