is safe to say, has produced more weavers of calico and of verse than any
other town in the United Kingdom. Not that there is any relation
between the two; but the fact is there nevertheless, and should be taken
into account by the gentle South, when, as sometimes happens, it grows
harsh in its criticism of 'the Northern barbarian.' This taste for
verse-making is surely indicative of a delicate striving after higher and
better things; and that it has not been in vain is shown by the high level
of excellence which has been attained during the past twenty years by at
least a dozen of these wooers of the Muses. To what are we to
attribute this undoubted tendency? To a common inclination to follow
in a track once made? Or is it 'something in the air,' and the
scenery? It is not improbable that all three factors have operated
as formative influences. Blackburn,—rude, grimy, and smoke-smitten
though it be—is certainly happily situated with regard to its
surroundings. Within a mile from its busy centre the workman can
gain heights from which he may catch 'glimpses which will make him less
forlorn' of moorland and mountain, and valley and plain. There is
grand old Pendle and Bleasdale Fells, with Clitheroe Castle—a rocky islet
in a sea of verdure—and the broad pleasant valley of the Ribble leading
the eye by many a smiling mead until it reaches Preston, and widens to the
sea. Need we wonder that such scenes have attuned the soul to
harmony, and that the tender emotion which has been stirred has
occasionally found fitting expression in song?"
Thus wrote John Walker, in the admirable Introductory and
Biographical Note to the pleasing volume from which are taken most of the
poems quoted in our present chapter. That volume,—as many readers
will be aware; and as was mentioned in our chapter on Richard Rawcliffe's
poems,—contained poems by both him and his surviving brother John; the
latter publishing the volume as a tribute, in some measure, to the memory
of his brother.
John Rawcliffe, as we learn from the same Note, was born at
Ribchester on the 10th of February, 1844. "He left his native dale
in 1858, about a fortnight after his brother, having as a boy been bobbin
winder, and then handloom weaver. He went to Blackburn to became a
powerloom weaver; and was married to Eleanor Hindle, his present wife, in
1867. Singular to state, his first essay in verse was made whilst
suffering from a tumour in 1888—when he was forty-four years of age."
In Blackburn John Rawcliffe has spent the greater part of his
life. But some few years ago, he left the old country for the United
States; and he now resides at New Bedford, Massachusetts; crossing the
ocean, however, with the facility of the late Cecil Rhodes, whenever "the
spirit moves him" to visit the friends of his youth.
Many a poet has written "Apostrophes," and other poetic
addresses to his books; meaning thereby the varied volumes of his library;
but the following quaint lines by our present author appear to have been
addressed to the prospective piles of "Pebbles fro' Ribbleside," before
APOSTROPHE: TO MY BOOKS."
Mi books, befoor to-morn's breet sun shall shine,
Yo'll be away; yo'll nod be books a' mine.
Like me, when aw wer young, yo'r turn'd adrift,
Among strange fooak i' different teawns to shift.
But O, as time draws near when we've to part
Strange feelin's come a-creepin' reawnd mi heart;
Ay, mony a happy heawr aw've hed wi' yo;
Far mooar than t' world'll ever kear to know.
Bud, hevin' fun' a place for every one,
Aw'll try mi best to bear id like a man.
My brother seems to smile thro' many a line
(An' when t' truth's towd aw'm preawd o' some o' mine)
For t' weakest childer t' mooast affection's shown,
'Cause every gradely mother likes her own:
But durn'd ged preawd an' think yorsel' to' grand
To mate wi' moral books 'at's second-hand,—
Durn'd climb too high—yo'll nod hev far to fo',
For t' Robin sings his song an t' backyard wo',
Whol t' lark wi' lofty nooat sings sweet i' th' sky—
Yet t' Robin may charm odd 'uns passin' by.
In after years aw yet may live to see
Yo spreyded eawt on some fair woman's knee,
Wheer gradely fooak wi' gradely fooak can meet
Reawnd winter's fires wheer tales are towd at neet.
Neaw though yo're gooin' away to friends o' mine,
I' t' world o' books yo' corn'd expect to shine,
They're sent away fro' t' printers neaw bi t' looad,
Then thrutched i' nooks an' corners eawt o' t' rooad.
There's some o' yo' as may ged lent, or lost,
It's best, mi books, to be prepared for t' wost.
Yo may ged crushed wi' big an' nowty books,
Or left to fret or pine i' dusty nooks
For weeks an' weeks, whol some owd sluggard dame
Is med to come an' cleyn, thro' fear or shame;
An' when hoo's bin i' every other roam,
Hoo may then come to yo', an' bring her broom,
An', mutterin' to hersel' o'er dusty weather,
May tek an' shake an' jowl yor heyds together.
Hoo'll happen rub yo'r back an' cleyn yo'r face,
An' put yo reet to t' front i' t' nicest case.
I' t' life o' books strange things may come to pass,
Yo may ged ta'en an' sowd for ready brass!
Another quaint piece,—full of its author's own kindly
nature,—is the poem, from which our next stanzas are taken, entitled:—
WHEN EVERYBODY GEDS THEIR OWN.
Aw dreamt last neet aw'd th' magic wand.
An' th' lamp to see on every throne;
An' things wer changed at my command,
An' fooak could claim an' ged their own.
Religious fooak hed o agreed,
Of every colour, every creed;
An' Avarice' poss hed bin unteed,
An' everybody geet their own.
An' sitch a change as wor i' th' teawn
Wi' pen o' mine con ne'er be shown;
For things seemed flyin' up an' deawn,
Bud everybody geet their own.
Pianos, as aw heeard um play,
Like livin' things o walked away
Fro' fooak as never meant to pay,
An' everybody geet their own.
Aw waved mi wand o'er th' pop-shop dooar;
Then stown things fooak hed browt to pawn
Fro' every shelf fell flop to t' flooar,
An' everybody geet their own.
An' t' fooak as hed t' mooast childer
I' th' biggest heawse i' every
An' rogues wer o put eawt a' t' seet,
An' everybody geet their own.
An' then aw went to th' woskheawse gate,
Aw'd heeard th' owd fooak gi'e mony a moan;
Aw couldn'd do to see um wait—
They toddled reawnd an' claimed their own.
In theer they'd parted mon an' wife,—
Aw waved mi wand an' banished strife;
Owd couples were re-wed for life,
An' everybody geet their own.
Owd Discooard kicked an' breathed his last,
Then Friendship spooak wi' sweeter tone,
An' Merit won i' every cast,
An' everybody geet their own.
For envy hed fo'n fast asleep,
An' owd Dull-Care wer buried deep;
Life's broo wornd hawf as rough an'
For everybody geet their own.
Aw think this life is but a dreeam,
An' deeath 'll be like mornin's dawn;
When rogues no moor'll plot an' skeeam,
An' what's bin stow 'll o be shown.
At finish up o' life's short race,
An' when we've doffed eawr rags an'
Then th' poor may climb to th'
An' everybody ged ther own.
John Rawcliffe excels as a writer of quaint and
characteristic dialect poems but he has not hitherto produced many in
modern English. From the few that I have seen, of this latter kind,
are taken the three which next follow:—
The fluttering of my window blind
Had waked me from a dream;
I heard my own sweet village bells;
I saw a glittering stream;
There 'neath the bridge I saw it creep;
Then away it went with a bounding leap.
The blind was white, and decked with fringe,
And stripes of gauzy fent—
With these the wind had come to play,
Where shadows came and went!
My home—my native woods, were seen;
And the Ribble was rolling down between.
Old Time was there so tall and thin,
I knew him by his look;
He showed one spot he'd left unchanged
Where Ribble meets the brook;
There, just as when I came away,
Were the pebbles strewn on the shining bay.
Yes, there's the shore where Jane and I
Had wandered hand in hand;
And there's the cot of clay I built
For her upon the sand;
But soon I saw the gauze unwind,
And the scene was changed on the window blind.
Once more I heard the distant bells,
Could think—could see, and feel—
Could fancy come at such a time,
And all my senses steal—
If so; I'd leave the world behind,
And for ever gaze on the window blind.
I knew those shadowed scenes of home,
And every inch of ground!
Though oft the wind would change the scene,
And then go whistling round,
To bring sweet memories for the mind
And to throw them all on the window blind.
Then darkness came, the shadows flit,
Nor left behind a trace;
The sun took up a fleecy cloud
And threw it o'er his face;
Then moved to tears he was to find
The shadows were gone from the window blind.
But soon he smiled and dried his tears,
And threw his veil away;
Then every shadow jumped for joy,
And flickered in its play;
The long rod danced to please the wind,
And the shadows flit on the window blind.
Sweet fancy! When I am alone,
Then do thou come to me,—
If e'er I free myself from care,
'Tis when I range with thee!
Should friends be false or prove unkind,
I will look with thee on the window blind.
FROM "A SWEET LITTLE
Such a sweet little spot, it can ne'er be forgot;
Round my heart are its mem'ries entwined,
Where the brook wanders by, with the Ribble so nigh,
And the people so homely and kind.
It was there, when a boy, that my heart leapt with joy,
When I'd finished my "cut" or my beam;
Then away from my home, by their waters to roam,
For the sand-martin's nest by the stream.
Then I've come back again, up that shady old lane,
Where I knew every inch of the track;
To that sunny Greenside, I have tramped it with pride,
With my nettles slung over my back.
