William Cowper, one of the most popular poets and letter writers of the English language, was born in Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire, November 26, 1731. His father, Rev. John Cowper, was a chaplain to George II. He spent ten years in Westminster School, and then began reading law, but abandoned it for literature after a very brief practice. He became the most distinguished poet of the English language in the latter half of the eighteenth century. His poetic works are too numerous and too well known to need mention here. His life is invested with a peculiar and sorrowful interest, owing to his constitutional tendency to mental and moral despondency, which brought on frequent attacks of insanity. His disappointment in not being permitted to marry his cousin added to his malady. His melancholia had come upon him and placed its dark limitations upon his life before he went, in 1765, to live at Huntingdon, where his association with and love for Mrs. Mary Unwin became one of the tenderest and holiest attachments of his life. In 1767 he moved to Olney, the home of Rev. John Newton. An intimate friendship between the two at once began. Cowper was a constant and prayerful attendant upon Newton's Church services, especially his cottage prayer meetings, for which nearly all of his hymns were written at Newton's request. The Olney Hymns, 1779, was their joint production, seventy-eight of them coming from Cowper. He also translated many of the hymns of Madame Guyon, one of which is found in this volume. He died April 25, 1800, at East Dereham. He is regarded as the greatest letter writer in English literature. None of his great poems show signs of melancholia, but breathe a healthful and cheerful piety. No other great poet has written so many hymns as he. His hymns give expression to sentiments of peace and gratitude, of trust and submission, rather than of hope and joy. A plaintive and refined tenderness runs through them all.
—A glory gilds the sacred page
—God moves in a mysterious way
—Hark, my soul, it is the Lord
—Hear what God the Lord hath
—Jesus, where'er thy people meet
—My Lord, how full of sweet content
—O for a closer walk with God
—Sometimes a light surprises
—There is a fountain filled with blood
—What various hindrances we meet
Copied for WholesomeWords.org from The Hymns and Hymn Writers of the Church: An Annotated Edition of the Methodist Hymnal by Charles S. Nutter and Wilbur F. Tillet. New York: Eaton & Main, 1911.
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