Purgatory of Suicides
Home Autobiography Thoughts at Fourscore Gulf of Time Old Fashioned Stories Self-help Prison Rhymes, etc. Baron's Yule Feast Purgatory of Suicides Paradise of Martyrs Poets of the Poor Reviews, etc. Site Search Main Index




RIGHT noble age-fellow, whose speech and thought
    Proclaim thee other than the supple throng
    Who glide Life's custom-smoothed path along,—
Prescription's easy slaves,—strangers to doubt,
Because they never think!—a lay untaught
    I offer thee.   Receive the humble song,—
    A tribute of the feeble to the strong
Of inward ken,—for that the theme is fraught
With dreams of Reason's high enfranchisement.
    Illustrious Schiller's limner, unto thee
Mind's freedom must be precious,—or what lent
    His toil its light, and what fires thine?   The free
Of soul with quenchless zeal must ever glow
To spread the freedom which their own minds know.

           May 3, 1845.



"THE PURGATORY OF SUICIDES" has been several years out of print; and, although the demand for it has been considerable, I could not sooner bring myself to consent to its re-issue, from a fear lest passages in the Poem which give me pain, by reminding me of past errors, might also give pain, and perhaps do harm, to others.  Prolonged reflection leads me, at length, to the conclusion, that I ought to banish that fear, now such errors have been repeatedly confessed and openly abandoned.

    Without hesitation I have expunged lines and stanzas which, I found, contained mis-statements of fact,—or which, I thought, violated right feeling.  And I would most gladly have altered or obliterated verses which still are marked by momentous error, but saw that I could do neither without falsifying and changing altogether the character of my 'Prison-Rhyme,' a character naturally stamped on the book by the clime and circumstances under which it was produced.

    So, with little alteration, "The Purgatory of Suicides" must remain as part of a Mind-history which, though faulty, will not, I trust, be without healthful value to some —especially if they regard that history's sequel.  For, I earnestly beg to have it remembered, that he who so irreverently expressed his sceptical thoughts and feelings in the gaol more than thirty years ago, has, for the last twenty years, been traversing the entire length and breadth of Great Britain, devoting his whole life to preaching, lecturing, and writing, in explication and defence of the Evidences of Christianity,—and purposes, by divine help, to continue his labour of Duty, to the end of his earthly life.

    Having said so much by way of apology for re-issuing my 'Purgatory,' should some good religious friends still cherish regret that I have consented to re-issue it, I take the liberty to remind them that my refusal could not prevent its being reprinted, at my death.

    I am not disposed, however, to adopt the strain of mere apology in this Address to the Reader.  I hold that the great cause of Human Freedom and Human Right demands that I do not help to consign my 'Prison-Rhyme' to oblivion.  The oppression of the Poor drove me to champion their cause, and consigned me to a gaol; but the power of Oppression could not subdue me, and I must take care that the fact is preserved as a lesson to Oppressors in the Future.  Nay, I feel I ought to say more: the gift of genius is God's gift, and ought not to be regarded carelessly and thanklessly by its possessor.  I feel that I should be doing wrong, if I consented that my book should be thrown away.  It does not contain one line of aspiration for Liberty which I would destroy—for my heart, thank God! beats as strongly for Human Freedom in my age, as it beat in my youth.

    As for the denunciations of Priestcraft which abound in my book, I heartily avow that they have my conscientious and deliberate approval.  The growth of Ritualism and revival of the Confessional in our own country, and the evil progress of Ultramontanism and Jesuitism abroad, convince me that priests—whom I never confound with the real ministers of Christ—are still

"Dark ambidexters in the guilty game
 Of human subjugation"—

and I would not have one line obliterated wherein I have denounced their guilty game.

    The intensity of feeling, shewn in Book III., towards the crooked course of Castlereagh and his compeers, can hardly be judged aright by those who are not old enough to remember their unrelenting efforts to crush the liberties of the people, under the corrupt regency and selfish reign of George IV.  While few, save some agèd working-men, can sympathize with the detestation, shewn in Books IV., V., and X., for the tyrannous discipline of the 'Bastille,' or Union Workhouses erected under the New Poor Law of 1834.  The vengeful feeling created, in our starved manufacturing districts, towards the harsh provisions of that Law, was the fiercest and bitterest I ever heard expressed by working men.

