GERALD MASSEY

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"I have looked over Gerald Massey's Poems ― They seem to me zealous, candid, warlike, ― intended, as they surely are, to get up a strong feeling against the British aristocracy both in their social and governmental political capacity."

Walt Whitman, 1855.

_____________

"His revolutionary lyrics have done their work.  The least that can be said for them is, that they are among the very best inspired by those wild times when Feargus O'Connor, Thomas Cooper, James [Bronterre] O'Brien and Ernest Jones were in their glory.  Of their effect in awakening and, making all allowance for their intemperance and extravagance, in educating our infant democracy and those who were to mould it there can be no question."

From... The Poetry of Mr. Gerald Massey by John Churton Collins, 1905.

_____________

"No one ever understood the mythology and Ritual of Ancient Egypt so well as Gerald Massey since the time of the Ancient Philosophers of Egypt."

Albert Churchward—Preface to Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man.

_____________

Pleasantly the Chime that calls to
 
           Bridal-hall or Kirk;
But Hell might gloatingly pull for the peal
that
           wakes the babes to work!
"Come, little Children," the Mill-bell rings,
           and drowsily they run,
Little old Men and Women, and human
           worms who have spun
The life of Infancy into silk; and fed, Child,
           Mother, and Wife,
The factory's smoke of torment, with the
           fuel of human life.
O weird white face, and weary bones, and
           whether they hurry or crawl,
You know them by the factory-stamp, they
           wear it one and all.
The Factory-Fiend in a grim hush waits till
           all are in, and he grins
As he shuts the door on the fair, fair world
           without, and hell begins!


.
. . . life in Tring's Silk Mill, from Lady Laura

GERALD MASSEY
(1828 - 1907)
Poet, author, lecturer and Egyptologist.

19th Century view of Tring High Street.
Photograph: Wendy Austin collection.

Not by appointment do we meet delight
Or joy; they heed not our expectancy;
But round some corner of the streets of life
They of a sudden greet us with a smile.

Massey from....The Bridegroom of Beauty

Known in his home town (in Hertfordshire, England) as "Tring's Poet", this extraordinary man's enduring reputation rests more on his unparalleled ability to piece together historical connections between cultures than on his poetry, which dates mainly from the early part of his life.  It is impossible to categorise GERALD MASSEY comfortably under one heading, for at different times he succeeded as a . . . .


Chartist and journalist, writing in radical publications such as The Uxbridge Spirit of Freedom, The Red Republican and The Friend of the People (see also W. J. Linton, W. E. Adams and Karl Marx on 'Chartism'; 'What Chartism Is' and 'James Watson, a Memoire'). In 1886, Massey returned briefly to the hustings, publishing a set of satirical "Election Lyrics," which offered support to Gladstone and his ill-fated Bill to give home-rule to Ireland;

Poet, his poetry also being published widely in North America.  In much of his poetry—particularly his early verse—Massey protests about the lack of sorely-needed political and social reform (see the Poetry section);

Essayist and poetry critic for various Victorian periodicals—particularly on poetry for the Athenæum (see the Prose and Critical Reviews  sections);

Shakespearean researcher into the background to the Sonnets (Shakspeare and his Sonnets; The Secret Drama of Shakspeare's Sonnets);

Lecturer on a wide range of subjects.  During his early years,  Massey concentrated mainly on poets and literary personages, but later he lectured increasingly on mythology and the origin of religious beliefs, and on spiritualism, subjects that became absorbing interests and were—and continue—to damn him in the eyes of many;

Researcher into the influence of ancient Egyptian beliefs on the development of western myth, symbol, language and religion (Judaism and Christianity—see 'Nile Genesis'). Throughout his works, when examining racial mythology, Massey places particular emphasis on ancient Egyptian myths, maintaining that these developed as a necessary and fundamental central core of belief from the earliest times, and are the roots of modern cultural origins. He maintains that myths were founded on natural phenomena and remain the register of the earliest scientific observation and 'the mirror of prehistoric sociology.'


". . . . much of the Christian History was pre-extant as Egyptian Mythology.  I have to ask you to bear in mind that the facts, like other foundations, have been buried out of sight for thousands of years in a hieroglyphical language, that was never really read by Greek or Roman, and could not be read until the lost clue was discovered by Champollion, almost the other day! In this way the original sources of our Mytholatry and Christology remained as hidden as those of the Nile, until the century in which we live."

