collected edition of the works of EDWIN WAUGH
was published in ten consecutive volumes during the years 1881-2-3.
The author was alone responsible for the selection and arrangement
adopted; and no other hand could have accomplished the task so well.
His various contributions to literature had been sent forth during
the course of more than thirty years in numberless leaflets,
broadsides, pamphlets, and volumes by many publishers, and in
continually changing forms, the contents being often recast and
adapted to fresh uses. It was almost impossible to compile a
complete bibliography of his writings, and his admirers never knew
whether they possessed all that he had written or not. The
collected edition, therefore, was received with much pleasure and
satisfaction. It contained, in well-ordered form, all that he
considered worthy of preservation among that which he had produced
up to the year 1883. In 1889 he issued a second series of
"Poems and Songs" uniform with the previous ten volumes. These
eleven volumes were published in "large paper" and in "small paper"
form; and it is a gratifying and almost unexpected proof of his
popularity in Lancashire—if not over a wider area—that so soon after
his death both these editions should have become so scarce as to
command very high prices—a "small paper" copy having been recently
sold for £9.
In the present edition the eleven volumes are reduced to
eight. In the interests of the author and his fame, no less
than of the reader, this curtailment is desirable. The eight
volumes, it is believed, will contain all his best and most
characteristic work. No abridgement of separate papers,
sketches, or poems has been attempted. The Editor is
responsible for such omissions as occur, but in all that does appear
the author's own text has been scrupulously retained.
In the two volumes entitled "Lancashire Sketches," the whole
of the papers originally published under that title have been
reproduced, together with a few others which seem to come naturally
under the same designation. The little cluster of stories—full
of the finest pathos and humour—which circle round the homely
character of Besom Ben, have been given complete and in one volume.
In this form they furnish the best instance of Waugh's power in the
art of sustained and consecutive story-telling. The "Chimney
Corner Stories" and the two series entitled "Tufts of Heather," [I.
& II.] are practically complete. In the volume which
appears in this edition as "Rambles in the Lake Country and other
Travel Sketches," will be found a selection of his best pieces in
purely descriptive writing. The papers in that class which are
not reprinted are inferior to his other works in merit as well as in
general interest. To this volume of "Rambles" an index and a
map have been added. The small book called "Factory Folk,"
which was written in 1862, has not been reproduced, but two articles
from it, "Among the Preston operatives" and "Wails of the Workless
Poor," have been given with the object of preserving some record of
the Lancashire Cotton Famine.
The Editor's most difficult task has been to deal with the
Poems, which in the last edition filled two volumes. He felt
that one volume—larger indeed than either of the other two—should be
made to contain all that might be expected to live. The
selection of poems now offered has been made with as much care and
discrimination as the Editor was able to supply; and, although it is
too much to expect that every reader's taste will be satisfied, it
is hoped that few, if any, pieces will be missed among those which
have made themselves dear to the hearts of Lancashire people.
of the titles that Milner refers to are available on this website,
although in some cases in the 1881-3 (or earlier) edition.
Waugh's account of the
Lancashire Cotton Famine
- from which comes "Among the Preston Operatives" - is reproduced
complete together with related illustrations, news clips, etc. not
in the published edition.]
of the works of Edwin Waugh in a form so extended as to occupy eight
volumes may seem to need justification. The distinction
between national and provincial literature has never been clearly
laid down. That distinction is probably incapable of anything
like accurate definition. It is not merely a question of
subject. There are writers who have taken rank with the
highest, notwithstanding the essentially local character of their
material; on the other hand, there are men who will always be
classed as provincial although their themes are of the most general
and cosmopolitan character. It is the power which a writer
displays, rather than the particular character of his subject, which
determines acceptance; and, in the long-run, it is acceptance mainly
which fixes his position in the open field of letters. Waugh's
case, however, is peculiar. Any valid estimate of his merits
must proceed upon the assumption that he is provincial. He
never regarded himself as anything else. He is intentionally
and deliberately local. His subjects all spring, so to speak,
from his native soil; and he is always at his best when he uses the
dialect of the county in which he was born. In short, he asked
for no higher honour than to be entered on the roll of Lancashire
writers; and among these he holds a place of undisputed eminence.
I am not disposed to admit that what is now being said should
be regarded as, in any sense, a depreciation. In choosing his
line he acted wisely. In all honesty of purpose he delivered
the message that was in him, after such fashion as was natural to
his genius; and, granting this standpoint, he did his work well.
To do this, and to have taken high rank among local men, is surely
better than to have passed into the unnumbered and undistinguished
throng of third-rate writers. But there is another
consideration. Such books as his are not without their
influence on the literature of the country; for, just as the rural
population gives bone and sinew to the dwellers in the city, so
those ideas which are often sneered at as provincial, and those
dialectal forms of speech which are ignorantly regarded as vulgar,
bring the qualities of freshness and vigour into writing which has
become enervated by a too assiduous cultivation of what are called
the graces of style. It would be invidious to specify modern
instances, but we are all familiar with certain literary exquisites
who, if they only knew what was good for them, would take a short
course of study in the rugged and nervous dialect of Lancashire.
It is worthwhile, therefore, it seems to me, to re-issue the
prose and verse of Edwin Waugh. We know how valuable, for
instance, is a good county history, not only to those who belong to
the county itself, but also to the general reader, and to the
national historian. Of equal value, at least, are the tales,
sketches, and poems of Waugh; for there one may find, in irregular
form it is true, and with certain limitations, a singularly accurate
picture of what rural Lancashire was like during the middle third of
the nineteenth century—a period of stress and storm and change.
I am quite conscious that in the eight volumes which follow
this Introduction much inferior matter will be found. Waugh
often wrote for bread and against time; and his profuse use of
padding, as well as his constant repetitions, are often of the most
provoking character. To get rid of these excrescences,
however, it would be necessary to pull all his work to pieces.
Such a course would be most undesirable. The articles,
therefore, which have been selected for final issue must stand as he
wrote them, and the reader may be assured for his consolation that
he will often find embedded in a commonplace and unpromising page
some vivid delineation of character, some quaint and pithy proverb,
some suggestive piece of folk-lore, some world-wide touch of nature,
or some richly humorous story told in few and simple words.
In estimating the value of his prose I should say that its
first characteristic is its obvious sincerity and genuineness.
He is fond of quoting long passages of antiquarian history, but he
never describes either nature or man at second-hand. The thing
he writes down is the thing he saw or felt. He does not seem
to think about style except, perhaps, when he is describing a
sunset; he exercises but little art in the arrangement of his
material; and his usual error is on the side of redundance, for he
sets down everything with an almost youthful love of minute detail.
