Poets & Poetry of Blackburn (5)

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-XVII-

George Salisbury.

 

"Since Salisbury deserted the Muse" in his early manhood, in order to devote himself to Journalism,—and since journalism was so careless of his fame as to allow a great number of his manuscripts to perish by fire, when the "Philadelphia Times" office was burnt down a few years ago,—we are unable, in the present work to give such a selection of his poems as would do justice to his literary reputation.  We must therefore content ourselves,—as in more than one previous case,—with the perusal of a very small number of surviving stanzas: bearing well in mind the fact that they mirror only one side—and that but partially—of a many-sided character.

    Our first example consists of a few verses—


F
ROM "STARS: A FRAGMENT."


Oh, puny disbeliever! canst thou glance
    Around this universe, and scan its might,
View those vast orbs—all peopled worlds perchance
    Or feel the sun-warmth in its utmost height;
Mark the huge ocean like a war-horse prance.
    Or see the tempest in its withering fight;
Hear the loud thunder in its fearful crash,
And trembling mark the vivid lightning flash?—

Canst stand upon the share, and look around
    On earth, air, ocean, and the deep blue sky;
Hear the deep moaning of the waves resound,
    Or watch the breakers into white foam fly;
And not within thee feel thy heart rebound
    With praises to that God who reigns on high;
Who counts huge worlds as paltry grains of sand,
Loves, guides, and governs with a bounteous hand?
.            .            .            .            .            .            .            .
Ye bright and glittering gems—the eyes of Night—
    Ye myriad glories of the sparkling sphere;
Whose death-pale beauties bless the gazer's sight,
    And waft his thoughts to realms of æther clear;
Far from this earthly globe to worlds more bright,
    Where countless suns in glowing gold appear,
Sent from their Maker's hands with mighty pace,
To wing their way through nature's vasty space.


    Further on in this "Fragment,"—as in other poems,—Salisbury's strong love of humour overcomes him; so that after being wafted "to realms of æther clear "we are suddenly dropped down to earth in this fashion:—


             —But by your gracious leave,
    I fear I'm straying from my subject's leaven;
My simile's neglected, I believe;
    (I ne'er can make one till I'm fairly driven).
A Star's like what?   A gem, a lamp, a woman,
A bard with wealth, or something as uncommon.


    This sudden transition would seem strange to many readers, but with the author himself it was perfectly natural.  It was only in very short pieces, such as the following, that he could be serious throughout:—


DEATH.


When the canker-warm of grief
    Preys upon the wearied heart,
Nor a joy can yield relief
    To life's all-anguish'd smart;
When sorrow's pall is o'er
The heart that's stricken sore,
Deep, to its inmost core,
    How sweet with life to part!

And to calmly sink to rest,
    Go down into the grave;
To sleep on earth's cold breast,
    And feel that death will save
The soul from sorrow's toil,
Bring peace! and quell the broil
That stings life's weary coil—
    Oh, then to die we crave!

When, with toiling day by day,
    The burthen'd form may bend,
And cares chase joys away,
    And bitter moments blend
And mar the span of life:
Want, weariness, and strife.
Are in each action rife—
    How sweet to woo the end!

To feel that there's a heaven—
    An after-world to this—
Untouched by sorrow's leaven,
    A home of God-form'd bliss;
Where perfect love shall reign,
And man, freed from all pain,
The prayd-for joy may gain—
    How grand to hope for this!


    These stanzas on death were written so far back as 1858; but, happily, their author did not really "woo the end" until nearly forty years afterwards.  He lived to cheer the hearts of wearied millions by many a column of rippling, laughter-making prose; and by at least a few songs as melodious as the following:—


SUNSHINE.


Oh! for Summer weather, bright and sunny skies;
Blue and gold together, fleecy clouds arise;
Softest zephyrs blowing o'er the new-mown hay;
And sweet rose-buds glowing 'neath Aurora's ray.

On the sky-crowned ocean, flaky snow-clouds rest;
Sailing with soft motion, like a spray-built crest;
Sunshine glitters brightly o'er the landscape's face;
South winds sighing lightly, diamond dew-drops chase.

On the meadow mowing, swarthy men now toil,
Nature's wealth upthrowing, from a grateful soil:
Larks are sweetly singing, with a joyous thrill,
Nature's music flinging out o'er dale and hill.

Where the clear stream dances, by its bud gemm'd side,
Rippling on entrances, beauteous as a bride:
Wee birds in the bushes, warble wild notes throng;
And each tuft of rushes hides some queen of song.

Oh! for days so sunny, spent in rich green fields;
Where wild bees sip honey, sweets that Flora yields;
Where the sun-worn cattle seek the shady trees;
And the green leaves rattle with the Summer's breeze.

Here is life and gladness, beauty and repose;
Nor a trace of sadness, sylvan scenes disclose;
Light and love and pleasure meet each joy-lit eye;
Naught to mar the treasure, nor to raise a sigh.


    Our present examples conclude with an Acrostic, on William Billington, dated "Fall River, Mass., U.S.A., July, 1880"; and, in view of its subject, it is interesting to note that the first of the Acrostics in "Sheen and Shade" ("To a Young Poet") is addressed to George Salisbury.  In that earlier Acrostic, Billington describes Salisbury's genius as "bright, strong, profound, and fertile," and strongly urges him to yield oftener "to the promptings of the tuneful Nine."  That he failed to do so is most probably due to the fact that, while he had a high opinion of his friend's poetic powers, he under-rated his own.—


ACROSTIC ON THE BLACKBURN POET


When Poesy beheld this humble place
In darkness shrouded, wrapt in mental night,
Leaving the tuneful spheres, she turned her face,
Lovely with smiles, to make that darkness light:
Impatiently she listened, but no bard
Ambitious of her honours, worshipped long—
Made music live in words, or genial-star'd

Breathed forth a flood of soul-inspiring song:
In sorrow at the thought she turned away,
Leaving the scene with unclaimed wreath in hand;
Lo! sweetly on her ear there breathed a lay,
In language pure, in thought how great and grand!
No more doth she, though numbers softly sue,
Gainsay the prize to this the favoured one;
Touched with his strain, she deeming it was due
On him the wreath bestowed,—on Billington!
None worthy deemed save he, the Muses' self-taught son.


    Though we have but a remnant of Salisbury's poetic work, his many and varied labours, in other literary fields, lend interest and value to the following brief account of his career:—

    George Salisbury was born at Blackburn on July 10th, 1832; and he came of a family which is said to have been settled in the town since 1706.  He was a son of Edward Salisbury and Mary (formerly Emmett) his wife.  George's uncle, John Salisbury, was the "Tummas Carter" who formerly contributed very humorous dialect sketches (in the form of letters) to the "Blackburn Times"; while a maternal uncle, Alexander Emmett, was one of the first officials of the Blackburn Philanthropic Burial Society. [The "Tummas Carter" sketches were, it appears, not written by Geo. Salisbury's Uncle John, but by his Cousin John, son of William Salisbury.]

    "I went to work in the factory,"—wrote George Salisbury in a delightful autobiographical note,—"ere I had got much advantage from the school, and married early enough to lose some of my hair before most boys have begun to raise a moustache."  After leaving the factory he spent some time, as an auctioneer, in the service of another of his uncles, Mr. William Salisbury, founder of the firm of William Salisbury and Hamer; and during that period wrote many letters, to the Blackburn, Preston, Bury, and other newspapers, on matters of public interest.  These were written over various pen-names: including "John Smith," "Fan Smith," "Cottonicus," "Jeremiah Jinks," and "Betsy Jinks."  Under the last-named nom-de-plume he wrote humorous letters and "Occasional Notes" for the "Blackburn Times."  To the "Preston Herald," in 1862, he contributed a series of articles on the "Blackburn Bards" of that day.  From the second of those articles are taken a couple of the poems given in our chapter on Richard Dugdale, while very useful information has been gathered from several other articles in the same series.  Dugdale and Salisbury were warm friends, and the latter's surviving son bears the name of Alfred Dugdale Salisbury.  George Salisbury went to the United States of America in 1874; and in 1876 he was contributing an "American Letter" to the "Preston Herald."  In the latter year he was on the staff of the "Border City Herald," at Fall River, Massachusetts; and was delighted with his work, as appears from the following extract from a letter to his brother-in-law, the late Mr. William Harwood, of Blackburn:


    "I like my work immensely, and am just in my glory.  I have got into that groove I have been trying for all my life.  I believe a newspaper life is the one I was meant for; and I mean to stick to it.  Don't have any fears for our future.  We shall get along as sweetly as a cat in a pantry, and shall come out right end up."


