BY JOSEPH BARON.
Reprinted from "The Blackburn Times," May 31st and
June 7th, 1902.
It is many years since William Billington told us that
"In Education, Blackburn claims to stand on higher
In Authorship, to more than rival many towns around,"
and though I do
not care to commit myself by corroborating the flattering statement made
in that first line I can, with confidence, endorse that embodied in the
last one; nay, I would even suggest that the letter "m" be dispensed with
in the word "many," for my own list of local writers in prose and verse
during the last three centuries runs well into the second hundred, and a
bookcase of Brabdignagian proportions would be required for the
accommodation of all the books and pamphlets they have produced. A
trio such as Thomas Dunham Whittaker, John Morley, and William Westall
(inter alia) would confer distinction upon any city in the kingdom.
But it is with the local writers of verse that these articles
deal, and thanks to the enthusiasm and industry of the subject of the
present sketch a more satisfactory answer has been given to the question
"Where are the Blackburn poets gone?" than was given by William Billington
to his friend Charles Rooks exactly twenty years since. For Mr. Hull
has gathered them all about him,—the living and the dead,—and we have had
of their best; and I say without any fear of contradiction that for
quality, as well as for quantity, these poetical efforts of Blackburn's
sons are not equalled (in quality or quantity) by the efforts of any one
town's writers in Great Britain.
Those readers who, week by week, have been interested in the
writers and their works may not have noticed how very many of them were,
or are factory hands,—may not have realised what lives of struggle and
sorrow they lived. And sang through it all! Of many of them it
may be said,—as Laycock said of Sam Bamford:
"He sang when his mate drooped away at his side
Not a song o' rejoicin' or gladness,
But a low plaintive dirge, softened deawn an' subdued,
Wellin' eawt ov a heart full o' sadness.
He sang, too, when th' spoiler bore off his lone lamb,
Tho' his heart wi' deep sorrow were riven;
Still he didn't despair, for he'd faith to believe
'At his dear ones had gone up to heaven.
He sang when th' breet sunshine illumined his path,
An' th' fleawr's were o bloomin' areawnd;
An' he sang, too, when th' storm-cleawds coom sweeping along,
An' threatened to crush him to th' greawnd.
He sang when his een had grown tearful an' dim,
An' his toppin' had turned thin an' grey;
An' th' muse never left this owd veteran bard
Till deeath coom an' took him away."
Although Mr. Hull is himself a poet in every sense of the
word, and a Blackburnian, also, he cannot, on his own invitation, join the
goodly company he has gathered together. A doctor may write a
medical treatise, and speak on every page of his diagnosis and his
experience as a practitioner,—W. G. Grace may write a book on the great
summer pastime and repeatedly allude to himself as a batsman; but the poet
who compiles an anthology of contemporary verse may not include anything
of his own. That which is thought to be "official" or
"authoritative" in the one case is regarded as "conceit" and "bad form" in
the other. Wherefore I am compelled to look to it that the provider
of our feast of reason,—a most sumptuous banquet,—does not officiate as a
waiter merely, but that he sits at table with us, participates in the
toasts, and "does his nook" at the singing.
George Hull was born at 38, Eanam, Blackburn, on Sunday, May
10th, 1863; his father was John Hull, of Samlesbury, and his mother
(Alice) was a daughter of James Atkinson, of Hoghton. Most of
George's younger days were spent in the country, for when he was a year
old his parents removed to Hoghton, and from thence to Croston. At
the latter place he was sent to a dame's school, but his education was
obtained at St. Ann's, King Street, and St. Mary's, Islington, the family
having returned to Blackburn before the embryo poet was six years of age.
After leaving school he started work in the office of the late Richard
Bell, architect, and from there went as clerk to Mr. Thomas Winter,
engineer. He was next engaged, in a similar capacity, by the late
Thomas Parkinson, the brass founder; then came a term with Mr. Thomas
Craven, the builder of the additions to Stonyhurst College, and an
eight-years as engrossing clerk to the late Mr. Thomas Ainsworth,
solicitor. In 1891 George entered the service of his father, Mr.
John Hull, coal merchant, with whom he is still engaged.
I do not know that he "lisped in numbers," or "penn'd a
stanza when he should engross," but I do remember his first verses
appearing in "Facts and Fancies" a trifle over a score of years ago, and
the promise they displayed. This promise was fulfilled in future
contributions to "The Lamp," and to the Manchester, Preston, Blackburn,
and other newspapers. A selection from these appeared in book form,
in 1894, under the title of "The Heroes of the Heart, and other lyrical
poems," and ran to 110 pages. His other verses (including a series
of "Lyrics of Lancashire"—written specially for the "Preston Guardian")
are still in a fugitive state, so that his poetical output is not large in
quantity; but the quality is there, as I hope to show by the specimens I
Imprimis, a few words on the Singer's Mission, prefaced with
some verses from our singer's poem "To a lark":
TO A LARK.
What ails my little warbler?
He singeth not to-day,
From his cage beneath the window here,
His carol sweet and gay.
He is longing for the freedom
He used to know and love,
When his home was in the woodlands wide,
His cage the sky above.
Ah, well! my tiny minstrel,
I sympathise with thee;
I, too, am weak and weary now,
And long so to be free.
Far from the giant buildings
That half shut out the sun,
Where men like slaves must labour on,
And toil is never done.
I long to greet the meadows
Wherein a child I played;
To quench my thirst at the silver well,
To wander through the glade;
To hear the bells at evening
Ring out so sweet and low.
To sit beside the stream, and hear
The music of its flow.
But ah! my little singer,
My hopes, like thine, are vain;
I toil for men with book and pen,
Bound down by labour's chain.
The stanzas just quoted are reminiscent of George Linnæus
Banks' "Lay of the Captive Lark," even if Mr. Hull does not emphasise the
singer's mission (there, any way) as Banks did:
"They put me in a cage
With sloping roof and bars—
Me who could soar with the sage,
And talk to the silvern stars."
"But better it is that I
Should be pent up here alone
Without space to soar or fly,
Leading the life of a drone,
Than the dwellers in courts and alleys dim
Should lack the grace of a daily hymn."
Let me now give you Mr. Hull's poem entitled "The Poet's
Reward," in order that you may judge by the remaining samples I reproduce
whether or no he has remained true to his ideals.
THE POET'S REWARD.
The worldling said unto the bard,
"Why waste thy precious time in song,
To please the ever-changing throng
For they will give thee no reward."
The bard was silent for a while;
Then, with a touch of magic fire,
His fingers swept the tuneful lyre,
And he made answer with a smile.
"I ask not their rewards," he said,
"The Master deigned to send me here
To teach, and by my songs to cheer
The priceless souls far whom he bled.
"I am the servant—He the Lord,
And I must do my duty well
Whilst in this fleeting world I dwell.
And trust in him for my reward.
"I know 'tis hard to sing at times
When faithless children of this earth
Deny the beauty, truth, or worth
Of poet's noblest, stateliest rhymes.
"But what of that? All are not so;
And over some—thank God, not few!—
A song falls like the morning dew
And cools the fever of their woe.
"And so I do not sing in vain,
But scatter songs upon my way,
And find glad listeners every day.
Amid life's sunshine, storm, or rain.
"These songs, perchance, may bring sweet tears
And memories of days of yore
To some whose time of jay seemed o'er,
And give them peace unknown for years.
"Or some poor wanderer, steeped in sin,
Responding to my simple lay
May feel his heart inclined to pray,
And cleansed, a nobler life begin.
"To help my brethren in the strife
'Gainst sin, or sorrow, dark and drear,
To teach them none but God to fear,
Shall be the objects of my life.
"And for refreshment I will drink
From streams of song which bards of old
Have poured from minds sublime and bold;
And I will be content to think
"That God, who unto me hath given
The depth of grief, the height of mirth,—
If I but do, His work an earth,
Will give me my reward in Heaven!"
Excellent as are Mr. Hull's poems in book English, it is in
his dialect work that we see him at his best, and there chiefly because of
his love far the country and country folks; just as Waugh and Brierley
were at their best in delineating "Besom Ben," of Lobden Moor, and the "Layrock
of Langleyside," respectively. True, our old friend, "Jack o'
Ann's," has shown us that there is much poetry to be found in towns' folk,
as has his brother, "Bill a' Jack's"; but for all that it is in the
country and among its inhabitants that the dialect writer finds the best
material. Most of you know Waugh's charming lyric...."Mary, link th'
arm i' mine"; say, then, if the following verses by Mr. Hull do not form a
fitting companion to it:
THE WINTER'S COMIN' ON, MI LASS.
