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Portrait Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, London
ake away the modern signs, replace the road
paving with cobblestone and the cars with
carriages. . . and you have left a village as it was 300
I love Olney. This little village in central England
is perhaps one of this writer’s favorite places in the
world. Olney offers the atmosphere of old England. I
love to go there. There in the middle of the village is
a beautiful little park right across from the Cowper
home. Sitting there on one of the park benches, I
gaze at the old home place of William Cowper, the
famous poet and writer of hymns.
There it seems I return to an era long gone. There I
can almost hear the beat of the horses’ hoofs as they
pull the carriages along the cobblestones. When I
sit there, the noisy world of the 21st century with
its information overload and avalanche of violence
and moral decay disappears into a world where
men still wrote and thought and believed.
O lney brings me back to the Christ of
“Amazing Grace” and the holiness of
God. Again I walk with men who wrote
mighty hymns exalting God in contrast
with today’s empty religious lyrics. William
Cowper was perhaps the greatest poet and
writer of hymns who ever lived. If not that,
he surely takes his place in line with the
Wesleys, Isaac Watts, and Fanny Crosby.
Unlike the shallowness of most of today’s
writers, Cowper’s hymns strike deep into
the soul with a divine message from God.
When William Cowper was two days away from
his sixth birthday, his mother, Ann Donne, died.
Her death profoundly affected the young child. The “I heard the bell toll’d on thy burial day,
I saw the hearse, that bore thee slow away,
weeping child heard the tolling of the church bells
And, turning from my nurs’ry window, drew
announcing the funeral of his mother. Looking out
A long, long sigh, and wept a last adieu!”
the window, he watched the black horse-drawn
hearse slowly move from the house, carrying his At night William missed the tender touch of his
mother to the grave.
mother. Remembering his pain and her sweetness,
Young William waved goodbye to the one he loved he wrote: “Thy nightly visits to my chamber made,
most and wondered where she had gone. Would he That thou mightest know me safe and warmly laid.”
ever see her again? This tragedy affected William Sixty-three years later when William Cowper was
Cowper for life. His poetry reflected the impact of sixty-nine years old, he received a picture of his
this sorrowful loss of his mother.