PRINCE and his family were now in abject poverty,
notwithstanding frequent pecuniary loans and gifts from sympathising
friends ; and we cannot conceal the fact that this destitution was to a
considerable extent the result of improvidence and irregularity, not only
on the part of Prince himself but in his household. At this very period
they were, on the authority of Mr. Oldham, Prince's brother-in-law, in
receipt of five shillings weekly, and coals—the gift of some unknown
benefactor—and these gifts were continued for two years, through the
medium of the then Incumbent of St. Peter's Church, Ashton. Lord Leigh,
Mr. Coulthart, and other admirers of the poet's genius, often sent him
sums of money, varying from two to five pounds, and as the result of his
perpetual importunities in all directions he must have considerably
augmented the amount from other sources, to say nothing of the sale of his
works, and remuneration for contributions to serials, etc. When fully
employed his wages averaged one pound per week, and we cannot but believe
that if habits of economy and thrift had prevailed—if the family had
husbanded their resources in any appreciable degree—they need not have
suffered, as they did, from chronic and insufficiently resisted poverty. It was disheartening to those who had aided the poet to
find that, despite all their efforts, his condition remained unimproved:
and although many never forsook him, it is only natural to suppose that
still more became alienated by reason of shortcomings for which they could
not easily find excuse.
Thus matters went on until the earlier part of 1858, when
Prince once more obtained employment in Blackburn; and during this visit
he resided with Mr. John Harwood, a respectable painter, of congenial
tastes, who became his frequent companion.
The foundation-stone of the Blackburn Infirmary was laid on
Whit Monday, May 24, 1858; and, in response to an application made by the
Committee of the Ceremony, Prince composed two hymns for the occasion, one
of which was sung by thousands of Sunday School children, to the tune
called "Warrington." Two local gentlemen had each 10,000 copies of
the hymn printed for the use of the Sunday School children and others, and
the effect of thousands of juvenile voices joining in the following verses
must have been most impressive:—
Lord, on this bright auspicious day,
We raise our glad and grateful lay;
And trust that Thy approving eye
Will watch us from the glorious sky.
For Thou hast made men's hearts to feel,
And warmed them with a worthy zeal,
To soften sickness and distress;
To cheer, to succour, and to bless.
Behold where Charity sublime,
Our worldly hope in sorrow's time,
Has built a refuge for the poor,
And with an ever-open door!
When sickness and disaster come,
There shall the suffering find a home;
And all the lowly, labouring throng,
Confess Thy love and mercy strong.
Lord lend Thy blessing to the plan
That soothes the woes and pains of man;
So that his grateful soul proclaim
Thy wondrous power, Thy holy name.
This hymn became a popular one, and Prince sometimes shed
tears on hearing it sung. About the same time he also published a "Poetic
Address to the People of Blackburn, on the Inauguration of their
Infirmary," which he afterwards utilised for a similar occasion at
Ashton-under-Lyne, with a few
verbal alterations. It is stated that he received a handsome
perquisite for these efforts, and soon after left for Ashton; in fact he
did not, with one exception, remain long in Blackburn during any of his
visits, each period being limited by the duration of temporary employment.
Having left Blackburn, we find Prince principally engaged, up
to the following September, in Ashton-under-Lyne, where he, Mrs. Prince,
and a little granddaughter still occupied a cottage in Charles Street.
Here, in the latter month, the poet sustained a terrible blow in the
sudden death of his wife from an accident, and under circumstances of a
very painful character. [Ed.—it is puzzling why Lithgow gives no
details of the "very painful character" of Ann's death. Prince later
refers to an "accident", and in his diary entry for 19 September 1858, the
poet Samuel Bamford mentions "....the
sad end of Prince's wife at Ashton, and the very inconclusive evidence
which appears to have been given at the Inquest."]
For a time poor Prince was almost inconsolable: for over
thirty years she had been his true and faithful partner, through weal and
woe, sharing alike his trials and his disappointments; and although we may
have doubts as to the frugality and prudence of her household management,
yet she proved a good wife to the artisan, however she may have failed as
a companion to the poet; and, perhaps, Prince could have sustained no
greater deprivation. He mourned her loss bitterly, and it was long
before he got over the shock which her untimely death produced.
Prince left Ashton the day after the funeral, and removed
once more to Hyde, where, his mother being incapacitated on account of
increasing age and infirmity, the duties of housekeeper were undertaken by
his sister, Mrs. Oldham. His eldest and only surviving daughter,
Elizabeth, soon after went to Sheffield, taking his grandchild with her;
and Prince settled down for a time in Brook Street, where he supported
himself by working at his trade, when he was able to do so, and obtained
what additional pecuniary aid he could, as remuneration for literary
contributions to various publications. The following letter to one
of his literary friends, Mr. Charles Hardwick, shows how the poet strove
to make literary efforts ancillary to his circumstances, and contains a
touching allusion to the recent death of his wife:—
February 21, 1859
Dear Sir—I have a few pieces which I intended to send to the
'Oddfellows' Magazine,' but I do not know your editor's address. I
will get you to send them, and send you stamps for the purpose. I
fear they will be too late for April. Do you think so? I hope
not, for I am sorely in want of a trifle of money.
I have had many misfortunes, but the crowning one came a
short time ago. My wife died suddenly, and by accident, without
being able to know me, or to speak to me. A great loss, and a great
sorrow to me! I had not a penny of my own at the time, nor were I or
my family prepared in any way. How we managed to give her decent
burial I can scarcely tell. I have been very ill since, both in mind
and body; indeed, I feel my general health failing me, and I can do very
little work. This, and having some debts to contend with, keeps me
I thank you for your kindness when you were over here, and
remain yours respectfully and sincerely,
J. C. PRINCE.
Mr. Charles Hardwick.
