Poets & Poetry of Blackburn (2)

Home Up Tales Songs & Lyrics Main Index Site Search


 

[Previous Page]



-IV-

Richard Dugdale.

"THE BARD OF RIBBLESDALE."

 

    At least two articles of a biographical nature, upon the subject of our present chapter, have already been locally printed.  The first by William Billington (writing under the nom-de-plume of "Jonathan") the second by the late Mr. W. A. Abram, in his "Blackburn Characters of a Past Generation."  Comparing the two, I find that they do not agree as to the date of their subject's birth.  Billington, quoting the Bard of Ribblesdale's funeral card, states that Dugdale died on Wednesday, March 17th, 1875, in his 83rd year, thus placing the date of his birth in 1792 or 1793; while Mr. Abram's article states definitely that Dugdale was born (in Mitton, near Clitheroe) in the year 1790.

    Mr. Abram further states that Dugdale, in childhood, became an inmate of the workhouse; but I am authoritatively informed that this is an error, and that Dugdale was simply a parish apprentice.  The persons who had the care of parish apprentices in those days do not seem to have had a great opinion of the advantages of education; for it is a fact that Richard Dugdale never had a day's schooling in his life.

    His running away at the age of fourteen; enlisting for a soldier (he was a very big lad for his age); his serving in that capacity, first in Ireland and Scotland, and, later on (under the great Duke of Wellington) in France; are facts which are fully recorded in Mr. Abram's pages (see "Blackburn Characters," etc., pp. 34 to 44), and I, therefore, need not dwell upon them.  But from Billington's article, which is now very unlikely to be ever reprinted in book farm, I may quote a few interesting paragraphs.

    Billington was a boy in his teens when he first met Dugdale, and of the Bard's appearance at that meeting he wrote as follows:—"I confess that I felt somewhat startled by the sudden appearance and approach of a man of such tall stature, rough, square build and withal such portly dimensions; for Dugdale, I should think, stood about six feet in his stockings, and would weigh some thirteen scores.  His complexion bordered on the swarthy.  A huge shock of dark brown, stiff, wiry curls clustered about his manly brow, indicating—


Strength of resolution
And vigour of constitution.


    What whiskers he allowed to grow were a shade darker than his head, for, having been a soldier in his time, he tolerated no redundancy of beard or unseemly length of hair.  His eyes were a bright hazel brown, brimful of wit and humour, and rich with the radiant beams of a fine but frolicsome fancy.  His nose was comparatively short and the upper lip long."

    Describing his character Billington says:—Dugdale had good traits of character, and rare qualities of mind.  He was inbued with tenderness of that type for which Burns was so distinguished.  He had a deep sympathy for the suffering, not only of mankind, but even the brute creation, and he has been known to shed tears over the bereaved nestlings of the corncrake he had wounded with his scythe while mowing. . . . He was essentially a man of peace and goodwill, and was chiefly renowned as a wit and humorist.  These, after all, may have been his strongest points, yet he had a rich, fine vein of genuine poetry within him, which he did on occasions, though only too seldom, display.  Take the following as a proof: he was an engraver,—I should have told you this before.  He was self-taught.  Leaving the army in his twenty-third year, he had educated himself, acquired the art, and become probably the cleverest engraver in Lancashire before he was forty years of age.  I say cleverest, for even when an octogenarian he performed the surprising feat of engraving the Lord's Prayer on the small surface of a threepenny bit, every letter being distinctly cut.

    "Now for the poetry.  The subject—a young man's sweetheart had been suddenly snatched away by death, in her prime and bloom; in the very morning of her life.  The last time they met he had presented her with a lily, and now the sole memento he possessed was a broach which his beloved used to wear.  He brought it to the Bard of Ribblesdale, with the request that he would engrave thereon a Lily, together with a verse or legend, which he (the bard) must compose commemorative of the tragical.  The poet sat down, thought for a moment, then took his blacklead and wrote:—


I gave her a lily, 'twas the last of the season,
    The last time we met, in the lovers' lone dale:
But, ah! mark the change—Heaven spare me my reason!
    Her heart now is cold as the clod of the vale.


    "This speaks for itself, and those that are not touched by its purity and pathos, and charmed by its brevity and beautiful simplicity, may rest assured that they have little natural feeling and less correct taste for genuine poetry."

    Among other samples of Dugdale's repartees and racy sayings, Billington quotes the following:—

    "Being once engaged as a witness in a case tried at Liverpool, a celebrated barrister of the name of Bliss held a brief in the same case, but on the opposite side to that on which our bard was a witness.  Dugdale gave his evidence in a lucid and able manner.  The barrister grew eloquent, and loudly professed his utter ignorance of how anybody could, by any possibility, believe the last witness, or how the witness himself could possibly have observed, at such a distance, and with such minuteness, the facts, if facts they were, to which he had deposed; and thereupon the learned lawyer began to cross-examine the witness.  Dugdale, in reply, began—"If ignorance is BLISS 'tis folly to be—" By this time the whole Court was literally convulsed with laughter, and the Bard of Ribblesdale became the observed of all observers.

    "Of the poet Prince, who was sadly addicted to intemperance, he said, "Prince writes like an angel and lives like a devil."  Prince had borrowed a sovereign from Dugdale, which . . .he failed to pay back.  Dugdale, not being able by other means to come by his own, determined to try what poetry and wit combined could do.  He wrote a poem, "The Sovereign," and dedicated it to the "Prince," and every stanza began with Prince, and ended with Sovereign. "Still he will stick to the sovereign!" "Republican, Radical, too, and still he sticks close to the—sovereign!" Poor Prince!  He couldn't pay, but pleaded for forgiveness, and composed the beautiful moral poem of that title.  This was in December, 1849.  The poem was first printed in the "Poetic Rosary."  It may now be found, page 22, Lithgow's complete edition—"Life and Works of John Critchley Prince."

    "About this time the Scotchmen of Blackburn gave a banquet to the "Bards of Blackburn."  Prince, at the time residing in the town, and being invited, of course, took precedence, and was elected president of the meeting, the Bard of Ribblesdale being installed in the vice-chair.  All the loyal and royal toasts having been duly honoured, "The Town and Trade of Blackburn," "The Lancashire Witches," and other toasts were given.  The president at length proposed "The health of the worthy 'vice,' "remarking, while upon his feet, that he had unbounded admiration for Mr. Dugdale as a man, but that he was no poet.  Dugdale's turn came.  In response he gave "Our Worthy President," and professed a boundless admiration for his talent as a poet, but drily added, "he is no man."

    "R.C., a grocer, a poet, and a friend of Dugdale's, who was said to have a habit of wooing the muse at a very early hour in the morning, was just "dropt on" by the Bard of Ribblesdale one fine morning about four o'clock.  The bard was returning from a convivial party when he observed one of C.'s shutters down.  He went to the window, and, as Jack Salisbury said at the time, "fairly catched th' owd un on."  He popped the magnifier an his eye (a glass used by engravers) and "skenned " off the side of the window shutter and saw that instead of writing poetry the grocer was busy weighing small packages of tea which "Ribblesdale" declared had been—


Weighed before and put on the floor
To see if damp flags would make them weigh more.


Addressing C. impromptu, he exclaimed—


"Ha! Bobby, Bobby, I am watching thee,
 Piling and unpiling one grain of tea,
 The beam depending on a single leaf
 To bless a happy buyer, or damn a petty thief."


    Thus far Billington's reminiscences.  I have dwelt on his humorous anecdotes, because they are so characteristic, so harmlessly amusing, and so unlikely to be preserved if not reprinted in some such work as the present.

    I am, most unfortunately, unable to give here anything approaching an adequate selection of Richard Dugdale's poems.  This is due partly to the fact that a MS. book, into which many of them had been copied, was lent by him to a friend and never returned, and partly to the circumstance that Dugdale published comparatively few of his poems through the Press.  Of his surviving pieces, the earliest in date which I have come across is the following—


LINES ON AN ORPHAN.


An Orphan, I was lonely left,
    No kindred lived to cheer;
Of every friendly hand bereft,
    To wipe the Orphan's tear.
But now Misfortune's clouds are past,
    No wanderer now I roam;
My wearied feet I rest at last,—
    The Orphan's found a home.

