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THE ATHENÆUM

No. 1159, Page 46.

EBENEZER ELLIOTT.
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The following Memoir of the life of the late Ebenezer Elliott, written by himself, in the middle of the year 1841, has been obligingly furnished to us for publication. Here and there we have omitted certain passages, to be found in the manuscript; which omission may perhaps appear occasionally to disturb the continuity of the narrative. But various reasons have suggested these several suppressions:—which, after all, sacrifice nothing that is material or essentially characteristic in the autograph.

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SOON after my Corn-law Rhymes had made me somewhat notorious, I was strongly urged by sundry persons to write a history of my life; which I then refused to do, because I had nothing remarkable to relate of myself, and because I knew not that I had done aught that could reasonably induce any person to ask, six months after my death, "What sort of man was Ebenezer Elliott?"  I placed, however, in the hands of my friend G. C. Holland, M.D., a series of letters, in which I narrated some incidents of my early life, that had probably influenced the formation of my mind and character, and which might form the basis of a posthumous narrative, if wanted.  I embody in the succeeding narrative the substance of those letters now, following the advice which I rejected several years ago—reluctantly, for the same reasons; not that this is "a world to hide virtues in," but that I have none to hide.  I have another reason for my reluctance.  The portion of my history which I am about to publish is not that portion of it which would be most instructive were it written as I alone could write it; that is, if I were brave and honest enough so to write it,—which I am not.  Even that portion of it, however, would not be more instructive than the history of almost any one person out of millions of the Queen's subjects, if truly written; nor could I write it at all without saying to dead sorrows, "Arise, and weep afresh,"—and to errors and failings that would fain sleep forgotten, "Be ye remembered!"  Two men alone in our time, Rousseau and Byron, told the truth of themselves; and how have they been requited?  Yet the time may come when my present unwillingness to look back on days of trouble will be lessened; for there is might and majesty in the tale of the honest battle for bread, and of the strength which the struggle gives to weakness.

    Of my birth no public registry exists.  My father, being a Dissenter, baptized me himself, or employed his friend, and brother Berean, Tommy Wright, the Barnesly tinker, to baptize me.  But I was born at the New Foundry, Masbro', in the parish of Rotherham, on the 17th day of March, in the year of our—Lord 1781; and I narrate the fact thus particularly that about an event of such importance there may be no contentious ink shed by historians in times to come.  Robert Elliott, my father's father, was a whitesmith, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne; a man in good circumstances, or he could not have given to his son Ebenezer, my father, what was then considered a first-class commercial education, and put him apprentice to Landell & Chambers, of that great city, wholesale ironmongers, the received with him a premium of £50.  His wife, who rejoiced in the pastoral name of "Sheepshanks," was a Scotsman,—and, speaking metaphorically, wore breeches: a circumstance which does not seem to have lessened the love her husband bore her,—for he lamented her with tears long after she had been laid in the grave, even until the day of his death— especially when he was drunk.  The ancestors of my grandfather Elliott, I have been told—and have the honour to believe—were thieves, neither Scotch nor English, who lived on the cattle they stole from both.  That my grandmother Sheepshanks had ancestors is probable; but of what they were neither record nor tradition hath reached me, which is the more pity, because my great difficulty in writing this narrative is want of materials.  Famous men are fated to have wants; but ask yourselves, ye Famous! who could write your histories, if all the children of want were famous?  After my father left Landell & Chambers, he became one of the clerks of the Walkers of Masbro', where he lodged with a surgeon called Robinson; under whose roof he first saw my mother,—one of the daughters of a yeoman, at Ozzins, near Penistone, where his ancestors had lived on their fifty or sixty acres of freehold time out of mind ! !  I think, then, I have made out my descent, if not from very fine folks, certainly from respectables, as (getting every day comparatively scarcer) they are called in these days of "ten dog's to one bone."