Prince does not seem to have remained much longer in Hyde, as
we soon afterwards find him again employed in Blackburn; but it is
probable that he had become very unsettled, and that failing health and
lack of regular employment made him still more so. It is at least
certain that he did not, about this period, remain long anywhere, but went
hither and thither, wherever he found temporary occupation; and such a
change of surroundings had now almost become a necessity.
We next find him at Newton, in the earlier half of 1859, on
the occasion of an anniversary meeting of the Gardeners' Lodge, held at
the Mechanics' Arms Inn. A Mr. Tetlow, who was present, was
attracted by Prince and, after the meeting was over, took him to his house
and entertained him for the night. During this visit Prince was
introduced to Mrs. Tetlow's unmarried sister, who, a few years afterwards,
became his second wife.
From this time up to the spring of 1861, a space of nearly
two years, Prince spent most of his time between Blackburn and Hyde,
occasionally, however, visiting some of the adjacent towns, either when on
tramp or in order to fulfil some brief engagement.
That Prince had, indeed, been reduced to a low ebb for
several years past will readily be admitted, when we record the fact of
his having been compelled to degrade his genius by writing rhyming
advertisements for a tailor! During the years 1858 to 1860
inclusive, he contributed many of these effusions to the "Ashton Reporter"
in behalf of Mr. Killorn, an advertising outfitter in Ashton-under-Lyne,
in one of his notes to whom he says:—"Can I write anything more for you?
Remit me seven shillings, and I will send you another good one." We
quote a few verses from, we believe, the last of these productions which
he ever wrote, and which appeared in the "Ashton Reporter" of February 14,
1860. Even in these humiliating efforts the true power of the poet
cannot be concealed, and the following lines are selected from, perhaps,
the least worthy example:—
I saw a young man yesterday
Whose presence was a charm to see,
His dress was tasteful, neat, and gay,
His manly face was frank and free;
His mild eyes shone with worthy pride,
Of folly there was not a sign—
And as I passed I softly sighed
'Oh! would he were my Valentine!'
I felt that one who dressed so well,
Upon so notable a plan,
Would ne'er grow careless, and rebel
Against the self-respect of man;
He had no supercilious air,
But features thoughtful and benign;
And blest must be the favourite fair
Who wins him for her Valentine.
It is the leap year, and folks say
That I myself may now propose,
Might put my maiden fears away,
And try my fortune, if I chose.
Alas! I dare not venture, so—
I cannot hope to make him mine,
Unless some friend would let him know
I wish him for my Valentine!
Praise to the tailor, profit too,
Who can the outward man adorn,—
The style, cut, fashion, chaste and new,
Can only come from our Killorn;
So low in price, so neat in make
Are all his clothes, that none repine;
Then buy at once, for prudence' sake,
And honour good St. Valentine."
The following letter, addressed to a newspaper editor, was written in
117 FIELDEN STREET,
Sir—My name may perhaps be known to you. I enclose a
few pieces in the hope they will find a place in the columns of the—.
I have been at Ashton-under-Lyne two months, very ill; and, from
necessity, I have come here to seek employment. I am promised to
have work in a week if I can wait. I must wait.
If you can pay me the veriest trifle I will engage to write
something original for your paper as often as you choose. I am now
penniless, and if you could favour me with a trifle to-day I shall feel
sincerely grateful. Your respectful servant,
During this, and probably previous visits to Blackburn,
Prince received several contributions from the Royal Literary Fund, owing
principally, we believe, to the earnest endeavours of Mr. John Baron and
other friends; and he finally left Blackburn with the last donation in his
pocket. So far as can be ascertained this was in August or September 1860.
From Blackburn Prince removed once more to Hyde, where he
obtained at least occasional employment in the workshop formerly belonging
to his father, and prepared his final volume of poems for publication.
In April 1861, a further organised effort was made to assist Prince in
consequence of a letter written to the "Weekly Budget," by Mr. Charles
Rooks of Bury, and dated April 6. In this communication Mr. Rooks,
after referring to the misfortunes of literary men in general, especially
those who have sprung from the ranks of the working-classes, makes special
allusion to Prince, and concludes with an eloquent appeal on his behalf.
"In consequence of frequent
indisposition, fluctuation of trade, and other causes, he can now only
obtain a very precarious livelihood, and is at present suffering
privations of the worst description. The recent death of his devoted
wife has cast a gloom over all his earthly prospects, for he is now left
without a home, and he is often without a bed on which to rest his head.
With her death failed the hand that was wont to administer to his
wants—the heart that was ever ready to soothe his sorrows and to share
This letter was followed by another from the pen of Mr. James
Travis, then of Hulme, Manchester, which was published in the "Manchester
Examiner and Times" of April 23, 1861. Mr. Travis exerted himself
cordially on Prince's behalf, and, amongst other efforts, put himself in
communication with Lord Palmerston, then Prime Minister, but without any
satisfactory result. Indeed, these renewed efforts for Prince's
benefit were not so successful as had been anticipated; and it is to be
feared that the humane endeavours of the organisers were neutralised by
reports of the poet's unsteadiness; which, however untrue or exaggerated,
had at least the effect of alienating the sympathies of many who would
otherwise have continued to help him. Many persons of influence and
position, who could not but admire his genius whilst pitying his
misfortunes, had written to the effect that they had frequently helped
Prince on former occasions, but, having been informed that such
contributions were useless because of his inveterate propensity to
intemperance, they no longer felt justified in subscribing. That
Prince was much to blame there can be no doubt; but, on the other hand,
his faults were attributable more to the weakness of his nature than to
want of effort in resisting; and it is absolutely certain that the reports
of his misdeeds, which had only too readily obtained credence, were very
frequently unjustifiable and unsubstantiated.
In accounting to Prince for the comparatively unsuccessful
result of his efforts to aid him, Mr. Travis referred especially to these
pernicious rumours ; and, in reply to allegations so prejudicial to his
interests, it is but fair that Prince should be heard in self-defence. The
following letter shows how keenly the poet felt the accusations brought
against him, and how he was stung into righteous anger by the ruthless
tongue of slander:—
BROOK STREET, HYDE,
May 16, 1861.
