Gerald Massey's early poems: 1847-51

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MASSEY'S EARLY POEMS.



"The overall importance of socio-political and religious reform verse in the first half of the 19th century, particularly when written by artisans, is only recently being considered.  Radical newspapers and periodicals provided the largest circulation for this material, with many provincial papers publishing verse which had political protest or land reform as their theme.  Massey's considerable output during four years of active involvement with Republicanism and the Christian Socialists' Co-operative ventures, played an essential role in the dissemination of radicalism to the working class.  Critics of poetry have denounced such verse as 'shouts' without taking into consideration the readership for whom it was intended or the importance of its social function."

David Shaw, from his biography of GERALD MASSEY.



Gerald Massey's best known — and arguably his best — poetry is that which he wrote at the start of his "lyrical life" for publication in radical newspapers of the late 1840s and early 1850s.  He wrote much poetry thereafter, but nothing that approaches the drama of his early exhortatory fiery protests, verse that provides us with a window onto the aspirations of the working-classes in an age when their daily struggle for survival was quite literally that.  But as William Lovett, Thomas Cooper, Ernest Jones, J. J. Bezer and, in an earlier era, Samuel Bamford together with many others found to their cost, mounting any meaningful protest was fraught with grave risk — the prison cell and the transportation ship beckoned.  To those who read them (or to whom they were read), Massey's radical poems, such as Hope On! Hope Ever!; Yet We Are Brothers Still; Up And Be Stirring; We'll Win Our Freedom Yet!; The Famine-Smitten; Song Of The Red Republican; and his notable The Cry Of The Unemployed, while doing nothing to fill empty bellies, gave hope …


There be stern days a-coming—
    The dark days of reckoning!
The clouds are uplooming—
    The long-nurs'd storms wak'ning!
On heaven blood shall call
    Earthquake with pent thunder;
And shackle and thrall
    Shall be riven asunder!
It will come! it shall come!
    Impede it what may:—
Up, People! and welcome
    Your glorious day!

From … The Famine-Smitten.


Not everyone agreed that the publication of such revolutionary sentiments served a useful purpose.  One literary critic, who unlike Massey probably had barely a nodding acquaintance with the working-classes, in reviewing The Battle Day and Other Poems by Ernest Jones considered it preferable to make one's political point—as had Jones—by languishing in a prison cell rather than "raving like a madman". . . .
 

"We were never more struck by contrast than when a comparison suggested itself with Gerald Massey's first volume.  How startling is the difference between the man who does and he who talks of doing.  The young Republican poet tells us (and we fancy him foaming at the mouth as he does so) that "We'll win our freedom yet".  He declaims most furiously against tyrants in general, and does not simply "war", but howls, for liberty, and that, too, in tremendous tones.  But we have yet to learn that he has, by active personal exertion, done anything to swerve the ranks of the democratic party either at home and abroad.  Mr Jones, on the contrary, whose whole life, since he first attached himself to the cause of freedom, has been (with the exception of the two years languished in prison), of incessant exertion on behalf of the popular right, is content to let his actions speak for him, and, with a taste that does him an infinite amount of credit, avoids raving like a madman, choosing rather to strike the lyre as a master."

The Bucks Advertiser & Aylesbury News, 15 Dec., 1855.


Edwin Waugh, writing some years later about the appalling hardships suffered by the mill workers and their families during the "Cotton Famine", mentions Massey's Cry of the Unemployed being sung for bread in the streets of Lancashire at a time when none of the sentiments it expresses were in the least exaggerated . . . .


