John Critchley Prince: Biography (6)
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CHAPTER VII.


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:—


B
ROOK STREET, HYDE,
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 very poor.

    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 1860:—


117 F
IELDEN STREET, BLACKBURN,
February 11.


    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,

JOHN CRITCHLEY PRINCE.

The Editor.


    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.  He says,


    "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 his joys."


    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. P
RINCE.


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 street,
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 possible.

    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 light.

    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,

WILLIE.


    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:—


B
ROOK STREET, HYDE, CHESHIRE,
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, respectfully yours,

J. C. PRINCE.

Mr. Hardwick.


    About the same time he thus writes to the editor of a newspaper in Blackburn:—


B
ROOK STREET, HYDE, CHESHIRE, 1863.


    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 grateful.

    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 without delay.


    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 newspaper:—


    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 grateful indeed.

    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. P
RINCE.


    "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 Coleridge says:—


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:—


B
ROOK STREET, HYDE, CHESHIRE,
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 peculiar harmony:—


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. P
RINCE.

BROOK STREET, HYDE, CHESHIRE,
January 1866.


    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 gratefully,

J. C. PRINCE.


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 brother!

    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 "Ashton Reporter:"—


    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, Edwin 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 Church.

    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:—


Erected
By a few Admirers
to the Memory of
 JOHN CRITCHLEY PRINCE
Author of
'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 fine prospect.

    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 world.

    "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 grave.

    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 habit.

    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.




THE END.
――――♦――――






Printed by R. & R. CLARK, Edinburgh.

 



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