'Twas not the wealthy weighed my grief,
    They felt not as I've done;
The proffer'd hand which gave relief,
    Was stretched by misery's son.
The lonely cottage on yon cliff,
    Dashed by the Ocean's foam;
Has dried the wanderer's tear-worn cheek,
    'Tis now the Orphan's home.

No more I'll leave this happy spot,
    Where he was wont to dwell;
Who gave to me his land, his cot,
    Then took a last farewell.
The lily now is blooming gay,
    With which I'll deck the tomb
Of him, whom heav'n has sent this way
    To bless me with a home.


Branch Road, Blackburn,
    May, 1838.


    Mr. Abram states that "the year 1826 is indicated as the date of starting of the businesss of engraver and copper-plate printer in Blackburn by Mr. Richard Dugdale," so that the above poem would be written, or first printed, about twelve years afterwards.

    In 1847 a slender little volume of verse entitled, "Flowers of Many Hues," was printed at Blackburn for the Independent Order of Mechanics, and it contained poems written, for the most part, "at the early age of eighteen years," by John Baron and James Walkden.  Baron's poems are distinguished by an asterisk, and Walkden's by an obelisk, at the commencement of each piece.  In addition to these, the little volume contained the following—


LODGE SONG.
(A Parody an Burns's "Highland Mary.")


Ye brothers bright in friendship bound,
    Led by heaven's luminary,
Long be your summers, spar'd their flowers,
    Your winters never drumlie.
And may each brother choose that robe
    Approv'd by angels dearly;
And, bidding earth a last farewell,
    Be lodg'd in heaven fairly:

Where many a kindred spirit's face
    Shall hail your meeting tender;
And lock you in their kind embrace,
    Nor time shall ever sunder.
Golden hours on angel-wings
    Our time shall render cheery;
The very thought of such a theme
    Should never make us weary.         R. D.


    To anyone acquainted both with Dugdale's own work and with his well-known admiration for that of Burns, the initials "R.D." are scarcely needed to stamp the foregoing Song as the undoubted production of "the Bard," who, on January 25th, 1860—exactly 101 years from the date of Burns's birth-published these—


STANZAS,
TO THE MEMORY OF THE IMMORTAL ROBERT BURNS.


One hundred years and one have passed away,
    Since Nature gave her northern Shakespeare birth—
The noblest peasant-bard, the world doth say,
    That e'er arose among the sons of earth—
The tenderest singer of the heart's desires
    That ever dreamed of love and felt its purer fires!

Ye minstrels come, from every land of song,
    And to his memory grateful offerings bring,
That unborn generations may prolong
    His name and do him homage as a king—
King of poetic intellects, that sway
    The minds of multitudes, e'en in our later day.

O'er other bards, who laboured to aspire
    He soared afar, as doth the skyward lark;
He, the embodiment of Nature's fire,
    Made lesser poets seem a single spark;
He was the planet, great and fiery-souled,
    And they the satellites that round his glory rolled.

No laureate he to court the royal smile,
    Or unto wealth to bend with bashful brow;
Stern independence gave him strength to toil,
    And sing his country's greatness at the plough—
To sing her world-known valour and renown,
    And at Oppression's feet to throw the gauntlet down.

When winter raged, with wilder fire he sang
    Of foaming floods, the fields and forests bare;
Felt for the houseless mouse a tuneful pang,
    And in compassion sang the wounded hare;
But oh! that song of agony and sighs—
    That sweet surpassing strain to Mary in the skies!

To serve his country was his chiefest pride,
    And clothe her with the halo of his song,
His latest prayer, when ebbed life's feeble tide,
    Was Scotland's weal, and may she flourish long—
Flourish in strength and dignity of mind,
    And to remotest times leave a great name behind.

The monuments will moulder where they stand,
    And monarchs unremembered pass away,
Ruin may come o'er many a scattered land,
    And mightiest structures crumble in decay,
But Burns shall live while flowers the earth adorn,
    And soaring larks salute the coming of the morn!


Writing of this poem, from which he only quoted three stanzas, the late Mr. Abram said, "One cannot deny the possession of some poetic feeling"—to its author.  Surely few would wish to deny it.  Listen to this:—


ON THE DEATH OF A LITTLE GRAND-DAUGHTER.


Sweet child!  Departed day-star of my soul!
    Thy light is gone, I'm lonely on my way,
Like ship on ocean when the storm doth roll,
    A compass lost, a barque may go astray:
And thou sleep'st sound beneath a load of clay,
    Which brings affliction's tear drop from the heart;
No light is left to guide me on my way,
    Save the light that illumes thy immortal part.

Fain would I say to sorrow, Fare thee well;
    Fain bid the heartfelt tear drop cease to flow;
But how shall I forget thy narrow cell,
    Where all my cherished hope in thee's laid low?
Seasons on time's great wheel may roll away,—
    Unnoticed Nature's face new features bring;
But in my heart thy image can't decay,
    With flowers I'll deck thy tomb each coming spring.

I've often thought thy ways were not of earth,
    In thee I had a precious treasure given;
Thy form, thy acts,—e'en from thy very birth,—
    Bespoke how soon thou would'st return to heaven.
A spotless star, with winning, brilliant ray,
    To light us on a darksome world like this;
To feast on lave one everlasting day,
    And join with thee in everlasting bliss.

To ponder on the past is truly sweet,
    When fond remembrance paints thee all but here;
Oft have I praised the music of thy feet,
    As oft thou ran to meet thy father dear.
Oft have I fondly hissed thy falling tear,
    And pressed thee to a father's feeling heart;
I'm lonely now, my child, without thee here,
    But Heaven has willed we meet, no more to part.


 

    This was not written for the public eye, and comes to me unrevised; yet notwithstanding minor flaws, inevitable under such circumstances, it is as full of genuine poetic feeling as any poem can be.

    As the reader will have gathered from Billington's remarks, Dugdale was often very happy in his extemporaneous verse.  Here is a little gem—written on the spur of the moment to a lady who had brought him some hawthorn, and requested a verse in return:—


LINES ON A SPRAY OF HAWTHORN.


Hail, infant of a happy year!
And yet the hand that bore thee here,
        I praise it not.
More lovely on thy parent tree,
The wondering poet watches thee,
        In some lone spot,
Where soaring lark sings coming day,
And robin rests beneath some spray,
        From which thou'rt torn;
Like infant at a mother's breast,
Who fondly nursed and then caressed
        Her dear first born.


(About 1858).


    Less meritorious from a strictly poetical point of view, but valuable on account of their biographical interest, are the three pieces which follow this paragraph:—


DUGDALE'S ANSWER


To the Question, "Who is this Dugdale?" asked by Dr. Whittaker, Vicar of Blackburn, on hearing the poet named in public.


Uneducated orphan, I,
    Toss'd on the world, I know not how;
A parish 'prentice, by the bye.
    And, rustic like, I learn'd to plough.

In early life I lent my mind
    To muse on Nature's mantle spread;
And how my mother was unkind,—
    Who left me and for ever fled.

I saw the ewes their lambkins claim,
    The songsters feed their young so kind;
But I'd no mother e'er to name,
    No father could I ever find.

Yet thankful to the great First Cause,
    The God of goodness, love, and truth,
Who all our wants and wishes knows,
    And watches o'er the orphan youth.

Now from earth's lap the lark has sprung,
    He warbles through the sunny air;
He trusts his mate to guard their young—
    She watches with a mother's care.

But now his notes I hear no more,
    For with a parent's care he's press'd;
His pinions gently waft him lower,
    Then drops upon his welcome nest.



LINES


Addressed by Dugdale to a "Reverend" Justice of the Peace, who, in the poet's younger days, ordered a poor man to be lashed to a cart wheel and flogged, for selling moutre-weft.


It never was decreed by God
    That man should have the power
To rule his brother with a rod.
    Oh, 'tyrant, dread the hour
When thy harsh soul shall quit its frame;
    Again thy body dust is!
If thou'rt not sent to realms of flame
    The devil gets no justice.



LINES ON A SPRING NEAR THE POET'S
BIRTHPLACE.


On a cottager's fare, in my home near yon spring,
    With health for my inmate—my graver employed,
I would smile at the nothingless life of a King,
    And I'd laugh at the hell where the engine annoyed.

In my lonely retreat I would muse by yon spring,
    Where old nature rocks echo asleep by its rill;
I would eye the night owl as she soared on the wing,
    And I'd pore on the deep while the waters were still.