    If famous men are fated to have wants, so are they to have misfortunes, truly such—and some of mine were born before me; for the whole life of my mother was a disease,—a tale of pain, terminated by death—one long sigh.  Yet she suckled eleven children, and reared eight of them to adult age.  From her I have derived my nervous irritability, my bashful awkwardness, my miserable proneness to anticipate evil, that make existence all catastrophe.  I Well remember her sending me to a dame's school, kept by Nanny Sykes, the beautiful and brave wife of a drunken husband,—where I learned my A B C.  I was next sent to the Hollis School; then presided over by Joseph Ramsbotham, who taught me to write,—and little more.  In those days the science of monitorship was undiscovered; and as he had seldom fewer perhaps than 150 scholars,—of course none but the naturally clever made much progress.  About this time, my poor mother, who was a first­rate dreamer, and a true believer in dreams, related to me one of her visions.  "I had placed under my, pillow," she said, "a shank-bone of mutton to dream upon; and I dreamed that I saw a little, broad-set, dark, ill-favoured man, with black hair, black eyes, thick stob nose and tup-shins: it was thy father."

    And a special original my father was:—a man of great virtue, not without faults.  One of the latter had its origin probably in some superstitious reverence for the cabalistic number "three."  I allude to his bad habit of ducking his children thrice, and keeping them the third time some seconds under water when he bathed us in the canal; which produced in me a horror of suffocation that seems to encrease with my years.  To avoid this cruel kindness, I was obliged to show him that I could do without his assistance, by bathing voluntarily; a consequence of which was, that on one occasion I narrowly escaped drowning: —"the more the pity!" I have often said since.  I never knew a man who possessed the tythe of my father's satiric and humorous powers: he would have made a great comic actor.  He also possessed uncommon political sagacity, which afterwards earned for him the title of "Devil Elliott,"—a title which is still applied to him, I am told, by the descendants of persons who then hated the poor and honoured the king.  He left the Messrs. Walker to serve Clay & Co. of the New Foundry, Masbro', for a salary of sixty or seventy pounds a year, with house, candle, and coal!  Well do I remember some of those days of affluence and pit-coal fires,—for glorious fires we had; no fear of coal bills in those days.  There, at the New Foundry, under the room where I was born, in a little parlour like the cabin of a ship, yearly painted green, and blessed with a beautiful thoroughfare of light—for there was no window-tax in those days—he used to preach every fourth Sunday to persons who came from distances of twelve and fourteen miles to hear his tremendous doctrines of ultra-Calvinism (he called himself a Berean) and hell hung round with span-long children!  On other days, pointing to the aqua-tint pictures on the walls, he delighted to declaim on the virtues of slandered Cromwell and of Washington the rebel; or, shaking his sides with laughter, explained the glories of "The glorious victory of His Majesty's forces over the Rebels at Bunker's Hill!"  Here the reader has a key which will unlock all my future politics.  If ever there was a man who knew not fear, that man was the father of the Corn-Law Rhymer.  From his birth to his last gasp I doubt whether he knew what it was to be afraid, except of poverty; about which he had sad forebodings,—ultimately realized, after he had become nominal proprietor of the Foundry of, Clay & Co.—the partners having sold him their shares on credit.

    I have left some earlier incidents for after-narration, that I may found on my father's peculiarities a claim to speak now of my own—or rather of certain physical or constitutional weaknesses, to which, I fear, all that is poetical in me or in my doings is traceable.

