drawn for HOUSE
AND HOME by Thomas Scott,
photograph by W. Notman, of Montreal.
IN view of the
limited space at our disposal we must assume that the main features
of the story of Gerald Massey's life as told up to that period by
Dr. Smiles twenty-five
years ago, are known to our readers. The boy was at work in a
silk-mill or at straw plaiting when be ought to have been at school.
The progress he made when he had set to work to educate himself was
miraculous, and at an amazingly early age he showed the splendid
stuff that was in him. Thrown amongst "The Men of
'Forty-eight," he with voice and pen espoused the cause of the
downtrodden, exhibiting a fiery courage which was approached by no
contemporary in the same cause—heroic Ernest Jones probably
excepted. Amongst those with whom Massey then
associated—albeit, not agreeing with them on all on all points—we
may mention Thomas Cooper,
W. J. Linton, Robert Cooper,
Feargus O'Connor, Julian Harney, and of course
Ernest Jones. Those were "the
old John Street days"—a phrase invested with affectionate meaning by
the surviving veterans of political reform who were out-and-out
Radicals, not to say Chartists or Red Republicans, about the year
1848. To relate how Massey was knocked about from pillar to
post, writing, editing, lecturing, and occasionally nearly starving,
until his first book of poems, published by subscription, saw the
light, would be to far overrun our allotted space. It was
Hepworth Dixon who "discovered" to
the outside Massey's sphere the existence of the new poet. One
day Dixon, caught in a shower of rain, took shelter in a
newsvendors' doorway not a hundred miles from Gray's Inn Road.
While sanding there he was attracted by the front page of a
publication, the title-line of which page (designed and engraved by
W. J. Linton), was represented by "an arrangement" of bayonets and
daggers. Upon that page there appeared a poem which opened
Fling out the red Banner! its fiery front
Come, gather ye, gather ye, Champions of Right!
And roll round the word, with the voice of God's
The wrongs we've to reckon, oppressions to smite.
The rain ceased, and Dixon went his way with the
words of the "Song of the Red
Republican" ringing through his brain. Some time
afterwards he called at the Athenæum office and found amongst
some books that had been recently sent in for review a volume of
poems by Gerald Massey. Turning over the leaves in a cursory
manner he came upon―
Fling out the red Banner!
and paused. He had met with that before! Dixon pocketed
the book and left Wellington Street to join Douglas Jerrold, who was
at that time invalided at one of the South-coast watering places.
There was a comparison of notes over the volume, and in due course
the review of Massey's poems in the Athenæum, which "made"
him appeared. Jerrold, some of our readers may remember, also
gave a most enthusiastic review of the verses in Lloyd's,
which people's journal he then edited. It is deserving of note
that prior to the publication of the notice in the Athenæum
Massey had himself striven in vain to induce "the trade" to take his
book. At that time he was engaged as collector for one of the
leading publishing firms, and was therefore brought into personal
contact with members of the bookselling craft. Indulging in a
digression here, let us remark that subsequently Massey joined the
staff of the Athenæum, and for several years wrote a
considerable number of the reviews of poetry which appeared in that
journal. With the first batch of books that were handed to him
to review, Dixon sent a brief and highly characteristic note of
instructions, which deserves to be remembered. It ran as
follows: "Be just; be generous; but, if you do meet with a deadly
ass, sling him up!" It is remarkable—to complete the
digression—that Massey, in his capacity as reviewer, was, long
afterwards, enabled to perform for a then unknown poet a task
similar to that which Dixon had so warmly carried out in his case.
It was Gerald Massey who penned the notice of
Jean Ingelow's poems, which made
her favourably known to the readers of the Athenæum, and
therefore to the reading public all over the English-speaking world.
The poetical genius of Gerald Massey met with
cordial recognition from all quarters, some most distinguished.
Amongst the friends and admirers which "Babe
Christabel" and "Craigcrook
Castle" won for him were Thomas Aird, Walter Savage Landor, the
late Lord Lytton, and Charles Kingsley. Aird and Lander
published their testimony to his genius. Kingsley, there is no
doubt, chose him (with Thomas Cooper) as the model for the hero of
"Alton Locke." Kingsley and Massey were brought into intimate
contact in connexion with a co-operative workmen's association of
which the poet was secretary. Subsequently Lady Marion Alford
took him by the hand, and the late Lord Brownlow, her son, made him
his friend. Meantime Massey had won a brilliant name as an
essayist and lecturer, in the Quarterly Review, and upon
platforms all over Great Britain. He had also published poems
in Good Words and All the Year Round. The poet,
we may observe, cherishes the most grateful recollections of Charles
Dickens, who during a lengthened period treated him in the
handsomest possible manner.
Twenty-five years ago Gerald Massey was one of
the foremost few amongst living bards in the affectionate esteem of
the English public. In the highest and widest sense he was
popular. More renowned, perhaps, than his two friends and
workers in the same vineyard—Alexander Smith and Sydney Dobell.
His poems on child-life and on the Crimean War had struck chords in
the heart of England which promised to vibrate for ever. It
would seem to be now the fashion to ignore the part he played in
glorifying the splendid deeds of England in the Crimea and in the
Indian Mutiny—and yet was not he the first, if not the best, of the
national bards inspired by those themes? Only the other day we
read, in a long article on the death of Longfellow, that Charles
Mackay and Eliza Cook were the "lyrists of the people" in their day,
and that "the minstrel of the Crimean War, and of its deep and
far-reaching revolt against the enthusiastic morality which had been
prevalent, was Tennyson"! By the way, talking of Tennyson, is
it not remarkable that be should have taken three subjects which
Massey had treated years before, and in two instances dealt width
them in a manner to invite comparison?