'Tis the fountain of beauty whose waters shall run
    While the star-studded heavens lend light to the earth;
While Pendle seems proud 'neath a May-rising sun,
    Be thy fount unpolluted, thou stream of my birth.


    The second of these three pieces expresses something very much warmer than poetic fervour; but I think most readers will agree that the cruel cleric deserved the poem more than his victim deserved the flogging.

    I conclude with a poem by Billington, written for a friendly gathering held at Dugdale's house on his 77th birthday, in June, 1869.  Besides its kindly spirit, Billington's poem is chiefly remarkable for the pleasing way in which it interweaves, with the writer's own work, many beautiful lines, or portions of lines, from the Bard of Ribblesdale's poems.   These lines, shown by the inverted commas, are all absent from the poems I have quoted; and from the beauty of these quoted lines one can regretfully judge what sweet songs must have been contained in the lost MS. book already referred to.


EULOGISTIC VERSES ON RICHARD DUGDALE,
POET.

B
Y WILLIAM BILLINGTON.


The selfish world is playing out its hard,
    Rude game of gold, on life's uncertain stage,
While we, in homage, gather round our bard,
    To deck with honour his declining age—
To wreathe his brow, and, ere his footsteps fail,
With lasting laurels crown the "Bard of Ribblesdale."

"The robin sang in the old apple tree,"
    And, "bard-like bird, burst into tuneful song,"
Whose music makes the "graver move with glee,"
    While strains like "rivers meet and roll along;"
'Twas thus, "in early youth a whisper came,
And bade an humble orphan win a deathless name."

He heard "the robin's supplicating call,"
    And "with the robin shared his daily crust;"
His love of right, and burning hate of all
    That's wrong would let nor harp nor harp-strings rust,
Thus joys and sorrows mingled in his lay
"Thorn-blossoms weeping with the diamond dews of May."

For "unreturning days" and pleasures lost
    We mingle with his own our sighs and tears;
Though full of vigour, "like a flower in frost,"
    His flame still glitters through the snow of years.
And still our hearts are touched by some new song,
As ruthless "Time's great wheel unheeded rolls along."

Like Burns of Scotland, wit and tenderness
    Were the commanding features of his verse,
To scathe and blight, to beautify and bless,
    In language sweetly sonorous and terse,
'Tis his to thrill the soul, or raise the laugh
With "Where is Balshaw's Bell?" or "Durham's Epitaph."

And while we celebrate the natal day
    Of him who sang of "blossomed bank and burn,"
Our fervent hope is that the poet may
    See many more such golden days return,
And that the Rose-bud Cottage long may be
The home and haunt of Friendship and sweet Poesy!

__________________________
 
-V-

Alfred Whitehead.


Of this author's career I know very little.  He was residing in Blackburn in 1838; and in that and the previous year he contributed a good many short poems to the local journals.  The three pieces which follow this paragraph were all first printed at Blackburn; but before the end of 1840 he had removed to Bolton, as appears from the preface to his "Miscellaneous Poems," which were printed there, and published in London by Sherwood, Gilbert, and Paper.  On the title-page of this little volume he describes himself as author of "The Usurper: A Tragedy."  The first of our present pieces was originally entitled "A Peasant Girl's Song," while the second was headed "To Adela":—


A PASTORAL.


Allan is so kind to me,
Where'er I wander, there is he,
    Allan is so kind to me;
He brings me posies sweet and rare,
And tells me I am far more fair
Than all the bonny blossoms there—
    Allan is so kind to me.

When I go milking in the vale,
He takes my can and bears my pail,
    Allan is so kind to me;
And oh! with many a darling smile,
He lifts me lightly o'er the stile,
And talks away the shrinking mile,—
    Allan is so kind to me.

None other takes his constant eye,
At feast and fair he sits me by,
    Allan is so kind to me;
And when the old folk are severe,
He looks on me a look so dear,
And with mine apron wipes the tear,—
    Allan is so kind to me.

There is a spot near by the grove,
Where tarrying first he told his love,
    Allan was so kind to me;
And true as he unto my dream,
Or herds that thirst unto the stream,
Will I be true,—be true to him,—
    Allan is so kind to me.

 


STANZAS.


Tell me, gentle spirit, tell,
Thou that in each heart doth dwell,
Communing with looks and sighs.
And love's sweet telegraph, the eyes,
Tell me, if thou may'st, if she,
The saint of my idolatry,
Knows ever dream or thought of me?
Tell me, spirit of my care,
If she be gentle as she's fair;
The sweetest nature's hand could cull,
If she be kind as beautiful?

O vain! as well ask of the sun
If it for me alone doth run;
The stars and moon if they are bright
For my especial lamps and light;
The season that each hue doth bring
From the fresh wardrobe of the spring,
And every bird of beauteous wing,
The scented leaf, and bloomy tree,
If alone they live for me?
O vain! to wonder and admire
Must hapless fan mine inward fire.

The infant echo short survives
Its mother sound; the flower lives
Brief without the shower it needs,
But shrinks, and quickly pines, and fades;
The shadow, faithful to the morn,
Follows close o'er hill and lawn,
But flies when the blest day is gone;
Yet thy reflection cannot die,
Painted in the memory
In colours that can never part—
Eternal Iris of the heart!

A distant worshipper—no more!
The sun doth sink beyond the shore,
And yet anon resumes his reign,
Till evening laps his head again.
To me how blest that hour hath been!
Oh! when in many a distant scene,
In mountain home, or vale serene,
I watch him as he down retires,
The thought whose eyes did dull his fires,
May haply cause a heart to glow,
Which thou mayst never feel, or know.

 


THE CONFIDENT LOVER.


Had I kingdoms they should be
    Each a golden realm of thine,
All the world, or land, or sea,
    Be thine own, and thou be mine!
Yet what delights could kingdoms cast
O'er the rich treasures that thou hast.

Could I give the hues of spring,
    Soon thy cheek would shame them quite;
Could I then the summer bring,
    Oh! thine eyes would kill its light;
The rounded hills by sunshine pressed,
Rival in vain thy living breast.

Whither shall I seek a charm
    Fairer than thy store of sweets?
On thy lips, with raptures warm,
    Heav'n another heaven meets.
Dearest of life! thy blushes prove,
Nothing can bless thee but my love.


    "The Curse of Plutus," "The Pleasures of Philosophy," and "Pan is Dead" are among the longer poems contained in Alfred Whitehead's little volume; and they are all productions which faithful lovers of Poesy will treasure.  But the pieces which make his volume such a veritable "store of sweets" are (to my mind) the briefer lyrics, with one more of which we may fittingly conclude this notice:—


WOMAN'S VOICE.


O there's no music like the sound
    Of woman's voice; that gently stealing
The heart's quick joy and memories round,
    Arouses all the soul to feeling.
It is the vesper of our day,
    When homeward tends the child of sorrow;
And when laments have worn away,
    It is the matin of our morrow.
O if I have of music choice,
Give me the sound of woman's voice.

From life's first hour our cradled rest
    Was lull'd by woman's wistful measure;
She poured her tender breathings blest
    On youth's swift years, and swifter pleasure;
In manhood 'twas her whisper'd vow
    That all our dreams of passion brightened;
And ah! our days were weary now,
    Without love's accents ever lightened.
O if we grieve, or we rejoice,
Dear is the sound of woman's voice.

'Tis woman's voice that wakes the chords
    Of primal joy, when all is wonder;
'Tis woman's voice that charms with words
    The beaten spirit struck asunder;
'Tis woman's voice that stills the rage
    And anger of afflictions bitter;
'Tis woman's voice that cheers our age,
    And all our household sweets makes sweeter.
O if I have of music choice
Give me the sound of woman's voice.

O sweet is woman's voice to all;
    No halcyon note so soft and calming;
Nor summer breeze, nor waterfall,
    Nor pleasant songs, the wild wind charming.
O woman's voice! 't has been to me
    A welcome and a solace often,
When chill'd all nature seem'd to be,
    And fate's hard heart could never soften.
O if I have of music choice
Give me the sound of woman's voice.

__________________________

 
-VI-

William Gaspey.


In 1841 William Gaspey, author of "Poor Law Melodies and other Poems," was living in Blackburn, and contributing poems and political articles to the local press; and in the following year the selection of his verses, which bore the above title, was printed by Messrs. Stirrup and Woods, of Northgate, and made up into a modest little volume of about eighty pages.  Of these, less than a dozen are occupied by the "Poor Law Melodies" proper: all the rest of the book consisting of "Occasional Poems."  These latter, however, though they do not deal directly with "Poor Law" subjects, breathe the same spirit of compassion, for the poor and oppressed, as is found in the "Melodies" themselves.

