SAMUEL BAMFORD, the handloom weaver of
Lancashire, is a true specimen of the poet of the working class. Into his heart the sacred fire of poetry has descended, and the music of his lyre is not the less sweet that his mind has been tempered, and his affections tried, by persecution and suffering.
Nor has stern poverty, which, for many of the best years of his life, condemned him to work hard and fare meanly, in any wise served to close his eyes or ears to the beauties and melodies, of nature, whose spirit-whispers have spoken eloquently to his soul on the mountain-side, and in his home-valley; and which have often found for themselves beautiful and cheerful echoes in his songs and lyrics.
Bamford is a Lancashire man born and bred,—an
inheritor of that sturdy spirit of independence, which the indomitable old Saxons carried with them into the forests and
morasses of South Lancashire, when driven thither before the superior discipline and prowess of the mailed Norman
men-at-arms,—a spirit which they have retained to the present day.
The inhabitants of the south-western districts of Lancashire are a robust, manly, industrious, shrewd, and
hard-headed race. They have peculiar physical characteristics, and their moral features correspond to them.
They inhabit a rugged and naturally barren district; deemed unworthy of being taken possession of by the followers of the Norman
William, who, having possessed themselves of the rich pasturelands of the low country, drove their former occupiers into the morasses of the interior, and the forests of Pendle and
Rossendale. The conquerors then built fortresses at the entrances of all the valleys commanding the "wild" district, at the mouths of the Ribble, the Lune, and the Mersey, the ruins of which are still to be seen; and thus they hemmed in the Saxon foresters who would not consent to resign their independence.
It was long, indeed, before their resistance to the Norman authority entirely ceased; and in all great popular movements, even down to our own day, the men of these
districts have usually been among the foremost. In the civil wars of the
Stuarts,—more especially during the "Great Rebellion" in Charles the First's
time,—the inhabitants of the Lancashire forests were almost to a man on the side of the
Parliament; and the first open encounter in which blood was shed took place at Manchester, then, as now, the great metropolis of the district.
Bradshaw, President of the Council of the Commonwealth, one of the purest of the great public men of that period, was born in the forest of Rossendale, in the midst of a bold and freedom-loving population, and in a
district calculated to develop the republican tendencies of his nature.
Indeed, the resistance which the people of that district have uniformly offered to the ascendant aristocratic power may be regarded as part of the same struggle
between Norman and Saxon which formerly ravaged the country. And to this day, it still is, in some measure, a struggle of races as well as of classes.
The institutions of the Conqueror have never been heartily recognized; the Church which it offered has been rejected, almost the whole population being even now extreme Dissenters.
The recent Anti-Corn-Law agitation, which originated with and was virtually carried by the men of Lancashire, was a striking instance of the hereditary resistance offered even to this day, by the men of Saxon descent, to the institutions of the conquerors.
In such a district, and amid such a people, was Samuel Bamford born.
Though sprung from poor and hard-working parents, we find in one of his books, presently to be mentioned, that he claims gentle blood; the elder branch of the lords of Bamford, from whom our poet is descended, having lost his lands by rebellion against the king during the civil wars, whilst the loyal younger brother, at the Restoration, obtained possession of the estate.
The birthplace of the subject of our sketch was the town or village of Middleton, near Manchester, where he first saw the light, in February, 1788.
His parents were poor but respectable, and were deeply imbued with religious feelings, belonging to the then new sect which followed John Wesley.
His mother, like the mothers of most men of strength of character and
intellect, was a remarkable woman,—and to a strong mind in her were united a great tenderness and delicacy of feeling, which caused her no less to sympathize with others in
distress, than to be sensitive of wrongs received by herself and her family from proud and unfeeling relations.
The father having succeeded in obtaining a situation in the Manchester workhouse, the family removed thither; but small-pox and fever suddenly fell upon them, and in a very short time two of the children were carried off by the one, and Bamford's mother and uncle by the other.
His father having contracted a second marriage which turned out most unhappily for the children, they were shortly after sent out into the world to make their way as they
could; "shorn to the very quick." Samuel had, however, by this
time—about his tenth year—acquired the art of reading, and already become a devourer of such books as he could obtain. His school education was very scanty, but it was sufficient for his purpose then.
