John Gilpin’s Ride of a Lifetime#poetry #humour #WilliamCowper

John Gilpin
Randolph Caldecott [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

‘The Diverting History of John Gilpin’ is a comic ballad written by William Cowper in 1782. This is, I learnt from Wikipedia, based on a real-life wealthy draper from Cheapside in London. Cowper, it seems, heard the story from Lady Anna Austen and was so amused by it, he decided to put it in verse, and this poem was the result. And well over 200 years later, this one continues to be a great deal of fun.

As the story opens, John Gilpin, ‘a citizen, of credit and renown‘ is speaking to his wife. His wife reminds him that while they’ve been married twenty years, they haven’t had a holiday. Since the next day is their wedding anniversary, she proposes that they and with them their three children, her sister, and her sister’s child go to the ‘Bell at Edmonton’. The two ladies and children will travel in a ‘chaise and pair‘, while Gilpin for whom there would be no room, ‘must ride on horseback after [them]’.

Gilpin and his Wife
by Randplph Caldecott, via Wikimedia Commons

Gilpin readily agrees to this plan, and says that he’ll borrow a horse for the occasion from his friend the calendar, being also extra pleased with his frugal wife, who’s said they’ll carry their own wine ‘which is both bright and clear‘, for to buy it is dear.

The new day dawns, and as planned, the chaise arrives to pick up the travellers. But lest they be considered proud, it was not brought to their door,

So three doors off the chaise was stay’d,

Where they did all get in,

Six precious souls, and all agog

To dash through thick and thin,

As they set off, John Gilpin himself prepares to mount his horse, but as soon as he has got on all set to ride, he gets off again, having spotted three customers, for while loss of time ‘grieved him sore‘, ‘loss of pence, he fully well knew would trouble him much more’. Customers dealt with, he is about to set off once again, when Betty (the maid, I assume) comes rushing to remind him that he has left the wine behind. Mistress Gilpin has put the wine in two stone bottles which John Gilpin fastens to either side of his ‘leathern belt’, and now throwing on ‘his long red cloak, well brushed and neat‘, he is indeed ready to go.

And so he starts off finally, riding slowly and cautiously (as becomes his character), but unluckily for him, his horse has other plans. As soon as the horse feels the road get smoother under his feet, he begins to pick up speed, starting to trot, and before long, to gallop. So poor John Gilpin must hold on for dear life, grabbing onto it’s mane with both hands, leaving the creature,

…who never in that sort,

Had handled been before,

What thing upon his back had got,

Did wonder more and more.

As they speed on, Gilpin’s hat and wig fly off, the bottles swinging at his sides, dogs bark and children scream, while onlookers cheer him on, ‘Well done’. For seeing him ride at that pace, they’re convinced he’s riding a race, carrying a weight, and not any old race, but one ‘for a thousand pound‘. Under the same impression, the turnpike-men open the gates quickly as he approaches and Gilpin rides on, the bottles soon smashing and the wine pouring out, leaving only the bottle necks dangling from his belt. Soon he rides into Edmonton, his destination, where his loving wife, standing on a balcony tries to stop him and indicate where his family and his dinner awaits. But the horse does not relent, for his master, the calendar, has a house ten miles further at Ware. And it is there that he takes John Gilpin, flying like an ‘arrow swift…shot by an archer strong‘, finally coming to a halt.

Gilpin’s horse making away with him
Lodge, Henry C., [from old catalog] comp via Wikimedia Commons

Gilpin’s friend the calendar is naturally amazed to see him, enquiring why he is there unexpectedly, and bareheaded at that? Gilpin relates his tale and soon, the calendar brings him a hat and wig (his own and a little too big for Gilpin), and invites him in for a meal but Gilpin refuses wanting to join his wife for

…all the world would stare,

If wife should dine at Edmonton,

And I should dine at Ware.

The calendar offering Gilpin a hat and wig
Metropolitan Museum of Art [CC0] via Wikimedia Commons

Before starting again, Gilpin ‘tells’ the horse that he’s come here at his own pleasure but must head to back to Edmonton for Gilpin’s. But did he really expect the reckless creature to understand? For of course, as soon as Gilpin is on the horse, with a snort the creature takes off once again, this time galloping even faster than before. Soon enough go the hat and wig again, as Gilpin is carried past his destination. Gilpin’s wife, looking on what has taken place, now asks a young postboy to follow her husband and bring him back, for a reward of a crown.