Although, as I have already said, his most satisfactory work
is in the dialect, it must not be supposed that his literary English
is without distinction. The quality of idiomatic strength
which is characteristic of all good dialectal writing communicates
itself to his ordinary speech. When he wishes, for instance,
to describe the country round Manchester he calls it "The green
selvedge of our toilful district." The twilight is "the edge
of dark." "At the edge of dark I bade adieu to Tim's cottage."
A tall man is "long-limbed," and a gaunt man is "raw-boned."
The following passage is a fair specimen of his prose.
"It was in that pleasant season of the year when
fresh buds begin to appear upon the thorn, when the daisy, and the
celandine, and the early primrose, peep from the ground, that I
began to long for another stroll through my native vale up to the
top of Blackstone Edge. Those mountain wastes are familiar to
me. When I was a child, they rose up constantly in sight, with
a silent, majestic look. The sun came from behind them in the
morning, pouring its flood of splendour upon the busy valley, the
winding river and its little tributaries; and oft as opportunity
would allow I rushed towards them; for they were kindly and
congenial to my mind." [1.]
He is familiar with all the wild flowers of Lancashire, and often
makes a nosegay of them for the decoration of his pages. The
following beautiful passage occurs in the Besom Ben Stories,
and is used with considerable effect as a contrast to the rough
humour by which it is surrounded.
"Near the Bridge Ben left the main road, and turned
up a green lane. It was hemmed in by old sprawling hedges,
thickly clothed in the wild luxuriance of the season; a rambling
fretwork of many-patterned foliage, pranked all over with floral
prettiness—the rich overflow of nature's festal cup of beauty.
A posied crowd of hedge-plants were gathered there at the year's
great holiday. Thyme, and mint, and mugwort; docks, and
sorrel, and nettles, and cotton-flowered thistles; the purple
privet; the tall, proud foxglove, with its gaudy bell; the wilding
rose, and yellow agrimony; the solemn, dark crimson-tinted
hound's-tongue; and the little blue forget-me-not; burdock, and the
lilac-flowered mallow, and the pretty harebell, with its pendant
trembling cup; the golden-flowered broom—beautiful crest of the
Plantagenet kings; and the scarlet pimpernel that shuts its flower
at noon, and tells the watchful farmer what sort of weather's in the
wind. Trailing honey-suckles, with their creamy, sweet-scented
flowers; and the rambling bramble, with its small white rose
and—fairy's 'gauzy satin frill'—the airy's nightcap peeping out
prettily on long, flexile sprays; and here and there a thick-leaved
tree, growing by the lane side, hung over all its friendly robe of
Of his dialectal work it is impossible to speak too highly.
There he moves without restraint, and in an element that is entirely
congenial to him. He never once strikes a false note.
His rustic dialogues are always in dramatic harmony, and are as true
in sentiment and in verbal form as if they had been taken down word
for word upon the spot. His dialect is not the result of
philological study; he has no preconceived notions of what it ought
to be, or of how it ought to correspond with our Early English, but
it is absolutely true and inevitable. He never seeks for a
dialectal word or phrase; it comes unsought because it is his native
speech. What William Barnes says of himself in reference to
his Dorset dialect is entirely applicable to Waugh—"To write in what
some may deem a fast out-wearing speech-form may seem as idle as the
writing one's name in snow of a spring day. I cannot help it.
It is my mother tongue, and it is to my mind the only true speech of
the life that I draw." [2.] Although, as I
have indicated, Waugh's dialect does not rest upon an academic base,
to the philologist it is invaluable. It is the purest form of
Lancashire Folk-speech—much purer, for instance, than that of John
Collier, [3.] which was adulterated by
importations from Cheshire on the one hand and from Yorkshire on the
other. The words are those which are or were actually in use;
the declensions are grammatically correct; and, although the
spelling is never uselessly encumbered by uncouth forms, the
pronunciation is as accurately rendered as it can be without the use
of phonetic symbols.
As a specimen of powerful writing and of pure dialect I would
refer the reader to one of Waugh's earliest compositions—the "Ramble
from Bury to Rochdale"—which appears in the Lancashire Sketches.
Embedded in this article will be found the inimitable "Birtle
Carter's Story of Owd Bodle," which has been often separately
printed, and which was always a favourite Reading with Lancashire
audiences. The main incident of the story is grotesque even to
rudeness, but the humour is of the richest kind, and the delineation
of character, as well as the reproduction of dialect, are as
faithful as it is possible to make them. If the general reader
could only master the peculiar form of speech he would be surprised
to find what power and pathos there is, for instance, in the
dialogue about the "Corn Laws" and the "clemmin" of little children.
Take two short specimens,—"Iv they winnot gi' me my share for
wortchin' for," says Jone, the Birtle Carter, "aw'll have it eawt o'
some nook,—if aw dunnot, d— Jone! (striking the table heavily
with his fist.) They's never be clemmed at our heawse, as
aw ha' si'n folk clemmed i' my time,—never whol aw've a fist at th'
end o' my arm!" The reply comes from the landlady of a
roadside inn—"Ay, ay. If it're nobbut a body's sel', we could
manage to pinch a bit, neaw and then; becose one could rayson abeawt
it some bit like. But it's th' childer, more,—it's th' childer!
Th' little things at look'n for it reggilar; an' wonder'n heaw it is
when it doesn't come. Eh, dear o' me! To see poor folk's
bits of childer yammerin' for a bite o' mheyt,—when there's noan for
'em,—an' lookin' up i' folk's faces, as mich as to say, 'Connot yo'
help me?' It is enough to may (make) onybody cry their shoon
full!" The two sides of the old Lancashire character are
here—the rudeness, the fierceness even, of the carter who, if work
will not give him his share of bread, will have it by other means,
and who will not see his household starve while he has "a fist at
the end of his arm;" and the tenderness of the landlady, who says,
that to see the children "yammerin" for meat is enough to make us
cry our shoes full of tears.
It may be observed that in these extracts two words occur
which have no exact synonyms in literary English—clemmed,
which means to starve from hunger, and yammering which
is quite untranslatable, but which may be approximately expressed
by—to cry and yearn for piteously and earnestly. The
form of wortchin' for working, of shoon for
shoes, the old sign of the plural in en added to the
verbs look and wonder, and the addition of the
aspirate to the word meat (mheyt) to express a peculiar
pronunciation may also be indicated as typical instances of careful
rendering and as illustrating the points which would be brought out
by an intelligent study of Waugh's dialectal writing.
I have spoken, so far, only of his prose. Some attempt
should be made to estimate his position as a poet. Although
his prose far exceeds his verse in quantity, it is upon the latter
chiefly that his fame must rest. By his songs and humorous
poems he first became widely known, and it is through them that he
will be longest remembered. He had the instinct and the heart
of a poet. His love of nature was intense and genuine.
