Robert William Thom.
This grandly-gifted singer is probably the only one, among all the
Blackburn poets, for the study and diffusion of whose works a literary
society has been specially formed. That he well deserved the honour
shown to him, in his lifetime, by the establishment in Glasgow of "The
Thom Society," will, I am sure, be the opinion of every intelligent reader
of his lofty and enduring poems. "Mr. Thom," wrote the Secretary of
that a Society, "has been a faithful worker at the poetic art all the days
of his long life; he has produced works of surpassing beauty, with a high
and noble purpose in them, which have not as yet received that general
recognition which they merit, and which we hope they will ultimately
obtain. . . . Works such as he has produced, however, do not appeal at
once to the rank and file of humanity; they require to be read at leisure
in the study and thoughtfully pondered."
This last-named statement—it will not be regarded as an objection, except by really frivolous readers—does not by any means
apply to his shorter poems
and lyrics, from which some of our present selections are taken. Before
presenting these, however, let me give the reader some account of the Poet and his Poetry:
prefacing the record with a grateful acknowledgment of my indebtedness to
Joseph Jardine, whom I have to thank for my biographical information as
well as for the loan of Thom's published volumes.
Robert William Thom was born at Annan, Dumfriesshire, on the thirtieth of
December, 1816; his father being a surgeon in that town. Not caring to
embrace the profession of his father, the young poet left his native place
and sought other employment in a more southerly part of Great Britain:
serving his time to the drapery trade at Blackburn with Mr.
Jardine's maternal grandfather, George Johnstone. During his first
residence in Blackburn, from about 1834 to 1839, Thom contributed
to the local journals; and became well known as a contemporary of Dugdale,
Clemensha, and the rest of the Blackburn poets of of that period.
"In 1839," writes Mr. Jardine, "he published his first volume, entitled
'Herbert and Rosana, with other Poems.' It was published by John McDiarmid,
Street, Dumfries, and is
dedicated to the poet's brother, W. Thom, Blackburn. It contains a poem
entitled, 'Stanzas written in Blackburn, November, 1838', from which we
gather that the poet found that if life had
its pleasures they were not altogether unalloyed. During the year 1841 he
published a volume containing 'The Emigrant and other Poems,' which was
printed by Hargreaves and Gill, Blackburn.
"On leaving Blackburn in 1839 our Poet returned to Scotland, where he got
married in 1843; and in 1844 he gave to the world a prose work, entitled,
"Wyseby: A Legend of the first Irvings," which was published in Edinburgh,
Annan, and Dumfries. In 1847 he returned to Blackburn, and took up his
residence in Larkhill. Later in that year he went to Liverpool, but was
back again in Blackburn in 1850; when he resided for several months in
Street. During his last residence in Blackburn in 1850, besides
contributing to the "Preston Guardian" and other papers, he was engaged in
Epochs;" and here also he wrote the beginning of "Cleon the Patriot," a
Dramatic Poem. In fact, during the time he lived in Brown Street, his Muse
seemed to have been very prolific."
THE EPOCHS,—a poem of eight cantos,—occupying about 140 well-filled
pages of print;—is, I have no hesitation in saying, a truly great work;
challenges comparison with the masterpieces of Britain's loftiest Bards,
and suffers no shame in that comparison. It opens in Heaven, long after
this earth of ours has passed away; when Time has "ceased to be, as willed
the Great First Cause," and where—
"the True, who of man's life had fought
The fearful battle—had, with hallowed lyre,
Or humble distaff, or a pen unbought,
Or kingly sceptre, or that sacred fire
Which burned in earnest words, smitten the Liar,
Satan the Devil—plucked from the o'erthrown
By love supreme, knelt while the eternal quire
Sang, as Heaven's matin hymn before the Throne,
How Christ the Son by love did for fallen man atone.
But not the Ransomed only—though these far
Surpassed in numbers—formed the crowd who hung
Upon the song; for even as star on star
Crowded from nadir to night's boss, the young
Immortal ones who, ere worlds were, had strung
The harp in Heaven clave round, clad in the love
They bore the Christ while suffering. God hath flung
Around those glorious ones that robe which 'bove
All splendour gleams where'er at their sweet wills they move.
When ceased the song, spirits and souls in bliss—
Through the grand deed of love true equals—long
Held pleasant converse on the righteousness
By the Son shaped from suffering; till among
Their number grew a wish that waxed strong
Of the first man to ask of man's estate.
When life dawned into life. From 'mid the throng
For all a Spirit spoke—one who elate
Clomb Heaven from earthly flame and storm of human hate.
Thus: "Sire of men, in joy or woe alone,
Where eyes angelic scan without compeer;
His chiefest work on earth who from Heaven's throne
Gave being, force, and law to every sphere,—
First soul of men; first soul in glory here,
Grant what we crave, nor us too curious blame,
Relate how first upon the mortal ear
Song from leafed-forest, air, and ocean came,
And from the open sky with splendours all aflame.
"But chief declare, O Sire of men, how Soul
Grew to its blessed state of sovereign sway;
If instant touched by God it grasped the whole,
Or struggling, darkling, with the darkening clay
Power grew on knowledge, as light grew on day,
Till thou supreme 'mid Eden's glories strode,
Wondering and naming Nature's fair array,
All life obedient to thy sovereign nod,
Companion of Heaven's host, last, greatest work of God!"
The first in sorrow, even in the crowd
Of Heaven's eldest born, conspicuous from
His lofty beauty, saddening, lowly bowed,
Being thus remembered of his mortal home
The ancient Earth, rolling beneath a dome
Glorious with stars; and lo! Will to begin
The story of these years, when by the foam
Of Time's far sea he stood, the slave of sin,
Rose like the moon 'mid clouds his shifting thoughts within.
And to that sovereign Will all memories throng,
As to the full-orbed moon the ocean host,
Until his voice rolled in the might of song:
"Spirits, mine equals," said he, "I have last
No recollection of a world which cost,
That it might be redeemed, agony and pain—
Pain, agony, and pain—pain to the most
Beloved of God, an Calvary's mountain slain
To expiate my fall and all its mournful train.
"Spirits, what ye require I will relate,
Beginning while within the forest lay
The marvellous Me, inducted to my state
By the Eternal King our God, sole stay
Of Soul and Nature and of your array
Glorious before His throne. . . .
And, truly, in language of majestic power is Adam's story told! The
relation of it occupies all the rest of the book: a book which one cannot
being vividly reminded of Milton's "Paradise Lost." But "The Epochs" is
no mere imitation of that immortal work; being altogether different in
more extended in its theme.
"Father of men," pleads a ransomed Soul in the second Canto,—
"Speak of the first effect
Of guilt upon thy soul; speak of our world
Troubled by God—of reverend silence wrecked
By war of elements—of the unfurled
Banners of Hell that gleamed where mountains hurled
On mountains blazed aloft, and ocean seethed
Into malignant vapour, darkling, curled
Beneath stars trembling with affright, while wreathed
In horror Fear and Hate entered all things that breathed."
Not only of this dread subject, but of much more does the "Father of men" speak in this poem. He relates how, feeling able to endure "all
miseries save doubt and fear," he prayed to the Almighty thus:—
"Let me stand face to face with every birth
Of my foul crime which shall upon mankind,
Upon the sea, or on the troubled earth,
and how a voice "from the profound of night and darkness" said:—
"Thou hast desired a fearful thing,
And as a curse 'tis granted . . . .
Thou shalt descend, O Man, the path of years.
Thou shalt look on the ages. Thou shalt know
The springs of future hopes and future fears.
Thou shalt discern what fruit thy crime will grow—
Shall be a sharer in the joy and woe,
Rest, motion, effort, and the conflict stern
Of greater times than thine. Go, Mortal, go!
This much is given, but not in love. Go learn
Thy proper task, O Soul, thy labour field discern!"
