Welcome to The British Literary Ballads Archive, a site dedicated to a unique genre of literary imitations of traditional ballads. The site contains a growing archive of over 700 poems, as well as short biographical sketches of the poets who wrote them.

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William Cowper (1731-1800)


 
English poet, born on 15 November 1731 at the rectory, Berkhamsted. He was over-sensitive, and suffered from severe depression from childhood, trying to kill himself many times. His depression became worse, and he got the idea into his head that he was godforsaken due to the fact that he could not marry his cousin Theodore Cowper. He started living with a clergyman Morley Unwin and his wife Mary in 1765, and he lived his remaining life with Mary after Mr. Unwin’s death. He came under the evangelical Reverend John Newton’s influence and created Olney Hymns with Newton in 1779.

He was in a psychologically unstable state because of his brother’s death in 1770 but, encouraged by Mary, wrote poems such as “The Progress of Error” and “Hope” and published his first collection of poems in 1782. His ballad “The Diverting History of John Gilpin,” published anonymously around this time, was extremely popular. The ballad was based on a story which his neighbour, Lady Austen, told him at a party to cheer him up. It is rich in humour while expressing silly people’s sorrow.

His huge blank verse The Task (1785) is famous and has a high reputation. One of his creditable achievements is the fact that he opened the door for Romanticism by describing natural beauty in the middle of the Industrial Revolution. (M. I.)

1.The Diverting History of John Gilpin