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William Cowper
1731-1800

Cowper had the good fortune to be well educated. He studied the law (Middle Temple) and was called to the Bar of England in 1754. He struggled along, as all young lawyers must, until, in 1763 a great opportunity came his way. He was given a chance to become a clerk in the House of Lords. Such an appointment would mean that he would have to make appearances before this great judicial tribunal. The thought of it all was more than poor Cowper could take: he suffered a mental breakdown, and, his legal career was thus ended. There was a certain influential family (Morley and Mary Unwin) who determined to take Cowper in under its wing. Retiring to Unwin manor, Cowper's spirits recovered; and, he took to poetry writing. Mr. Unwin died early, and widow Unwin and Cowper were to carry on together for many years. Cowper was to experience more then just a few bouts of depression throughout his life, but each time he seem to come back, especially with the help of Mary Unwin. Because Cowper "suffered from a religious mania and was subject to fits of despair" his work in parts is not something that would appeal to many of us today; yet, there are parts that are brilliant and should be read, especially that found in his larger work, the Task (1785); there is also the wonderful, though tragic work, "Castaway," written upon Mary's death in 1796. Chambers says that Cowper was a precursor of Wordsworth and the English Romantic Movement, a poet of nature. Lord David Cecil, one of my favourite authors, put out a work on Cowper's life in 1929.


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The Loss of the "Royal George"

1 Toll for the brave--
2 The brave! that are no more:
3 All sunk beneath the wave,
4 Fast by their native shore.
5 Eight hundred of the brave,
6 Whose courage well was tried,
7 Had made the vessel heel
8 And laid her on her side;
9 A land-breeze shook the shrouds,
10 And she was overset;
11 Down went the Royal George,
12 With all her crew complete.

13 Toll for the brave--
14 Brave Kempenfelt is gone,
15 His last sea-fight is fought,
16 His work of glory done.
17 It was not in the battle,
18 No tempest gave the shock,
19 She sprang no fatal leak,
20 She ran upon no rock;
21 His sword was in the sheath,
22 His fingers held the pen,
23 When Kempenfelt went down
24 With twice four hundred men.

25 Weigh the vessel up,
26 Once dreaded by our foes,
27 And mingle with your cup
28 The tears that England owes;
29 Her timbers yet are sound,
30 And she may float again,
31 Full charg'd with England's thunder,
32 And plough the distant main;
33 But Kempenfelt is gone,
34 His victories are o'er;
35 And he and his eight hundred
36 Must plough the wave no more.


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2000 Elena and Yacov Feldman