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Sunday, 3 August 2014

William Cowper

Before converting to evangelical Christianity, William Cowper (1731-1800) was institutionalised for insanity in the period 1763–65.

Cowper and Anglican cleric John Newton  both lived in the village of Olney and were great friends. Cowper helped Newton with his religious services and they also run a weekly prayer meeting, for which they were in the habit of writing a new hymn to sing, some of which were included in their Olney Hymns collection.

The phrase “God moves in a mysterious way” comes from William Cowper's 1779 poem "Light Shining out of Darkness," which was No.35 in their Olney Hymns collection. The words go “God moves in a mysterious way. His wonders to perform."


The words were inspired by an experience of sheltering from a thunderstorm under an oak tree on Yardley Chase near Cowper's Olney home in Suffolk.

Also published in the same Olney Hymns collection was John Newton’s "Amazing Grace."

The phrase "to go the whole hog" meaning to commit to do something is thought to be from a William Cowper poem. It suggests that while sampling which part of a hog is inedible, the whole hog is eaten.

Cowper was seized with dropsy in the spring of 1800 and died aged 68 on April 25. He is buried in the chapel of St Thomas of Canterbury, St Nicholas's Church, East Dereham, Norfolk.

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