William Cowper: The Diverting History of John Gilpin

(1010 words)

Writing to the Rev. William Unwin on 18th November 1782, William Cowper observed that, “…strange as it may seem, the most ludicrous lines I ever wrote have been written in the saddest mood, and, but for that saddest mood, perhaps had never been written at all” (1). He was no doubt thinking of John Gilpin, which had been prompted, as The Task was also to be the following year, by Lady Austen. An attractive and vivacious widow in her early forties, Lady Austen had become, rather surprisingly, a close friend of Cowper after moving into the area to be near to her sister. Visiting him one evening in the summer of 1781 and finding him in one of his deep depressions, she attempted to cheer him by telling him a …

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Curry, Neil. "The Diverting History of John Gilpin". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 26 November 2010
[http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=21549, accessed 27 September 2016.]