Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 2. His Friendship with the Unwins; John Newton

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

IV. William Cowper

§ 2. His Friendship with the Unwins; John Newton

Thus, though living remote from the world, he breathed into the world a spirit of love and freedom. Before that time came, however, he had much to bear. Cured of his mania by a doctor at St. Albans, whose religion was of the hopeful kind, he was settled by his brother and friends at Huntingdon; and, here, he maintained his cheerfulness and formed the friendship which proved the most important influence on his life. Morley Unwin was a retired clergyman who taught private pupils. With Unwin, his wife and his son and daughter, Cowper became so intimate that he went to live in their house. Their simple, cheerful, religious life exactly suited his needs. When Unwin was killed by a fall from his horse, Cowper and Mrs. Unwin continued to reside together. Theirs is one of the famous friendships of literary history. Henceforth, they never separated; and, in Cowper’s letters, in the sonnet, To Mrs. Unwin, and in the poem, To Mary, the woman who devoted her life to Cowper received her reward. Soon after Unwin’s death, the family moved from Huntingdon to Olney, in order to be near the curate in charge of that place, John Newton. The house that Newton chose for them was damp and gloomy; Olney was a poor and rather brutal place. Newton, formerly the captain of a slaver, was an evangelist of tremendous power and small tact. More than one of his parishioners (not, perhaps, very delicately organised people) had been thrown off their balance by his “enthusiasm.” With the best intentions, he did the timid and sensitive Cowper much harm. He forced him to hold forth in public; he robbed him of exercise and gentle pleasures. The result was a severe return of his melancholy. In order to dissipate it, Newton laid upon him the task of writing hymns for a hymn-book which he was compiling.