Gilpin’s Family Looking On as He Rides Right Past Them
by Randolph Caldecott, Edmund Evans [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Spotting this high-speed chase on the street, another misunderstanding develops, and some onlookers begin to shout, ‘Stop thief–stop, a thief—a Highwayman‘, and join in pursuit. But when they get to the turnpike again, the turnpike-men open the gates in the blink of an eye believing Gilpin to still be riding a race.

And so he did, and won it too,

For he got first to town,

Not stopp’d till where he had got up,

He did again get down.

And so came to an end Gilpin’s adventure, his outing that was and wasn’t, with Cowper hoping that ‘when he next doth ride abroad, May [he] be there to see!

In Pursuit of the Highwayman
by Randolph Caldecott, Edmund Evans [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

This is such a fun little story, one that brings a smile to one’s face, when reading and picturing what befell the poor linen draper, who only wanted to enjoy a day out with his family, but couldn’t thanks to one very obstinate horse.

Have you read this poem? Do you find it fun or just so-so? Any other poems on the same lines that you’d recommend? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Find the full poem here:

Wikipedia: on the poem:

and on Gilpin:


Beauties in Black: Some Favourite Book Covers

A lazy post today since I haven’t finished the book(s) I was planning to review this week. Us readers love our books for what’s inside of course, but we also love books for what they look like, don’t we? Covers–pretty or striking in some way or other–are what draw us to books so many times. Today’s post is just some of my favourite book covers in Black–not all of course, just ones I could think of at the moment. Most of these are recent reads (except Night Circus), but I know when I rearrange my shelves (long overdue) I will find others that I don’t remember. The books I ‘m sharing today are also ones that I really enjoyed the content of also, aside from the pretty covers.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood (review here) was one I read via NetGalley, and the gorgeous cover was what really drew me to it. It was because of the cover that I looked up the description and put in my request.

Ok I realise Circe is more gold than Black but it does have a fair amount of black and it is soooo pretty!–I couldn’t not have it here. The black with gold, and silver combination is also beautiful in Listen O’ King (review here). I wanted to read a version of the Vikram and Vetal stories, but part of the reason I picked this one over others available was that cover. How could I resist!

In Circe and the Night Circus, I love the embossing on the covers. The Book Hunters of Katpadi is perhaps not as pretty by comparison as some of the others I have here, but I loved the black and sea green combination (the end papers are sea green–also a little of the cover art which I think is not so clear in the image), and the little motifs like the little key on the cover (under the jacket), and the chest that it unlocks inside (review where also mention these here).

Finally, a series which I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t gotten down to yet, The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden,all three books of which have these very pretty covers–all in black too!

Do you pick up books simply because of the covers? Have they turned out good reads or not so good ones much of the time? If the description isn’t so promising, would you give it a try anyway? Which are some of your favourite book covers? And if you’ve read or are planning to read any that I’ve mentioned here, I’d love to know how you liked them. Looking forward to your thoughts!

#Review: The Book Hunters of Katpadi by Pradeep Sebastian #Books #Booklove

The Book Hunters of Katpadi is a story that takes one into the world of antiquarian books and collecting. Set around a fictional bookstore Biblio in Chennai, supposed to be the country’s first full-fledged antiquarian book store. Run by two bibliophiles, Neela and Kayal, the store specialises in modern Indian first editions, and is in the process of preparing its first catalogue. There are two story threads that we essentially follow in the book, both connected with Biblio. One a librarian from a college has been helping himself to valuable antiquarian editions from the college and replacing them with better looking editions of far lesser value—and doing so not secretly as such, but taking advantage of the fact that no one else knows the true worth of the older books and think the ‘fancier’ editions better. Some of these treasures have found their way to Biblio, and it falls to Neela and Kayal to help restore the college library’s collection. Then we have the second thread which focuses on the adventurer–explorer–translator (among other things) Richard Francis Burton, and a set of book collectors obsessed with material associated with him or that came from his pen. Some exciting pieces of Burtonia have surfaced in the small hill station of Ooty, and Burton collector, Nallathambi Whitehead, one of Biblio’s regular patrons, who can’t travel for health reasons asks Kayal (who is travelling to Ooty to look at some other old books at a school) to look into it. The Burton material she comes across there has the potential to shake up the world of bibliophiles, and especially of Burton collectors completely.

