Pebbles fro' Ribblesdale

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INTRODUCTORY AND BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE.


BLACKBURN, it is safe to say, has produced more weavers of calico and of verse than any other town in the United Kingdom.  Not that there is any relation between the two; but the fact is there nevertheless, and should be taken into account by the gentle South, when, as sometimes happens, it grows harsh in its criticism of "the Northern barbarian."  This taste for verse-making is surely indicative of a delicate striving after higher and better things; and that it has not been in vain is shown by the high level of excellence which has been attained during the past twenty years by at least a dozen of these wooers of the Muses.  To what are we to attribute this undoubted tendency?  To a common inclination to follow in a track once made?  Or is it "something in the air," and the scenery?  It is not improbable that all three factors have operated as formative influences.  Blackburn, rude, grimy, and smoke-smitten though it be, is certainly happily situated with regard to its surroundings.  Within a mile from its busy centre the workman can gain heights from which he may catch "glimpses which will make him less forlorn" of moorland and mountain, and valley and plain.  There is grand old Pendle and Bleasedale Fells, with Clitheroe Castle — a rocky islet in a sea of verdure — and the broad pleasant valley of the Ribble leading the eye by many a smiling mead until it reaches Preston, and widens to the sea.  Need we wonder that such scenes have attuned the soul to harmony, and that the tender emotion which has been stirred has occasionally found fitting expression in song?

    The late Richard Rawcliffe whose poems (issued by his brother along with his own) have the first place in this volume, was an ardent lover of nature, and as a lover was a keen observer of her ever-varying moods.  He was born in Ribchester on the 19th November, 1839, and was a son of John and Martha Rawcliffe.  Like his parents, Richard was early taught to earn a scanty living as a hand-loom weaver, but the power-loom having gradually superseded the hand-loom, he removed to Blackburn in August, 1858, and in his nineteenth year became a weaver in a cotton mill.  In 1860 he married his first wife, Esther Robinson, who bore him three children; and it was during this first stay in Blackburn that he found his way into the "Poet's Corner" of local and other journals, and became a member of the Blackburn Literary Club.  In 1864 he returned to Ribchester, having been offered the post of overlooker at Ribblesdale Mill.  Here for a short period he was truly happy.  He had made a step in advance; he was in his native village amongst people who knew him and liked him, and, as he himself expressed it, he was—


Away from smoke, to where the breezes free
Do kiss the flowery mead and craggy steep,


    But death stepped in and snatched the cup from his lips; his wife died in November, 1865; and soon afterwards he returned to Blackburn, to take a post as overlooker at Peel Mill, which he held for five or six years.  It was whilst working here that he married again.  The maiden name of his second wife was Alice Formby, and she bore him five children.  He was afterwards employed in a responsible position at Moorgate Mill, and became President of the Blackburn Overlookers' Association.  The death of one of his sons from consumption was a great blow to him.  Whether his constant nursing of the sick lad resulted in infection, or whether it simply developed seeds within of the dread malady must ever be a matter of conjecture.  But it was not long after the death of his son that it was seen that he, too, was stricken.  He bore up bravely, and kept at work as long as he could.  But the time came when he was unequal to the daily task, and, with his savings melting away, the prospect before him was indeed a dreary one.  Still, he rallied occasionally; and like other consumptives he was ever hopeful of a favourable turn.  He was advised at length that the only chance for him was to go to Australia.  He had relatives living in the country awide of Melbourne; but, as his means were exhausted, a number of his friends and well-wishers subscribed something more than was sufficient for the voyage out.  The experiment was however made too late.  He left England for Australia by the "Garonne" (Orient Line), on the first of September, 1886, and arrived at Melbourne on the 16th October, reaching his new home early next morning.  He was warmly received by his relatives; and wrote a glowing description of his surroundings; the scenery, the constant sunshine and the wealth of fruit and flowers being like a new birth to him.  He was still hopeful, and yet the end was near.  He had preserved a descriptive record of the journey out which he had promised to send me for publication.  That record reached me; it was a bulky letter; I opened it with a glow of pleasure, but what a shock I received!  A brief note accompanied the diary.  It was in an unfamiliar hand, and it announced that "Dick" had died somewhat suddenly on the night of the 11th December, in the same year, 1886.  He had sat up somewhat later than usual to finish his writing.  Soon after he retired, he had a severe fit of coughing, which was followed by haemorrhage of the lungs.  The "fell sergeant, Death," had summoned him; and, before daylight, he had obeyed the summons and was gone.

    It would be out of place to make more than a brief mention of John Rawcliffe, seeing that this book is issued by him as a tribute, in some measure, to the memory of his brother; but it may be fittingly stated that he was born in Ribchester on the 10th of February, 1844.  He left his native dale in 1858, about a fortnight after his brother, having as a boy been bobbin-winder, and then hand-loom weaver.  He went to Blackburn to become a power-loom weaver; and was married to Eleanor Hindle, his present wife, in 1867.  Singular to state, his first essay in verse was made whilst suffering from a tumour in 1888 — when he was forty-four years of age.  It is a literal, if somewhat grotesque, illustration of Shelley's saying that —


                                     Most wretched men
Are cradled into poetry by wrong;
They learn in suffering what they teach in song.


The portrait of him, which is given in the volume, is in every respect satisfactory.

