James King and Charles Ryskamp (eds), The Letters and Prose Writings of William Cowper, Vol. 3: Letters 1787–1791

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15 November 1731 (OS)

William Cowper born in the rectory, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire; son of the Revd John Cowper, and of Ann, daughter of Roger Donne of Ludham Hall, Norfolk.

13 November 1737 (OS)

Death of Ann Cowper.


At school in Aldbury, Herts., under the Revd William Davis.

c. 1737–9

At the Revd Dr William Pittman's boarding-school at Markyate Street, Herts.

c. 1740–2

A boarder in the house of Mrs Disney.

April 1742

Enters Westminster School.

29 April 1748 (OS)

Admitted to the Middle Temple.

May 1749

Spends nine months at Berkhamsted.


Is articled to Chapman, a London solicitor. He spends much time in the company of Theadora and Harriot, the daughters of his uncle, Ashley Cowper.

c. 1753–4

Abandonment of hope of marrying Theadora Cowper.

November 1753

Experiences his first period of depression.

June 1754

Is called to the Bar.

9 July 1756

Death of his father.


Association with the 'Geniuses' (Bonnell Thornton, Robert Lloyd, Charles Churchill, George Colman).

15 April 1757

Is admitted to the Inner Temple.

pg xiv


Dispute erupts over the Clerkship of the Journals of the House of Lords; C is summoned to appear at the Bar of the House of Lords. Beginning of his second period of depression. Makes his third suicide attempt on the eve of his examination at the House of Lords. On the urging of his brother, he enters Dr Cotton's 'Collegium Insanorum' at St. Albans.

July 1764

Recovery and beginning of conversion to evangelicalism.

June 1765

Leaves St. Albans and settles in lodgings at Huntingdon.

c. September 1765

First acquaintance with the Unwin family.

11 November 1765

Becomes a boarder with the Unwin family.

2 July 1767

Death of the Revd Morley Unwin.

14 September 1767

Arrival of C and Mrs Unwin at Olney, where the Revd John Newton had offered to find a house for them.

15 February 1768

Move to Orchard Side, Olney.

20 March 1770

Death of C's brother, John.


Begins Olney Hymns in collaboration with Newton.


Engaged to Mrs Unwin.

January–February 1773

Engagement is broken. Third period of severe depression.

April 1773

Moves to Olney vicarage under the care of Newton.

October 1773

Makes another attempt to commit suicide.

23 May 1774

Returns to Orchard Side.

February 1779

Olney Hymns published.

December 1780

'The Progress of Error' and 'Truth' begun.

January–March 1781

'Table Talk' and 'Expostulation' written.

Spring 1781

'Charity' written.

July 1781

Meets Lady Austen.

August 1781

'Retirement' begun.

1 March 1782

Poems by William Cowper, of the Inner Temple, Esq. published.

October 1782

John Gilpin written.

c. October 1783

The Task begun.

May 1784

First acquaintance with the Throckmortons.

pg xv

24 May–12 July 1784

Final breach with Lady Austen.

October 1784.

The Task completed.

November 1784

'Tirocinium' completed. The translation of the Iliad begun.

July 1785

The Task published.

October 1785

Resumes his correspondence with Lady Hesketh; receives financial assistance from her and 'Anonymous' (Theadora).

November 1786

Following Lady Hesketh's visit from June to November, C, at the invitation of the Throckmortons, moves to The Lodge, Weston Underwood.

January–June 1787

Fourth period of depression.

September 1788

Translation of the Odyssey begun.

January 1790

First acquaintance with his cousin, John Johnson.

July 1791

Translation of Homer published.

September 1791

Translation of Milton's Latin and Italian poems begun.

December 1791

Mrs Unwin's first paralytic stroke.

May 1792

Mrs Unwin's second paralytic stroke. First visit from William Hayley.

1 August–17 September 1792

C, Mrs Unwin, and John Johnson visit Hayley at Eartham, Sussex.

Autumn 1792

Renewed depression.

Autumn 1793

Further deterioration in Mrs Unwin's health. 'To Mary' written.

November 1793

Lady Hesketh arrives to take charge of C and his household.

January 1794

Beginning of his fifth severe depression, from which he never fully recovers.

April 1794

Granted a yearly pension of £300.

17 May 1794

Mrs Unwin's third paralytic stroke.

28 July 1795

C and Mrs Unwin removed by John Johnson to his home in East Dereham, Norfolk.

17 December 1796

Death of Mrs Unwin.

November 1797

Revision of Homer translation begun.

8 March 1799

Revision of Homer completed.

pg xvi

19 March 1799

'The Cast-away' begun.

31 January 1800

Treated for dropsy.

22 February 1800

Confined to his rooms.

25 April 1800


2 May 1800

Buried in the parish church of East Dereham.

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