The Diverting History of John Gilpin

The Diverting History of John Gilpin
A comical story of linen draper John Gilpin who goes on an unexpected journey on a runaway horse and returns back again, written by William Cowper and illustrated by Randolph Caldecott. Cowper was originally told the story from Lady Anna Austen in 1782 during a time that he was experiencing severe depression. Cowper went through multiple periods of depression and even attempted to take his own life. However, Cowper was cheered and given strength in composing Christian poems, hymns, and the eventual nursery rhyme of John Gilpin. Gilpin, cheered from Lady Austen's story, wrote and published her story in 1782. The comical ballad became the most popular poem of the 1780's to the point where pirated copies of the book were sold with toys and biographies of John Gilpin. ("Collections and Books")

Almost a century later, Caldecott's illustrations of Cowper's John Gilpin were published in 1878 and was among the first books illustrated by Caldecott. Caldecott continued his trend of selecting previously told stories and rhymes to illustrate throughout the rest of his career sometimes writing additions onto the stories himself. ("Book Shop")

Caldecott, often called the "father of picture books" was an English illustrator famous for his illustrated children's books and their influence on subsequent picture books. Maurice Sendak, author of "Where the Wild Things Are" defended Caldecott's assumed title when she stated that "Caldecott's work heralded the beginning of the modern picture book." Caldecott's illustrations were unique and influential in leaving white space around his line drawings in order to draw attention to the details of his illustration. (Randolph Caldecott's Picture Books) The Caldecott Medal is named after him, which is annually awarded "to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children." The award has been given since 1938 ("Welcome").

An illustration from this storybook was the inspiration for the image shown on the Caldecott Medal.
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"Book Shop: The Diverting History of John Gilpin – Showing How He Went Farther Than He Intended, and Came Home Safe Again – Illustrated by Randolph Caldecott," Pook Press, accessed July 25, 2023.
"Collections/Books: The Diverting History of John Gilpin: Shewing how he Went Further than he Intended, and Came Safe Home Again (1782)," The Public Domain Review, accessed July 27, 2023
"Randolph Caldecott's Picture Books: Hey Diddle Diddle and Baby Bunting," British Library, accessed July 27, 2023.,be%20incredibly%20influential%20and%20inventive.
“Welcome to the Caldecott Medal Home Page!” Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), November 2, 2020.
Date Created
1878 AD
Author: Cowper, William Illustrator: Caldecott, Randolph
George Routledge & Sons
31 cm
Geographical Coverage
Temporal Coverage
19th Century
Victorian Period
Collecting Areas
English History of Writing Collection
English illustrated works (documents)
English picture books
Bibliographic Citation
Caldecott, Randolph, 1846-1886. The Diverting History of John Gilpin. London: George Routhledge & Sons, 1880s.

Item sets