    The title page bears, as a motto, Southey's lines:—


                            A blessed prospect,
To slave while there is strength, in age the Workhouse,
A parish shell at last, and the little bell
Tolled hastily for a pauper's funeral.


    The volume is dedicated by permission to "The Right Honourable Earl Stanhope, F.R.S., F.S.A.. &c.;" and in the dedication the author refers with gratitude to "the well-directed efforts which your Lordship has made, in your place in Parliament, to cancel from our Statute-book that enactment of a Modern Star. Chamber," (namely, the Measure of Poor Law Legislation to which the book owed its title), "and to ameliorate the condition of those unfortunate beings to whom its provisions apply."

    That the laws against which Gaspey protested, were stupid as well as cruel, is amply proved by the fact—still, no doubt, remembered by some older readers—that they made the mother—not the father—of an illegitimate child responsible for its maintenance.  Hence the first of the following poems; the second explains itself:—


THE VICTIM.


                        Who will heed thy weeping,
    When soon an outcast on the world thou'lt be;
Who then will soothe thee when thy mother's sleeping
    In the low grave of shame and infamy!

H. K WHITE.


How pale she is—ay, paler than the snow
    Which falls, in flakes, on her uncovered head;
Further her trembling limbs refuse to go,
    For she is fainting from the want of bread!
She weeps in silence; but those bitter tears
    Not her afflictions, nor her trials claim—
She weeps not for the hope of bygone years,
    But for the babe that bears her sinful name.

Look on the child,—his smiling face admire,
    (Contrasting strangely with his mother's grief),
Look on the offspring of a guilty sire,
    Who spurns his victim, and denies relief;
Heartless, he triumphs in his conquest vile,
    And law abets him in his villain's part
To her, who trusted in his treacherous smile,—
    To break a weak and loving woman's heart!

The storm is raging—tenderly she tries
    To shield her infant from the cutting blast;
What though the fond, devoted mother dies,
    So that the babe shall be preserved at last!
Her strength is failing, and departs her breath,
    She sinks exhausted on the barren wild,
In the convulsive agonies of death,
    And her last words are, "God protect my child!"

Poor boy! may He that tempers the rude wind
    To the shorn lamb, accord her dying prayer;
May His pure spirit fill thy infant mind,
    May His atonement save thee from despair!
Then, should base laws condemn thy tender frame
    To slave within an Union-dungeon's wall,
Call thou, in faith, on thy Redeemer's name,
    And though men trample, yet thou shalt not fall!

 


THE ANCIENT PAIR.


                                Flesh of my flesh,
Bone of my bone thou art, and from thy state
Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe.

MILTON.


Let any gentleman who heard him think what it would be to be separated from his wife at an advanced age, under a melancholy change of circumstances, and to be placed in a workhouse, where he could only see her occasionally, and under permission, during the remainder of their joint lives; for if, in advanced years, a poor man and his wife entered the workhouse, it was very certain that they could never come out from thence till they were removed by death.—Vide Mr. Walter's Speech in the House of Commons, on his motion for an enquiry in to the operation of the Poor Law Amendment Act, February 24th, 1837.


'Tis more than forty years ago
    Our hands were joined, our hearts were given,
Never to part, in weal or woe,
    Till the last link of life were riven;
My wife! how beautiful wert thou,
    Bending before the Almighty's shrine,
To breathe that consecrated vow
    Which made thee mine—for ever mine!

My sight grows dim, my memory fails,
    I feel the progress of decay,
But one dear image still prevails,
    While other objects pass away.
When darkness hovered all around,
    Thou wert my pilot-star through life,
Thy love dispelled the gloom profound,
    And made earth Paradise—my wife!

How calmly flowed those joyous days,
    By youth and smiling fortune blessed,
When thou the grateful prayer would'st raise,
    Which lowliness of heart confessed.
Our noon of life appeared so bright,
    Cheered by a thousand happy things,
I thought not of the coming night,
    And quite forgot delight had wings.

And when I sunk beneath distress,
    Though sad, my bosom was not lone,
For thine the tearful fond caress,
    Which told, thy love no change had known.
My wealth was gone, no more I shared
    Its joys, yet how could I repine
While thou in mercy still wert spared—
    While such a treasure still was mine?

In age, I find thee still the same
    As thou wert in those happy years,
The withered hopes of which to name
    Wrings from these eyes a Father's tears.
Our children, they have gone before,
    And earth no new delights can give
To part from which we should deplore—
    We only for each other live.

Oh! there are those in power who seek
    The poor and aged to oppress,
Who glory when they crush the weak,
    And make them feel their helplessness.
And they would tear thee from my side,
    To join the wretched Union slaves,
Almost the light of heaven denied—
    Far happier they if in their graves!

We, who have lived in love so long,
    And who together hope to die,
Say, shall the callous hand of Wrong
    Now change our peaceful destiny?
No! we, whom not e'en death could part,
    United ever will abide,—
Man's cruelty may break the heart,
    But cannot constant love divide!


    From our Author's "Occasional Poems,"—about forty in number—I have selected the two which immediately follow this paragraph:—


DESPONDENCY.


Oh! what are earth's green valleys,
    Its streams and mountains high,
Its sunny isles, where never cloud
    Obscures the lovely sky;—
Oh! scenes, which to the happy
    May joyousness impart,
What power have they to yield one charm
    To the lane and withered heart?

Earth's glory has not vanished,
    Each spring renews its bloom,
But ne'er again those smiles will beam
    Which are shadowed in the tomb;
With youth's too golden moments
    Is peace of spirit o'er,
Even as blossoms faded
    Are bright—are green no more!

But yet the heart desponding,
    In prayer a bliss may gain;
Which, in its day-spring of delight,
    It might have sought in vain.
It soareth, on faith's pinions,
    To climes by angels trod,
Its sighs assuaged, tears wiped away,
    By confidence in God.

 


VALEDICTORY STANZAS.


"Go little book," as Southey's genius sings,
    Go, with thy budget of conceits and rhymes,
Yet soar not vainly with Icarian wings,
    Aim but to please in these precarious times;
Content if thou a passing hour beguile,
Or win from Sorrow one approving smile.

Thou humble record of the hand of Change,
    And of the pleasant memories of Youth,
Where the Muse flies from Fancy's sparkling range,
    And weaves her numbers from the loom of Truth,
I cast thee on Opinion's faithless tide,
Whose waters rarely to Fame's haven guide.

Whate'er thy fate, obscurity or fame,
    Not idly has my pen essayed its part,
If sympathy's sweet tribute thou canst claim;
    Or wrest a pang from the afflicted heart:
To dry the mourner's tears is nobler praise
Than to wear chaplets of Parnassian bays.


    Among other poems, Mr. Gaspey's volume contains a song entitled "To-Day," set to music by "Mr. William Robinson, Organist of St. Mary's Church, Blackburn;" and another, entitled "The Bridal Sacrifice," for which the music was composed by "Mr. Jopson, Organist of St. John's Church, Blackburn."


 
-VII-

John Critchley Prince.

 

Although Prince, the "Reedmaker Poet," was not a "Blackburn Bard," in the same sense as Dugdale, Baron, Billington, and other natives of, or lifelong residents in the district, it has been represented to me, by more than one literary friend, that he ought to be included in the present work on account of his close connection with the literary life of the town.  Readers of the chapter on Richard Dugdale, will remember the amusing anecdote, quoted from Billington, about Dugdale's retort to Prince, who was chairman at a dinner given by the Scotchmen of Blackburn to the Poets of Blackburn.  Billington's remark, that "Prince, at the time residing in the town, and, being invited, of course took precedence," proves Prince's intimacy with, and eminence among, our local literati; and it is otherwise well known that Prince resided and worked in Blackburn on several occasions.

