William Cowper was born in Berkhamsted, England, 285 years ago today.
Here is is, looking romantic:
The most important thing to know about Cowper is, obviously, how to pronounce his name.
Well, I used to know one of his relatives (Berkhamsted's quite near here: Cowper's father was rector of the church where my parents were married) and she insisted you said his name Coo-per.
On the other hand the road just a couple of hundreds of yards from here is called Cow-per, and my mother, who was Berkhamsted educated, always said Cow-per, too.
So I suppose we can choose...and I think I'll choose Cow-per.
Despise me if you will.
The next most important thing about Cowper is, was he any good?
Oh, yes. Oh yes oh yes oh yes. Robert Burns and Coleridge and Jane Austen all said so, and you can't argue with them...and, let's face it, I can't think of anything else they might have agreed on.
Cowper's poem The Task began after a challenge from a lady to write a bit of blank verse upon the subject of...a sofa. So he did, but the joy of this led him on to write about lots of other things that interested him, including French politics, blood sports and slavery.
I suppose The Task became something rather close to the world's first blog. Actually, it might still be the only one in blank verse.
The Task is long, a whole book (though it's very readable and full of delights). Here's just a tiny flavour:
There, fast rooted in his bank,
Stand, never overlook'd, our fav'rite elms,
That screen the herdman's solitary hut;
While far beyond, and overthwart the stream
That as with molten glass inlays the vale,
The sloping land recedes into the clouds;
Displaying on its varied side the grace
Of hedge-row beauties numberless, square tow'r,
Tall spire, from which the sound of cheerful bells
Just undulates upon the list'ning ear
Word To Use Today: elm. This tree, almost wiped out in England by disease, has gone by the same name for a thousand years.