Richard Francis Burton (1864) byRischgitz
via wikimedia commons
Illustration from Burton’s Translation of Vikram and the Vampyre (1870)

This was a really lovely read for me. The book is labelled a Bibliomystery, and while there isn’t much of a mystery, there is a surprise twist at the end which makes the ‘mystery’ part of it good fun. And it is the Burton thread that essentially has this component, the other being focused on how our two bookwomen deal with the little ‘problem’ at the college library.

For the most part, it is really all about the world of books—more so the printed book, printing culture, bibliophiles, collectors, and first or otherwise important editions. The book takes us specifically into the world of book collectors in India, where the pursuit is not as prominent or sizeable as in the West with their being few collectors, and fewer antiquarian booksellers. We also get some background into collecting in the West, major auctions that changed the collecting world, great collectors and such. And we also get a look into specific books, writers, and collectors (largely from India’s colonial past) that were associated in some way or other with the country—either they lived and travelled here for a while or wrote their works here. As a bibliophile (just a hoarder of books though, not a collector), I truly enjoyed reading these segments in which the author’s love for books and enthusiasm are infectious. [Lots of my favourite children’s books/series are also mentioned, Anne of Green Gables, William, and The Three Investigators among them.] Anyone who loves books or collecting would enjoy them equally, I think. The author also goes into aspects of printing, hand presses, paper which make physical books special, in addition to the material that’s in them, which again was something I enjoyed reading.

Another plus of the book for me was that it has illustrations (by Sonali Zohra)!!! Always love those. Plus, the publishers have taken trouble with how the book looks—not only the cover but the little motifs like a little golden key on the cover (under the jacket) and the locked trunk that it opens (unlocking the bibliomystery) on the inner cover page.  

I have seen reviews of the book critiquing it for being more non-fiction than fiction, which is true in a sense as these parts were more prominent than the story/stories, and while the two are related certainly, perhaps it does not read as a work of fiction as a whole—but despite this being the case, I did enjoy reading this very much, and will look out for more by the author. This is incidentally his first novel—earlier works are non-fiction bookish essays.

#Murderous Mondays: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson #BookReview #Mystery

It’s been a while since I did a #MurderousMondays post, but that’s as it’s been a while since I read a murder mystery, surprisingly for me. #MurderousMondays is a feature started by Mackey at Macsbooks, to share her latest murder read. A historical mystery, a contemporary, paranormal, or cosy–there are so many kinds of murder mysteries, and if you’re reading any, you can share them with this feature too!

This is a more contemporary murder mystery compared to ones I usually read, but with a dual time line, one current and one in the 1930s, it was something that I was very interested in picking up. Truly Devious is the first in a trilogy of the same name. In the 1930s, a tycoon named Albert Ellingham sets up the Ellingham Academy in Vermont for gifted students who are free to study subjects/fields that interest them. One day, Ellingham’s wife and three-year-old daughter are kidnapped and never recovered. Alongside, a particularly gifted student has also gone missing. Days before this event, a mysterious riddle/poem arrived, threatening murder, signed by someone called Truly Devious. Eighty years later, in the present day, a young girl called Stephanie ‘Stevie’ Bell arrives at Ellingham, her particular interest—true crime. And part of her aim in coming there is to solve the Ellingham case, which she feels was never really solved. As she gets settled in to life at Ellingham, meeting other students each with their peculiar interests, she also starts to look into the Ellingham case, in which pursuit the faculty and staff are ready to help and encourage. But as she is doing this, there seem to be indications that Truly Devious might strike again—only Stevie isn’t sure whether what she saw real or something she imagined. But the threats become real very soon when death does strike again. But could really it be Truly Devious back from the past?

