William Cowper Bentbranch is pleased to offer Louise Risk's excellent biography of the celebrated poet, William Cowper. Despite suffering from occasional insanity and depression, William Cowper was regarded as the foremost British poet of the late 18th century. A generous selection of Cowper's poems sets forth the timeless,natural style that charmed Benjamin Franklin and influenced William Blake. Cowper's lively letters include vivid descriptions of his battles both with despair and with God. Yet they remain filled with warmth and dry humor. Perhaps most importantly, he also wrote many superb hymns.

The biography was originally published in 2004.
William Cowper
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A Portrait of William Cowper: His Own Interpreter in Letters and Poems By Louise Risk
Who was William Cowper? William Cowper (1731 - 1800) is perhaps best known today for his Olney Hymns, which were written with evangelist John Newton (author of "Amazing Grace") and include "Oh for a closer walk with God" and "God Moves in a Mysterious Way." Cowper's poetry found a wide audience during his life. Coleridge, for instance, called him the best modern poet, and his timeless style charmed Ben Franklin and influenced William Blake. A man of strong religious convictions and lively faith, he also battled depression and the fear that God had abandoned him. Despite bouts of madness, he produced an enduring body of work which is well represented in the book.
Why another biography of Cowper? The foundation of Louise Risk's book (published Dec 1, 2004), intended for both scholars and the general public, is William Cowper explaining himself in his own voice.  Although much has been written about Cowper since his death two centuries ago, the author adds to this scholarship because past portraits have slanted the record left by Cowper himself.  Often the person revealed in these portraits is a pathetic figure, unrecognizable to modern readers of the complete letters and poems. It is better to understand Cowper by what he actually said and believed. The subtitle springs from Cowper’s well-known hymn “Light Shining Out of Darkness.”  In the last line Cowper writes, “God is his own Interpreter, and he will make it plain.”  In a similar way, Cowper became his own interpreter in his letters and poems.  Cowper has told the story of his life, the relationship between his life and his work, and the meaning and purpose of his poetry.  In effect, Cowper has provided his own biography.

In addition to Cowper’s own meticulously detailed accounts of his struggles with faith and illness, the author's portrait of Cowper has benefited from new books about the evangelical revival in England and the influence of John Newton.  Also important has been the work of modern psychiatrists whose special field is the relationship between creativity and depression.

Louise Risk Louise Risk earned a degree in chemistry from Bryn Mawr and later pursued biblical studies at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. She is also the author of A House on the Hudson, which examines 140 years in the history of a country home in New York.  She died in 2014.