William Cowper: biography

4 Mar

William Cowper
• In 1763 he suffered a complete nervous breakdown because he worried about an examination
• After several attemps at suicide he was commited to a sanatorium
• Cowper spent his life under the care of some friends and patrons.
• In particular Mrs.Mary Unwin, an evangelical clergyman John Newton, and Cowper’s cousin Lady Hesketh
• His mental breakdowns were generally characterized by severe religious gloom and often by a sense that he was irrevocably damned.
• Most significant of his work was done in the last 2 decades of his life
• In 1783 he composed “John Gilpin’s ride” which is probably the most famous of his works
• In 1783 Cowper began his curious long poem The Task which starts with a mock-elevated disquisition on the historical evolution of the sofa from the three-legged stool. It then treats a big amount of multitutde of descriptive and reflective subjects and is probably Cowper’s most typical poem. In it quiet meditation is mingled with atmospheric description of simple rural life and natural scenes

His early isolation and the belief that he was damned connects to the poem. Elements from his hardships when growing up can be seen in the poem “The Castaway”. His early loss of his mother might have resulted in his belief that he was alone. In “the castaway” he is being left alone by his friends, “They left their outcast mate behind”.His early childhood experience might be the result of his melancholic nature. When he says “When such a destined wretch as I” he might imply to his “damned” self he believed he was. He also refers to love, even if not meant for a woman in the poem.“He loved them both, but both in vain”. His love for his cousin was great however In vain because her father did not allow them to marry because of his concern for Cowper’s mental instability.”Nor him beheld, nor her again” “her”, in between the lines he might be referring to the fact that he never saw his cousin again. Because the “the castaway” is a poem about isolation, and he believed that he was isolated as he was raised without a mother and was sent to a sanatorium at an early age because of his several attemps at suicide. The only people he lived with were Mrs.Mary Unwin, an evangelical clergyman John Newton who impacted his writing in terms of implying religion and evangecalism, and his cousin Lady Hesketh.


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