He read all sorts of romantic legions and ballads, varied by Wesley's Hymn's, and Hopkins and Sternhold's Psalms, on Sundays.
An old cobbler, whose acquaintance he made, taught him tunes to such
ballads as "Robin Hood" and "Chevy Chace;" and also excited his wonder, by remarkable ghost-stories, and accounts of fairies, witches, and wonderful apparitions, in all of
which—like most of the Lancashire peasantry of that day—he was a rigid believer.
Bamford, after leaving his father's home at this early age, was taken to reside with an uncle and aunt at Middleton, where the monotony of the bobbin-wheel and the loom soon cast a shade over his buoyant spirits.
A merely mechanical, gin-horse employment, like that now before him, was
intolerable to his mind; and he seized the opportunity of every piece of out-of-doors drudgery which presented itself to escape from his hated in-doors occupation.
The relations with whom he lived were, like his parents, of the Methodist persuasion.
They regularly attended chapel and class, and were frequently visited by the ministers on the circuit.
Jonathan Barker, a first-rate preacher, was one of the favourites.
Jabez Bunting, then a very young preacher, excited great expectations, but when in the pulpit he had a most unseemly way of winking both eyelids at once, like two shutters, which caused some mirth and much
observation amongst the youngsters as to the cause of it. John Gaulter was always heard with pleasure, both in the pulpit and out of it.
He imparted an interest to whatever he said, by introducing anecdotes, short narratives, and other apt illustrations of his subjects; and if it became of an affecting turn, as it was almost sure to do, the good man and his
congregation generally came to a pause amid tears. He and Mr. Barker had no slight influence on the feelings,
convictions, and opinions of Bamford, in his after years.
The Sunday school connected with this place of worship Bamford, of course, had to attend with the other members of the family.
He was one of the Bible-class, and was probably a better reader than any person about the place except the preacher.
The only things he desired to be taught were writing and arithmetic, and as he felt his want, particularly of writing, and was anxious to get on, he was placed at a desk, and after a copy or two of "hooks and O's," he began to write "joynt hand," as it was termed in the homely phrase of his instructor; and from that time he made his own way in self-culture.
Meanwhile time passed, and Bamford was promoted from the bobbin-wheel to the loom; turning out a good and ready weaver.
He became more reconciled to his condition, and, as if to vary its sameness, love, which is seldom absent where the spirit of poetry is present (and he was imbued with that), now made approaches in an unmistakable form, and to him proved an angel both of light and of darkness.
More than one tender acquaintance was formed in succession, and the romantic susceptibility of his temperament seldom permitted him to remain uninfluenced by some "Cynosure of
neighbouring eyes." But this sort of life could not be continued without leading to temptations which require the
guardianship of better angels than Bamford had the grace to invoke.
The usual consequences followed, and regret and deep humiliation were the dregs found at the bottom of his cup of sweetness.
The evil example also, and conversation of reckless
acquaintances, corrupted his better nature, and a wild and perilous course of life ensued.
Feeling but little satisfaction at home, he resolved to seek it in far other scenes abroad.
In the nineteenth year of his age he entered into an engagement with a large ship-owner at Shields; and went on board his brig, the Eneas, engaged in the coasting-trade betwixt Shields and London.
A storm of three days was the first circumstance that welcomed him to the ocean.
Many vessels were lost in that storm; and though the old sailors on board said nothing to him, and but little to each other, he could not but remark the expressive looks which they interchanged.
He remained some time with this vessel, and made a number of voyages coastwise, but the almost irresponsible power of the captain, and his capricious use of it, disgusted Bamford, as it was sure to do, with his situation and with the seaservice in general.
He accordingly embraced an opportunity of leaving the ship at London, and set out on foot to walk the journey homewards into Lancashire.
At St. Albans he was stopped and questioned by a press-gang, and escaped only by his presence of mind, and the fortunate circumstance that the commander of the party could not read writing.
Bamford reached home a more thoughtful man than he had left it.
He now obtained a situation in a warehouse at Manchester, and having, at times, considerable leisure, he resumed his habits of reading.
"Cobbett's Register" was now amongst the prose-works which he read with avidity, and those of Shakespeare and Burns were the chief poetical
ones,—the latter being his especial favourite. He was now, if possible, more imbued with romance than ever, and when not at his place in the warehouse he lost no opportunity of seeking out "fresh woods and pastures new."