From Massey's lecture....
'The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ'


Few Christians realise that the Gospels contain many points of similarity with ancient Egyptian teachings; indeed, that they might even have been derived from much earlier ancient Egyptian religious ritual.  During the later years of his life — from about 1870 onwards — Massey became increasingly interested in the similarities that exist between ancient Egyptian mythology and the Gospel stories.  He studied the extensive Egyptian records housed in the British Museum, eventually teaching himself to decipher the hieroglyphics.   Following years of diligent research into the history of Egyptian civilisation and the origins of religion, Massey concluded that Christianity was neither original nor unique, but that the roots of much of the Judeo/Christian tradition lay in the prevailing Kamite (ancient Egyptian) culture of the region.  By demonstrating such links are plausible, Massey inevitably places a question mark against the strict historical veracity of the Gospels.  In the view of Dr. Alvin Boyd Kuhn (1880-1963), a scholar of comparative religion who was much influenced by Massey's research:


"We are faced with the inescapable realisation that if Jesus had been able to read the documents of old Egypt, he would have been amazed to find his own biography already substantially written some four or five thousand years previously."


    Massey published the results of his extensive research in his 6-volume "trilogy" on the origin of man, of civilization and of western religions—"I began my study in 1870, with the idea, which has grown stronger every year, that the human race originated in equatorial Africa."  (Massey derived an etymology from the Egyptian af-rui-ka, "to turn toward the opening of the Ka."  The Ka is the energetic double of every person and "opening of the Ka" refers to a womb or birthplace.  Africa would be, for the Egyptians, "the birthplace").

    But despite today's growing interest—the books are again available in facsimile reprint editions—at the time of their publication the trilogy failed in popularity due mainly to the contentious subject matter; however, it must also be said that some of Massey's theories are poorly defined and so supported with detail that readers found them difficult to understand.  Lacking any formal education — particularly with regard to the need to evaluate and record his sources — and the services of an editor, it is unsurprising that Massey's research attracted criticism, not just with regard to the controversial nature of his conclusions but due to a lack of clarity in how he reaches them.  To remedy these defects, Jon Lange has performed a substantial and valuable task in editing Massey's texts to produce scholarly editions of his trilogy, which are now available online: see Introduction and . . . .

The Book of the Beginnings, published 1881; here Massey challenges conventional opinions of race supremacy;

The  Natural Genesis, published in 1883; here Massey delves deeper into ancient Egypt's influence on modern myths, symbols, religions and languages.  By proclaiming Egypt to be the birthplace of modern civilisation, Massey challenges conventional theology as well as fundamental notions of race supremacy;

Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World, published shortly before his death in 1907, is by far Massey's most important work. In it, he concludes that Kamite thought was the direct progenitor of the philosophy, meta physics, religion and science that eventually shaped Western civilisation.  "It is a work which has occupied me over thirty years, and I shall be well content if in another century my ideas are acknowledged as correct".


―――♦―――


Although now largely overlooked, during the mid-Victorian era Massey was considered a significant poet, both in Britain, where he achieved the distinction of being awarded a civil list pension, and in North America, where he was published widely in both books and periodicals.

 

A happy island in a sea of green,
Smiling it lies beneath the changing sky,
Well pleased, and conscious that each

      
 wave and wind
Is tempered kindly or with blessing rich:
And all the quaint cloud-messengers that
        come
Voyaging the blue Heaven's summer sea,
Soft, shining, sumptuous, blown by
        languid
breath,
Touch tenderly, or drop with ripeness
        down.
Spring builds her leafy nest for birds and
        flowers,
And folds it round luxuriant as the Vine
When grapes are filled with wine of merry
        cheer:
The Summer burns her richest incense
        there,
Swinging the censers of her thousand
        flowers:
Brown Autumn comes o'er seas of glorious
        gold:
And there old Winter keeps some greenth
        of heart,
When on his head the snows of age are
        white.

from.... 'Craigcrook Castle'

 

It fell upon a merry May morn,
    I' the perfect prime of that sweet time
    When daisies whiten, woodbines

          
 climb,
The dear Babe Christabel was born . . .

The birds were darkling in the nest,
    Or bosomed in voluptuous trees:
    On beds of flowers the happy breeze
Had kissed its fill and sank to rest . . .

We sat and watched by life's dark stream,
    Our love-lamp blown about the night,
    With hearts that lived, as lived its

      
 light,
And died, as did its precious gleam . . .