The winter's comin' on, mi lass, the north wind's blowin' cowd:
Aw'm sure we've cooarted long enough, it's time eawr tale wer tawd,
The brids 'at sung i' yonder tree are flown across the brine,
An' aw've a cheery hooam for thee, where love's breet sun can shine.
Tha doesno' want to ged mo lost among the moorland snow,
Thi laugh belies tha when tha says aw needn'd come at o.
When t' weather's wild, we cornd ged eawt a-walkin' hawf an heawr,
There's olez some'at rough abeawt—a snowstorm or a sheawr.
An' when aw coom an' stop i' th' heawse yo'r lads mek sich a din
That iv aw've bod two words to say aw connod ged 'em in.
Thi fayther will talk politics, an' likes a reawnd wi' me,—
He thinks aw came a-campin' him, an' nod a-cooartin' thee.
An' when thers nobry else i'th' place, yore Molly ceawrs i'th' nook,
As quate an' wakken as a meawse, wi' th' papper or a book;
Hoo reads a deeal, an' one would think her common sense would tell
'At cooarters sometimes like an heawr to whisper bi thersef.
Thi fayther thinks when fooak ged wed they should hev lots a'
A mon should hev his fortune med afoor he claims his lass.
Aye, well! aw'm wo'th a field or two, a bonny cot an' o;
An' when there's steady hands at th' plough sich things are sure to
The sweetest charm o' wedded life is nod i' fortunes grand;
It's nau'but known to th' mon an' wife 'at's strivin' hand-in-hand.
The lark 'at builds id own wee nest is merry wi' id mate,
While many a soul con find no rest inside a palace gate.
An' neaw aw've welly done, mi lass, mi stooary's getten towd:—
An' winter's comin' an, mi lass, the north wind's blowin' cowd,—
Come show thi bonny een to me, clasp thi two hands i' mine,
An' say tha'll claim wod waits far thee, an' mek yon sweet cot
Another companion picture,—not a copy, mind,—is found in "Eawr
Dick's Beawn A-Cooartin' To-Neet," by Mr. Hull; for genuine humour, and
all that is "gradely," it is fit to rank with "The Dule's i' This Bonnet
o' Mine," by the Lancashire Laureate.
EAWR DICK'S BEAWN A-COOARTIN' TO-NEET.
There's twopence bin gi'n to eawr Johnny
For cleynin' a new pair o' shoon;
Some 'bacco's bin bowt for mi granny,
Far airin' yon breeches a' th' oon;
A reet hearty kiss to eawr Lizzie,
For fixin' a collar on reet:—
Yo wonder wod meks o so busy,—
Eawr Dick's beawn a-cooartin' to-neet!
For mony a week he's bin pinin',
An' ceawrin' i' th' nook like a foo';
But neaw t' sun's beginnin' o' shinin',
An' t' sky shows a wee bit o' blue.
His luck hes bin varra like, th' weather,
But things are at last geddin' breet,—
Aw've sin him an' Nelly together,
An' Dick's beawn a-cooartin' to-neet.
He's just hed a dust wi' mi fayther
O'er nod comin' in afoor ten;
Mi dad tells him straight as he'd rayther
Not see bits a' lads actin' men:
"When he wer a lad, there wer never
Sich pride when a lass wer to meet."
Mi gronny chimes in, "Well, iv ever!—
What's up wi' thi memory to-neet?"
Mi mother toyls an—Heaven bless her!
Hoo hesnd a deeal to say;
Though aw waur feeard the news would distress her,
When hoo heeard id so sudden to-day.
For Dick thinks the waurld ov his mother,
He's kind, an' his temper's so sweet;
Hoo knows 'at hoo'll ne'er see another
Like him as goes cooartin' to-neet.
But hoo likes the shy look o' good natur'
As shines i' sweet Nellie's blue een;
Far t' lass is as daicent a craytur
As ever coom trippin' o'er t' green.
Her bonny face fills mo wi' pleasure,
Whenever aw happen to see 't,—
May joy be shared eawt i' full measure
To them as goes cooartin' to-neet!
Good heavens! O t' drawers are upended,
He's left o his rags upo' t' floor;
His stockin's hev o to be mended;
While he's swellin' off eawt o' t' door!
Ne'er mind! Aw 's be like to excuse him,—
His heart's med his heyd a bit leet,—
An' aw know Nelly wi'-nod refuse him,
When Dick goes a-cooartin' to-neet.
Mr. Hull has given us many portraits in his book, all of them
speaking likenesses. For humour, tenderness, common-sense and pathos, give
me his "Philosopher Bill," "Owd Jemmy," and "Johnny's Watch,"—all in "The
Heroes of the Heart" volume, and "Dicky Blue," and "Owd Betty's Dowters,"
from the "Lancashire Lyrics" before referred to. Here are two of his
portraits of men characteristically Lancastrian,—portraits drawn with
Aw'm just gooin' deawn for a pipe an' a gill
An' a hofe an heawr's camp wi' Philosopher Bill;
He's the faucest owd chap that aw ever did see,
Wi' a reet merry twinkle i' oather blue e'e.
O, them een ov owd Bill's! they can look a man through,—
He con tell in a crack a wise chap fro a foo':
Id wer just through him reading fooak's thowts wi' sich skill
That he fost geet the name o' Philosopher Bill.
He's nod to co rich; but he's ne'er discontent,
For his life, like his money, 's bin ter'ble weel spent:
His motto wer olez "tek keer o' yo'r own;
Mek yo'r childer do th' same; let yo'r neighbours alone;
Dornd lock up yo'r heart when yo lock yo'r heawse door,
But keep a warm place in 't for th' wanderin' poor;
For wi' givin' some beggar an owd pair a' shoon
Yo' may find a new pair when yo're climbin' Aboon!"
But the things he cries deawn wi' o t' strength ov his lungs
Are envious fooak an' their envious tongues:
"They're t' seawrdocks o' th' waurld," so he said yesterneet,
"An' they cornd abide th' appos for tastin' so sweet.
So they tittle an' tattle, an' poo' a long face,
Iv yo' keep yo'rsel wakken an' lick 'em i' th' race;
An' though yo'd to walk, while they rooad in a cart,
They'll whimper like lads 'Tha'd to' mich ov a start."'
"Iv yo're merry an' single, an' howds up yo'r yed,
They'll say, 'Thad'll hev to be tamed when it's wed;'
Iv yo're wed, wi' two childer, while they've a lot moor,
They'll wish to the Lord yo' wer pown wi' a scoor;
Iv a chap an' his mate con keep thick o their life,
They're sure to cry 'henpeck' at him or his wife;
An' sooa they keep singin' wherever yo' torn,
'One hofe o' this waurld doesn'd know as its born!'"
"Heaw different," says Bill, "are th' owd mates we've booath
'At 'll mek both yer luck an' misfortunes their own,
An'll olez contrive to be somewheer abeawt
When yo'r lamp o' good fortune lies welly gone eawt.
O, they'll feed the dull flame wi' a word o' good cheer,
An' rejoice i' their hearts when id blazes eawt clear,
For they'n pity an' charity strong i' their breast,
An' th' angels keep guard when they lie deawn to rest."
Aw've hearkened owd Bill till mi e'en were quite dim,
An' aw've often thowt angels coom talkin' to him;
For though sometimes he rages at wrong an' disate,
There's nobry i' th' waurld as he knows heaw to hate!
May he live to be moor nor a hundred year' owd,
Wi' his cupboard weel packed, an' his hearth never cowd,
An' his daicent owd dame to keep breetenin' still
The last cheery days a' Philosopher Bill.
Mony a kindly heart aw've known, i' mi time,
Many a faithfu heart that's shown heaw sublime,
Gradely friendship throws id' leet
Reawnd a weary wanderer's feet,
Through this waurld o' storm an' sleet, grief an' crime.
But mi best-belov'd of o—tried an' true!—
Wer a chap they use' to co "Dicky Blue."
He wer one o' th' good owd stamp;
An' aw ne'er begrudged a tramp
Of a mile or sooa to camp Dicky Blue.
He wer twice as owd as me when we met,
But the kindness in his e'e haunts mo yet,
As he tattered to his cheer
I' my nook, when aw coom here,
When mi e'en wi' sorrow's tear hed bin wet.
He wer varra quate an' humble in his ways;
An' aw never heeard him grumble i' mi days.