In "Sketches of Vagrant Life," which appeared in the supplement of the Manchester Courier, in 1881, the author says:—


"Perhaps the best street-singer ever I heard was during the Lancashire cotton famine in 1862.  The singer was a young man, with a capital tenor voice, who always appeared in the streets alone, and sang to an air I have never since been able to procure or to recognise, that grand poem of Gerald Massey's, "The Cry of the Unemployed," of which the following verse often brought tears to the eyes of those who heard him sing it:—


Gold! art thou not a blessèd thing?—a charm above all other,
To shut up hearts to Nature's cry, when brother pleads with brother?
Hast thou a music sweeter than the voice of loving kindness?
No! curse thee! thou'rt a mist 'twixt God and man in outer blindness.
"Father! come back!" my children cry.   Their voices, once so sweet,
Now quiver lance-like in my bleeding heart!   I cannot meet
The looks that make the brain go mad, from dear ones asking bread.
God of the wretched, hear my prayer! I would that I were dead!


The man who sang these noble lines in the streets of Lancashire towns in the winter of 1862 was no ordinary street-singer. His whole appearance, whether studied or natural, accorded so well with the words he sang that crowds used to gather round him, and the money given him,—for he never asked or went round with the hat,—was considerable.  It was generally believed that he had set the words to his own music; whether this was so or not there could not have been a more beautiful finale than the way in which he sang last line of each verse."

 Waugh, Lancashire Sketches, Vol II. — WAILS OF THE WORKLESS POOR


    Although Chartism, that great socio-political movement to which Massey gave his support during his early years and which spawned his radical verse, withered and died during the 1850s, its aims had become too deeply rooted in the British psyche to be forgotten, to the extent that the "People's Charter" continues to affect our lives today …
 

". . . . how many of the greatest movements in history began in failure, and how often has a later generation reaped with little effort abundant crops from fields which refused to yield fruit to their first cultivators? . . . . in the long run Chartism by no means failed . . . . the principles of the Charter have gradually become parts of the British constitution . . . . its restricted platform of political reform, though denounced as revolutionary at the time, was afterwards substantially adopted by the British State . . . . before all the Chartist leaders had passed away, most of the famous Six Points became the law of the land . . . . the Chartists have substantially won their case.  England has become a democracy, as the Chartists wished, and the domination of the middle class . . . .  is at least as much a matter of ancient history as the power of the landed aristocracy."

Chartism's place in history . . . Hovell "The Chartist Movement."


――――♦――――



    Massey christened his first published poetry collection, "Original Poems and Chansons".  Although no copy is known to survive, a review published in the Bucks Advertiser and Aylesbury News on 8th May, 1847, tells us something about it.  The book's publisher was Garlick (untraced in local trade directories of the time), it contained 72 pages and was offered for sale in Massey's home town of Tring in Hertfordshire; another source records that 250 copies were printed and sold at one shilling each.  It is not known if Massey had a publisher or, as the newspaper article seems to suggest, it was published by subscription.  The newspaper's reviewer quotes extracts from the "Battle of Ferozepore" and two other poems, each of which is lost.  Nothing else is known of Massey's first published poetry collection.

    While researching local newspapers of the period, historian Wendy Austin, besides uncovering the review of "Original Poems and Chansons" referred to, discovered that during 1847 and for a number of years thereafter, Massey's poems were published occasionally in the Bucks Advertiser, being variously attributed to A TRING PEASANT BOY;  T. MASSEY, a peasant;  T. MASSEY;  T. G. MASSEY; and later, to GERALD MASSEY.  It is also known that Massey published poetry in various radical newspapers and periodicals with which he was associated during this period, sometimes using the pen names BANDIERA or ARMAND CARREL—a prudent precaution at a time when it was unwise to associate oneself too closely with dissenting political views, particularly within the pages of an unstamped newspaper.  Thus, although no copy of "Original Poems and Chansons" has survived, the following poems taken from the Bucks Advertiser and from radical publications of this period serve to illustrate Massey's developing style prior to his earliest surviving published collection, "Voices of Freedom and Lyrics of Love" (1851).

    The following are listed in chronological order within the journals from which they were taken.  Massey often revised his poems between publication, sometimes quite substantially, as is illustrated, for example, by comparing the first edition of his popular "There's No Dearth Of Kindness" (November, 1849) with editions published in 1850, 1851, and his final thoughts on the subject in 1889.