Dear Sir—The stamps were received: accept my thanks. I
know not what people mean by my 'spreeing;' I never do spree. I have
not been two hours in a week in any publichouse or publichouses for a year
and a half past. When I have no work to do my time is occupied in
walking in the fields, or reading—but chiefly reading. These
prejudiced individuals make a sad medley in mingling all sorts of absurd
reports together—give them a higher colouring, and so propagate them to
the damage of the often unconscious victim.
Though I say it, who have little room to say it, there are
few men of my class who have been more misunderstood, misrepresented, and
calumniated, than myself. The silliest reports get credence; I have
been tipsy in some place, or in the streets, when at the same day and hour
I have been working or been miles away from the spot. One half of
what has been said about me has been untrue, and the rest has been
exaggerated. Let these brainless babblers say what they will, I care
not for a host of them. My works are a sufficient proof that I am
not the man I have been represented. One who goes often 'on the
spree' could not have produced them. "When you see the close of your
kind endeavours will you please to communicate with me before you do
anything precipitately, and you will greatly oblige, yours most sincerely,
J. C. PRINCE.
Mr. James Travis.
After this period Prince was engaged in the preparation of
his fifth and last work, which was dedicated to the publisher, the late
Mr. John Heywood. Although the dedicatory sonnet bears date July
1861, the work itself was probably not published until the following
October, or early in November.
"Miscellaneous Poems" was the title of this little work,
which does not call for any particular notice, having been evidently
compiled for the mere purpose of obtaining a little money. It
contains some of Prince's earliest efforts in rhyme, and several poems
which had already appeared in his previous works; but in addition to these
there is a considerable number of choice lyrics which he had probably
contributed to periodicals from time to time, and eventually collected
together for this volume. In the majority of these lyrical
compositions his regrets for the past, and his promises for the future,
even though the latter were never fulfilled, are poured forth with an
earnest and contrite heart; and one feels that if worldly circumstances
had been less terrible, we should have had a still more elevated music.
A fragment entitled "The Holy Land,"
which was designed as the prologue to an unfinished sacred poem, is a
favourable example of Prince's descriptive power, and contains many poetic
beauties. The scenes which he reproduces with such artistic fidelity
seem to glow with thrilling realism; and when it is considered that Prince
never had any opportunity of visiting Palestine, one cannot but wonder at
the vivid, eloquent descriptions contained in this exquisite fragment,
whilst regretting that the peculiar power of reproducing natural scenery,
which he possessed in no ordinary degree, had not been especially
cultivated and developed.
Surely the poet alludes to some of his own sad experiences in
the subjoined lines from "The Saving
Angel," a poem on Temperance:—
But who is this meandering down the
With brain beclouded, and with wavering feet,
Wild in his manner, with a glance of eye
Half brave, half bashful, as he hurries by?
That man is gifted; but the mental dower
Lies in abeyance to the demon's power;
That man has commerced with the farthest skies,
And looked on Nature with a poet's eyes;
Has painted Virtue with a pen of grace,
Revered her too, and loved the human race;
Panted for peaceful happiness and fame,
And had half won them when the tempter came,
Crossed the noon brightness of his hopeful pride,
And scared his better angel from his side.
Come back, sweet spirit of his joy and trust
And exorcise the fiend that bows him in the dust.
As the last quotation from this charming little work, and as
a fair specimen of the lyrics in which it abounds, some plaintive lines,
entitled "Retrospection," will not be inappropriate. We have already
quoted the first stanza on the title-page of this memoir, but in these
sad, closing chapters of the poet's chequered life, the entire poem will
glow with mournful and peculiar interest:—
'I might have been'—Oh! sad, suggestive words!
So full of hidden meaning, yet so vain!
How sadly do they sound on memory's chords,
And waken feelings of regretful pain!
I might have been a wiser, better man,
With signs of well-won honour on my brow,
Had I adhered to Nature's simple plan,
Or reasoned with myself, as I do now.
True that my life has been with ills beset,
Early neglect, and poverty, and gloom,
Within whose shades—how well remembered yet!—
My mind found neither sustenance nor room;
Yet, with instinctive longing for the right,
It sought for fitting food, and struggled towards the light.
Too late to gather up the waste of years,
And turn to profit the encumbering dross;
The gold has vanished,—and these sudden tears
Attest my silent sorrow for the loss.
Too late to win the humble meed of fame
I hoped and strove for in my early days;
Too late to cast the shadow from my name,
And turn the world's hard censure into praise;
Too late to ask the dear beloved and lost,
Forgiveness for stern word and galling deed,
Uttered and done at such a fearful cost
That I am bankrupt,—and too late to plead:
But oh, my God! here on my suppliant knee
I ask,—Am I too late for mercy and for Thee?
Of the success or non-success of this little work in a
pecuniary point of view, we have no direct evidence, but as there is
reason to believe that Prince's brother-in-law, Mr. Oldham, acted as
colporteur, and sold about two thousand copies, it is reasonable to
suppose that Prince was fairly satisfied with the result.
For some time after the publication of "Miscellaneous Poems"
Prince seems to have been very unsettled, wandering about from place to
place in search of employment, and working for short periods here and
there, wherever he found a vacancy for his services. His health was
now very unsatisfactory, and his strength failing; the shadows of life
were drawing more closely round him, and he longed for rest and sympathy.
Thus weakened in body, he was no longer capable of enduring the physical
strain of "tramping" through the country, or was he able to work at his
handicraft as was his wont. Although not old in years the
vicissitudes of his life had at length begun to tell upon him, rendering
him prematurely old and feeble; and whilst the loss of physical tone and
energy warned him of nature's silent decay, his enervated mind was still
more depressed on account of circumstances which seemed to increase in
sternness and cruelty as he lost the power to combat or overcome them.