Some of Gerald Massey's finest verse is to be
found in the two important volumes published subsequently to "Craigcrook
Castle." We allude to "Havelock's
March" and "A Tale of
Eternity." Nevertheless, the former of those poems was
cold-shouldered by the critics, and the latter treated in some
instances with flippancy and injustice. So righteously
incensed was the poet by an onslaught on the awfully powerful story
which appeared in a well-known journal, he hit back again hard, in a
series of epigram of which these may be cited as specimens:
You were disappointed with my work, ah,
It was not meant, my friend, to mirror you;
The only thing on earth you care to view.
As precious metal must be put to proof,
And stampt before it pass,
Is mine made current, branded by the hoof
Of a most patent ass!
Since 1873-4 Massey has made no considerable
additions to his poems. At that period he contributed several
remarkable efforts to Cassell's Magazine. One was
"Scarlett's Three Hundred—Charge of the Heavy Cavalry at Balaclava,
Oct. 26, 1854." This was a re-modelled lyric. It had
appeared in a briefer form amongst "The
War Waits" years before. Meeting with an officer who bad
been engaged in the charge, and who described it to him, Massey took
up the piece again, added thereto several new stanzas, and re-shaped
the others. The result is a magnificent lyric. At this
juncture "Starlet's Three
Hundred" possesses peculiar interest. Tennyson has tackled
the same subject, not successfully. Without making an
elaborate comparison between the two works, it may be said that none
of the lines in Massey's are afflicted with lameness or
"string-halt." The late Dr. Punshon used to make a great
effect, at the end of one of his orations, by reciting Massey's
stirring poem, "To-Day and
To-Morrow." It will interest the reader to know that the
poet has added a new stanza. It has not been published, but
here it is:
'Tis weary watching, wave by wave,
And yet the tide heaves onward;
We climb like corals grave by grave,
Yet pave a path that's sunward!
We are beaten back in many a fray,
But newer strength we borrow,
And where the vanguard camps to-day,
The rear shall rest to-morrow!
Stoker of the Megæra," a picturesqne and powerful ballad which
appeared in Cassell's Magazine in 1873, there are five or six
lines which opponents of the Channel Tunnel might quote. Of
course Massey had no Channel Tunnel in his mind's eye when he wrote
them, but they are none the less fitting on that account:
If we cannot keep the sea, you lubbers!
Your cent. per cent. must stop.
If we do not keep the sea, you lubbers!
How can you keep the shop?
Our Empire's built a-top of the wave,
Not at the bottom.
No notice of Gerald Massey's career would be
complete without a cordial precognition of his splendid explication
of the Sonnets of Shakspeare. The germ of this great work
first appeared in the
Quarterly Review. Many so-called literary analysts had
attempted to solve the mystery of the sonnets before he undertook
the task, but without success. It was he who found the key and
let daylight into the dark chambers of Shakspeare's complex secret,
a fact which German and French critics have not been slow to
acknowledge. [Ed.―see also "The
Secret Drama of Shakspeare's Sonnets".]
The magnificent lines which abound in "A
Tale of Eternity" were passed over with slimy contempt by the
reporter-reviewers, because the motif of the poem was
spiritualistic. The "Tale" unfolds a page of the author's
awful personal experience of the phenomena with which he declares he
has been brought face to face for many years. But the
treatment bestowed on "A Tale of Eternity" by the reviewers was
warmly generous compared with that which his latest work, "A
Book of the Beginnings," has received at their hands. The
fruits of eleven years daring exploration of a hitherto unknown
region dismissed in a dozen lines! It would pay a collector of
the curiosities of literature—if such things can be termed
literature—to gather up the notices of "A Book of the Beginnings"
for the diversion of a not remote posterity. But three
adequate reviews of this marvellous book have appeared. One
was from the pen of Captain Burton, in the Athenæum. A
notice in the same journal by the Athenæum's own young
man—retained on the establishment for horse-collar grinning, as the
late Herr von Joel was retained at Evans's Music Hall—should be
"taken" along with the renowned traveller's opinion of Massey's
work, just by way of giving it piquancy. Mr. George St. Clair,
George Dawson's successor at Birmingham, has also borne testimony to
the wondrous nature of the work; and a distinguished German
scientist has followed suit. The gentleman who does the books
for the Daily Telegraph must have spent at least ten minutes
in providing "the largest circulation in the world" with his view of
the author's eleven years' amazing labours. Having failed to
find Jumbo under the head of Africa, the reviewer naturally
concluded that there was something wrong. The Spectator
declined to say anything about a work which dared so much, and, we
venture to hope, returned the book forthwith to the author.
Well, all this sort of thing is very pitiful. An enquirer who
sets to work to discover the sources of language, and the origin of
myths and religions, and who uses the frank method of Darwin and
Wallace in his research, deserves more respectful treatment than
this. "A Book of the Beginnings"* is simply the most
extraordinary work that has appeared in this country, or, for that
matter, in any other during the century. It is a book to be
answered, not sneered down, and he who essays to reply to it must
dive to the depths which the author himself has reached. Let
enquirers after the truth, no matter what their colour or religion,
read "A Book of the Beginnings" in the spirit which abides in the
words— Prove all things; hold fast that which is good."
Our portrait has been specially drawn for HOUSE
AND HOME by Mr. Thomas Scott, from a
photograph by Mr. W. Notman, of Montreal.
* "A Book of the Beginnings." By Gerald Massey.
Beautifully printed, on special paper, by Clay, Sons & Taylor.
In 2 vols. imperial 8vo. cloth. Containing an attempt to
recover and reconstitute the lost Origins of the Myths and
Mysteries, Types and Symbols, Religion and Languages, with Egypt for
the Mouthpiece and Africa as the Birthplace. Williams and