Let no reader suppose, from the sad subjects treated of in the foregoing
lines, that "The Epochs" is a gloomy poem. Sad and solemn enough it is, in
parts; majestic always: but beauty, and hope and love—crowned by the Love
Divine—light up full many a page; and to the reader who will sit down
read it through, it may well come with a veritable message from the
Eternal, lifting his soul; cheering his heart—aye, changing his heart,
until it may be said of him, as is sung of a toiler whose life-story is
woven into this noble book—
—Then sacred grew all things,
And holy waxed all seasons in each hour,
And every form of work that from God springs
Was noble in his eyes, and had a power
The worker to ennoble in a dower
Of higher life, that fitted for a higher.—
Let us now peruse a few of our author's lyrics and
other short poems: beginning with one, of a single stanza only, which
bears as its title the one word—
As the flower puts on a richer
Lustre than the parent tree,
So should thy thoughts gleam with a beauty
That the eye sees not in thee,
But no flower, however gorgeous,
Decks the tree a foreign gem:
For the force that gives the beauty
Lives within the parent stem.
Here are three other brief but noble poems, taken from a series bearing
only the general title of " MOODS."
Once I saw within a season
That my heart remembers well,
A pure living lily mirror'd
In the waters of a well—
In the waters of a lonely
Well, upon a mountain side—
In the waters sky and lily
Mirrored lay, and nought beside;
And I cried, amid the loneness
Of the place, "Would it were given
That the waters of my spirit
Thus might mirror God and heaven!"
The sun has set, and one lone star
Is trembling on the brow of even—
Only one pale and twinkling star
In all the broad blue waste of heaven.
But know I not that countless hosts
Beyond yon thin ethereal veil
Trim their love lamps, and only wait
Till twilight into night shall fail;
Even so, O heart! a single star
Of hope gleams in thy life's low skies;
But let night deepen, and the hosts
Of God shall meet thy longing eyes.
Lo, where they come—night's grand array,
In yon blue dome they dawn and shine—
Look, soul, on a diviner sky!
Look, soul, the eyes of Faith are thine!
Drinking long, sweet draughts of beauty,
With a sweetly passive will,
Once I lay beside the margin
Of a lonely mountain rill.
Midway in the stream, a laughing
Boy sat on a rocky seat,
Laughing at the waters sparkling,
Rushing o'er his naked feet.
O! the pleasure, pure and simple,
Of life in its morning prime:
Leagues have severed, years have borne me
From that sunny spot and time;
Yet but lately I was dreaming,
And I saw within my dream
O'er the white feet flash the waters
Of the lonely mountain stream.
Turn we now, for a change, to the volume containing "The Courtship and
Wedding a' Jock o' the Knowe, and other Poems," and take, from among its
many gems of poesy, the merry song entitled :—
GILMARTIN'S BONNIE DOCHTER.
O Gilmartin's bonnie dochter! O the winsome, witchin' quean!
O the hearts that she has broken sin' amang us she has been!
O that she had bidden, bloomin' 'mid the mountains a' the North!
O that some bauld lad had held her far ayont the Links a' Forth!
A' is gaun to rack an' ruin in the country roun' an' roun';
Ilka carle's daft about her—laird an' souter, saunt an' loon.
In the pulpit on the Sabbath hoo blate Threeheads struts an'
Pate the elder's ta'en tae drinkin', Rab the blacksmith's ta'en tae
Nane escapes her—Jock, Precentor, thro' her to mischancie cam',
But last Sabbath-day when Threeheads had gi'en out the holy psalm,
Jock, wha was in fancy feastin' on the lips he ne'er maun pree,
Clean forgettin' David, lilted "Lassie, will ye gang wi' me?"
O Gilmartin's bonnie dochter! O the winsome, witchin' quean!
Simmer frae her smile is blinkin', saftest starlight fills her e'en.
O Gilmartin's bonnie dochter!—blessings on her silken snood!
There's nae doot the lassie's comin' maun ha'e dune the country
Baith the doctor an' the lawyer how'd beneath her potent spell;
An' the doctor fled the parish, an' the lawyer hang'd himsel'.
O Gilmartin's bonnie dachter! O her humanising power!
Troth she made the Laird a' Cranky wise for maistly half an hour.
Troth she sae dang dour discretion in the mind o' auld Kilcairn,
That the bodie gied a bawbee to a beggar's barefit bairn.
O Gilmartin's bonnie dochter! when she trips adown the lea,
Glints her feet like snawflakes fa'in' on the bosom o' the sea.
O Gilmartin's bonnie dachter! what she says ye scarce can hear—
Sae the music a' the sweet voice o' the lassie charms the ear.
Things can never haud on this gate; a' the country roun' an' roun',
Ilk ane's daft an' doatin' on her—laird an' souter, saunt an' loon.
Nicht an' day I'm thinkin' on it, thinkin' hoo tae break the spell;
Troth I see nae ither way for't but to marry her mysel'.
In order to save space, I have taken the liberty, in quoting the foregoing
song, of turning four short lines into two long ones in each stanza. Let
us take now these—
VERSES WRITTEN FOR A YOUNG
Of eyes that flash, and locks that float,
I sing not. Love, in all the days
Will temper hearts to feel their charms,
Move babbling tongues to pour their praise;
Lie nobler themes beneath these skies,
Than floating locks or flashing eyes.
I would not that an empty phrase,
Traced by my pen, should meet thy eye;
The power that fills a poet's lays
Should be a power that cannot die;
A guide upon the upward road,
An influence breathed through him from God.
I would, that on this page thy soul
The wisdom of a friend should find;
Then, if some shock of fate should mar
The quiet of thy steadfast mind,
'T were sweeter than the voice of Fame
To hear thee breathe and bless my name.
And if there came no shock of fate,
Until the grand recall is given—
Until thy night of mortal life
Melts in the glorious morn of heaven,
Thy Being, in its light array'd,
Will bless the man who wrote and said:
Be pure of soul! and O, believe,
I doubt not thou in soul art pure;
But which of all the angels knows
How long his glory shall endure;
They saw the Morning Star o'erthrown,
Though he had served before the throne.
Make every holy thought thy friend,
Whatever creed the thought may lend;
So, soul shall learn its native song,
And thy pure life serenely bend
Above life's idle frets and jars,
As glorious as a sky with stars.
Swift as the lightning on its path
Be thy compassion, and as free;
As liberal as a harvest moon;
As silent as a sleeping sea;
And, oh, that act to God is dear,
Which soothes a wail or dries a tear.
The sunny duties of thy hour
Will darken mid the night of years;
Conceal no more their wreaths of thorns;
Breathe forth perplexing doubts and fears:
Courage! the crowns the saints have won
Are framed of duties nobly done.
And love will come. Strive not to stem
The crimson tide upon thy brow;
Love is immortal, and has wrought
In all the ages even as now;
Rekindling under youthful eyes,
The flame that glow'd in Paradise.
Yes, love will come! but if his cup
O'erflow not, let thy spirit say,
"Drink thou no stinted draught, my heart!"
And put the treach'rous hand away;
Between thee and the blessed land
There lies life's waste of arid sand.
And there may spring beside thy knee,
An Influence, fair, and free, and strong;
A string upon that golden harp
From whence doth roll life's awful song;
'Twill gather from thy soul alone
Its deepest and its holiest tone.
Before the final word is said,
Before farewell makes sad this page,
I say that, if thy years shall stretch
Into a sunny vale of age,
Thou'lt find the wealth thy life has wrought
Is noble deed and holy thought.
Seen from the Judgment-seat, as waste
The barren lives of worldlings lie,
As is the way a thousand winds
Have traced across the midnight sky;
Rest grows upon their storm and strife,
And silence drinks their psalm of life.
In every age, in every clime,
From altar, throne, or mountain sod,
The Poet who has sung the truth,
Has spoken with the voice of God;
My task is done! What soul can tell
God's voice may reach? Farewell!
In addition to the poems already named and quoted, Thom wrote and
published "The Trevanions," a dramatic poem; "The Vision of Gervase";
of Kirkconnel" and a host of other poems, long and short. He also wrote
numerous serial stories and short tales; some of the former being
life and scenes in the "black country," where he was at one time employed. It will surprise no intelligent reader to learn that his poems received
from the late Lord Jeffrey, the late Revd. George Gilfillan, William
Wordsworth, and many other eminent writers.