They were all my world's wealth, but I'd freedom and health;
I could soar above sorrow supreme,
In that long narrow room I could sing at my loom
In that old-fashioned cot by the stream.
TO THE MEMORY OF JOHN WALKER.
My heart is sad, bewildered is my brain,
To think we two may never meet again.
The mists have gathered; yet amid the gloom
Hope holds aloft her light beyond the tomb,
Where Faith the great majority hath led
To brighter lands where angels' feet may tread.
His song is finished, all his work is done,
By noble deeds the crown of life is won.
But what is life to us sojourners here?
A breath, a smile, and then a bitter tear.
Where Sorrow lingers, Pleasure hastens past,
And Death escorts us to the grave at last.
But he has crossed the river, gained the shore,
Where Death and Sorrow 'll visit him no more.
In addition to his poetic work, John Rawcliffe has made for
himself a local name as a writer of many prose sketches. Some of
these have appeared in the "Blackburn Times," and others in the "Blackburn
Standard and Express." In his sketches he struck out for himself an
entirely original way of treating his subjects; and won the praises of
competent critics by the strong and truthful—if somewhat
unfinished—word-pictures and portraits which he therein delineated.
Though he still resides at the other side of the Atlantic, we may
reasonably hope to read more of his work in this line; for he is an
enthusiastic writer, and, we think, shows deep evidence of a more
settled—if not more vigorous—style. Moreover, though past middle
age, he is a sincere student, and his one great, praiseworthy object is to
With three more of his many pleasing dialect poems we will
complete our present selection:—
Though every month for me's a cherm,
Aw'm fain as Winter's hed his term;
For thy breath's gradely sweet an' werm,—
Aw like thee, May!
Tha looks best deawn bi th' owd Stydd ferm
At break o' day.
Wheer th' banks o' Ribble's weshed wi' t' flood,
Aw tramped through mony a field an' wood;
Aw see tha's painted every bud
Wi' dapple green!
Thad shadin', too, is fairly good,
Just in between.
An' then, tha browt thi varnish brush,
An' touched each flower, an' bud, an' bush;
An' music browt for t' lark an' thrush
To tune their throoats;
To t' young 'uns, too, when nice an' flush,
Tha'll gi'e some nooats.
Tha's smoothed rough spots i' mony a place,
An' trimmed um o wi' floral lace;
When aw see' th' smile on Nature's face
Aw knew tha'd bin;
Aw feel aw s' like a th' human race
Sin' theaw coom in.
Tha's decorated 'Nature's shrine,
Where t' rays o' th' sun neaw dance an' shine;
Tha fairly seems thad dress o' thine,
So nice an' new;
Wi' daisy spots to intertwine
Wi' spots o' blue.
Aw connod sing o'er heroes bowd, 'at feyt i' forran parts,
For t' thowts o' th' widows left at hooam to dee o' brokken hearts,
Whol nations hev bin bowt an' sowd,
To furnish few wi' fame an' gowd!
There's mony a cleawn as th' world's drest up, wi medals on his
An' many a poor neglected grave, wheer heroes lie at rest:
Aw'll sing o'er one 'at's weel an' wick—
Despised, neglected, silly Dick!
Neaw Dick's as simple as a child; he's allus bin content,
Tho' poverty hes followed him, whichever way he went:
At skoo he couldn't pay his fee,
An' never learnt his A B C.
There's grown up fooak 'at's rayther daft, like—hesnd wit to jooak;
They sheawt "Oh, Peg," whol childer 's learnt to mimic th' owder
They dorn'd gi'e Dick his gradely name,
Because they hevn'd sense to shame.
O th' by-way pads is known to Dick, for miles an' miles areawnd;
He knows each ferm an' public heawse, an' every inch o' t' greawnd:
At walkin', too, he's bad to lick,
There's few can keep at t' front o' Dick.
When we lived deawn at th' owd Greenside, when he, like us, wer
Aw knew when he'd a soft ooatcake, bi th' way he oppen'd th' dooar!
He'd come an' say, as if wi' fear,
"Tha corn'd guess whod aw've getten here!"
Aw'd guess, an' though aw knew o t' time, aw'd keep on guessin'
Till nearly everything aw'd named—"Ooatcake" aw'd say at last!
An' then a laugh, an' sheawt o' glee,
An' th' cake wer landed on mi knee!
An' th' world wer praisin' me because aw'd sense to watch an' wait;
Whol he wer dooin' goad bi stealth, aw practised foul desate;
An' though t' world's gi'en him t' freawn an' t' kick,
It's praised woss fooak than silly Dick.
An' though he's reckoned short o' brains, an' never learnt to read,
There's one good lesson as he's learnt, that's helpin' fooak i'
Whol there's a child, near him, 'at's sick,
There's nod mich sleep for silly Dick.
When Knowledge seet her table eawt, an' put o th' dainties on,
An' stood theer waitin' wi' a smile to welcome every one,—
When Wealth coom in, an' hed his pick,
Ther worn'd mich left for silly Dick.
Aw've heeard o'er One as coom deawn here to ged fooak free fro' sin;
Like little childer they'd to be, an' then He'd tek 'em in,—
He knows o t' fooak, booath deead an' wick—
Aw think he'll find a place for Dick!
God bless tha, Dick, an' help tha through; an' when tha comes to dee,
Tha's nod as mich to answer for as stuck-up fooak like me!
An' when life's Ribble's booated o'er,
There's nicer sands on th' other shore!
Owd Shakespeare sez as th' world's a stage, an' life is bud a play,
Another mon, he sez it's bud a journey of a day:
When he's put deawn his spoon an' stick. Aw know there 'll be a place for Dick!
YON LAD AS AW'M T' GRONFAYTHER TO.
Yo' should just see yon lad as aw'm t' gronfayther to,
Whey, there's nod sich another i' th' world,
He's a dimple like me just on th' end of his chin,
An' his hair is a little bit corled.
He doesn'd belong to this world as aw'm in,
He lives wheer there's no cleawdy skies,
In his Baby-land hooam; for whenever he comes
Aw con see th' glory shine fro' his eyes.
There's no gem as glitters, no daisy i' th' dew,
As con shine like yon lad as aw'm t' gronfayther to.
Whenever aw've getten low deawn into th' dumps,
O'erweighted wi' th' world or its cases,
There's a new leet i' life, an' there's hope, an' there's love,
Iv his feet nobbut drums an my stairs.
An' when he comes up, every step as he teks
Meks mo mooar an' mooar hutchin'ly fain;
For aw know as he'll tek mo away fro' misef
Into Baby-land's happy domain.
Its portals are oppen'd for me; aw can view
O its beauties wi' him as aw'm t' granfayther to.
When th' dark cleawds o' earth he hes swept fro' mi mind,
In his eyes aw see meawntains o' bliss;
There's thrillin' heart-throbs in the touch of his hand,
There's a magical peawr in his kiss.
There's a language,—a language aw'm tryin' to learn,
For it's full o' true pathos an' love.
Id con never be written nor put into books,
It's for him an' them angels above:
An' he twitters id sweet as a bird on a boo,
Does yon lad of eawr Tom's as aw'm t' gronfayther to.
Wi' thad charter a' freedom he brings, I am free
Frae o t' shams an' o t' follies of earth;
In his smile there is written a compact o' love,
An' his laugh is the laughter o' mirth.
No friends i' this world can be truer than mine,
An' aw s' allus think weel on 'em.—
Still Mi new love is where sweet simplicity lives,
An' th' owd love con go wheer id will:
For aw'm free fro' deception, diplomacy, too,
When aw play wi' yon lad as aw'm t' granfayther to.
George Thomas Collins.
writer has sent me, in response to a letter of inquiry, an
autobiographical note which is so concise in form and so modest in tone
that I cannot do better than give it as it stands.
"I was born," he writes, "at Southampton on the 25th day of
March, 1844. My father was a pattern maker in the Peninsular and
Oriental Company's works. He was an exceptionally well educated man
for a worker of that period. He was a very religious man also and
was for eighteen years a superintendent of a Sunday School. My
mother was better educated than my father; having remained at a ladies'
seminary in the Isle of Wight until womanhood. She was a pious and
refined woman, with a well-stored mind and highly cultured tastes.
Her poetic instincts were very strong indeed; and the humble gifts I
possess in this respect I am certain I inherit from her.
"My parents being God-fearing people, their virtues shone
most conspicuously in the homestead. A genial, loving father and a
tender, patient mother ruled the home by love,—not by cold austerity.
I never read Burns's "Cotter's Saturday Night" without having presented to
my mind an accurate description of the home life of my childhood. I
am happy to say these early influences have not quite lost their
restraining power. I am not ashamed to confess that, as my mind goes
back to the pure and holy associations that surrounded my childhood, the
big tear steals down my cheek as a tribute to the memory of my revered and
"I began life as a brush maker, and am still following that occupation.—I
came to Lancashire in 1868, and although I had written, in my childhood
and youth, some rhymes that I did not consider fit for print, I don't
suppose I should have ventured to publish any had my esteemed friend, Mr.
