The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

November 26, 2013

November 26, 1731

Samuel Taylor Coleridge called William Cowper (November 26, 1731, ((according to some sources,)) to April 25,  1800) "the best modern poet."' By 'modern' Coleridge meant, that firmament of living writers with which he grew up. We include a sketch of  Cowper's life,  since his fame has diminished since the 18th century:

...In 1763, through family connections, [Cowper]... accepted a clerkship of the journals in the House of Lords. A rival faction, however, challenged his appointment and the ordeal caused Cowper to enter Nathaniel Cotton's Collegium Insanorum at St. Albans. While there he converted to Evangelicalism. In 1765, he moved to Huntingdon and took a room with the Rev. Morley Unwin and his wife Mary. Unwin died of a riding accident in 1767 and Cowper and Mary Unwin moved together to the town of Olney in 1768. They were not separated until her death in 1796. While at Olney, Cowper became close friends with the Evangelical clergyman John Newton; together they co-authored the Olney Hymns, which was first published in 1779 and included Newton's famous hymn "Amazing Grace." Of the 68 hymns Cowper wrote, "Oh for a closer walk with God" and "God moves in a mysterious way" are the most well known. ....

His attention to nature and common life along with the foregrounding of his personal life prefigured the concerns of Romantic poets ..... William Cowper died of dropsy on April 25, 1800. At the time of his death, his
Poems had already reached their tenth printing. 

Cowper is the author of some quotes we know but cannot source: "Variety is the spice of life" is Cowper.  Our poet was an acute observer of himself and the social world. He said

I praise the Frenchman; his remark was shrewd,-- 
"How sweet, how passing sweet is solitude." 
But grant me still a friend in my retreat, 
[To] Whom I may whisper--Solitude is sweet.

And I like: "A poet does not work by square or line." Also: "
Books are not seldom talismans and spells." But now let us look at some of Cowper's comments upon social discourse.


The pipe, with solemn interposing puff,
Makes half a sentence at a time enough;
The dozing sages drop the drowsy strain,
Then pause, and puff—and speak, and pause again.
Such often, like the tube they so admire

And here is the title of another poem of Cowper's we excerpt: THE KIND OF TALES AND NARRATIVES SUITABLE FOR CONVERSATION.
A tale should be judicious, clear, succinct;
The language plain, and incidents well link'd,
Tell not as new what everybody knows,
And, new or old, still hasten to a close;
There, centring in a focus round and neat,
Let all your rays of information meet. 
What neither yields us profit nor delight
Is like a nurse's lullaby at night;



I cannot talk with civet in the room,
A fine puss-gentleman that's all perfume;
The sight's enough—no need to smell a beau,

His odoriferous attempts to please
Perhaps might prosper with a swarm of bees;
But we that make no honey, though we sting,
Poets are sometimes apt to maul the thing. 

William Cowper also made these points, himself, more simply, when he wrote:

God made the country, and man made the town.

And I hope my rays of information are meeting. 

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