    He afterwards became Editor—and; in or about 1878, also Proprietor—of the "Fall River Advance."  This paper he sold, owing to failing health, at the end of 1888; but he subsequently recovered his strength sufficiently to enable him to take up an important position on the staff of the "Philadelphia Times."  Of that journal, in "its matter, its typography, its advertisements, and its paper," he was very proud: expressing the opinion that there was "not in the whole of Great Britain such a beautifully clean, bright, and readable sheet."  He remained with the "Times" up to a short time before his death, which took place on May 12th, 1897.  As a poet,—partly through his lack of ambition, and partly through the accident mentioned at the outset,—we have disposed of him in a very brief notice.  But as a humorist, his printed sketches happily surviving, we could devote a book to him alone; and a most diverting volume it would be.

______________________________

 
-XVIII-

William Alexander Abram.

 

This distinguished local writer,—so well known for his admirable literary labours as librarian, journalist, and historian,—was born on the 18th of January, 1835, and died on May 2nd, 1894.  He was a son of the late Rev. Robert Abram, a Congregational Minister, and Mary Abram, formerly Faulkner; and was born at Lydiate, near Ormskirk, where his father was then stationed.  Subsequently the Rev. Robert Abram became minister at the Congregational Church of Tockholes; and this fact would, I suppose, account for his son's first connection with Blackburn.  Unfortunately, the reverend gentleman died while his son, the future historian of Blackburn, was little more than a boy; and this sad circumstance is touchingly alluded to in the following interesting and beautiful poem:—
 


CHRISTMAS RETROSPECTIONS.

(W
RITTEN IN LONDON ON CHRISTMAS EVE, 1858.)


    Closed are the shutters and the door,
        To bar the tumult of the town;
    No longer in my books I pore,
        But in the ingle sit me down;
    Till, peering in the ruddy glow,
        Of burning coal the bars between,
    The calcined embers seem to grow
        To shapes of what myself hath been;
And Memory her lonely lamp doth burn
To celebrate, Old Christmas, thy return.

    And first I see a Child, who stands
        Out in the night, beside his Sire,
    While overhead the heaven expands
        And brightens like a kindling pyre.
    The father tells of Christmas skies
        Whence came the song of seraphim:
    The Child in stars beholds their eyes,
        And listens for their heavenly hymn.
With what pure radiance childhood's torch did burn
To greet thee, Christmas, on thy glad return.

    The vision grows into a Boy,
        Who swiftly o'er a snow-track treads,
    With momently-augmenting joy
        As from his sight the school recedes.
    Home gleams upon his eager thought,
        With all its feasts and faces fond,
    And all the untold marvels wrought,
        Great Christmas! by thy wondrous wand;
And brilliantly doth boyhood's beacon burn
To hail the freedom born of thy return.

    The shadows change: A Stripling pale
        Is wandering on a wintry moor,
    Telling the storm a tearful tale
        "Forsaken, fatherless, and poor."
    The snow lies deep upon a tomb—
        The dead is wrapp'd in heaven's own shroud;
    But on the living, troubles loom,
        And cares upon the future crowd;
Yet, Christmas, though the orphan's heart 's an urn
Filled with cold ashes, kind is thy return.

    'Tis past,—That heart no more is bow'd
        Beneath unmitigated ills,
    For Love's sun-tinted, stormless cloud
        The firmament of being fills.
    Three weary seasons came and went;
        And, Christmas, thou again art there,
    And by thy form, age-worn and bent,
        Immortal Hope stands, fresh and fair,
Who, on Love's altar, fragrantly doth burn
Incense, sweet saint, to thy benign return.

    And
NOW—I sit within the surge
        Of a vast city, yet alone;
    No friendly foot upon the verge
        Of Christmas standeth near me none.
    And so, the tedium to beguile
        Of vigil-hours that move so slow,
    I o'er a joy departed smile,
        And "weep afresh a cancelled woe."
Yet in my chamber shall one taper burn
To light thee, Christmas, on thy dear return.


    Mr. Edmund W. Abram, in the excellent Memoir prefixed to his father's last book, "Blackburn Characters of a Past Generation," wrote as follows:—"In his Young Manhood I come upon verses of distinction and definiteness of expression, suggestive of skill rather than of inspiration; the polish rather than the poetic spontaneity of phrase."  This seemed to me, when I first read it, to be a very just and accurate description; and I do not think that Mr. W. A. Abram, except perhaps in his youth or early manhood, ever ranked himself as a poet in the strict sense of the word.  Indeed, we are told, in the Memoir from which I have just quoted, that Mr. Abram "forsook verse in his maturer years, and came to take his own poetry with a smile, as many men do."

    Notwithstanding all this, there is something very charming about the verses quoted above,—something heartier than skill and polish alone could ever accomplish; and, similarly, there is much more than merely local interest in this early piece, entitled—


EVENING ON BILLINGE.


Where Billinge, forest-clad and brown,
The giant sentinel of the town,
Lifteth his brawny shape in air,
Like Vulcan rising from his lair,—
While the sun drops adown the sky,—
We stand—Evangeline and I.

Below, half into shadow glid,
The tranquil town, intrenched amid
Its amphitheatre of hills,
Outspreadeth with its hundred mills
Whose western windows, all ablaze,
Flash back the level sunset rays.

The Kine are lowing in the lathes;
The meadows ribbed with new-mown swathes;
The brown moths in the twilight flit;
The cuckoo in the grove doth sit;

The throstle whistleth in the brake,
And harshly cries the skulking crake;
The startled rabbit leaps the burn,
And darts through fretted aisles of fern;
The woodcock in the thicket whirrs;
The fire-steed through the valley skirrs,
Its long-drawn rack of fleecy steam
Tinged by the fiery furnace-gleam.

We mark the glories of the land,
From the blue moorlands to the strand
Where Ribble's gleaming estuary
Blends with the occidental sea,
Which, whilst the ruddy day-god dips
Therein in watery eclipse,
Seems like a belt of burnished gold—
A golden fillet, to enfold
The tawny temples of the shore;
Thence, stretching smoothly as a floor,
The nestling farmsteads of the Fylde;
And landward, in huge masses piled,
The titan outlines of the fells,
Whereon the sunlight lingering dwells
When it hath left the lowlands dim;
As Love's last impulse turns to him
On whom its earliest fervours poured—
The faithful soul it first adored.

But swift the dubious twilight wanes,
And Night his ancient sway regains;
In drowsy rest the beasts lie prone;
The birds cease warbling one by one,
Till not a sound terrestrial jars
With the deep silence of the stars.
And standing there, till every sense
Waxeth ineffably intense—
While a swift surge of rapture rolls
Over our sublimated souls—
We hear the oracular voice of Night,—
Of whose unmeasured halls of light
The stars we see are but the porch,—
Saying—Ev'n as a single torch
Ignites the watchfires of a camp;
Or as, lit by a hidden lamp,
A thousand brilliants burn and blaze,
Each darting forth in myriad rays
The luminous atom it absorbs;—
So all these multitudinous orbs,
That tread the heavens in splendour shod,
Are kindled by the smile of God.


Blackburn, Midsummer, 1862.


    Our two next examples are both very meritorious: especially so, in view of the fact that the first was written when Mr. Abram was under 22 years of age; and the second less than a year later:—


HOPE.


Celestial Messenger! what graces twine
Around thy form! what majesty divine
Follows thy footsteps, as with silent tread
Thou walk'st the world—thy generous hands outspread
To banish care, to soften human woes,
And still the troubled waters to repose!
Who would not woo thee to his weary breast,
And make thee there eternally a guest?
What sorrow-pressed, despairing soul would spurn
In sullen scornfulness, thy glad return!
A world hath worshipped at thy shrine sublime,
Through every cycle of revolving time!

E'en when thy sister-spirits sad depart,
Leaving to bitter memories the blighted heart;—
When Charity—crushed by the greed for gold
And sordid selfishness—grows chill and cold;
And Faith hangs tottering o'er the deep abyss
Of strange, unfathomable mysteries;
E'en then thou lingerest still amid the wreck
Of poor humanity, like some small speck
Of island, mantled by the seething waves,
Against whose rocks the tempest vainly raves!