In this extremity he resolved once more to enter the state of
matrimony, thus hoping, no doubt, to secure a help-meet, and sympathetic
companion, who would share his sorrows and soothe and comfort him in his
declining ears. The lapse of time served but to intensify the loss
which he had sustained in the death of his first wife; and as
reminiscences of her kindness and devotion thronged his memory, he longed
all the more for the companionship of some woman of a kindred spirit, who
would fill the vacant place in his heart, and cast in her lot with his,
however unfortunate. Talking to a female friend, in Hyde, one day
about this time, as to the probability of his marrying again, he playfully
said—"I should like a wife who would look up into my face and say, 'My
John is the best John in all the world!" But he had already wooed
and won a simple, kindly, and appreciative woman, in the person of Ann
Taylor, a homely body of the working-class, about his own age, and with a
genial face and pleasant temperament, which had enabled her to bear the
burden and toil of a hardworking life, with as little friction as
They were married in St. Mary's Parish Church,
Mottram-in-Longdendale, on March 30, 1862. Mrs. Prince proved
herself to be a careful, thrifty, and tidy wife, who patiently endured the
whims and caprices of her husband, suffered poverty for his sake, and
added her earnings to enable him to live and enjoy sufficient leisure to
follow his literary pursuits. This second marriage was, indeed, an
inestimable blessing to Prince, for in a few weeks he had an attack of
apoplexy, fell downstairs, and was taken up as dead. But with care
he recovered; nevertheless his hitherto facile power of poetic composition
was gone, and there was certainly a great falling off in his subsequent
efforts. He had previously said that "he could write even if a band
of music were playing in the room;" but now his mind became hazy, the
slightest noise distracted him, and to increased physical infirmity was
added a clouded intellect, the result of partial paralysis.
In August 1862 Prince contributed a charming lyric to the
"Brighton Observer;" it was entitled "The
Darkest Hour," and had already appeared in his "Miscellaneous Poems."
Shortly after its republication in the newspaper the following letter was
addressed to the editor, and duly published:—
Sir—England's sympathy is now directed to the plains of
Italy; for every tongue is whispering, 'Heaven guard Garibaldi.'
Yet, when the dark messenger of ill breaks in upon us, where do we find
consolation? It is surely in Hope, which tells the heaving heart,
'The darkest hour is on the verge of day.'
So while Garibaldi, in a dark hour, is suffering from the
dagger of ingratitude; and brothers, in the far west, are trampling each
other in the dust,—fain would I exhort your readers,—my friends and
acquaintances,—not to let one of England's brightest sons perish,—for
want of mere bread.
John Critchley Prince, the reed-maker poet, who wrote those
beautiful lines which appeared in the 'Brighton Observer' last Friday, has
fought unflinchingly for the 'liberal cause' ever since the Repeal of the
Corn Law. His letters, songs, and poems have delighted thousands;
but now 'misery doth part the flux of company.' Would to God I had
it in my power to lift him from distress! Some of your readers may
say: 'Why is this wonderfully gifted man struggling with poverty?
Why was he not more assiduous, more temperate, and more provident in his
younger days?' It is easily answered. John Critchley Prince
had the interests of his toiling brothers and sisters of the human family
so much at heart that he naturally forgot his own. Poor fellow!
though infirm and without bread he sings:
"We seem to travel on a sunward way."
Truly the last hour of night is on the verge of morning, and
surely the latest hour of such a life is on the dawn of eternal
Here is an abstract from a letter which I have just received
from him: 'I am indeed very ill, and miserably poor. Owing to the
cotton mills here working short time, I have been for months almost
totally without employment. My wife is also unemployed, and we see
no chance of any work for a good while to come; indeed, I am quite unfit
for work at present, and can scarcely write a few lines. I hope and
pray for renewed health, for we are often wanting mere bread, in common
with many in these districts.' The last sentence portrays his
charity and extreme love for his fellow-sufferers. God help him!
And may those who scorn the afflicted poor, never require a
fellow-creature's help. Yours sincerely,
This letter and the poem alluded to were afterwards published
together as a leaflet; and the principal booksellers in Brighton kindly
consented to dispose of them without recompense, and at a nominal sum, for
the benefit of the distressed poet.
The present was, indeed, a critical time; for the "Cotton
Famine," which arose in Lancashire and other cotton-manufacturing
districts, in 1862, in consequence of the blockade of the southern ports
in the United States, gradually sunk the English artisans into depths of
misery which pass description. Prince and his wife were often on the
verge of starvation, and their future seemed more beclouded and hopeless
than ever. But it is useless to enter into the harrowing details of
a period of national calamity that has become historical; nor is it
necessary to dwell upon the sufferings of Prince's family, and their
terrible struggle for existence.
Our sad narrative draws rapidly to a close; and the painful
circumstances of the unfortunate bard and his devoted partner will be best
told in his own pathetic words; although why they did not participate in
the abundant generosity that hurried to the relief of the famine-stricken
sufferers through the distressed districts, is indeed matter for surprise.
That such was the case, however, appears from the following letter to Mr.
Hardwick; and there is a mournful interest in the fact that amid all his
illness, privation, and suffering, the poor poet sought alike to forget
and alleviate them by writing lyrics for the newspaper press:—
21st January 1863.