Manchester and its suburbs were not then what they are now. The heights of Cheetwood were rural knolls, with quiet dells out in the country.
Cromsal, with its undulating pastures and gentle slopes, was interlaced with meadow and field walks, where one might have "wandered many a day," without being disturbed by unwelcome observation.
Broughton, with its old Roman Causey, its Giant-stone, and its woodlands, offered a complete labyrinth of by-paths, shady lanes, and quaint cottages, with vines, rose-bushes, and creepers trailing down from the
thatch,—to say nothing of those delightful domestic attractions which are always found in cottages which are happy, and in gardens that are like Paradise.
We now come to the middle life of Bamford, during which he took a prominent part in the stirring political movements of his time, some forty years ago.
This portion of his life is to be found detailed in a remarkably graphic and deeply interesting book which he has published, and by which he is chiefly known beyond the range of his own district, entitled "Passages in the Life of a Radical."
This is truly a remarkable book,—written with great force and brilliancy, teeming with fine poetic descriptions of rural scenery,
wonderful in its delineations of character and its descriptions of persons, which are hit off, like Retsch's outlines, almost at a
stroke,—in other parts, shrewd, homely, and humorous,—and, again, earnest, emphatic, and truly eloquent in the advocacy of the best means of elevating the condition of the great body of workmen to whom the author belongs.
But the chief value of the book, in our estimation, is in that it is a true and faithful
history of a deeply eventful period in the political life of
England,—not of the heads of parties and leaders of factions, but of the masses of his
industrious countrymen,—portrayed by a leading actor in the stirring events which he describes.
We have had many lives of Pitt, and lives of Canning, and lives of this, that, and the other party leader; but the humble political life of Samuel Bamford, modestly entitled "Passages in the Life of a Radical," gives a truer insight into the life and political condition of the English people in recent times, than all the lives of political leaders that we know of put together.
Bamford begins his political life with the introduction of the Corn Bill, in
1815,—one of the first-fruits of that long series of victories and havoc which covered Britain with "glory," the aristocracy with stars and ribbons, and the
people with taxes. Waterloo had just been fought; the banded kings of Europe had hunted Napoleon from his throne; and the lords of England proceeded at once to celebrate their triumph by the enactment of a Corn Law.
Riots took place in most of the large towns,—in London and Westminster, Bridport, Bury, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Glasgow, Dundee,
Nottingham, Birmingham, Walsall, Preston, and numerous other places.
The public mind was deeply excited, and organized political agitation commenced.
Cobbett's writings were extensively read among the working classes, and he directed their attention to the main cause of the then
misgovernment, in the corruption of Parliament and the insufficient representation of the people.
Hampden Clubs were formed in the towns, villages, and districts of the country, which gathered around them the active spirits of the time.
One of these clubs was established at Middleton, in 1816, of which Samuel Bamford, by reason of his knowledge of reading and writing, was chosen Secretary.
Religious services were connected with the political discussions of the members; and the influence of the clubs extended over almost the entire working population. Meetings of
delegates from various parts of Lancashire took place, and the organization of the movement rapidly spread. Some
members of the clubs went out as missionaries, Bamford being himself frequently sent to rouse the inactive in remote parts.
When these Hampden Clubs had been sufficiently extended over the country, a general meeting of delegates was
summoned, to be held in London, under the presidency of Sir Francis Burdett, about the beginning of the year 1817.
Bamford attended as a representative of the Middleton Club, and while in London he had interviews with most of the leading "Reformers," graphic descriptions of many of whom are given in his "Passages."
Bamford again returned to Middleton, with a report of his mission; but by this time the alarm of the government was excited, and the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended.
Then followed the infatuated "Blanket Expedition," to which Bamford was always opposed: still worse, destructive physical force projects were recommended.
The usual consequences followed: public meetings were put down, and secret ones took place; spies went among the
people, blowing the embers of rebellion; apprehensions of the suspected followed; and Bamford, among others, was arrested on suspicion of high treason, carried across the Manchester "bridge of tears," and imprisoned in the New Bailey.