    "Oh blessed are the beautiful!" says Haynes Billy, uttering for ever a sentiment to which I can feelingly and mournfully respond; far in my sixth year I had the small-pox, which left me frightfully disfigured, and six weeks blind.  From the consequences I never recovered.  To them quite as much as to my poor mother's infirm constitution, I impute my nerve-shaken weakness.  How great was that weakness I will endeavour to show the reader.  When I was very young—I might be twelve years old,—I fell in love with a young woman called Ridgeway,—now Mrs. Woodcock, of Munster, near Greasbro',—to whom I never spoke a word in my life, and the sound of whose voice, to this day, I have never heard; yet if I thought she saw me as I passed her father's house, I felt as if weights were fastened to my feet.  Is genius diseased?—I cannot remember the time when I was not fond of ruralities.  Was I born, then, with a taste for the beautiful?  When quite a child,—I might be seven or eight years old, —I remember filling a waster frying-pan with water, placing it in the centre of a little grove of mugwart and wormwood that grew on a stone-heap in the foundry yard, and delighting to see the reflectlon of the sun, and clouds, and the plants themselves, as from the surface of a natural fountain; for I so placed the pan that the water only was visible and I seldom failed to visit it at noon, when the sun was was over it.  But I had also a taste for the horrible—a passion—a rage, for seeing the faces of the hanged or the drowned.  Why I know not; for they made my life a burden,—following me wherever I went, sleeping with me, and haunting me in my dreams.  Was this hideous taste a result of constitutional infirmity?  Had it any connexion with my taste for writing of horrors and crimes?  I was cured of it by a memorable spectacle.  A poor friendless man, who, having no home, slept in colliery hovels and similar places, having been sent, one dark night, from the glasshouse for a pitcher of ale, fell into the canal, and was drowned.  In about six weeks his body body rose to the the surface of the water,—and I, of course, ran to see it.  The spectacle which by that time it presented was daily and nightly, whether I was alone or in the street, in bed or by the fireside, for months my constant companion.  Had this morbid propensity any relation to my solitary tendencies?  Healthy man is social; but in my childhood I had no associates.  Although the neighbourhood swarmed with children, I was always alone; and this is perhaps one reason why I was deemed rather wanting in intellect, and why I might really have had fewer ideas than other children of my age, for I cut myself off from communication with theirs.  But though I was alone, I have no recollection that my solitude was painful. On the contrary, I employed my time delightfully in swimming my little fleets of ships, and repairing my fortresses on the banks of the canal between the Greasbro' and Rawmarsh bridges.  My early fondness for carpentering is no proof that if I had been bred an engineer I should have made any improvements in machinery,—for all children are more more or less fond of knicknackery; but I certainly excelled in handicrafts.  I was the best kitemaker and the best ship-builder.  Most captains of sloops and other vessels possess a model of a ship of some sort.  By borrowing such models, I completed, when I was about thirteen years old, a model of an eighteen-gun ship.  I gave it many years afterwards, to a boat-builder of Greasbro', called Woffendin, who begged it of me, that it might obtain for him the office of boat-builder to Earl Fitzwilliam.  He gave, or sold it to Lord Milton, the present Earl Fitzwilliam, then a youth; and it was, I believe, a few years ago still at Wentworth House.  But my imitative talents won me no respect; nor is this very surprizing.  Placed beside my wondrous brother, Giles, who was beautiful as an an an angel, I was ugliness itself; and in the presence of his splendid abilities, I might well look like like a fool, and believe myself to be one.  As I grew up, my fondness for solitude increased; for I could could not but observe the homage that was paid to him, and feel the contempt with which I was regarded.  But I am not aware that I ever envied or at all disliked him.

    When I look back on the days of rabid toryism through which I have passed, and consider the then almost universal tendency to worship the powers that were, and their worst mistakes,—I feel astonished that a nerve-shaken man, whose affrighted imagination in boyhood and youth slept with dead men's faces,—a man, whose first sensation on standing up to address a public meeting is that of his knees giving way under him,—-should have been able to retain his political integrity, without abjuring one article of his fearless father's creed.  But even in those days, I find, I was a free-trader—though I knew it not.  So barbarous were some of the deeds done in that time in the name of law, and so painful was the impression which they made on me when I was about sixteen years old, that I should certainly have emigrated to the United States had I possessed sufficient funds for that purpose; nor should I, I fear, have been very scrupulous as to the means of obtaining them,—so fully had the idea of emigration obtained possession of me, so passionately had my mind embraced it, and so poetically had I associated with it Crusoe notions of self-dependence and isolation.  It is not improper to blush for uncommitted offences.  Even now, after forty-five years have been added to my previous existence, I shudder if I chance to meet an expedience-monger who tells me "that the end justifies the means:"—a false doctrine and fatal faith, which have wrought the fall of many an all-shunned brother, and of ill-starred sisters numberless, once unstained as the angels.  Oh, think of this, ye tempted and ye tempters, even if ye be magistrates! but let no man believe that good effected by evil can be aught but evil done, and an apology for more!—I must return from these digressions.