J. T. Baron, not persuaded me to send one piece to the "Blackburn Times"
for publication. It was entitled "Memory and Hope," and was accepted; as
several others were afterwards. I consider it a praiseworthy feature of
Blackburn journalism that it encourages
and fosters local talent, especially among the workers in this very busy
hive of industry. Since then I have had a great number of pieces published
in other journals; but I am afraid they have never reached a high
standard. I have always had one satisfaction in contemplating my humble
efforts, namely,—their tendency is to elevate—not degrade."
Here are a couple of these early contributions to the
Blackburn press: the first place being given to the consoling song:—
MEMORY AND HOPE.
There stood upon the hoar-crowned height of three score years and
A feeble, weary, time-worn man, tired of the ways of men.
Tired of a life with youth mis-spent, in reckless days of yore;
The weeping pilgrim pardon sought, and wished the conflict o'er.
Behind him, stretched the vale of life; and he, with fleeting
Beheld, before, the sombre vale—the cypress vale of death;
And yet he paused to look adown the misty, cloudy past;
While mem'ry's light, intensely bright, reveals the whole at last.
And, strange to say, the brightest scenes that light to him display,
Are the most distant scenes of life; sweet childhood's happy day.
Some dark, dark spots it brings to view of youth and manhood's
The old man turns, and sadly sighs, "'Tis but a vale of tears."
And, swiftly down the hill he glides, as borne on seraph's wing;
While doubts and fears athwart the path their gloomy shadows fling.
He gently breathes a prayer for light, when lo! a grateful beam
Lights up the darksome valley now—'tis Hope's refulgent gleam.
With joy unspeakable he longs to dwell among the blest;
And when the pearly portal opes he enters into rest.
Thus two great lights do cheer mankind, e'en to their latest breath;
For Memory lights the path of life, and Hope illumines death.
Beneath a yew tree's solemn shade,
Which stood beside a verdant glade,
My early vows of love were made
To gentle Bessie Lisle.
Her modest eyes of violet hue
Beamed with a light so pure and true,
I felt her mine, for well I knew
Her heart was free from guile.
'Twas there we met in after years:
My heart was full of hopes and fears—
How sweet that moment now appears—
I prayed her name the day!
She blushed and said, "When golden sheaves
Appear with autumn's falling leaves,
And swallows quit the shelt'ring eaves,
It shall be as you say."
But oh! my heart was filled with grief;
She faded like an autumn leaf,
My happiness, alas! was brief—
I saw my Bessie fade!
"To-day I should have been his bride"
She sadly said the day she died;
They laid her, while I sobbed and sighed,
Beneath a yew tree's shade.
I wander to the trysting yew,
When morning gems the path with dew:
And dream of hours that swiftly flew,
Till hope to me is given.
When evening shades are growing grey
Unto the churchyard yew I stray,
Beside her grave I kneel and pray
That we may meet in Heaven.
Among other poems, by Mr. Collins, which are worthy to be treasured,—and
which, notwithstanding his disclaimer, do reach a high standard,—are
"Lines Written in God's Acre", "Life's Alloy", and the three
heart-cheering songs with which we conclude this notice:—
One bright spring morn with gladsome heart,
I roamed amid the fields;
I longed to breathe the sweet content,
Their quiet calmness yields;
I strayed into a mossy dell,
Where verdant nature teemed
With the glorious spoils of night,
And countless dewdrops gleamed;
The emerald robe that nature wore,
Seemed with diamonds spangled o'er.
A cup-shaped daisy stood alone,
Filled to the brim with dew;
An off'ring to the God of day,
A worthy off'ring too;
He drank it up most cheerfully
Some time before the noon,
And gave the daisy grateful beams
In token of the boon.
No sweeter chalice Hebe bore
Unto the gods in days of yore.
I looked again, and then methought
A tear was in its eye,
But through the tears its wistful gaze,
Was fixed upon the sky.
All through the night since dewy eve,
In sorrow had it wept;
Because the sun had hid his face—
It tearful vigils kept;
When the bright sun rose in the sky,
A gleam of joy lit up its eye.
Spellbound I watched; the mystic charm
That fancy round it cast,
Held me in thrall as still I gazed—
Its night of sorrow past.
The radiant sun soon dried its tears,
And joy to it was given.
Its pink-tipped lashes opened wide
As it looked up to heaven;
A still small voice it seemed to raise
Unto the great Creator's praise.
Oh! What a lesson here for all
When tears suffuse the eye;
In sorrow's dark and gloomy night,
Look upwards to the sky;
Learn from the pretty little gem
That grows in perfect beauty;
Beside the path you often tread,
A moral and a duty:
Look through your tears to heaven above,
And be assured that "God is Love."
The "Sun of Righteousness" will shine,
And soon the eyes be dry,
If we will only upward look
To Him beyond the sky;
Yea! Shine into the weary heart
And chase away our fears,
With light, and love, and blissful joy;
He'll wipe away the tears;
While we our feeble voices raise
In one ecstatic song of praise.
TO THE WEARY ONE.
Weary of life and friendless?
Life's but a little span;
Its sorrows are not endless,
And they but mould the man;
His stony heart they soften,
And make his feelings move
Into the channels often
Of sympathy and love.
The man who has not sorrow known
Is only fit to live alone!
Without a friend? nay, brother!
The world is not so bad;
Men feel for one another,
And joyous hearts grow sad,
When painful wails of anguish
Come floating on the breeze,
From where the sick ones languish,
Crushed down by fell disease;
And tender wards of pity fall,
That prove the world's not stoical.
Cheer up my friend! for sorrow
Is surely for our good;
Joy from it we may borrow
When rightly understood.
This discipline of sadness
Springs from a Father's love,
And will be turned to gladness
If we but look above:
No weary one He sends away,
But gives them joy and rest for aye.
Tired feet are ever pressing
On, on towards the goal,
The sands of life distressing
Many a weary soul!
With deeds of love beguiling
The way o'er burning sand,
A few with faces smiling
"Speak of a better land,"
For faith, and hope, and joy are theirs,
Of that bright home they are the heirs.
If death be near thy pillow,
Look! look beyond the grave,
The sombre weeping willow
Has not the power to save.
Is the dark valley looming
With shadows drear for thee?
Seek then the hope that's blooming
When the mantle of dust falls down,
The weary soul may wear a crown.
In chaos' dark and watery womb,
Where reigned the stillness of the tomb,
The infant world lay dreaming;
Till God's command called forth the land,
And light came gently streaming,
From the primeval lamp above,
That mildly shed its beams of love
Upon the new world's birth,
Word after word again is heard
And beauty clothes the earth;
Order evolved from chaos by
Omnipotence that rules on high.
From out the vap'rous density
Unrolled the vast immensity
That 'wilders human thought,
And makes man feel his genius reel
With awed amazement fraught!
Lost in the endless realms of space,
A feeble thing that cannot trace
How far God's works
Though Fancy bright, with pinions light,
May her assistance lend;
Yet, falling short with notions crude,
He fails to pierce infinitude.
A word divides the day from night,
And soon the glorious orb of light
With moan and stars appear;
And to the call responding, all
Float upwards sphere on sphere;
Away through subtile ether space!
Each to its God-appointed place
The countless worlds repair;
A glitt'ring band, they take their stand
In lighter realms than air;
Sublime their beauty, and the skill
That keeps them there by sov'reign will!
The light and darkness, land and sea,
Were all surveyed by Deity
Who saw that it was good;
The fruit and flowers of Eden's bowers
And the effulgent flood
Of light that came from Sol's bright rays,
All join the moan and stars in praise
Of great Jehovah's name!
Above, around, perfection found
In all His works the same;
The worlds that in their orbits pass
Do not excel the blade of grass.
The masterpiece that crown'd the whole
Was forming man with heart and soul—
A monarch where he trod!
A potentate of rich estate—
The image of a God!
All pure within, all pure without,
A being undisturbed by doubt,
A voice that he could raise
In purest joy, without alloy,
To his Creator's praise;
Almost the peer of angels then!
How changed alas! are fallen men.
This well-known local journalist and poet was born at Blackburn on October
29th, 1845. He was the only son of Edward Walker, a working man of great
intelligence and sterling worth, whose wise counsel and zealous labours on
behalf of his fellow toilers had won him deep respect among all classes.
The maiden name of the poet's mother was Dobson; and she was described by
the late Mr. Abram as a very worthy person, deeply devoted to her son, and
proud of the literary fame which he so worthily obtained.
It is to the historian of Blackburn,—writing under the signature of "A,"
in the "Blackburn Times" of November 19th, 1892,—that I am chiefly
indebted for my present biographical matter; and in his article is
recorded much more information about both John Walker and his father, than
I can possibly find space for here.
It is interesting to know that John Walker, like many of our other
Blackburn poets, was to a great extent a self-educated man. He is stated
to have received the rudiments of learning at Mount Street School, and
after that he went for same time to "old Sedgwick's" in Moor Street,—a
school with a very good reputation in those days.
When he was old enough he became a pupil teacher at St. Michael's School,
but teaching was not congenial work, and eventually he was transferred to
Mr. Frank Johnston's Peel Mill, as warehouse clerk; his evenings being
principally taken up by studies of various subjects at the Mechanics'
Institution. About 1865 he became acquainted with the late Mr. Ernest
King, who engaged him as a clerk in the "Times" office, and when, in
February, 1867, the paper was purchased by Messrs. Toulmin, John remained
in the situation he had previously filled. His first duties had been the
receipt of advertisements and the keeping of accounts; but he soon rose to
paragraph writing and reporting, then to the position of sub-editor, and
afterwards business manager.
