The Diverting History of John Gilpin

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Illustration by Randolph Caldecott.

The Diverting History of John Gilpin Shewing how he went Farther than he intended, and came safe Home again is a comic ballad by William Cowper written in 1782.[1] The ballad concerns a draper called John Gilpin who rides a runaway horse. Cowper heard the story from Lady Anna Austen at a time of severe depression, and it cheered him up so much that he put it into verse.[2] The poem was published anonymously in the Public Advertiser in 1782, and then published with The Task in 1785.[3] It was very popular, to the extent that "pirate copies were being sold all across the country, together with Gilpin books and toys."[2]

The poem was republished in 1878, illustrated by Randolph Caldecott and printed by Edmund Evans. Caldecott's image of Gilpin riding the horse is the basis for the design of the obverse of the Caldecott Medal.

John Gilpin was a citizen

Of credit and renown,

A train-band captain eke was he,

Of famous London town.

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,

And we will then repair

Unto the 'Bell' at Edmonton,

All in a chaise and pair.

"My sister, and my sister's child,

Myself, and children three,

Will fill the chaise; so you must ride

On horseback after we."[4]

The poem is the inspiration for a sculpture entitled Gilpin's Bell by Angela Godfrey in Fore Street, Edmonton, which commemorates Gilpin's journey.

Randolph Caldecott's illustrations of The Diverting History of John Gilpin[edit]


  1. ^ "The Diverting History of John Gilpin". Project Gutenberg.
  2. ^ a b Williams, Paul (2007). Travel with William Cowper. Day One. p. 50.
  3. ^ Cox, Michael, editor, The Concise Oxford Chronology of English Literature, Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-860634-6
  4. ^ "The Diverting History of John Gilpin". Project Gutenberg.

External links[edit]