She thought our good-night kiss was

      
 given,
    And like a flower her life did close.
    Angels uncurtained that repose,
And the next wakening dawned in

      
 Heaven . . .

from....Babe Christabel

 

No jewelled beauty is my love,
    Yet in her earnest face,
There's such a world of tenderness,
    She needs no other grace.
Her smiles, her voice, around my life
    In light and music twine;
And dear, O very dear to me
    Is this sweet Love of mine.

from....No Jewelled Beauty Is My Love

 

Come hither my brave Soldier boy, and sit
        you by my side,
To hear a tale, a fearful tale, a glorious
        tale
of pride;
How Havelock with his handful, all so
        faithful, and so few,
Held on in that far Indian land, to bear
        our
England through
Her pass of bloodiest peril, and her reddest
        sea
of wrath;
And strode like Paladins of old on their
        avenging path.

from....Havelock's March

    Massey's best poetry leans toward the tender side of nature—often painting a succession of beautiful, even extravagant vignettes—and to romantic scenes close to home.  Examples in this category are the ballad Babe Christabel, Massey's best-known long poem, in which he gently relates the birth, life and death of a young child; in The Singer, he pictures a skylark, singing softly and sweetly as it soars up into the heavens, but the ripe, drooping ears of corn below are deaf to its song; in My Love, Massey muses lovingly on his wife's perfections and imperfections, a poem that I suspect makes a candid statement of devotion for his first wife Rosina, whose imperfections gradually became legion but who he never abandoned.  There's No Dearth of Kindness, which takes as its theme brotherly love, is probably Massey's best-known short poem, its first four lines often appearing in dictionaries of quotations.

    In stark contrast is Massey's political poetry, among his earliest and arguably his best.  These exhortatory, fiery protests, written mostly for publication in unstamped Chartist and working-class newspapers of the period (1847-52), reflect the wrongs suffered by the masses (A Red Republican Lyric), their bitterness (Yet we are Brothers Still) and utter hopelessness of a better life (Hope On, Hope Ever!) and they display much force and vitality in the process.  Conveying as they do the feelings and sentiments of the oppressed poor, Massey's political poems are of interest to social historians of the period, while examples often appear in compilations of  Victorian working-class verse.  For further examples see Early Poems and Voices of Freedom and Lyrics of Love.

    Occasionally, Massey takes  as his subject a patriotic or, perversely for a champion of the downtrodden, an imperialist episode, such as Sir Richard Grenville’s Last Fight, The Death Ride and Havelock’s March. The latter is a long narrative of the Indian Mutiny, which Massey described as "more properly historic photographs, rather than Poems in the Esthetic sense" that "may have their place as illustrations in historic records"; a perceptive comment.  It's interesting to compare the first two of these examples with Tennyson’s popular treatment of the same themes in 'The Revenge: A Ballad of the Fleet' and in 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'.  Whereas Tennyson paints his pictures with rich but delicate strokes, Massey's are more confused and indistinct, his poems a maze of figures.  In the opinion of a critic writing in the Bucks Advertiser (May, 1847), when Massey left nature and took to the battlefield, "his sentiment is coarse, and the phraseology vulgar."  He would have done well  to have taken note, for Havelock's March and similar poems, while providing interesting views on the headline events and sentiments of the time, are not among his best.

    Craigcrook Castle,
which was composed during 1855 when Massey held an editorial post on the Edinburgh News, and A Tale of Eternity, a ghost story published in 1870— and his last significant poem—are among Massey's most accomplished poems in blank verse.

    A number of Massey's poems were set to music and proved popular, both as hymns and songs; judging from the number of composers that set the piece  and the number of copies that remain in circulation, No Jewelled Beauty is my Love  seems to have been a particular favourite (it's certainly one of mine).  But having sold the copyright of his poetry to the publishers, I doubt whether Massey ever received any royalties from the sheet music sales.

    Despite its failings, strength and sincerity always shines through in Massey's poetry placing it above mere poetic merit.  Of course much of it is dated, for the concerns and conflicts that he and his Chartist and Radical contemporaries faced, often addressing in their verse, have long since receded below our horizon.  Their battles against child labour, appalling factory and social conditions, the right to protest without the fear of brutal reprisal, gender inequality and the lack of universal suffrage, to name but some, were fought long and hard and eventually won to our benefit (although our civil liberties are again at risk from the all-seeing eye of modern technology and from those who operate it!).  Sadly, these battles and those who fought them are now historic footnotes, or are forgotten.  Tennyson, who Massey greatly admired — they met once, towards the end of the Laureate's life — described him as "a poet of fine lyrical impulse and of a rich, half-Oriental, imagination". . . . possibly Gerald Massey’s finest eulogy as a poet.