Subsequently he removed to London; and while residing there in 1874, he
married Miss Sarah Jane Sandford, daughter of the late Mr. Ben Sandford,
of Blackburn. Three children were born of this marriage, of whom two (a
son and a daughter) survived their father.
Returning to Blackburn, after two or three years' absence, Mr. John Walker
resumed his duties at the "Blackburn Times" office, where he remained
until 1884. In that year he removed to Warrington, to edit the "Warrington
Examiner," for Messrs. Toulmin, and, a year or two later, took over the
paper as proprietor.
Notwithstanding delicate health, great activity
characterised Mr. Walker throughout his life. While in Blackburn, in
addition to his journalistic and literary pursuits, he took great interest
in public affairs; was a fluent and frequent platform speaker; and led the
"Liberal party" in the local "House of Commons" of the "Blackburn Debating
Society." Like that famous—
"old writer called Thackeray,"
He "hated all humbug and quackery,"
and was a fearless denouncer of jobbery in every shape and form.
Many of his friends will agree with Mr. Abram in thinking that Mr. Walker
might have lived longer if he had spared himself more and confined himself
to his journalistic duties; but it was not in the nature of the man to be
selfishly silent when public abuses needed remedying.
He is described, not only by Mr. Abram but by many others, as having been
a delightful companion—vivacious, hearty, and witty; and my own
recollections of the only occasion on which I ever spent much time in his
company, enable me to emphatically confirm the pleasing statement.
Mr. Walker died, on Saturday morning, November 12th, 1892, at Latchford (a
suburb of Warrington, on the Cheshire side of the Mersey), where his widow
and family still reside. He was interred at Blackburn Cemetery on
Wednesday, November 16th—and an the memorial cards issued at the funeral
were printed the following beautiful and appropriate lines from his
favourite poet, Shelley—
"Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep!
He hath awakened from the dream of life."
Passing from the man to his literary work, we find that in poetry, which,
of course, is our chief concern here, he wrote with fluency, clearness,
and grace of language, in both dialect and modern English. This is what we
might expect from one, who, being a true poet born, was also an ardent
lover of the poetry of Shelley, Tennyson, Byron, Keats, Wordsworth, and
Burns; as well as of the prose and verse of Emerson.
Blank verse is not by any means popular with the general reader; and it is
not much cultivated by the "general poet;" this latter fact being
accounted for by the truth of Lord Byron's saying, that "in blank verse
every line must be good." All the more noteworthy, therefore,
are the following graceful lines, written by Mr. Walker at the age of
DESCENT FROM SCAWFELL PIKE TO SPRINKLING
And now with careful tread we crept along
Adown that mighty hill, whose bare, bleak head
So oft is capped with fleecy clouds, which hide
Its uncouth nakedness. Anon we reached
That deep, dark tarn, whose waters blue reflect
The craggy peaks, high tow'ring to the sky.
Here, then, we paused awhile, and converse held
With two whose kindly sympathy of thought
Had added double charm to scenes so dear.
But now, stern business and the world's deep cares,
Call them away from Nature's loveliness
To scenes of turmoil and incessant strife.
We parted, sweetly interchanging thought
Most precious to the sympathetic ear.
They wound their way, with easy tread, across
The narrow vale, by Sprinkling Tarn, where once,
In days of old, the wolf and wild boar came
To quench their thirst. We watched them gently rise
The narrow brow, which looks o'er Rosset Ghyll;
And when the top they reached, a farewell shout
Proclaimed the final parting. We replied,
With voice loud-pitched, and kerchief waving high.
The mocking Spirits of the hills caught up
The ringing sound, and in a chorus grand,
High-toned and musical, made answer wild,
With loud and wonderful reverberation,
As if ten thousand organs had essayed,
In weird-like tones, to echo what we said.
Surprised and pleased at what we heard, we called
Again in varied tones and blended voice.
Ever the mocking Spirits, in reply,
Sent back the sound, loud pealing musically,
As if they sought with magic melody
To chain us to the ground whereon we stood.
By this, the sun, low-sinking in the west,
Spoke gently to us, of the time of night
Ere we should reach our temporary home.
We turned away, yet loth to leave a spot
Where Nature spoke unto her roving sons,
In tones so wild, so wonderful, and sweet.
In the twentieth chapter, referring to Ralph Ditchfield's dialect poems, I
mentioned that I had not felt at liberty to alter the writer's spelling. This was in accordance with my usual rule, which it was especially
necessary not to break in a case like Ditchfields, where the author, not
being (I think) a native of Blackburn, might indicate by his shelling some
interesting differences between the dialect of Blackburn and that of his
own birthplace. To this rule I have decided to make an exception in the
case of the next-quoted poem by Mr. Walker, which,—as written by him so
far back as November, 1864,—was perhaps not spelt in the way he would have
adapted at a more mature age.—
THE FACTORY LAD.
Aw s' bi just fifteen next Micklemas-day,
Aw'm nod varra big o' mi age, sooa they say;
But aw hooap as aw've nod done thrivin',
'Cause aw s' hev three looms in awhile, aw'm towd;
Aw've bin learnin' to weyve sin' eight year' owd,
An' to be a good hand aw'm strivin'.
Mi mother's a widow, an' varra poor
Mi fayther's bin deead twelve months or moor,
An' aw'm th' owdst but one eawt o' seven.
Aw could cry when aw think abeawt trouble there's bin,
Heaw mi mother's bin hampered an' moythered, sin'
My fayther took journey to heaven.
When poorly an' bedfast he said to me,—"John,
Tha'll be a goad lad when aw'm deead an' gone,
An' do wad tha can for thi mother.
God help her, poor lass! hoo'll be soorly tried";
Then he covered his face wi his hands an' cried,
While hot tears fell one after th' other.
Just a month after this an' th' bum-bailies coom,
An' sowd most d t' things eawt d th' little back roam,
Wi some cheers, an' an owd ooak table;
They were sent in bi th' landlord, owd Isaac Steel,
An' aw thowt id wer hard, for he knew reet weel
We should pay him off when we were able.
When t' cased clock wer sowd, which a scoor o' years
I'th' corner hed stoode, aw could see there were tears
Deawn mi mother's smooth features rowlin';
An' aw said to misel', we'll ha'e thad clock back,
If aw work o mi life till mi senners crack,
An' mi buryin' bell is towlin'.
Thad clock wer gi'en to her when fost hoo wer wed,
Though id wornd woth so much i' one sense, hoo said
Except 'cause id coom fro' her fayther.
But aw'm fain to say as it's come back neaw—
Gi'en to us ageean; d'ye wander heaw?
Id wer bowt bi a kindly neighbour.
Such kind, thowtful feelin' quite cheered us up,
For there's drops o' sweetness i' th' bitterest cup;
When it's darkest sun's olez shinin';
An' although black clouds may be hingin' abeawt,
Iv yo'll patiently wait, sun's sure to breyk eawt,
An' give 'em a silvery linin'.
So aw lives i' hooaps as this rainy day,
Like o dark weet weather 'll gooa away;
It's a long neet as hes no mornin'.
Time may come when ther'll be nowt but rooases sweet,
While t' thorns 'll be trampled an' crushed at mi feet,
An' aw s' bless thad day aw wer born in.
There's lots can be honest wi' bellies full,
For they mistake puddin' for principle; Their goodness is ruled bi their porridge,
But aw trust aw s' be one o' thad honest few,
Hatin' dodgin' an' tricks, as 'll struggle through
Wi' a manly unflinchin' corrage.
So aw'll sing for misel, "Cheer up, young heart!
He's a wastrel sowdger as wern'd do his part,
An' stand amidst thunder an' rattle;
It's poverty tries men's mettle an' might,
An' them as con feight wi' a good name bright
Are the heroes of every battle."
There speaks the best type of Lancashire Factory lad, by the mouth of his
brother toiler—the poet; and the youth who put those noble words into
verse went an "hatin' dodgin' an' tricks," as a true man should, to the
last day of his life.
Turn we now from John the workman to John the student:—
MY BOOKS: A SABBATH REVERIE.
In the old arm chair I'm sitting, where the brightly beaming sun
Shines upon me, for 'tis Sabbath, and my weekly task is done.
My books are ranged before me, and each seems a thoughtful face,
Gazing with reproach upon me, from the polish'd oaken case:
For they tell me, though they speak not,—what, in truth, I too well know,—
That we do not meet as often as we did a year ago.
Yet, I love them still, and cherish the bright visions they have given,
When my young soul rose in gladness to the intellectual heaven
Which philosophy has founded, and which science has upreared—
Which a Shakespeare hath created, and a Shelley hath endeared.
Oh! the world is cold and selfish, true in seeming—false in heart;
Skilled to catch the pure and guileless and to play a double part.
But my books are no such worldlings, for, unasked, they do advise;
And I often think how blessèd is their counsel calm and wise.
Unassuming, silent teachers! seeming weak and yet how strong!
What a sermon ye are preaching to the babbling empty throng,
Who, with gay and gilded trappings, go abroad but to be seen,
Knowing not that worth and wisdom are in modesty of mien.
As my books, I would be humble in this journey on life's road;
And unselfishly contribute what the Giver hath bestowed.