Though his owd limbs might be weary,
Trampin' life's rough road so dreary,
Yet a smile so breet an' cheery he could raise.
Still to t' ways a' th' owden time he would cling,
An' aboon one good owd rhyme he could sing.
Though he walked along so quately,
In a suit nod fashioned lately,
Yo'd ha' said he looked as stately as a king.
An' whenever yo' unsneckt Dicky's door,
Yo' wer sure o' frank respect,—rich or poor:
To his neighbours olez kind;
To their failin's olez blind;
He wer one yo'd hardly find in a scoor.
Neaw, mi owd mate's laid at rest, deawn yon broo,
Wi' the daisies o'er his breast, peepin' through;
But aw pray that when life's leet
Fades for ever frae mi seet,
Aw may wakken wheer aw s' meet Dicky Blue!
Here is another, equally characteristic and true:—
Here's good luck to honest Roger! find his match 'at con,
He's a blunt an' true owd codger—every inch a mon!
O the daicent chaps 'at know him like his witty tongue;
Nowt but two-faced rascals co him, when they'n getten stung!
Roger's varra good at speawtin', rich i' common sense,
Though th' owd cooat he knocks abeawt in bod cost eighteenpence
He believes id little matters wod yo'n getten on,
If yer bits a' rags an' tatters clooathe an honest mon.
Wod he says is reet depend on't,—"Search this waurld o through,
Truth 'll live to win at th' end on't, lies 'll never do!
Iv a chap's a deawnreight streight un, humble though he be"—
Says Owd Roger—"he's a reight un, just the mon for me!"
Roger likes, just after dinner, chattin' wi' his mates—
Two-o'-thre' weyvers an' a spinner—deawn bi th' factory gates.
Many a bit a' good debatin', mixed wi' gradely fun,
Passes while they're stannin' waitin' till ther "bell heawr's" done.
Many a dispute he's decided; mony a feight he's stopped
He's their judge, an' when he's tried id aft the case is dropped.
Mony a face hes he med sunny,—dried up mony a tear,
Sin' he geet thad bit o' money left to him last year.
That's the only thing he's sly in—doin' good to th' poor;
Lots 'at hev no bed to lie in know his friendly door.
Bless thi heart! owd Honest Roger, Heaven wodn'd be
Quite as far off earth, owd codger, iv we'd mooar like thee!
Here is a female companion to the foregoing,—a "bit" not
unworthy the pages of George Eliot's "Mill on the Floss"; it is from the
Lancashire lyrics already alluded to:—
"OWD BETTY'S DOWTERS."
"Eh! dear o' me!" owd Betty said, "wodever mon aw do?
This tribe o' mine an' my owd mon's they fairly run me through.
Six strapping lasses, five gred lads, beside eawr Jem an' me—
Aw'm sure if things dorn'd awter soon aw's lay me deawn an' dee.
We're ill to' far fro' ony teawn, this farm's a mile to' big;
These lasses will nod wark at o—they'd sooner dance an' jig.
There's ne'er a ball for miles areawnd but they mun e'en go to 't
But as for setlin' deawn to wark, they rayley will nod do 't."
"An' wod o'er t' lads?" her neighbour axed; "Oh! t' lads is reet
When farmin's slack they olez tak' to cartin' coyls an' stuff.
Frae killin' pigs to buildin' brigs there's ne'er a job comes wrang;
An' every lad, just like his dad, goes at id wi' a bang.
"But th' lasses never addles nowt; they potter up an' deawn;
Here's one o' th' lot 'll wesh a pot, an' th' other mend a geawn.
An' one may haply try to darn a stockin' neaw an' then;
But ne'er a shillin' will they earn bi th' rent day comes again."
Owd Betty's neighbour smiled, an' said, "Aw know thae'rt ter'ble
An' yet thae'rt better off a deeal than mony an' mony a scoor:
Yon lasses does tha lots o' jobs thae couldn'd do thisel;
They tent their fayther; tent yo'r lads, an' mek thee quite a
"That's reet enough, but sich like stuff," said Bet, "'ll never do:
There's nod one lass 'at's addlin' brass, an' thad's wad meks mo
An' as for t' lasses tentin' t' lads, it's like aw towd eawr Jem—
Aw' rayther somebry else's lads were lookin' after them!"
"Well," t' neighbour said, "thae knows eawr Ted is cooartin' yo'r
Hor chance is th' best; an' as far th' rest, thee nayther plot nor
Yon house o' thine just now may feel wi' lasses rayther throng;
But dress 'em fine an' keep 'em weel, they'll nod be here so long!"
These two extracts are all I am able to quote further of Mr.
Hull's dialect work (with the exception of the concluding specimen) owing
to exigencies of space, and to the fact that I am anxious to present one
or two non-dialect poems. The first consists of two verses from:—
But moast ov o, owd Jemmy loved a pratty little child;
Id mattered nowt wod troubled him—iv he si one he smiled.
He'd welly olez one bi th' hand when ramblin' to and fro',
An' th' youngsters seemed to think as he wer th' Grandad to'em o.
To'ard th' latter end he use' to say he'd be content to dee,
Iv he mut sit at "Heaven's door," wi' a child an oather knee.
An' when his life wer goin' deawn, like th' ocean's ebbin' tide,
He couldn'd be contented till they browt one to his side.
The following are the first and last verses of:—
A COUNTRY LIFE FOR ME.
A country life for me, mi lads, a country life for me!
O'er breezy hills an' fleawry dales aw 's ramble till aw dee.
Aw fost see leet wheer t' sky wer breet an' throstles sung so gay,
An, olez loved th' owd country side when aw wur miles away.
Aye, give to me the country lanes, where peace an' quateness dwell,
For theer a sweetness floods mi heart as words can never tell!
O'er breezy hills an' fleawry dales aw'm fain to ramble still,
An' fo asleep i' th' owd churchyard at th' foot o' yonder hill.
In Mr. Hull's non-dialect verses many readers will recognise
the influence of two popular poets, one of them Adelaide Proctor, and the
other Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,—no bad influences, either. Nothing
spasmodic, nothing sensational; just enough of the religious element not
to repel the student of secular poetry,—if so prosaic a term may
pardonably be employed in connection with poetry,—as Pollock's "Course of
Time," Blair's "Grave," and Young's "Night Thoughts" would repel.
The "Heroes of the Heart" volume contains many pieces of a devotional
character,—and of a private character,—but they are such as any man or
woman of any sect can read, and be the better for it. Especially do
they appeal to married people, and to parents, notwithstanding the
undercurrent of sadness present in several,—
"Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest
Here is a sample:—
LOVE AND ANGER.
O, breathe no more that angry word!
For grief will reign if such be said:
But know, when Anger's voice is heard
The spirit of true Love hath fled.
I know he may return again,
With sweeter smile and greater power;
Yet he may fail to conquer pain
Created in a careless hour.
When years have passed, if Death lay low
The gentle one to thee so dear,
Thy own hot words will swell thy woe,
While lonely weeping o'er her bier.
Or, if God call thee first away,
She will not bless thy memory more
If words like those thy lips would say
Have often pierced her leal heart's care.
Our life hath more of night than day,
Its days have more of shower than sun;
But kindness is a lamp whose ray
Will beam when days of joy are done.
Then let thy kindness brighter shine
To-day when skies are dark above;
And light with peace the face benign
Of her who lives for home and love.
Thus, trampling dawn all selfish pride,
A noble victory thou shalt win,
Gladden the dear one by thy side,
And hear a voice say from within,—
"Well done! Thy kind and manly word
True blessings on thy life hath shed;
For know, when Love's sweet voice is heard,
God's angel, Peace, thy way doth tread!"
The following song is a more recent composition: being taken
from the "Lyrics of Lancashire" already mentioned:—
THE LILY-MAID OF BRINDLE.
Within a cot down yon hill-side,
Where a little brook doth rindle,
Dwells she that is to be my bride,—
The lily-maid of Brindle.
Old Hoghton Tower looks o'er the bower
Which hides this woodland fairy,
And breezes free from the western sea
Make music for my Mary.
When o'er the fields this maid doth pass
The little birds sing sweeter,
The daisies in the soft green grass
Look up with smiles to greet her.
The milk-white lamb will leave its dam
To seek my love's caressing,
And each dumb thing to her doth cling,
Secure of peace and blessing.
The tender children at their play
Delight to cluster round her;
I never shall forget the day
When in their midst I found her.
With them so sweet about her feet
I could not choose but love her,
For the radiant grace of her young face
Was like the heaven above her.
