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LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"Stop, stop John Gilpin!" (page 35)
"To-morrow is our wedding-day"
"I am a linendraper bold"
Where they did all get in .
Smack went the whip, round went the wheels
'Twas long before the customers
Were suited to- their mind
Equipp'd from top to toe .
Now see him mounted once again
The snorting beast began to trot.
He little dreamt .. of running such a rig
The cloak did fly, like streamer long and gay
To face age 22
Toface fage 26
At last it flew away .
He carries weight! he rides a race .
The bottles twain behind his back
Were shatter'd at a blow
Amazed to see his neighbour in such trim.
" What news? what news? your tidings tell
A braying ass did sing most loud and clear
He tried to stop by catching at his rein
"Stop thief! stop thief! a highwaymant!"
Thinking Gilpin rode a race
For he got first to town .
He did again get down
Toface age 32
STo face page 38
. Toface age 47
S Page 48
. Tofacefage 49
S Page 49
ON THE BALLAD OF
HE story of Cowper's writing of JOHN GILPIN is perhaps
the gayest incident in the whole mournful record of his
life. It came after his retreat to Olney under every
congenial circumstance of religious melancholy. He was sunk in
the native dulness of the place, which was described, more than
sixty years later, as a disagreeable village surrounded by tame
marshy scenery, without a hill or one romantic feature to redeem
it. He was dominated by the morbid pieties of his friends the
Unwins and famous Vicar of Olney, John Newton, only less
miasmatic and unwholesome for one of his temperament than the
ON THE BALLAD
marshlands which seemed their appropriate symbol. By this time
too he was a man of fifty, and there seemed no chance of any
natural rebound from the daily level of his depression.
Suddenly, into the midst of these dispiriting circumstances
enters the sprightly figure of a lady.
Her vivacity, her dress, her natural graces, had a something
unaccustomed about them, for Cowper's unsocial eyes at any
rate. They came, it was rumoured in the village, of the lady's
quondam residence in France. A little prestige was added, in
this local gossip, by the modest title of "Lady Austen, widow of
the late Sir Robert."
It might have happened that the poet, in the ordered
melancholy and seclusion of his days, cloistered within the garden-
walls of the Unwins' house and the adjoining Vicarage, might
not have chanced on this vision of another sphere. But for once
his stars were genial and auspicious. He encountered the lady
casually. Then, what was an unheard-of thing for him to do, he
OF JOHN GILPIN
asked Mrs. Unwin to call upon her,-thus boldly, for the nonce,
taking his fate into his own hands. The next step was easy.
The lady moved into the quiet retreat formed by the little
Newtonian coterie. Cowper may continue this idyll in his own
words, which we borrow from one of his letters to his cousin
Lady Hesketh. Having described how Lady Austen came, in
the amiable course of these events, to take lodgings at the
Vicarage, he writes: "Between the Vicarage and the back of
our house are interposed our gardens and an orchard. She had
lived much in France, was very sensible and had infinite vivacity."
The apposition of these two simple statements easily prepares the
reader for the following step, to wit, the making of a new garden
door between the adjacent demesnes, and the rapid growth of the
acquaintance. Every morning at eleven, he tells us, "I went to
pay my devoirs to her ladyship. Customs very soon become
laws." And again: "Lady Austen and we pass our days
alternately at each other's chateau. In the morning I walk with
ON THE BALLAD
one or the other of the ladies, and in the evening wind
This recalls inevitably the descriptions in The Task of the
"Winter Morning's Walk and the "Winter Evening "; for The
Task was, as we know, directly inspired by Lady Austen. They
do not give us as many of those particular glimpses of life at Olney,
which most interest us now, as we could wish; but the vigorous
pictorial opening lines of the "Winter Evening" work themselves
naturally and with much warmth of colouring into the picture.
A subsequent passage recalls in Cowper's particular vein of
amiable, half-feminine fireside reminiscence the scene, with the
poet winding thread or reading aloud, while the ladies sewed and
listened, or sang; and Lady Austen, we doubt, rallied her half-
humorous, half-melancholy admirer.
Thepoet's or historian's page by one
Made vocalfor tA' amusement of the rest;
The sprightly lyre, whose treasure of sweet sounds
OF JOHN GILPIN
The touch from many a trembling chora shakes out;
And the clear voice symphonious, yet distinct,
And in the charming strife triumphant still,
Beguile the night, and set a keener edge
On female industry : the threaded steel
Flies swiftly, and unfelt the task.proceeds.
The volume closed, the customary rites
Of the last meal commence."
