William Cowper: Notes on Dreams

Scope and Content

Notes on dreams experienced and voices heard, 15 Nov. 1797 - 23 Apr. 1799, in the hand of John Johnson of East Dereham, 108 folios. Fos 52-106 and the verso throughout are blank.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Cowper (1731-1800), poet, was born at Great Berkhampstead on 15 November 1731, the son of John Cowper, D.D., and Anne, daughter of Roger Donne of Ludham Hall, Norfolk. He was educated at Westminster School, before spending three years articled to a solicitor. He entered Middle Temple in 1748, and was called to the bar in 1754, becoming a commissioner of bankrupts in 1759. As a result of his declining mental health, Cowper was taken to a private house at St Albans for treatment in December 1763. After his recovery, he resigned his commissionership of bankruptcy. He removed to Huntingdon in 1765, where he befriended John Newton, vicar of Olney, whom he assisted in his parish duties. Cowper suffered from a fresh bout of mania in 1773, but recovered to devote himself to literary work. A volume of his poems was published in 1782, and the publication of the Task in 1785 won him popular acclaim. As well as producing other volumes of poems, Cowper's translation of Homer's Iliad was published in 1791, and he edited an edition of Milton, which included his translations of Latin and Italian poems. He died on 25 April 1800.

John Johnson (d. 1833) was the grandson of Cowper's mother's elder brother, Roger Donne, and studied at Cambridge University.

Access Information

Open for consultation by holders of a Reader's Ticket valid for the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Acquisition Information

Found in the Library, 1934.


Description compiled by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives. The biographical history was compiled with reference to the entry on William Cowper in Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., Dictionary of national biography, Vol. IV (London, 1908), pp. 1319-1327.

Other Finding Aids

Additional Manuscripts Catalogue.

Alternative Form Available

Cambridge University Library holds a transcript of the MS made by T.R. Glover, MS.Add.5993.

Custodial History

The MS was lent by the owner, F. Payne of Ashgate, near Chesterfield, to Charles Sayle in April 1917 (see MS.Add.4251, no. 1075). It was apparently allowed to remain in the Library, where it was found in 1934.


For an account of the contents of the MS see H.N. Fairchild, 'Additional notes on John Johnson's diary', in Proceedings of the Modern Language Association of America, 43 (1928), pp. 571-572. Fairchild had seen only Glover's transcript, the whereabouts of the original being then unknown.