Mr. Jardine unites with many others, who knew and loved Robert William
Thom, in testifying that he was as estimable, personally, as he was
distinguished intellectually. Indeed, his works themselves prove it; for
none but a pure-souled Bard could possibly have written either "The
Epochs" or the
shorter poem we have just quoted. Poetic Genius, even when allied to Vice,
may bewitch us with verbal melody; but it is only when—as in the present
case—it is indissolubly wedded to Virtue, that it can really thrill our
souls with that heavenly music which, when once heard, can—thank God!—never wholly
When this true poet dwelt, many years ago, in Blackburn,—toiling,
singing, and battling with Adversity,—did he ever dream that, half a
Gratitude would, as it were, chant over his grave such a noble strain as
his own "Hero Bard"? I
know not, but I trust he did; for the glorious hope, of leaving" a
Heavenly Voice behind him, was—except for the love and
friendship of a noble few—his only earthly consolation. Here is the
poem: an unconscious reflection, in Song's clear mirror, of its author
THE HERO BARD.
I sing of a Hero, while yet again
My fingers the harp-strings sweep,
Who hurled no terrors on homes of men,
No thunders along the deep;
Who far in the wild a dwelling made,
With stars and the desert spring,
And sung at the hest of Him who said,
"Let the mountain torrent sing."
He sang of the joys of peasant men,
Of the loves of peasant maids,
Till his songs grew voices in the glen,
And the music of the glades.
Fame was the meed of the peasant bard,
The praise of the wise and strong;
And the pure heart's love—the true reward
Of the gifted son of song.
Then his soul grew glad in beauty's light,
And melted in love's soft fire;
But these enthralled not his spirit of might,
For that was wed to his lyre.
He laughed in scorn at the light that flows
From the wreathed and sparkling bowl—
His song was bright with the fire that glows
Deep in the heaven-born soul.
He looked on the waste of many graves,
On the sea when tempest tost,
While the snowy tops of angry waves
In the darkening rack were lost;
And he watched the dazzling host of night,
Amid skies of waveless blue,
Till his bending spirit blessed the might
Of the God whose voice they knew.
He looked on lofty lords of the soil,
In pomp of a transient show,
He looked on the careworn sons of toil.
In gloom of a transient woe.—
And he loved them with an equal love,
The low and the lofty one,
For both are loved by the Power above
Who kindled the rolling sun.
Little he recked for the might of name,
For rank by monarchs given;
He knew that the true are heirs of fame,
The brave are named in heaven.
He knew that he is a King indeed
Whose spirit rides forth in song;
Who lends not his glorious verse to speed
The lies of a venal throng.
He sang the might of the faith of God
In our land in evil times;
The brave who bowed at no monarch's nod,
And warred on a nation's crimes.
The song of that Bard performed its part,
For only the true song can
Burst from the lips, and burn in the heart,
Of a hero—minstrel—man.
At the King of Terrors smiled he,
At the phantom monarch grim;
He knew the angel of death would be
An angel of peace to him.
He died in the cot where erst he sung,
And rich has been his reward:
Prayers from the old; and smiles from the
The meed of the Hero Bard.
also Thom's entry to
the 1859 Burns Centenary Poetry Competition.]
From his own "Random Thoughts on My Fortieth Birthday," which are dated
"June 25th, 1863," I gather that John Baron was born on June 25th, 1823.
I had previously searched in vain for the exact date; although Baron's
career, like that of Dugdale, has been written about by both Billington
and Abram. The latter's article on Baron (in "Blackburn Characters
of a Past Generation"), is a singularly unsympathetic production; being,
in effect, a caricature, instead of a portrait, of a poet who, whatever
his shortcomings, was a poet, and not a mere " rhymer," as he is therein
described. At the same time, I see no reason to doubt that Abram
painted Baron as he saw him, and had no intention of doing him real
injustice. Nevertheless, the injustice, however unintentional,
remains. Abram must have known Baron almost as long as Billington
did, but, I suppose, not so intimately. And if Abram, in spite of
many years' acquaintance, only half knew the man, it is likely that he
only half knew his poetry.
It is, unfortunately, true that some of John Baron's verses
"are very unequal, and are marred by numerous defects." It may also
be true that in the case of some poems, "it is not easy to pick out four
good lines that can be repeated without recognition of some glaring fault
in extravagance or in taste." But that these strictures can justly
be applied to Baron's poems in general, as Mr. Abram seems to have applied
them, I emphatically deny.
Billington, who was quite as severe as Abram in his
criticisms of Baron's worst work, gave the highest praise to his best; and
I am sure most readers, when they have perused the present series of
Baron's poems, will agree that Billington's praise was wisely bestowed.
Born at Grimshaw Park, (then a village, separate from
Blackburn), Baron lived most of his life in his native district; being
first a handloom weaver and then a factory operative. As to the
education he received, there is a notable difference between Abram's
account and that of Billington. The former states that Baron
"received nearly all the schooling he ever had, except as a lad at a night
school," at the old Church of England Sunday School in Grimshaw Park.
Billington, on the other hand, states that, "For a local poet, Baron had
no lack of learning; he had got what was then considered to be a good
English education at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, and had made some
little progress in Latin when he had to leave school and go to work."
It has been stated that Baron's father had intended him for
the Church; and that it was only after the idea was abandoned that the
future Poet left the Grammar School and went to the factory. If this
be correct, where does the handloom weaving come in? On the whole,
it seems probable that if Baron went to the Grammar School at all, his
stay there was a very short one.
Baron would be about twenty-four years of age when, in 1847,
he joined with James Walkden in the compilation of the little volume of
their respective poems mentioned in a previous chapter. In their
joint preface, the youthful authors modestly disclaim any pretensions to
merit for their verses; "but still, on the other hand, they hope that the
early age (eighteen years) at which they were chiefly written, will have
some tendency to avert that heavy censure which might otherwise
necessarily have been cast upon them."
In the present chapter, I am of course quoting only from
Baron's pieces, leaving those of Walkden for a separate notice. The
volume contained about three dozen poems, of which only about one-third
were written by Baron. One poem, entitled, "Oh, Whisper not her
Name," lacks the distinguishing mark; so that I cannot tell whether it was
written by Baron or Walkden. The first piece in the book bearing
Baron's mark is:—
THE EXILE'S LAMENTATION.
A damsel of Israel was pensively gazing
On Jordan's dark stream with an eye of despair;
She looked on the hills, but no cattle were grazing,
And scarcely a vestige of verdure was there.
In anguish she turned to the lake of Asphaltes,
'Neath whose deadly waters the vile are inurn'd;
Corruption's foul breath taints the air, and the salt is
Thick scatter'd 'mongst waves which Jehovah hath spurn'd.
"What dread conflagration," she cried, fill'd with wonder,
"Hath ravag'd these cities, once gleaming like gold!"
She paus'd, and a voice spoke in clouds like the thunder,
"Their sins were too great for my vengeance to hold."
"Oh, hear me, great Sire!" cried the innocent virgin,
And veil'd her bright cheeks with a look of despair;
Then sank on her knees by the sea's rugged margin,
And breath'd to the Monarch of Nature this prayer:
"I have strayed o'er the desolate tracks of Palmyra,
And viewed the dread havoc Thine engines have made;
I have scaled the bleak hills that encircle Old Tyra,
To where ancient Thebes' hundred gates were once laid.
"I have witnessed the grand hieroglyphical sketches
Indented on rocks by the finger of skill;
Time changes their form—when Thy sceptre he stretches,
Great monuments crumble at Thy mighty will.
"From Ethiop's dark race, where the flower's fadeless glory
Outrivals in splendour the gold crypts of Ind,
To Egypt, whose mountains are blasted and hoary,
Which once was the cradle and nurse of mankind.
"Horeb and Zion, and Arabia Petraea
Have felt the stern blow which was hurled from Thy hand;
In anguish Thou buried'st the wealth of Judea,
And stripp'd Thy fair suppliant of home and of land.