    My ninth year was an era in my life.  My father had cast a great pan, weighing some tons, for my uncle, at Thurlestone, and I determined to go thither in it, without acquainting my parents with my intention.  A truck, with assistants, having been sent for it, I got into it, about sunset, unperceived, hiding myself beneath some hay, which it contained,—and we proceeded on our journey.  I have not forgotten how much I was excited by the solemnity of the night and its shooting stars, until I arrived at Thurlestone, about four in the morning.  It is remarkable that I never in after life succeeded in any plan which I did not execute in a similar way.  If I ask advice, either the plan is never executed or it is unsuccessful.  I had not been many days at Thurlestone before I wished myself at home again, for my heart was with my mother.  If I could have found my way back I should certainly have returned; and my inability to do so (though my having come in the night may in some degree account for it) shows, I think, that I really must have been a dull child.  My uncle sent me to Penistone school, where I made some little progress.  At this school, one of the boys, who had a bad breath, took a lilting to me.  He would always sit close to me, and almost poisoned me; yet if at any time he happened to be absent I felt as if I could not live:—so necessary has it ever been to me to have some kind bosom to lean upon.  When I got home from school I spent my evenings in looking from the back of my uncle's house to Hoyland Swaine, for I had discovered that Masbro' lay beyond that village; and ever, when the sun went down, I felt as if some great wrong had been done me.  At length, in about a year and a half, my father came for me:—and so ended my first irruption into the great world.  Is it not strange, that a man who from his childhood has dreamed of visiting foreign countries, and yet, at the age of sixty, believes that he shall see the Falls of Niagara, has never been twenty miles out of England, and has yet to see, for the first time, the beautiful scenery of Cumberland, Wales, and Scotland?

    On my return from the land of the great pan I was again sent to Hollis school; where, as was my wont in all cases, I took the shortest ways to my objects;—and the easiest way to get my sums done was, to let John Ross do them for me.  This practice, in its consequences, added not a little to my reputation for duncery at home.  Yet I have an impression that I was looked up to by my schoolfellows—I cannot tell why; for I never fought, and I think they must have suspected me to be rather wanting in certain learned accomplishments.  I say, I never fought,—and yet my brother Giles, when in danger, always took me out to defend him.  How all this happened I am at a loss to conceive, far I took no pains to bring it about.—But. having got into the rule of three, without having first learned numeration, addition, subtraction, and division, I was sent by my despairing parents to Dalton school, two miles from Masbro'; and I see at this moment, as vividly as if nearly fifty years had not since passed over me, the kingfisher shooting along the Don as I passed schoolward through the Aldwark meadows, eating my dinner four hours before dinner-time.  But, oh! the misery of reading without having learned to spell.  The name of the master was Brunskill,—a broken-hearted Cumberland-man,—one of the best of living creatures,—a sort of sad-looking, half-starved angel without wings; and I have stood for hours beside his desk, with the tears running down my face, utterly unable to set down one correct figure.  I doubt whether he ever suspected that I had not been taught the preliminary rules.  I actually did not know that they were necessary, and looked on a boy who could do a sum in vulgar fractions as a sort of magician.  Dreading school, I absented myself from it during the summer months of the second year—"playing truant" about Dalton, Deign, and Silverwood, or Thrybergh Park, where I stole duck eggs, mistaking them for the eggs of wild birds, and was brought before Madam Finch.  She, seeing what a simpleton I was, released me, with a reprimand.