What is the world without thee?   Dank and drear
As Pandemonium's caves; or some dark sphere
O'er whose black mass—shrouded in ceaseless shade—
No ray of light benignant ever played;
A spreading sepulchre, athwart whose gloom,
Myriads of startling spectres ever loom,
And float, with forms intangible and features ghast,
Through the dread present, and the dreamy past!
.            .            .            .            .            .            .            .
But when thou smilest on this desert earth,
What joys, what glories sparkle into birth!
Swift at thy potent beck the spectres fly
From the glad soul's horizon, and the sky
Of life glows in the gorgeous, golden sheen
Of happiness and love; the sward is green
With lovelier verdure and the woodland rings,
With sweeter warblings; for thy presence flings
Its own soft radiance o'er each flower and tree,
And breathes around seraphic melody!

Thou art a flashing gem, whose lustrous glow
Kindles a smile on Fate's unbending brow;
A chain electric,—linking this frail clod
Of human earth to worlds by angels trod;
And charged with powers mysterious, which impel
Our being thither with resistless spell;—
An anchor—whose stern arms securely clasp
Life's wave-engulphed foundations in their grasp;—
A pilot-with strong hand and eagle eye,
Guiding the soul through shoals of destiny;—
A star—that gleams the darkest clouds between,
Luring the spirit to a brighter scene;—
A compass-needle—pointing, 'mid the roll
Of storm-tossed ocean, steady to the pole!


Witton, October 14th, 1856.

 


INVOCATION TO SPRING.


Oh! we know thou art near us, Spirit of Spring!
                In the morning's calm
                We breathe in the balm
Wafted adown by thy slow-beating wing.
                And at twilight dim
                Hear faintly the hymn
Of joy that thy heralding messengers sing.

Delay not thy footsteps, but hie thee here,
                That this sober, sad earth
                May break into mirth.
That the unsmitten heart of this stripling year
                May to fervency rise,
                As he lists to thy sighs,
And melt into tenderness at thy tear.

Earlier each morning the Sun doth unbar
                The Orient gates;
                And nightly he waits,
'Till o'er his throne glitters the Evening Star
                That, by fortunate chance,
                His sweeping swift glance
May 'light on thy on-coming form afar.

And we, human children of earth, day by day
                Grow weary, more weary,
                Of gaunt Winter so dreary,
And wish we could scare the grey wizard away.
                And we look for thy face
                In the sky, and the trace
Of thy light fairy feet on the sward as we stray.

"Come!" the buds shoot and say, and the birds dart
        and sing;
                The ice-fetter breaketh;
                Life everywhere waketh;
Dormant forces are lifting in each living thing;
                For at morn, noon, and gloaming,
                All feel thou art coming,
And leap up to meet thee, glad Spirit of Spring!


    Between Mr. W. A. Abram as a "Spring Poet " and the same gentleman as Editor of the "Blackburn Times," relentlessly consigning to the waste-paper basket the effusions of other "Spring Poets" (including the present writer)—there is indeed a startling contrast.  But just as he came in time to "take his own poetry with a smile," so have I and many another rhymester come at last to regard his seeming cruelty as the truest kindness.  Another contrast,—scarcely less striking than the one just indicated,—is to be found in the contemplation of the learned Historian of Blackburn in the character of a Dialect Poet.  Only once, however, did he don the homely garb which Waugh and Brierley wore so frequently; and that was at the time of the Cotton Panic, when he wrote and published the following deeply pathetic stanzas :—


TH' BEDDIN'S GOOAN.


Eh! Robbut! th' lan'lord's bin to-day,
    Whol tha wor deawn at th' class;
He sed 'twor herd to mek fooak pay,
    Bud he mut hev his brass,
An' aw mut awthur pay or flit,
    An' which wor t' wost o' t' tooan?
Aw'd nowt to pay him, nod a bit,
    So neaw then th' beddin's gooan!

Eawr factory ludge wi' icet is thick,
    An' th' moors are white wi' snow;
Eh! winter's comin' varra quick,
    An' help comes nobbud slow;
Th' east woind to-neet blows fearful cowd,
    Id gus through every booan;
Heaw mun we live neaw th' bedstock's sowd,
    An' even th' beddin's gooan?

Si th' childer cruddled back o' th' cheer!
    Aw've lapt 'um i' mi skirt,
Id's th' only one aw hev to weor,
    Bud id welly brooak mi hert,
When aw feld 'at every bonny limb
    Wor cowder nor a stooan,
An' aw set an' croid till mi e'en wor dim,
    O'er th' beddin' hevin' gooan.

I' a' mi want, aw'm preawd to say
    Aw've never troubled th' teawn;
Though aw've gooan i' nowt for mony a day
    Bud this owd gingum geawn;
Aw'd loike a fresh un, if id leets,
    Or aw'll bi content wi' nooan;
Bud aw shudder at thowt o' t' winter neets
    Neaw t' bit o' t' beddin's gooan.

Aw'm stricken wi' mi owd cumplaint,
    An' mony a weary heawr,—
Feightin' for breoth till sick an' faint,—
    I' this cowd heawse aw ceawr;
Aw'm seure thi koind hert's sooarly wrung
    To hear ma gasp an' grooan,
Bud aw s' nod bi here to tew tha lung,
    Neaw t' bit o' t' beddin's gooan.


    What a sad picture—and alas! what a true one—of many a humble home during that terrible time!  Happily, however, such bitter trials come but seldom; and it is often to these same lowly dwellings that the Heavenly Father sends in all its fulness the divine gift of which our poet sings in this noble—


PSALM OF LOVE.


There is a Love that lasts through all—
    Through doubts, through dangers, through
            delays,
Through every fate that may befall,
    Through dreary and disastrous days.

There is a Love that sweetens all—
    Gives bliss to grief, and balm to pain,
Transmutes to nectar bitterest gall,
    And makes us reckon loss a gain.

There is a Love that gildeth all—
    (A prismal bow in every cloud)—
It makes the hut a stately hall.
The meanest fare a festival,
    The humblest life an epic proud.

There is a Love that strengthens all—
    Bids purpose plan, and patience plod;
Rears faith and hope to stature tall,
And shapes the soul of courage small
    Into a daring demigod.

There is a Love that conquers all
    The perils that its path oppose:
It smites, and shatters to its fall,
Obstruction's adamantine wall,
    And braves its battlement of foes.

There is a Love that outlives all—
    Draws melody from life's mute lyres;
Blooms when time's splendours pale or pall;
Twines round the grave its magic thrall,
    And burns thereon its vestal fires.


    If Mr. Abram could inspire courage,—and this "Psalm of Love" proves that he could,—our next-quoted stanzas show that, stern as he might sometimes appear, he could also administer true consolation.  They are taken from a piece entitled—


THE POETRY OF DEATH.


    Have ye not felt an influence rapt and holy
        The couch of some expiring friend enwreath,
    While films crept o'er his fading eye, and slowly
        The pulse kept pace with the unequal breath?
        Have ye not heard, those solemn eaves beneath,
    Entrancing sounds, and wondrous whisperings,
        As though, around the spectral shape of Death,
    Celestial Muses flapp'd their silvery wings,
And sang a poem of all spiritual things?

    Oh! life hath lessons for observant eyes;
        And poesy hath from creation caught
    Its sweetest airs, its noblest symphonies;
        But neither life nor nature utters aught
        So magical, so mystical, so fraught
    With boundless meanings, imagery grand,
        'Whelming emotion, elevating thought,—
    As the low breathings of those seers who stand
Upon the borders of that lonesome spirit-land.
.            .            .            .            .            .            .            .
    Oh, Death! they paint thee as a sprite of evil,
        Whose sole delight is to destroy our race:
    Man's natural foe, born in that hour primeval
        When demon hands God's image did deface;
        But in thy birth a keener thought can trace
    The deep compassion of the Deity,
        Whose infinite perception did embrace
    With what fell weight the curse on life would lie,
And in His mercy said to Adam—"Thou shalt die!"