The moorland hills "haunted him like a passion," and that alone
would have compelled him, whether successfully or not, to seek
expression in verse. With regard to his poems in ordinary
English it may be admitted at once that they are sometimes
commonplace; and that, even when they rise to a higher level, all
that we can venture to say of them is, that they are graceful and
pleasing. But in the dialect it is altogether different.
There, as one might expect, the thought finds adequate and congenial
expression; his singing-robes are on, and though his muse may never
be anything but homely, still the inspiration is genuine; and,
without allowing partiality to silence the voice of criticism, we
may claim for him that in the dialect, at least, he is entitled to
the name of a true poet. Of course to write in a dialect is to
narrow one's audience; but so much attention has been paid of late
to the nature and importance of folk-speech in relation to the study
of English in general, that one may reasonably expect the number of
those who are willing to master the difficulties of a dialect will
increase rather than diminish. It is quite certain that
sounder views have come into vogue; and one does not often meet now
(at least among educated people) with the opinion, once so freely
expressed, that all dialectal writing is necessarily synonymous with
coarseness and vulgarity.
In speaking of Waugh it is natural to think of Burns, and to
ask in what relation they stand towards each other. There are
several minor Scottish poets—Tannehill is one of them—who have
written single pieces of a finer character than anything to be found
in Waugh; but, if we take the whole body of Waugh's dialectal
poetry, and compare it with that of Burns, I think we may say that,
although the distance between them is confessedly great, our
Lancashire moorland poet comes next in rank—not, of course, as poet
pure and simple, but as dialectal poet—to his great Scottish
predecessor. Burns, by his fiery passion and his wide
sympathies both with man and with the brute creatures, compelled,
not Scotland only, but all English-speaking people to accept his
Doric verses as their own. Waugh, of course, has neither
accomplished nor attempted anything so ambitious; but he has made
himself the poet of Lancashire, and, consequently, of no small or
unimportant section of England. We may venture to go farther,
and say that the more his verses are studied in the light of recent
research, the more they will be found worthy of English
consideration, providing always that the reader will rid himself,
first, of the prejudice to which we have already alluded, namely,
that there is some innate vulgarity in a dialectal word; and,
second, of the equally erroneous impression that the Lancashire
dialect is not capable of expressing poetic conceptions with
delicacy or force. What holds good, singular as it may seem,
is, in fact, the very opposite of this, for any really fine poem,
dealing with the elementary emotions, is capable of translation,
without loss, into the dialect; whereas a spurious or artificial
piece of verse would inevitably refuse to come within the limits of
Leaving out of consideration the occasional and experimental poems
in the Lincolnshire dialect by Tennyson (which, by the way, are as
strong as anything he ever wrote), there is no English writer in
dialectal verse who comes near to Waugh except William Barnes.
But Barnes is inferior to Waugh. He is more idyllic, but he
has less humour; and the dramatic element in his poems is not
sustained. The language is philologically correct, but the
ideas expressed and the images used are often such as would not be
used by the rustic persons supposed to be speaking, although they
would be quite proper to the poet himself. Into this error
Waugh never falls. While Barnes frequently gives you the
impression of a poet expressing himself by intention, and with great
skill, in a dialectal form, Waugh seems to be setting forth the
ideas natural to his characters in the only language which either he
or they had at command.
No writer could possibly have grown more naturally out of his
surroundings than Waugh. Granted some native genius, some
impulse in the blood, and the rest is obvious. The sequence of
his development is transparent; he offers you no surprises, and
there are in his career no unexplained triumphs. Out of the
life he lived there came inevitably the books he wrote. He was
born in Rochdale on the 29th of January, 1817. All his
paternal ancestors were Border-men. His great-grandfather,
John Waugh, was what is known in the north country as a "statesman,"
and farmed his own land at Coanwood, near the village of Haltwhistle,
in Northumberland. William Waugh, being a younger son of John,
was apprenticed to a shoemaker and leather-dealer. At the end
of his apprenticeship he travelled south, intending to reach London
but, calling in Rochdale, where he had friends, he lingered there,
became attached to a Miss Grindrod, married, settled in the
Lancashire town, and ultimately began business as a leather-dealer
on his own account. He built houses, was a man of substance,
and brought up a family of three daughters and seven sons. He
is described as "a quaint, staid, and persevering man, stout and
square built, dressed in brown cloth coat and breeches of the Queen
Anne cut, with large buckles on his shoes, and wearing a brown wig
with long curls flowing down into the neck behind." The
records which remain give you the impression that these Waughs were
all men of some mark, strong both in body and mind, but with a vein
of eccentricity running through them. Of the seven sons, some
were of a "bookish" and mentally speculative turn. One listed
as a marine, and was killed at the battle of Trafalgar. He is
said to have been "as strong as a lion and as broad as a pack of
wool." This simile of the wool-pack is noticeable, for the
words "broad as a pack of wool" would be no inapt description of
Edwin Waugh, the poet. Of William's seven sons, the youngest
was Edward, the father of Edwin. He followed the trade of a
shoemaker, and, though a poor man, he had received a good elementary
education at the Rochdale Grammar School.
Waugh's maternal ancestors all came from the hills of South
Lancashire. His mother was a Howarth, and was born on the
moorland between Bury and Rochdale. This particular locality I
have always regarded as the one place where the purest Lancashire
dialect might be found, and there is very little doubt that Waugh's
admirable dialect was that which his mother used, rather than that
which he heard abroad; and that more than half of the shrewd sayings
and pithy proverbs for which he was so famous were those which came
from his mother's lips. Two things are conspicuous with regard
to his relatives on the mother's side—they were remarkable for
musical ability and for attachment to the doctrines of John Wesley.
Among them was James Leach, who published a fine set of tunes which
are popularly known as Leach's Psalmody, and John Leach, who was one
of Wesley's earliest preachers, and about whom there is a note in
Southey's Life of Wesley. Waugh's own mother used to tell with
pride of Wesley's visits to her father's cottage, and of how the
great man had spoken kindly to her and stroked down her hair.
Among these uncles on both sides—the Waughs, and Howarths, and
Leaches, will be found, I think, the originals of the men who are so
graphically described in the well-known poem of "Eawr
Edwin Waugh was between two and three years old at the time
of Peterloo, and he could just remember the coronation of George IV.
He was but nine years old when his father died. Of him he had
but few reminiscences, but he cherished the recollection of walking
out with him at night, and being taught the names of the
constellations. Up to this time the family appears to have
been in fairly comfortable circumstances, but when the widowed
mother was left to struggle with the business of the shoe-shop alone
they soon began to feel what he calls himself, quoting from John
Collier, "the iron teeth of penury." For three years they were
driven to reside in a cellar-dwelling, and knew what it was to eke
out their scanty food with nettles and passion-dock, or "poor man's
cabbage," as it is often called in Lancashire, "boiled, strained,
and eaten with bacon or bacon dripping." This poverty,
however, never meant squalor or untidiness. In after life he
spoke of his mother as "the most cleanly woman he had ever known,
both in house and person and attire." No reader of his works
would need to be told this. Nothing comes out more strongly
than his inbred hatred of dirt, and his keen sympathy with all poor,
struggling, and clean persons.