Sir—Thanks for the Magazine; I send you some more lines;
perhaps you will find them room. My condition grows worse. My
late attack of paralysis has enfeebled me much. I see no chance of
employment, and we are utterly without means; we have no relief from the
funds, and how we live is a mystery to me. I am completely cast down
in every way. I suppose one could not get paid for a contribution in
advance? I wish I could sell a few copies of my new book among your
Manchester Oddfellows. I am sorry to trouble you, and remain,
J. C. PRINCE.
About the same time he thus writes to the editor of a
newspaper in Blackburn:—
Sir—I beg you will pardon my troubling you. I write
under pressure of cruel, unavoidable circumstances. I am very ill
from an attack of paralysis, and miserably poor through long want of
employment owing to the cotton famine. I and mine are suffering
severe privations, want of bread, and many other necessaries. I am
feeble, ill, without means, and all but hopeless. If, sir, you could
render me some little assistance at this trying time, I shall feel deeply
Should you favour me with a reply, I will send you a number
of original contributions which you can use at your discretion. I
have published a new volume, price 3s. 6d., and the chance sale of a copy
is all we have to depend upon, for we are not receiving any relief from
the funds now collecting. Appealing to your benevolence, I remain,
sir, your respectful servant,
J. C. PRINCE.
On February 4, 1864, he thus writes from Brook Street, Hyde,
to Mr. Harrison, of Pool Fold, Manchester:—
I am miserably off, indeed:—ill in
body, without employment, without money, and without the common
necessaries of life.
And in a letter to Mr. R. R. Bealey, dated the following 10th
of May, he says:— . . . .
In addition to my extreme poverty, I
have another trouble just now. Yesterday, one of our family died;
and my only brother is momentarily expected to die of consumption. I
am, of course, wholly unprepared for these sad bereavements, as I cannot
render any help, nor appear decently myself. Pray, if you can,
render me a little assistance by return of post, and I will send you works
During these latter years of his life Prince was almost
entirely dependent upon the fitful charity of friends; and the innumerable
notes and letters which he wrote about this period bear the same burden,
the same impassioned appeals for help. From the above quotations it
will be seen that poverty still held him in cruel subjection, and that
misfortune had dogged his footsteps even to the verge of the grave.
When employment was to be had he worked at his trade irregularly up to the
time that he was too ill to labour, although, for some years previously,
he was only capable of engaging in the lighter and less intricate branches
of his handicraft. He had written to Mr. Carruthers urgently
soliciting occupation of any kind, and expressing a wish to spend the
remainder of his life in Blackburn; but he did not receive sufficient
encouragement to do so; and the time soon came when all hopes of ever
working again were finally extinguished.
On the 13th December 1864, he thus writes to the editor of a
As I think of your kindness to me I feel reluctant to trouble
you again, but stern circumstances overpower me. I enclose a few
pieces which I hope you will accept for insertion in your paper. If
so, and you think them worth a trifle in postage stamps, I shall feel most
I am still bowed down by sickness, want of employment, and
extreme poverty, or would not thus have presumed. Hoping the best,
sir, I remain, most respectfully yours,
J. C. PRINCE.
"Several years prior to his decease," says Mr. Procter,
"Prince resumed his visits to Manchester, and many old associations seemed
to be partially resuscitated. One of the last occasions was in the
autumn of 1865, when the poor fellow was the victim of partial paralysis,
a sad wreck, to whom pipe and glass, no longer mere indulgences, were
stern necessities." How sad it must have been for those who knew the
poet in former days to gaze upon him now, when, enfeebled in mind and
body, and bowed down with long-sustained poverty and privation, his eyes
no longer gleamed with intellectual fire, and his tottering footsteps
foretold the approaching end of his dismal and blighted life! As
Dew-drops are the gems of morning,
But the tears of mournful eve!
Where no hope is, life's a warning
That only serves to make us grieve.
During the last year of his life Prince was, for the most
part, confined to bed, suffering from a complication of diseases in which,
unfortunately, pain was a frequent element. He was now almost blind,
and, in addition to partial paralysis, was afflicted with an organic
disease of the liver, associated with dropsy. The late Dr. Wilkes,
of Hyde, attended him in his last illness with gentle care and assiduous
attention; and his devoted wife smoothed his pillow and ministered to his
wants with all the characteristic tenderness of a truly sympathetic woman,
who, with all Prince's faults, loved him to the last.
Less than six months before his death, Prince thus wrote to
Mr. R. P. Whitworth, of Stalybridge:—
December 19, 1865.
Sir—I write under great trouble. Having been very long
without employment, I and my family are reduced to abject poverty,—in
fact, wanting bread. I send you one of my poems, 'The
Sunday School,' thinking that some of your scholars might recite it
this Christmas. If you kindly buy the poem you may print it in any
shape you please. I think it well worth 2s. 6d. in postage stamps.
A book of mine, 'Autumn Leaves,' has just come out in a second edition,
enlarged and improved. The price is 3s. If you would kindly
take a copy I should feel very grateful. If you send 3s. in postage
stamps I will send you the book without delay. Hoping for your
sympathy, and an early reply, I remain, yours respectfully,
J. C. PRINCE.
Mr. R. P. Whitworth.
In a letter addressed to his early friend, Mr. George Falkner,
dated January 12, 1866, Prince writes:—"I am very ill, incapable of
either mental or physical exertion, and still without employment."
Accompanying this letter Prince sent a feeble poetic effort, which Mrs.
Prince assured Mr. Falkner was the last he ever wrote, and which was
subsequently published in the "Ashton Reporter." The verses
certainly show a sad decline of power, but are yet characteristic of his
A POET IN TROUBLE.
I'm a feeble, unfortunate bard,
My sorrows increasing with years,
My lot is cold, barren, and hard,
And many my cares and my fears;
I am failing in eyesight and mind,
In physical vigour likewise;
Oh! whence shall I solacement find
Save from God, who all comfort supplies?
I am spiritless, weary, and worn,
Subdued, and most thoughtfully sad,
And I feel my heart sorely forlorn,
Beneath a condition so bad;
I am eager to toil for my bread,
With carefulness, honest and true,
But alas! I am pining instead,
Having no fitting labour to do.
Oh God! in Thy mercy bestow
Some share of Thy bounty on me,
Who am striving in weakness and woe,
And hopefully praying to Thee;
My path has been rugged and hard
Through the mazes of life to this hour;
Oh! let not my soul be debarred
From Thy smile of beneficent power.