With many a softly whispered prayer
I wooed the gentle maiden,
As to her home we did repair
With woodland posies laden.
And when I'd seen her sweet blue e'en
With love on me first beaming,
The whole green earth seemed filled with mirth
As pure as childhood's dreaming.
And now I wait the happy morn
When proudly I shall claim her:
Another Spring will scarce be born
Ere the nuptial knot re-name her.
Since each bright day that fleets away
More lovely hath revealed her,
I'll gladly swear by all things fair
Through life to guard and shield her.
Whate'er of good or ill betide
Shall find me wise and wary,—
Still constant to my youth's fair bride,
The gentle-hearted Mary!
In our dear home by fair Mintholme
Love's light shall never dwindle;
But shine for aye, as it shines to-day,
On the lily-maid of Brindle!
My two next selections are sonnets—a difficult form of verse, but
admirably managed not only in these but also in several of the other
sonnets in the volume they adorn:—
There came an Angel-King to dwell with men;
He gained allegiance through celestial things,
And 'neath the shadow of his mighty wings
The peace of Eden drew near earth again.
Souls, Godlike, traversed every mount and glen
Of changing life, with hearts that knew not fear,
Their hopes were great, their aims were high and clear,
Their lowliest lives had noble features then.
But O! if life waxed strong beneath his sway,
Far stronger death! for then the angel strode
With lifted sword by each true
And smote the demons by the darkling road;
Then threw the gates of Heaven open
And God's own smile became eternal day!
(Built in Queen Elizabeth's reign by Thomas Hoghton,
is told in that quaint old ballad,
"The Blessed Conscience," in
Harland and Wilkinson's "Ballads and
Songs of Lancashire.")
Not solely that thou speakest of the hour
When Royal James and all his train were seen
To chase the deer about thy woodlands green,
Do I revere thee, stately Hoghton Tower!
I think of him who built thy "lordly bower
Of sports" upon this rocky height serene,
Yet fled abroad, took Conscience for his Queen,
And dying gave his memory to her dower.
E'en now I see him wander down the hill,
And view the lovely landscape, and the sea
Which in the distance seems so bright and still;
And, as he looks with longing back to thee,
A voice seems through his wavering soul to thrill,
And says, "Take up thy cross and follow me!"
I have still one more poem to give, and it is in the dialect,
and ought to have came first instead of last, for it is the keynote to the
whole of Mr. Hull's dialect work. And the reader must not run away
with the idea that the "Lyrics of Lancashire," and the hundred and odd
pages of verse which make up the "Heroes of the Heart" volume, represent
anything like the whole of their author's contribution to the literature
of the county. As a matter of fact they are a very small portion of
it; for Mr. Hull is joint author with Cornelius McManus of a small volume
of "Tales from the Ribble Valley"—now, I believe, quite out of print,—as
also of several series of excellent dialect stories specially written for
the "Preston Guardian" and "Lancashire Daily Post"; amongst them may be
mentioned his "Cracks bi th' Winter Fire," "Larks at th' Lane Ends," "Owd
Roger's Neet Skoo," "Robin's Nest," (a sequel to the last named series),
"Handloom Pieces," "Under th' Watch-Heawse Window," "Merry Meetings of the
Miller Club," and "Tales from the Old House at Dingleton." Some day
soon we should have these pleasing character bits, practical jokes, wise
sayings, and charming verses collected and issued in one volume at a
popular price; they would prove a welcome addition to any library.
Here is the poem I mentioned:—
When the leet fades away at the closin' o' day,
An' toilin' an' scrapin' are done,
It's merry an' sweet wi' mi true mates to meet
For an heawr or two's Lancashire fun.
They sit reawnd yon fire, an' their tongues never tire,
As they tell o' th' wild marlocks they played
When youth's merry days seet their spirits ablaze,
An' they'd never known friendship to fade.
O! there's a sooarts a' wit, but there's nowt as con hit
The breet spot i' this grey heyd a' mine
Like a crack or a song i' eawr Lancashire tongue,
For id raises owd mem'ries so fine.
An' th' breet days ov owd, when mi heart wer so bowt
An' aw only knew sorrow bi. name,
Seem as fresh an' as clear as the smiles aw meet here
When aw coom mi owd cronies to claim.
Then aw'll tooast yo', mi lads, may yo'r sons—like ther dads—
Still be merry, straight-forrad, an' true;
Far a bit o' gay chaff, or a reet hearty laugh,
Nayther horts a wise mon nor a foo'.
An' as years rowl along, may they join in a sang
Otogether when toilin' is done,
Wi' their hearts just as leet, as yo'r own are to-neet,
Through an heawr or two's Lancashire fun!
I think the reader will readily admit that the quality of the
pieces already quoted is such as to entitle Mr. Hull to a high place in
any assembly of Lancashire authors,—not Blackburn merely; and seeing he is
still on the "right side of forty" we may reasonably look forward to more
work from his pen, maybe of even riper wisdom and of increased humour.
His papers on the Poets of Blackburn will, it is devoutly to, be hoped,
result in the scattering of "more songs upon the way," as well as of
finding "more glad listeners every day."
And it is these "glad listeners" we want—we lowly bards; not,
mind you, that I admit for a moment that we are hit off, by Scott, in the
well-known lines in "The Lay of the Last Minstrel":—
Was Flattery lost on poet's ear:
A simple race! they waste their toil
For the vain tribute of a smile."
We rather share the sentiments of a recent writer in the
"Century Magazine" who pleads for enjoyment of the great bards,—not
analysis,—for love and appreciation, rather than study and dissection;
such readers, he says, get an intellectual exercise, but not an emotional
experience. We want no cypher-hunters, and no discoverers of
Cryptograms,—save in a Whitmanian sense:—
"I doubt it not—then more, far more;
In each old song bequeathed—in every noble page or text,
(Different—something unreck'd before—some unsuspected author,)
In every object, mountain, tree, and star—in every birth and life,
As part of each—evolved from each—meaning behind the ostent,
A mystic cypher waits infolded."
Early fugitive Poems.
(1793 to 1823).
It is probable that to this early period of Blackburn's
poetic history Longfellow's lines quoted as our motto on the title page of
this book may not apply so happily as to the later period with which
living readers are acquainted. The local poems written at the latter
end of the eighteenth century do not bear any evidence of having been the
work of weavers, blacksmiths, or other artisans. They seem, rather,
to have been written by persons of leisure; probably by members of those
old and eminently respectable families who inhabited stately residences in
King-street, when that useful, though not now very elegant thoroughfare
was the principal street of the town.
The following poem—the earliest that I have come across—is
written in a style with which all students of eighteenth century poetry
will be familiar. The valley referred to in it can hardly have been
the valley of the Blakewater, judging from the reference to its "fair
windings" and its "sweet scented velvets " on which, it appears, the poets
of that day were wont to rest. It may have been a lesser valley
within our present boundary: such a lovely one, for instance, as Pemberton
Clough, in the midst of the present Corporation Park:—
ADIEU TO THE VALLEY.
To thy charms, lovely valley, adieu,
To the flow'rets that bloom on thy breast;
Thy fair windings, alas! I no longer pursue—
On thy sweet scented velvets no longer I rest.
No longer I taste the soft breezes of morn,
'Neath thy oak's spreading branches where rustics unite,
Nor rise to the notes of the shrill-tonèd horn,
Nor enjoy the hind's tale home returning at night.
And from thee, faithless Mary, yet dear to my heart,
Ye shepherds, fond mates of my frolicsome hours,
Nymphs, woodlands, and groves, from ye all I must part,
Woods, grots, gentle streams, and ye close covered bow'rs.
Yes, all the gay moments of life are now fled,
And the breast, late overflowing with joy, heaves a sigh;
Misfortune's keen hand presses hard on my head,
And the tear of remembrance starts full in my eye.
Happy scenes that are past, never more to return,
Oblivion, ah, lend a fond lover thy aid:—
'Tis in vain—'tis for MARY, false MARY I mourn,
And the strong tide of mem'ry can never be stay'd.
Blackburn, July, 1793.
In politics, our eighteenth century Blackburn poets
seem, for the most part, to have been "stern unbending Tories;" but, in
the year which saw the execution of Louis XVI., one need not have been a
partisan of any kind to have sympathised, as one can even now, with the
SUPPOSED TO BE WRITTEN BY
THE QUEEN OF FRANCE.
O sanguinary herd! a moment pause—
And stop the impious ardour of your rage,
Let pity move you to embrace my cause,
And mercy urge my sufferings to assuage.