    That we live in a world of change has been vividly brought to my mind, while reading the proof-sheets of this volume, as it passed through the press.  One line of Stanza 9, in Book I.,—which was written in 1843,—reads now like a prophecy, under the remembrance of the political earthquake that shook Europe, in 1848.  Still greater revolutionary changes have followed.  The Second Empire has been swept away in France; and the strangling hands of Jesuits, Ultramontanes, and plotters for Despotism, are again on the throat of Freedom, in that beautiful but changeful land.  Across the Atlantic, the Negro slavery, alluded to in Stanza 136 of Book I., and Stanzas 114 and 115 of Book X., has passed away, amidst a conflict which has largely transformed the social and political character of that great region of modern civilization.  Newly enfranchised working men have not, hitherto, used their franchise over wisely, in our own dear land but the institution of a great system of national education affords a cheering hope that their children will do better.  Yet, before they can become men, that all Europe may again be torn with the convulsion of war, the present death-grapple of Russia with Turkey forewarns us.  May Britain be preserved from the direful and destructive strife!

    In the Autobiography which was published a few years ago, I described so fully how the idea of my 'Prison-Rhyme' arose in my mind, and the circumstances attending its composition, that I am unwilling to trespass further on the attention of readers, by adding to the already plentiful details.  I only wish to say that there are many omissions in the dramatis personæ of my 'Purgatory.'  From an article (written, I think, by Leigh Hunt) in the Liberal, a famous periodical, when I was young—I became acquainted with the suicide of Uriel Acosta.  His three apostasies from Judaism, and other wondrous parts of his story, remained in my memory; but, strange to say, by the lapse of years, I had forgot his name, and had no means of recovering it in the gaol.  So I was prevented from making him an actor in my Poem.  I afterwards thought of attempting to create a Drama out of his story; and my wife's cousin, Dr. Boole—to whom I mentioned my intent in 1848—strongly urged me to carry out the intent; but the mental struggles which followed broke my purpose.  Clive was another suicide I ought to have introduced, and I regret that I omitted him.  Of Silius Italicus the poet, and many other suicides omitted in my 'Purgatory,' the reader may find an interesting account in Mr. Lecky's "History of European Morals, from Augustus to Charlemagne"—one of the most splendid additions, I humbly judge, made to English literature in my time.

    "THE PARADISE OF MARTYRS"—as I informed my readers when it appeared, in 1873—is but the half of an intended Poem.  The Martyrs of the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, and other countries were to have been actors and speakers in the after-half of the book.  But a man in his seventy-third year begins to feel that his time is gone for rhyming—especially when he believes that he has an active work of imperative duty on his hands.  So "The Paradise of Martyrs"—like so many other designs of poor mortals—must remain a fragment.

    The "SMALLER PRISON-RHYMES" and "EARLY PIECES" are only furnished as samples of an article that I could have supplied in great plenty.  I could easily have filled a portly volume with what are called "Fugitive Verses," written at different periods of my life.  But the shelves of booksellers groan with the weight of such unsaleable 'goods'; and I am not desirous of increasing their unmarketable burthen.


September 1st, 1877.



THE following 'Prison-Rhyme,' part of an historical romance, a series of simple tales, and a small Hebrew guide, were the fruits of two years and eleven weeks' confinement in Stafford Gaol.  The first idea of creating a poem, in which the spirits of suicides should be the actors or conversers, arose in my mind ten years ago; but a line might never have been composed except for my imprisonment; and the political strife in which I have been engaged has certainly given a form and colour to my thoughts which they could not have worn had my conceptions been realized at an earlier period.  An individual who bent over the last and wielded the awl till three-and-twenty,—struggling, amidst weak health and deprivation, to acquire a knowledge of languages,—and whose experience in after-life was, at first, limited to the humble sphere of a schoolmaster, and never enlarged beyond that of a laborious worker on a newspaper, could scarcely have constructed a fabric of verse embodying more than a few poetical generalities.  My persecutors have, at least, the merit of assisting to give a more robust character to my verse; though I most assuredly owe them no love for the days and nights of agony I endured from neuralgia, rheumatism, and I know not what other torments, occasioned by a damp sleeping cell, added to the generally injurious influences of imprisonment.