    Thou liftest man from off the gory rack
        Of mortal anguish; thou deliverest slaves;
    Thou tear'st the tatters from the beggar's back;
        Thou freest the noble from a world of knaves;
        And thy just hand indelibly engraves
    Man's true worth an the page of destiny;
        Wrong from thy hands his victims vainly craves;
    Power cannot baulk thine equable decree;
Pain, want, and sorrow find their only friend in thee.


    The first of our two concluding examples is an extract only; while the second was the last poem Mr. Abram ever wrote.  After Christmas, 1869,—though he survived that date by almost a quarter of a century, his lyre was silent.  But he remained to the last an ardent lover of true poetry, whether national or local; and, had he still been with us, he would have been greatly interested in our present collection of poems: of which so many passed through his hands in his Editorial capacity:—


ITALY.


Where many a snowy Alpine summit gleams
    In the soft azure of a cloudless sky;
While the swift waters of unnumbered streams
    Now flash, now glide, their beetling bases by:—
Where, gilding scenes of rarest beauty, shines,
    In undimmed majesty, the King of Day;
Or stoops to greet the blushing Appenines
    With glowing kisses, as he fleets away;—
Where silvery Tiber rolls its glassy tide
    Through the Eternal City; and the light
Of Luna lingers where, in queenly pride,
    Como sits decked with stolen gems of Night;—
Where glorious Florence, from her sunny walls,
    Looks out on Tuscany's luxuriant lea;
And Venice spreads her bright palatial halls
    O'er the blue bosom of fair Adrian's sea;—
There lies a classic clime, her name is—Italy!

Ah! 'tis a land of thrilling memories!
    When, lit by History's lamp, the spirit steals
Through Time's dim corridors, strange forms arise,
    And the hoar past its mystic tale reveals.
There Cicero swayed the proud, patrician throng,
    Till the vast senate shook beneath his ire;
There Virgil breathed his soft, symphonious song,
    And happy Horace strung his heavenly lyre;
There Genius, with unfettered pinion, soared
    Far up the regions of immortal thought;
There skilful sages nature's mine explored,
    And from its depths their inspirations brought;
There Cæsar reared his enginry of war;
    And thence his human avalanches hurled
Against the trembling nations-fast and far—
    Till the broad wave of Roman victory curled
Its crimson crested billows o'er a conquered world!



CHRISTMAS, 1869.


Thou goest, fateful Year!—the passing-bell
    Thou oft hast rung for Mortals, tolls for thee.
Gone, thou returnest never;—but 'tis well;
    We wish no more thine obdurate face to see
Unless thou canst our quenched delights restore—
    Still Hearts; and buried Faces, and fled Souls!—
The vanished lives we bitterly deplore.
    How Time's huge wheel sweeps on! and as it rolls
Grinds all to dust:—no creature low or high
    But that reduceth quick to common clod;
And crumbling Matter seems to choke the cry
    Of the lorn Spirit gasping for its God!
Harsh Year! thou leavest us bereft of Friends,
    And wilt thou leave us quite bereft of Hope?
Hast thou no message that can make amends?
    No word of Life's significance, and scope?
Then, since thou snatch'dst our Loves, but wilt not tell
Their doom—depart!—and hear our cold farewell!

But see!—athwart the blank and dreary gloom
    Of thy last hours, a gladdening vision breaks!
Those frowning features fade, and in their room
    Brightens a Form divine, whose presence makes
A glory in the earth and in the heaven!
    A Christ, in guise of infant newly born,
Cometh, and swift the fetters of death are riven,
    And blotted out that image of mute scorn!
Oh! welcome, Thou that breaks fate's mystic seal,
    The insufferable silence ends, and solves
The pregnant secret Time could not reveal!
    Hail!   Thou, at whose first word, evolves
Knowledge from mystery, and life from death!
    To thy safe hands our dead ones we consign;
Believing thee, once more draw hopeful breath;
    And following thee, inspire thy peace benign.
So, tranquilly we turn Time's tear-blurr'd page,
And on life's journey move another stage.

______________________________

 
-XIX-

Alexander Balloch Grosart.

(AUTHOR OF "SONGS OF THE DAY AND NIGHT.")


If, 'mid the world's rude shock and strife,
    Thou hast no sense of things divine,
No longing for the holier life,—
    Oh, what a priceless loss is thine!

J. C. PRINCE.

 

These lines, by a true poet who dwelt in Blackburn many years ago, are placed at the head of this chapter for the benefit of any reader, who, seeing from the title that we are about to deal with a volume of hymns and devotional poems,—may feel tempted to turn away from this notice of a most valuable book by a most worthy writer.

    "Songs of the Day and Night,'' a volume of over 500 pages, is best known as "Three Centuries of Hymns," the latter being an abbreviation of its sub-title, and appearing, with the author's surname and the date (1890), as the only inscription on the cover.

    As the date indicates, the work was printed and published while its author was still at St. George's, Blackburn; and his "Select List" of subscribers included—in addition to many local names—those of her late Majesty Queen Victoria, Cardinal Newman, and many of the most distinguished divines and authors of the day.

    In addition to the hymns, the book contains "The Life Story of Jesus Christ,—a Cantata" and other sacred poems.

    Following the title-page is a poem called "My Heart; a Reminiscence of St. Augustine."  Then comes a loving and grateful dedication of the book to the author's wife and four sons; and this, in its turn, is succeeded by the separately printed and beautiful poem entitled:—


AN ALLEGORY OF THE GOD-PROTECTED
CHILD OF GOD.


Once on a time in an ancient close
    Of a grey Norman town;
Where through a whole week scarce any one goes,
    Save priest with shaven crown;
I saw a hawk dash at a cagèd bird
    Whilst it warbled sweetly;
Songster and loving mistress were scar'd
    But the hawk baulked completely;
For the cage was hung and softly swung
    Within a window wide;
That crystal wall of protection flung
    Round the songster inside;
The bird of prey in defeated rage
    Dash'd again and again;
But vain the warfare it sought to wage;
    It but struck the window-pane:
Bruis'd and bleeding, and with shatter'd wing
    At length it flew away;
And there the canary you hear sing
    In that old close to-day.

Is not all this sweet A
LLEGORY
    Of our own Christian life?
Vain the assaults of the Adversary,
    As vain his vengeful strife;
He dreams that the lowly child of God
    Unguarded before him lies;
He dashes on him with smiting rod;
    But to meet a strange surprise;
For a crystal wall unseen, yet strong,
    Circleth God's humblest child;
Faith's eye beholds it, with trustful song;
    And the enemy is foil'd:
Praise to our God, and confession low
    If pulse of fear be started;
For stronger than he who aims the blow
    Is Jesus the loving-hearted:
And the dear Lord grant that you and I
    Be never put to shame;
But unfearing stand as beneath His eye,
    And strong in His G
REAT NAME.


    I have chosen the above because it seems to be a Poem for Reading rather than a Hymn far Singing; and consequently better suited than most of the latter for inclusion in a chapter of this kind.

    There are, however, some hymns in the book, which,—notwithstanding their author's frequent use of the refrain in his verses,—will bear reading quite as well as singing; and amongst them I think we may include:—


THE GLORY OF GOD IN CREATION.


M
ORN unfolding gates of gold;
Chariot of the Day forth-rolled;
        Declares the glory of God.
And the N
OON-DAY splendour blazing—
Our aw'd eyes now upward gazing—
        Declares the glory of God.

E
VE as tranquilly she closes,
Sprinkling the great West with roses;
        Declares the glory of God.
The starry grandeurs of the N
IGHT,
Filling Heaven's infinite;
        Declare the glory of God.

The great S
EA in its far-booming,
Thro' the fierce dark tempest looming;
        Declares the glory of God.
And no less the inviolate sand
Held there by Divine command;
        Declares the glory of God.

The broad-bas'd M
OUNTAIN of all lands
That like the "great White Throne" up stands;
        Declares the glory of God.
S
TREAM and LAKE, in light and shadow,
By rocks, by cornfields, and green meadow;
        Declare the glory of God.

W
OODS 'clap hands' with jubilant voice
And, as many-ton'd, they rejoice;
        Declare the glory of God.
S
PRING'S rath freshness and SUMMER'S glow;
A
UTUMN'S red leaves and WINTER'S snow;
        Declare the glory of God.

B
IRDS of the air; FLOWERS of the field;
All smallest things that tribute yield—
        Declare the glory of God.
All, from the lowest to the highest,
From remotest unto nighest;
        Declare the glory of God.