Waugh had no schooling before he was seven years of age, but
his mother taught him to read very early, and the books which his
father had left were always handy on the window sill—the usual
bookcase in a poor man's cottage. In "An Old Man's
Memories"—to which I am indebted for many of the facts included in
this sketch—Waugh gives a list of these books—"The Bible, the Book
of Common Prayer, 'Wesley's Hymns,' 'Baxter's Saints' Rest,'
'Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress,' 'Foxe's Book of Martyrs,' a
'Compendium of the history of England,' 'Culpepper's Herbal,' a
large quarto copy of 'Barclay's Dictionary,' and a few small
elementary books." All these, he says, he read with avidity,
except the 'Saints' Rest,' which he neglected. "Barclays
Dictionary" he studied more or less every day, and upon the "Book of
Martyrs" he pored so long and earnestly that he often "imagined
himself living in the reign of Queen Mary." Many of Wesley's
hymns he learned by heart, a venerable and kindly Welshman having
offered him a penny for each hymn which he would commit to memory.
Subsequently the boy's modest library was increased by the addition
of an "Enfield's Speaker." This he regarded as a delightful
book, probably because it would reveal for the first time something
of what awaited him in the field of general literature. He
carried it about with him, he says, in the daytime, and took it to
bed at night.
The Rochdale in which the growing lad lived was, it should be
remembered, a very different place to the town as we know it now.
It was still small and picturesque. The moorland ridges were
close at hand, and had not to be approached through long streets of
houses; the green country could always be seen, and in the woods,
within a few hundred yards of his mother's house, he could gather
posies and acorns, and hear the church bells ringing curfew and
chime. Quite within the town itself there was still standing
the old haunted manor house of the Byrons (the author of "Childe
Harold" was the last lord of the manor), a place which Waugh
describes as being for him as a child "steeped in romance."
Like Wordsworth, he owed much to the river of his birthplace.
The Roche was his Derwent, and—
From his alder shades and rocky falls,
And from his fords and shallows, sent a voice,
That flowed along his dreams.
To him it was "the fairest of all rivers." It could not
be said to "blend its murmurs with his nurse's song," for no nurse
watched over his gambols; but on long summer days, when yet a mere
infant, he angled and paddled in it untrammelled from morning till
night. Not less attractive or fruitful were the human aspects
of the place. As might be expected, he came into contact with
all sorts of striking and original personages—old-fashioned
tradesmen—bakers, chandlers, barbers, nail-makers, reed-makers, and
inn-keepers ancient squires, local preachers, working botanists, and
self-taught mathematicians. Among such scenes and characters
his earliest years were spent. Of the scenery he said "my
heart warms to those wild hills as I write about them now; for I
loved them when I was a lad, a love so strong and constant that I
cannot account for it on any other ground than the fact that my
forefathers on both sides for many generations had been born and
bred among pastoral scenery of a similar kind." His opinion of
the human society among which he was thrown is expressed in the
following in words:—"I never knew better or happier people than the
poor hardworking folk among whom I lived." The town itself,
and its inhabitants, and the moorland by which they were surrounded,
are all touched with a loving hand in one of the loving best of his
songs—"I've worn my bits o' spoon away."
[Ed.—see also Sheet Music]
It's what care I for cities grand,—
We never shall agree;
I'd rayther live where th' layrock sings,—
A country teawn for me!
A country teawn where one can meet
Wi' friends and neighbours known;
Where one can lounge i'th market-place,
An' see the meadows mown.
Yon moorland hills are bloomin' wild
At th' endin' o' July;
Yon woodlan' cloofs, and valleys green,—
The sweetest under th' sky;
Yon dainty rindles, dancin' deawn
Fro' th' meawntains into th' plain;—
As soon as th' new moon rises, lads,
I'm off to th' moors again.
After he was seven years of age he seems to have received a
little intermittent teaching at various schools,—private, national,
and commercial,—his mother evidently struggling to give him some
sort of education. In what he calls the "exact sciences" he
made no progress, but he was quick in all other kinds of learning.
From school, however, he was often a truant, the attractions of the
moorland and the wood being too strong for him. As was almost
invariably the case with boys of his class, at the time of which we
are writing, the Sunday school and the night school were called in
to make up for deficiencies in day school training. At this
time his mother had a shoe-stall in Rochdale market, and he often
had to give his help there,—standing in frost and rain, as he
painfully remembers, on Saturdays till nearly midnight. At
twelve years of age he entered into regular employment, becoming an
errand boy with a Mr. John Walker, a local preacher and printer.
It was the opening of a new era in his life when he took two
shillings to his poor mother, that being the amount of his first
week's wage. Twelve months later his services were transferred
to Mr. Thomas Holden, another Rochdale bookseller and printer.
At fourteen he was apprenticed to Mr. Holden, and began to learn the
art and mystery of printing. His duties were not light, for
long hours of labour were then the rule. Mr. Holden's shop was
opened at six in summer and seven in winter, and the hour of closing
was nine at night. As junior apprentice it was his business to
open the shop. To be late was an unpardonable offence, and
once in his boyish anxiety he awoke in the middle of a winter's
night and made his way through snow-covered lanes to his master's
shop at half-past one in the morning.
Early in his apprenticeship his range of reading widened.
His appetite for knowledge had become insatiable, and he read
everything he could lay his hands on, but especially histories of
England and books relating to his native county. His
attendance in the shop of Mr. Holden not only brought him into
contact with books, but also with book-lovers. Among these was
a young curate who afterwards became "Canon Raines," the well-known
antiquary. In subsequent years the canon reminded Waugh that
he once found him in the shop reading by stealth the poems of George
Herbert. About this time he began to read the works of John
Collier and Roby's Traditions of Lancashire. Probably
these two books, more than anything else, would determine the
precise line on which his own literary work was to run. He had
always been fond of athletic exercises, and of long moorland walks,
but the Traditions of Lancashire put a method into his
rambles, and he visited, one after another, all the localities
mentioned in Roby's volumes. These walks were taken often
alone, but sometimes with a companion, at the end of the week, and
extended to twenty or thirty miles, and even, on occasions, to fifty
miles. Soon after the beginning of his apprenticeship he ran
away to sea in the orthodox manner, walked to Liverpool with his
Sunday clothes in a bundle, starved about the docks for two or three
days, and then sorrowfully tramped home again, starting at eight
o'clock on a Saturday night and walking straight on eighteen miles
to Warrington, eighteen more to Manchester, and eleven to Rochdale.
