Cowper in Italy

A little home comfort...

Huw Williams | 14:35, Monday 10 December, 2012 | Turin, Italy

Visitors to our apartment often comment on how many books we have on our shelves. Ali and I usually look a little uncomfortable and explain that we only brought a selection of our books to Torino, the ones we thought would be most useful. Occasionally someone asks if I could only have one book, which one I would choose. I'm going Desert Island Discs on this decision and assuming that they are letting me take the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare anyway, and so I often think my choice would be my old volume of The Poetical Works of William Cowper.

I often think my choice would be my old volume of The Poetical Works of William Cowper.

It's one of the books I get down most often, as I did again yesterday. It's an old volume, (first purchased on August 26, 1880 according to the inside cover) coming to me for £6.50 via a second-hand bookshop in Malvern on honeymoon in 2001 (interestingly the same day I bought another prized volume – the score of Elgar's Introduction and Allegro.) It is a book made in the way that few people would consider these days, beautiful binding and gilt edges, both showing their age as are the browning pages, but really weathering the 132 years rather well.

Thumbing these pages again last night, I was reminded again of why Cowper was held in such high esteem by the likes of William Wordsworth and Jane Austen. And it seems so strange to me that he is regarded as so unfashionable today. Especially when you read words like this:-

Hark my soul! it is the Lord;
'Tis Thy Saviour, hear His word;
Jesus speaks and speaks to thee,
"Say poor sinner, lovst thou me?

"I deliver'd thee when bound,
And when bleeding, heal'd thy wound;
Sought thee wandering, set thee right,
Turn'd thy darkness into light.

"Can a woman's tender care
Cease towards the child she bare?
Yes, she may forgetful be,
Yet will I remember thee.

"Mine is an unchanging love,
Higher than the heights above,
Deeper than the depths beneath,
Free and faithful, strong as death.

"Thou shalt see my glory soon,
When the work of grace is done;
Partner of my throne shalt be;
Say, poor sinner, lovst thou me?"

Lord it is my chief complaint,
That my love is weak and faint;
Yet I love Thee and adore, --
Oh! for grace to love Thee more!


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