And thou, O M
AN, dost thou refrain
To swell the still-ascending strain
        Declares the glory of God?
Redeem'd by Him, Who for thee died,
Be not thy grateful song denied;
        Declare the glory of God.


    Among other pieces, to which still higher praise might be awarded, is the noble hymn, entitled, "The Cup of Consolation," which commences:—


"Thou gavest me the 'Cup of Consolation,'
 When I was left in utter desolation;
 Alone, upon the gaunt peak of Despair
 I stood; but not alone, for Thou wast there."


    In his preface the author stated that he did not over value mere "smoothness"; and further on in his book one comes across ample evidence of the fact.  The critical reader will also meet with many illustrations of the well-known truth that a hymn may be both sincere and fervent without being a poem at all.  But when all has been said that literary justice demands, the fact remains that the book contains many real treasures, not only of religious, but also of poetic value.

    The three following stanzas are taken from a Hymn which was composed on the sands at South Shore, Blackpool, while watching a magnificent sunset, and which is entitled:—


SUNSET LONGINGS.


When I gaze on the setting sun,
The evening clouds in splendor spun,
A glory of crimson and of gold
Like curtains of God's tent of old,
I seem to catch a glimpse of Heaven,
Such as to seer of Patmos given;
And there comes a stirring in my breast
To fly away and be at rest.

If these mortal skies be so fair.
That but the outer hangings are;
If all these golden stars of light
Are candles of our earthly night;
What must "the many mansions" be,
Domed by vast Eternity!
There comes a stirring in my breast
To fly away and be at rest.

One by one Earth's ties are broken;
Of my own end the foretoken;
One by one to our Home Above
Pass up those of our deepest love;
Life grows poorer; Heaven richer;
Lord, Thou art my tender Teacher!
There comes a stirring in my breast
To fly away and be at rest.


    Among those pieces which most decidedly are true poems as well as hymns, is the one entitled "The Everlasting Arms Underneath," which opens with the beautiful stanza:—


The child, that to its mother clings,
    Lies not all safely on her breast,
Till she her arm around it flings,
    Sweetly caressing and caressed:
Ev'n so, my God, Thy mighty arms,
Not my poor Faith, shield me from harms.


"Crushed out of the text of the 'Three Centuries,'" (as the author expressed it), and placed among the 'Notes and Illustrations' at the close of the volume, is this exquisite little poem:—


THE FIRST CRADLE OF THE FIRST-BORN.

1.—

Safe-defended from all harms
Lo!   The babe in mother's arms!
By God's own great hands there laid,
L
IVING CRADLE by God made;
O how sweet the innocent rest
Taken in that fragrant nest.

2.—

Came to us 'mid hush of fears—
Gladness sprinkled o'er with tears;
Life imperill'd by life giv'n,
But o'erwatchèd of Kind Heav'n;
Lord!   Thou didst Thy Word fulfil,
Working tenderly Thy will.

3.—

Lo! upon that blissful morn
Thou bestowedst our F
IRST-BORN;
Husband, wife, all to each other;
Ah! but now 'tis father, mother;
Making holy sacrament,
By which two lives are blent.

4.—

O deep mystery of being,
Far beyond our human seeing;
God's gift of a little child,
Laid on bosom undefiled;
Heavenly and earthly meet,—
Than the meeting nought more sweet.

5.—

Soft Love's kiss: 'tis almost holy—
As with stooped knee, and lowly,
Our two hearts op'd pent up flood,
Whisp'ring of our gratitude;
Gazing still upon
OUR child,
With a gravity that smil'd.

 

Safe-defended from all harms
Lo! the babe in mother's arms!
By God's own great hands there laid,
L
IVING CRADLE by God made;
O how sweet the innocent rest
Taken in that fragrant nest.


    To me, however, the sweetest song contained in Dr. Grosart's volume is the one entitled:—


THE TEAR-DIMMED LAMP.

"There shall be . . . boys and girls playing about
  the streets. "—ZECHARIAH vii, 5.

1.—

I HAD a dream that wafted me far up to the CITY OF GOLD:
Before me walls of jasper flashed and a crystal river rolled:
And O most real dream it was!   For all I saw, as plain
As when I look on the landscape green, thro' my trellis'd window pane.

2.—

Most glorious was this heav'nly sight, most wondrous was the throng;
Lo! myriads on myriads walked the shining streets along;
I yearning, gazed, until there came a sweet soft mist of tears,—
But not of sorrow, for the scene still'd all my anxious fears:

3.—

Lo! lo! I saw in one radiant square, marching in song-led tramp,
Ten thousand bright young children, each holding a slender lamp.
O fair were their sweet faces!   O winsome was the sight!
O wondrous was the vision from the holy Land of Light!

4.—

Far, far on gleam'd the twinkling line, and I gazed upon each one;
At length, with start of wonder, I beheld my own dear son:
Amaz'd, heart-bruis'd, I looked and looked—his lamp seemed going out;
I cried a cry of anguish keen—of agonizing doubt:

5.—

"O Willie dear, my own lov'd child! oh, tell me what means this!
Each lamp but yours burns brilliantly.   O are not you in bliss?"
He met my eye, he heard my cry, he named me by my name:
"O mother! how can my lamp shine, since your tears dim its flame?"

6.—

Then I awoke, but ne'er again for my lost boy to weep:
I praised the Lord, Who thus lit up with joy my weary sleep:
'Twas but a dream of the night, I knew; yet blessing it brought to me,
For thoughts of the tear-dimmed lamp keep my heart from murmuring free.

7.—

O mothers all, I tell you my dream, to reach out a helping hand,
As wistful, childless, desolate, in your great grief ye stand:
Ev'n now look up to the C
ITY OF GOLD, and in the line of light,
By faith see there your dear ones playing, nor dim their lamps so bright.


    Dr. Grosart (his son informs me) was born at Stirling, N.B., June 18th, 1835.  He was ordained at Kinross in 1856, and came to Blackburn in 1868.  He left Blackburn, owing to ill health, in 1892, and died in Dublin on March 16th, 1899.

    This is not the place for any selections from Dr. Grosart's many prose works,—original and edited; but no notice of his verse would be complete without at least a passing reference to his arduous labours in aid of the preservation and elucidation of the poetic work of others: such as his editions of the poems (with memoirs) of Michael Bruce, Robert Fergusson, George Herbert, George and Samuel Daniel, Sir Robert Chester, Edmund Spenser, the poets included in the "Fuller Worthies" and "Chertsey Worthies" Libraries, and others.

______________________________

 
-XX-

Ralph Ditchfield.

 

One afternoon in either 1882 or 1883 the present writer was seated with William Billington in the kitchen at "Poets' Corner,'' when a wild-eyed, forlorn-looking man, apparently between forty and fifty years of age, suddenly appeared in the doorway, and as quickly offered to retreat when he saw, with evident disappointment, that Billington was not alone.

    Some remark that the visitor made, during the minute or two that he stood there in the doorway, led to an inquiry, made as soon as he had gone, as to whether he too was a poet.

    In reply, Billington said, "Well, he has written two or three things in that line, but nothing at all remarkable.  His name is Ralph Ditchfield."

    This was not calculated to give one a very exalted idea of the stranger's poetic powers; but, on the other hand, it did not prevent the subsequent formation, by the inquirer, of a much more favourable opinion of Ditchfield's verses, which, as the reader will see from the following examples, are full of truth and genuine feeling, however' humble they may be in rank, or simple and plain in diction.


MAY DAY SONG.


O bright is the day, all nature looks gay
        Arrayed in her vernal attire;
The lark on the wing doth merrily sing
A grateful melodious welcome to Spring,
        Aloft above turret and spire.

From hedgerow and bush. chant linnet and thrush,
        The wagtail skims over the furrow,
The merry brown hares that gambol in pairs
Ignore the existence of greyhounds and snares,
        And the rabbit has quitted his burrow.

Then let us enjoy as well as employ
        The time that so swiftly is flying,
Nor moodily mope though feeble our hope;
Let's enjoy all we can; there is plenty of scope
        Still left for lamenting and sighing.

The evils that loom through the gathering gloom
        May ride in another direction;
But, even when near, and the storm most severe—
The woes that now fill us with horror and fear
        Will soon be a dim recollection.