As he passed through Salford he heard the bells ringing for morning
service. The last three miles of his journey he accomplished
sitting behind a coach, which was driven by a friend, but all the
rest he had walked. When he reached home his mother said he
"looked ten years older,—thin, tanned, and wild-eyed as a gipsy."
She put him to bed, and he slept seventeen hours. The next
day, sadder and wiser, he went humbly back to his master's shop.
During these early years he remembers the passing of the
Reform Bill, the riots of the handloom weavers (being himself an
eye-witness when eight men were shot), and the
inception of the
co-operative movement in Rochdale. He heard Robert Owen
lecture, and had something to do with the founding of a working
men's institute, where lectures and classes were mingled with
fencing, tea-parties, and dancing, and in connection with which a
manuscript magazine was started, Waugh being appointed editor.
When he was little more than fourteen there came the inevitable
"first-love." The object of the young poet's affection was a
country girl who lived on the edge of the town in a small cottage
which was to him "a little heaven of bright cleanliness and sweet,
simple, virtuous life." There is no need to tell the story.
It is unmistakably written out in his beautiful poem—"The
There's mony a gate eawt of eawr teawn
But nobbut one for me;
It winds by a rindlin' wayter side,
An' o'er a posied lea;
It wanders into a shady dell;
An' when I've done for th' day,
I never can sattle this heart o' mine,
Beawt walkin' deawn that way.
The later portion of Waugh's life may be more briefly
summarised. To gain some idea of what those early years were
like seemed to me essential, because it is easy to reach the
conclusion that, by the time he was twelve years of age, he had seen
and registered almost every character which he afterwards
delineated, and that at twenty he had practically completed his
literary equipment so far as material was concerned.
Waugh's apprenticeship ended about 1839. For a time he
travelled through the country as a journeyman printer, in search of
work, finding temporary employment at Warrington, Much Wenlock,
Wolverhampton, and elsewhere. He then spent five or six years
in the printing offices of London and the provinces, and
subsequently returned to his old employer in Rochdale with whom he
remained for about three years. During this period he lived at
an old farmhouse called Peannock or Pea-nook, close by the western
shore of Hollingworth Lake, under Blackstone Edge. This
entailed a three miles walk out and in, morning and evening; but he
felt himself repaid for this labour by the lonely beauty of the
locality, and by the quaint, old-fashioned, superstitious people
with whom his residence at Peanock brought him in contact.
About 1847 Waugh gave up his work as an operative printer and
came to Manchester, having obtained the post of Assistant Secretary
to the Lancashire Public School Association, Mr. Francis Espinasse,
the author of Lancashire Worthies, being his chief.
Shortly after this time he made his first appearance as a
professional writer, being engaged to contribute a series of
articles to the columns of a Manchester newspaper. In 1855 he
issued his first volume of prose, under the title of
Sketches of Lancashire Life and
Localities. It was in 1856, when he was nearly forty
years of age, that he wrote his most popular song—"Come
whoam to the childer an' me." It was the outcome of a
happy inspiration, and the first sketch of it was scribbled on the
leaves of a pocket-book in the coffee-room of the old Clarence
Hotel, in Spring Gardens, Manchester. This original draft is
in the possession of the Manchester Literary Club. The song
was first published in the Manchester Examiner.
Subsequently David Kelly, a bookseller with literary tastes, printed
it upon a card, and gave it to the customers who frequented his
shop. Its popularity was immediate and almost unparalleled.
Issued as a broadsheet, and sold at a penny, the demand for it was
enormous, not in Lancashire only, but all over England and in the
Colonies. Miss Burdett-Coutts ordered some ten or twenty
thousand copies for gratuitous distribution, and The Saturday
Review spoke of it as "one of the most delicious idylls in the
world—so full of colouring, yet so delicate, so tender, and so
profoundly free from artifice." At one bound the writer found
himself famous; and, impelled by his unexpected success, he produced
during the following two or three years his best songs in the
dialect. These were collected and published in 1859.
Before this time a second edition of his Lancashire Sketches
had been issued. For some years after relinquishing the
secretaryship of the Lancashire School Association, he acted as
"townsman" or "traveller" for a well-known printing firm in
Manchester. With this avocation he combined the selling of his
own books, carrying them about with him in a large blue bag.
Ten years before, Sam Bamford, the author of
Passages in the Life of a
Radical, had done the same thing, offering his wares with a
stalwart independence which was very amusing.
During the years with which we are now dealing a small but
notable Club was founded in Manchester under the name of the "Shandeans."
It lived for four or five years, and Waugh was one of its most
conspicuous members. Besides the daily dinner, there were
small meetings in the evening between five and seven, and a larger
gathering on Saturday night from six to ten. The practice of
the Club was "plain living and high thinking," and the first rule
was that every man should pay his own reckoning. I am indebted
to Mr. John H. Nodal for the following graphic sketch of the Club
and its members.
"The Shandeans never numbered more than twelve, among
whom were Francis Espinasse, then editor of the Manchester Weekly
Advertiser; Edwin Waugh, 'our aboriginal genius' as Espinasse
used to call him; John Stores Smith, author of Mirabeau and
Social Aspects; James Cannan; Frank Jewsbury, brother of Mrs.
Fletcher and Miss Geraldine E. Jewsbury, the novelist; John H.
Nodal; William H. Currie, an impetuous and perfervid Scot, who, like
Thomas Carlyle, was a native of Ecclefechan, and immensely proud of
the fact; Theophilus Pattisson, secretary of the Cobden Testimonial
Fund; and Thomas, always called Tom, Henderson when he wasn't called
'Chalk Tom,' an artist who made a modest competency by his portraits
drawn in coloured chalks. He was the honorary secretary of the
Club, and a most remarkable personality. Many notable men of
letters from London dropped in from time to time, and were made
welcome to the modest fare of the Shandeans. It was a
delightfully happy time, for most of the men were in the heyday of
youth and spirits. Manchester then was a comparatively quiet
place. There were no suburbs to speak of; music had not taken
the start which dated from the Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857; and
local artists were very few. Waugh was our chief singer.
'Brave Chanticleer salutes the Morn' was one of his favourite
ditties in those days; and when he came to the chorus—
Hark forward, hark forward. Tantivy,
Hark forward, away! Tantivy, huzza!—
raising his churchwarden, and flourishing it like a baton, he led a
rolling response of amazing volume and vigour. Then later,
about 1854 or 1855, when we were in the midst of the Crimean War, he
wrote a couple of patriotic songs, 'God
bless thee, Old England' and 'Ye
Gallant Men of England,' and he was wont to be often called upon
to chant the last-named, ending—
The race of island lions,
Bred by the Western main,
The freedom won by battles
By battle can maintain;
always to the accompaniment of a stormy chorus.