Nothing can be more interesting than Bamford's description of his wanderings in company with his odd friend, "Doctor Healey," among the moors and morasses of the wild districts of South Lancashire, in their attempts to evade apprehension, and of their after confinement and adventures in the New Bailey.
Here is the portrait which he gives of himself, his wife, and family, at this period.
"Behold him then. A young man, twenty-nine years of age; five feet ten inches in height; with long, well-formed limbs, short body, very upright carriage, free motion, and active and lithe rather than strong. His hair is of a deep dun colour; coarse, straight, and flakey; his complexion a swarthy pale; his eyes gray, lively, and observant; his features strongly defined and irregular, like a mass of rough and smooth matters, which, having been thrown into a heap, had found their own subsidence, and presented, as it were by accident, a profile of rude good-nature, with some intelligence. His mouth is small; his lips a little prominent; his teeth white and well set; his nose rather snubby; his cheeks somewhat high; and his forehead deep and rather heavy about the eyes."
Then follows Bamford's portrait of his home, his wife, and his children:—
"Come in from the frozen rain, and from the night wind, which is blowing the clouds into sheets, like torn sails before a gale. Now down a step or two.
'T is better to keep low in the world, than to climb only to fall.
"It is dark, save when the clouds break into white scud; and silent, except the snort of the wind, and the rattling of hail, and the eaves of dropping rain.
Come in! A glimmer shows that the place is inhabited; that the nest has not been rifled whilst the bird was away.
"Now shalt thou see what a miser a poor man can be in the heart's treasury.
A second door opens, and a flash of light shows we are in a weaving-room, clean and flagged, and in which are two looms with silken work of green and gold.
A young woman, of short stature, fair, round, and fresh as Hebe, with
light brown hair escaping in ringlets from the sides of her clean cap,
and with a thoughtful and meditative look, sits darning beside a good
fire, which sheds warmth upon the clean-swept hearth, and gives light
throughout the room, or rather cell. A fine little girl, seven
years of age, with a sensible and affectionate expression of
countenance, is reading in a low tone to her mother:
"'And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you for my sake.'
"Observe the room and its furniture. An humble but cleanly bed, screened by the dark, old-fashioned curtain, stands on our left.
At the foot of the bed is a window closed from the looks of all passers.
Next are some chairs, and a round table of mahogany; then another chair, and next it a long table, scoured very white.
Above that is a lookingglass, with a picture on each side, of the Resurrection and Ascension, on glass, 'copied from Rubens.'
A well-stocked shelf of crockery-ware is the next object; and in the nook near it are a black oak carved chair or two, with a curious desk or box to match: and lastly, above the fire-place are hung a rusty basket-hilted sword, an old fusee,
and a leathern cap. Such are the appearance and furniture of that
humble abode. But my wife!
'She looked; she reddened like the rose;
Syne, pale as ony lily.'
Ah! did they hear the throb of my heart, when they sprung to embrace me? my little loving child to my knees, and my wife to my bosom.
"Such are the treasures I had hoarded in that lowly cell.
Treasures that, with contentment, would have made into a palace
'The lowliest shed
That ever rose on England's plain.'
They had been at prayers and were reading the Testament before retiring to rest.
And now, as they a hundred times caressed me, they found that indeed 'Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.'"
Such was the home, and such the domestic treasures, from which Bamford was torn, to be immured in a jail.
But he did not remain long in the Manchester New Bailey. He was sent to London, the "Manchester Rebels" exciting no small degree of interest in the towns through which they passed.
They were lodged in Borough Street prison, and shortly after their arrival were examined before Sidmouth, Castlereagh, and others of the Privy
Council; and after a short residence in Coldbath Fields prison, and several other examinations before the Council, the prisoners were
discharged, as no case could be made out against them. Bamford reached home, and for a time found happiness in the bosom of his family.
But political excitement continued to have its attractions for him, and again he engaged with greater
ardour than ever in the movements of the day. "I now," he says, "went to work, my wife weaving beside me, and my little girl, now doubly dear, attending school or going short errands for her mother.
Why was I not content? What would I more? What could mortal enjoy beyond a sufficiency to satisfy hunger and
thirst,—apparel to make him warm and decent,—a home for shelter and
repose,—and the society of those I loved? All these I had, and still was
craving,—craving for something for 'the nation,'—for some good for every
person,—forgetting all the while to appreciate and to husband the blessings I had on every side around me."