It was in one such evening that Lady Austen told Cowper,
incidentally to those topics in which she excelled and to which he
refers, "dangers escaped, foes disappointed, life preserved and peace
restored," the diverting history of John Gilpin. It delighted
him beyond words. He, the melancholy poet, fairly roared, we
are told, over the delicious misfortunes of the road, which were
now recollected, now invented, by the witty narrator. What is
most significant of all, he spent a sleepless night in turning the
story into a ballad. The ballad seems to have attained a fame in
ON THE BALLAD
MS. forthwith; that it charmed the little circle, where it had its
first beginnings, need hardly be explained. Its first public
appearance was in the columns of the Public Advertiser; and
thereafter its success was enormous. Henderson the actor recited
it to crowds of people in London. It was copied, quoted, pirated,
published and republished. Lady Austen, in a word, had
converted, by one witty story wittily told, the sombre recluse of
Olney into a popular poet.
She soon disappeared again from his shy orbit. The ladies of
Olney, perhaps not unnaturally, resented her Gallic sprightliness
and her gradual absorption of their chief luminary. Moreover,
the airs of the marshes did not agree with her. So she went, as
she had come. There was a little correspondence, broken off by
the poet's recurring mood of other-worldliness, mixed perhaps
with social prudence. And that was all.
Still, let us remember that, save for Lady Austen, we should not
have had the major part of those things that keep Cowper's name
OF JOHN GILPIN
alive to-day. It was she who suggested The Task; she who
prompted the noble Royal George lines. Above all, since that is
here our immediate concern, to her and her alone we owe it, as
we have told, that the DIVERTING HISTORY OF JOHN GILPIN was
Mr. Brock's congenially devised illustrations, for the rest, form
a better appreciation of the ballad and its humours than any
commentary the critic is likely to offer.
SOHN GILPIN was a citizen
Of credit and renown,
A train-band Captain eke was he
Of famous London town.
OHN GILPIN'S spouse said to her dear,
"Though wedded we have been
These twice ten tedious years, yet we
No holiday have seen.
"T O-MORROW is our wedding-day,
And we will then repair
Unto the Bell at Edmonton,
All in a chaise and pair.
" Y sister and my sister's child,
Myself and children three,
Will fill the chaise, so you must ride
On horseback after we."
H E soon replied, "I do admire
Of womankind but one,
And you are she, my dearest dear,
Therefore it shall be done.
"I AM a linendraper bold,
As all the world doth know,
And my good friend the calender
Will lend his horse to go."
Q UOTH Mrs. Gilpin, "That's well said;
And for that wine is dear,
We will be furnish'd with our own,
Which is both bright and clear."
OHN GILPIN kiss'd
O'erjoy'd was he to
That, though on pleasure
She had a frugal mind.
his loving wife;
she was bent,
T HE morning came, the chaise was brought,
But yet was not allowed
To drive up to the door, lest all
Should say that she\was proud.
S O three doors off the chaise was stay'd,
Where they did all get in,
Six precious souls, and all agog
To dash through thick and thin.
S MACK went the whip, round went the wheels,
Were never folk so glad,
The stones did rattle underneath
As if Cheapside were mad.
JOHN GILPIN at his horse's side
Seized fast the flowing mane,
And up he got in haste to ride,
But soon came down again;
F OR saddle-tree scarce reached had he,
His journey to begin,
When, turning round his head, he saw
Three customers come in.
SO down he came: for loss of time,
Although it grieved him sore,
Yet loss of pence, full well he knew,
Would trouble him much more.
'T WAS long before the customers
Were suited to their mind,
When Betty screaming came down stairs,
"The wine is left behind !"
" G OOD lack !" quoth he-"yet bring it me,
My leather belt likewise,
In which I bear my trusty sword
When I do exercise."
N OW Mistress Gilpin, careful soul!
Had two stone bottles found,
To hold the liquor that she loved,
And keep it safe and sound.
E ACH bottle had a curling ear,
Through which the belt he drew,
And hung a bottle on each side
To make his balance true.
T HEN over all, that he might be
Equipp'd from top to toe,
His long red cloak, well brush'd and neat,
He manfully did throw.
N OW see him mounted once again
Upon his nimble steed,
Full slowly pacing o'er the stones
With caution and good heed.
B UT finding soon a smoother road
Beneath his well-shod feet,
The snorting beast began to trot,
Which gall'd him in his seat.
" SO, fair and softly," John he cried.
But John he cried in vain;
That trot became a gallop soon,
In spite of curb and rein.
SO stooping down, as needs he must
Who cannot sit upright,
He grasp'd the mane with both his hands,
And eke with all his might.
H IS horse, who never in that sort
Had handled been before,
What thing upon his back had got
Did wonder more and more.
A WAY went Gilpin, neck or nought,
Away went hat and wig,
He little dreamt when he set out,
Of running such a rig.
