Neglected Genius!


Bequest of Mary Hyde Eccles, 2004 – bMS Hyde 10 (154)

What! must deserted Poesy still weep
Where her last hopes with pious COWPER sleep?
Unless, perchance, from his cold bier she turns,
To deck the turf that wraps her minstrel, BURNS!

William Cowper (1731-1800). Autograph letter to John Newton, March 19th, 1784.

Despite chronic fits of depression, Cowper became one of the most popular poets and hymnodists of his generation. Yet his reading of Johnson’s Lives of the Poets led him in this letter to the bitter conclusion “that Poets are a very worthless, wicked set of people.” (The letter’s recipient is best known for his hymn “Amazing Grace.”) Byron offers a different view of Cowper in a letter to Lady Byron from 1813: “... they say Poets never or rarely go mad – Cowper & Collins are instances to the contrary – (but Cowper was no poet).”