    Let it not be supposed that these were happy days.  I was utterly miserable.  I trembled when I drew near home, for I knew not how to answer the questions which I feared my father would put to me.  Sometimes I avoided them by slinking to bed without supper,—which to a lad who took care to eat his dinner soon after breakfasting could not be convenient.  It was impossible, however, to prevent my father from discovering that I was learning nothing but vagabondism,—or from suspecting that my slow progress was owing more to idleness than to want of ability to learn.  He set me to work in the foundry, as a punishment.  But working in the foundry, so far from being a punishment to me, relieved me from the sense of inferiority which had so long depressed me; for I was not found to be less clever there than other beginners.  For this there was a sufficient reason; I had been familiar from my infancy with the processes of the manufactory, and possibly a keen though silent observer of them.  The result of his experiment vexed the experimenter,—and he had good cause for vexation; for it soon appeared that I could play my part at the York-Keelman with the best of its customers.  Yet I never thoroughly relished the rude company and coarse enjoyments of the alehouse.  My thoughts constantly wandered to the canal banks and my little ships; and—I know not why, but—I always built my fortresses, aye, and my castles in the air, too, where the flowers were the finest.  The "yellow ladies' bed-straw" (I did not then know its name,) was a particular favourite of mine; and the banks of the canal were golden with it.  At this time I had strong religious impressions; and (when there was service) I seldom missed attending the chapel of parson Allard—a character who might have sate for Scott's picture of Dominie Sampson.  But I sometimes went to the Masbro' chapel, (Walker's, it was then called,) to hear Mr. Groves, one of the most eloquent and dignified of men, but hated by my father (who was a capital hater) for some nothing or other of discipline or of doctrine.  I was on my way, I believe, to hear him, when I called, one Sunday, on my aunt Robinson,—a widow, left with three children and about £30 a year, on which (God knows how!) she contrived to live respectably, and to give her two sons an education which ultimately made them both gentlemen.  I thought she received me coldly.  She did not, I think, know that I had been tipsy a night or two before; but I was conscience-stricken.  After a minute's silence, she rose, and laid before me a number of 'Sowerby's English Botany,' which her son Benjamin, then apprenticed to Dr. Stainforth, of Sheffield, was purchasing monthly.  Never shall I forget the impression made on me by the beautiful plates.  I actually touched the figure of the primrose, half-convinced that the mealiness on the leaves was real.  I felt hurt when she removed the book from me,—but she removed it only to show me how to draw the figures, by holding them to the light, with a thin piece of paper before them.  On finding that I could so draw them correctly, I was lifted at once above the inmates of the alehouse at least a foot in mental stature.  My first effort was a copy from the primrose; under which (always fond of fine words) I wrote its Latin name, Primula veris vulgaris.  So, thenceforward, when I happened to have a spare hour I went to my aunt's to draw.  But she had not yet shown me all the wealth of her Benjamin.  The next revealed marvel was his book of dried plants.  Columbus when be discovered the New World was not a greater man than I at that moment; for no misgiving crossed my mind that the discovery was not my own, and no Americo Vespucius disputed the honour of it with me.  But (alas, for the strength of my religious impressions!) thenceforth often did parson Allard inquire why Eb. was not at chapel?—for I passed my Sundays in gathering flowers, that I might make pictures of them.  I had then, as now, no taste for the science of Botany; the classifications of which seemed to me to be like preparations for sending flowers to prison.  I began, however, to feel mannish.  There was mystery about me.  People stopped me with my plants, and asked what diseases I was going to cure?  But I was not in the least aware that I was learning the art of poetry, which I then hated—especially Pope's, which gave me the head-ache if I heard it read aloud.  My wanderings, however, soon made me acquainted with the nightingales in Basingthorpe Spring,—where, I am told, they still sing sweetly; and with a beautiful green snake, about a yard long, which on the fine Sabbath mornings, about ten o'clock, seemed to expect me at the top of primrose Lane.  It became so familiar, that it ceased to uncurl at my approach.  I have sate on the style beside it till it seemed unconscious of my presence; and when I rose to go, it would only lift the scales behind its head or the skin beneath them—and they shone in the sun like fire.  I know not how often this beautiful and harmless child of God may have "sate for his picture" in my writings—a dozen, at least; but wherever I might happen to meet with any of its brethren or sisters—at Thistlebed Ford, where they are all vipers, black or brown—or in the Aldwark meadows, on the banks of the Don, with the kingfisher above and the dragonfly below them—or on Boston Castle ridge—or in the Clough dell, where they swarm—or in Canklow Quarry—or by the Rother, near Hail-Mary Wood,—whatever the scene might be, the portrait, if drawn, was sure to be that of my first snake-love.

    I had now become a person of some note; and if I let my wondering adorers suppose that I copied my figures of plants, not at secondhand, but from the plants which they saw I was in the habit of collecting—pardon me, outraged spirit of Truth! for I had been so long a stranger to the voice of praise, and it sounded so sweetly to my unaccustomed ears, that I could not refuse to welcome it when it came.  But my dried plants were undeniably my own; and so obvious was their merit, that even my all praised and all able brother sometimes condescended to look at and admire my "Hortus Siccus"—as I pompously named my book of specimens.  It was about this time that I first heard him read the first book of Thomson's Seasons; and he was a capital reader,—well aware, too, of that fact.  When he came to the description of the polyanthus and auricula, I waited impatiently till he laid down the book; I then took it into the garden, where I compared the description with the living flowers.  Here was another new idea—Botany in verse!—a prophecy that the days of scribbling were at hand.  But my earliest taste in poetry was like that of Bottom the weaver, who of all things liked best "a scene to tear a cat in."  Accordingly, my first poetical attempt was an imitation in rhyme of Thomson's blank-verse thunderstorm.  I knew perfectly well that sheep could not take to flight after having been killed, but the "rhyme" seemed to be of opinion that they should be so described; and as it doggedly abided by this perversity, there was nothing for it but to describe my flock "scudding away" after the lightning had slain them.  I read the marvel to my cousin Benjamin; from whom I received infliction the first of merciless criticism.  God forgive him!—I never could.  Neither could I help perceiving the superiority which his learning gave him over me; and never was I so happy as when listening to his recitations of Homer's Greek, of which I did not understand a word,—and yet, after the illapse of nearly half a century its music has not departed from my soul.

    Willingly, too, would I have shared the praises showered on my brother Giles:—but, alas, how was that to he accomplished?  Hitherto, I had been fat and round as a ball,—I now became pale and lean.  My health visibly suffered: but I had inly resolved to undertake the great task of self-instruction.  I purchased a grammar; but proved unable to remember a single rule, however laboriously committed to memory.  About a year afterwards, I added the "Key" to my grammar, and read it through and through a hundred times.  I found, at last, that by reflection, and by supplying elisions, &c., I could detect and correct grammatical errors.  The pronouns bothered me most,—as they still do.  At this moment I do not know a single rule of grammar; and yet I can now, I flatter myself, write English as correctly as Samuel Johnson could, and detect errors in a greater author, Samuel Bailey.  Flushed with success, my enthusiasm knew no bounds.  To the great joy of my father, I resolved to learn French.  But though I could with ease get and say my lessons, I could not remember a word of them; I, therefore, at the end of a few weeks gave up the attempt.  For once, however, I was lucky in calamity; for my French teacher not understanding the language himself, I was allowed to throw the blame on him,—which I did gloriously.

    It would seem that my poetical propensities are traceable to certain accidents; but that about the end of my fourteenth year my mind began to make efforts for itself.  Those efforts, however, were favoured by an accident of importance in the history of my education.  A clergyman, called Firth, who held a poor curacy at a desolate place called Middlesmoor, bequeathed to my father his library, containing, besides scores of Greek and Latin books, Barrow's 'Sermons,' Ray's 'Wisdom of God,' Derham's 'Physico-Theology,' Young's 'Night Thoughts,' Hervey's 'Meditations,' Henepin's 'Travels,' and three volumes of the 'Royal Magazine,' embellished with views of Bombay, Madras, the Falls of Niagara, Pope's Villa at Twickenham, and fine coloured representations of foreign birds.  My writings owe something to all these books; particularly to Henepin, who carried me with him from Niagara to the Mississippi.  I was never weary of Barrow; he and Young taught me to condense.  Ray also was a favourite.  The picture of Pope's Villa induced me to buy his 'Essay on Man,'—but could not enable me to like it.  In the 'Royal Magazine' I found the narrative of a shipwreck on a South-Sea island; on which I made a romance in blank verse, twenty years before Scott printed his 'Lay of the Last Minstrel.'  My next treasure was Shenstone; I could repeat all the mottos, translated from the Greek and Latin, which he has prefixed to his poems.  I think he is now undervalued.  Then followed Milton,— who held me captive long.  I have said, I always took the shortest road to an object: this tendency led me into some errors, but is the principal cause of my ultimate success as an author.  I never could read a feeble book through: it follows that I read masterpieces only, the best thoughts of the highest minds,—after Milton, Shakspeare—then Ossian—then Junius, with my father's Jacobinism for a commentary,—Paine's 'Common-sense,'—Swift's Tale of a Tub,'—'Joan of Arc,'- Schiller's 'Robbers,'—Bürger's 'Leonora,'—Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall,'—and, long afterwards, Tasso, Dante, De Staël, Schlegel, Hazlitt, and the Westminster Review.  But I have a strange memory.  Sometimes it fails me altogether,—yet when I was twelve years old, I almost knew the Bible by heart; and in my sixteenth year I could repeat, without missing a word, the first, second, and sixth books of 'Paradise Lost!'  If, then, I possess that power which is called genius, how great must be my moral demerits,—for what have I written that will bear any comparison with the least of my glorious models?  But I possess not that glorious power.  Time has developed in me, not genius, but powers which exist in all men and lie dormant in most.  I cannot, like Byron and Montgomery, pour poetry from my heart as from an unfailing fountain; and of my inability to identify myself, like Shakspeare and Scott, with the characters of other men, my abortive 'Kerhoneh,' 'Taurepdes,' and similar rejected failures, are melancholy instances.  My thoughts are all exterior,—my "mind is the mind of my own eyes.  A primrose is to me a primrose, and nothing more:—I love it because it is nothing more.  There is not in my writings one good idea that has not been suggested to me by some real occurrence, or by some object actually before my eyes, or by some remembered object or occurrence, or by the thoughts of other men, heard or read.  If I possess any power at all allied to genius, it is that of making other men's thoughts suggest thoughts to me which, whether original or not, are to me new.  Some years ago my late excellent neighbour, John Heppenstel, after showing me the plates of Audubon's 'Birds of America,' requested me to address a few verses to the author.  With this request I was anxious to comply; but I was unable to write a line, until a sentence in Rousseau suggested a whole poem, and coloured all its language.  Now, in this case, I was not like a clergyman man seeking a text that he may write a sermon; for the text was not sought, but found—or it would have been to me a lying and a barren spirit.