Dear, old faces! not forgotten, though neglected for a time,
Bid me welcome-smile upon me—as I spin my thread of rhyme.
The alluring syren Pleasure led me on with honied words,
Which, a brief space, I deemed sweeter than the carol of the birds;
But the transient dream is fleeting—folly's revelry is o'er,
And I wake with earnest longing for the purer joys in store.
Words of wisdom I will gather,—higher thought for nobler deed;
And my books shall be the manna upon which my soul shall feed.
There is breath of flowers about them; there is scent of summer air,
And they bring a blissful consciousness of beauty everywhere.
Blackburn, February 16th, 1868.
What a charming writer he was! And what a great
writer he might have been if he had been blessed with the opportunities of
a Tennyson or a Longfellow! Take, for a change, this tender—
Home of the dead, last resting place of man,
How fresh and fragrant are thy leafy walls,
No trace is here of dark funereal palls,
No sign of aught but joy the eye can scan.
Whence comes thy sylvan beauty? Had bright Spring
Been long at work within these favoured bowers
When other groves, through the dull, chilly hours
Of Winter's death, were tearful, sorrowing?
Or live the happy dead in all we see?—
Feel we their presence in this perfumed air
That soothes the troubled soul like silent prayer?
Bloom they anew in beauteous flower and tree?
O Death, when such thy dwelling place may be,
Here let me live, here let me die with thee!
Let us now revel in his "infinite variety" and read
this delightful dialect favourite:—
Aw allus wur fond o' mi grandad,
'Cause aw know he'd a likin' for me;
He're a rare owd chap, an' as kindly
As ever a body could be.
O th' childer i' th' fowd gether'd reawnd him,
When they see him came whooam fro up t' street;
For they knew ther wur apples an' toffy,
Or summat as nice an' as sweet.
He wove o'th' hand-looms for a livin',
An' aw mind it wur joyful to me,
Ov a long winter's neet to be wi' him
As he keawerd upo' th' owd sittin'-tree;
For he sung o'er his work like a good 'un,
Towd tales, an' med o sooarts o' fun;
An'—wod aw thowt stunnin' i' them days—
Aw ne'er went to bed till he'd done.
He looked weel i' clogs, did my grandad,
As he swung 'em so steady an' slow;
He stood up as streight as a May-pow,
For he'd once been a sowjer, yo know.
But, eh! if yo'd sin him o'th' Sunday,
Blue cooat, knee breeches, an' shoon,
He'd so mitch o'th' angel abeawt him,
One feared he'd be leovin' us soon.
He kept tooathry hens, for a hobby,
An' sometimes he'd chickens an' o;
He spent every bit of his spare time
I' feedin' an' watchin' 'em grow.
At times t' lads run after his powtry,
An' then he geet mad as could be;
He'd swear wod he'd do if he catcht 'em;
But he never catcht one, nod he.
It ever aw geet into lumber,
Or tooar my things in my play,
An' id favvor'd ma geddin' a thrashin',
He allus wur ready to say
A soft word or two to mi fayther,
An' at t' finish ov o he'd say—"Well,
Lads will be lads, an' tha knows id—
Tha wur once a young monkey thysel."
Th' owd chap worked to th' day ov his deein',
An' o th' neet, though he sed it wur cowd,
He wouldn't admit he wur poorly,
Or own to his havin' grown owd.
So he just pass'd away like a shadow
As goes eawt wi' th' settin' o'th' sun;
His last piece wer finisht so quately
Yo couldn't say when it wur done.
God bless his owd face! for aw loved him,
An' aw wish aw could meet wi' him soon;
Aw'd willingly journey where he is,
For aw know aw should find him aboon;
Aw allus wur fond o' my grandad,
'Cause aw know he'd a likin' for me,
He're a rare owd chap, an' as kindly
As ever a body could be.
Mr. Abram, in the article already mentioned, compared some of John
Walker's songs and lyrics in the dialect with those of Edwin Waugh. He
recognised, very wisely, that this was high praise; but he considered—and
many will agree with him—that was deserved. Of course, there is this
great difference; Waugh wrote a much larger number of true poems in
dialect than Walker, and by that means far surpassed Mr. Abram's friend
No one could wish for a finer character-poem than "My Grandad," which,
besides appearing in "Ben Brierley's Journal" and he "Blackburn Times,"
was issued, through John Heywood, as one of the series of penny "Lancashire Songs" which used to have such a great sale throughout the
County Palatine. Between its first appearance and its publication in the
series just mentioned, "My Grandad" was carefully revised by its author;
it is from this revised version that our present copy has been printed.
"My Grandad" was followed,—I know not on what date,—by this
Hoo're a gradely good sort wer my granny—
A better yo never cud find;
Sometimes a bit nattur'd, id may be,
But her heart—wha id allus wer kind;
A woman a mon could be preawd on,
For, tek her fur better an' wor,
Ther'll be summat wrong abeawt th' angels
If ther nod a good deeol like hor.
Hoo're farrantly lookin' wer granny—
An' thi say, when hoo'd tornd o' sixteen,
Hoo're th' bonniest lass an' th' best dancer
As ever whisk'd reawnd up o' th' green,
Hoo're comely an' limber at sixty;
Aw'se ne'er see nowt nicer, aw know
Than Granny i' check-brat an' bedgeawn,
An' cap frill'd an' whiter than snow.
O th' heawse, too, wer cleyn as a penny
Hoo wer at id fro' mornin' to neet;
An' id matter'd nod wod hoo wer dooin',
Hoo allus wer tidy an' sweet.
When hoo'd getten o mopt up and sanded,
Hoo's "gin id mo" mony a time
For runnin' i' th' heawse weet an' slutchy—
A clog-merk wer wor than a crime.
Hoo said aw wer nowt but a torment;
Aw allus wer meckin' her mad;
Yet for o thad hoo ne'er hed a bakin'
But ther wor a mowfin for t' lad.
An' at back-end when hoo went to Blackpool,
(Hoo'd an owd-fashioned likin' for th' sea,)
Wha, bless yo, hoo'd spend her last sixpence,
To buy a new plaything for me.
Ther ne'er wor sich a cook as my granny;
Meals ready an' wantin' for nowt;
An' eh, sich good pies as hoo med us—
Id meks mi meawth watter wi' t' thowt.
Yo may toke abeawt ditherin' jelly,
An' champaign; bud id's o my eye—
Id's a foo' to a basin o' new milk,
An' gran'mother's gooseberry pie.
Hoo hedn'd a bit o' book learnin',
Yet someheaw th' owd crayter wer wise;
An', ready for wodever happened,
Hoo seldom wur taen bi surprise,
When th' owd chap hed taen his last piece in,
Hoo sed hoo should follow him soon;
Hoo'd just time, as id wor, to lock th' heawse up,
An' join him i' th' mansion aboon.
Wod a comfort hoo wor to her childer—
Hoo gave 'em her blessin' o reawnd;
An' thad day hoo wer laid by my grandad
Ther worn'd a dry e'e up o' th' greawnd.
So aw'se allus think weel o' my granny,
For, tek her for better an' wor,
Ther'll be summat wrong abeawt th' angels
If ther nod a good deeol like hor.
Less poetical than "My Granny," but very interesting to
all lovers of Lancashire literature, is this:—
EPISTLE TO THE EDITOR OF
Eh, Ben, wod are ta doin', lad—
Writin' away like heigh-go-mad?
Or are ta laid up,
Like me, wi' some head-splittin' ache?
For aw'm in for 't, an' no mistake—
Aw've both eyes made up.
"Feightin'," tha thinks: nay, nowt o' th' sort;
In such like fun there's less o' sport
It's nasty cuttin' winter wind
'At's nailed mi till aw'm gone stone blind
Adversity, aw've heeard 'em say,
Has same "sweet uses." Well, it may;
But one thing's certain—
It's "bitterness" has made folk cry.
As for owt else, "It's o my eye
An' Betty Martin!"
Pain's a queer thing; same say it's sent
To be a timely punishment
When we've done badly.
This may be true—aw dorn'd deny;
But when aw hear th' poor childer cry
Aw'm puzzled sadly.
"Keep cool!" aw hear th' owd doctor say;
"Be still, because your restless way
"Be patient, do!" my granny cries;
But, then, hoo never hed her eyes
Like two hot cinders.
Milton wer blind, an' Homer could
No more see nor a lump o' wood;
But, then, yo know, it
Doesn'd mend things a bit for me,
For t' strap's knock'd off when aw korn'd see—
Aw'm nod a poet.
It's somewhat different wi' thee, Ben,
For tha's a poet's soul, and, then,
Tha'rt full o' kindness;
And, oh! aw trust tha'll ever see
Thi way i' th' world, an' still keep free
Fro' moral blindness.
Aw bowt thi Journal t' other day;
But dorn'd be angry when aw say
Aw've nod looked through it.
Wi' eyes bluzz'd up, heaw could aw see?
An', blind as ony bat could be—
Aw couldn'd do it.
But, then, aw've heeard id read, betimes;
Bin pleased wi' "Fanny's" pleasant rhymes;
Know wod "Ab" hed in;
Heeard Mrs. Banks's nice tale through;
An' hed a rare good laughin' do
At "Swagbag's" weddin'.