    I have not the slightest wish to enlarge on the circumstances of suffering under which my verses have been strung together: and only deprecate that severity of criticism which a Chartist rhymer must expect to encounter, by observing that I am painfully conscious my book contains many passages correspondingly feeble with the debilitated state in which I often strove to urge on the completion of my design.  For reasons that involve the fate of others, as well as my own, I cannot omit to add a few remarks in this preface relative to the causes of our imprisonment.

    The first six stanzas of the following poem may be considered as embodying a speech I delivered to the Colliers on strike, in the Staffordshire Potteries, on the 15th of August, 1842.  Without either purposing, aiding and abetting, or even knowing of an outbreak till it had occurred, I regret to add that my address was followed by the demolition and burning of several houses, and by other acts of violence.  I, and others, were apprehended and tried.  My first trial was for the most falsely alleged crime of burning and demolishing, or assisting to burn and demolish.  Sir Wm. Follett, then Solicitor General, used every endeavour to procure a conviction.  I pleaded my own cause, a number of respectable working-men proved my alibi, and judge Tindal intimated his conviction that the evidence did not prove I was guilty.  The jury returned a verdict in my favour; and I was thus saved from transportation, perhaps for the term of my natural life, but was remanded for trial on two other indictments.

    In a few minutes, I met a melancholy proof of the extreme peril in which I had just been placed, for, on being taken back to the dungeon beneath the Court-House,—a filthy, stifling cell to which prisoners are brought from the gaol on the day of trial, and which, in the language of the degraded beings who usually occupy it, is called the 'glory-hole,'—I found William Ellis walking about the room, and on taking his hand and speaking to him for the first time in my life, I learned that he had just been sentenced to twenty-one years' transportation for a like alleged offence to that for which I had been tried and acquitted.  Yet he assured me, in the most solemn manner, that he was utterly innocent, and was asleep in his bed at Burslem, at the time it had been sworn he was on the scene of the fire at Hanley.  The aged woman with whom he and his wife lodged made oath to the truth of this; but in spite of corroborative proofs of his innocence, he was convicted on the strange testimony of one man who said that he first saw a tall figure with its back towards him, at the fires,—that he then, for a few moments, saw the side face blacked, of this figure,—and that he could swear it was Ellis!  On the false evidence of this man, alone, has poor Ellis been banished from his country,—leaving his wife and children to the bitterest contumely and insult from his enemies.  Yet, he had committed a crime, and it was so indelibly chronicled in the memories of the Staffordshire magnates that the governor of Stafford Gaol reminded him of it, as soon as he was brought to prison.  He had been guilty of an act of discourtesy to the High Sheriff of the County!  At a County Meeting called to congratulate the Queen on her 'providential deliverance' from 'assassination' by the silly boy, Oxford,—Ellis, at the head of the Chartists of the Potteries and the democratic shoemakers of Stafford, opposed the grandee when named as president of the meeting, succeeded in getting a working-man into the chair, by an overwhelming show of hands, and the intended 'congratulation' ended in nought.  Such was poor Ellis's real crime.  Did it deserve twenty-one years' transportation?  Let his bitterest enemies answer,—for even they are now professing their belief that Ellis was not at the fires.

    I am, then, not the heaviest sufferer by false accusation,—yet I feel I have great cause to complain of the crookedness of their procedures on the part of our prosecutors; and, though it may subject me to a sneer for squeamish taste, I cannot help observing that I could have submitted to imprisonment without giving the lawyers much trouble, if the proceedings against myself and others had been less crooked.  When the third indictment against me was read,—for 'sedition' simply—I told the judge that I would at once plead 'guilty,' and give the court no further trouble, if he would, as a lawyer, assure me that it was sedition to advise men to 'cease labour until the People's Charter became the law of the land,'—for that I had so advised the Colliers in the Potteries, and would not deny it: but Sir Nicholas Tindal said he could not assure me that it was sedition !

