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Who had brought him from the battle, and had left
him at our door, He could not speak to tell us; but 'twas one of our
brave fellows, As the homespun plainly showed us which the dying
For they all thought he was dying, as they gathered
round him crying, And they said, Oh, how they'll miss him!” and,
" What will his mother do?" Then, his eyelids just unclosing like a child's that has
been dozing, He faintly murmured, “ Mother!" - and - I saw his
eyes were blue.
-“Why, grandma, how you're winking!” – Ah, my
child, it sets me thinking Of a story not like this one. Well, he somehow lived
along; So we came to know each other, and I nursed him like
mother, Till at last he stood before me, tall, and rosy-cheeked,
And we sometimes walked together in the pleasant
summer weather; " Please to tell us what his name was ?' Just
your own, my little dear. There's his picture Copleyo painted: we became so
well acquainted, That, -in short, that's why I'm grandma, and you
children are all here!”
WILLIAM COWPER was born at Great Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, England, in 1731. He was educated first at a private school and afterwards at Westminster in London. He studied law, but his progress in the profession was blocked because of an attack of insanity brought on in 1763 by nervousness over an oral examination for a clerkship in the House of Commons. After fifteen months he recovered and went to live at Huntingdon, where he met the Unwin family and began what was to be a lifelong friendship with Mrs. Unwin. Upon Mr. Unwin's death in 1767, Cowper moved with Mrs. Unwin to Olney, passing a secluded life there until 1786. In 1773 he suffered a second attack of melancholia, which lasted sixteen months. Soon after his recovery he coöperated with the Rev. John Newton in writing the well-known Olney Hymns (1779). In 1782 he published his first volume of poems, and a second volume followed in 1785, containing The Task, Tirocinium, and the ballad of John Gilpin. A translation of Homer was completed in 1791. After 1791 his reason became hopelessly deranged, and he passed the time until his death in 1800 in utter misery.
Cowper was a man of kind and gentle character, a lover of nature in her milder aspects, and especially fond of animals. As one of the forerunners of the so-called Romantic movement in English poetry, his name is significant. Though at his best in work of a descriptive or satiric kind, he was also gifted with a subtle humor which appears frequently in many short tales and ballads. A good biography of Cowper is that by Goldwin Smith in the English Men of Letters Series.
THE DIVERTING HISTORY OF John GILPIN (Page 1)
The story of John Gilpin was told to Cowper by his friend, Lady Austen, who had heard it when a child. The poet, upon whom the tale made a deep impression, eventually turned it into this ballad, which was first published anonymously in the Public Advertiser for November 14, 1782. It became popular at once, and is to-day probably the most widely known of the author's works. It is written in the conventional ballad metre, and preserves many expressions characteristic of the primitive English ballad style.
3. Eke; also.
11. Edmonton is a suburb a few miles directly north of London.
16. After we. John Gilpin's wife does not hesitate to sacrifice grammar for the sake of rime.
23. Calender; one who operates a calender, a machine for giving cloth or paper a smooth, glossy surface.
39. Agog; eager.
44. Cheapside was one of the most important of the old London streets.
49. The saddletree is the frame of the saddle.
115. Carries weight. The bottles seem to resemble the weights carried in horse races by the jockeys.
133. Islington, now part of London, was then one of its suburbs.
152. Ware is a town about fifteen miles north of London. 178. Pin; mood. 222. Amain; at full speed.
236. The hue and cry; a term used to describe the rousing of the people in pursuit of a rogue.
Robert Burns was born of peasant parentage near Ayr, Scotland, on January 25, 1759. Up to the time when he was twenty-five years old he lived and worked on his father's farm, except for two short absences in near-by towns. While he was very young, he formed bad habits, from which he could never free himself, and which eventually wrecked his career. He was frequently in love, and many of the resulting entanglements brought him little but sorrow. In 1786, as a result of an unfortunate affair with Jean Armour, he determined to sail for America, and in order to raise the necessary money, published a volume of poems for which he was paid twenty pounds. The book was received with enthusiasm and so elated Burns with his success, that he decided to remain in Scotland. He accepted an invitation to Edinburgh, where he was entertained royally by literary circles. However, he was compelled to return to farming, and after marrying Jean Armour took a tenancy at Ellisland in 1788. A little later he was appointed exciseman, but his convivial tendencies were undermining his health, and he found his duties hard to attend to. He moved to Dumfries, where he died in poverty in 1796.
Burns as a writer of songs, especially of love lyrics, is unsurpassed. He touched the depths of human passion as few have ever done, and has made his poetry live in the hearts of the people. He is also the poet of Scottish peasant life, the enemy of oppression and tyranny, and the supporter of patriotism. Failure though he was from a worldly point of view, he was more unfortunate than culpable, and deserves our pity rather than our censure.