"Not Much The Worse For Wear"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: For much of his life, Cowper suffered from religious despondency, which on several occasions drove him into madness. Despite this affliction–or rather, because of it–he cultivated a sense of humor or whimsicality which adds charm to much of his poetry. On one occasion he remarked apologetically: "If I trifle, and merely trifle, it is because I am reduced to it by necessity–a melancholy . . . engages me sometimes in the arduous task of being merry by force. And, strange as it may seem, the most ludicrous lines I ever wrote ["John Gilpin"] have been written in the saddest mood, and, but for that saddest mood, perhaps had never been written at all." Cowper's merry hero, John Gilpin, is a London linen-draper whose horse runs away with him on his twentieth wedding anniversary. His mad ride through the English countryside is hilariously described. The horse attains his goal, the home of his owner, who obligingly supplies Gilpin with a spare wig and a hat, his own having been lost on the way. It is this borrowed hat which is described in the famous line:

Whence straight he came with hat and wig;
A wig that flow'd behind,
A hat not much the worse for wear,
Each comely in its kind.