    After being at liberty some time, on bail, I was tried before judge Erskine, for a 'seditious conspiracy' with William Ellis, John Richards, and Joseph Capper.  Again, I felt discontent at the crookedness of the law or custom that rendered it possible for me to stand indicted for conspiracy with the poor exile, whom I had never seen nor communicated with in my life till we became prisoners.  My discontent rose to stern resolve, however, as soon as I found, by the opening speech of counsel, that it was intended, by what I considered most villainous unfairness, to revive all the old charges of 'aiding to burn and demolish' in this second trial, although under an indictment for conspiracy only.  My judge acted worthily for one who bears the honoured name of Erskine, and allowed me all the fair-play an Englishman could desire who had to plead his own cause, without lawyer or counsel, against four regular gownsmen with horse-hair wigs.  The struggle lasted ten days, and the county papers made testy complaints of "the insolent daring of a Chartist, who had thrown the whole county business of Staffordshire, and Shropshire, and Herefordshire into disorder;" but they were, of course, quite blind to the mean-spirited injustice which had girt me up to fight against it.  We were found 'guilty,' as a matter of course, but the result was to me a victory; for I so completely succeeded in laying bare the falsehood of the witnesses who affirmed I had been seen in the immediate neighbourhood of the fires, that the jury told the judge they did not wish to have that part of his lordship's notes read to them which contained the evidence of the said witnesses, but preferred that his lordship should write "mistake" thereon instead.  My aged friend John Richards, and myself, were called up for judgment in the Court of Queen's Bench some weeks after, and Lord Denman, Sir John Patteson, and Sir John Williams there read out the word "mistake," as inserted in judge Erskine's notes; and thus openly proclaimed the fact that my enemies had failed in their attempt to fix the brand of felony upon me.

    I make no doubt but that many will be disposed still to think and say, that however far I might be from intending to excite to violence, since violence followed my address, it is but just that I have suffered for it.  I beg to say, however, that I hold a very contrary opinion.  If an Englishman excites his wronged fellow-countrymen to a legal and constitutional course, (and Lord Chief Justice Tindal told the Stafford jury that now the old Combination Act was abolished, it was perfectly legal and constitutional for men to agree to cease labour, until the People's Charter became law,) it surely is not the person who so excites them that ought to be held responsible for the violence they may commit under an enraged sense of wrong, but the Government who wrongs them.  I appeal to Englishmen of all shades of politics whether this is not the judgment we pass on all the fortunate revolutions that have occurred in our history.

    Yet Sir William Follett, who again used his decaying strength, the hour before judgment was passed upon us in the Bench, pointed to me with an austere look, and said, "This man is the chief author of the violence that occurred, and I conjure your lordships to pass a severe sentence on the prisoner Cooper."

    Scarcely three years have passed, and the great lawyer is no more.  He wronged me, but I think of him with no vindictive feeling, for my imprisonment has opened to me a nobler source of satisfaction than he could ever derive from all his honours.  He amassed wealth, but the Times alluding to the "frequent unhappy disappointments occasioned by Sir William Follett's non-attendance on cases he undertook to plead, says—"So often did they occur, that solicitors and clients, in the agony of disaster and defeat, were in the habit of saying that Sir William often took briefs when he must have known that he could not attend in court: and as barristers never return fees, the suitor sometimes found that he lost his money and missed his advocate at a moment when he could badly spare either."  I am poor, and have been plunged into more than two hundred pounds' debt by the persecution of my enemies; but I have the consolation to know that my course was dictated by heartfelt zeal to relieve the sufferings and oppressions of my fellow-men.  He was entombed with pomp, and a host of titled great ones, of every shade of party, attended the laying of his clay in the grave; and they purpose now to erect a monument to his memory.  Let them build it: the self-educated shoe-maker has also reared his;—and, despite its imperfections, he has a calm confidence that, though the product of poverty, and suffering, and wrong, it will outlast the posthumous stone-block that may be erected to perpetuate the memory of the titled lawyer.

