The conversational style of William Cowper’s poetry owes much to the influence of Charles Churchill. Despite this connection, the two poets occupy different niches in literary history: Churchill is remembered as a practitioner of the declining tradition of satirical poetry, Cowper as the preeminent poet of sensibility. The conversational idiom they share, however, holds together even contrasting ideas in unreconciled suspension, and the two poets’ use of that idiom thus accommodates the radical differences in their attitudes. The resulting continuity between their bodies of work demonstrates how an understanding of literary-historical connections through a history of forms may recast the segregation of periods: it may reveal patterns that show continuities even where conflicts have led to the contrasting of period terms.

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