But aw mun stop; aw've scrawl'd enough,
Grapin', like one i' th' "Blind-man's buff,"
An' neaw, aw pri thi,
Accept this friendly line, chus heaw,
Fro' one whose greatest wish is neaw
That he could—si thi.
Mention has already been made of Mr. Walker's great
admiration for Emerson. Here is the disciple's worthy memorial of
the master, published in the "Manchester Weekly Times" at the time of the
RALPH WALDO EMERSON.
26TH, 1803; DIED
O wind, blest wind, wind of the western sea,
How we rejoice
To hear thy voice
That tells of life, and light, and liberty.
Laden thou com'st to us with sovereign balm,
Breathing of health—
Of Heaven's first wealth*—
With surging music of a new-world psalm.
But ah! to-day thou bearest on thy wings,
'Mid the world's hum
What strikes us dumb,
Columbia's son is dead, king of her kings!
The monarch he in the wide realm of mind;
Gentle and good,
Alone he stood,
Lord of the lordly thought that rules mankind.
Be thou, Columbia, reverent in thy loss;
Bend low thy head
Since he is dead;
Earth sorrows with thee; humbly bear thy cross.
Fear not; it will be known that thou hast won
Title too great
In the world's state.
No second Shakespeare comes—or Emerson.
Alas! that brightest stars should thus withdraw
Their wonted light
In deepest night;
A link seems broken in the chain of law.
And yet the sacred flame he richly fed
Will, o'er his urn
Still brightly burn:
And whilst it lives, how say we—he is dead?
Oh, hearts that throbbed with his, pierced through
Let not brief tears,
But life-long years,
Attest you live in him as he in you.
Build him no monument; his fame is sure;
'Twill soar afar
From star to star;
His work is truth—is God's, and shall endure.
* "Health is the first wealth."—EMERSON.
But perhaps the noblest "In Memoriam" Poem that John
Walker ever wrote is the following:—
ODE ON THE
Dead, dead! and in the world's dull ear
The word is scarcely spoken ere 'tis fled,
But to the chosen ones who held thee dear
That one word "dead"
Is sudden shock,
As if some ship at sea,
Whilst sailing free,
Dashed on a rock.
Dead, dead, ah me! We know not what it is to cease to be,
But thou, and others who have gone before,
Have drawn the curtain
Or fallen into Lethe's "Nevermore."
Thou wert a part of me
As I of thee,
As "all are parts of one stupendous whole."
We side by side
Enjoyed, with well attempered glee,
"The feast of reason and the flow of soul;"
Yet in the new-born year
beside thy bier—
Oh, that life should be cheap, and yet so dear!
I turn my aching eyes to other days
When, with no care of wind or weather,
We gave God praise
That He made moorland glorious with heather,
And gave us strength to climb the hills together.
And then the converse sweet, and bold, and strange
To me in those young days when life was new;
Subtle and bright, yet deep and wide in range.
As lightnings flash from peak to peak, thus flew
Thy living thoughts, when, gaining heights sublime,
Scawfell's or Snowden's crown,
We looked, exultant down,
On vale, mead, lake and tarn, the eldest-born of Time.
Thou hadst thy weaker moods, and who has not?
The eagle looks not always at the sun.
Fated to struggle with a lowly lot,
Thy life a course of "Sheen and Shade" has run.
Lowly, and yet how high
Time yet shall testify:
For voiceless crowds,
(Like hurrying clouds)
Go by, and are forgotten as they perish,
Until one comes like thee
A singer whose sweet song the world will cherish.
Dead, and yet living—living in that verse
Our children shall rehearse,
Cleaving to what is fair, and good, and wise;
Let the dross pass away,
meaner things decay—
The poet never dies.
As many readers will be aware, the last stanza of this Ode is inscribed
upon Billington's tombstone in Blackburn Cemetery.
At Christmas, 1889, the late Mr. Henry Lodge sent to his friend John
Walker a card bearing the words, "For Auld Lang Syne;" a picture of a pair
of well-worn shoes; and the quotation, "We twa hae paidl't in the burn."
On New Year's Day, 1890, the card was returned, bearing on the reverse
side the following:—
We twa hae paddl't in the burn,
And ah! those shoon,
They mind me of our dearest chums—
Some gone aboon.
But Harry, lad, we still are left—
Such as we are.
Heaven grant we all may tramp again
In some bright star!
In addition to his poems Mr. Walker wrote numerous sketches in prose, such
as "Cloggers' Chips," ("Picked up by Peter Piper,") "Dick o' Swaggs and
his Misadventures at Blackpool," and "Kit and his Christmas Comforts." His local satires, pantomime pieces, and other humorous verses, would
almost make a volume of themselves. Indeed, much of his most delightful
humour appears in these local and intentionally ephemeral productions. And
though—as their author would have been the first to point out—they
cannot strictly be regarded as poems, their deep local interest and real
wit would strongly tempt me to deal with them here if I could spare the
necessary space. As it is, I must leave John Walker, as I left Henry
Yates, with the expression of my earnest hope that a collection of his
best poetic work may yet be issued in volume form.
Sarah Louisa Moore.
A friend informs me that this lady resided with her brother, in Preston
New Road, somewhere near the main entrance to the Park. She was, I
am told, very fond of writing songs for music, and was anxious to find a
sympathetic composer. My friend recommended her to Mr. (afterwards Sir)
Arthur Sullivan; but cannot say whether she was successful in inducing
that gifted music writer to set her songs. The first of the poems
here given was published at Blackburn in 1871:—
Come to the graves which lie in shade:
Come to the deep and mossy dell;
Trip o'er the carpets newly laid,—
Decked with the primrose and bluebell;
Come to the meadows green as spring;
Come to the woodlands far away;
Come, while the feathered songsters sing,
To welcome hither charming May.
Come where the sun so warm and bright
Smiles on the leas where the lilies bloom,
And where the hawthorn red and white
Wafteth afar its sweet perfume;
Come where the blossoms scent the air;
Come where the merry lambkins play;
Come, gather flowers rich and rare,
To crown the brow of lovely May.
AN AUTUMN EVENING.
I hear the sheep-bells tinkle on yonder grassy hill,
And the soft winds gently sprinkle the dry leaves on the rill.
The chirping of the corncrakes falls pleasant on the ear;
And the lowing of the kine wakes the echoes far and near.
Behind the distant mountains the glorious sun sinks low,—
And the crimson of its curtains doth o'er the landscape glow.
With conscious beauty flushing the harvest fields look sweet;
And dusty roads are blushing beneath the gleaner's feet.
The sweet dew gently presses her lips on drooping flowers,
And weary earth refreshes with her reviving powers.
The dying day doth mingle its voice with that of night;
And shadows in the dingle absorb the waning light.
For a copy of the beautiful and devotional song which closes this brief
chapter I am indebted to Mr. William Halt (of Messrs. J. and M. Noblett,
Eanam), whose sister was a friend of the authoress.
SPEAK SOFTLY, BELOVED, THE ANGELS
Speak softly beloved, the angels are near!
O break not the silence with sorrowful moans
They are coming to bear me away to yon sphere:
Already I hear their celestial tones.
Speak softly thou dearest one, softly and low;
Sweet peace like a river now flows in my breast—
I'm waiting the voice of my Father to go,
To enter in gladness my heavenly rest.
Speak softly and gently, the light groweth dim:
But my gaze is intent on the dark eastern sky,
And soon I shall catch the first note of the hymn
When the portals of morning wide open shall fly.
Speak softly, yes softly, O loved of my heart!
Strong, strong are the lovebands which bind me to thee!
And deep is the anguish to know we must part,
O listen! my Father is calling for me.
Speak softly, yes softly, the Angels are here;
O hold not my spirit in agonized thrall.
'Tis only a moment, and you too will hear
The angels of Jesus for each of you call.
Robert West Whalley.
This cheerful singer, best known by his second name of West,—by which he
is described in Billington's "Where are
the Blackburn Poets Gone?"—was born in Copy Nook, Blackburn, April
9th, 1848. He went to work in the weaving shed on his tenth
birthday; and is at the present time an overlooker at Haslingden.
His first introduction to the joys of poesy took place when,
as a little lad, he committed to memory from the "Preston Guardian" of
that period, "Come Whooam to thi Childer an' Me," which he accomplished
at two readings, being ever blessed with a retentive memory. He recited
the poem often among his relatives, and also at the Temperance meetings
which were then held weekly at the old Rechabites' Hall in Cable Street,
He was a good reader at the age of seven; and at ten he was in great
request, in the district surrounding his home, as a letter writer for many
of the inhabitants. When the Blackburn Free Library was first opened,—and
before it possessed a lending department,—he used to pay a visit to it
almost every night; and among the books he read there were Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" and
"Holy War"; Milton's "Paradise Lost," and some
of the works of Shakespeare. When the youthful student first applied for a
voucher form, the librarian, Mr. W. A. Abram,—in that peremptory manner
which has damped the ardour of many a budding poet, told him to wait until
he was fourteen. The boy reluctantly obeyed; and on attaining that age
presented his certificate of birth to the librarian in proof of the fact. It was only, however, after many delays that he was duly registered as a
When Robert West Whalley was about nineteen years of age he was first
introduced to William Billington, whom he describes as being then a fine
type of literary manhood, whose eyes shone with intelligence, and whose "conversation—mesmeric in its influence—charmed everyone who sat beneath
its spell." "We were fast friends," adds Mr. Whalley, "from the time I was
introduced to him until I assisted to put him away." By Billington young
"West" was introduced to John Baron, Richard and John Rawcliffe, William
Whitaker ("Aker-Whitt"), Henry Yates, and the rest of the local literati
of the period.