T HE wind did blow, the cloak did fly,
Like streamer long and gay,
Till loop and button failing both,
At last it flew away. -
T HEN might all people well discern
The bottles he had slung,
A bottle swinging at each side,
As hath been said or sung.
T HE dogs did bark, the children scream'd,
Up flew the windows all,
And ev'ry soul cried out Well done !"
As loud as he could bawl.
A WAY went Gilpin-who but he!
His fame soon spread around,-
He carries weight! he rides a race!
'Tis for a thousand pound!
A ND still as fast as he drew near,
'Twas wonderful to view
How in a trice the turnpike-men
Their gates wide open threw.
A ND now as he went bowing down
His reeking head full low,
The bottles twain behind his back
Were shatter'd at a blow.
D OWN ran the wine into the road
Most piteous to be seen,
Which made his horse's flanks to smoke
As they had basted been.
B UT still he seem'd to carry weight,
With leather girdle braced,
For all might see the bottle necks
Still dangling at his waist.
T HUS all through merry Islington
These gambols he did play,
Until he came unto the wash
Of Edmonton so gay.
A ND there he threw the wash about
On both sides of the way,:
Just like unto a trundling mop,
Or a wild-goose at play.
AT Edmonton his loving wife
From the balcony spied
Her tender husband, wondering much
To see how he did ride.
" STOP, stop John Gilpin !-Here's the
They all at once did cry;
"The dinner waits, and we are tir'd."
Said Gilpin-" So am I !"
B UT yet his horse was not a whit
Inclined to tarry there;
For why ?-his owner had a house
Full ten miles off at Ware.
S O like an arrow swift he flew
Shot by an archer strong ;
So did he fly-which brings me to
The middle of my song.
A WAY went Gilpin, out of breath,
And sore against his will,
Till at his friend the calender's
His horse at last stood still.
T HE calender, amazed to see
His neighbour in such trim,
Laid down his pipe, flew to the gate,
And thus accosted him:
" W HAT news ? what news ? your tidings
Tell me you must and shall-
Say why bareheaded you are come,
Or why you come at all ?"
N OW Gilpin had a pleasant wit,
And loved a timely joke,
And thus unto the calender
In merry guise he spoke:
" CAME because your horse would come,
And if I well forbode,
My hat and wig will soon be here,
They are upon the road."
T HE calender, right glad to find
His friend in merry pin,
Return'd him not a single word,
But to the house went in;
W HENCE straight he came with hat and
A wig that flow'd behind,
A hat not much the worse for wear,
Each comely in its kind.
H E held them up, and in his turn
Thus show'd his ready wit:
"My head is twice as big as yours,
They therefore needs must fit.
" B UT let me scrape the dirt away
That hangs upon your face;
And stop and eat, for well you may
Be in a hungry case."
S AID John, "It is my wedding-day,
And all the world would stare,
If wife should,dine at Edmonton,
And I should dine at Ware."
S O turning to his horse, he said,
"I am in haste to dine,
'Twas for your pleasure you came here,
You shall go back for mine."
A H, luckless speech, and bootless boast!
For which he paid full dear,
For while he spake a braying ass
Did sing most loud and clear;
W HEREAT his horse did snort, as he
Had heard a lion roar,
And gallop'd off with all his might,
As he had done before.
A WAY went Gilpin, and away
Went Gilpin's hat and wig;
He lost them sooner than at first,
For why ?-they were too big.
N OW Mistress Gilpin, when she saw
Her husband posting down
Into the country far away,
She pull'd out half-a-crown;
\-A ND thus unto the youth she said,
That drove them to the Bell,
"This shall be yours when you bring back
My husband safe and well."
T HE youth did ride, and soon did meet
^L "1 1 1 -
Whom in a trice he
By catching at his
tried to stop
B UT not performing what he meant,
And gladly would have done,
The frighted steed he frighted more,
And made him faster run.
A WAY went Gilpin, and away
Went post-boy at his heels,
The post-boy's horse right glad to miss
The lumb'ring of the wheels.
S IX gentlemen upon the road
Thus seeing Gilpin fly,
With post-boy scampering in the rear,
They rais'd the hue and cry:
" STOP thief! stop thief !-a highwayman !"
Not one of them was mute;
And all and each that pass'd that way
Did join in the pursuit.
A ND now the turnpike gates again
Flew open in short space,
The toll-men thinking as before
That Gilpin rode a race.
A ND so he did, and won it too,
For he got first to town,
Nor stopped till where he had got up
He did again get down.
N OW let us sing, Long live the king,
And Gilpin long live he:
And when he next doth ride abroad,
May I be there to see !
Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON &'Co.
London & Edinburgh