    Billington, in an article on John Baron, complains that the latter gave some inaccurate information, relating to Prince's life in Blackburn, to Dr. Lithgow, author of the Life of Prince, and editor of the collected edition of his works.  While blaming Baron for carelessness in the matter, Billington made no attempt, in the article in question, to indicate the nature of the alleged inaccuracies.  Taking, however, the "Life" as it stands, we learn from its pages that Prince was in Blackburn in July, 1843, but only for a few weeks.  Early in 1853 he removed to Blackburn, and remained for nearly two years, being employed as a journeyman reedmaker by Mr. David Carruthers.  He resided in the first instance with a Mrs. Blakey, at 34, Bent Street, afterwards in a garret in Fleming Square, and lastly with Mr. Henry Liversedge, in Anvil Street.  During this time Prince contributed many of his minor poems to the "Preston Guardian," and left Blackburn about the end of 1854.  In July, 1855, he was here again for some time with Mr. Liversedge.  Early in 1858 he came again, and this time "resided with Mr. John Harwood a respectable painter, of congenial tastes, who became his frequent companion."

    Dr. Lithgow goes on to say:—"The foundation-stone of the Blackburn Infirmary was laid on Whit Monday, May 24th, 1858, and, in response to an application made by the committee of the ceremony, Prince composed two hymns for the occasion, one of which was sung by thousands of Sunday School children, to the tune called "Warrington."  Two local gentlemen had each 10,000 copies of the hymn printed for the use of the Sunday school children and others, and the effect of thousands of juvenile voices joining in the following verses must have been most impressive:—


"Lord, on this bright, auspicious day,
 We raise our glad and grateful lay;
 And trust that Thy approving eye
 Will watch us from the glorious sky.

"For thou hast made men's hearts to feel,
 And warmed them with a worthy zeal,
 To soften sickness and distress;
 To cheer, to succour, and to bless.

"Behold where Charity sublime,
 Our worldly hope in sorrow's time,
 Has built a refuge for the poor,
 And with an ever-open door!

"When sickness and disaster come,
 There shall the suffering find a home;
 And all the lowly, labouring throng,
 Confess Thy love and mercy strong.

"Lord lend Thy blessing to the plan
 That soothes the woes and pains of man;
 So that his grateful soul proclaim
 Thy wondrous power, Thy holy name."


    "This hymn became a popular one, and Prince sometimes shed tears on hearing it sung.  About the same time he also published a "Poetic Address to the People of Blackburn," on the " Inauguration of their Infirmary," which he afterwards utilised for a similar occasion at Ashton-under-Lyne, with a few verbal alterations.  It is stated that he received a handsome perquisite for these efforts, and soon after left for Ashton; in fact he did not, with one exception, remain long in Blackburn during any of his visits, each period being limited by the duration of temporary employment."

    The question of the number and duration of Prince's visits to Blackburn is probably the one upon which Billington differed from Baron and Lithgow; for while the Doctor states, as will be noticed above, that Prince was here in 1843 "for a few weeks,"—and then gives his next visit as in 1853—Billington placed the date of the Blackburn Scotchmen's dinner, at which Prince presided, at about 1849.  In addition, Billington tells us that it was in response to Dugdale's poem, entitled "The Sovereign," that Prince wrote, in December, 1849, the poem " Forgiveness," printed on page 22 of the second volume of Poems in Lithgow's edition.  On turning to the volume itself, I find that the poem is dated "December, 1849," thus confirming Billington's statement; and tending to show that Prince spent more time in Blackburn than the writer of his Life was aware of.  Here is the poem:—


FORGIVENESS.


M
AN hath two attendant angels
    Ever waiting at his side,
With him wheresoe'er he wanders,
    Wheresoe'er his feet abide;
One to warn him when he darkleth,
    And rebuke him if he stray;—
One to leave him to his nature,
    And so let him go his way:

Two recording spirits, reading
    All his life's minutest part,
Looking in his soul, and listening
    To the beatings of his heart;
Each, with pen of fire electric,
    Writes the good or evil wrought;—
Writes with truth that adds not, errs not,
    Purpose—action—word, and thought.

One, the Teacher and Reprover,
    Marks each heaven-deserving deed;
Graves it with the lightning's vigour,—
    Seals it with the lightning's speed;
For the good that Man achieveth—
    Good beyond an angel's doubt—
Such remains for aye and ever,
    And can not be blotted out.

One (severe and silent Watcher!)
    Noteth every crime and guile,
Writes it with a holy duty,
    Seals it not, but waits awhile;
If the Evil-Doer cry not—
    "God, forgive me!" ere he sleeps,
Then the sad, stern Spirit seals it,
    And the gentler Spirit weeps.

To the Sinner if Repentance
    Cometh soon, with healing wings,
Then the dark account is cancelled,
    And each joyful angel sings;
Whilst the Erring One perceiveth—
    Now his troublous hour is o'er—
Music, fragrance, wafted to him
    From a yet untrodden shore.

Mild and mighty is Forgiveness,
    Meekly worn, if meekly won;
Let our hearts go forth to seek it,
    Ere the setting of the sun!
Angels wait, and long to hear us
    Ask it, ere the time be flown;
Let us give it, and receive it,
    Ere the midnight cometh down!


    From all I have heard and read of Dugdale I should not be surprised to learn that the above touching lines obtained for poor Prince the cancellation of his debt to his brother-bard, the engraver.

    It is perhaps necessary to explain, to readers unacquainted with Prince's writings, that the following pieces are not here selected as samples of his best work, but as specimens of what he actually wrote while in Blackburn.


FAMILY FEUDS.


I
N truth, it is a grievous sight
      To see domestic signs of strife,
Which deaden every sense of right
      That ought to sweeten life;
Which rend affection from the heart,
      Justice and judgment from the brain,
And to our clouded days impart
      An atmosphere of pain.

What glooms, and storms, and treacherous
            calms,
      Environ us on every side,
But no consoling gleams and balms
      To soothe our wounded pride:
Distracting doubt, and sad unrest,
      From day to day our steps pursue,
And hatred gendered in the breast,
      Which time can scarce subdue.

Sometimes, indeed, we long to leave
      Th' encumbering incubus behind,
But fail, because we cannot weave
      One harmonising mind;
Entangled in the mesh, we strive
      Against each other, as before;
Which only keeps our wrath alive,
      And fetters us the more.

Could we but calmly pause and think,
      And with the just and good agree,
Then, one by one, each galling link
      Would break, and set us free:
But since our passions lead astray,
      Too oft against our better will,
How dark becomes our tangled way,
      Beset by every ill!

Forbear, then, and be reconciled,
      Ye who are mixed in feuds like these;
Be not bewildered and beguiled
      By specious claims and pleas;
Take quiet counsel each with each,
      Let prejudice and passion cease,
Bind up the wounds, make up the breach,
      And let the end be peace.

So shall ye banish needless strife,
      So banish self-made sorrow, too,
And in your after days of life
      A friendlier course pursue.
Life is too short to waste as dross,
      In deeds as barren as the wind;
And waste of soul—a priceless loss!—
      Should teach us to be kind.


Blackburn, September 1st, 1859.

 

 
CANZONETTE.

(Originally entitled "T
HE STAR AND THE FLOWER.")


I
KNOW a star, whose gentle beams
    Shine with a pure and constant ray,
Inspire me with delicious dreams,
    And cheer me on my lonely way:
I gaze upon its tender light,
    And to it bow the adoring knee;
But, oh! how dreary were my night
    Were it to shine no more for me!

I know a flower of beauteous form,
    Whose sweetness is beyond compare;
I fain would shield it from the storm,
    And keep it ever young and fair:
It glads my eyes, it soothes my heart,
    It is a daily charm to see;
But, oh! how bitter were my smart,
    Were it to bloom no more for me?

Thou art the star—thou art the flower,
    My precious, peerless maiden, mine!
And from our first fond meeting hour,
    My love, my life, were wholly thine:
But wert thou called beyond the spheres,
    How joyless would the wide world be!
How sad my sighs, how true my tears,
    Wert thou to live no more for me!

 


THE STAR OF THE HOUSEHOLD.


A
N angel in the house?   Ah, yes!
      There is a precious angel there;—
A woman, formed to soothe and bless,
      Good, if she be not fair;
A kindly, patient, faithful wife,
      Cheerful, and of a temper mild,
One who can lend new charms to life,
      And make man reconcil'd.

Oh! 'tis a pleasant thing to see
      Such being going to and fro,
With aspect genial and free,
      Yet pure as spotless snow:
One who performs her duties, too,
      With steady and becoming grace,
Giving to each attention due,
      In fitting time and place.

One who can use her husband's means
      With careful thrift from day to day,
And when misfortune intervenes,
      Put needless wants away;
Who smooths the wrinkles from his brow,
      When more than common cares oppress,
And cheers him—faithful to her vow—
      With hopeful tenderness.

