William Cowper

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The Diverting History of John Gilpin

Showing how he went farther than he intended and came safe home again

  John Gilpin was a citizen
  Of credit and renown,
  A train-band Captain eke was he
  Of famous London town.
 
5   John Gilpin's spouse said to her dear,
  Though wedded we have been
  These twice ten tedious years, yet we
  No holiday have seen.
 
  To-morrow is our wedding-day,
10   And we will then repair
  Unto the Bell at Edmonton
  All in a chaise and pair.
 
  My sister and my sister's child,
  My self and children three
15   Will fill the chaise, so you must ride
  On horse-back after we.
 
  He soon replied, I do admire
  Of womankind but one
  And you are she, my dearest dear,
20   Therefore it shall be done.
 
  I am a linnen-draper bold,
  As all the world doth know,
  And my good friend the Callender
  Will lend his horse to go.
 
25   Quoth 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.
 
  John Gilpin kiss'd his loving wife,
30   O'erjoy'd was he to find
  That though on pleasure she was bent,
  She had a frugal mind.
 
  The morning came, the chaise was brought,
  But yet was not allow'd
35   To drive up to the door, lest all
  Should say that she was proud.
 
  So three doors off the chaise was stay'd,
  Where they did all get in,
  Six precious souls, and all agog
40   To dash through thick and thin.
 
  Smack went the whip, round went the wheels,
  Were never folk so glad,
  The stones did rattle underneath
  As if Cheapside were mad.
 
45   John Gilpin at his horse's side
  Seiz'd fast the flowing mane,
  And up he got in haste to ride,
  But soon came down again.
 
  For saddle-tree scarce reach'd had he,
50   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 griev'd him sore,
55   Yet loss of pence, full well he knew,
  Would trouble him much more.
 
  'Twas long before the customers
  Were suited to their mind,
  When Betty screaming came down stairs,
60   'The wine is left behind.'
 
  Good lack! quoth he, yet bring it me,
  My leathern belt likewise
  In which I bear my trusty sword
  When I do exercise.
 
65   Now mistress Gilpin, careful soul,
  Had two stone bottles found,
  To hold the liquor that she lov'd,
  And keep it safe and sound.
 
  Each bottle had a curling ear
70   Through which the belt he drew,
  And hung a bottle on each side
  To make his balance true.
 
  Then over all, that he might be
  Equipp'd from top to toe,
75   His long red cloak well brush'd and neat
  He manfully did throw.
 
  Now see him mounted once again
  Upon his nimble steed,
  Full slowly pacing o'er the stones
80   With caution and good heed.
 
  But finding soon a smoother road
  Beneath his well-shod feet,
  The snorting beast began to trot,
  Which gall'd him in his seat.
 
85   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
90   Who cannot sit upright,
  He grasp'd the mane with both his hands
  And eke with all his might.
 
  His horse who never in that sort
  Had handled been before,
95   What thing upon his back had got
  Did wonder more and more.
 
  Away went Gilpin neck or nought,
  Away went hat and wig,
  He little dreamt when he set out,
100   Of running such a rig.
 
  The wind did blow, the cloak did fly,
  Like streamer long and gay,
  'Til loop and button failing both
  At last it flew away.
 
105   Then might all people well discern
  The bottles he had slung,
  A bottle swinging at each side
  As hath been said or sung.
 
  The dogs did bark, the children scream'd,
110   Up flew the windows all,
  And ev'ry soul cried out, well done,
  As loud as he could bawl.
 
  Away went Gilpin, who but he;
  His fame soon spread around.
115   He carries weight, he rides a race,
  'Tis for a thousand pound.
 
  And still as fast as he drew near,
  'Twas wonderful to view
  How in a trice the turnpike-men
120   Their gates wide open threw.
 
  And now as he went bowing down
  His reeking head full low,
  The bottles twain behind his back
  Were shatter'd at a blow.
 
125   Down ran the wine into the road
  Most piteous to be seen,
  Which made his horse's flanks to smoke
  As they had basted been.
 
  But still he seem'd to carry weight,
130   With leathern girdle brac'd,
  For all might see the bottle necks
  Still dangling at his waist.
 
  Thus all through merry Islington
  These gambols he did play,
135   And till he came unto the wash
  Of Edmonton so gay.
 
  And there he threw the wash about
  On both sides of the way,
  Just like unto a trundling mop,
140   Or a wild-goose at play.
 
  At Edmonton his loving wife
  From the balcony spied
  Her tender husband, wond'ring much
  To see how he did ride.
 
145   Stop, stop, John Gilpin! - Here's the house
  They all at once did cry,
  The dinner waits and we are tir'd,
  Said Gilpin - so am I.
 
  But yet his horse was not a whit
150   Inclin'd to tarry there,
  For why? his owner had a house
  Full ten miles off at Ware.
 
  So like an arrow swift he flew
  Shot by an archer strong,
155   So did he fly - which brings me to
  The middle of my song.
 
  Away went Gilpin, out of breath,
  And sore against his will,
  Till at his friend the Callender's
160   His horse at last stood still.
 
  The Callender amaz'd to see
  His neighbour in such trim,
  Laid down his pipe, flew to the gate,
  And thus accosted him.
 
165   What news, what news, your tidings tell,
  Tell me you must and shall -
  Say why bare-headed you are come,
  Or why you come at all.
 
  Now Gilpin had a pleasant wit
170   And lov'd a timely joke,
  And thus unto the Callender
  In merry guise he spoke.
 
  I came because your horse would come,
  And if I well forbode,
175   My hat and wig will soon be here,
  They are upon the road.
 
  The Callender right glad to find
  His friend in merry pin,
  Return'd him not a single word,
180   But to the house went in.
 
  Whence straight he came with hat and wig,
  A wig that flow'd behind,
  A hat not much the worse for wear,
  Each comely in its kind.
 
185   He 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.
 
  But let me scrape the dirt away
190   That hangs upon your face,
  And stop and eat, for well you may
  Be in a hungry case.
 
  Said John, It is my wedding-day,
  And all the world would stare,
195   If wife should dine at Edmonton
  And I should dine at Ware.
 
  So, turning to his horse, he said,
  I am in haste to dine,
  'Twas for your pleasure you came here,
200   You shall go back for mine.
 
  Ah luckless speech, and bootless boast,
  For which he paid full dear,
  For while he spake a braying ass
  Did sing most loud and clear.
 
205   Whereat his horse did snort as he
  Had heard a lion roar,
  And gallop'd off with all his might
  As he had done before.
 
  Away went Gilpin and away
210   Went Gilpin's hat and wig;
  He lost them sooner than at first,
  For why? they were too big.
 
  Now, mistress Gilpin when she saw
  Her husband posting down
215   Into the country far away,
  She pull'd out half a crown.
 
  And thus unto the youth she said
  That drove them to the Bell,
  This shall be yours when you bring back
220   My husband safe and well.
 
  The youth did ride, and soon did meet
  John coming back again,
  Whom in a trice he tried to stop
  By catching at his rein.
 
225   But not performing what he meant
  And gladly would have done,
  The frighted steed he frighted more,
  And made him faster run.
 
  Away went Gilpin, and away
230   Went post-boy at his heels,
  The post-boy's horse right glad to miss
  The lumb'ring of the wheels.
 
  Six gentlemen upon the road
  Thus seeing Gilpin fly,
235   With post-boy scamp'ring 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
240   Did join in the pursuit.
 
  And now the turnpike gates again
  Flew open in short space,
  The toll-men thinking as before
  That Gilpin rode a race.
 
245   And so he did and won it too,
  For he got first to town,
  Nor stopp'd till where he had got up
  He did again get down.
 
  Now let us sing, long live the king,
250   And Gilpin long live he.
  And when he next doth ride abroad,
  May I be there to see!

First published 1782.

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