    From my sixteenth to my twenty-third year I worked for my father at Masbro' as laboriously as any servant he had, and without wages except an occasional shilling or two for pocket-money; weighing in every morning all the unfinished castings as they were made, and afterwards in their finished state, besides opening and closing the shop in Rotherham when my brother happened to be ill or absent.  Why, then, may not I call myself a working-man?  But I am not aware that I ever did so call myself; certainly never as an excuse for my poetry if bad, or if good as a claim for wonder.  There are only two lines in my writings which could enable the reader to guess at my condition in life.  I wrote them to show that, whatever else I might be, I was not of the genus "Dunghill Spurner,"—for in this land of castes the dunghill-sprung with good coats on their backs are not yet generally anxious to claim relationship with hard-handed usefulness.  But as a literary man I claim to be self-taught; not because none of my teachers ever read to me or required me to read a page of English grammar; but because I have of my own will read some of the best books in our language, original and translated, and the best only—laboriously forming my mind on the highest models.  If unlettered women and even children write good poetry, I, who have studied and practised the art during more than forty years, ought to understand it, or I must be a dunce indeed.

    I have laid before the reader a history of my boyhood and youth.  What excuse can I plead for troubling him with these common-place incidents in the history of a
common-place person?  That I write not for the strong but for the weak; who may learn from this narrative that as by the mere force of will such persons can write poetry, no honest man of good sense need despair of accomplishing, much greater because more useful matters.  The history of my manhood and its misfortunes (your famous people have a knack of being unfortunate, and of calling their faults misfortunes) remains to be written.  It would not, I have said, even if honestly written, be more instructive than an honest history of almost any other man; but when I said so, I forgot that it would be, in part, a history of the terrific changes of fortune, the alternations of prosperity and suffering, caused by over-issues, or by' the sudden withdrawal, of inconvertible paper-money, in those days "when none but knaves throve and none but madmen laughed—when servants took their masters by the nose, and beggared masters slunk aside to die—when men fought with shadows, and were slain—while, in dreadful calm, the viewless storm increased, most fatal when least dreaded, and nearest when least expected."  I am not yet prepared—not yet sufficiently petrified in heart and brain, by time and trouble—to tell a tale, in telling which I must necessarily live over again months and years of living death.

    When I made the astounding assertion many years ago (in Tait's Magazine) that the food-taxes were costing, or destroying, or preventing the earning of more than a hundred millions sterling a-year,—I knew well that in a short time the truth of that assertion would be confirmed by the wisest and best informed of my countrymen.  It has been objected to my political poems that I sometimes repeat in them the same thoughts and words.  Why should I not repeat the same thoughts and words, if they are wanted and I cannot find better?  My countryman were robbed of knowledge as well as food; and it is not my fault that, born dull and slow, I find thoughts and and words with difficulty.  I husband my materials because I am intellectually poor.  No man can, "by taking thought" add an inch to his stature; but any man may do the best he can with the means in his power—and he who would usefully live in his deeds "must fight for eternity with the weapons  of time."  Newspaper-taught as I am, and having no ideas of my own, I can only seize those of others as they occur, earnestly applying them to current occasions.  If I have been mistaken in my objects I am sorry for it; but I have never advocated any cause without first trying to know the principles an which it was based.  On looking back on my public conduct—thanks to that science which poor Cobbett, ever floundering, yet great and brave, called in scorn "Poleetical Economy"— I find I have had little to unlearn.  And when I shall go to my account, and the Great Questioner whose judgments err not shalt say to me, "What didst thou with the lent talent?"  I can truly answer, "Lord, it is here; and with it all that I could add to it—doing my best to make little much."

                                          EBENEZER ELLIOTT.


Sheffield, 21st June, 1841.

 


 

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