Today in Literary History – November 26, 1731 – William Cowper is born

William Cowper, the poet and hymn writer, was born on November 26, 1731. He was one of the most popular poets of his day, composing mostly on scenes of nature and rural life. He had a large influence on the Romantic poets.

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Cowper’s poems have given us many phrases that have become commonplace in English.

Among them: “Variety’s the very spice of life,That gives it all its flavour;” “I am monarch of all I survey;” “a worm is in the bud of youth” and “a fool must now and then be right, by chance.”

He also composed a large number of popular hymns which have given the English language many famous phrases, among them “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.”

Cowper was a friend of John Newton, the anti-slavery campaigner who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace.

Cowper himself wrote several abolitionist poems, including “The Negro’s Complaint,” whose lines Dr. Martin Luther King often quoted in his Civil Rights speeches and sermons.

Cowper suffered from periods of depression and delusions during his life. He attempted suicide several times and spent several periods in mental institutions.

When he recovered he used his experiences to bring a balance of despair and hope to his work.

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