 

FOR TRUTH.
(Gerald Massey's last known poem).


He set his battle in array, and thought
To carry all before him, since he fought
For Truth, whose likeness was to him revealed;
Whose claim he blazoned on his battle-shield;
But found in front, impassively opposed,
The World against him, with its ranks all closed:
He fought, he fell, he failed to win the day
But led to Victory another way.
For Truth, it seemed, in very person came
And took his hand, and they two in one flame
Of dawn, directly through the darkness passed;
Her breath far mightier than the battle-blast.
And here and there men caught a glimpse of grace,
A moment's flash of her immortal face,
And turned to follow, till the battle-ground
Transformed with foemen slowly facing round
To fight for Truth, so lately held accursed,
As if they had been Her champion from the first.
Only a change of front, and he who had led
Was left behind with Her forgotten dead.


―――♦―――
 

"Poverty is a cold place to write Poetry in….. A poor man, fighting his battle of life, has little time for the rapture of repose which Poetry demands….. Considering all things, it may appear madness for a poor man to attempt Poetry in the face of the barriers that surround him."

Born in a hovel at Gamnel Wharf, Tring, on 29th May 1828, (THOMAS) GERALD MASSEY was the eldest son of an impoverished and illiterate canal-boatman.  Massey said of himself that 'he had no childhood,' for on reaching the age of eight he was put to work in the Town’s silk mill where his twelve-hour days spent labouring in grim conditions added between nine pence and one shilling and three pence to his father's meagre earnings.  He later worked in Tring’s then-thriving straw plaiting industry producing braid for the straw hat trade in nearby Luton and Dunstable.  Thanks to his mother, Mary, Massey received a scant education at a “penny school”.  Despite these tough beginnings, he learned to read and write using the Bible, Bunyan, Robinson Crusoe and Wesleyan tracts left at the family home.

 

Torn from mother's arms to labour,
Fragile limbs in childhood's day

Soon the cherub lines of beauty
From their pallid cheeks decay;
And the cankerworm of death
Makes young hearts its early prey.


......from At Eventide There Shall Be Light

God shield poor little ones, where all
    Must help to be bread-bringers!
For once afoot, there's none too small
    To ply their tiny fingers.

Poor Pearl, she had no time to play
    The merry game of childhood;
From dawn to dark she went all day,
    A-wooding in the wild-wood.


......from The Legend of Little Pearl

 

Gamnel Wharf, Tring.  The steam flour mill dates from 1875.
Photo: Wendy Austin collection.


Massey's father, William, worked for the proprietor of the flour mill…


"… I know a poor old man in England who, for 40 years, worked for one firm and its three generations of proprietors.  He began at a wage of 16s.  per week, and worked his way, as he grew older and older, and many necessaries of life grew dearer and dearer, down to six shillings a week, and still he kept on working, and would not give up.  At six shillings a week he broke a limb, and left work at last, being pensioned off by the firm with a four-penny piece!  I know whereof I speak, for that man was my father."

GERALD MASSEY.

 

"The child comes into the world like a new coin with the stamp of God upon it…the poor man’s child [is] hustled and sweated down in this bag of society to get wealth out of it…so is the image of God worn from heart and brow, and day by day the child recedes devil-ward. I look back now with wonder, not that so few escape, but that any escape at all, to win a nobler growth for their humanity. So blighting are the influences which surround thousands in early life, to which I can bear such bitter testimony."

 

I would not plod on, like these slaves of gold,
    Who shut up their souls, in a dusky cave,
I would see the world better, and nobler-souled,
    Ere I dream of Heaven in my green, turf-grave.
I may toil till my life is filled with dreariness,
Toil, till my heart is a wreck in its weariness,
Toil for ever, for tear-steept bread,
Till I go down to the silent dead.
But, by this yearning, this hoping, this aching,
I was not made merely for money-making.

from..... I Was Not Made Merely for Money-Making

 

On Heaven, blood shall call,
    Earth, quake 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

    At the age of 15, Massey moved to London, where he found work as an errand boy, believed to have been at the once famous Regent Street store of Swan & Edgar.