Your first decree deprived me of my throne,
Your next (O cruel deed) my husband doomed to die.
And now from these fond arms my infant's torn,
Condemned in solitary grief to lie.
O let my child within these arms repose—
His prattling tongue beguiles the tedious day:
His playful soul diverts his mother's woes,
And sweetly smiling sings her grief away.
But if you force him from my tear-swollen eyes,
Heaven take us both where sorrow reigns no more,
Where no curs'd crew to cloud our hopes arise,
Nor spread fell faction on that happy shore.
Blackburn, July 22nd, 1793.
The next poem, written in December, 1793, when England
and France were at war, and when Napoleon Bonaparte was an officer in the
French Artillery, asks certain questions, which, in spite of all our
boasted progress during the intervening years, still call in vain for
Ah, frantic Rage! thou first-born child of Hell!
Why dost thy breast with indignation swell?
Has Reason quite forsook the human frame?
Has Christendom renounc'd it's honour'd name?
No longer in the dreadful war engage,
Nor cause thy sons to bleed in martial rage.
See Commerce weeping o'er her half-starv'd sons,
And hear the widow and the orphan's moans.
See heaps of ruins where fair cities stood,
And verdant plains delug'd with human blood!
Can God be pleased with scenes of devastation?
Or rage internal meet His approbation?
Indulgent heav'n! Ah, grant but this request,
Diffuse sweet peace, and make the nations blest.
Bid Commerce flourish—bid Religion grow;
On every useful art thy smiles bestow.
Dart thy blest beams: the gloomy cloud dispel,
And chase grim Discord to its native Hell.
The pleasure of seeing one's name in print, to which
Byron referred in a sarcastic couplet, does not appear to have appealed to
such of our local poets as flourished during the closing years of the
eighteenth century. Either from modesty or timidity, they nearly all
seem to have sheltered themselves behind pennames or initials: neither of
which, at this distance of time, seem likely to assist us in the
identification of the authors themselves. But the task which we find
beyond our powers now, would only just be sufficiently difficult to be
interesting, at the time when the verses under notice were first printed.
Blackburn at that time was a very small town indeed; just such a town as
the one to which Waugh refers in his poem, "Aw've worn mi bits O' shoon
A country teawn, where one can meet
Wi' friends, an' neighbours known;
Where one can lounge i' th' market-place,
An' see the meadows mown—
And sensitive writers may well have shrunk from the publicity, which, in
so small a place, would sometimes prove embarrassing. This would
certainly be the case where the subject was so personal as in these
Though grandeur flies my humble roof,
Though wealth is not my share,
Though lowly is my little cot,
Yet happiness is there.
A tender wife with mild controul,
By sympathy confined,
When rage the tumults of the breasts
Becalms my troubled mind.
Three pledges of our mutual love
Kind Providence has given,
And competence to nurse their hopes,
Is all we ask of heaven.
Still from the little we enjoy,
A little we dispense;
And watch the buddings of their mind
Just blossoming to sense.
With arm entwin'd in arm we sit,
And join their hands to pray;
And teach the accents of their tongues
To hail the rising day.
At eve again they kneel and bless
The hours which now have past:
And hope their cherished virtues may
Prove happiness at last.
Accept, Great Father of us all,
Accept their little prayers,
And grant the nurslings of our youth
May crown our silver hairs.
Let those whose weak and infant limbs
With tenderness we guide
Be props unto our age, when down
The steep of life we glide.
C. V. L.
May 1st, 1795.
Here is a Pastoral by a Poet who knew not the lack of
pence. His affluence is plainly proved by his cheerful reference to
"health-giving poverty." Poverty may be health-giving; but those who
have experienced it may be trusted never to describe it by such a phrase.
Notwithstanding this blemish, our author's lines are worthy of attention,
as the reader shall judge for him self:—
The Summer now has spent her genial heat,
The bended sickle reap'd the ripen'd wheat;
From burthen'd fields, the swelling harvest borne,
The spec'ous barns receive the crowded corn;
Loud on the sounding floors, o'er ev'ry vale
Is heard the sturdy thrasher's driving flail:
The lab'ring rustic plies his ard'ous toil,
From the full ears to fetch the golden spoil:
Stript, in his coarse-spun shirt, of homely white,
He braves the Winter's blasts from morn till night;
Nor fear his hardy limbs the pains to know,
Which gouts fix frequent on the sniv'ling beau;
The fruits of luxury, and idle state,
That rage in cities, and that vex the great—
Health-giving poverty, with simple fare,
Sound early sleep, and thought unknown to care;
The breath of wholesome fields, and herbs, and grain,
To silver hairs his vig'rous powers sustain:—
Behold him, circled round with piles of wheat,
And subject sheaves lie spread beneath his feet;
With tyrant power, his wooden sceptre waves,
And wrests the tribute from ten thousand sheaves:
The golden wealth from ev'ry husk is drain'd,
And flows out fast to his exacting hand—
So rigid Conquerors contributions draw,
And pillag'd Vassals thrash to naked straw.
The lusty Husbandman, with open door,
Admits all comers to his thrifty floor;
Which oft, in observation on his way,
The loit'ring traveller allures to stay;
Where, instantly they join familiar prate
Without the pains that courtly forms create;
And intervals afford the drudging swain,
Refreshing pause of breathing-time to gain,
While, rudely lolling on his resting flail,
Some time he listens to the stranger's tale;
Or asks of news—of sieges hears, and wars,
Then thrashes on, and thanks his happier stars.
His bloodless weapon brandishes on high—
Not life to injure, but its wants supply.
Such harmless manners, Saturn's reign supplied,
Ere slaughtering arts were taught by wicked pride:
And human kind, by curs'd ambition's bane,
Were made the harvest of the sanguin'd plain:—
O may BRITANNIA ne'er
such evils feel!
Sav'd from the deadly waste of hostile steel;
And, bless'd in her Augustus' sway, behold
Fair Peace enduring, and the Age of Gold.
Blackburn, November 15th, 1796.
The subjoined Sonnet would be worthy of a place in any
collection; and its description of benevolence as the "sister of love" is
a phrase that stamps the piece as the work of a genuine poet:—
SONNET TO BENEVOLENCE.
Bright as the Star that o'er the Mountain's brow
Climbs, nimbly pointing to the source of day,
Celestial harbinger of PEACE
And chase the Fiends of DISCORD
Too long, alas! the feeling heart has bled,
Too long has Pity dropp'd the fruitless tear;
SISTER OF LOVE!
thy genial influence shed,
And lead the mind to better prospects near.
So shall the cheek of VIRTUE
cease to blush
For crimes that would pollute her sacred name;
And ruthless WAR forbear
the Seeds to crush
Of heav'n-born LIBERTY
and honest FAME;
But, like the star that never leaves the Pole,
Shine thou eternal in the human Soul.
April 10th, 1797.
Here is another sonnet: this time by our earliest
acquaintance "Philander," who seems to have been commendably cheerful in
the midst of his misfortunes; though his reference to "Beauty's wanton
glance" shows that he has not forgotten the "false Mary" of whom he sang
in his "Adieu to the Valley":—
Ah! why should I at gloomy fate repine,
Though robb'd of all that health or fortune gave;
A mind sublime with Science still is mine,
To stem the torrent and the storm to brave!
Tho' Beauty's wanton glance, or tender smile,
Should never light my cheek with rapture's glow,
Fancy and Genius aid my arduous toil,
And give me pleasure worldlings never know;
O'er all the realms of science and of art
My fancy rambles and my pencil glides;
And while the soft enchantment binds my heart,
Each wayward wish for trifling joys subsides;
Religion, feeling, sentiment, appear,
To heal the pang and dry misfortune's tear!
Our next poem is a model of simplicity in style and
sincerity of expression. At the time when "T:" penned these lines,
Sir Arthur Wellesley (afterwards Duke of Wellington) was engaged in his
great and historic struggle with the first Napoleon and the rest of the
Bonaparte tyrants and usurpers, during which struggle the gallant Sir John
Moore fell at Corunna:—
THE SOLDIER AT NIGHT.
Come, sweet sleep, come; my members crave repose,
Tired with the hard-fought contest of the day;
Come, sweet sleep, come; my willing eyelids close,
And bid soft dreams around my pillow play.
O let the scenes of battle far to-night,
Far from my couch be scattered by thy breath:
Pain to my heart, and sick'ning to my sight
Are human groans and the red bed of death.
