Creative partnerships – grace and mysterious ways

Newton Cowper
  I've been reading Jonathan Aitken's biography of Rev John Newton. The former slaveship captain who became such an asset to the anti-slavery movement because of his graphic accounts of what really happened on slave ships.  I also knew of Newton as the writer of the hymn Amazing Grace – probably the best known hymn in the English language.  What I didn't know was of his partnership with the 18th century poet William Cowper – they wrote a book of hymns together the Olney Hymns. Newton decided that the best way of instructing the people and in particular children was when he prepared a sermon  to write a hymn which would teach the topic.  Cowper as a poet and lyricist was much more talented but the two spurred each other on. The results of their efforts have made a lasting impact on hymns in this country.

Aitken The same afternoon after Newton had preached and Amazing Grace had been sung for the first time, Cowper walking in the fields had a panic attack – he suffered from severe depression. He ran home (the two men lived 100 yards apart) and wrote the hymn God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. The following day he tried unsuccessfully to kill himself. And never wrote a hymn again.  I've been very moved by this story of a creative partnership enabling both to achieve more than they would otherwise have done. But also how fragile such creative partnerships can be. 



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