Sunday, 12 June 2011

William Cowper

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.
William Cowper

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.

William Cowper

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)


  1. I've never really read Cowper, but I recall making note of a Cowper quote several months ago. Of course, I can't find it now.(Maybe when I give my desk its semi-regular de-piling!) I really think, Tony, a person could come away with quite a good education reading nothing but your blogs.

  2. Welcome back Tony!! - so glad you have put your blog back online! And how funny is it that I am just about to do a post on Cowper - he must be in the airwaves!
    Best to you,

  3. Jean, you make me blush!!!!!!!! Tank you!!!

    Deb, thanks for the welcome back. I resurrected the blog because there was a long ago article I wrote about tea and Jane Austen and I discovered that I didn't have a copy of it in my documents file. I wanted to find it. Once I had the blog going I started to read some of the entries and it was like meeting old friends again. I couldn't delete it once more. I'll keep it live and post now and then, perhaps.

  4. Whew, Tony's blog is back! All I can say about that poor little goldfinch is that a bird's metabolism is so high that the little creature did not linger for long. Still, that poem made my heart shiver.

  5. Delighted that you have returned, even if it is only now and then......