    The portrait of Richard Rawcliffe, which prefaces his poems, scarcely does him justice.  It is reproduced from a photograph taken when the effects of consumption were beginning to show themselves.  The features are somewhat too angular, and the expression is lacking in that repose which was ordinarily characteristic of him.  There was nothing pretentious about him — quite the reverse; yet his bearing and manner were dignified and manly.  Beneath an unassuming aspect, there was confidence in himself and marked firmness of character.  It went ill, as a rule, with anyone who tried a game of bluff with him.  He had a quick eye for weak points, and his cool sarcastic shafts went straight to the mark.  Although not possessed of what is termed the "gift o'th' gab," he was exceedingly ready at what Lancashire people call "bullocking;" and he knew when it was fair to begin and when it was merciful to stop.  His brother John had much less confidence in himself; and this striking difference in the brothers is seen in the fact that, while Richard took to poetising before he was out of his teens, it is only within the past few years ― since, in fact, his brother's death ― that John has discovered that he is possessed of a faculty for expression in verse.  That he has worked the vein freely since he struck it is obvious from the contents of this volume.  He is not lacking in genuine humour and artful simplicity, but, as he would be the first to acknowledge, while he is at home in the dialect, he is not, like his brother, graceful and free in ordinary English.  Richard Rawcliffe's poem, "Idyls by the Hearth," though not free from minor defects, is fit to be classed amongst the most charming pieces of verse in the English language.  Take, for instance, the following stanza: —


Blushingly the clover glanceth
Upwards, saying, "Can'st thou love me,
Beauteous butterfly that danceth
             Up above me?"
Then the butterfly alighteth,
At these love-words spoke in bliss,
And the clover he requiteth
             With a kiss!


How playful and innocent the fancy, and how felicitously expressed!  And so all through.  The "Idyls" are really the recollections of a factory worker in the town of the sweet sights and sounds of his early life in the country.  They are pebbles from the Ribbleside which have been brilliantly polished and set as gems.  Richard Rawcliffe was fond of birds, and especially, of the Robin.  How suggestive of his own hard lot are the lines in the first epistle to the Robin: —


And when the sun has lost its glow ;
And when thy spirit sinketh low,
I love thee most, for then I know,
                'Tis hard to sing, Red Robin.


The second poem on the same subject contains some descriptive lines worthy to be preserved in memory, such as: —


While lush and strong, above the rill,
Rears up the yellow daffodil!


Or —


The thrifty bees, with constant hum,
That tell us Summer time has come.


And —


To hear again, through sunny rain,
         The lively skylark sing;
So full of joy in heaven's blue,
As if he knew not what to do.


There is nothing strained or far-fetched in anything that Richard Rawcliffe wrote.  He "piped but as the linnets do" — that is to say he sang more to please himself and to express his feelings than with any thought of others, for he was free from the vanity of authorship.  Perhaps it would have been better if he had had ambition in this direction; for in that case his admirers would not have been left to regret that his poems are so few.  But regret there is; and that, after all, is the best compliment that could be paid to him as a writer.


JOHN WALKER.

Warrington, July, 1891.


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CONTENTS.


PART I.

Frontispiece

Introductory and biographical note


IDYLLS BY THE HEARTH

TO MY YOUNGEST SON

LINES TO A POET FRIEND

OWD BLACKIN' BILL

SUMMER A LYRIC

HOW PEACEFUL PAT WAS MISTAKEN FOR
A FENIAN


TO THE ROBIN

MONEY MAKES THE MARE TO GO

THE BIRDS ARE SINGING

LINES ON THE DEATH OF COUNCILLOR BEADS, J.P.

MAY SONG

IN BLACKBURN PARK TO FLORA

CHERLEY SHEPSTERD

IN MEMORIAM SAMUEL PERRINS

LINES TO THE ROBIN

THE MOTHERLESS CHILD

ODE TO TH' CANARY

IN MEMORIAM JOHN RAWCLIFFE


PART II.

Frontispiece

AN APOSTROPHE: TO MY BOOKS

WHEN EVERYBODY GEDS THERE OWN

IN MEMORIAM ELLENOR SHORROCK

BE PATIENT, LASS, DO

AW WISH HOO'D CUM TO-NEET

SHY LITTLE MISS

PHRENOLOGY

HOO'S TWO YEAR OWD TO-MORN

MAY

MUSINGS

T' CLOCK AS STAN'S ON TH' CORNISH

HE SED HE WOULD

IN MEMORIAM FATHER STEVEN PERRY

THAD HEAWSE INTO TH' FOWD

EAWR LITTLE NELL

IN BLACKBURN PARK

PAVIN' TH' BRANCH

A FLITTIN'

A SWEET LITTLE SPOT

AN EPISTLE

HOO'S SET OFF A-WALKIN' TODAY

FACES IN THE FIRE

SILLY DICK

IN MEMORIAM EDWIN WAUGH

A CAT'S TALE


TO AUTUMN

NOVEMBER

YOUNG NINETY-ONE

THE MOORLAND STREAM

AN EPISTLE FROM DOUGLAS

THERE'S NOOAN LIKE YON O' MINE

IN MEMORIAM ELIZA COOK

FAREWELL TO MAY

CUM NEXT SUNDAY MORNING

A GREETING

LET'S BOOATH POO ONE WAY

GLOOMY JUNE

RIBCHESTER CLUB WALK

LIST OF SUBSCRIBERS


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