Wow, I enjoyed this so much for a book which I knew would not have the solution to the mystery—either mystery in fact—that will only happen in book 3. But despite this, the book was so well paced and gripping, it kept me reading throughout. Each of the characters, students or teachers is well drawn out, they each have their quirks and individual personalities all of which stand out in some way or other, and because of which one doesn’t ever end up confusing them even though there are quite a few. This isn’t a book where there are ‘hold-your-breath’ moments throughout as there can be in some stories, yet it holds one’s interest all the time. The story goes back and forth between the events of the 1930s when the Ellingham kidnapping took place, and the investigation that was conducted there (interview transcripts and such) and the present as Stevie is looking into that case, and also of the murderer who strikes in the present.

The book also explores this concept (which I have come across before in the context of learning and problem solving) of that period/mental state between sleep and wakefulness/ between consciousness and unconsciousness when the best/unusual ideas strike one. For Stevie too, certain connections turn up in this state and yet one is never entirely sure whether they are ‘real’ or what her mind has processed when at that point. This part was really interesting for me.   

As far as the mystery itself is concerned, being the first book, it does of course give one the background of what happened but also, Stevie manages to pick up some clues towards the solution of both mysteries, interesting little and not-so-little points which you can see are significant and why so but not perhaps where they will lead or how these will shape up the whole picture. But still one has enough to want to continue on, to see what she will pick up on next, even though the mysteries won’t be solved in that one either. One ‘revelation’ at the end of this one had me thinking of a totally different book, The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery, because it is very like one secret in that book. And speaking of books, this one talks about mystery stories, especially Agatha Christie, also Holmes, as well as poetry so those who enjoy literary references would love that aspect too.

This was an exciting read for me and I really can’t wait to get to the next one. It becomes available in my part of the world around the end of this month, and then it is a wait till next January for the final instalment. But I think it will be worth it!

Van Helsing and Sherlock Holmes

When I was writing my Sherlock Holmes favourite stories post a few days ago (find it here), I remembered this short essay I wrote when I took an online course on Science Fiction and Fantasy on Coursera some years ago (I can’t seem to find the course there anymore), where I wrote about how Van Helsing, the polymath called in by his former student Dr John Seward to assist with Lucy Westenra’s illness, and who guides the search for the Vampire, is a lot like Sherlock Holmes. [The rest of this post is a slightly tweaked version of what I wrote back then since I haven’t read Dracula recently enough to add very much more to this]. Seward, by the way, is a doctor/psychiatrist who runs an asylum and is in love with Lucy. Though she doesn’t reciprocate his feelings, he dedicates himself to her care when she falls ill. Until Van Helsing arrives on the scene, none of them realise that it is a vampire who is responsible for her state.

Seward’s remark in his letter to Arthur Holmwood, who is engaged to Lucy after Van Helsing first examines her, that “[h]is [Van Helsing’s] very reticence means that his brains are working for her good”, reminded me of the Sherlock Holmes story, The Naval Treaty, where Percy Phelps, Watson’s old classmate who has sought Holmes and Watson’s help regarding stolen confidential documents, questions Watson on Holmes’ silence about the case. Phelps feels this isn’t a good sign, but Watson corrects him saying, “[i]t is when he is on a scent and is not quite absolutely sure that it is the right one that he is most taciturn”. Like Holmes, it seems, Van Helsing knows the answer but will not reveal it until he is sure and the time is right.  This and other points had me thinking of Van Helsing and Seward as having shades of Holmes and Watson.

One of the points discussed in the lecture was how Holmes, who has limited knowledge, seems to know the oddest things, like information on tides, which he couldn’t possibly have predicted he’d require in his detective career, but this is what makes the tale fantastic. Van Helsing’s knowledge of vampires is similar. He is a polymath, of course, and has a wealth of knowledge, education, expertise (here’s what Wikipedia says). He is described as ” a philosopher and a metaphysician, and one of the most advanced scientists of his day… [and one with] an absolutely open mind”. He is consulted as a doctor about Lucy’s illness, but just happens to have the requisite knowledge, unrelated to medicine, which can pin down the cause as being a vampire.

Also like Holmes, Van Helsing tries to get his “Watson”, Seward, to keep an open mind, observe and infer that Lucy’s “death” might be caused by a vampire. “You do not let your eyes see nor your ears hear, and that which is outside your daily life is not of account to you”. Holmes acts in similar vein in the Blue Carbuncle, when Watson fails to infer anything from Henry Baker’s hat, other than that it’s a hat. He in fact (may be I am remembering this from the TV adaptation) laughs when Holmes pretty much infers Henry Baker’s entire life story, thinking that Holmes is perhaps pulling his leg. But Holmes tries to get him to see: “…you can see everything. You fail, however, to reason from what you see. You are too timid in drawing your inferences”. These are, of course, only shades of these characters. Unlike Holmes, Van Helsing doesn’t have exceptional observational skills, nor is he as cold a person, empathising with his friends’ predicament. And unlike Watson, Seward doesn’t always come across as “clueless”, observing the changes in Mina (Lucy’s friend) at the same time as Van Helsing does.

One of the comments I got on this essay in the course was whether there was more to these similarities: whether the fact that Dracula was published after Holmes (something that the peer reviewer on my essay pointed out, I hadn’t looked it up back then but the first Holmes story (1887) came about ten years earlier than Dracula (1887)) meant that the latter was influenced by the former? I tried to look this up online (only superficially) but can find nothing to that effect. Still, it is fun to see how characters in two very different genres of stories, though of course, both whether in the realm of reality or in that of the supernatural, are in fact solving mysteries, can turn out to have quite a few things in common.

Have you noticed any such similarities in seemingly unconnected stories or characters? Which ones stood out the most? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Stationary Travellers #poetry #Longfellow #books

Source: Pexels

We travel–to explore the world, experience new places, sounds, smells, cultures, to see the wonders this world has to offer. We travel for adventure, for excitement, for fun, even relaxation. Travel means all this and more. It means to get up and get going, but for us as readers, we can ‘travel’ even without that. Through the books on our shelves, we can have almost all the same experiences, see new sights through the authors’ eyes (and in our minds), learn about new cultures (perhaps even more closely and in more detail than in person), visit magical and fantastical places (Narnia or the lands up in the Faraway Tree) that we never can in real life, and have exciting adventures with the characters we are travelling with!

Image source: Pexels

So each time we open a book, we too travel, enter new worlds, real or imaginary. And this we can do from our comfortable reading nooks. This is just the kind of travel that H.W. Longfellow writes about in ‘Travels by the Fireside’.

Image source: Pexels

In it, he writes of rainy days, of ‘ceaseless rain…falling fast‘ which ‘drives [him] in upon himself’–away from the grey, dreary, and wet atmosphere outside to the cosy comfort of ‘fireside gleams‘, and more importantly, to the ‘pleasant books that crowd [his] shelf; And still more pleasant dreams.’

Image source: Pexels

That is certainly where a cold rainy day or dreary winter evening drives us readers, with a favourite book, sipping some hot coffee/tea, losing ourselves in the worlds that they open up for us! Longfellow reads too of tales sung by bards, ‘of lands beyond the sea‘, and these songs, as he is writing in his later years, bring back to him memories of his youth, when perhaps he went on adventures of his own, the tales he reads of making him relive his own memories. [The songs of the bards and journeys on ‘sea and land’ that he refers to incidentally made me think very much of Odysseus’ adventures, though Longfellow wasn’t really speaking of any specific stories.]

Roman Mossaic depicting Odysseus
Source: Giorcesderivative work: Habib M’henni [Public domain]

His travels through ‘others eyes’ are far more comfortable than real-life adventures for he no longer fears ‘the dust and the heat‘, or ‘feel[s] fatigue‘, nor does he need to ‘toil through various climes‘. He ‘journey[s] with another’s feet‘, and ‘turn[s] the world around in [his] hand‘, through these songs of the bards as he travels over ‘many a lengthening league‘ and ‘learn[s] whatever lies; Beneath each changing zone‘. In fact, he sees ‘when looking with their eyes; better than with [his] own.’

Do you like travelling? Actual travels or do you prefer to like Longfellow (and me 😛 ) travel comfortably in your armchairs? Have you read this poem before? How did you like it?

Find the full poem here.