William Cowper is buried in the Chapel of St. Thomas of Canterbury
(formerly St. Edmunds Chapel), St. Nicholas Church, East Dereham, Norfolk,
Stained Glass Window.
Cowper was the son of the Rector of Great Berkhamsted and was educated
at Westminster School in London. Cowper's mother died when he was only six years old and this event had
a profound effect upon his already sensitive nature. Later in life,
Cowper would be inspired to write one of his finest poems when he received a
picture of his mother from his cousin Ann Bodham.
After leaving school
Cowper became articled to a solicitor and in 1754 he was called to the
bar and later took up a clerkship in the House of Commons. However, by
this stage his fits of depression had became severe and he attempted
suicide. Cowper was to suffer similar bouts of depression for the rest
of his life and, as a result, he lived in virtual retirement.
In 1765 he moved into the house of the Revd Unwin at Huntingdon. After
Unwin's death Cowper moved - together with Unwin's widow Mary - to a
house in Olney (now the Cowper Museum). While in Olney Cowper met John
Newton and the two collaborated on the Olney Hymns. Cowper
contributed the famous
Shining out of Darkness and Walk with God.
became engaged to Mary Unwin but another suicide attempt interrupted
In 1785 his best known poem The Task was
In 1795 Cowper moved with Mary to Norfolk. They originally stayed at North Tuddenham,
then at Dunham Lodge near Swaffham and then Mundesley before
finally settling in East Dereham. However, Mary died in 1796 and Cowper
spent his final years in depression. It was during this period that he
desolate poem The Castaway.