There were other singers, of course, but Waugh was our chief in that
line. I am often reminded, when I recall those days and
nights, of Thackeray's description in The Newcomes of the
Haunt in the Soho, frequented by Pendennis and Clive and Fred Bayham,
and a dozen or score of the newspaper men, authors, and artists of
Only three of the Shandeans now remain—Francis Espinasse, James
Cannan, and John Nodal.
In a few years after the extinction of the Shandeans, namely,
in 1862, the Manchester Literary Club was started on somewhat
similar lines, Waugh being one of the six founders. The others
were Joseph Chatwood, Charles Hardwick, John Page, Benjamin Brierley,
and R. R. Bealey. Among those who attended the early meetings
of the Club there may be mentioned the patriarchal
Bamford, Charles Swain, the
polished poet, John Harland, the antiquary, and John Cameron, the
author of many poems and philosophical essays. In 1876 Waugh
became a vice-president, and remained in that office until his
death. Several of his papers and poems were read before the
Club, but his contributions more frequently took the form of
humorous monologue, or snatches of song deliciously rendered from
his own published poems.
The old complaint about the neglect of genius and the
withholding of recognition until it has become too late is not
applicable in Waugh's case. In Rochdale, his native town, he
had a few detractors, but even there he had many old acquaintances
who were loyal in their attachment; and in Manchester, where he made
his home for the greater part of his mature life, honour and "troops
of friends" always awaited him. This was creditable alike to
himself and to his contemporaries. From about the year 1860
Waugh's income depended entirely upon his pen, and upon occasional
public readings from his own works. The uncertainty of such
labour is too well known, and it became apparent to those who knew
him most intimately that the strain had begun to tell upon his
health. At this juncture (in 1876) a committee was formed
which took over his various copyrights and guaranteed him in return
a fixed annual income. The advantages of this arrangement were
obvious. It assisted him on the purely commercial side of
authorship, relieved him from anxiety, and left him at liberty to
pursue the various literary projects upon the accomplishment of
which he had set his mind. The present Lord Derby was a
liberal contributor to this fund, and the response, which all over
Lancashire was made, to the appeal of the committee was of such a
character as to prove the high estimation in which Waugh was held in
his own county. In 1880 he was invited as the chief guest to
the Christmas Supper of the Literary Club. On that occasion he
found himself surrounded by an enthusiastic gathering of old
friends, and his health was drunk with every demonstration of
sincere regard. In 1882 Mr. Thomas Reed Wilkinson offered to
the Corporation of Manchester a fine portrait of the poet painted by
Mr. William Percy. "It is fitting" said the donor, in writing
to the Mayor, "that the municipality of Manchester, beginning, as it
is, to manifest an interest in art, should possess a portrait of
this man of genius, whose name will descend to posterity, honoured
not here only, but wherever Lancashire people make their homes."
The portrait was gratefully accepted, and hung in the public gallery
of the city. In the following year a Memorial on behalf of
Waugh, promoted by the Literary Club and supported by all the
members for Lancashire, irrespective of political opinion, was
presented to Mr. Gladstone, with the result that Waugh's name was
placed on the Civil List and a yearly pension of £90 awarded to him.
In 1887 the poet reached his seventieth birthday, and the event was
celebrated by a dinner at the Queen's Hotel in Manchester. Mr.
T. R. Wilkinson presided over a large and brilliant gathering.
In responding to the toast of his health Waugh said—"He found
himself surrounded by many of his oldest and best friends—men whose
kindness to him through a long course of years had 'known no
winter,' and he could assure them that such a gathering at his time
of life was a thing that would touch any heart that was at all
capable of emotion. A meeting like that made amends for many
of the struggles and difficulties of early life. He had no
disposition, however, to look back over his shoulder complainingly
into the past, or to recall the struggles of the earlier time.
They were gone, but they had left no bitterness with him."
From these slight records it will be seen how completely Waugh
escaped the prophet's proverbial fate. Even in his own country
he was abundantly honoured.
From 1881 to 1883 he was occupied (in conjunction with the
Copyright Committee already mentioned) in carrying through the press
a complete edition of his works in ten volumes. After this
date he wrote little in verse for several years; but about 1888 a
second spring seemed to fall upon his muse, and he sent forth in
quick succession a new series of poems. These were first
published singly in the columns of the Manchester Guardian,
and in 1889 they were issued, along with a few earlier verses, in a
volume which formed the eleventh of the collected edition.
Taken as a whole these later poems were by no means equal to his
earlier work, but there were some fine pieces among them which
showed that the old hand had not entirely lost its cunning.
When Waugh was about sixty his health began to show signs of
serious failure. I remember his complaining to me that the
close air of the street in Manchester where he resided felt as if it
would choke him in the night. He pined for the breeze of the
hills, and removed to Kersal Moor, a suburb of the city, where he
found the nearest approach to the kind of scenery which he loved so
much. Here he remained for some years. He had
comfortable apartments in an hotel, and seemed fairly happy among
his books and papers, but his nerves were unstrung, and he fell into
a despondent mood. At this time he regarded his death as
imminent; and, as a last resource, he determined to try the
neighbourhood of the sea, which had always had for him a fascination
second only to that of the moorland. He removed to New
Brighton on the estuary of the Mersey. Here he secluded
himself from all society, and for months walked along the sands for
seven hours a day silent and solitary. This self-directed
course of treatment, as he told me, saved his life for a time and
re-invigorated his mind. A new and serious trouble, however,
arose. He complained of an affection in the tongue.
Ultimately it proved to be cancer, and incurable. More than
one operation was performed, but with only partial success. He
suffered intense pain, but he bore up bravely, and was even cheerful
and jocose. In 1886 he wrote to his old friend, John Page—"I
am mending a little every day; and I can hobble about for two or
three hours together in the sunshine—when there is any. As my
friend, Professor Taylor, says, I used to give them a bit of
my tongue now and then, but they have taken a bit this time.
I can't talk much now, certainly; but I dare say I shall be able to
make myself sufficiently disagreeable with a slate and pencil."
In his distress many friends came closely round him, and did all
that was possible to alleviate his sufferings. Dr. Sam Buckley
took charge of his case, and provided gratuitously not only surgical
attendance, but a room and a skilled nurse in his own house, so that
he might have his patient constantly under his immediate care.