For time speeds along; nor sighing nor song
        Can even a moment detain it;
Life's duty is love to Jehovah above,
Extending abroad to all creatures that move;
        Let selfishness never profane it.


    In dealing with the dialect pieces I have not felt at liberty to change the author's spelling, though it does not always accord with that which is generally used by dialect writers in this part of Lancashire.  For instance, in the poem which immediately follows this paragraph the dialect word for "drowning" is spelt "drayanin"' instead of the customary "dreawnin'."  Similarly, in the piece entitled "Buried," we have "rayend " for "round;" "grayend" for "ground;" "hayet " and "mayet " (usually "eyt" and "meyt") for "eat" and "meat;" and other peculiarities which, at first sight, seem very strange to the eye.


FOLK KNOWS THEIR OWN 'KNOW' T' BEST.


It's reet enough to give advice
    To thoose as axes for 't,
Or thoose wots drayanin',—otherwise
    It does no good, but hort.
Gratis advice, however kind
    Breeds mony a scornful jest,
For iv yo' knew yo'd oftish find,
    Folk knows their own 'know' t' best.

Bud iv some folk gets on a bit,
    They think they mon be wise,
An' they should be considered fit
    To blame folk an' advise;
Wod cheek they hen, wod fau't they'll find
    Because they're better drest;
But sich should olez bear i' mind
    Folk knows their own 'know' t' best.

Some folk are herdly ever weel,
    An' hesn'd a hert to strive;
But they'n no pity heaw they feel
    While ever they're alive:
An' some are blamed for stinginess
    As seems bi fortin' blest,
As hes to pinch, iv they'd confess—
    Folk knows their own 'know' t' best.

Folk shouldn't be so apt to blame,
    Nor others' fau'ts reveal,
For they mut just have acted th' same,
    Or happen nod as weel.
Folk welly olez judges wrang
    When there's no gradely test;
Keepin' yo'rsel' reet, nowt'll bang—
    Folk knows their own 'know' t' best.


    As a paraphrase of a true and well-known Lancashire saying, the foregoing would be bad to beat.  It is true to life from the first line to the last; and the same may be said of the following six stanzas, which, except for the fact that they are in rhyme, might have been uttered word for word by a broken-hearted mother:—


BURIED.


Aw diden'd expect him to dee,
    Aw thowt he wur sure to come rayend;
But that wer wod heden'd to be,
    An' neaw he's i' th' cowd silent grayend.

Aw oft thowt he'd hed quite enough
    When he axt me for summat to hayet;
Id motend be th' reet sooart o' stuff;
    Or may be he wanted moor mayet.

Or happen moor air—aw dorn'd know—
    He seldom went hayet o' mi seet,
For fear he'd be run o'er or fo,
    Or ged his things drabel't i' th' weet.

Aw think aw s' neer hev no mooar pleasure!
    Aw slap't him for cryin' one day;
Aw worn'd fit to hev sitch a treasure,
    An' soa he's bin teken away.

Poor Bobby!   That's his little cheer;
    There's t' merks as he med wi' his feet,
Aw corn'd do to look at id theer,
    Aw'll tek id upstairs hayet o' t' seet.

But this'll nod do—aw mun bake;
    Eawr John 'll be wantin' his tay,
An' there's nothin' i' th' hayese but a cake—
    Aw done nowt but keep cryin' o day.


    So far our examples of Ditchfield's work have all been copied from the Blackburn newspapers; but I was unable to find any print of his quaint dialect poem, "Bosco' Fowd."  I have, however, obtained the following copy of it from my friend Mr. John Rawcliffe, who has reached Blackburn, from America, just in time to render this and other valuable services to the present work:—


BOSCO' FOWD.


Id were a dismal Winter's neet,
For t' moon an' stars were eawt o' t' seet
An' id were gradely rough an' weet,
        An' varra cowd,
As Dick stood stampin' wi' his feet
        I' Bosco' Fowd.

But Dick were waitin' for his Nell,
An' dudn'd mind a cowdish spell,—
As yo've bin, if yo' would but tell,
        When yo' were young,—
Aw know aw use' to starve misel,
        But nod so long.

But soon there were a seawnd o' clogs
Somewheer among t' cowd-watter mugs,
But Dick were sharp enough i' t' lugs
        To howd his noyse;
For he'd ha' faced a scoor o' dogs
        Afoor Owd Joyce:

For hoo hed chased him mony a time,—
He once geet welly smoored i' lime,—
Id mut ha' bin a ter'ble crime
        To like their Nell!
Hoo sed hor dowter owt to climb,
        An' wed some "swell."

An' Dick were bod a weyver lad;
But thad worn'd o as med her mad,—
His parents—whether good or bad—
        An' hor wornd thick;
An' hoo'd ha' med a bandygad
        O' t' brush wi' Dick.

But time can awlus mek things square,
An' Dick soon heeard wod med him stare,—
For Joyce—as awlus seemed so square—
        Said, wi' a grin,—
"Yo'll ged yo'r deeath i' t' cowd neet air,
        Will yo' come in!"

Hoo says, "Id seems tha will be wi' her,
Aw corn'd tell heaw tha geds to see her,
Aw wish to goodness as tha'd tee her
        Fast reawnd thi neck!
Dorn'd keep her stannin', starvin' theer,—
        Hoo's pies to mek!"

Dick bowt a table, id appears;
Some mugs, a kettle, an' some cheears;
An' though i' t' spite o' deawts an' fears
        O seemed to fit,
Yet there were some'at vast like tears
        When hoo'd to flit.

A sofa coom, too, in id kale,
A clock he leet on at a sale,
An' other things as aw should fail
        To bring i' rhyme;
An' id would be to' long a tale,—
        I hevn'd time!

Neaw they'n bin wed this many a bit;
He keeps a shop, an' hes a tit;
An' torns eawt when it's hardly fit
        To go to wark:
He's nod a likely chap to flit
        At after dark.

If Dick hed stopped at hooam thad neet
Because id were so rough an' weet,
He'd nod ha' getten wod he geet,—
        Hoo mut ha' secked him!—
He knew as they'd agreed to meet,
        An' hoo'd expect him.

An' if Owd Joyce hed hed her way,
Hoo mut ha' rued afoor to-day;
For chaps as is so fine an' gay,
        Nod one i' ten
Is fit for owt but just to play
        At bein' men!


    Very different from any of the preceding pieces is the following lively song; brisk enough for a music-hall ditty, yet truthful and wise enough to live an incomparably longer life:—


TAKE IT COOL.


Wisdom whispers in all ages
                                                  Take it cool.
Like philosophers and sages
                                                  Take it cool.
Though it may be hard to bear it,
Scorn is oft the fee of merit,
But a wise man curbs his spirit,
                                                  Take it cool.

If your neighbours fawn and flatter,
                                                  Take it cool.
If they sneer, 'tis no great matter,
                                                  Take it cool.
Never get exasperated,
Nor yet overmuch elated,
Or you seem so addlepated:
                                                  Take it cool.

If you fancy you are clever,
                                                  Take it cool.
Show it often, tell it never;
                                                  Take it cool.
When you do a noble action
It will give you satisfaction;
Silence on the whole transaction;
                                                  Take it cool.

If you chance to make a blunder,
                                                  Take it cool.
Do not make it out a wonder,
                                                  Take it cool.
Never seem to care a button,
Stuff your ears with wool or cotton,
It will sooner be forgotten;
                                                  Take it cool.

If you are the sport of Cupid,
                                                  Take it cool.
That needs not to make you stupid;
                                                  Take it cool.
Harm not the mischievous urchin,
But mark well your plans and fortune—
That's the mood to go to church in;
                                                  Take it cool.

When in Hope's enchanting meadow,
                                                  Take it cool.
In grim Danger's awful shadow,
                                                  Take it cool.
Ponder well each situation,
Free from all exaggeration
Hear once more my exhortation,
                                                  Take it cool.


    I have been unable to discover with certainty what became of Ralph Ditchfield after he left Blackburn.  One person tells me he thinks he returned to Burscough,—probably his native place; another fears he was found drowned in a pit on Preston New-road, near the "Halfpenny Bridge."  Supposing the latter account to be correct,—though let us hope it is not so,—how sadly prophetic of the author's own fate would be this closing poem:—


POOR OLD TOM THAT IS DEAD.