One who, when sorrow comes, can feel
      With woman's tenderness of heart;
And yet can strive with quiet zeal,
      To ease another's smart;
One who, when Fortune's sun grows bright,
      And flings the clouds of care aside,
Can bask with pleasure in its light.
      Yet feel no foolish pride.

One who can check, with saint-like power,
      Wild thoughts that spring to dangerous birth,
And wake pure feelings, as the shower
      Of Spring awakes the earth;—
Bring forth the latent virtues shrined
      Within the compass of the breast,
And to the weak and tortured mind
      Give confidence and rest.

Good neighbour, not to envy prone;
      True wife, in luxury or need;
Fond mother, not unwisely shown,
      Blameless in thought and deed:
Whoever claims so rare a wife,
      Thus should his earnest words be given,
"She is the angel of my life,
      And makes my home a Heaven!"


Blackburn, October 27th, 1859.


    Among other poems written by Prince at Blackburn are "Now and Then" (September 7th, 1859); "One Angel More;" and "The Darkest Hour."  This last-named piece appeared in the "Blackburn Weekly Times," on December 10th, 1859.  Those readers, however, who wish to make—or to renew—acquaintance with Prince's most vigorous work, should turn to the collected edition of his poems, and there peruse his "Poet's Sabbath," his "Hymn to the Creator," and many another of those lofty strains which won for him his well-deserved eminence among the poets of Lancashire.  In the meantime, as a foretaste of what is in store far such readers, let us take in conclusion his heart-stirring lyric:—


LET US DRINK TO THE BARDS.


LET us drink to the Bards of our own native land,
    The inspired, the humane, and the brave,
Who have touched the loud lyre with so mighty a hand,
    That it thrills to the soul of the slave;
In the army of truth they have marched in the van,
    A gifted and glorious band:—
Come, bring me the wine, let me drink like a man,
    To the Bards of my dear native land.

When Shakespear came down, like a god from the skies,
    Such a light from his spirit he cast,
That he startled the world into love and surprise,
    And quenched many stars of the past:
Every passion that sleeps in the depths of the mind
    He hath melted and moved at command;
Let us drink to the best of our country and kind,—
    The Bards of our dear native land.

Then Milton arose like a rocket of fire,
    When the nation was buried in gloom,
And the garland he wreathed with the strings of the lyre,
    Wore the hues of celestial bloom:
For freedom and glory, for virtue and truth,
    He flung the proud tones from his hand:—
Let us drink to the sons of perpetual youth,—
    The Bards of our dear native land.

There was Burns, who hath hallowed the mountains and
            streams,—
    There was Byron, the stern and the strong;
There was Shelly who lived in the purest of dreams,
    There is Moore, the unshackled in song;
All, all have combined, with a wonderful power,
    The heart and the soul to expand:—
Let us drink to the heirs of a heavenly dower;—
    The Bards of our dear native land.

 

 
-VIII-

Robert Clemesha.


He meets retribution, and merits it quite,
Who under a bushel obscureth his light ;
The God-given talent should not be confined
To a circle of friends, when 'twas meant for mankind.

 

The above lines from Billington seem specially appropriate because Robert Clemesha apparently wrote more, and published less, than any other Blackburn poet.  The present writer, in the course of a long and careful search, extending over many months, was unable to find in print even a single poem signed by Clemesha.  But a visit to Cark-in-Cartmel, where one of the poet's grandsons resides, resulted in the discovery of twenty-five thick manuscript volumes, all closely packed with verse, written on both sides of the paper throughout.  The handwriting is always small—sometimes so small as to be quite unreadable except with the aid of a powerful magnifying glass—but it is always neat and carefully punctuated.  Some of it, especially in the earlier volumes, is really beautiful; being almost as perfect as the best copperplate engraving.

    As to the literary merit of Clemesha's verse, one may say, without the least fear of contradiction, that, scattered up and down these five-and-twenty volumes, many poems, of sterling worth and lasting interest, are to be found.  But these poetic gems are not to be found without much searching: so much, indeed, that the task seems, at times, almost as difficult as the proverbial search for the needle in the hay-stack.  It is evident from these volumes that their author was accustomed to put his most fleeting impressions, serious or humorous, into rhyme: hence, he wrote far more verse than poetry.  With more concentration, and condensation, he might have left several volumes of verse of solid and permanent merit.  He frequently wrote from a dozen to a score of poems—as if "trying his hand"—on one subject: as, for instance, "The Death of Sir Robert Peel."  He was a contemporary of Hodgson, Dugdale, John Baron, and Billington, and his volumes contain many poems—sometimes eulogistic, sometimes satirical—an each of those writers.

    It must be half-a-century now since Clemesha traded as a grocer and tea dealer in King William Street, Blackburn: writing verse whenever business was quiet, and storing it in substantial tomes upon the shelves behind his counter, "among his pepper an' his 'bacco an' his snuff," as John Baron—with great indignation at this "degradation of literature"—was accustomed to relate.  These rhymed diaries—as they might appropriately be described—prove their author to have been an accomplished scholar—a keen observer of men and things; a master of rhyme and rhythm; and—last but not least—a genuine humorist.

    As showing how closely, in Clemesha's case, Business and Poetry were yoked together, let us take these stanzas—


From "A DUNNING LETTER TO A BROTHER BARD."


Dear—, you must not now consider me rash
    I assure you the duty feels hateful
To tell you I'm badly in want of some cash,
    Your remittance would be very grateful—

Would thrill through my nerves; for my creditors come
    Every week—almost daily—to dun me;
Till I, many a time, wish me an ocean from home,
    Or they all, as a plague spot, would shun me.
.            .            .            .            .            .            .            .
I always allow a large discount of hope
    Whene'er I ask Phœbus for payment—
His dreams are so prone from earth's ties to elope,
    Forgetting both victuals and raiment.

Still I can't live on air, any more than yourself,
    While tramelled by nature's grass husk, sir;
So strain every effort to send me some pelf,
    To shield from grim poverty's tusk, sir.

We lantern-jawed Bards, the pet children of Want,
    Fare badly to live by each other;
Since oft we're obliged at "my uncle's" to haunt,
    To pay off the loan of a brother.
.            .            .            .            .            .            .            .
Your fires of bright Fancy subdue by degrees,
    Keep them duly in Prudence' steel grate, sir;
If you don't, soon, believe me, so swift they'll increase
    As to scorch up all brains in your pate, sir.


    Here are a few stanzas from a characteristic piece, descriptive of the woes of a worthy, but unfortunate tradesman:—


From
"THE GAZETTE."


I once was a Merchant of Fortune,
    Respected by all whom I met;
The rich and the poor would importune
    Before I passed through the Gazette.

When I strolled through the gates of the city,
    Or rolled in my bright landalet,
My daughters were deemed the most pretty—
    Not so since I passed the Gazette.

Bit down like the dog in last battle,
    I'm prone for the vile Lazaret;
Oh! range where I will, rings the tattle
    "Mr. Wilson's passed through the Gazette."

My girls shop no more in the carriage,
    For Satins, French lace, or Vidette;
Mr. Jay has postponed Mary's marriage,
    Just, all through the cursed Gazette.

'Tother day I fell in with a crony,
    Who keen marked his goods tare and trett,
He shied—thought I wanted same money—
    Because I'd passed through the Gazette.

The Lord of the Manor once knew me,
    And gave me the squire-epithet;
But now he rides round to eschew me,
    Because I've passed through the Gazette.

Watts writes that of man, mind's the standard,
    And I have believed him, as yet;
But now find his wisdom has wandered,
    Since I passed the rude gates of Gazette.

The gem of the Mexican mountain,
    That swells trade's accounts of asset,
Of sterling respect forms the fountain—
    The ship-guard from reefs of Gazette.


    The manuscript of the "Gazette," as it lies before me, is a good example of Clemesha's peculiar style of composition.  As originally written, in January, 1848, it consisted of 32 stanzas; but its author—reversing the commendable process of "boiling down"—preferred to "brew it up" by the interlineation of six additional stanzas: all, apparently, added for the purpose of proving how many smart rhymes he could invent to match the word "Gazette."  The same process was repeated in a poem—or rather several succeeding poems—on Dugdale, each stanza of which concludes with "Bard of Ribblesdale;" the sound "dale," being ingeniously rhymed, by different words, through over sixty stanzas.  I have selected a few of the opening ones for quotation here:—


THE BARD OF RIBBLESDALE.