    With access to more reading material, he flourished, absorbing the classics and other influences, including the political writings of Thomas Paine, Volney and Howitt.  He also studied French.  In later life Massey recalled that his first published poem on 'Hope' — its author then being without any — appeared in 1843 in the Aylesbury News, but this has not been traced.  His first identified poem, At Eventide there shall be light, was published in  The Bucks Advertiser when he was eighteen, being attributed to "A Tring Peasant Boy".  A Tring bookseller published Massey’s first volume of poems, Original Poems and Chansons, in 1847, 250 copies being printed and offered for sale at a shilling each.  No copy is known to have survived (but see Early Poems). 

    Throughout his life, Massey was committed to the labourer’s cause.  The revolutionary spirit of the 1840s caught his enthusiasm and he joined the Chartists, applying his pen in support of their cause.  In 1849 he began editing The Uxbridge Spirit of Freedom, a paper written by working men, and was dismissed from several jobs for publishing it.

    Massey's Calvinist upbringing had taught him that the Bible and church doctrines were true, but following his move to London he realised that the social injustice that surrounded him was plainly incompatible with strict church teachings.  This dichotomy was exacerbated when, having joined the Chartist movement, he came into contact with political and religious radicals.  At that time ― the late 1840's and early 1850's ― there were discussions about and publications refuting the strict historical veracity of biblical teachings (which continue to this day).  At that time, Massey’s sympathies veered to the religious side of the reforming movement, where he supported the Christian Socialists' ideals, acted as secretary to the Christian Socialist Board and contributed to The Christian Socialist journal.  In general, "Christian Socialism" was taken to mean a restructuring of labour based on co-operation, joint ownership and with increased power to the working class.  F. D. Maurice, who coined the term, intended that by these means to Christianise socialism by opposing the unsocial Christians and the unchristian socialists.  Despite this association, however, Massey also contributed more radical material to George Julian Harney's Red Republican, sometimes under the pen names 'Bandiera' or 'Armand Carrel', a venture with which the promoters of the Christian Socialist disapproved.
 

Massey, by John and Charles Watkins (ca. 1856)

    Following the virtual collapse of the Chartist Movement by the mid 1850s, Massey continued to write poetry—much of his poetry remaining religious in tone—together with literary articles and reviews.  His earliest surviving published poetry collection, Voices of Freedom and Lyrics of Love, appeared in 1851, but it was not until his third collection, The Ballad of Babe Christabel with other Lyrical Poems, published in 1854, that he achieved a wide reputation as a poet.  This volume went through five editions in a year and was reprinted in New York (as Poems and Ballads).  The critic John Ruskin acknowledged Massey's talent, writing to him; "Your education was a terrible one, but mine was far worse", the one having suffered the bitterness of poverty, the other having been the pampered child of wealth.  War-Waits ― poems based on the Crimean War ― followed in 1855, Craigcrook Castle in 1856, Robert Burns: a Centenary Song (1859); Havelock’s March in 1861 and, in 1870, A Tale of Eternity, itself a poem (and his last significant effort in the genre) dealing with the supernatural, on which one critic commented that ".... Weird, grisly, eerie, eldritch horror runs through the whole current of the narrative".  In 1886, in support of W. E. Gladstone's election campaign, Massey penned a short collection of political poems, which he published as "Election Lyrics."  Following the success of earlier compilations, Massey collected the best of his poems into a two-volume edition, which with other material was published in 1889 as My Lyrical Life (Part 1, Part 2); a second, slightly extended edition, appeared in 1896 (Part 3).


    Massey's other published writing includes a detailed study of Shakespeare’s sonnets.  Following his essay on the Sonnets published in the Quarterly Review in April, 1864, Massey delved deeper in the mystery surrounding the characters that they address.  Shakespeare's Sonnets Never Before Interpreted appeared in 1866 followed in 1872 by a revision, which Massey published in a limited edition of 100 copies by subscription as The Secret Drama of Shakespeare's Sonnets Unfolded: With the Characters Identified.  A further revision, The Secret Drama of Shakspeare's Sonnets, which followed in 1888, exhibited an improved literary style (Massey's spelling of 'Shakspeare' appears to have been taken from Ben Johnson, among others, and is a recognised, though less used variant).

 

"That Spanish Emperor who fancied he could have improved the plan of creation if he had been consulted, would hardly have managed to better the time, the place, and circumstances of Shakespeare's birth. The world would not have been more ripe, or England more ready - the stage of the national life more nobly peopled - the scenes more fittingly draped - than they were for his reception. It was a time when souls were made in earnest, and life grew quick within and large without. The full-statured sprit of the nation had just found its sea-legs and was clothing itself with wings."

