Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Hannay, Neilson Campbell, 1880-1962
Neilson Campbell Hannay Collection of William Cowper
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
1711-1965 (mostly 1750-1799)
10 boxes, 6 items, 10 Volumes, and 5 linear feet
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box 1-10


Consists of poetry manuscripts, documents, pictorial works, correspondence, and miscellanea relating to the English poet William Cowper (1731-1800), and to his circle of family, friends, and editors, collected by Neilson Campbell Hannay.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The collection consists primarily of correspondence among Cowper, his family, friends, and editors. The primary correspondents include Sir John Carr, William Hayley, Lady Hesketh, John Johnson, Mrs. King, John Newton, Samuel Rose, and Samuel Teedon. Additionally, there are assorted poetry and prose manuscripts by both Cowper and others, including "The Norfolk Mss" and "The Four Ages" by Cowper; epilogue to The Sea-Side Hero and dedication to Lord Moira for The Stranger in Ireland by John Carr; and passage for "Life of Crashaw" and passage for Lord Sheffield's edition of Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works and Memoirs by William Hayley. Among the memorabilia and miscellaneous materials are engravings of Cowper, receipts signed by Alexander Pope, a fragment of Cowper's "Yardley Oak," and tombstone rubbings of Cowper's family.

Titles of bound volumes in the collection:

bd. vol. no. 1 = Cowper / Hesketh correspondence

bd. vol. no. 2, v. 1-2 = Cowper / Newton correspondence, I. 1771-1784 and II. 1785-1797

bd. vol. no. 3 = Cowper / Teedon correspondence in bound volume

bd. vol. no. 4 = Newton / Thorton correspondence

bd. vol. no. 5 = "A Vindication of Hayley's Life of Cowper"

bd. vol. no. 6 = Commonplace book

bd. vol. no. 7 = "Abridgement of Rev. Dr. Thomas Burnet's A Treatise Concerning the State of Departed Souls, Before, and at, and After the Resurection "

bd. vol. no. 8 = "The Norfolk Mss"

bd. vol. no. 9 = Unpublished poems by Willian Cowper, Esq.

bd. vol. no. 10 = "The Four Ages"

The following standard abbreviations, or their variations, are used to identify materials in this collection: ALS = autograph letter signed, ANS = autograph note signed, AMs = autograph manuscript, n.y. = no year.

Collection Creator Biography:

Hannay, Neilson Campbell, 1880-1962

William Cowper was born on 15 November 1731 in Berkhamsted, Hertfordskire, England to Reverend John and Anne (Donne) Cowper. During his school years, he first became interested in literature, and he published his first poems and wrote Latin verse. Cowper later apprenticed with a solicitor and was successfully admitted to the Bar, although he continued to engage in writing and other literary pursuits.

Through the nepotism of this cousin Major Cowper, in 1763, he was given a government appointment. But the pressures of the examinations required for the position led him to a near-suicide, and finally the renunciation of his post. His family sought help for him at a private sanatorium, where he would spend a year and a half recovering. For the rest of his life Cowper would suffer bouts of depression and rely on family and friends to nurse him back to health. In addition, Cowper was plagued by money problems, and entirely depended on the generosity of the same family and friends to provide for him.

After leaving the sanatorium, Cowper became devoutly Christian, and moved to Huntington where he befriended Reverend Morley Unwin and his family. In 1765 he began lodging with the Unwins, both because of their close ties and the poor state of Cowper's economic affairs. Even after Reverend Unwin's accidental death, Cowper remained with the family and established a close mother-son relationship with Mrs. Unwin. She would prove very supportive of his writing.

Cowper's most well-know works include Olney Hymns (1779) [a collaborative effort with John Newton], John Gilpin (1782), The Task (1785), and translations of Homer (1791). He died on 25 April 1800 in East Dereham at the age of 68.

Collection History


Gift of Nielson Campbell Hannay.


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Hugh Witemeyer, William G. Whitehead, Charles Ryskamp and Karla J. Vecchia in 1964-1965, 2004. Finding aid written by Hugh Witemeyer, William G. Whitehead, Charles Ryskamp and Karla J. Vecchia in 1964-1965, 2004.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Neilson Campbell Hannay Collection of William Cowper; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box 1-10