O thou seducer of the human mind,
Thou bane of millions, and thou bliss of none,
Ambition! restless tyrant of mankind,
No knee bend I before thy blood-stained throne.
Yet coward am I none, nor small to-day
Hath been the glory which myself have won;
And many gallant heroes breathless lay,
Sad marks of what my wearied arm hath done.
Yes, I can feel my life's blood burning flow
With British ardour, when the foe comes nigh;
And when around the clashing sabres glow,
My soul exults, and when the bullets fly.
But still I long to view my native spot,
My wife and rosy babes again to see,
The cheerful fire blaze round my peaceful cot,
And take my infant prattler on my knee.
Haply, my loves, no more you'll bless my sight—
Or, if you do, first many months must fly:
And I again must mingle in the fight,
And bear new toils, and see my comrades die.
Ah, my beloved! safe in my native vale,
Ye little know the hardships I sustain:
Cold on my slumber comes the whistling gale,
Chill fall the drifting snow and drenching rain.
Lo! fancy now, with soft ideas fraught,
Beholds you placed around your mother's knee,
Lisping the prayer her faithful love hath taught,
That heaven may guard your sire from dangers free.
Blackburn, February 7th, 1809.
Who that has ever loved a child—and, like our old
Lancashire country people, I hold that "they're not gradely folk" who
don't love children—will fail to treasure the stanzas entitled:—
REMEMBRANCE OF A LITTLE FAVOURITE.
Ah! sweetest child! tho' ne'er again
I may to this sad bosom press thee,
Yet still thro' years of anxious pain,
My heart shall love, my lips shall bless thee.
Still, still, with tears of fond regret,
Shall thought in waking dreams recall thee;
And oft by many fears beset,
Muse o'er the ills that may befall thee.
For never can I cease to dwell
On all thy looks and acts endearing;
Thy prattling tongue, remembered well,
Thy gaze, while song or story hearing.
Those sparkling eyes that kindled oft,
With more than childish sense or feeling,
Those pretty arms caressing soft,
That kiss to dry my tears when stealing.
That mimic air of martial rage,
While sword or gun thy hand was grasping;
That studious look o'er letter'd page,
That smile, while watchful Pero clasping.
That fairy grace with which thy feet
Danced artless, every eye delighting,
While pleasure, genuine and sweet,
Shone from thy features love-exciting.
Those budding charms of mind and heart,
That wondrous taste, that temper even;
All, all thou wast, nay, all thou art,
An Angel, turning earth to heaven.
These from my heart no time can take,
Nor changing scenes make me forget thee;
I lov'd thee for thy own sweet sake;
And for thy own sake shall regret thee.
Blackburn October 15th, 1820.
The two pieces with which I close the present selection
are both of humble rank; but I have chosen them, out of a great many
others, for their winning simplicity:—
THE ROSE AND THE BRAMBLE.
Deep in a sweet secluded vale,
Where cottagers were few,
Whose wants ne'er went beyond the dale,
A lovely hedge-rose grew.
To guard her from the spoiler's hands,
A spreading bramble bold,
His thorns extends, his leaves expands,
To shield her from the cold.
Each hour new beauties added to
This truly beauteous flower:
And as they hourly rose to view,
He hourly felt their power.
But love, save in unconscious sighs,
He dar'd not to her own—
He sighs—he droops—he falls—he dies;
And leaves her quite alone.
No longer guarded by his thorns,
She falls an early prey,
Awhile a peasant's breast adorns
And then is cast away.
Blackburn, January 28th, 1823.
TO THE REDBREAST.
WRITTEN DURING A HEAVY FALL OF SNOW.
Lonely little chirping robin,
Winter's winds have wrecked thy nest,
Warm's my hearth—thy heart is throbbing—
Wilt thou be my cottage guest?
Here no greedy, grey grimalkin
Slily couch'd shall mar thy play.
Unannoy'd by cruel faulkin,
Undisturb'd by angry Tray.
Thou might hop about my lattice,
Dry beneath the dropping eaves;
Share my crust—my cup, too—gratis,
And my couch of soft seer leaves.
Fast the flaky snow is falling,
Night's black hour is drawing near;
Dark, and deep, and more appalling
Lonely pilgrims' paths appear.
Come then while the latch is lifted;
Ere the hoar winds chill thy breast;
When each bush and brake is drifted,
Where will little robins rest?
O how cheerful glow the embers,
How the crackling faggots blaze;
Shelter here till past December's
Lonesome nights and gloomy days.
And when spring again returning
Clothes the earth with leaves and flowers,
Thou shalt from my cot sojourning
Join thy mates among the bowers.
Yearly with a song I'll greet thee,
Visitant of this lone spot;
Yearly too thou wilt repeat me
Nature's melancholy note.
Come then, lonely little robin,
Here no meddling hands molest;
Warm's my hearth—thy heart is throbbing—
Come and be my cottage guest.
Blackburn, December, 1823.
Accept of wild flowers, wreathed by careless youth,
Ere sage experience taught me sober truth.
Thus reads the modest couplet which this early local Poetess
placed upon the title-page of a little volume of verses which she
published just before the close of the eighteenth century; and which, in a
brief address dated, "Blackburn, August 1st, 1799," she dedicated "to. Mr.
George Nicholson, Editor and Publisher of the 'Literary Miscellany."'
The little book contained only twenty-nine poems and ran to eighty-four
pages. A copy,—lacking the 'half-title' page, but otherwise in
excellent preservation,—is preserved in the Reference Department of the
Blackburn Free Library.
"Stanzas to a Friend;" "To Benevolence" (a favourite subject
with Blackburn writers of that period),—"On Death," "Edward and Anna, a
Tale," and "On Philanthropy" are the titles of some of these typical
eighteenth-century pieces, which are not printed with capitals at the
commencement of each line, as is usual; but only with such capitals as
would be employed in prose: thus:—
While thousands taste imperfect bliss,
in forming their desires amiss,
the luxury be mine
to know the kindness of a friend
whose sentiments and sweetness blend
to form a mind divine.
This style of printing gives the pages of the little volume a
strangely bald appearance, and does not assist the reader, as some persons
might imagine it would, in interpreting with celerity the meaning of the
As to the poetic quality of the verses, there is beauty in
some of them and truth in all of them; nothing that is great, but much
that is good. Let us take first these stanzas—
Few are the vices unascrib'd to youth!
Yet Av'rice only couples with old age;
This vice resides where Time's slow rankling tooth,
Has numb'd the passions and outworn the sage.
See his lean face indented with despair!
Its muscles know not one relaxing smile;
'Tis famine's portrait forms the ghastly stare,
Gold does not here repay its victim's toil.
E'en when Aquarius gives the winds his frost,
And petrifies a shrinking realm with cold,
His saving soul would stint the fuel's cost,
By gath'ring faggots from a tenant's fold.
Now doubly saving of the mouldy crust,
And keenly mindful of the mity cheese,
He dares not e'en his appetite entrust,
Lest hunger riot, on such feasts as these.
His fears, a station'd guard, surround his coast;
Amid the walls he starts, and breathes in pain;
When Nature sleeps, he sees the gliding ghost
Of spectr'd thief, intent on murd'rous gain.
Or, when these visions urge him from his bed,
He thinks the needy villain's at his door,
By direst views of midnight plunder led
Through darken'd paths, to seize the hoarded store.
Some twinkling rays of feeble rush-light, guide
His palsied footsteps to explore the hold,
The dark sanctorum where his bonds reside,
His piles of mortgages and tarnished gold.
His crippled hands with eagerness unlock
The cumb'rous wealth impal'd within the chest;
Needless his fears, untouch'd he finds that stock
Which galls and gladdens his insatiate breast.
See money's victim on th' uncurtain'd bed,
Appall'd amidst the dregs of ling'ring woes:
The happy mendicant, beneath a shed,
Concludes his vagrant day with sound repose;
But thy vain fears extend beyond the grave,
As though thy wants would cling around the bier;
Thy doubts may end, futurity will crave
Far other ransom for thy conduct here.
Here is another piece; sombre enough, for so young a writer;
but very characteristic of her accustomed style:—
Ah! see, at gloomy call, the sexton plod
Across the glebe to turn the hallow'd sod;
From lengthen'd labours and the weight of age,
Of human visage scarcely seems the sage.
From him no tears of social feeling start,
Nor Misery's cries disturb his iron heart.
The belfry seems the mansion he would gain,
To warn survivors with a sound of pain.