                          August 1, 1845.



EXORDIUM.—Chartist address to the Potters and Colliers, on strike, at Hanley, 15th August, 1842—Author's imprisonment. DREAM.—Voyage of Death and souls of Suicides—Landing on the Purgatorial shore—Tortuous journey—Cavern of wonders—Central dome—Hall of Suicide Kings—Its hieroglyphic shapes.  Array of Suicide Spirits: Sardanapalus, Chow-Sin, Cambes, Œdipus, Nauplius, Ægeus, Saul, Zimri, Ajax Telamon, Codrus, Lycurgus, Charondas, Appius Claudius, Antony, Nero, Otho, Maximian, Bonosus, Mithridates, Juba, Nicocles, his wife and daughters, Althæa, Dido, Sisygambis, Cleopatra, Boadicea.  Debate of Sardanapalus, Chow-Sin, Antony, Nero, Maximian, Mithridates and Lycurgus, on the prospect of an annihilation of Evil, and the universal reign of Goodness and Happiness, on earth and in Hades.


EXORDIUM.— Invocation to the Shades of English Poets: Chaucer, Spenser, Shakspere, Byron, Shelley, Milton.  DREAM.—Milton's spirit guides the dreamer to limbo, in the Purgatorial land—Vision of the Mount of Vanity, and crowds of toiling spirits, the Suicides of Fanaticism.  Dialogue of Empedocles and Cleombrotus: arrival of Calanus, the Indian Suicide, and his discourse on the coming triumph of Goodness.


EXORDIUM.—Invocation to the Sun—Memory of a mother—Ancient Sun-worship—Allusion to Christ. DREAM.—Vision of a wild lake in Purgatorial land—Appearance of the spirit of Judas Iscariot—His words of horror—His cave of gigantic snakes—Prostrate form of the Suicide of Cray—Fierce dialogue of Judas and Castlereagh, who relates his vision of 'the Radiant Boy' Judas mocks his suffering, and reminds him of his treason to Ireland, his Oppression of the Poor, and his courtier fawning on the wicked king—Castlereagh's defence of the memory of his royal master, and fierce retort on Judas, and His treason—Rage of Iscariot—Subsides into penitent sorrow—His eulogy of Christ Judas renews his mad rage, until Castlereagh flees, horror-stricken.


EXORDIUM.—Lines to the Robin Redbreast, a prison—visitor—Allusion to the degradation of the English poor, under the new Poor Law of 1834.  DREAM—Vision of a woodland scene in the Purgatorial land of Suicide Poets—The shade of Chatterton, and his harp-theme—Funebrial avenue of trees, and monumental form of Saphho—Awakes to life, and hymns her unrequited love of Phaon —Dialogue of Lucretius and Sappho—The Herald-ghost of Lucan summons the spirits o£ Suicidal Poets to an assembly in the Hall of Kings, and they depart.


EXORDIUM.—Invocation to Night—The festal season of sin—Allusion to the oppressed poor of England.  DREAM.—Vision, in Purgatorial land, of a barren plain, with its broken monuments—The stone cirque, and assembly of Suicides of the French Revolution—Speeches of Buzot, Condorcet, Roland, Pétion, Valazé, and Le Bas—Interruption of their sceptical reasonings by the sudden appearance of Samson—His stern reproof of the blasphemers, and evanishment—Speeches of Babœuf and Condorcet.


