William Cowper was the favourite poet of both Jane Austen and her father the Reverend George Austen. Cowper wrote about highly religious themes and was sermonising in his tone. I can imagine The Reverend George Austen quoting from Cowper in his sermons in his little church at Steventon.
Here is a short poem by Cowper. I wonder if Jane used sentiments from this poem when she invented the character of Elinor in Sense and Sensibilty?
A Comparison. Addressed To A Young Lady
|Sweet stream that winds through yonder glade,|
Apt emblem of a virtuous maid
Silent and chaste she steals along,
Far from the world's gay busy throng:
With gentle yet prevailing force,
Intent upon her destined course;
Graceful and useful all she does,
Blessing and blest where'er she goes;
Pure-bosom'd as that watery glass,
And Heaven reflected in her face.
He also wrote poems about nature which would appeal to a country girl like Jane. Jane would feel empathy for this goldfinch caged and out of it's natural environment. The same thing was to happn to her when her father suddenly removed them all to Bath.
On a Goldfinch, Starved to Death in His Cage
In a letter to the Rev. William Urwin, Nov. 9., 1780, William Cowper explains
"I wrote the following last summer.
The tragical occasion of it really happened at the house next to ours." (82)
Time was when I was free as air,
The thistle's downy seed my fare,
My drink the morning dew;
I perch'd at will on every spray,
My form genteel, my plumage gay,
My strains forever new.
But gaudy plumage, sprightly strain,
And form genteel were all in vain,
And of a transient date;
For, caught and caged, and starved to death,
In dying sighs my little breath
Soon pass'd the wiry grate.
Thanks, gentle swain, for all my woes,
And thanks for this effectual close
And cure of every ill!
More cruelty could none express;
And I, if you had shown me less,
Had been your prisoner still. (632)