Cowper, William (1731 -1800)
William Cowper, the poet, was the elder son of John Cowper, D.D., Rector of Great Berkhampstead, and Anne, daughter of Roger Donne, of Ludham Hall, Norfolk. He was educated at a school kept by a Dr Pitman at Market Street in Hertfordshire, and at Westminster School, and articled at eighteen to a solicitor called Chapman in London. He was admitted to the Middle Temple 29 April 1748, and took chambers there on leaving Chapman's office in 1752, and was called to the bar 14 June 1754. After moving into chambers he began to suffer from depression. In 1756 his father died, and three years later Cowper bought chambers in the Inner Temple and was made a Commissioner of Bankrupts. In 1763 he was offered the post of Clerk of the Journals of the House of Lords, by his cousin Major Cowper, which he accepted, but became greatly upset at an examination into his fitness for the post that was required. So much so that he made several attempts at suicide, and became so deranged that he was admitted to a private asylum run by a Dr Nathaniel Cotton at St Albans. He left St Albans in 1765 and in 1767, moved to Olney in Buckinghamshire where a John Newton was curate. There he helped Newton with the parish, the incumbent being an absentee, and Newton encouraged him to write hymns. For the rest of his life he was never clear of his depression, though he had periods of serenity, and it is during this time when he had to be watched over by friends that he wrote and published his best poetry. By the time of his death Cowper possessed several hundred volumes, and a list of titles was made shortly after his death by William Barker, a bookseller of East Dereham. The manuscript copy of this list is in the Cowper Museum at Olney and it was printed in Wright's , Appendix A, p.659 65. Almost every book from Cowper's library is authenticated by the presence of his signature with the date 1797, usually at the top left hand corner of the titlepage. Most volumes have also Cowper's crest stamped in gold on a leather label fixed to the spines and his bookplate is pasted inside the front covers. After his death the library passed to his friend the Reverend John Johnson. The contents and fate of his library have been traced by Sir Geoffrey Keynes.