Political agitation recommenced on the termination of the Habeas Corpus Act suspension, and immediately Bamford was in the midst of it.
Hunt came down to Manchester, and a row took place at the theatre; female political unions were started; and almost the whole population became enlisted in the movement.
At length a series of great public meetings was projected, the first of which was to be held at Manchester on the 16th of August, 1819.
The men in the mean time were drilling themselves by night, in marching, counter-marching, and military evolutions.
They were divided into companies under captains and drill-masters,—so, at least, said the depositions before the
magistrates,—and they were, it was further rumoured, ready for the most desperate deeds.
Not so, however, does Samuel Bamford think of the intentions of the agitators; their sole object being, he says, to excite public respect by the regularity of their march and the orderliness of their
The 16th of August arrived. Streams of men, marching in regular order, poured into Manchester, with bands of music and banners flying, from all the
neighbouring towns and villages. Bamford went thither with the
rest,—one of the leaders of six thousand marching men, whom "he formed into a hollow square, at the sound of a bugle," and addressed on the importance of preserving order, sobriety, and peace during that eventful day.
The meeting was one of great magnitude, and was held in St. Peter's Field, nearly on the spot where the great Free-Trade Hall now
stands,—the principal banners (remarkable coincidence!) having
inscribed on them "No Corn-Laws!"
The business of the meeting had scarcely commenced when "a noise and strange murmur arose towards the church, and a party of cavalry in blue and white uniform came trotting, sword in hand, round the corner of the gardenwall, and to the front of a row of new houses, where they reined up in a line."
"On the cavalry drawing up they were received with a shout of goodwill, as I understood it.
They shouted again, waving their sabres over their heads; and then, slackening rein, and striking spur into their steeds, they dashed forwards, and began cutting the people.
"Stand fast!" I said, "they are riding upon us, stand fast.
And there was a general cry in our quarter of 'Stand fast!' The cavalry were in confusion; they could not, with all the weight of man and horse, penetrate that compact mass of human beings; their sabres were plied to hew a way through naked held-up hands, and defenceless heads; and then chopped limbs, and wound-gaping skulls were seen; and groans and cries were mingled with the din of that horrid confusion.
'Ah! ah!' 'For shame! for shame!' was shouted. Then 'Break! break! they are killing them in front, and they cannot get away!'
And there was a general cry of 'Break!' For a moment the crowd held back in pause; then was a rush, heavy and resistless as a headlong sea; and a sound like low thunder, with screams, prayers, and imprecations from the crowd-moiled and sabre-doomed who could not escape.
"On the breaking of the crowd, the yeomanry wheeled, and, dashing wherever there was an opening, they followed, pressing and wounding. Many females appeared as the crowd opened; and striplings and mere youths also were found. Their cries were piteous and heart-rending, and would, one might have supposed, have disarmed any human resentment; but here their appeals were vain.
"Women, white-vested maids, and tender youths were indiscriminately sabred or trampled; and we have reason for believing that few were the instances in which that forbearance was vouchsafed which they so earnestly implored.
"In ten minutes from the commencement of the havoc the field was an open and almost deserted space.
The sun looked down through a sultry and motionless air. The curtains and blinds of the windows within view were all closed.
A gentleman or two might occasionally be seen looking out from one of the new houses before mentioned, near the door of which a group of persons (special constables) were collected, and apparently in conversation; others were assisting the wounded, or carrying off the dead.
"The hustings remained, with a few broken and hewed flagstaves erect, and a torn and gashed banner or two drooping; whilst over the whole field were strewed caps, bonnets, hats, shawls, and shoes, and other parts of male and female dress, trampled, torn, and bloody. The yeomanry had
dismounted,—some were easing their horses' girths, others adjusting their accoutrements, and some were wiping their sabres. Several mounds of human beings still remained where they had fallen, crushed down, and smothered. Some of these were still
groaning,—others with staring eyes were gasping for breath, and others would never breathe more.
"All was silent, save those low sounds and the occasional snorting and pawing of the steeds.
Persons might sometimes be noticed peeping from attics and over the tall sidings of houses, but they quickly withdrew, as if fearful of being observed, or unable to sustain the full gaze of a scene so hideous and abhorrent."
