This past week has been difficult with the death of my father. I have felt very tired and will not, I am sure, get my grove back for some time. But I have continued to read and write through the process as much as possible. My novel is three-quarters done and my next book on Charles and Mary Lamb is half-way there.
During Roy's last months I regularly red to him. Nothing grand, just essays and poems; small entertaining things. The last poem I read to him was The Diverting History of John Gilpin by William Cowper. It is an amusing poem in 63 quatrains with the simple rhyming scheme of a-b-c-b.
Though he is little known today, William Cowper was a very popular poet of the second half of the 18th century. His naturalistic themes and common language were genuine precursors to the poetry of the English Romantics. Cowper died two years after the publication of Wordsworth's and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads and that monumental book owes a great deal to the work of Cowper.
The day after my dad died I received the Complete Works of Cowper (in Eight Volumes) which includes a biography and a great many of his letters. This version is the 1835 edition of William Haley's very first collected works published in 1812. It is amazing to read books published in 1835 because they are old enough that one feels almost if one is reaching back into history.
Cowper was very much admired by Charles Lamb (my own literary hero). And Lamb felt close to Cowper in part because like Charles Lamb and his beloved sister Mary, Cowper suffered from serious mental disturbances. It is generally thought that he suffered from what we would call today bi-polar disorder which in its most extreme form can be difficult to distinguish from even more serious disorders such as Schizophrenia. In an effort to cope with his mental disease Cowper turned to religion and is often remembered as an important writer of Christian Hymns.
Cowper's most widely known poem is The Task(1785) written in six books. Cowper's friend Lady Austin suggested that he write a poem concerning the subject of 'the sofa,' and Cowper took this prosaic subject as the launching point for a long poem about everything from religion to the natural world. Robert Burns was a great admirer of The Task.
I will think of my dad as I read these volumes. I know he would have enjoyed them.