"It must be borne in mind that we are endeavouring to decipher a secret history of an unexampled kind. We can get little help, except from the words themselves. We must not be too confident of walking by our own light; we must rely more implicitly on that inner light of the sonnets, left like a lamp in a tomb of old, which will lead us with the greater certainty to the precise spot where we shall touch the secret spring and make clear the mystery. We must ponder any the least minutiae of thought, feeling, or expression, and not pass over one mote of meaning because we do not easily see its significance. Some little thing that we cannot make fit with the old reading may be the key to the right interpretation."

Gerald Massey.... extracts from The Secret Drama of Shakespeare's Sonnets Unfolded.


    Among Massey's radical friends and associates during his Chartist years were W. J. Linton, Thomas Cooper, G. J. Holyoake, Ernest Jones, J. J. Bezer, John Arnott, F. D. Maurice and Charles Kingsley.  Later, when he had established his literary reputation, came Hepworth Dixon, Walter Savage Landor and George Eliot, who is widely reported to have taken Massey as her model for the character of Felix Holt in "The Radical," although there is no hard evidence to support this.  Somewhat later came Robert Browning (who Massey met at the establishment of Lady Marion Alford, his patron, at Ashridge in Hertfordshire ― see Massey's letter in defence of Browning) and the poetess, novelist and author of charming children's stories, Jean Ingelow, to whom, following the death of his first wife, Rosina, in 1866, it was rumoured that Massey proposed marriage  (another rumour of this period linked Jean Ingelow with Robert Browning).

    This period, 1869-70, saw the publication of A Tale of Eternity and other poems, the last of Massey's significant poetry; it also marked the end of Massey's long association (and for him, a comparatively regular stipend) as a poetry reviewer for the influential periodical, the Athenæum.  The cause of the break is unknown, but in a letter to another of the journal's reviewers, Thomas Purnell, Massey hints at a 'falling out' . . .


Curiously enough I had corresponded with the ‘Athm.’ people about resuming my old seat on their Critical bench.  But, after one meeting and your communication, I shall drop the subject and not ask for any Books.  The whole affair is infinitely funny.


    Thereafter Massey all but abandoned poetry and commenced his long research into religious origins.  His 'trilogy' ("The Book of the Beginnings", "The  Natural Genesis" and "Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World"), published between 1881 and 1907, demonstrates clearly his complete change of thought regarding the organised religions of the day and his firm alignment to the concept of evolution; whilst he did not become an atheist, he might be classed as a deist (i.e. "One who believes in the existence of a God or supreme being but denies revealed religion, basing his belief on the light of nature and reason").

    A misconception about Massey's religious beliefs stems from his connection with the Most Ancient Order of Druids to which he was elected Chosen Chief, an honorary position that he held from 1880 until 1906.  The position might have involved some minor administrative duties, but it required no formal membership.  To Massey, at least, it was not a religion and did not involve forms of initiation, ceremonial dress or attendance at active meetings at megalithic sites; indeed, Massey did not believe in such pagan ceremony and made his interest in the Druids plain . . . .


"I cannot join in the new masquerade and simulation of ancient mysteries manufactured in our time by Theosophists, Hermeneutists, pseudo-Esoterics, and Occultists of various orders, howsoever profound their pretensions. The very essence of all such mysteries as are got up from the refuse leavings of the past is pretence, imposition, and imposture. The only interest I take in the ancient mysteries is in ascertaining how they originated, in verifying their alleged phenomena, in knowing what they meant, on purpose to publish the knowledge as soon and as widely as possible." (vide Massey's response to the Blavatsky letter, Agnostic Journal, 1891).


    Original editions of most of Massey's books are available on the antiquarian book market (but, in good condition,  can command high prices) and most of his work is also now available in modern reprints.  Copies of all Massey's major published work are held by the British Library, at British & Irish university libraries, and in the US Library of Congress.

 

Day after day her dainty hands
    Make Life's soiled temples clean,
And there's a wake of glory where
    Her spirit pure hath been.
At midnight, through that shadow-land,
Her living face doth gleam;
    The dying kiss her shadow, and
The Dead smile in their dream.