J. C. PRINCE.
Mr. Procter says:—"In the early spring of 1866 Prince,
supported by his wife, walked his final ramble. He chose the Mottram
Road, because he knew that as he advanced in that direction he would be
environed by the 'everlasting hills,'—the Bucktons, the Oldermanns, the
Dark Kinders, he loved so well, and had celebrated so often. These
were the points of earth where the parting spirit the latest lingered."
From this period his health seems rapidly to have given way,
for, on the 13th of March, he wrote to Mr. George Falkner:—
I am very ill to-day; I can scarcely speak, and I cannot get
across the floor without my wife's assistance. May God have mercy on yours
Although his sufferings were intense he did not repine. On the 22d
of March he again wrote to Mr. Falkner:—
"I am extremely ill, and feel quite worn out. May God
have mercy upon me!"
"After this date," says Mr. Falkner,
the effort to write almost prostrated him; he became
gradually weaker and more helpless, and had to be carried to bed by his
neighbours. The last letter he wrote to me, a few days before his
death, he was braced to attempt by the desire to return me a few
postage-stamps, received in excess of the value of some of his books.
Prince usually destroyed "old letters" as they accumulated,
and just before his death he destroyed almost every scrap of writing he
had by him.
We believe he wrote his last letter on the 27th of April
1866, to a correspondent in Tyldesley, and it is interesting to observe
that it was written in behalf of a friend. Blotted, misspelled, and
in every way indicating loss of physical and mental power is this sad
letter; but the pen that had so often and so eloquently pleaded in the
cause of humanity and the gospel of love, wrote its last words in a spirit
of charity and benevolence—in pleading for the welfare of a poor human
A few days afterwards, May 5, 1866, in the poet's
fifty-eighth year, the gentle spirit winged its heavenward flight, and
passed from time into eternity!
The following account of an interview which the writer, the
Rev. James Malcolmson, had with the poet just before his death is full of
mournful tenderness and interest. The letter was published in the
Sir—I know it will interest many of the numerous readers of
the 'Reporter' to have an account of a visit I had the privilege of making
to the house of J. C. Prince, during my recent pleasant sojourn in your
neighbourhood. I trust that what little I have got to say of my
interview with the deceased poet, within forty-eight hours of his death,
may deepen the interest of some of my many friends in Ashton, Stalybridge,
and Hyde, in the beautiful and manly writings of the departed bard, and
may quicken their exertions to gain such a provision as may place his
bereaved widow, and aged, venerable mother, beyond the reach of want.
On the 3d inst. (May 1866), just as I was about to leave
Hyde, I was informed that my friend, Mr. Prince, was dying, and apparently
sinking very fast. I at once hastened to his lowly house in Brook
Street. I found him in a state of great prostration and suffering.
After a few mingled, happy, and painful greetings, the few precious
moments at command were used in speaking 'a few words for God' to the sick
and dying man. Earnest at once, and inexpressibly solemn became the
conversation. Clerical duties in London, in an all-absorbing round
of missionary labour, might never permit me to communicate, much less be,
with him again on earth. This thought quickened, and increased and
intensified our feelings and sayings during the brief interview. The
interests of the soul—the love and claims of Jesus—the evidences of the
spirit—the nearing 'bourne from whence no traveller returns'—all were
spoken of. Though several years my senior the dying poet was as
docile as a child. The humble, lowly spirit was there, yet was his
intellectual vigour as great as ever. Most unmistakable were the
signs and evidences of the consciousness of his own condition before God,
and a genuine interest in Christ's atoning blood. As far as the
brief moments permitted, the dying poet unbosomed his inner soul. He
had known me well in bygone days, and could speak to me in fullest
confidence. He was in that hour 'looking off from himself to Jesus;'
his heart was fixed on heaven, for all his hopes were there.
We were joined by his aged mother and wife, and knelt for a
short time at the footstool of our heavenly Father. Earnest were our
words, fervent and solemn were the sick man's responses, uttered in his
usual deep musical tones, touching were the sobs of the sorrow-stricken
wife and his venerable mother, who, but little more than two years ago,
had knelt with me at the deathbed of another son. It was a scene and
an hour never to be forgotten. Yet were all of us strengthened, for
ere we said 'Adieu!' words of cheering, consolatory and hopeful, passed
from lip to lip. The dying poet's countenance beamed brightly as lit
up by the comforts of religion, and the sweet radiance of heaven.
His noble classic features, though worn by suffering, showed expressively,
as he leaned back in his old arm-chair, and his clear blue eyes flashed
forth once more in mild yet lustrous meaning. As I bade a tender
farewell, I little thought that ere I should be again in London his happy
released spirit would be mingling in the songs of the redeemed, in that
home 'where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.'
The Bard of the Loom and Spindle has gone—the poet of a
grand and rugged native independence has passed away—the sweet singer of
deeply human feelings and human hopes, and manly yet delicate unravellings
and unfoldings of the teachings and mysteries of the Book of God in
nature, has entered into his rest. John Critchley Prince has gone!
His manly thoughts remain a precious heritage to his fellows; his picture
poems and sweet songs will live in many hearts, and be sung by many a lip
for aye. We sorrow for ourselves, not for him. Our loss is his
gain. Nevertheless, we thank God for those precious results of his
chequered life which he has left behind him. In his works we have
lodes and veins of golden ore, a valuable legacy, and a noble inheritance.
I would close with an extract from a small bundle of MS. poems which the
departed bard has from time to time kindly sent me, and which seems
appropriate to the topics of my present letter. Writing of 'Death's
Doings,' he says:—
Into a meaner dwelling
The Dread Deliverer passed,
Where one had waited for him long,
And welcomed him at last.
The remains of the deceased poet were interred at St.
George's Church, Hyde, on Thursday, the 10th of May 1866. Besides
relatives, a large number of friends and admirers, from Manchester and
other places, attended, amongst whom were Messrs. George Falkner,
Waugh, Benjamin Brierley, Charles Hardwick, John Page, Elijah Ridings, R.
