"A poet sought the golden prize
For Wife and Child, till, out of breath,
He gained it—when the Coins, in death,
Were laid upon his sightless eyes!
In winning bread for Child and Wife,
His death was ten times worth his life."
Old Custom Still Extant.'
Minor Poets and
Radicalism in the Victorian Literary Canon.
Associate Professor, Department of English,
California State University, U.S.A.
Victorian Age has long been better known for its novels than for its
In 1861, George L. Craik observed that "in the Georgian Era, verse was in
the ascendant; in the Victorian era the supremacy has passed to prose."*
Indeed, prose continues to reign supreme in the scholarly field of
Victorian literature and on many Victorian literature syllabi at the
University level. This state of affairs is not surprising
considering that such major poets as Tennyson and Arnold repeatedly
expressed concerns that the lyric voice of poetry seemed ill-suited for an
audience shaped by the forces of industrialism, capitalism, and democratic
Such characterizations are, however, misleading and have effectively
silenced the powerful voices of a host of minor radical and working-class
poets. Gerald Massey, Thomas Hood, Thomas Cooper and their peers
made significant contributions to the social, political, and literary
movements of the nineteenth-century. The reader of their poems can
see that poetry was a force with which to be reckoned and served many
functions. It was printed on banners at political rallies, sung in
lieu of hymns at secularist ceremonies, and recognized as a powerful
weapon in the fight against the establishment. Although these poems
often spoke on behalf of the oppressed as a group, they also served as
vehicles for personal creativity and self-expression and as points of
entry into a burgeoning national literary culture. Read alongside
canonical works with which they are in dialogue, these poems have the
capacity to open up the canon and pose new questions about the nature and
function of the Victorian poetry. For example, Gerald Massey's "The
Cry of the Unemployed" resonates with Tennyson's "Mariana" and serves as both
tribute to and critique of Tennyson's lyric expression of depression and
There is no question that the inclusion of minor poets such as Massey
enriches the Victorian syllabus. However, the fact that most of these
poems are out-of-print has made it difficult for students to access a
representative and extensive selection of texts. Fortunately, students of
the literature of this period will have—as this website extends to
encompass the work of further minor poets—a growing opportunity to see for
themselves that the Victorian period was, indeed, an Age of Poetry.
I. Cope, “An Early Analysis of ‘The Victorian Age in Literature,” Modern
Language Notes 71:1 (1956) 16.
unfamiliar with Gerald Massey's poetry might find that John Churton Collins' 'The
Poetry of Mr. Gerald Massey' and 'Gerald
Massey: Poet, Prophet and Mystic' by B. O. Flower each provide a useful introduction.
In the following poems Massey sometimes employs words that have since
fallen out of use, "archaic" to use the dictionary
description. This is particularly so in the early volumes of his verse. For example, weet,
meaning 'to know or have knowledge of', crops up occasionally, as in Yet
she weeteth not I love her (A Lover's
Fancy). Readers might find Webster's
Online Dictionary (1828 edition) helpful for explaining such
INDEX TO POEMS.
Collected from various sources.
LYRICS OF LOVE !
T. GERALD MASSEY.
J. WATSON, QUEEN'S HEAD PASSAGE, PATERNOSTER ROW.
AND ALL BOOKSELLERS.
POEMS AND BALLADS
BALLAD OF BABE CHRISTABEL.
FROM THE THIRD LONDON EDITION,
Several New Poems Never Before Published.
J. C. DERBY,
119 NASSAU STREET
DAVID BOGUE, 86, FLEET STREET.
DAVID BOGUE, 86, FLEET STREET
A CENTENARY SONG,
AND OTHER LYRICS.
BY GERALD MASSEY.
W. KENT AND CO. (LATE D. BOGUE), 86, FLEET STREET.
EDINBURGH : ANDREW ELLIOT, PRINCES STREET.
PRINTED BY WILLIAM NICHOLS,
32, LONDON WALL.
TRÜBNER & CO., PATERNOSTER ROW,
(Price Twopence each; 7/6 per 100 ; 30/- per 1000.)
J. BURNS, 15, SOUTHAMPTON ROW, W.C.
Old and New
PAUL, TRENCH & CO.
SERIES SECOND SERIES
Old and New
FIRST SERIES WITH ADDITIONS
WATTS AND CO.
TO EARLIER EDITIONS