EXORDIUM.—Prisoner's thoughts, as be sees from the barred window of his sleeping cell, an insane murderer taken, in funeral procession, to be executed—Allusion to Christ—Struggle with sceptical thoughts.  DREAM.—Vision of a larger assembly in the Hall of Kings—Allegoric thrones of the new Suicidal Spirits: Demosthenes, Isocrates, Themistocles, Diæus, Zeno, Cato, Marcus Curtias, Brutus and Cassius, Caius Gracchus, Carbo, Marius the younger, Photius, Hannibal, Achitophel, Eleazar the Maccabee, Razis, Arbogastes the Frank.  Renewed debate of spirits—Speeches of Mithridates and Cleanthes Jeering, disgrace, and evanishment of Appius CIaudius—Speech of Hannibal—Evanishment of the spirits of Nero and Bonosus—Speeches of Caius Gracchus, Demosthenes, Themistocles, Saul, Achitophel, Eleazar, Nicocles, and Otho—Disgrace and evanishment of the spirit of Achitophel—Speech of Mithridates, and summary reply of Lycurgus, who announces that the end of Evil, and the reign of Goodness, on earth and in Hades, are near.


EXORDIUM.—Invocation to London—Marriage of Queen Victoria Whitehall—The Mall—Duke of York's column—St. Paul's, and monuments of warriors, with Howard, Reynolds, Jones, and Johnson—Westminster Abbey.  DREAM.—Vision of a waste, in Purgatorial land, with spirits of the Suicides of Vice and Folly, Speeches of Mordaunt, Petronius Arbiter, Villeneuve, Apicius, Sophonius Tigellinus, Vatel, and Lumley, earl of Scarborough—Herald-ghost of Robert-le-Diable summons the Suicide Spirits to final assembly at the Hall of Kings—refusal of Apicius and Tigellinus—The rest depart.


EXORDIUM.—Organ melodies heard by the prisoner, from the Gaol chapel—Aspirations for the future happiness of England—Memory of an aged fellow-prisoner.  DREAM.—Vision of a waste, in the Purgatorial land of the Suicides of Sorrow—Cavern of Darkness—Sculptured forms of sadness: Orpheus, Galatea and Acis, Hero and Leander, Artemisia, Æschylus, Socrates, the child of Pollio, Agelastus, Agamedes and Trophonius, Bion and Cleobis, Praxiteles, Phæthon, voyagers by Scylla and Charybdis—Hymn of Sorrow—Crowds of the Suicides of Sorrow: Cimbri, Xanthians, Saguntines, and Jews of York.  Dialogue of Pontalba and Atticus—Speeches of Menedemus and Vibius Varius—Herald-ghost of Quintilius Varus summons the Suicide Spirits to the final assembly in the Hall of Kings—Their glad departure.


EXORDIUM.—Farewell of a convict to his wife and child, heard by the prisoner—Invocation to Woman—Allusions to the mothers of Homer, Moses, and Washington, to Miss Edgeworth, Mrs. Hemans, and Madame de Stael.  DREAM.—Vision of a flowery plain, in Purgatorial land, and the spirits of Female Suicides hastening over it to the final assembly in the Hall of Kings—Speeches of Porcia, Arria, the wife of Asdrubal, Sophronia and Baruna the Jewess—Choral song of the spirits.


EXORDIUM.—Invocation to Liberty—Allusions to Anaxarchus, Galgacus, Wallace, Tell, Raleigh, Latimer, Algernon Sydney Defective character of modern patriots: 'Finality John,' and Lord Brougham, the patron of the new Poor Law—Spread of knowledge among the working-classes, and new prospects of freedom—Prison reflections.  DREAM.—Vision of the central dome filled with statues of the great and good, in Purgatorial land—Speeches of Demetrius, Phalereus, Berthier, Wolfe Tone, Montezuma—Assembly in the Hall of Kings—Speeches of Lycurgus, Mithridates, Cato, Lucretius, Gracchus, Demosthenes, Condorcet, and Romilly.  Joychaunt of the spirits, celebrating the universal reign of Pity and Mercy, Goodness, Love, and Truth.





[Home] [Autobiography] [Thoughts at Fourscore] [Gulf of Time] [Old Fashioned Stories] [Self-help] [Prison Rhymes, etc.] [Baron's Yule Feast] [Purgatory of Suicides] [Paradise of Martyrs] [Poets of the Poor] [Reviews, etc.] [Site Search] [Main Index]