The late John Bullough, of Accrington, was also unremitting in his
kindness, and removed him as often as was possible to his fine
Highland estate, in Glenlyon. During these visits to Scotland
I had many letters from him which showed that, although he was
gradually sinking, his delight in mountain scenery, and his
appreciation of the humourous side of character as he found it in
Highland shepherds, fishermen, and game-keepers, was as keen as
At length he came home to die. Mr. T. R. Wilkinson and
myself saw him a few days before the end. Loving hands were
doing all that was possible to smooth his last hours. He was
unable to speak, but he wrote frequently on tablets. His last
words to me were—"Write me a bit of a note now and then—not a long
one—and let it be delivered here first thing in a morning. It
cheers me up for the day." There was little opportunity after
this visit for the sending of letters. He died on the 30th of
April, 1890, in the seventy-third year of his age. His remains
were brought back to Manchester. It was well that it should be
so, for his wish was to lie at last among us. Though the
seashore at New Brighton added much happiness to his later years,
his thoughts were always in Manchester. When near the end, and
when his mind began to wander a little, he said, imperatively,
"Dress me, and take me to Manchester." Alas! he was destined
to come no more, except in his last robes. He was buried on
Saturday, May 3rd, at Kersal Church. The public funeral which
was accorded him was especially gratifying to his large and
deeply-attached circle of personal friends, as well as to all those
who were interested in local literature. The great success of
the demonstration was hardly anticipated. "We must not expect
a large gathering," it was said, "for the number of persons who have
any interest in poets, and particularly in provincial poets, is,
after all, very small." But apparently there were more who
cared about our dear old singer than we thought. The crowd was
large, representative, and sympathetic, at the railway station, on
the line of route, and at Kersal. It was pleasant to see
Manchester represented in its corporate capacity by the Mayor.
The Mayor of Salford also joined the procession, and all the
surrounding towns sent their contingents—Rochdale, Oldham, Ashton,
and Saddleworth. The workman was there conspicuously. I
noticed one rough-looking labourer who followed all the way—some two
or three miles—with a child holding by either hand. Such men
as he felt that the poet was one of their own class, that he knew
their lives from within, and that, inarticulate themselves, in his
pages their sorrows, their simple joys, their limited aspirations
found a voice. The services at the church and at the graveside
were conducted by Canon Crane and Prebendary Macdonald, assisted by
the organist and choir of the Manchester Cathedral. One of the
hymns was the same as that which was sung at Samuel Bamford's
funeral in Middleton Church; and several of those who acted as
pall-bearers for the older poet performed the same sad office for
Edwin Waugh. Canon Crane's address struck the right note—it
was that of a man speaking to men. The scene at the grave was
very impressive. Conspicuous among those veterans whose eyes
were wet with tears as the solemn words of sorrow—sorrow not without
hope—were tenderly chanted by the choir was Mr. Alexander Ireland,
who had ever been a most kindly and sympathetic helper. The
poet's old friend, John Page, had brought sprigs of rosemary for the
mourners, and when all was over and each had cast his bunch of herbs
upon the coffin, with the familiar words—"That's for remembrance,"
we turned to face a world which seemed colder and darker for the
loss of dear Edwin Waugh.
No better resting place could have been found for him than
Kersal. He lies on the edge of the moorland. The sun
will shine freely on his grave and the moorland wind will blow over
it; and that is well, for, as we have already said, no description
fits him better than that of "The Moorland Poet." The love of
the moorland was in his blood, and very curiously its
characteristics were reproduced in his personality. His nature
was large and healthy, broad and breezy, robust and strong.
Sturdy independence was the note of his appearance. To
use one of his own phrases—"He had not much bend in his neck."
He walked with a slow, firm step, and with his large hands spread
out. He affected huge sticks, of which he had an immense
collection, and he liked to throw a shepherd's plaid over his
shoulders. His face, which was marked by quiet humour, was
always ready to take a genial expression even when at its saddest;
and, in a mirthful mood, it beamed all over with laughter.
Like Bamford, he had the ease and natural manners of a born
gentleman—a gentleman of the older sort, and his bearing showed no
timidity or restraint in the presence of persons who were socially
his superiors. No man had less of the morbid and puling poet
about him. He was fond of clothing himself in honest homespun
of the thickest texture, and of wearing huge broad-soled boots,
guiltless of polish. It was not often that he attempted to get
into evening dress, and when he did the attempt was only partially
successful, and the result ludicrous. He was too large for
such things, and always looked as if his next breath would burst his
sable fetters. It used to be said that some one who went into
his bedroom one morning found his tweed suit standing up on end in
the middle of the floor without support; and I have heard him
convulse a quiet household by giving, in a vein of giving, richest
humour, elaborate instructions overnight to the maid about not
having his boots spoiled with blacking.
Some years ago, while his voice yet remained to him, he was a
fine reader of his own works. He never dramatised, but his
intonation of the dialect, and his sympathy with the character he
was delineating, were always perfect. Those who heard him sing
were fortunate; though not a musician, he had a good ear for music,
and a voice which, if it was not strong, was sweet and bird-like in
its warbling. I feel sure that somebody must have sung old
ballads to him when he was a child.
However fine his humour was, as shown in his printed works,
it was as nothing when compared to his power as a story-teller with
the living voice. I have never known his superior in this when
the fit was on him and the surroundings congenial. He would
take a slight hint or some bald anecdote, and work upon it
extemporaneously, by the process which is best described as
"piling-on," and yet with artistic suppression, until his hearers
were almost suffocated with insupportable laughter. He had a
large amount of very vigorous English at his disposal, and for
purposes of objurgation it was particularly handy. His power
of picturesque phrasing, both in conversation and with his pen, was
very striking. Curious felicity of expression was certainly
one of his gifts. He could always hit the right word, and
often he could concentrate a page into a single happy sentence.
I was once walking with him and other friends on the slopes of
Pendle, and, coming to a gate which must be climbed or crept
through, a member of the party, who was distinguished for his
knowledge of antiquities, chose to draw his slender body through the
bars rather than run the risk of mounting. While the feat was
proceeding Waugh, standing a little distance away, struck an
attitude, and, spreading out his large hands, as his manner was,
said: "Look at him! By the mass, he's like an antiquarian
ferret wriggling through a keyhole!"
I have already spoken of the books which most largely
influenced him in his youth. To the list should be added
Anderson's Cumberland Ballads. He says himself that these
"rare and racy songs" gave a strong fillip to the natural
inclination which he had in the direction of such things. I do
not think he had read widely in modern literature, but he knew well
his Shakespeare and his Milton, the Border Ballads, and Robert
Burris. His literary method was peculiar. Nearly all his
sketches centre round a story. The story was the germ, not the
decoration. At one time the walls of the room he worked in
were covered all over with stories, and hints for stories, in type
and in manuscript. These were stuck up with pins. He
knew exactly where each of them was, and as he used them up they
were taken from the wall. If any of his friends made him the
recipient of a good story it was certain to come back to them in
print before long, embellished with characteristic additions.