.....on Florence Nightingale, from War Waits

 

In silence sat our Crimean Hero, he
Who told us how they fought at Inkerman:
His heart swam up in tears at thoughts of Home.
The roar and rack of Battle over and gone;
No more surprises in the bloody trench,
Where midnight swarmed with visions horrible,
And earth was like a fiery coast of hell!
All that long aching wintriness of soul,
Warm-melted in the arms of Wedded Love,
That drew him from the bloody battle-press,
And claspt him safe in their serene heaven,
Where Past and Future crown him as they kiss.
And with dumb eloquence his poor armstump moved,
As it were dreaming of a dear embrace.

from...Craigcrook Castle

 

Up-rouse ye now, brave brother-band;
 With honest heart, and working hand:
 We are but few, toil-tried and true,
 Yet hearts beat high to dare and do.
 And who would not a champion be,
 In Labour's social Chivalry?

from....The Chivalry of Labour

    In addition to his books and journalism, Massey sought a living from contributions to periodical magazines, among others being Chambers' Magazine, Cassell's Magazine, All the Year Round, and Good Words—the first issue of this once-popular periodical (in 1860) includes a poem on the great Italian unifier Garibaldi, for which Massey received ten guineas.  He also contributed to literary journals, including Hogg's Instructor, Fraser's Magazine, the North British Review, the Quarterly Review and the Athenæum.

 
  Massey also lectured widely in the U.K., mainly, in his earlier years, on literature, poetry and pre-Raphaelite art, his fiery style proving popular and often attracting large audiences—Professor Marvin Vincent, an American theologian, described him thus: "He is a splendid lecturer.  He went off like the eighty-one ton pounder.  I didn't agree with his opening remarks, but it was like a shell bursting among us, and we had enough to do to look out during the rest of the lecture".  In later years Massey undertook lecturing tours to North America; the first, in 1873-74, included California and Canada, the second in 1883-85 extended to Australia and New Zealand, but his third tour of the U.S.A. came to a premature close when he was called home to be with his dying daughter, Hesper, for whom he had a particular affection.  By this time he was lecturing chiefly on the subjects that absorbed his later life, spiritualism, mythology and the mystical interpretation of the Scriptures; in 1887 Massey published a selection of his lectures on these topics.


―――♦―――


Massey was twice married. He had 7 daughters and 2 sons (neither of whom reached maturity), including two surviving daughters from his first marriage.

My Love in Heaven! love was not hid
By closing of a Coffin-lid!
Dear Love in Heaven! true love survives
All separation in our lives!
O Love in Heaven, from you I win
Sure help without, and hope within!
My Love in Heaven, for me she waits
Like Morning golden at her Gate

from....Open Sight


   
Massey's first wife, Rosina Jane Knowles, was a noted clairvoyant.  She was born in Bolton in Lancashire and was nineteen when they married in 1850.  Rosina was to influence Massey's life significantly, particularly his interest in and commitment to spiritualism.  Sadly, she was to develop severe depression, possibly stemming from the loss of two of her children, a condition that was aggravated by growing dependence on alcohol.  She died in 1866 at the age of thirty-four—her badly weathered white tombstone, her name barely discernable, lies near the gate of the beautiful secluded parish church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul at Little Gaddesden near Tring.

 

    Massey's second wife, Eva Byrn, who he married in 1868, was the daughter of an artist and 'Professor of Dancing'.   A contemporary magazine article described Eva as accomplished and beautiful while referring to Massey as having . . .


"a young, fresh look; a finely-formed head, too large for the small, spare body; a pleasant, winning face, and long, dark brown hair, whiskers, and moustache".

 

Gerald Massey—probably early 1860s.
Photograph is possibly by John & Charles Watkins.


Some years earlier (1854) the poet and critic  Sydney Dobell (1824-74) described Massey thus:


"The upper part of his face reminds me of Raphael's angels, and I catch myself dwelling upon him with a kind of optical fondness, as one looks upon a beautiful picture or a rare colour.  And this in spite of a blue satin waistcoat! and a gold-coloured tie!  The second morning I came upon him early, sans neckerchief or collar, nursing his sickly baby, the grey wrapper in which he sat, being like the mist to the morning as regards his wonderful complexion, and it would be difficult to imagine more marvellous (masculine) beauty . . ."

Massey ca. 1854.


. . . . while after the passage of 30 years (1884), during his second lecturing tour of the U.S.A. an American journalist found Massey to be:


"… at the grand climacteric of life; and is below the medium stature.  Grey whiskers, of English trim, half mask a face which wears a look of intensity as he plows through the mystical domains of Egyptology and the shadowlands of the ancient Orient.  Brown hair, with occasional streaks of grey, rolls forward in a billow on his crown, and ripples off from the ears.  He wears spectacles when he reads from manuscript."

