Poems, by William Cowper, of the Inner Temple. 

Preface by John Newton.

Two vols.  The Sixth Edition.  London: Printed for J. Johnson, 1794-1795.


William Cowper (pronounced Cooper), 1731-1800, was an eminent poet, hymn writer, and letter writer associated with Olney, England, 1767-1786.  As a friend and colleague of John Newton, they jointly published Olney Hymns, 1779, in which Newton's hymn "Amazing Grace" (pp. 53-54) first appeared.  Cowper suffered severe depression and attempted suicides, but managed to recover several times through the help of many good friends including John Newton. 

Newton served St. Peter and St. Paul Church, 1764-1780, and Thomas Scott succeeded Newton there in 1781-1785.  While Cowper lived in Olney, the Rev. John Sutcliff (17521814) was the pastor of the Baptist chapel there for almost forty years, educated numerous Baptist students, and William Carey was a member of Sutcliff's church for about two years.  Sutcliff's church also sent William Ward and Daniel Brunsdon to India.  The association of Newton, Cowper, Sutcliff, Scott, and Carey is of historical interest.

In Olney Hymns (1779), Cowper included sixty-eight devotional poems.  In Poems by William Cowper, of the Inner Temple, Esq., John Newton wrote the Preface (1782).  When Cowper came to Olney, Newton lauded him writing,

the good hand of God, unknown to me, was providing for me one of the principal blessings of my life; a friend and a counsellor, in whose company for almost seven years, though we were seldom seven successive waking hours separated, I always found new pleasure.  A friend, who was not only a comfort to myself, but a blessing to the affectionate poor people, among whom I then lived.

The Cowper & Newton Museum celebrates these two eminent persons, their friendship, and their influence.

Cowper's original publisher was the dissenting Joseph Johnson in London.  Aside from the Olney connection, Cowper's Poems is associated with William Carey through the printer Joseph Johnson.  Johnson was a significant London printer, distributor, and sales agent for dissenting and evangelical authors.  Johnson sold Olney Hymns (1779) and printed Cowper's Poems (1782, 1786, 1787, 1788, 1793) and The Task (1784) in St. Paul's Churchyard, London.  In 1791, Johnson published Cowper's much-discussed blank verse translations of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.  In 1792, Johnson sold William Carey's An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens in St. Paul's Churchyard, London. 

Among many evangelical sermons, prayer books, and hymn books, in 1801, Johnson also published The Works of John Locke (6 vols.) and The Koran.  In 1807, he published Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population.  Johnson befriended Quakers and their causes (i.e., abolition) along with other radical religious and political views by his association with William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Paine, Henry Fuseli, and Joseph Priestley.

As a member of Sutcliff's church in Olney, 1785-1787, William Carey likely could have seen Cowper frequently.  On his voyage to India, Carey wrote in his Journal that he thoroughly examined and read Cowper's Poems.  Multiple editions of Cowper's Poems appeared from 1782-1793, but it seems likely that Carey read an edition of Poems published by Joseph Johnson (1st ed. 1782; 2d ed. 1786; 3d ed. 1787; 4th ed. 1788; 5th ed. 1793)   Below is Carey's June 28, 1793, journal entry in which he named Cowper's Poems as some of his reading material:

In Cowper's Poems, there are many famous and memorable sections and lines poetry.  The six-part poem, The Task (1785), became a famous work of Cowper's, and it was quoted, alluded to, and praised by diverse authors such as Robert Burns, Jane Austen, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Wordsworth.

The six-parts of blank verse in The Task include "The Sofa," "The Timepiece," "The Garden," "The Winter Evening," "The Winter Morning Walk," and "The Winter Walk at Noon."  Because William Carey was a gardener, below are some lines from "The Garden" that cause one to think of Carey's reading and reflecting on these lines as he sailed to India:

Along with Newton, Cowper also was an abolitionist.  Cowper wrote the poem "The Negro's Complaint" in 1788 in response to the request from the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.  In the poem, Cowper argued for abolition based on the slave's perspective.  Of interest for the poem is Cowper's union of theology, ethics, and sentiment, a key Enlightenment moral category. 

William Carey was an abolitionist (An Enquiry, pp. 12, 79-80, 86) as well, and took part in the 1791-1792 sugar boycott of West Indian slave-produced sugar.  Carey's sister, Mary, and a deacon in his church in Leicester reported that Carey never prayed with his family or in public without praying for the conversion of the heathens, for the slaves, and for the abolition of the slave trade (see Eustace Carey, Memoir of William Carey, D.D.: Late Missionary to Bengal; Professor of Oriental Languages in the College of Fort William, Calcutta [London: Jackson and Walford, 1836], pp. 38, 49).


Two of Cowper's most famous poems written as hymns are: "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" and "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood."  Both hymns appeared in Olney Hymns, 1779.



The complete works of Cowper are available here.

Carey Center Home Page


Created:    June 22, 2020                Updated:    July 2, 2020