While mightier minstrels laud the brave,
    And rouse the lyre with orphan's wail;
More humble ground my muse doth crave,
    My theme's the Bard of Ribblesdale.

Although a warbler plain of plume,
    In song he breathes the nightingale;
The fragrant flower of simple bloom
    Proves our sweet Bard of Ribblesdale.

His quivered Muse shoots Satire's barbs
    With poisoned gall that cannot fail;
No, other quill such power engarbs
    As thine, strong Bard of Ribblesdale.

This sterling merit thou canst boast,
    Thy venomed darts do but empale
The vices of the tyrant host—
    Such, spikes the Bard of Ribblesdale.

Thou, Pendle, with thy giant peak,
    Whom thundering storms in vain assail,
Should ne'er forget the swarthy cheek
    Of thy wild Bard of Ribblesdale.

He's etched thee in his humble lays,
    With praises high in Beauty's scale;
While morn threw o'er thee golden rays,
    Drank deep thy Bard of Ribblesdale.
.            .            .            .            .            .            .
Hast thou not watched the sun-burnt hind,
    With brawny hands and round cheek, hale—
Duty's stern impress on his mind?
    Such looks the Bard of Ribblesdale.

He's roamed a child of chequered lot,
    Whose soul to danger ne'er would quail;
Yea, many a bard shall die, forgot,
    Before the Bard of Ribblesdale.

Artist and Minstrel!  Satire's child!
    Let me with pride thy friendship hail;
Or list, retired, those "wood-notes wild"
    That thrill the Bard of Ribblesdale.


    Having adopted, as the motto of this chapter, Billington's lines condemnatory of such poets as are content, like Robert Clemesha, to hide their poetic light from the public, it is only fair that we should, as it were, let our author be heard in his own defence. This we are fortunately able to do by means of the following


SONNET,
O
N BEING ASKED WHY I DID NOT PUBLISH MY POEMS.

 

"I do not least presume to Parnasse Hill,
"But, piping soft in shade or lowly grove,
        "I love to please myself."
                J
OHN CLARE, the Northamptonshire Peasant.


You ask me why my multifarious flowers,
Bound up in tomed bouquets are screened from sight,
    Like the few talents in a napkin hid,
        Debarred the Public's prurient attraction?
    P'raps there's good data that I should be chid
        For mental reservation, cold abstraction;
Far too penurious of rare Leisure's hours!
    I lack ambition for external action;
        Content, like Clare, in solitude to strike
        Apollo's chords my fancy most doth like;
In selfish joyance, heedless of pert wight
    For public patronage I've dared not bid,
Pre-monished by mate-minstrel, whose sad plight
Of non-success in Authorship has made me sigh outright.


    The foregoing sonnet is very interesting, but not very convincing.  It was not necessary in Clemesha's days, any more than it is now, to run the risk of "bidding for public patronage" by the publication of costly volumes.  The local journals were open to him, and had he not, very unfortunately, "lacked ambition for external action," he would doubtless have revised and abbreviated his longer pieces, and perfected his shorter ones, for the publication which their wit and wisdom merited so well.  As it is, an immense number of fine stanzas must be for ever lost, unless some descendant of their author,—with great literary skill, much leisure, and not a little patience,—is able at some future day to go through his ancestor's many volumes, and select, edit, and publish the best work that they contain.

    Let us now, without further moralising, peruse a few of his numerous—


Local Epitaphs.



I.—ON DR. WHITTAKER.


Here sleep the mortal relics of a sage
    And Christian minister of fair report,
Who in this Fane, a quarter of an Age,
    Explained the scriptures by a mode, in short,
        That won esteem from medium, rich, and poor:
    Learn'd without pedantry, his studies were
        To speak perspicuous, so all might secure
        The purport of the Gospel, clear and pure.
He scorned all eleemosynary show!
    At depth of midnight, secretly to her,
The want-wrung widow he's relieved from woe,
By wholesome meat, to ward off Hunger's blow.
        Reader! tread in his wake,—thy path is sure,
        Since righteous souls as stars in Heaven for ever
                shall endure.

 


II.—ON DR. GRIME.


Here sleeps the Man, who erst denied mean self
For others' good; despising to hoard pelf.
For Want's rife woes he felt intensest grief,
Refusing fees for ministered relief.
Each morn throughout the year, his surgery's site
Saw crowding applicants show his healing might.
So kind to Poverty, his heart was led
That, had he owned the power, he would have raised
        the dead!

 


III.—ON GEORGE DEWHURST,
T
HE PATRIARCHAL REFORMER OF BLACKBURN.


Beneath this plain, smooth monument of grit,
    Lie the remains of Honesty itself;
Who, living, sacrificed in every whit,
    For public good, home comforts, peace and pelf.

Two years the Patriot spent in felon's walls
    For Liberty proclaiming to the mass;
Condemned by those who dwell 'neath sculptured halls,
    Who dubbed—"the swinish multitude"—Toil's class.

Ye reconnoitrers 'mong the solemn tombs,
    With reverence tread around his simple grave,
Who, though a worker 'mong reeds, mules, and looms,
    Tried his whole life the people's rights to save.


    Rather long for its purpose, but full of character and local interest, is our fourth epitaph—


ON A WEALTHY COTTON-LORD,
W
HO LIVED TO BE AN OCTOGENARIAN.


Reposed from earthly Turmoil, rattling looms,
    And burring wheels, the ancient Patriarch rests
Beneath this massive Slab, where Fate now dooms
    Must be his Hall of State, set free from pests

Contingent on our Pilgrimage beneath:
    Stranger, would'st thou enquire his striking traits,
Before through him had thrust the spear of Death,
    Read on!—thou'lt gain what now thy wish awaits.

"The Ruling Passion strong in Death" shone out;
    Trade all his interest, all his interest Trade;
Aye, wide awake whate'er he was about,
    I'd back him 'gainst the subtlest, chaffering Blade.

Though he had Failings, and had tried compound
    Division and Proportion,. . . .Be not rash!
Since lastly, when his business "fair came round,"
    He paid his Creditors, hard up in Cash,

One score of shillings for each pound he owed;
    Doled his poor kindred many a timely Groat;
Though Wealth potential in his coffers flowed,
    The lowly Artizan he still would note.

Unconquered Perseverance steeled his mind
    'Gainst Difficulties, strong soe'er they frowned;
Firm concentrated, every nerve consigned
    Its energy to cause more gold abound.

What calculating powers 'twere his to boast!
    Who signed all deeds, bills, contracts, with a cross; (x)
Yea! he was Plutus' special self-taught host;
    But rarely felt much filthy lucre's loss.

When life was ebbing out its struggling tide,
    Sighs for continuance lingered on his tongue;
"O that I might a few more years abide!
    "I'd buy all Blackburn, could I 'gain be young!"


    His local satires and epitaphs, however, do not by any means represent Clemesha at his best, from a purely poetical standpoint.  Examples of what he could accomplish, when he seriously tried, are to be found in many poems of such lyrical fervour as the one, from which our next stanzas are taken, entitled:—


THE SKYLARK.


Child of the russet crest,
Jet eye and dappled breast,
Rye-grass-girt downless nest,
        Bird of the Sun;
Idol of schoolboy days,
When my feet's truant ways
Paced the wood's tangling maze
        Till day was done.

Child of the solar beam,
Tuft mound and meadow stream,
When shall thy tones 'gain seem
        Charming as eld?
Then could my soul receive,
Well, all thy voice might give,
As thy rich tunes did weave,
        How my heart swelled!

Bird of the rippling brook,
Shored by sand-shaly nook,
None have thy song mistook,
        Poised high in air.
As thou elate doth sing
Buoyed on thine ample wing,
Making the welkin ring,
        Free from all care.

Lo! as he higher goes
Each tone still sweeter flows,
Till as a bee he grows
        'Fore the strained gaze;
Now far 'mid ether-blue
'Scaped from man's bounded view
Still our charmed ears pursue
        Wrapt in noon's blaze.