"By traitors' vile hands were my sisters and brothers
From Salem's loved shares pestilentially swept;
Posterity torn from the breasts of their mothers,
And infants inhumanly stabb'd as they slept!
"Their putrified bones scatter'd death and contagion
From Euphrates' banks to the source of the Nile;
The schools of the learn'd, and the courts of religion
Were left as a prey to the murd'rous and vile.
"But why do I moralize thus on such plunder,
Since terms such as these may Thine anger provoke?"
She ceas'd—and then terribly roll'd the dread thunder,
In peals which the peace of the sepulchre broke.
Grim forms raised their heads which had slumber'd for ages,
And haggardly gazed o'er the river's dark wave;
And thousands, whose names shone on Sodom's black pages,
Sank back with that crew in the jaws of the grave!
The storm was assuag'd, and a bright cloud descended;
A voice spoke more loud than the thunder's deep roar,
"Fear not, Israel's daughter, my wrath is suspended—
Go learn thy Creator to love and adore!"
She rose from her knees with her heart beating lightly,
And cried, "What am I but an atom of dust?"
Then cast her last look on the cloud beaming brightly,
And sigh'd, "Oh, Jehovah! in Thee will I trust!"
She tripp'd to her tent by the banks of Old Jordan,
And play'd on her harp a melodious tune,—
Her heart being eas'd from so grievous a burden,
She sang, "Why should mortals their Maker impugn?"
The above juvenile poem was revised by its author in later
life, and our present copy is taken from his corrected version. His
alterations, however, are few and unimportant; and if we were to take the
poem as it first appeared in "Flowers of Many Hues" we should look in vain
for the "glaring faults in extravagance or in taste," which we were led to
expect in nearly every four lines of Baron's work. Instead, we
should have a poem which would have done credit to the maturity, not to
mention the youth, of many a more famous writer. I have only room
for two more samples from this early volume. Here they are:—
It flow'd from my heart in the language of sorrow;
It burst on her ears like a wail o'er the dead;
Her cheeks, like the sun, which should shine on the morrow,
Gave symptoms of joy through the beams which they shed;
But mine were obscur'd with the dewdrops of sadness,
That left a dark trace as they silently fell;
My mind with despair, too, was goaded to madness;
When wildly I bade her a lasting farewell.
Vile treach'ry had tortured the soul of the maiden,
Too guileless I thought for a monster like he;
And quickly the smiles of affection did fade on
The brow that once shone so resplendent on me.
The bright sunny hours of our love have pass'd o'er us,
And left but remembrance our sorrows to tell;
A wide dreary prospect of care lies before us,
And darkens the thought of our parting farewell.
Aye, gone are those pleasures, those hours gay and sprightly,
The sun that illum'd them is shrouded in gloom;
The furies surround me with serpents unsightly,
And steal from my cheek every vestige of bloom.
But where are those pleasures? when language first told me
That Slander's foul finger had toll'd their last knell,
Distracted I flew, dearest Kate, to enfold thee,—
We kiss'd, and I sighed as I bade thee farewell.
Oh! Death, if thy cold hand had frozen the current
That rolls through the channels of this breathing clay,
My tears had not flowed in so copious a torrent,
Nor grief rent a heart to deception a prey.
That blighted affection in me has converted
This earth to the wild blazing caverns of hell;
For conscience stands forth, and with stings undeserted,
Gives tokens within of our parting farewell.
Farewell to those charms richly deck'd with health's roses,
That blended such soul-melting raptures with mine;
Farewell to that breast where my last sigh reposes,
Which drew not a throb from that cold heart of thine;
Farewell to those fields where we've wandered, dear Kitty,
When moon-beams have brighten'd the blue heather bell!
But tears fill my eyes, for the soft voice of pity
Proclaims thee another's—then, false one, farewell.
Oh; listen, fond Nancy;
Methinks I could fancy
No other sweet creature that moves here below;
Wherever I meet thee,
With pleasure I greet thee—
Thy image shall guide me wherever I go.
Oh, were I thy true love,
My vows I'd renew, love,
And pledge them no more to be broken by me;
Then do not despise me,
For dearly I prize thee—
My heart, dearest Nancy, is centred in thee.
Thy kindred may slight me,
Yet, love, I'd delight thee,
If thou would'st go with me to some shady grove;
For there would I tell thee
What dangers befel me,
When far from thy bosom my fault was to rove.
Thy smile like the morning,
My dark mind adorning,
Dispels from my soul the thick gloom of despair;
Like cyrstal drops streaming,
Thine eyes, love, are beaming,
Dispersing a halo which none can compare.
Then give me thy hand, love,
'Tis all I demand, love,
And angels shall greet us with smiles from on high;
No grief shall confound us,
When wedlock has crown'd us,
For then will I wipe the dark tear from thine eye.
Thy children shall bless thee,
And tenderly press thee,
Whilst thou on their lips shall imprint the sweet kiss;
And when Death shall smite us,
Our God shall invite us
To regions rich-flowing with comfort and bliss.
It is always dangerous to prophesy, as young Baron did in the
last stanza, "To Nancy"; but it is pleasing to know that he did marry her,
and that she made him, as Billington testifies, one of the best wives that
ever man was blessed with.
In "Blackburn Characters" (pp. 329-330), Mr. Abram quotes
some stanzas from "An Apostrophe to My Birthplace," in which Baron recalls
scenes which now, alas! are no longer familiar to the native "Grimshaw
Parker." In like manner the following poem, though not one of
Baron's earliest, deals with events which may fitly be recalled now,
before we pass on to the consideration of the poems of his mature years.
THE OLD HOLLY IN BRANDY BROW FIELD.
(Addressed to Thomas Clough, Esq., of Holly Bush, Blackburn.)
How green grew the Holly in Brandy Brow Field,
Where our young lovers mingled and secrets revealed,
Which told how they loved in my prime infant days,
Ere the mill-blight had banish'd the bloom from my face;
Ere old Mammon my doom had hermetically seal'd,
How green grew the Holly in Brandy Brow Field!
How blithe was the holly in Brandy Brow Field
When it served the poor redbreast from snowstorms to shield;
When the thrush and the blackbird, in spring did repair,
Build their nests, hatch their young, and so sweetly sing there
That my juvenile heart—fraught with ecstasy—reel'd
As I worshipped the Holly in Brandy Brow Field.
In our noon-flights we hail'd him—our holiday games
Made that prickly old tree the delight of our themes;
And our charming young damsels, to brighten the spell,
Came with pitchers of water from Kitty Lowe Well;
While their fine glossy ringlets their blushes conceal'd,
As they baptised the Holly in Brandy Brow Field.
I arose, ere the lark his first octave had gained,
Or the smoke from long chimneys the heather had stain'd;
On the fruit of the blackthorn and bramble I've fed,
Till the sun set in amber, and Dian upled
By the vesper-star, pouring a light from her shield,
Consecrated the Holly on Brandy Brow Field.
With my milk jug and jannock I've tripped through the stile
With my brain in a whirlpool of rapture the while:
I knew not, I cared not, who envied my lot,
'Twas no worldly achievement, no mischief I sought;
But repose from the gaze of the cold world—conceal'd,
E'mbowered by the Holly in Brandy Brow Field.
No bells, save the church bells, to ring us to prayer;
No tyrant to drive us to want or despair;
We lived unmolested in rural abodes,
With no Eden so bright as our own native woods.
To th' old oak, thunder-scarr'd too, in homage I've kneeled,
That expired on the greensward of Brandy Brow Field.
I cared not how large was this war-blasted earth,
When my nights were all love-dreams, my days were all mirth;
I'd the whole planetarium when Nancy was nigh,
With a heaven of love in her soul-piercing eye,
And no feign'd Eldorado such pleasures unveil'd,
As her smiles by the Holly in Brandy Brow Field.
How many gay sprites have the seraphim borne
To their star-paven home, which, in boyhood, I've sworn
Should be blended with mine; but their souls were insphered
Where the wail of the destitute never is heard.
Where the great Esculapius their heart-throes have heal'd
Who once hallow'd the Holly in Brandy Brow Field.
When I last viewed the spot 'twas with bitter regret,
Not a trace of that Holly my aching eyes met,
And I wept, for the palmiest days of my life
Had fled at the stroke of the wood cutter's knife;
And for vengeance to heaven on his head I appeal'd,
Who had fell'd the green Holly in Brandy Brow Field.
But I will not repine, though through suffering and toil
I must battle and share but a tithe of the spoil;
While my offspring are thriving, the duns at my door
Look as shy as the damsels I play'd with of yore:
But embalmed in my heart, how my fortune they wield,
Is the Holly that flourished in Brandy Brow Field.
Here, too, we may find space for a very characteristic and
'Tis midnight! among youth-frequented nooks
Of solitude I roam; my daily toils
Completed; melody from singing brooks
Harmoniously each fleeting hour beguiles:
Angelic seers unfold their astral books
Radiant with mind-wealth; toward the lunar isles
Lingers the Vesper-star—how sweet she looks!
Endymian-like I gaze, altho' a cloud
Seems to enwrap Diana in a shroud!
Religious silence overspreads the scene—
Oh! great and glorious prospect to behold!—
Orbed legions throng the Zodiac, and their sheen,
Kindled ere Earth upon her axis rolled,
Streams through the sultry air, a galaxy of gold!
While these chapters were in progress I had the privilege of
looking through a well-filled "Scrap Book," containing, chiefly in the
form of newspaper and other printed cuttings, considerably more than one
hundred of John Baron's poems. The book bears the title, "Garlands
for the Grave, and other Poems"; and, as the title indicates, contains a
large proportion of those elegies,—chiefly upon departed local
personages,—which Baron wrote so frequently. With a few very
brilliant exceptions, these elegies do not represent him at his best; and
I cannot help thinking that he was unwise in making them the leading
feature of his projected—but never published—volume. It is,
however, very satisfactory to note that this Scrap Book contains, besides
the elegies, many other poems which are still available for future
Publication; and it is to be hoped that a number of these pieces will
eventually be issued in book form. Excluding most of the elegies,
and many of the general pieces of lesser merit, the Scrap Book contains an
amply sufficient number of really noble poems to fill a fair sized volume.
That I am not over-rating the value of these latter poems, the following
quotation from one of Billington's articles will go far towards
proving:—"Baron's rural and sylvan descriptions, in such poems as 'Lines
addressed to the Bard of Ribblesdale,' 'A May Morning's Ramble,' and 'Ribchester,—A
Day Out,' are, for fulness of objects and imagery, beauty and brevity of
language, sunny exuberance of fancy, happy grouping and arrangement of the
elements of the picturesque, pourtrayed with an easy vigour and grace, and
a warmth of feeling, all combined with native simplicity and strict
originality—scarcely to be paralleled in the whole range of English
The poems thus deservedly praised by Billington are each too
long for quotation here; and the same is true of "An Apostrophe to London,
from the Dome
of St. Paul's," "Random Thoughts an My Fortieth Birthday," "An Apostrophe
to My Birthplace," "Lines addressed to J. C. Prince, Poet," "Poetry of the
Panic," "Farewell to the Muses," and several others, which along with many
shorter pieces, ought, in bare justice to Baron's memory and reputation,
to be rescued from oblivion without delay. To the "Blackburn Times"
of February 15th, 1896, Mr. Henry Yates contributed a most sensible as
well as sympathetic article full of information which should prove
exceedingly useful to any future biographer of Baron. In the course
of that article Mr. Yates says, "John Baron has been blamed many a time
and oft for his lampooning propensities, and perhaps his pen was a degree
too facile in that department of what is sometimes exalted as literature,
but the origin of it in him might be traced to a wholesome hatred of
anything that savoured of cant and hypocrisy. On the other hand, he
was known to possess a nature which went out in sympathy for those who
needed it, and a heart which bled in pity for those to whom wrong had been
From one of the few Satires which Baron failed to destroy
before his death, is taken the following fragment,—for which, along with
a great deal of other useful printed matter, I have to thank my friend,
Mr. John T. Baron, who, by the way, has often been erroneously described
as a relative of his namesake of Grimshaw Park.
The angels leaned upon their harps and sang
The fall of Satan. On the shores along
The crystal rivers sat the ransomed throng,
Who waved their snowy robes with joyous air,
As Raphael blew the trump, "Prepare, prepare!"
And as the diamond floor he stately trod,
Loud hallelujahs shook the throne of God.
The golden doors were ope'd, his wings they shone
With pure celestial glory from the throne.
Heaven's majesty the gifted seraph crowned,
Then downward, to our earth, his way he wound
Through the vast empires of empyrean blue,
From sphere to sphere, from cloud to cloud he flew;
His radiant eyes, which glistened from afar,
Eclipsed the splendour of the evening star.
As down the milky way he passed along
The wreck of worlds in awful grandeur hung;
Still on he swept, with unexhausted wings,
Through Herschell's orbit and Saturna's rings;
He passed Apollo's car, and soon each cloud
Streamed with the glory of the seraph's shroud!
In giving me the above fragment, my friend expressed the
opinion that there was nothing finer outside Milton; and the more I ponder
over the lines the more emphatically do I agree with him.
If John Baron had his faults,—and I don't see why so much
fuss has been made about them, for we all have our share,—he was at least
humbly aware of them, and often keenly contrite for them, as the following
poem—and another at the end of this chapter—will show:—
THE POET'S PRAYER.
Incomprehensible, Eternal Being!
God of the countless seen and unseen realms,
Whose power is boundless, and whose eye all-seeing,
Whose majesty the finite soul o'erwhelms;
Thou, who hast numbered every heart's pulsation,
From moth to mammoth—e'en the smallest grain—
To huge leviathans who guard our nation,
Proclaim Thy plastic power on mead and main;
Thou hast afflicted me—hast made me humble—
Hast scourged me sore before the sons of men,
Because o'er many a doubt 'twas mine to stumble,
Strewn on my path by many an evil pen.
Thou knowest my erring judgment; how unstable
My vacillating heart, great God, hath been;
How prone I was to mingle with the Babel
Of Hell's elect in many a boisterous scene.
I do not loathe the earth because its beauty
Is unentrancing to my vacant gaze;
Thou hast imposed on me a holier duty,
To wean me from the world and the world's ways.
The phantom of my brain—the hideous Siren—
Hath almost lured me to the Hadean gate;
And I must pause before its bolts of iron
Are turned on me by a more hideous fate.
God of the infinite, indulgent Father,
Whose smile is light; yea, the first gleam of dawn
That smit yon orient, or earth's chaos rather,
Was but a flash of glory from Thy throne.
I've felt the sweat of toil from early childhood
Stream from my brow—felt Thy avenging rod—
Spent many a stolen hour in glen and wildwood—
Inhaled Thy breath from every flower, O God.
Here, in this dingle, in my summer rambles,
I loved to hear the brooklet's sylvan song;
Plucked the wild berries from each bush of brambles
In childish thoughtlessness, nor deemed it wrong.
God of the morn and evening constellations,
To Thee my wayward heart heaves many a sigh,
And often in its mournful perturbations
I tremble, for I fear Thy judgment nigh.
Father! in whose bright home are many mansions,
O fit me for the lowliest; make me pure
To mix with those whose spiritual expansions
Have made their immortality secure.
Gorgeous and glowing as yon Sun-god lingers
In yonder west, how glorious to behold!
For there I trace the wonders of Thy fingers,
Sketched on the heavens in hieroglyphs of gold.
Fain would I sink with him, for I in sadness
Behold his setting and uprising beam;
That beam no more will light my soul with gladness,
Nor beacon me through fairy halls of dream.
I may have merited Thy dread displeasure,
Jehovah of the Hebrews—I am frail—
And may have filled to overflowing measure
That cup which makes the Angel's cheek turn pale.
I love Thy works, I hail them on the mountains,
Like the Chaldean Shepherd; I have slept
Near haunted castles, and by oozy fountains,—
Like Zion's exiles I have sat and wept.
I ne'er was vain—pride, that delusive bubble,
Ne'er found in me a votary—I'm the slave
Of my own grade; borne on a sea of trouble
I roll a wreck o'er many a hostile wave.
The dark conspirator—the base dissembler,
The profligate, whose life a scourge hath been,
The midnight brawler, and the morning trembler,
I shun—upon Thy word, O Lord, to lean.
Thy word is light, a stream of living splendour
Bridging the gulph between me and Thy throne,—
Beckoning each poor and penitent offender,
The burden of whose sins is like my own.
I, who have deemed myself by Thee forsaken,
Infuse into my soul Thy saving grace;
That when from my last slumber I awaken
I may in Paradise behold Thy face.
One reason why a volume of John Baron's verses ought to be successful is
that in addition to their purely literary merits, many of them possess
local interest, recalling to the mind scenes and features characteristic
of Blackburn in earlier years; when the town was blessed by many a green
which has since, owing to the increase of trade, had to be built upon,
and, save by old inhabitants, forgotten. Probably the loveliest of these
local poems of
Baron's,—a little lyric full of the sweetest and tenderest melody,—is this
KITTY LOWE WELL.
There once was a fountain called Kitty Lowe Well,
Lay under a greenthorn in yonder deep dell,
And oft on its bosom the wild rose I flung,
When my heart was at ease and my fancy was young.
There true-hearted lovers at evening have strayed,
And many a sweet pledge by moonlight have made;
Our sires o'er their cups pretty stories can tell,
How they won our fair mothers by Kitty Lowe Well.
From time immemorial, young virgins have made
That fountain their mirror in sunshine or shade;
And with raptures how thrilling their bosoms did swell,
As they chanted their vespers by Kitty Lowe Well.
The west wind blew sweet over clover and rye,
Many a night when the votaries of Venus were nigh;
But sweeter by far were the whispers that fell
From the lips of the loved ones at Kitty Lowe Well.
Oft we searched in the twilight, or sought in the dawn
For the blackberry ripe and the mushroom full grown,
And a banquet we spread too delicious to tell
To regale the fair damsels by Kitty Lowe Well.
There the gipsies, too, shared in our pastimes of love,
And to gayest of measures their lithe limbs would move;
For a coin on the palms of our hands they would tell
Whose love was most constant by Kitty Lowe Well.
Could the fair maid of Longshaw revisit this spot,
O, would she not sigh o'er the changes here wrought!
Yea, the tears in her dark eyes for ever would dwell,
For the vows made and broken by Kitty Lowe Well.
Far down in yon dark arch this queen of our springs,
By lovers forsaken, still sparkles and sings;
But the greenthorn is withered, dissolved is the spell
That bound our young bosoms by Kitty Lowe Well.
John Baron died at 80, Havelock-street, Blackburn, on the 31st of July,
1880, at the age of 57 years; and was buried at Tockholes.
Just before his death he wrote the poem from which are copied the stanzas
which close this chapter. He had been something more than a poet; an
affectionate husband; a tender and loving father. Whatever his faults and
failings,—and these have been made the most of by more than one
pen,—he had been—
"True to the kindred points of Heaven and home."
He had fought the good fight, he had kept the faith, he had died with a
contrite heart. The sweet singer of Israel—the royal David himself—could
do no more;
and many another poet, by Fame first courted and then betrayed, has done
FROM "CYPRESS LEAVES."
JOHN BARON'S LAST POEM.
I am going on a journey, Jimmy, where there is no night,
Lit by the sun of righteousness—no evening star so bright,
There my Percy mates with angels singing hymns of joy,
O, what raptures shall I feel when I embrace my angel boy!
And I must leave thee, love, in tears, and thou, my Minnie bright,
Must seek—but never find me—let me kiss you both to-night.
Cling closer to each other, ere my final leave I take,
You'll see me often in your dreams—but never more awake.
More than a parent's love I've felt, for you my darlings dear,
Will ye not ramble to the spot where daisies sweet appear?
We've had our sunny rambles, but I little thought so soon
That I should have to part with thee in life's young afternoon.
A hale old age must not be mine to see thee in thy prime,
Nor hear thy voice at vesper hour, in prayer with Jimmy's chime.
O, let me with thy silken locks another moment play;
To-morrow's dawn may harbinger for me a joyful day.
My blessing's love for ever light on Jimmy's head and thine,
Such as thy father felt betimes in days of "Auld Lang Syne,"
If privileged once more to see the "glimpses of the moon,"
I'd bring you flowers which would eclipse the sweetest rose in June;
For He who holds within his hands the germs of life and death
Can cause a sprig of amaranth to blossom at a breath.
"Behold the lily of the field"—the royal diadem
Of Solomon in all his pride outsplendoured no such gem.
Then what must be the beauty of that land of pure repose,
Which wrings from holiest cherubim the most divine applause.
Be wise as serpents; dutiful: be to your mother kind,
Her beauty fades, and daily leaves forebodings dark behind.
We've had our troubles—come what may—it was our lot to weep:
True sorrow sanctifies our souls—adversity our sleep.
To fight the world's leviathan I was too frail a reed,
The wrongs I have endured, alas! oft made my bosom bleed.
O, Lamb of God, I now commend my darlings to Thy care,
"Thy will be done on earth," I own—so says Thy matchless prayer,
A Father to the fatherless—do Thou in mercy prove,
For while on earth none shared like Thee Thy tenderness and love.
Lord, bless their pretty fairy feet, and ever-prattling tongues,
How ravishing and sweet to me are e'en their nursery songs.
O may they tread in virtue's path, as they in years increase,
"Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."
Let not an evil dream or thought invade their guiltless heads,
But let the guardian angels keep their vigils round their beds.
Be Thou their gentle Shepherd—lead them to Thy pastures green,
And Thine shall be the glory, sin-atoning Nazarene.
Not from the rock of Rephidim, where Moses smote his rod,
Flowed there such healing balm, as from Thy wounded flesh, O God.
The gushing fountain from Thy side can cleanse the suppliant's soul,
And make it fit with saints to sit where living waters roll.
This pleasing writer, who was born at Lark Hill, Blackburn, on May 26th,
1825, was the nephew and namesake of the James Walkden who was, for a long
time, printer and publisher of the old "Blackburn Standard," when its
office was at 17, King William Street, opposite the St. Leger Hotel.
For many years the poet was a compositor in his uncle's office; but
eventually he removed to Manchester, where he died so recently as February
3rd, 1901, and was interred at Southern Cemetery there.
He has been mentioned in preceding chapters as joint author
with John Baron of "Flowers of Many Hues," which Mr. R. W. Smiles, of King
William Street, printed in 1847; Walkden being then about twenty-two years
of age. The poems which immediately follow this paragraph are all
taken from "Flowers of Many Hues;" and, like all our author's
contributions to that tiny volume, are very creditable to the mind and
heart of so young a writer.
OH, WHEN WILT THOU RETURN?
Oh, when wilt thou return, my love,
With me to yonder bowers,
And weave a chaplet for my brow
Of aromatic flowers?
To pour into my thoughtful heart,
From out thy soul's deep urn,
Love's captivating eloquence,
Oh, when wilt thou return?
Lo! smiling with enchanting step,
Queen of the rising year,
Comes gentle Spring, in living robes—
How gay she doth appear.
And waving forth her magic wand,
Old Winter laughs to scorn
In her bright paths to roam with me,
Oh, when wilt thou return?
Or when o'er hill and mountain top,
O'er valley, green, and glade,
Grey evening throws its dusky veil,
And paints its deepest shade;
And on the brow of Night the stars
With living lustre burn—
To watch with me their mystic dance,
Oh, when wilt thou return?
Or, when the world is hushed to rest,
And Nature sleeps in tears
Beneath the moon's mild beam, and all
A solemn aspect wears—
To pour into my thoughtful heart,
From out thy soul's deep urn,
Love's captivating eloquence,
Oh, when wilt thou return?
Oh! when this earthly pilgrimage is o'er,
This giddy dance on Life's uncertain wave,
And all its jarring tempests are no more,
Let me descend into a peaceful grave.
For me no marble cenotaph uprear,
No sculptur'd form, or monumental show;
I claim no sackcloth mourners round my bier,
No needless tears of unavailing woe.
No gloomy pomp my fun'ral train to swell,
No deeds emblazon'd on the lists of fame,
No artificial eloquence to tell
My humble acts, or chronicle my name.
Without such "honours" let me be inurn'd—
No splendid mockery like this I want;
No gorgeous structure pompously adorn'd
For me—a ghastly, lorn inhabitant.
All that I crave is a secluded spot—
One span of earth 'mongst nature's "living green;"
For each tall weed will sermonise my lot,
That I am dust—what I before have been!
I LOVE THEE, SWEET MAIDEN.
I love thee, sweet maiden! I swear,
By the star-sprinkled sky-path above,
By earth, and by ocean, and air,
Sweet maiden, I swear that I love!
In ecstasy wild I adore
The sheen of thy light-woven brow,
Oh! ne'er have I worshipp'd before
As I solemnly worship thee now!
More bright are the smiles which array
Thy features, awake or in sleep,
Than sunbeams that wantonly play
On the tranquiliz'd face of the deep!
To live 'neath thy seraph-like glance,
And aye in thy presence to be,
My spirit with joy 'twould entrance,
And earth would be Eden to me!
Oh, rather thy voice would I hear
Than linnet or nightingale's note;
For strains so transcendently clear
From thee in rich melody float!
More sweet than Æolian strings
Awoke by the zephyr's wild sweep—
Such gladness around thee it flings—
Oh! who could not listen and weep!
I love thee, sweet maiden! I swear
By the star-sprinkled sky-path above,
By earth, and by ocean, and air,
Sweet maiden, I swear that I love!
In ecstasy wild I adore
The sheen of thy light-woven brow;
Oh! ne'er have I worshipp'd before
As I solemnly worship thee now!
Thus far our shorter examples of these pleasing Juvenilia. From the longer
pieces I have selected one of the simplest, but at the same time most
pathetic. Many a parent, who has experienced the anguish of losing a
beloved child, even for a single day, will know how true are the young
author's lines; and
many another, whose "hunger of the heart" has had to be endured for years,
will still more deeply feel the pathos of this ballad:—
THE LOST CHILD.
"I tell thee, once
"For all, I want my child, and I will have her,
"So give her to me."
In an unguarded hour he wandered from his father's home,
Allured by an unfeeling wretch in company to roam;
He left his childhood's happy spot, and its endearing charms,
A loving father's kind embrace—a mother's fondling arms.
But ah, alas! those dear and watchful guardians of his youth,
Who saw him grow in artless love, simplicity and truth,
When forth in boyish glee he rambled with the opening morn,
They dreamt not—no, they dreamt not—that he never would return.
But when the sun his flaming wheels had dipt in ocean's bed,
And darkening shades of night the azure canopy o'erspread;
He came not in his wonted mirth, nor in his laughing pride,
To frolic round his father's knee, or by his mother's side.
Impatiently they listened for his footsteps, but in vain;
Each flash of joy at every sound was turned to instant pain;
Each lonely tread but mocked their hopes, and in their bosoms
Awakened anxious doubts and fears they ne'er had felt before.
And in those dreadful moments when to sleep the world is hush'd,
Forth from her cot to seek her child the mother wildly rushed;
With hurried steps the ground she paced in agitation dire,
The sparks of coming agony now bursting into fire!
She searched each flowery valley through, and every grassy spot,
No secret nook left unexplored, yet still she found him not:
No human figure met her eye, the earth was wrapt in gloom,
Each living thing was mute, and all was silent as the tomb.
Despairingly she clasped her hands, and shrieked with maddening
"My child! my child! where is he gone? alas, is he not here?"
Her wild and piercing screams upon the passing breeze were
But ah! the echo of her words but answered in return.
O'erwhelmed with agonizing grief, her bursting heart was spent,
As slowly from the fruitless search her footsteps homeward bent;
For ever and anon she gasped his name with quivering breath,
And in the woeful utterance seemed to struggle hard with death.
She reached her humble dwelling, when insensible she fell
Upon a couch, torn with the pangs of Fate's all-crushing spell:
Long, long absorbed in sullen thought the hopeless mother lay,
Till night's dull shadows went, and came the rising dawn of day.
The day passed over, night returned, and morning dawned again;
Hours, days, and weeks, and months dragged on, in misery and pain ;
Till in a sudden hour came one with tidings of her son,
To cheer with hope the broken heart which death had almost wan.
"Be comforted, and from thy soul shake off these dread alarms;
He lives," said he, "and time may yet restore him to thine arms."
"He lives!—but where?" the mother cried, and o'er her visage pale
A smile rushed forth as breathlessly she listened to his tale.
The stranger answered not; but deeply sighing turned his head—
His voice denying power to whisper whither he had fled:
She saw his gathering fears, and asked him in distraction wild,
"Where dwells my son?—speak! tell me where—where lives my
She spoke the words in frantic glee, and fixed her chilling gaze
Full upon his, which struck his soul severely with amaze;
He saw the rising rage begin to sparkle in her eye,
Nor longer from her eager ears withheld a sad reply:—
"For deeds of warlike valour long he nursed a secret flame,
And often wished to quench his thirst for military fame;
Far, far remote his youthful heart those honours seeketh now,
And soon proud manhood's signet will enstamp his graceful brow.
"Yet still with mingled feelings of remorse and deep regret
Thinks on the hour he left his home, nor can his soul forget;
But to return, with laurels crowned, a buoyant hope he bears,—
When thus he comes in glory will he not repay these tears?"
She heard him with suppressing rage, and in derision spoke;
"No more—no more! nor further dare my anger to provoke!
'When thus he comes in glory will he not repay these tears!'
Oh, is it thus ye vainly mock the misery of years?
"'With laurels crowned' and 'manhood's signet on his graceful
'When thus he comes!'—oh, ne'er I heard such mockery till now.
Speak not those flattering words again with your insulting breath,
But say he lives—amidst the shrieks of agonizing death!
"Boast not of laurels, fame, or glory won in dreadful wars,
'Midst blood and rapine, shattered limbs, and death-inflicting
The battle-field!—oh, tell me not he seeketh honour there.
Where thousands writhe, as I do now, and madden in despair!"
Scarce had the words escaped her lips, when tremblingly she
Upon the ground her wasted frame in agony anew:
The stranger saw the madness rush across her fevered brain—
Beheld, and shuddering withdrew, nor dared to speak again.
Years rolled along—yet oft she would in dreamy visions fair,
Outstretch her arms to clasp her son, but, waking, clasped the
And when twice twenty summers just her head had gathered
That very day he died, alas!—she never saw him more!
Through an unfortunate mistake, which I do not complain of, but deeply
regret, I have only had access to a very small number of the manuscripts
which James Walkden left behind him, and which, just before his death, he
expressed a wish to have sent to the author of this work. For what I have
obtained I am chiefly indebted to the kind offices of Mr. William Ashburn
(now of Manchester), and of a niece of the poet, Mrs. Wilson, of Oswaldtwistle. As in the case of Richard Dugdale, I am thus unable to do
justice to my subject; but must do my best with "the fragments that
remain." The earliest of these,—subsequent to the publication of "Flowers
of Many Hues,"—are the following stanzas:—
FROM A "FAREWELL TO THE OLD YEAR."
Farewell, old year! Farewell to all thy gladness,
Goodness and glory, which have been but small;
To all thy sinfulness and silent sadness,
Monstrous and mighty, and enduring, all;
To disappointed hopes, too fondly cherished;
To young Ambition's wild and fitful glow;
To all the painful passions which have perished
With many a young and strong heart's overthrow;
To the expiring echoes of thy knell,
Which faintly fall upon the ear of night-farewell!
Farewell, old year! though from our homes thou bearest
Bright forms, which the fond heart had treasured up—
Sweet flowers of earth, the freshest and the fairest,—
Returning naught but memory's bitter cup;
Still thou hast left us tokens of affection,
Loved ones whose light and laughter is not o'er—
Souls which awake the glorious recollection
Of those bright beings who have gone before!
Though stars have waned from the domestic hearth,
Others around have quickened into beauteous birth!
Farewell, old year! our homage we surrender
For natural blessings on thy pathway strewn—
The starry brightness and the rainbow-splendour,
The twilight solemn, and the bashful dawn,
The fresh'ning raindrop, the ethereal mildness,
The tossing tempest, terribly sublime,
The summer-sunlight and the winter-wildness,
The genial spring and the autumnal time!
Yet rueful shades have mingled with the sheen—
With transient weal, alas! unnumbered woes have been!
Farewell, old year! God speed thee to that ocean,
That dark, eternal wilderness of years,
Within whose solitudes no soul-commotion
No life-annihilating pain appears;
Oblivion's empire! Land of tomb-like quiet!
Colossal mansion of the mighty Past!
Where leagued oppression and unholy riot
Their desolating shadows never cast!
That shoreless, deep, unfathomable sea
Of sunless ages—vast and lone eternity!
More than forty years ago some of the Blackburn poets were accustomed to
send valentines, consisting of original poems, to young ladies for whom
they entertained either admiration or a still warmer feeling. These
missives were nearly always enclosed in large envelopes on each of which
was written a second poem, from which the postman had to gather the
address as best he could. An envelope on which is inscribed one of these
rhymed addresses, in James Walkden's handwriting, lies before me as I
write. Here are the stanzas; not, of course, given as examples of Walkden's
serious poetic efforts, but as illustrating the custom just referred to:—
TO MY VALENTINE.
The other day by chance I strayed the busy crowd among;
I saw a little dark-eyed maid trip silently along—
A gentle nymph, though not, I ween, the fairest of the fair,
Yet meek and modest was her mien, and graceful was her air!
I traced her steps; and when, at last, she sought her neat abode,
Her fairy feet an old bridge passed, adown a Wrangling road;
Up Thomas Street she sped, and then-alas! 'twas Fate's
She vanished from my aching ken at number 23.
Oh! Postman, hie thee to that cot, and take this missive to her;
I really can forget her not, I'll try at once to woo, her!
If she's not in, why you may leave the letter with her brother,
Or grandfather, or you may give it Ann—that is her mother!
If you are not so very dull you'll make out this address;
And perhaps the maiden's name in full it boots not to express;
I've told the place, so hasten there, and ask for Miss M. C.,—
The dark-eyed girl, with wavy hair, at number 23.
Blackburn, February 27th, 1860.
The packet thus addressed was posted and duly delivered to whose name has
already been mentioned in this chapter;
and to her delight, she found enclosed a lovely lyric, entitled "The Star
and the Flower," from the pen of John C. Prince. This poem, now headed "Canzonette," will be found on
page 54 of this volume. Quite a long time
elapsed before the recipient learnt that "The Star and the Flower" had
been specially written for her, by Prince, at the request of the sender,
her uncle. [Mr. George Barton states that Prince wrote "The Star and
the Flower" at an earlier period that that which we have indicated, and
that it was not originally written for James Walkden.]
Billington reminds us that—
"In this world we often find
Modest merit left behind;"
and, in accordance with this truth, Blackburn for many years heard for too
little of James Walkden, whose contemporaries seem to have been unanimous
in endorsing the views expressed in the following very interesting
passages, written by the late Mr. George Salisbury so far back as 1862:—
"If we wished to sum up our estimate of Mr. Walkden's position in the
(local) world of poesy in a few words; we should simply say that he is as
unassuming as he is talented, and as clear as he is profound. None of our
local scribes have been less prominently before the public, and none have
deserved better of that public. He is a retiring songster,—a warbler that
loves the shade,—and no sooner do his harmonious efforts attract
attention than he retires deeper into his modest privacy, and seems as if
he were afraid of being heard. He has a dread of notoriety.
"We once had a little friend, whose voice was of almost fabled sweetness
and purity. Sitting alone, pensively and sad, or lonely yet gay, she would
warble away in a gushing and harmonious mood, as if music was a part and
parcel of her existence, and belonged to her as much as her golden locks
or her laughing blue eyes ; and yet, strange little creature, the moment
she discovered that anyone was listening to her fairy strains, she blush
stopped, and no inducement was sufficient to start her again until she
felt she was as much alone as the "love-lorn nightingale."
"James Walkden is evidently akin to this little friend of ours. He is too
retiring. He seems to be anxious to get through the World without being
pointed at or praised. He fancies that his forte lies in doing good things
Thus far George Salisbury, whose concluding remark may seem to be either
confirmed or contradicted,—according to the reader's
political views,—by the fact that Walkden, while setting up Tory articles
for his uncle's paper, the "Standard," occupied many of his leisure hours
in writing rousing election songs for the Radicals. But enough of this:
our business is not politics, but poetry; and it is in the latter, after
all, that we find James Walkden at his best. Listen to these simple
WRITTEN IN A BOOK
PRESENTED TO MY DAUGHTER.
When girlhood's gladsome days are o'er,
With all their laughter and their tears,
And brighter light from richer lore
Dawns on thy riper years,
Oh! may thy mind in wisdom grow,
Thine heart incline the better way,
Thy spirit no temptation know
To lead thy thoughts astray.
Life is a blessing oft renewed,—
A love-lamp for a moment given,—
A pathway, if aright pursued,
To happiness and heaven.
Then wheresoe'er thy lot be cast,
So live apart from strife and sin
That through the narrow gate at last
Thy soul shall enter in.
It is the happy privilege of the true poet to express, often in one brief
and simple song, some joy or some sorrow felt by thousands of his fellow
men; so that the joy may be enhanced, or the sorrow assuaged, by the
utterance that brings true sympathy. Such a poem is the foregoing, which
speaks what many
fathers feel, but few can express. Such, emphatically, is the poem which
follows, and which was written to give relief to the feelings of one who
had long endured, in heart-breaking silence, domestic grief of the most
poignant kind, until at length, as with "King Robert of Sicily,"—
—the passion of his woe
Burst from him in resistless overflow.
NO REST FOR ME.
I am not mad—I am not mad,
And yet a fire burns in my brain,
My soul is seared, my spirit's sad,
My heart is almost cleft in twain;
Vainly, alas! I sigh for rest,
Some quiet haven of repose,
For balm to heal my wounded breast,
And banish all my woes.
Vainly I pray to be at peace,
From strife and discord to be free,
But, ah! my miseries increase,
There is no rest, no peace for me;
The day's obscured by clouds of wrath,
The night with evil dreams is rife,
Perils and plagues beset my path—
A curse is on my life.
Whether at glowing noon or night
I look upon fair Nature's face,
I see her works of matchless might,
All full of grandeur and of grace;
The rugged rocks, the mountains grey;
Bright rivers flashing in the sun,
Making along their peaceful way
Sweet music as they run.
The orient splendours of the morn,
The ghostly twilight creeping round;
The starry hosts that blink and burn
And glitter in the blue profound.
The endless forms around that spring
To life and beauty—these I see;
But ah, 'tis vain, alas! they bring
No, solid joy for me.
I sit beside the chimney nook
Brooding in silence day by day,
Or poring o'er some goodly book
To drive distracting thoughts away;
But ever and anon mine eyes
Grow fixed and vacant as I gaze,
Before them woeful visions rise—
Phantoms of evil days.
My hearth is desolate and cold—
My hearth? ah, mine no longer now!
What was that sacred spot of old
Is blighted—but it boots not how.
Oh, for one draught from Lethe's s wave,
That the sad past might buried be,—
Buried in blank Oblivion's grave,
For ever hid from me!
Vain wish! not till my latest breath
Quits this frail tenement of clay—
Not till I make my bed with Death
Will all my sorrows drift away;
Then will my sleep be calm and deep,
From maddening fears and fancies free;
No sighs to heave, no tears to weep—
Then there'll be rest for me.
The poet, no matter how grandly gifted, is the child—not the
conqueror—of Nature. Hence, he passes from this life like other men, and
we see his face no more. But his voice is heard in the music of his songs,
and even when those songs are few and unpretending, they may live—as I
trust our present author's will—to be a joy and consolation to many