To write another biography of William Cowper may seem superfluous. In the century following his death ( 1800) there were at least thirty biographies, many of course little more than the customary nineteenth-century 'memoirs'. There can be no doubt concerning the enormous interest in the poet and the man, especially during the first half of those hundred years. In 1849 Lord Carlisle recorded in his diary some 'good talk' over dinner at The Club, in which Cowper was 'talked of as having been called the most popular of English poets'. There were, however, some 'doubts whether he still holds that position'. Present were the Lord President of the Council ( Lansdowne), the Earl of Ellesmere, Philip Henry Stanhope, Sir David Dundas, Henry Holland, Milman, Macaulay, Henry Hallam, and others. In the twentieth century Cowper's reputation and the common knowledge of his poetry have not been so great, though they seem to be increasing. He continues to influence our thought and patterns of speech, even if he is unrecognized. The compilers of the latest edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations indicate that Cowper is one of the twelve most quoted writers in the English language. And in the past thirty years four men have written full biographies of him, and there have been a number of shorter investigations into his life besides critical considerations of his work. Lord David Cecil's The Stricken Deer reached the status of a 'best-seller'.
But if we put aside the writers who knew him-- William Hayley, John Johnson, and Samuel Greatheed--and two later biographers, Southey and Thomas Wright, few of these men have added much to our factual knowledge of