This rite perform'd, as first of solemn things,
His hard-worn mattock and his spade he brings;
He needs no aid from letter'd stones to trace
The narrow places of the village race.
He knows what spot to make the bed of fate,
The soil's yet light, the grave was clos'd but late.
And can'st thou unappall'd, nor aught opprest,
Disturb the dead man's turf that lies at rest?
Spring up the stone just settled in its place,
Nor change one sterile muscle in thy face?
So hackney'd art thou in the trade of death,
Thou dig'st, nor sigh'st o'er that once conscious earth.
What now resists thy sturdy fault'ring spade?
A mutilated skull! in life array'd
With rip'ning plans; that glitter'd to the view,
With schemes unfinish'd, and with projects new.
How torpid these pursuits, fond man! of thine,
Clos'd and abortive in the church-yard mine.
His joys and cares, his pilgrimage through time,
His lineage, infancy, and manly prime;
The hour he died, and where he us'd to dwell,
Thou, old Remembrancer! canst fully tell.
And think'st thou not how soon the time will come,
When this shall be thy solitary home?
When thy successor's spade shall dig in turn,
The grave where thou shalt silently inurn?
Soon from thy low-roof'd cottage in the vale,
And smiling garden fenc'd with mouldy pale,
Shall neighb'ring hinds, with ceremony drear,
Lend their supporting shoulders to thy bier.
The young authoress, however, could sing cheerfully enough
when she chose, as is evident from several lighter pieces in the volume;
and that she at least tried her hand at satire is proved by these lines:—
FROM "A SKETCH OF A BACHELOR."
By cynic rules he smiles or frowns,
And eats unsocial meals;
Carves for himself, and keeps the keys,
Then boasts what joy he feels.
He warms his nightcap, smokes his pipe,
Alone he drains his jug;
And thinks no bee in foxglove lives
A life so calm and snug.
Mere lumber in the lively throng!
The solace of his care
Is trudging to a coffee house
For politics and air.
He never visits maiden aunts;
He shuns all female cousins;
His system is a downright war
With these poor things by dozens.
With no red-letter days to mark
His solemn, unblest life,
The Bachelor, too late, will see
A blessing in—a wife.
The lively piece from which these verses are taken is
followed by a poem headed "The Old Maid," which is equally condemnatory of
single life. It is somewhat disconcerting, however, to find "The Old
Maid," in its turn, immediately followed by certain formidable "Stanzas to
the late Mrs. Godwin, on reading her 'Rights of Woman.'"—
"Thy potent eloquence can fully prove
The force of language not to man confin'd."
One would hardly have thought that Mrs. Godwin's "potent
eloquence" was needed to establish that truth. But let me not
mislead the reader. This "slip of the pen" is no criterion of Rachel
Prescott's literary quality. As already indicated, there is plenty
of sound truth in her pages; and they well repay perusal. They would
have been more interesting, however, had not too many of the poems been
cast in the same metre; thus rendering the perusal of successive pieces
somewhat tedious. I conclude with one of the shortest, but at the
same time most pleasing, of her poetic efforts:—
ON THE DEATH OF AN INFANT.
Fav'rite of Heaven! why does a mother's tear
Fall on thy calm, thy enviable bier?
Or mourn the kindest privilege in fate,
Which snatched her cherub from this wayward state;
Ending a painful task ere well begun,
With blest reward for race thou hadst not run.
A few swift months permitted to appear,
To anxious friends, then beckon'd from this sphere;
Like plant sensations, which recedes in grief,
If hand profane approach its trembling leaf.
Thy friends perhaps extreme old age may share,
Hoary and worn, wrestling with fretful care;
Submissive, lab'ring with life's pond'rous weight,
Till pale Affliction consummates their date.
While they anticipate the hope of heaven,
To thee its sure realities are given.
The sun had roamed down 'neath the ferned peak of
Just called the young stars to o'ersway the blue plain,—
When, thoughtful, I strolled through the long bouldered windings
That lead towards the Hall of the Bard of Kirk Lane.
The above lines form the opening stanza of one of the
many satires which Robert Clemesha wrote upon his contemporary, Joseph
Hodgson, who at one time resided in or near Kirkham Lane, Limbrick.
William Billington described Hodgson as "the earliest—or at
least the earliest known—of the Blackburn poets;" and that he was one of
the earliest seems evident from the fact that he was born at Rishton in or
about the year 1783. He became a handloom weaver, and he appears to
have had no better opportunities for self-culture than others of his
class. This fact, or at least this strong probability, should be
borne in mind by every critic of his versified productions, for no
reasonable person will expect to find in the verses of a self-taught
weaver, born before the close of the eighteenth century, the polish and
taste which might be expected from a classical scholar, or even from a
workman poet in our own days, when educational facilities are so immensely
greater than they ever were while Hodgson lived. Considerations such as
these, however, do not seem to have weighed much with Billington, Baron
and other Blackburn writers who—though much younger than Hodgson—were
old enough to be his contemporaries: for they joined heartily with Clemesha in the production of all manner of satirical rhymes upon "his
rhythmical majesty, Hodgson," as Billington styled him.
Possibly, however, these youngsters were not without provocation, for the
older Bard was of a combative disposition, as may easily be seen from a
perusal of his rhymes, which are very often so argumentative as to
lessen—and sometimes, even, to destroy—their strictly poetical value. As
a denouncer of abuses Hodgson was absolutely fearless; and persevered in
his self-imposed mission notwithstanding many a threat of ruinous legal
From an article by Billington we learn, amongst other very interesting
things, that "in 1840, when Hodgson was about 50 years of age, and in the
zenith of his fame, he resided in Manner Sutton Street, Eanam, and
possessed a wonderfully extensive library for a person of his humble
station, the apartments on the ' ground floor being literally wainscotted
with books. . . . . He had been a hand-loom weaver in his time, and had
latterly become a teetotaler."
He is further described as "a man of most mild and genial temperament,"
who "wielded the rod of satire, as the doctor does the lancet, to take
off the tumours and excrescences of society. . . His style was smooth and
flowing, and if he never rose above mediocrity he seldom sank below it."
"Hodgson was a most voluminous writer, and he published almost everything
he wrote as soon as it was written, in single-sheet or broadsides, which
he labelled with the price, depositing the whole edition in the crown of
his big box hat, and hawked them wherever he went. . . . His productions
were on a multitude of subjects, and their number was legion. "The
Railway to Heaven," upward through teetotalism and Methodism; "The Railway
to Hell," downward through moderation and drunkenness."
"Hodgson was once librarian of the Mechanics' Institution a few years, in
the earlier days of that educational institute. It having become generally
known that the poet carried his compositions in his hat, the boys began to
have a fine time of it, and the bard a most fearful one.
"An amusing scene. . . was enacted one night in King Street, anent the old
Post Office, just as the factories were loosing, and the throngs of
workpeople coming up from Feilden's, Livesey's, Turner's, Townley's, and
other places. The librarian was going down to the Mechanics' Institution,
and quietly thridding his way through the mill hands, when, on some
account, by some means or other, somebody "tipped the poet's tile." Its
contents, consisting chiefly of "Railways to Hell" and "Railways to
Heaven," flew in all directions, and were scattered about the pavement, "thick as autumnal leaves in Valambrosa;" and, as if in the very irony of
fate, one, a "Railway to Hell," was blown right across the Quaker Chapel
door, whilst another, a "Railway to Heaven," had firmly fixed itself in the fanlight
over Mrs. Woolfall's public-house door, the Angel Inn."
Prominent among Hodgson's printed rhymes is a pamphlet, printed by W. and
C. Tiplady, Church Street, in 1837, entitled "Owen's Social System
Examined, and proved to be unnatural, anti-scriptural, and False . . . .
By J. Hodgson . . . Dedicated to the Revd. J. H. Roebuck."
In this twelve-paged pamphlet, as in so many of his other versified
productions, Hodgson argues in rhyme with immense vigour; but, it must
regretfully be said, with only occasional outbursts of true poetic
feeling. It is not given to everyone to successfully emulate the great
example of Dryden, who, as Billington has told us,
—taught the art of reasoning in rhyme,
And cast the couplet for all coming time."
Though dedicated to Mr. Roebuck, the poem is addressed to one "George,"
whom Hodgson refers to (with a capital "H,") as a "Heap of absurdities
and contradictions." This poor fellow, whoever he may have
been, comes in for as much sledgehammer criticism as Robert Owen himself,
as witness these lines—
For whate'er is wild and vicious
You stand ready to embrace;
If it's something that's malicious
In your breast it finds a place.