Such is Bamford's graphic account of the "Massacre at Peterloo," as it is still called in the neighbourhood.
The author was too much mixed up with the movement to escape detection, and he was again apprehended and imprisoned in Manchester New Bailey, from which he was transferred to Lancaster Castle.
He was shortly after liberated on bail, to take his trial at the next York assizes.
In the mean time, he proceeded to London, with the view of obtaining some connection with the press.
Disappointment was in every case the result; and after a ramble through the rural
districts of England, and being reduced to great poverty in London, he returned to Lancashire to prepare for his trial at York. Bamford defended himself with great shrewdness and skill, conducting his case with much propriety.
The result, however, much to the astonishment of the court, was that he was found "Guilty," and was bound in recognizances to appear in London the ensuing Easter, at the Court of King's Bench, to receive his sentence.
He returned for a short time to Middleton, and on his way home, at Oldham, he met his wife and child.
Bamford's journey to London on foot was full of incident and adventure, and his description of it reminds one of some of the best passages in Fielding and Smollett's novels.
His adventures among the booksellers, hunting for a publisher; his cold and inhospitable treatment by Hunt and the London "patriots;" the impending destitution with which he was threatened; the suspense connected with his sentence; constitute a most painful relation, though told in a highly graphic style.
He was eventually sentenced to another twelve months' imprisonment in Lincoln jail, which he endured, comforted by the sympathy and aid of many kind friends, but also pained by the calumnies and slander of secret enemies.
At length he was liberated, and in company with his wife, a noble-hearted woman, whom Bamford invariably speaks of in terms of the warmest affection, he walked homewards to his native
village,—his sixth and his last imprisonment at an end. On leaving the prison, he left "Old Daddy," the turnkey, his pair of Lancashire clogs, at which he "expressed great delight, saying he would place them in his collection of curiosities."
Before leaving, the magistrates and the governor complimented Bamford and his fellowprisoners on their good behaviour; and Bamford in return thanked them sincerely for their kindness during his confinement.
He went northwards by Great Markham, Worksop, and Sheffield, up the beautiful vale of Hathersage, past Peveril's Castle of the Peak, to Chapel-on-the-Frith, Stockport, Manchester, and then home. "We entered Middleton," he says, "in the afternoon, and were met in the streets by our dear child, who came running, wild with delight, to our arms.
We soon made ourselves comfortable in our own humble dwelling; the fire was lighted, the hearth was clean swept, friends came to welcome us, and we were once more at home!"
We have left ourselves little room to speak of Bamford's writings as a poet.
Yet here one might descant at considerable length. Many of his best pieces were written in prison; and he has since added to them from time to time.
The last edition of his poems was published in 1843, and we regret to perceive that he has excluded from it many productions which, though inferior to those retained, and deemed
unworthy of republication by their author, are nevertheless valuable as marking the historical features of the period at which they were written, as well as showing the gradual development of the poet's mind.
A kindly feeling, however, seems also to have influenced Bamford in the selection.
"Many topics," he says in his Preface to this last edition, "of exciting public interest, which the author does not wish to be a means for perpetuating, are either totally omitted, or considerably modified.
This may disappoint some of our pertinacious friends, but neither can that be avoided, except by the sacrifice of a good and rightful feeling; if we learn not to forget and forgive, how can we expect to be forgiven?—how can we pray, 'Forgive us our trespasses as we have forgiven those that trespassed against us'?"
Of all the poems of Bamford, the most touching, in our opinion, are his "Lines Addressed to my
Wife,"—equal almost to the "Miller's Daughter" of Tennyson,—the "Verses on the Death of his Child," and "God Help the
Poor,"—lines such as none but a man who has known and lived amongst poverty could have written.
Take the following two verses:—
God help the poor! An infant's feeble wail
Comes from yon narrow gateway; and behold
A female crouching there, so deathly pale,
Huddling her child, to screen it from the cold!
Her vesture scant, her bonnet crushed and torn,
A thin shawl doth her baby dear enfold:
And there she bides the ruthless gale of morn,
Which almost to her heart hath sent its cold!