――――♦――――

 

Poem

Publication

Date

AT EVENTIDE THERE SHALL BE LIGHT

BUCKS ADVERTISER and
AYLESBURY NEWS

6 -FEB-1847

STANZAS TO AMY

ditto

13-FEB-1847

ODE TO A VERY LOVELY LITTLE CHILD

ditto

27-FEB-1847

SPRING IS COMING

ditto

27-MAR-1847

HOPE ON! HOPE EVER!

ditto

25-DEC-1847

YET WE ARE BROTHERS STILL

ditto

15-JAN-1848

I LOVE ENGLAND

ditto

22-JAN-1848

NOW OR NEVER

ditto

29-JAN-1848

UP AND BE STIRRING

ditto

6-MAY-1848

THIS WORLD IF FULL OF BEAUTY

ditto

27-MAY-1848

TRADITION AND PROGRESS

ditto

12-AUG-1848

SWEET SPIRIT OF MY LOVE

ditto

19-AUG-1848

THINGS WILL GO BETTER YET!

ditto

4-NOV-1848

TO THOSE WHO MEET SORROW HALF-WAY

ditto

2-JUN-1849

REMINISCENCES OF CHILDHOOD

ditto

23-JUN-1849

TRUTH, LOVE AND BEAUTY

ditto

11-AUG-1849

STANZAS TO A BELOVED ONE

ditto

25-AUG-1849

THERE'S NO DEARTH OF KINDNESS

ditto

3-NOV-1849

WE'LL WIN OUR FREEDOM YET!

ditto

30-NOV-1850

TODAY AND TOMORROW

ditto

25-DEC-1852

ONE OF GOD'S TREASURES FOR THE POOR

ditto

1-OCT-1864

TWAS CHRISTMAS EVE

COOPER'S JOURNAL

12-JAN-1850

A CALL TO THE PEOPLE

ditto

26-JAN-1850

THE THREE VOICES

ditto

2-FEB-1850

THE CRY OF THE UNEMPLOYED

ditto

16-FEB-1850

THE KINGLIEST CROWN

ditto

23-FEB-1850

A LAY OF LOVE

ditto

2-MAR-1850

THIS WORLD IS FULL OF BEAUTY

ditto

6-APR-1850

SONG (No Jewelled Beauty Is My Love)

ditto

20-APR-1850

PRESS ON! PRESS ON!

ditto

27-APR-1850

THERE'S NO DEARTH OF KINDNESS

ditto

11-MAY-1850

THE FAMINE-SMITTEN

ditto

1-JUN-1850

SONG (Sweet Smile)

ditto

8-JUN-1850

SONG OF THE RED REPUBLICAN

ditto

15-JUN-1850

A NIGHT MUSING

ditto

22-JUN-1850

THE RED BANNER

THE RED REPUBLICAN

22-JUN-1850

A CALL TO THE PEOPLE

ditto

29-JUN-1850

LOVERS' FANCIES

ditto

6-JUL-1850

THE PEOPLE'S ADVENT

ditto

20-JUL-1850

A RED REPUBLICAN LYRIC

ditto

17-AUG-1850

LOVE

ditto

7-SEP-1850

OVERTOIL!

ditto

14-SEP-1850

THE LAST OF THE QUEENS AND THE KINGS

ditto

28-SEP-1850

ANATHEMA MARANATHA

ditto

19-OCT-1850

THEY ARE GONE

THE FRIEND OF THE PEOPLE

14-DEC-1850

OUR LAND

ditto

21-DEC-1850

THINGS WILL GO BETTER YET

ditto

18-JAN-1851

THE MEN OF "FORTY EIGHT"

ditto

25-JAN-1851

KINGS ARE BUT GIANTS BECAUSE WE KNEEL

ditto

8-MAR-1851

 



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