Personally, I seldom think of Robert West Whalley without thinking also of
Oliver Basselin, the medieval Norman poet of whom Longfellow gives such a
delightful description in one of his "Birds of Passage."
The merry strains of this modern and local poet invariably remind me of—
The laughing lays
That in those days
Sang the poet Basselin;
and altogether the pen-picture of the earlier poet,—apart, of course,
from its medieval framework or environment,—is marvellously like that of
our present author.
In the "Blackburn Times" of May 10th, 1890, there
appeared, under the nom-de-plume of "Owd Jem Byrom," a rousing Lancashire song headed "Sabden
Dick." Subsequently the song was revised; a chorus added to it; and the
title changed to, "Pendle Sally." With this song the late Robert Moorhouse,
of Padiham,—for whom it was written,—won several prizes in singing
competitions. Here is the correct and "authorised version":—
At "Boggart Nook," at foot o' th' hill, up lonely Sabden valley,
Theer lives a bonny, buxom wench,—they ca hur "Pendle Sally."
Hoo is a shepherd's only lass, an' scanty is hur fortchin';
Fost time aw see'd hur mindin' sheep hoo seet mi heart a-wortchin'.
Chorus:— Hoo is to' good for sich as me to lay their dirty hands on,
Aw var' near worship t' greawnd as little Pendle Sally stands on:
If every field an' farm were mine theer is i' Sabden valley,
If Pendle Hill wer med o' gowd, aw'd give id all for Sally.
My heart strings nearly broke i' two; t' seet on her fairly crackt 'em.
Hoo's cheeks as red as if hur mam hed nabbut lately smackt 'em
Theer isn't sich another lass fro' Wiswell Top to Kendal;
Hur e'en eawtshines thad big bonfire, at Jubilee on Pendle.
Neet after neet aw wakken lie,—aw connod sleep for skeomin';
An' when bi day aw werk i' t' delf, of hur aw'm sooart a' dreeomin'.
At dinner-time aw chew an' chew, bud nod a bit can swallow;
Mi cheeks, once red as carrots scraped, are neaw as white as tallow.
Mi feyther says aw'm geddin' daft; sometimes he'll fairly crack eawt,
An' sweear if aw dornd wakken up he'll come an' jert mi neck eawt.
To-day aw leet mi barrow fo—he sheawts to t' ganger, "Harry!
Just ta'e thad gaumless foo' a' mine an' punch him eawt o' t' quarry."
Sich work as this 'll never do; aw'll oather end or mend id,
As soon as ever t' week-end comes, mi pocket brass aw'll spend id
I' summat nice for hur; an' then, fast as mi legs 'll ta'e me,
Aw'll hook id off to wheer hoo lives, an' ax hur if hoo'll ha'e me.
If hoo says "Nowe!" aw'll goo an' list, an' end mi days i' feightin';
If hoo says "Aye!" aw'll lorry hooam, an' buckle to mi eytin'.
We'll nod be long afoor we're wed, an' ringers twitchin' t' bell strings;
Then we'll goo o'er bi Pendle Nick, an' hev a spree at Well Springs.
Like Edwin Waugh,—whom "Pendle Sally" would surely have
delighted,—Robert West Whalley has ever a warm corner in his kindly heart
for the sons and daughters of Erin; and among his own poems one of his
favourites is the song written for an Irish friend about ten years ago,
My name is Michael Murphy, from the county of Tyrone,
I left my poor old mother in old Ireland all alone:
Our landlord has a stony heart, which never will relent,
And I've came here to "Lancasheer" to try to raise the rent.
I bade farewell to sweet Kathleen, acushla gra ma chree,
With my bundle on my back, an' sure I crossed the ragin' sea.
To cut your hay or reap your corn, I've rambled to your town;
Who will employ an Irish boy to cut the harvest down?
Chorus:— I'm merry Michael Murphy, from the county of Tyrone;
At reapin' or hay-makin' with the best I'll hold my own.
I've stood within your market-place, an' rambled through your town;
Who will employ an Irish boy, to cut the harvest down?
When I landed in at Liverpool, imagine my surprise
To see the wagon loads of food, enough to reach the skies!
I thought about my native home, and heaved a mighty groan,
Sure the English people get the meat and fling poor Pat the bone.
If Ireland could but get her own, how happy we would be;
And look upon the English boys as brothers o'er the sea.
Then treat poor Pat no longer like a 'lectioneerin' tool,
But help along old Gladstone, with his measure of Home Rule.
My brother Barney went away, a many years ago,
To fight among the English boys, for Britain's weal or woe.
Poor boy! He shed his Irish blood away in foreign lands,
And they left his bones to bleach upon the burning desert sands.
Sometimes I long to follow him,—and would, if I were free,—
And visit those great cities in the lands across the sea.
But I must not leave my mother dear to sob and sigh alone,
But raise the rent and hurry back to her and "Old Tyrone."
This gifted song-writer, who is entirely free from the egotism which
sometimes accompanies literary ability,—laughingly states that he has
spent far more time in trying to acquire proficiency at the game of drafts
than ever he spent on literature. In view of this fact, it is not
surprising that another of his own favourites should be a little dialect
poem which, when residing at Padiham, he wrote to a brother draught
player there. The piece, which, when first published, quite took the
literary portion of that town by storm, is entitled:—
GOOD MORNIN', PETER.
Come, Peter, fling them Drafts away,
Ne'er heed thad "Owd Fourteen,"
An' hev a woke wi' ' me to-day
Among yon fields so green.
"Owd Winter's" ta'en his gentle hook
An' left us youthful Spring
To scatter buds i' every nook
An' lovely sunshine bring.
Sooa put away thi booard an' men,
An' don thi Sunda' gear,
An' o'er th' Black Hill we'll ramble then,
Bird music just to hear.
They toke abeawt their public band
An' concerts into t' Park,
To me they are-not hofe as grand
As t' song o' t' risin' lark.
Come; Peter; come, man!
Stor thi feet;
Last neet aw coom thro' t' teawn,
Aw stopt to pick up summat breet,
'Twur this—a hofe a creawn.
Aw'll spend id o i' thee an' me,
At t' Rock we'll ha'e t' fost gill;
Then, Nature's smilin' face to see,
We'll climb up Pendle Hill.
We'll ramble on to t' beacon top
To see heaw t' country looks,
Aw'll paint eawt each historic shop
Aw've read abeawt i' books.
An' then we'll leet eawr pipes, an' chat
O'er some awd English battle,
Or heaw "Owd Granny Demdike's" cat
Played havoc among t' cattle.
Aw'll tell thee o'er them owden times
When th' English race begun;
When Druids chanted mystic rhymes;
An' fooak bowed down to t' sun;
Heaw Alfred deeds o' valour rowt
Among them Danish sots,
An' heaw eawr Saxon feythers fowt
Ageeon the Picts an' Scots.
We'll sheed a tear o'er Harold's fate
At Hastings' bloody battle,
When mace an' axe on armour plate
Did like a hailstorm rattle.
An' ever sin' thad fatal day,—
So chance did then determine,—
We've hed to bow beneath the sway
O' William's Norman vermin.
We'll co an' sup at "Robin's Well,"
As wey come deawn th' hill side;
His gallant deeds to thee aw'll tell,
An' Little John's beside.
Then throo New Kirk we'll tek er hook,
An' go deawn Sabden Valley;
We'll just go reawnd bi Boggart Nook,
An' look at "Pendle Sally."
So mek a move, an' let's away;
Forget we're geddin' owd:
We'll hev a champion do to-day,
Let misers ceawnt their gowd;
W'oll Nature scatters beauty reawnd,
The peawrs aboon aw'll thank:
A mate like thee's wo'th every peawnd
'At's piled i' Craven Bank.
Whatever else may be said or written of the poets, as a class, it cannot
truthfully be asserted that they are worldly-minded men. The "lust of
gold" is not in them. They never rate rank or wealth above their proper
value; and in the ears of the humblest of them,—even in the midst of the
direst want,—the songs of the birds have a sweeter sound than the jingle
of all the golden coins that ever miser raked together. That this is
as true of our present author as of any of his brother poets, whether
local or national, is evident from the following characteristic stanzas:—
Aw am a foo', aw must confess, an' hev bin o mi life;
Altho' aw've hed to share my lot, a keerful little wife.
For mony a splendid chance aw've missed: well, well! it's like to be!
We connod a ha'e th' sense as hes yon chap next door to me.
He's shares an' bonds i' everywheer, his bankbook's var near full;
He tells me that I am "a cry, an' varra little wool."
Aw s' ne'er ha'e nowt whol e'er aw live; he tells mo, bowd an' free;
But he can goo an' hang his-sel'—yon chap next door to me.
His talk is a o'er shares an' brass, they seem to fill his mind;
He says as singin' songs is nowt bud just a waste a' wind.
He'll ceawr bi t' fire an' cinders ceawnt,—we never con agree;
Aw'll gooa my way,—let him gooa his,—yon chap next door to me.