R. Bealey, George Richardson, Samuel Laycock, Robert Platt Whitworth, H.
W. Cooper, James Dawson jun., etc. The remains were borne to their
final resting-place by Messrs. James Burgess of Droylsden, Elijah Ridings,
Thomas Kenworthy, of Dukinfield, and R. P. Whitworth, of Stalybridge.
The burial service was read by the Rev. A. Read, incumbent; and the simple
oak coffin bore the name and age of the deceased, and the words "In heaven
there is rest." At the words "Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust,"
Thomas Kenworthy and Elijah Ridings scattered six verses, entitled the
"Song of Spring," with the motto "Resurgam," over the coffin of the poet,
and the earth closed over him for evermore.
After the funeral, Mr. Martin Middleton, the then proprietor
of the Queen's Hotel, Hyde, requested the pall-bearers to give him their
autographs as a commemoration of the sad event which had called them
together. A document was thus signed, which Middleton had framed;
and it may now be seen at the "George Inn," Hyde, opposite St. George's
A few days after assisting at these sad offices, Prince's
long-devoted friend, Mr. George Falkner, seems to have felt there was yet
a further duty to perform,—that of raising a monument over the poet's
grave; and, accordingly, he addressed the following letter to the editor
of the "Manchester Guardian," under date May 14, 1866:—
Fresh from the grave of John Critchley
Prince, I feel desirous that an effort be made to carry out the suggestion
of placing some simple memorial over his tomb, recording his name, age,
and date of death, believing as I do that he was gifted far above any
other poet associated with this district in the harmony of his numbers,
and the delicacy of his appreciation of all that is beautiful and tender
in nature and art. As it would be ungracious to leave this duty to
be performed by one only of Prince's earliest friends, I would willingly
unite with others, and charge myself with the care of such sums as his
admirers might feel disposed to contribute towards this object: and with
their approval and the assistance of his surviving relatives, I would see
it reverently and appropriately carried out. No large amount need be
expended. As he himself was unostentatious and retiring, so should
be the record which might mark his last resting-place.
The result in Manchester of this appeal, aided by the efforts
of Prince's friends in Hyde, was the raising of a sum adequate for the
purpose, and leaving a balance of a few pounds, which Mr. Falkner handed
over to the widow, who was herself most anxious to add her mite to the
fund, in token of her affection for the departed.
The stone, although somewhat plain, is not without adornment,
having a carved bordering, and inlaid into it, on each side a polished,
blue granite pillar. Above the inscription is a well-cut
laurel-wreath, with the poet's monogram in the centre. The
inscription is as follows:—
By a few Admirers
to the Memory of
JOHN CRITCHLEY PRINCE
'Hours with the Muses.'
Born, 21st June, 1808.
Died, 5th May, 1866.
The grave is surrounded with an oblong stone ledge or border, in which are
inserted iron pillars connected with each other by means of an ornamental
iron chain; and covering the grave itself, there is a plain flat stone
inscribed with obituary notices of several members of the Prince family.
In a graphic description of a visit to Prince's grave, from
the pen of Mr. James Dawson, he says:— . . . .
The grave is situate on the western side
of the graveyard, a little to the south-west of the steeple; and,
considering that St. George's is in a sense in Hyde, not outside it, it is
in a somewhat pretty place, and may be said to be a fitting spot for a
poet to repose in. True, churchyards there are in plenty whose
surroundings would be more in keeping with a poet's resting-place.
The surroundings of this one, however, are not at all out of keeping with
the same. Though there are blocks of houses a little distance from
the walls, on its east and north sides, it is open to the country on the
west and south sides. The few young trees that have been planted, or
have taken root here and there, on what may be called the country-side of
the graveyard, and the many graves literally smothered with flowers of
every imaginable hue, add to the attractions of the place. From it a
fine view is to be obtained over the comparatively flat land to the west
and south-west; while, to the south, the green and far-receding slopes of
Werneth Lowe, dotted, as it is, with folds and homesteads, and traced over
with dark rambling hedgerows and darker stone walls, afford an equally
Not an unfitting place is St. George's graveyard for a poet
to sleep his last sleep in. Neither is it an unfitting place—(no
graveyard is)—for a poet to meditate in. We fancy that Prince, when
in his better moods, was wont to saunter into it of evenings, and muse
among the graves, as Gray used to do at Stoke Pogis. Possibly, nay
probably, he has frequently, on fine summer nights sat where he now lies,
reflecting on man's destiny here below, and on his own most chequered
career; and watching the tender twilight steal over the little town, and
up the near hill slope, from which the golden glow of sunset had not long
faded. On such occasions, be sure, he quitted not his seat till
cottage candles in the upland folds, and meek-eyed stars in the
illimitable heavens began to come out here and there, and the near streets
(as it would seem to him, true poet that he was), hushed their tenants for
the graveyard's sake, and took a lesson from its utter peace.
We love to think of the poet, as he must have been in those
better moods of his, of which we have spoken. At such times, the
noble qualities of his nature must have been apparent to all, and he must
have been a person worthy of the utmost regard and esteem, full of as high
and noble aspirations as it is possible to conceive; and possessed of
feelings and affections fine as ever were nurtured in man.
The memorial cards of the poet contained, in addition to his
name, age, etc., the following lines, written by Mr. Samuel Laycock:—
Farewell, thou gifted singer! Thy sweet songs
Have charmed the ears of thousands in our land:
Now, thou art gone, we feel that we have lost
One of the greatest of a gifted band.
Though thou art dead, thy honoured name shall live
For ages yet to come; and thy pure lays
Be read and prized by myriads yet unborn,
And in their hearts thy songs shall find a place.
His like, again, alas! we may not see:
Few living bards have sung so well as he!
Mr. Edwin Waugh—Prince's appreciative friend, and the
greatest of the Lancashire poets who are still amongst us—thus concludes a
recent touching letter concerning his departed brother-bard:—
He was an unhappy man in some respects. The circumstances of his life were
singularly adverse, and threw the sensitive chords of a really noble and
finely-strung nature into painful confusion—'like sweet bells jangled.'