And now she sudden darts a ravening look,
As one with new hot bread comes past the nook;
And, as the tempting load is onward borne,
She weeps. God help thee, hapless one forlorn!
God help the poor!
God help the poor, who in lone valleys dwell,
Or by far hills, where whin and heather grow!
Theirs is a story sad indeed to tell;
Yet little cares the world, and less 't would know
About the toil and want they undergo.
The wearying loom must have them up at morn;
They work till worn-out Nature will have sleep;
They taste, but are not fed. The snow drifts deep
Around the fireless cot, and blocks the door;
The night-storm howls a dirge across the moor,—
And shall they perish thus, oppressed and lorn?
Shall toil and famine hopeless, still be borne?
No! GOD will yet arise and HELP THE POOR!
Bamford's "Pass of Death," written on the death of George Canning, has also been much admired.
Ebenezer Elliott, in his "Defence of Modern Poetry," has said of this
piece: "I have an imperfect copy of a poem, written by an artisan of Oldham, to which, I believe, nothing equal can be found in all the plebeian authors of antiquity, with Æsop at their head." Take one or two stanzas:—
The sons of men did raise their voice
And cried in despair,
We will not come, we will not come,
Whilst Death is waiting there!'
But Time went forth and dragged them on
By one, by two, by three;
Nay, sometimes thousands came as one,
So merciless was he.
For Death stood in the path of Time
And slew them as they came,
And not a soul escaped his hand,
So certain was his aim.
The beggar fell across his staff,
The soldier on his sword;
The king sank down beneath his crown,
The priest beside the word.
And Youth came in his blush of health,
And in a moment fell;
And Avarice, grasping still at wealth,
Was rolled into hell.
And some did offer bribes of gold,
If they might but survive;
But he drew his arrow to the head,
And left them not alive!"
For many years Bamford continued to work at his trade of a hand-loom weaver at Middleton, occasionally enlivening his
labours at the loom with exercises of the pen. He wrote out and published his "Passages in the Life of a Radical," and many of his best poetical pieces, such as his "Wild Rider,"
Béranger's "La Lyonnaise," and "The Witch o' Brandwood."
More recently he has written an interesting little volume, entitled "Walks in South Lancashire," in which he gives many highly instructive sketches of the moral and physical condition, interspersed with descriptions of the domestic life, of the industrious classes of his
neighbourhood. From one of the chapters in this last work, entitled "A Passage of my Later Years," we find that Bamford was personally instrumental, in 1826, in preventing a mischievous outbreak and destruction of machinery, which would certainly have been accompanied with great loss of life (as the military were on the alert) in his native place.
Indeed, Bamford, towards his later years, invariably set himself determinedly against all physical force projects, which some of the working class political leaders were but too ready to recommend, and their admirers but too ready to follow.
In the note to his "La Lyonnaise," which he published in 1839, when the physical force policy was in considerable favour, he says, alluding to the sentiment which runs throughout
Béranger's poem: "Unfortunately for the too brave French, their common appeal against all grievances has been, 'To arms!'
And their indomitable poet naturally falls in with the sentiment of the nation.
By arms, in three days, (the 'glorious' ones,) they obtained freedom! and
they lost it in one! —a lesson to make the heart bleed, were it not perhaps sternly necessary to admonish mankind, that, without high wisdom and entire self-devotion, mere
valour is helpless, as a blind man without his guide. It is true the middle and upper classes have not dealt justly towards you (the working class).
All ranks have been in error as respects their relative obligations, and prejudice has kept them strangers and apart.
But the delusion is passing away like darkness before the sun; and knowledge, against which gold is powerless, comes like the spreading day, raising the children of toil, and making their sweat-drops more
honourable than pearls."
And in a "Postscriptum" to his volume of poems,
Bamford thus concludes: "The salvation of a people must come at last from their own heads and hearts.
Souls must be matured, giving life to healthful minds. Hands may be learned to use weapons, and the feet to march, but the warriors who take freedom and keep it
MUST BE ARMED FROM WITHIN."
Bamford eventually gave up working at his loom, and maintained himself for some time by his pen.
An appointment which he obtained in a public office in London, followed by a pension from the government against which, when a younger man, he had so often been in rebellion, have enabled him to spend his declining years in peace and comfort in his native village of Middleton, where he still lives.