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Review – Travel with William Cowper – Paul Williams – Day One

August 2007 | by Matthew Pickhaver

Travel with William Cowper
Paul Williams
Day One Publications
128 pages; £10.00
ISBN: 978-1-84625-057-6

Recently I happened to visit both Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire and East Dereham in Norfolk – the birth and burial places respectively of that troubled yet trusting soul, William Cowper. These towns mark the beginning and the end of this travel guide, the 13th in the series.

For those unacquainted with this excellent series, each book comprises a brief but fairly comprehensive biography of a notable Christian figure, along with full details of any sites one can visit that have a bearing on the life in question. They are ideal for ‘armchair travellers’ – those who want to combine getting out and about with celebrating our Christian heritage.

Paul Williams takes us to many locations between Berkhamsted and Dereham to tell a story sure to move anyone to tears. We learn the effect on Cowper of losing his mother when he was 6 years old; of his failure to secure a career in law or to marry his beloved Theodora while in London; of his first descent into suicidal depression before his ‘happy change’ to faith in Christ while in an asylum.

His long-lasting friendships with Mary Unwin, first at Huntingdon, and with John Newton at Olney are described – friendships that were of immense benefit to him when his depression returned.

Great emphasis is rightly placed on Cowper’s standing as a literary translator and best-selling poet of national acclaim, with fascinating stories behind works like The task. Similarly, insight is given into his writing of some of our best-loved hymns. Like David’s Psalms – born out of much affliction – these hymns have brought comfort and reassurance to God’s people through the ages. Well did George Borrow describe Cowper as ‘England’s sweetest and most pious bard’.

Cowper’s story reminds us that the Lord promises sufficient grace to bear the trials of this life – so that until the shadows flee away we can trust him to ‘treasure up his bright designs and work his sovereign will’.

Matthew Pickhaver