I never think of him, now, without a feeling of affection and sadness
combined; and never pass within sight of the little churchyard where we
laid him down a few years ago, without feeling thankful that he is at
rest. His little harp is silent now; though its sweet tones still linger
in the air. His voice is amongst the voices that are gone. Peace be with
him! 'After life's fitful fever he sleeps well.'
On July 5, 1866, the members of the Manchester Athenæum Literary and
Dramatic Reading Society gave an amateur performance, under distinguished
patronage, in the Library Hall of the Athenaeum, for the benefit of Mrs.
Prince; the pieces performed being "A Bachelor of Arts" and "Nine points
of the Law." Mr. J. Cavanagh took a leading part in the performance, and
Mr. G. Falkner acted as Honorary Treasurer.
Mrs. Prince still lives, and, with commendable independence of spirit,
refuses to accept any more recent efforts on her behalf, spending the
evening of her life in humble industry, which is sweetened by a sense of
duty performed, and by memories of him to whom she was a faithful, worthy,
and loving wife.
In a letter to Miss Chalmers, Burns says:—"There is not among all the martyrologies that ever were penned so rueful a narrative as the lives of
the poets." However sad this statement may appear, the life of John
Critchley Prince furnishes additional testimony to its truthfulness. That
the poetic power is a direct gift, and bestowed upon its possessors irrespective of their circumstances, is exemplified in
the cases of Burns, John Clare, Prince, and others of their class; and
although we are not of those who attribute the sufferings of men of genius
to the cruelties of an unsympathising world, yet it is curious to observe
how sadly analogous are the lives of most of those poets who have sprung
from the ranks of the artisan and labouring classes. In seeking to account
for this, we are irresistibly led to believe that it is in the poetic
temperament itself we must seek for many of the elements of misfortune
which so frequently characterise its possessors. Without entering upon a
discussion of this subject, it must be admitted that those so gifted seem
often to lack that energy and enterprise which are essential, if not
indispensable, in dealing with the stern realities of life: no special
gift, however sublime in itself, can compensate for the absence of the
ordinary endowments necessary for the exigencies of a condition which
philosophers assure us, pre-ordains the "survival of the fittest."
Thus it is that the minds of men of genius so often manifest that want of
balance which tends to make their characters eccentric and their judgment
erratic, whilst it develops a want of confidence in themselves which
renders them to some extent incapable of grappling with the ways and
means—the duties and responsibilities of daily life, and unfits them for
doing justice to themselves and their circumstances as citizens of the
"Poetry," as Simonides says, "is the language of the gods." But poets
buy at a high price the raptures of poetic fancy.
Of Prince it might be said, as has been said of Burns, that "he had claims
to be recognised as a poet, not relatively only, in consideration of the
difficulties he had to struggle with, but absolutely, on the ground of the
intrinsic excellence of his work." Burns was a greater poet than Prince;
yet the power of his genius could not exempt him from the sufferings and
misfortunes of life; but if Burns was greater as a poet, Prince surpassed
him in suffering and endurance, which were his lot from the cradle to the
Principal Shairp, in his recent delightful biography of Burns, indulges a
reflection which we cannot help feeling is applicable to the case of poor
John Critchley Prince:—"How often," he says, "has one been tempted to
wish that we had known as little of the actual career of Burns as we do of
the life of Shakespeare, or even of Homer; and been left to read his mind
and character only by the light of his works." And not less fitly might it
be said of Prince, as of Burns, that "it was the contradiction between the
noble gifts he had, and the actual life he lived, which makes his career
the painful tragedy it was."
Prince had no learned eye in human dealings; indeed,
the combination of the poetic faculty with that of a man of the world is
rare, if not impossible. He lived more or less in an ideal world of his
own creation, where he became a power; but in the world of facts he was as
a child. With poetic strength there was proportionate human weakness;
hence his failings. Yet, unlike Burns,
he did not deplore his lot, nor envy his superiors. Such little success as
he enjoyed did not unduly elate him, for he was faithful to his order, and
never aspired to rise above it.
The chief defect of Prince's character was the weakness of his resolution,
the faculty which especially rules and preserves the equilibrium between
conduct, on the one hand, and the understanding, on the other. Naturally
inclining to the higher dictates of humanity, he had insufficient strength
to resist the ever-recurring temptations to which he was exposed; and
although he may often have yielded too readily, it must be remembered that
the possession of "the poetic faculty is not calculated to strengthen or
invigorate the governing powers of the mind." He never essayed to master
himself; and was content to remain the creature of circumstances; but the
circumstances of his unhappy life were, indeed, so terrible, that only
those of stronger wills and harder natures could have overcome them.
Our labour of love is now ended; and we may be permitted to say in
conclusion that the moral lesson to be derived from Prince's career seems
to us to be analogous to that so elegantly urged by Dr. Johnson in his
summary of the character of Savage; and with it we fitly close our record
of one whose gifts were incontestibly greater, and whose sufferings were
not less deserving of pity:—
His writings may improve mankind
when his failings shall be forgotten, and, therefore, he must be
considered as a benefactor to the world; nor can his personal example do
any hurt, since whoever hears of his faults will hear of the miseries
which they brought upon him, and which would deserve less pity had not his
condition been such as made his faults pardonable. He may be considered as
a child exposed to all the temptations of indigence, at an age when
resolution was not yet strengthened by conviction, nor virtue confirmed by
This relation will not be wholly without its use, if
those who languish under any part of his sufferings shall be enabled to
fortify their patience by reflecting that they feel only those afflictions
from which the abilities of Savage did not exempt him; or those who, in
confidence of superior capacities or attainments, disregard the common
maxims of life, shall be reminded that nothing will supply want of
prudence; and that negligence and irregularity, long-continued, will make
knowledge useless, wit ridiculous, and genius contemptible.
Printed by R. & R. CLARK,