Spring-time may come, an' birds may chant, an' fleawrs may bud an' bloom;
Id seems to be no joy to him, he'll ceawr within his room.
He studies newt bud "cent per cent"; aw've many a jolly spree:
He misses t' best theer is i' life—yon chap next door to me.
Aw'm fifteen years aheyd ov him, aw'm burly yet an' strong;
He's thin as any clooase-prop,—aye, an' varra near as long!
He says aw s' dee i' th' werkheawse yet, thad he can plainly see;
Aw s' bury him befooar aw gooa,—yon chap next door to me.
It is perhaps necessary to mention that "Mi Nebbur," which is a poem of
recent date, has no personal application to any individual; but is merely
descriptive of a certain type of humanity which is only too well known.
Our next example illustrates a type which, happily, is
less prominent nowadays than it was when the lines were first written:—
THE JOLLY PARSON.
One dismal night o'er Wilpshire moor as three men homeward went,
Their hasty footsteps,—so, I'm told,—to'rds Copster Green were bent;
When, all at once, they heard a groan, all earthly sounds unlike;
They searched about until they found the groaner in a dyke.
And there, behold! a man was laid, with woeful, weary look;
Upon his neck a white cravat, beside him a large book.
The wind was playing with the leaves such strange, fantastic capers,
And scattered round about him lay a hundred tracts and papers.
With mud his coat was covered o'er, he was a wretched sight;
One of the men in pity cried, "Heaw coom yo' in this plight?"
He groaned aloud, "Good Christians, do, I pray you, bear a hand,
With one accord, and raise me from this slough of deep despond.
"Alas! that I, your pastor good, should e'er have tumbled here!
'Tis that infernal bowl of Punch,—Oh dear! Oh me! Oh dear!
But lend your aid, my dear good lads, and set me an dry ground;
I'll take you then to Bonny Inn, and stand you gills around."
The three at one another stared, then one of them did say,
"Why, Parson, only Sunda' last we heeard tha preych an' pray.
"Tha bade us allus shun thad path as leeads us unto evil:
To watch an' pray booath neet an' day, to circumvent the devil."
"Alas!" cried he, "it is too true, it is too true, my son;
But do as I have told you—do! and not as I have done.
But bear a hand, and draw me out, I scarce can get my breath;
My brain's on fire, my blood runs cold, I'm almost numbed to death.
"Then pray you drag me to my feet, I'll then reward your labours;
For three times round I'll stand you gills, but do not tell your
I'll make it pints, upon my word! I will!—I am not chaffing."
With one accord—they couldn't help—the three cracked off alaughing.
One said, "Good neet! lie still, owd mon; for this is nobbut Monda':
Sich two-faced hypocrites as thee will not be missed till Sunda'."
Unfortunately for my present purpose, many of Mr. Whalley's most amusing
pieces are altogether too long for inclusion in a chapter of this kind. Among these are "The Knight of Walloper Well," a serio-comic piece of
1870; "Th' Owd Mill Boggart," a very lengthy one, written in 1872, and one
of his very best; and "Nipper's Frolic," a humorous piece which he often
recites, dated 1873. No, such impediment, however, bars the entrance
of the delightful ditty, entitled:—
THE SPORTING OVERLOOKER.
OF THE CANNIBAL
There works a "chap" at Blankfield Mill,
His name they say is Bouncing Bill,
A slave to old Sam Sizer's will,
A Sporting Overlooker.
Upon a sunny summer day,
When factory folk were all at play,
With gun in hand he took his way,
O'er Kemmer Moor the game to slay.
He rambled on mile after mile,
At length he came to "Grunshaw stile;"
There sat he down to rest a while,—
The Sporting Overlooker.
Chorus:— Hares and rabbits, mind your eye!
The feathered game away do fly,
As soon as they see passing by The Sporting Overlooker.
He rammed his gun with all his might,
The timid conies took to flight,
He threw them all in such a fright—
The Sporting Overlooker.
And while for game he looked around,
A sparrow 'lighted on the ground:
Rejoicing he had something found,
He cock'd his gun with look profound,
"Of course," said he, "id isn'd game,
But still my spooart 'll be o t' same":
He fired then with deliberate aim,—
The Sporting Overlooker."
Away the frightened sparrow flew,
The sportsman heard a loud "hellow!"
Then jumped up crying "what's to do?"
The Sporting Overlooker.
When looking o'er the hedge he spies
A dying calf before his eyes,
Which strikes him fairly with surprise,
"By gum! aw've shot a cove," he cries.
He turned around to run away;
A burly farmer barr'd the way,—
"Here, stop, owd mon; aw s' want some pay,—
Tha Spooartin' Overlooker."
The sportsman asked the damage then,
The farmer made him fairly "sken,"
"Aw'll let thee off for four peawnd ten,—
Tha Spooartin' Overlooker."
Alas! he'd but one single "bob,"
Wherewith to settle this awkward job:
The farmer swore he'd "crack his nob,"
Unless in payment "deawn he'd cob"
His watch and chain, likewise his gun.
He meekly said "thy will be done,"
And then he sobbed "my cooarse is run,"—
The Sporting Overlooker.
I saw him as he homeward came;
His face was pale, he limpèd lame;
He knew that everyone would blame
The Sporting Overlooker.
And now,—wherever he does go,
From Bastfield up to "Paycock Row,"
From Larkhill unto "Owd Cob Wo,"
Or Daisyfield, or "Seawr Milk Ho,"—
The men do point, the women chaff,
The little boys do shout and laugh,
"There goes the man who shot the calf,—
The Sporting Overlooker."
As an example of our poet's satirical powers we may take a brief extract
from a piece which absolutely extinguished the conceit of the writer to
whom it was addressed, and for whose real name one of similar rhyme is
Let Shakespeare, Milton, Moore, and Walter Scott
Be put aside to kindle kitchen fires;
Let "Bobby" Burns and Byron be forgot,
And chipp'd to matchwood be their tuneful lyres.
On cupboard shelves let Pope and Goldsmith rot
Let Anacreon quench his mad desires;
Let Swift and Butler, Coleridge and sweet Shelley,
Bow down at once and hail the great "O' Kelly."
But Robert West Whalley has ever been most famous for the lectures, on
ancient and modern literature, which he has from time to time delivered in
Blackburn, Padiham, Burnley, and Haslingden. A truly marvellous gift has
often enabled him, on these occasions, to go on for an hour or two, giving
quotation after quotation from memory; never making a serious error; and
varying his selections with every lecture. That his acquaintance
with ancient literature is much more than a merely casual one will, I am
sure, be fully proved by a perusal of the following striking stanzas:—
THE POWER OF MUSIC.
How wonderful is music's power!
In castle, hall, or gloomy tower;
In martial camp, in lady's bower,
Or merry church bell chime:
From song of stone* at early morn
O'er Egypt's desert, zephyr borne;
From blast of Fontarabian horn
In war's tumultuous time.
The giant smith the anvil rang,
With long and loud harmonious clang,
While infant earth the praises sang
In many a lusty strain.
As by the glowing furnace light,
The stubborn steel was fashioned bright,
In shape which gave mankind delight,
By mighty Tubal Cain.
When Hebrew swords in anger flashed,
And heathen blood in torrents dashed,
Where Jordan's swollen river splashed
Its shores with crimson foam,
The warriors of the promised land
Were welcomed by the virgin band,
With song and dance, and music grand;—
Triumphant marching home.
When silence seized the minstrel throng,—
The tuneful Sons of Hebrew Song,
In sorrow weeping, waiting long
By Babylonia's stream.
Their songs of joy and gladness cease,
Their harps upon the willow trees
Hang wailing in the passing breeze,
The music of a dream.
In early Greece, the Shepherd boy
Made mighty rocks to skip for joy;
With his sweet pipe he could decoy
The streams from shore to shore.
Before the lurid gates of hell
He pealed forth such melodious swell
That Pluto did, as poets tell,
Timotheus, too, in later days,
Who chanted forth his furious lays
In mighty Alexander's praise,
Upon the tuneful lyre.
With such a force the music told,
Far overhead the thunder roll'd.
The King grew frantic. Now behold
Persepolis on fire!
But hark! A peal doth now arise
And roll towards the distant skies,
While angels listen with surprise
To hear such wondrous lay.
From icy rocks of Labrador
To burning India's tranquil shore
The wildest beast subdues his roar;
'Tis Saint Cecilia's day!
When whirling winds in fury lash,
And seething waves tempestuous dash,
When vivid lightnings flame and flash,
And horrid thunders roar,
When stormy elemental war
Proclaims the sacred truth afar,
From ocean depth to distant star,
The Deity adore.
And when the Angel's trumpet blast
Declares the days of earth are past,
And the Redeemer comes at last
To bid the dead arise,
Oh! may I join the joyful band
Of chosen saints, so nobly grand,
Who wend their way from every land
To mansions in the skies.
This last poem,—so utterly unlike everything that has gone before,—shows
what Robert West Whalley can do,—when he tries. And pondering over it, as
the present writer has pondered many a time, what can any lover of true
poetry do but join in the regret, so often expressed by Billington and
other brother-bards, that its author does not try oftener? The dialect
songs are charming, and the humorous pieces delightful; but "The Power of
Music" is sublime.