Nature's sweet angel-bird,
O'er all the rest preferred,
(Save Philomela's ward,
        'Mong night's dark boughs);
Why dost thou linger yon,
'Bove the fleece-clouds alone;
Find'st thou same cherub-throne
        Wherein to house?
.            .            .            .            .
Why should we call the dove
Emblem of peace and love?
I, for one, more approve
        Thee, modest lark.
Thou the best symbol art
Of the meek, pious heart,
Soaring, from Earth apart,
        To Zion's Ark.


    Our present examples conclude with extracts from three of his early poems: each of the three,—be it noted,—being written before he completed his twentieth year:—


ASK YOU WHERE MY TRUE-LOVE RESIDES?


Ask you where my True-love resides?
    'Tis in a neat and snow-white cot;
Where harmony with peace presides,
    Where crowd and tumult trouble not.

Umbrageous elms around it tower,
    And perfum'd woodbines twine thereon,
Forming a cool enlivening bower,
    Impervious to the noon-day sun.

It's frontal path's a verdant bed,
    In centre of a hawthorn square;
The confine of a furlong, spread
    With many a fanciful parterre.

Befringed with box and mignionette,
    Thyme, southern-wood, and bergamot;
The primrose-star and violet,
    Rue, hyssop, and forget-me-not.

Within their precincts are arrang'd
    The brightest gems of Flora's train,
There foreign flow'rets, rare and strange,
    With Albion's choicest blossoms reign.

All forms of fruitage flourish there,
    And into luscious ripeness swell;
The cherry, wine-sour, and the fair
    Gold-pippin, peach, and jargonelle.

The motley-bosom'd mavies house
    Within the ribson's shadowy breast;
There, in the swan-egg's bright leav'd boughs,
    The warbling goldfinch builds her nest.

Within its woven foliag'd walls,
    The robins, fire-tails, and the wrens
Repair, as will or duty calls,
    To their respective mossy dens.
.            .            .            .            .            .            .
Here Friendship holds her perfect throne,
    Blest with Content and rosy Health,
Ambition there remains unknown,
    And Poverty unites with Wealth.

Had I my mind where I might live,
    Far from the world's deluding ways;
'Tis here the pref'rence I would give,
    'Tis here I'd only spend my days.

 


TO THE ATHEIST.


Gaze round, thou Infidel, o'er yonder sky,
    With wondering eyes that starry vault behold,
Now the pale Moon majestic rides on high,
    The glorious Sun lies cloth'd 'mong clouds of gold,

Throwing his radiance o'er old Ocean's brow,
    With calm, composing, unoffending beams;
Tinging each wave with smooth flamineous glow,
    Till, all afar one burning furnace seems.

Who made yon silver moon to rule the night?
    Or that more beauteous lambent ball arise
Of living fire, an unexpiring light,
    'Neath whom the dreariest, gloomiest darkness flies?

Who framed yon grand infinitude of stars,
    That seem through mightiest telescopic aid
Endless as ever?—though what distance bars
    Before the naked eye is clearly laid

By its astounding powers; still millions stand
    Far beyond these, with dubious, twinkling beam;
Making more numerous the sidereal band,
    The galaxy effuse a livelier stream.
.            .            .            .            .            .            .            .
Who fram'd the beauteous rainbow? by whose power
    Were her calm, splendid, blending hues compos'd?
Who gave rich perfumes to the unfolding flower,
    Their leaves, in various shapes and shades, dispos'd?

Who hath imparted to mere flesh and blood
    Life, love, and beauty, to the eye, her sight;
Beast, bird, fish, instinct; and to man, the goad
    From evil to discern through wisdom's light?

Who gave them all their birth, ay, more than these,
    Equally wond'rous, boundless, and admir'd;
Whence their primeval source, the just degrees
    By which creation stands throughout attir'd?

Whence are they! I exclaim; whence are they given?
    The full response I now demand of thee;
Whence came the earth, sea, all therein; and heaven,
    The lucent star-orbs of Immensity?

Speak'st thou not e'en one word?   Well art thou mute!
    A still small voice conviction holds within.
They have their Power Supreme, beyond dispute,
    Who reigns all-where, and hath far ever been.—

Unseen, all-seeing; knowing all, unknown;
    Almighty, gracious, merciful and pure;
All just in judgment, love and light His throne,
    In whom no thought of evil can endure.

 


FAREWELL TO THE HARP.


Adieu! to thee, harp, I so oft-times have thrilled
    In Love's kindling fervour thy sweet-sounding wires;
Aside now I lay thee, thy strains must be stilled,
    Unheeded, deserted, extinguish'd thy fires.

Dear solace of grief, how reluctant I leave thee,
    Thou constant companion of solitude's cell;
In spring-time of life, I then first did receive thee,
    In the spring-time of life I must bid thee farewell.

Other duties attend me, necessities call me,
    To themes more important my mind must be turn'd,
Lest Poverty's merciless arms shall enthral me,
    I roam by the wealthy despised and spurn'd.

Life's wilderness fast is expanding before me,
    I soon o'er the drear waste must travel alone;
With hope's fitful meteor betimes to flit o'er me,
    To dazzle, delude, and next moment be gone.

Reveal'd thro' the future of years, I discover
    The mazes, the windings, perplexities there;
The steep, craggy mountains compell'd to pass over,
    Through sharp tangling briars and dark thorns of care.
.            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .
Adieu! to thy wild wreaths, of flowers unassuming,
    All thy fair scented blossoms must ope, to decay;
And falling, the grave of Oblivion entombing,
    In her night of forgetfulness, seal them from day.

Away! then my lyre, for a season forsake me,
    In the high splendid domes of the lofty reside;
It is meeter, by far, that the wealthier should take thee,
    Then to poverty why be so nearly allied?

But should I the bower of security enter,
    With prosperity's star to illumine my track;
Then again on thy rapt-swelling numbers I'll venture,
    From the core of my heart, will I welcome thee back.


    For the facts contained in the following biographical note I am indebted to Clemesha's daughter-in-law, Mrs. Haughton Clemesha:—

    Robert Clemesha was born at Beverley, Yorkshire, on April 18th, 1807, and was educated at the Friends' School, at Ackworth.  He was afterwards apprenticed to William Wood, tea dealer and coffee roaster, Church Street, Liverpool.  He commenced business in Blackburn (with Thomas Mason, of Liverpool), on Saturday, April 3rd, 1830, at the top of Darwen Street—the old Market Place,—opposite the Old Bull Inn; taking over the counter, on that one day, £52 10s., retail; vending only "tea, coffee, and loaf sugar; with only three efficient hands" or assistants.

    He married in 1834, Mary Haughton, daughter of John Haughton, of Blackburn, cotton-spinner.  Mr. Haughton had a foundry at Chorley, and the old gates of the Blackburn Parish Church, opposite the Thwaites Arcade, were designed and cast by him.  The words "Haughton, Chorley," are an each of them.

    Robert Clemesha, in addition to his poetic gifts, possessed great skill as a pen-and-ink sketcher; the likenesses he drew of his family and friends being considered excellent portraits.  He was also a devoted student of geology and anatomy.  He lost money in the Bolton, Blackburn, and Clitheroe railway, just as he was about to retire from business.  His business premises belonged to John Fleming, who increased his rent £15 per year for refusing to vote for the Tory candidate; Clemesha plumping for the Radical candidate, Dr. Bowring, at the time of the 1832 Reform Bill.

    Clemesha afterwards built a shop in the present Market Place, opposite the clock tower.  He left there, after losing all his money, to pay a visit to his brother John, in Canada.  Returning from there in 1859 he joined his eldest son Haughton in business at Fleetwood, where he stayed until the death of his wife in 1875.  In 1877 he went to live in Douglas (Isle of Man) with Mrs. Haughton Clemesha, and died there in 1891.  He was buried with his son in the Kirk Braddon Cemetery.

    Our poet's forefathers are buried in Goldsborough churchyard, the first Robert Clemesha being a tenant of Lady Birley; and the homestead has been in the family ever since.  The Clemeshas claim descent from no less distinguished personages than Leofric, Earl of Mercia and Lady Godiva his wife; from whom the Temple family sprang.

    The present Robert Clemesha, youngest son of Haughton, is on a Gun boat on the African coast—the "Dwarf"—winning, in 1900, a medal from the Humane Society far saving life.  The first Robert is said to have planted the first Ripstone pippin Apple tree in England; and a branch of it is now preserved, varnished and hung in Goldsborough Hall, near Knaresborough.



[Next Page]
 

 


 

[Home] [Up] [Tales] [Songs & Lyrics] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk