William Cowper by Lemuel Francis Abbott (1792)

Q regulars will know that William Cowper has been a personal favourite for years. He had to navigate the storms of mental illness throughout his adult life, without any of the understanding, support and medical developments available to us today. It doesn’t bear thinking about what damage his three bouts of incarceration in an eighteenth-century mental asylum must have done him.

But he did have good friends (of whom John Newton and the Clapham Sect abolitionists were the closest), he had his art (he could barely stop the verse that kept pouring out), and, above all, he had his God (although he found his perceptions of faith slip at terrifying moments.)

Here is the passage, then, which Wilberforce quotes in that affecting letter to 14-year-old Priscilla that I read yesterday.

I looked out of my study window this evening and there was a gloriously empty sky. A gift that perfectly illustrated that heavenly hope so beautifully articulated by Cowper and cherished by Wilberforce in yesterday’s letter reading.

beneath a vault unsullied with a cloud…
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