No muffled bell in mournful tone
    Sobbed that a soul had fled;
His kindred heard not his dying groan,
For almost friendless and unknown
    Was poor Old Tom that is dead.

Once hopes, as bright as the morning sun,
    Their radiant halo shed;
And blissful dreams of laurels won,
Through noble actions, nobly done,
    Had poor old Tom that is dead.

But life to him was a ceaseless strife—
    One weary fight for bread;
With troubles and misfortunes rife,
For fraught with woe was the chequer'd life
    Of poor Old Tom that is dead.

Then far from the haunts of his youth he lay,
    Alone on a dying bed;
The friends of his boyhood were far away,
And few were the strangers who cared to stay
    With poor Old Tom that is dead.

Alone he died, no straining ear
    Caught the last word he said.
No keen expectant group was near,
No child to drop affection's tear
    O'er poor Old Tom that is dead.

Let Pampered Pride forbear to sneer,
    Let no light word be said;
Ye frivolous! the dead revere,
For lies a fellow-creature here—
    Though poor Old Tom that is dead.

For the rich and great whose power and fame
    Over the world are spread;
Despite their wealth—their rank or name—
Must one day die and kindred claim
    With poor Old Tom that is dead.


    Mr. John Pickup writes that he remembers Ditchfield reading "Poor Old Tom" at Wm. Billington's house one night in or about 1882, and explaining that "Tom" was a man who had been found dead in the wood, just at the Preston side of the "Halfpenny Bridge."  Mr. Pickup afterwards heard that Ditchfield (who was sometimes described as "the Longton Poet") had gone to reside at or near Longton.  Still later, learning from the "Northern Daily Telegraph" that one Ralph Ditchfield had been found drowned in a pit at Burscough, Mr. Pickup concluded that this must be the poet, who had thus met with the same fate as "Poor Old Tom" himself.—Ditchfield, adds Mr. Pickup, "was a tailor; and when he came to Blackburn he was on a circuit, doing a bit here and a bit there."

______________________________

 
-XXI-

Richard Rawcliffe.

 

The subject of the present Chapter was born at Ribchester on November 19th, 1839, and his first residence in Blackburn commenced in August, 1858,—his nineteenth year. He returned to Ribchester in 1864, and remained there until almost the end of 1865, when he removed to Blackburn a second time, and continued to reside in' the town until 1886. On September 1st in the last-named year he sailed for Australia, where he died on the 11th December.

    He had been taught hand-loom weaving at Ribchester, in his boyhood; but became a power-loom weaver during his first residence in Blackburn.  He was afterwards an overlooker, first at Ribchester and then at Blackburn; and was at one time President of the Blackburn Overlookers' Association.  His death was due to consumption, to combat which his voyage to Australia had been undertaken.

    The above facts are gleaned from the most interesting "Introductory and Biographical Note"—by the late Mr. John Walker, another Blackburn poet,—prefixed to the little volume, published locally in 1891, containing poems by Richard Rawcliffe and his surviving brother John.  This neat little volume, of 100 pages, contains portraits of both Richard and John Rawcliffe; Richard's share of the volume, however, only running to just over 27 pages out of the 100.

    Glancing over these 27 pages, I cannot help sharing the late Mr. Walker's regret, expressed in the Note just referred to, that Richard Rawcliffe's poems are so few in number; and I am sure the same regret will be felt by every sympathetic reader of the pieces selected for insertion in this chapter.  The first piece in the volume is the favourite poem,—deserving of much more than its present local fame,—entitled:—


IDYLS BY THE HEARTH.


Another weary day had fled,—
The fire was burning low and red;
'Twas late, my Ruth and babes in bed
        Were soundly sleeping.
Outside the door the wintry rain,
Came tapping at the window pane;
When calmly, softly, to my brain
        Sweet thoughts came creeping.

The mouser watched beside the hole;
The cinders one by one did fall,
And darkly on the kitchen wall
        Were shadows flitting;
And many an old familiar face,
Among the cinders I did trace,
While I, in my accustomed place,
        In thought was sitting.

Now ope the gate of vision swings!
Gay Fancy lendeth Past her wings,
Who bringeth me delightful things,
        From boyhood's hours;
And lureth me to sylvan dells,
With music sweet as distant bells,
Where round me groweth pimpernels,
        Sweet scarlet flowers.

Every flower in beauty bloometh—
Roses, woodbine, everywhere—
Shed a fragrance that perfumeth
        All the air!
And the sun in beauty flingeth
Jewels on the violet's bed;
And the lark its matin singeth
        Overhead.

Blushingly the clover glanceth
Upwards, saying, "Canst thou love me,
Beauteous butterfly that danceth
        Up above me?"
Then the butterfly alighteth,
At these love words spoke in bliss,
And the clover he requiteth
        With a kiss!
Then he flyeth on and smileth
Like a reckless wanton rover,
And the other flowers beguileth
        Like the clover.

"Sing, oh sing to me, thou poet!"
Thus a rose to me did say,
"And the brooklet shall requite thee
With a tuneful roundelay,"
        And thus I sung
        While o'er me hung
The wild red rose that Summer's day:—

"Oh, thou art a beauteous flower,
        The fairest in the grove,
Or ever graced the bower
        Where I am wont to rove;
And in the emerald bushes,
Where sweetly sing the thrushes,
Thou hang'st thy head and blushes,
        Sweet flower of love!"

Then the rose exhaled a perfume
        To requite me for my song,
And the brooklet help'd to cheer me,
        Singing as it went along;
But as I 'mong the daisies sat,
    Entranced with the applause
Of the humming bee, the butterfly,
        The brooklet, and the rose,
I suddenly awoke and found,
    Alas, the vision fled!
And my Ruth, forsooth, there standing
    With the candle o'er my head,
Most earnestly imploring me
    To betake myself to bed!


     The numerous admirers of Richard Rawcliffe's poems will be pleased to recover these early stanzas, which through an oversight, were not inserted in "Pebbles fro' Ribbleside."—


HEROES.


Let poets sing of battles fought,
    Exalting high the warrior's name,—
Of men, with reeking swords, who wrote
    Their names upon the page of fame—
Men who have braved the cannon's roar,
    And put to flight true freedom's foes,
And then, on a far distant shore,
    Have fallen in their country's cause.

Such deeds deserve the patriot's praise,
    They nobly win a hero's name,
And, like the sun's meridian rays,
    Our love and admiration claim;
And yet 'tis not the warrior's deeds
    That form alone the theme of song,
Although he for his country bleeds,
    "Defending right, avenging wrong."

The miners in yon dismal dell;
    The sowers of the golden corn;
The smith, who forged yon silvery bell
    That wakes from sleep the drowsy morn;
The hardy pioneers, who fought
    With pen and tongue 'gainst demon wrong,
Who slavery sold and freedom bought;
    Such glorious deeds inspire my song.

The man who glories in the right:—
    In honest tail 'neath virtue's wing;
He struggles hard from morn till night,
    And calmly bears affliction's sting
To get the needful things of life,
    And nobly thus he battles through
The falls and bruises of the strife;
    Methinks that man's a hero too.


Blackburn, March 11th, 1863.


    Here is a song which should sound sweet in the ear of every lover of poetry; but it is only to those who have experienced the loss of a faithful spouse that its deepest pathos will come home:—


THE BIRDS ARE SINGING.


The birds are singing in the woods;
    The primrose from its bed is creeping;
Adown the wold the crocus buds;
    Around our house the ivy's creeping;
The cowslips bloom upon the lea,
Yet I am sad bereft of thee.

'Tis not the singing birds or flowers
    Afford this heart of mine relief;
The music from the woodland bowers
    Comes but to add unto my grief;
The lapwing moans unceasingly,
Or loudly chants thy obsequy.

O, would I were a little flower,
    A wild wood-rose, a light bluebell,
That I could smile amid the shower,
    No cheerless heart, no grief to tell;
And I would bloom and flourish free
Without a sense to feel for thee.

Our little boy of five years old,
    With rosy cheeks and azure eyes,
To me his simple tale he told,
    Of happiness beyond the skies;
He told me God had taken thee
To make a home for him and me.

The birds are singing in the woods,
    The primrose from its bed is peeping;
Adown the wold the crocus buds;
    Around our house the ivy's creeping;
The cowslips bloom upon the lea,
Yet I am sad bereft of thee.