Waugh never attempted a continuous or regularly-constructed
story, but among his papers I find a pretty elaborate sketch for a
projected novel. The time is laid early in the nineteenth
century; the scene is the town of Rochdale; and the historical
subject is the struggles and sufferings of the working-class in the
early period of the cotton manufacture. Among the real
characters to be introduced were John Bright, John Roby, Sam
Bamford, and several of Wesley's early preachers. A few of
Waugh's personal friends are also included under thin disguises.
Among his unaccomplished projects I find, in addition, a sketch of a
little play called "The Cobbler's Bottle," which was evidently
intended to be a Lancashire version of The Taming of the Shrew.
His best written instance of what I have called "piling-on"
will be found in the "Lancashire Volunteers." His best piece
of rough humour is "The Birtle Carter's Story of of Owd Bodle;" but
"Besom Ben" is incomparably his finest all-round piece of prose.
In it humour and pathos, tenderness and rollicking fun alternate,
and are artistically heightened by the introduction, as a
background, of quiet sketches of inanimate nature, done with a
master-hand, and in polished English.
The serious side of his character and his intense love of the
quiet country are best seen, I think, in the sketch called "Heywood
and Its Neighbourhood." It is in this piece that a beautiful
passage about his mother and his early days may be found—
"Through the parlour window I watched these little
companies of country children—so fresh, so glad, and
sweet-looking—and as they went their way I thought of the time when
I, too, used to start from home on a Sunday morning, dressed in my
holiday suit, clean as a new pin from top to toe, and followed to
the door with a world of gentle admonitions. I thought of some
things I learned when standing at my mother's knee; of the little
prayer and the blessing at bedtime; of the old solemn tunes which
she used to sing when all the house was still, whilst I sat and
listened, drinking in those plaintive strains of devotional melody
never to forget them more."
With this pleasant picture we may close our slight record. The
child was father of the man, and the influence of his mother's
simple piety is unmistakable in his work. Through all his
passages of boisterous humour there is never found either immoral
taint or sinister suggestion. His books, like his bodily
presence and his better self, are conspicuously clean and healthy.
His real worth may be estimated by the number of those who loved him
when living, and who honour him now that he is gone. Few men
possessed in a higher degree the faculty of gaining friends; but he
had also that much rarer gift, which enables a man to keep them when
they have been gained.
It may be added that his executors, Mr. T. R. Wilkinson and
Mr. T. W. Gillibrand, have arranged for the erection over his grave
of a large runic cross in rough grey granite. The memorial is
as appropriate as it will be lasting. That the present edition
of Waugh's Works may also prove to be an enduring monument of the
man and of the poet is the Editor's earnest desire.
1. Lancashire Sketches. "Rochdale to the Top of Blackstone Edge."
2. Preface to [Poems of Rural Life] by William Barnes. Third
Collection. Second Edition.
3. The early Lancashire writer who is best known as "Tim Bobbin."
THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION OF
IN this volume,
relating to a district with which the writer is intimately
acquainted, he has gathered up a few points of local interest, and,
in connection with these, he has endeavoured to embody something of
the traits of humble life in South Lancashire, with descriptions of
its scenery, and with such gleanings from its local history as bore
upon the subject, and, under the circumstances, were available to
him. How far he has succeeded in writing a book which may be
instructive or interesting, he is willing to leave to the judgment
of those who know the county and the people it deals with. He
is conscious that, in comparison with the fertile peculiarities
which Lancashire presents to writers who are able to gather them up,
and to use them well, this volume is fragmentary and discursive; yet
he believes that, so far as it goes, it will not be wholly
unacceptable to native readers. The historical information
interspersed throughout the volume has been gleaned from so many
sources that it would be a matter of considerable difficulty to give
a complete and detailed acknowledgment of it. In every
important case, however, this acknowledgment has been given, with
some degree of care, as fully and clearly as possible, in the course
of the work. Some of this historical matter may prove to be
ill-chosen, if not ill-used,—perhaps in some cases it might have
been obtained in a better form, and even more correctly given,—but
the writer has, at least, the satisfaction of knowing that, with
such light as be had, and with such elements as were convenient to
him, he has been guided, in his selection of that kind of
information, by a desire to obtain the most correct and the most
applicable matter which was available to him.
A book which is purely local in its character and bearing, as
this is, cannot be expected to have much interest for persons
unconnected with the district which it relates to. If there is
any hope of its being read at all, that hope is centred there.
The subjects it treats upon being local, and the language used in it
being often the vernacular of a particular part of the county, these
circumstances combine to narrow its circle of acquaintance.
But in order to make that part of it which is given in the dialect
as intelligible as possible to all readers not intimate with that
form of native language, some care has been taken to explain such
words as are unusually ambiguous in form, or in meaning. And
here it may be noticed that persons who know little or nothing of
the dialect of Lancashire are apt to think of it as one in form and
sound throughout the county, and expect it to assume one unvaried
feature whenever it is represented in writing. This is a
mistake, for there often exist considerable shades of
difference,—even in places not more than eight or ten miles
apart,—in the expression, and in the form of words which mean the
same thing; and sometimes the language of a very limited locality
though bearing the same general characteristics as the dialect of
the county in general, is rendered still more perceptibly
distinctive in feature by idioms and proverbs peculiar to that
particular spot. In this volume, however, the writer has taken
care to give the dialect, as well as he could, in such a form as
would convey to the mind of the general reader a correct idea of the
mode of pronunciation, and the signification of the idioms, used in
the immediate locality which he happens to be writing about.
Lancashire has had some learnèd writers who have written upon
themes generally and locally interesting. But the successful
delineation of the quaint and racy features of its humble life has
fallen to the lot of a few. John Collier, our sound-hearted
and clear-headed native humourist of the last century, left behind
him some exquisite glimpses of the manner of life in his own nook of
Lancashire at that time. The little which he wrote, although
so eccentric and peculiar in character as to be almost
unintelligible to the general reader, contains such evidence of
genius, and so many rare touches of nature, that to those who can
discern the riches hidden under its quaint vernacular garb it wears
a perennial charm. And, in our own day, Samuel
Bamford,—emphatically a native man,—has, with felicious truth,
transferred to his pages some living pictures of Lancashire life.
There are others who have illustrated some of the conditions of
social existence in Lancashire in a graphic manner, with more polish
and more learning; but for native force and truth John Collier and
Samuel Bamford are probably the, foremost of all genuine expositors
of the characteristics of the Lancashire people.
In conclusion, all that has hitherto been done in this way is
small in amount compared with that which is left undone. The
past, and still more the disappearing present, of this important
district teem with significant features, which, if caught up and
truthfully represented, might, perhaps, be useful to the next
Manchester, 18th June, 1855.