A careworn Massey: a sketch from a photograph taken
during his first American lecture tour, 1873.


   
While Eva does not appear to have had any discernable impact on Massey's work, she undoubtedly brought stability to his domestic life.   Sadly, few of Massey's children by either marriage survived into adulthood and with the death of his grand daughter, Helena Viola, in 1988, his direct line came to an end.  Of his three brothers, Frederick left numerous descendants and his line survives to this day.


Ashridge: the residence of Lord Brownlow and his mother, Lady Marion Alford.
 

    Throughout his life Massey was beset with money problems, sometimes having to borrow from friends.  Although he eventually received a civil list pension of £100 per annum—which must be judged by the standards of the time—having to care for Rosina and a large family exacerbated his already precarious existence as a writer and travelling lecturer.  Massey was fortunate, however, in securing the patronage of Lady Marion Alford, mother of the wealthy owner of the Ashridge Estate near Tring.
 

Of such as he was, there be few on earth;
 Of such as he is, there are few in Heaven:
 And life is all the sweeter that he lived,
 And all he loved more sacred for his sake:
 And Death is all the brighter that he died,
 And Heaven is all the happier that he's there.

From....In Memoriam (to Earl Brownlow)

    In 1865, Lord Brownlow settled Massey’s debts and provided him and his family with an estate cottage in the village of Little Gaddesden.  However, Rosina's unbalanced state of mind—made worse by alcoholism—and her abilities as a clairvoyant aroused deep superstitions in the villagers, who came to believe her to be a witch.  The Brownlows again came to the rescue, providing Massey with a large isolated farmhouse, Ward's Hurst, where he lived rent-free until 1877 when he moved to London.  It was mainly during the period at Wards Hurst that Massey developed an interest in psychic phenomena that was to absorb his later years, years in which he dropped from public view and in which there is little record of his life.

    Impecunious to the end, Massey died at his home in South Norwood Hill, London, on the 29th of October 1907, and was laid to rest in the family tomb in London’s old Southgate Cemetery.  Like many men of action and enterprise he was his own educator, attending the best school that has ever existed since men began their search for knowledge, the School of Experience, wherein he became in his particular field—unravelling the mysteries of ancient Egyptian mythology and elucidating its parallels with western religions—one of its most distinguished graduates. . . ."It is a work which has occupied me over thirty years, and I shall be well content if in another century my ideas are acknowledged as correct".
 


Gone are the last faint flashes,
     Set is the sun of my years;
And over a few poor ashes,
    I sit in my darkness and tears.

Massey, from....Desolate


――――♦――――
 

Mine, though a sorry Autograph,
May serve to make the looker laugh,
And say when I have given the hint,
We like his writing best
in print.



――――♦――――
 


GERALD MASSEY:
CHARTIST, POET, RADICAL
AND
FREETHINKER

by
DAVID SHAW.

A new revised and extended 2nd Edition (2009)
is now on sale at
LuLu.com
 


――――♦――――
 

The Gerald Massey Collection


at the
Upper Norwood Joint Library.


The Upper Norwood Joint Library, which opened in 1900 ― and, despite great public protest, is now under threat of closure ― serves an area of South London near the site of the old Crystal Palace, which burnt down in 1936.  It's a public library, but an unusual one, being owned jointly by Croydon and Lambeth councils whilst not belonging to either borough's library service.  The Library has its own management committee comprising councillors from the two boroughs together with representatives of the local users group, the Upper Norwood Library Campaign, altogether a unique arrangement for a public library in the U.K. today.



The library houses The Gerald Massey Collection, which was donated to us some years ago by David Shaw, author of "Gerald Massey: Chartist, Poet, Radical and Freethinker". The collection consists of a wide range of materials about Massey and the various fields he was involved with. It is divided into sections on Massey the radical, the poet, the Shakespearean critic, the spiritualist and the Egyptologist, with a final category of miscellaneous materials. There are books (the Chartist movement has particularly strong coverage), magazine articles, census entries, a few manuscripts, photographs, two Chartist medals etc.



It is advisable to make an appointment to see material from the collection. The library is situated at Westow Hill, Upper Norwood, London SE19 1TJ ― telephone 020 8670 2551; email to:

jsavage@uppernorwood.akhter.com

Jerry Savage
Reference & Local History Librarian

 



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