    Out of the eighteen poems that fill Richard Rawcliffe's portion of "Pebbles fro' Ribbleside," only three are in dialect, namely, "Owd Blackin' Bill" a tender and musical ballad that would have done credit to Edwin Waugh himself, "Cherley Shepsterd," a capital character-sketch in verse, and the following delightful—


ODE TO TH' CANARY.


Good lad, thee, Dick, thy pratty wings
Vibrate wi' joy whene'er tha sings;
Tha's bin a rare good bird to me,
Aw think it's time aw sung for thee.

Hung up bi th' window in a cage,
Tha does thi best, although thi wage
Tha geds, is watter and sum seed,
An' neaw an' then, sum garden weed.

If aw could mek tha understand,
Aw'd soon explain to thee heaw grand
Id is to keawr me in this cheer,
An' listen to thi songs up theer!

Sumtimes tha'rt singin' when aw'm sad,
As if tha meant to mek mo mad;
Neaw Dick, aw think its owt but reight
To sing when t' childer's pinched for meyt.

Poor, humble, an contented bird,
Aw often think thi lot is hard;
Thi heawse looks varra slim an' poor,
An' there's no number an thi door.

Jack joiner med id, an' he said
"Tha stood th' godfeyther for eawr Ned"—
It's bud a tooathri booards cut thin,
An' wired a reawnd to keep tha in.

Iv theaw could think an' talk thisel',
Tha'd hev some grievances to, tell—
Some strong accusements would ta find,
No deawt—if tha could speak thi mind.

One neet, aw know, when aw looked up
At thi feawntain, ther wer nowt to sup;
An' theer tha keawr'd just like a meawse,
An' nod a bit o' seed i' th' heawse.

Tha never geds i' sad disgrace,
Like theawsands do a' th' human race;
An' clumsy mortals, sich as me,
Mut mony a lesson learn fro' thee.

Sing on, then, Dick!   Thy song o' glee
Hes scooars o' times delighted me;
Aw'll keep thi drawer weel filled wi' seed,
An gie tha bits o' garden weed.


    Though Richard Rawcliffe wrote nothing of a very ambitious kind,—no long narrative or epic poem,—his work is more likely to survive than that of many an aspiring writer who has worn his heart out in trying, as a great poet has expressed it, "to clutch the trick and fantasy of fame."  His brief, but charming, lyrics came straight from a true poet's heart, and in their sweetness and simplicity they are worthy to be ranked with the choicest lyrics of far more widely known writers.  What could be more beautiful of its kind than the following—


MAY SONG.


              The storm is hushed to-day;
              Sleeping in the lap of May;
And yet there's strife and tumult in the town,
              Then come, oh! come away,
              Enjoy the charms of May,
For the robin to the woodland wilds hath flown!

              Let's go at early morn,
              Where the tender blades of corn,
Rejoicing in their soil congenial seem,
              And hear the merry thrush
              Sing above the verdant bush,
A song, inspired by morning's golden beam.

              O, come along with me
              Where the zephyrs, moving free,
Steal the fragrance from the hawthorn as it blooms.
              Let's go among the fields,
              While Nature smiles and yields
Fairest landscapes that are breathing rich perfumes.

              See the cowslips in their pride
              Moving down the meadow-side,
And the primrose of its parent sun's own hue.
              Lo! the lark is on the wing,
              Blissful chorister of spring,
Soaring upward with its bosom wet with dew!

              The storm is hushed to-day,
              In the downy lap of May,
Alas! there's strife and tumult in the town.
              Then come, oh! come away,
              Enjoy the charming May,
For the robin to the woodland wilds hath flown!


May, 1865.


    But it is time to conclude; and I cannot do so more fittingly than by giving here what are probably the last lines poor Richard ever wrote; for they are dated November, 1886, and were found between the leaves of a book in Australia after his death:—


TO MY YOUNGEST SON.


Dear Richard, how I long to hear
Thy voice in this fair hemisphere,
And long to look once more on thee!
Thy presence here I feel would be
To me a source of pure delight,
To guide thy conduct day or night;
And, in this distant clime, a ray
To cheer me thro' my life's dull way.

This sunny land would yield thee flowers
And fruits; and all thy youthful hours,
My unsophisticated boy,
Would pass in bliss without alloy.
But ah! 'tis but an idle dream—
The orchards and the gardens teem
With fruits and flowers, but then the sea
Too far divides us; constantly
I see the waves lash into foam,—
Hear old familiar words from home,
With voices and unwilling sighs
'Tis then that tears spring to my eyes—
'Tis but a dream!   But come what may,
Improve thy mind, dear boy, each day,
And let thy every action shine
Among the good, while youth is thine;
Then, wheresoever I may be,
I still, as now, will cling to thee.
What matters it how far I roam,
My heart, dear boy, 's with thee and home!

______________________________

 
-XXII-

John Daly.


This writer is said to have emigrated to America many years ago; but before crossing the Atlantic he lived for a number of years in Blackburn; some of his poems being dated from 118, Lower Audley Street.  He is mentioned in Billington's "Where are the Blackburn Poets Gone?" and also, in complimentary terms, in one of the articles contributed by the same writer (under the nom-de-plume of "Jonathan") to the "Blackburn Standard" in 1883.  That Billington's compliments were not undeserved, the following graceful stanzas, I think, amply prove:—


EARLY MEMORIES.


Gazing on scenes of boyhood, I am dreaming
    Of retrospective days and pleasures spent;
When Katie's sable eyes on me were beaming,
    As last upon yon rural stile we leant.

When confidence and love illumed their splendour,
    Gave a celestial sparkle to their glow,
And brighter made the hawthorn blossoms tender,
    That shed a perfume from their cups of snow.

How bright the golden pyramids and arches
    Of passing clouds, that shed their lustre gay
On stately oaks, tall firs, and fringy larches
    Bearing their spiral heights in green array!

In dreams I see the bower, there love to linger,
    Where oft—when Flora's voice was on the breeze—
Was borne the cadence of some woodland singer,
    Chanting the day's farewell from shades of ease.

'Twas there we parted, where the ripples ever
    Glide by, as speed all mortal joys away;
'Twas there I pressed thy hand, dear maid, to sever
    From thee, the theme of dreams too bright to stay.

Since then the ocean waves have rolled between us,
    And other strands and shades have met my gaze,
But none so fair as those which once did screen us—
    Those sweetly linked with those of early days.

Oft as my barque the crested wave divided,
    That rolled the boundless depths of ocean o'er,
Methought of early gems in which I prided,
    And the dear haunts and friendships known of yore.

Though years had swept away each ardent pleasure,
    E'en then, they still could wake a pleasing dream,
Recall from other days a cherished treasure
    Whose radiant eyes glow with their wonted beam.


    In Richard Rawcliffe's portion of "Pebbles fro' Ribbleside" there is a little poem headed "In Blackburn Park.—To Flora."  This was occasioned by a visit paid to the Park by himself and a brother-poet,—another "factory bard"; and was, if I am not mistaken, an extempore piece.  I am not sure that Daly was Rawcliffe's companion on that occasion; but I am inclined to think he was.  Anyhow, it is certain that Daly alludes to the incident in these melodious lines:—


THE VOICE OF FLORA.

(I
N BLACKBURN PARK.)


Here in the dell as flowers of May were blowing,
    Spending their incense on the sporting breeze,
And rippling rivulet, close by, was flowing
    In silvery tinklings 'neath o'ershadowing trees,
I stood, list'ning to wild bird's song, that sweetly
    Borne on the breeze, stole on the enraptured ear—
When, lo! a Bard who struck the lyre so featly
    Appeared, and meekly sang his ditty near.

The verdant dell with music then resounded,
    But soon the minstrel's music died away,
The last sweet trembling note his lyre had sounded,
    Entrancing me beneath its magic sway.
Oh! for the skill and fire thou hast to render
    In flowing verse the themes that oft I see
When evening wraps in sleep the daisy tender,
    And Luna sheds her mellowed beams o'er me!

'Tis then that loit'ring lovers, careless, wander
    Around the place where still I hold my throne;
Then Passion's glowing eyes shine out the fonder
    When none intrude upon the lovers lone.
The harp that cheered me with its notes of gladness
    Bring thou, and sing of scenes by thee held dear;
Come when the "Peggy-White-Throat" free from sadness
    Pipes out his roundelay for all to hear.



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