You have been a brawling sinner,
It is time that you should mend;
You may talk to please a Spinner,—
When were you the spinner's friend?
Did you ever help a weaver
When cast down through want of work?
No, you've been an old deceiver,
And as rude as any Turk.
You may talk of human kindness,
And what men should do in trade;
But it's all deceit and blindness,
You will give them little aid.
Thus far we find our author much more forcible than polite—or poetic—in
his stanzas. Further on in the pamphlet, however, we come upon verses of a
Is man, then, whom God created,
Over-looked through being small:
Will he be annihilated
When his present organs fall?
Did he first commence existence
By a power that is unknown,
And then left without assistance
Like an orphan here alone?
This is what you cannot teach us,
Volney tried, and he fell short;
And what Owen does, may warn us,
Not with sacred things to sport.
If His eye observe the sparrows,
When they rise and when they fall,
He'll not let old Owen mar us
With his scorn that "we're too small."
HE hath made both plants and flowers,
Grass and lilies are His care;
These are fed with fruitful showers,
Zephyr breezes, sun, and air.
He that made us will preserve us,
Though we all are prone to stray,
And His watchful eye observe us,
Whether it be night or day.
Owen and his disciples appear, like some of their
modern followers, to have been "men of little faith," and Hodgson thus
continues his criticism of them—
These can find no first man Adam,
No originating pair;
Earth is their eternal Madam,
Nature has the sovereign care.
Tell me, where is nature's reason?
Tell me, where is nature's mind?
Everything comes forth in season,
But the eye of nature's blind.
Nature is no legislator,
Though it has unchanging laws;
It is ruled by our Creator,
He's the first and moving cause.
Having, in conclusion, left the religious—or irreligious—side of Owen's
system, in order to discuss the secular side, Hodgson closes his pamphlet
Owen's plan is out of season,
It will soon grow sick and die;
And for this I've one good reason,—
None but fools will ever try.
Wise men will not give their trouble,
Rich men will not give machines;
Then will Owen's empty bubble
Tumble down for want of means.
The following characteristic stanzas are taken from a
poem entitled "Infidelity its Own Punishment and Fidelity its Own
The Atheist sure a fool must be
To risk a future prize
Because a soul he cannot see
With his material eyes.
He cannot see the cooling breeze
Or sound of deep-toned bell;
He cannot see the water freeze,
Nor view the fragrant smell.
No eye can see the sacred law
Which brings life into birth;
And yet how little do we know
Of all we have on earth.
We ne'er can view the human thought,
Nor see the human voice;
Nor how the human brain is fraught
With reason, will, and choice.
The moving Cause we cannot see
Which guides the heavenly spheres;
We only see the harmony
In seasons and in years.
We know we've sight within our eyes,
And blood within our veins
But who can see ideas rise
Within our hearts or brains?
I've felt a shock as quick as light,
That shock I never saw;
Then why should we depend on sight
And heavenly hopes forego?
We've joys, and pains, which human eyes
Can never once behold;
We've doubts, and fears, within that rise,
Of no material mould.
The magnet has a secret force
Which none could e'er find out;
It guides the sailor in his course,
And turns the pin about.
I scorn whate'er some fools advance
Who say there's no design
In what is made,—that all is chance,—
The cause is not divine.
Can nature, chance, or mother earth,
Produce the smallest fly,
Without a parent stock give birth?—
No, that I must deny.
The scoffer, with his jaundiced eye,
Surveys the sacred page;
He deems the Bible one huge lie,
Brought forth in some dark age.
And thus the poor deluded wight
Goes rambling to the tomb,
Without one ray of mental light
To cheer his dreary home.
Among Hodgson's other pieces are "The Spiritual Railway," "Memorial of
Respect for Sir Robert Peel," "The Railway Trip" (on seeing the
Sunday scholars ride off to Blackpool, June 12th, 1848), and "The Weaver's
Complaint" (written at the time of the decline of hand-loom weaving),
Ye Weavers of Blackburn, give ear to my song,
When I sing of tyrants I seldom do wrong,
For if they transport me to Canada's wild shore
I then shall have freedom, when I have sailed o'er;
Free from slavery,
Fetters and knavery,
Never tormented with tyrants again!
Another song, entitled "The Evils of Monopoly, and the
Curses of War," commences—
These cursèd wars, with Russian Czars,
Have brought us into trouble;
An Income Tax, laid on our backs,
Which we've to pay, is double:
But all I dread is want of bread,
And dying through starvation;
And this, I fear, will end me here
If rogues must rule the nation!
But if we die, let Freedom cry,
"Long live Free Trade and Plenty;"
And may we see our commerce free,
And not a rogue in twenty!
Whatever may be thought of Hodgson's claims to the possession of the
genuine poetic gift, no one who reads his verses will deny that he "wielded the rod of satire" with a power peculiarly his own; and, in his
sphere, he must, by means of this same "rod," have proved a source of
terror to many an arrant rogue. When, for instance, he published the
satire (with its very prosaic title) from which our next-quoted lines are
taken, almost everyone in Blackburn would know the "whitewashed"
tradesman who was the possessor of—
THE STEAM-ENGINE COFFEE GRINDER.
He grinds his coffee now with steam,
To shew the world how he can scheme,
And how he buys with ready cash,
Because his credit's gone to smash.
His shop is painted neat and new,
With angels, flying, painted blue,
With golden trumps and golden wings,
And all such bright and pretty things.
Instead of cherubs, to compound
He should have devils wheeling round,
To shew his black, deceitful heart,
And how he failed and paid a part.
You cannot hear this fellow's name,
But all his deeds of sin and shame,—
His church, his shop, and warden's staff,—
Have caused both rogues and fiends to laugh.
But some in churches now attend
Who will in time like Judas end,
Who carry bags like him of old
And sell their Lord for shining gold.
For ready cash!!! O rogue, for shame!
What will thy creditors exclaim?
Can they believe that thou art just,
When thou hast murdered all their trust?
No wonder that our trade is bad,
When such as thee drive thousands mad;
When honest men are forced to flee
From roguish scenes of infamy,
And leave such villains in the trade,
Who spoil with sin what God has made.
So much for the sins of the private tradesman! Now for public corruption,
as shewn at a—
These ten-pound electors can guzzle in beer,
And censure corruption, as if they were clear;
Like Judas, they dip their foul hands in the dish,
And swallow the bait like some ravenous fish.
They'll tell us that none of the beer-barrel tribe
Will e'er be corrupted with any man's bribe;
But when Mr. Turner their puncheons did tap,
Then Grocers and Landlords were caught in the trap.
They wallow like pigs in the candidate's swill,
And fuddle as long as the landlords will fill;
They sacrifice freedom for barrels of ale,
And this is the way that bad systems prevail.
If we cannot vote without beer-barrel storms,
Then farewell elections and "ten pound" reforms!
A curse it will prove to this town in the end,
Which neither a Turner nor Feilden will mend.
I thought Bowring's friends were so firmly combined
They'd never let beer-barrels throw them behind;
But when he'd to run against interest and gin,
I gave up all hopes that the Doctor would win!
Hodgson died an February 6th, 1856, aged 73 years, leaving behind him such
a reputation, as a Rhyming Reformer, as would have done credit to many a
more gifted Poet. His books were, after his death, removed an a large lurry, and they made, I am told, two full loads.
Before parting from this honest old weaver and songster, let me place here
a bunch of his own poetic flowers, in the shape of the following stanzas
ON THE DEATH OF A YOUNG CHILD,
(THAT DIED NOVEMBER 23RD, 1827.)
Dear child! I cannot fetch thee home
To view thy pleasing smiles;
Thy tender frame lies in the tomb,
Secure from Satan's wiles.
Thy hands made known what thou desired,
As well as tongue could tell;
We gave thee all thy age required,
But could not make thee well.
Thy pleasing ways were my delight,
Thy toys I still esteem;
I've clasped thee in my arms each night,
But now it's like a dream.
And what are all our earthly joys,
But life's fantastic dreams?
We often change our pleasing toys
And start new infant schemes.
Sweet babe! Thy smiles of innocence
With Saints and Angels join;
Our Lord hath said when such go hence
They must in glory shine.
Oh! that we were made meet for bliss,
Like those snatched from the breast,
That we might dwell where Jesus is,
And be for ever blest!
Then cease to weep, they've nought to fear,—
Their troubles are blown o'er,—
But who can check the parting tear,
At seeing them no more?