[Today’s post is by John H.Parker, co-author of the newly released book, Abide With Me, published by New Leaf Press. This account is from the travels of John and his co-author/photographer, Paul Seawright.]

Poor William [Cowper]. His life reminds you of the stories you hear today of kids suffering from ADD, depression or one of the other psychologically debilitating illnesses we just didn’t hear all that much about even 25 years ago. A brief account of his miserable life is in Abide with Me.

Right here, though, I’ll comment about the sad-sweet sense I get when I go to the little garden hut where he wrote. It’s at the back of the home of the widow Mary Unwin in Olney, where Cowper came to live in 1764. He’d just been released from an asylum where he had been sent after attempts at suicide. (He first prepared to go with poison or by stabbing himself with a pen knife but couldn’t muster up the nerve to follow through; then he tried hanging himself with a garter, but it broke.) So he came here to Olney to continue receiving the charity of the Unwin family.

The house is now the Cowper-Newton Museum. It backs up on the vicarage where Newton lived. In the rear there’s a very nice flower garden, and in the center (see the book) is this odd little hut with one room and three large windows above benches.

I’m sure William treasured his friendship with the great preacher, but being something of a recluse myself, I can relate to his sitting for hours in this shelter, even a shelter from the garden, I guess. He could look out on the orchard toward Newton’s house, or on the flowers that I assume grew there then, and, especially, on the sky. Like Poe, another depressed and brilliant soul, William sought release and the sky must have been a draw for him.

We know William principally for two songs, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” and “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.” He wrote the first one in 1774, ten years after moving to Olney, to this garden, and to this little hut. I couldn’t prove that he wrote it sitting on one of the three benches, but it surely is easy to picture him there. Burdened by failure in love, in health, and in career, he must have longed for a “mysterious way” that would deliver him, release that could come from a source “Deep in unfathomable mines.”

I don’t know how much relief William got from sitting out here. Things didn’t get much better in his life. But enclosure in the little hut probably gave him some kind of psychological shelter. He knew a lot about how “the bud may have a bitter taste;” I’m sure he looked forward to the time with “sweet will be the flow’r.”