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observed with pain, in their evening circle, how the cloud was deepening, and remembering from her childhood the story of "John Gilpin," repeated it to Cowper with such admirable merriment and humor that, as Hayley says, "its effect upon his fancy had the air of enchantment." He told Lady Austen the next morning that the drollery took such possession of him that during the greater part of the night he had been kept awake by convulsions of laughter, brought on by the recollection of her story; and indeed that he could not help turning it into a ballad. The piece immediately became celebrated, for his friend Unwin sent it at once to the "Public Advertiser." It was recited with great comic power by Henderson; it made Cowper's friends laugh tears; and it proved an inexhaustible source of merriment with multitudes who never dreamed of Cowper being the author. "They do not always laugh so innocently, and at so small an expense," said Cowper in a letter to his friend Unwin: "a melancholy that nothing else so effectually disperses, engages me in the arduous task of being merry by force; and, 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." Three years afterward, while "The Task" was passing through the press, "John Gilpin," which had not even then been
published with Cowper's name, was recited by Henderson at a series of nightly readings to crowded audiences in London. The ballad was reprinted from the old newspaper, and "Gilpin," passing at full stretch by "The Bell" at Edmonton, was to be seen in all the print-shops. One printseller sold six thousand, and Southey informs us that the profits of these recitations by a reader so unrivaled as Henderson, were eight hundred pounds. Southey says, that at the close of one of his performances, a person from the crowd wriggled up to him and exclaimed, "Pray, who did teach you to read, Mr. Henderson ?” "My mother, sir," was his reply.
Newton told Cowper what amusement his famous horseman was giving to the public; but the letter elicited a sad reply, (though not so sad as he sometimes wrote,) for he was now again passing, without the company of Newton, through the valley of the shadow of death. "I have produced many things," said he, " under the influence of despair, which hope would not have permitted to spring. But if the soil of that melancholy in which I have walked so long has thrown up here and there an unprofitable fungus, it is well at least that it is not chargeable with having brought forth poison. Like you, I see, or think I can see, that Gilpin may have its use. Causes in appearance trivial produce often the most beneficial con
JOURNEY TO CLIFTON.
sequences; and perhaps my volumes may now travel to a distance which, if they had not been ushered into the world by that notable horseman, they would never have reached."
It was just about the time of the composition of this ballad that Cowper wrote another, for Lady Austen to compose the music, being a playful account of a journey attempted by Cowper and Mrs. Unwin to Clifton, the abode of Lady Austen's sister in their neighborhood. Cowper entitled it "The distressed Travelers, or Labor in vain, an excellent new song to a tune never sung before." This poem was published in the "Monthly Magazine" for January 1808, but from that time to the publication of Southey's edition of the works of the poet in 1836, was never printed in any collection :
I sing of a journey to Clifton
We would have performed, if we could,
Poor Mary and me through the flood.
Slee, sla, slud,
Stuck in the mud;
Oh, it is pretty to wade through a flood!
So away we went slipping and sliding
"Tis near as good walking as riding
Go briskly about,
But they clatter, and rattle, and make such a rout!
JOURNEY TO CLIFTON.
Well now, I protest, it is charming;
Pshaw never mind;
"Tis not in the wind;
We are traveling south, and shall leave it behind.
I am glad we are come for an airing,
For folks may be pounded and penned,
Until they grow rusty, not caring
To stir half a mile to an end.
The longer we stay
The longer we may;
It is a folly to think about weather or way.
But now I begin to be frighted;
If I fall, what a way I should roll!
Nay, never care!
'Tis a common affair;
You'll not be the last that will set a foot there.
We never shall know, if we never should try.
JOURNEY TO CLIFTON.
But should we get there how shall we get home?
Now it is plain,
That struggling and striving is labor in vain.
Stick fast, then, while I go and look.
Don't go away, for fear I should fall!
I have examined it every nook,
And what you have here is a sample of all.
The dirt we have found
Would be an estate at a farthing a pound.
Now, sister Ann, the guitar you must take.
Which critics won't blame,
For the sense and the sound they say should be the same.
Such pieces as these reveal a ruling characteristic of Cowper's mind, heart, and fancy. It was a propensity to fun and humor, as deep and genuine as ever accompanied or constituted the power of genius. But in the extreme it is a dangerous characteristic. It was in him so strong a disposition, that unless it had been repressed by the prevalence of his constitutional malady, it