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London Monthly Magazine

July, 1841.

John Critchley Prince, a weaver and a poet, gives the following description of a night passed in a workhouse.   He had been to the continent to obtain work, but having found none, he had returned to England.  "The first night after his arrival he had applied for food and shelter at a workhouse in Kent, and was thrust into a miserable garret, with the roof sloping to the floor, where he was incarcerated with twelve others, eight men and four women, chiefly Irish, the lame, the halt and the blind.  Some had bad legs, which emitted a horrible stench; some were in a high state of fever, and were raving for drink, which was denied them; For the door was locked, and those outside, like the bare walls within, were deaf to their cries. Weary and way-worn, he lay down on the only vacant place amid this mass of misery, in a sleeping chamber for the unfortunate child of woe, the hapless vagrant in Christian England, at the back of an old woman who appeared to be in a dying state; but he could get no rest for the groans of the wretched around him; and the crawling vermin, which, quitting his companions, crept up and down his limbs, exciting in him the most horrible loathing.  Joyfully did he indeed hail the first beam of the morning that broke through the crannies of this chamber of famine and disease; and when the keeper came to let him out, his bed-fellow was dead—had quitted her mortal coil, unshriven, unpitied, and unknown!"


(Extracted from a Provincial Periodical.)

JOHN CRITCHLEY PRINCE is a native of Wigan, in Lancashire, and was born on the 21st of June, 1808.  His father was a reed-maker for weavers, and having a family of several children, and but a precarious business to depend upon, was unable to send his son, the subject of our sketch, to school.  His mother, however, an intelligent and industrious woman gave the best example and instruction in her power to her children; and to her maternal solicitude the youthful poet is indebted for what he acquired of correct principles wherewith to begin the world.  Prevented by poverty from procuring him instruction in a day school, she sought to obtain this advantage in the Sabbath School of a Baptist chapel in the neighbourhood, where he gained a very imperfect knowledge of reading and writing.  His strong natural love of inquiry, however, prompted him to an extraordinary application of the limited means thus afforded to him of seeking information from books; so that, almost as soon as his attainment was equal to the reading of a sentence, he used every leisure moment to practise and improve it, by poring over such stray volumes as he was able to procure.

    At the early age of nine years he was put to learn his father's trade, at which tedious employment he was compelled to work from fourteen to sixteen hours per day.  Every indication of a love of books was sought to be repressed by his father, when, to gratify the ardent longings of his spirit for reading, he was betrayed by the passion into stealing a moment from the severe duties of his employment to engage in the forbidden pursuit.  There is no doubt that these adverse circumstances may have repressed the full development of his poetic genius, but that strong principle of his nature, poverty, want, and punishment, were unable to exterminate.  A mind skilled in tracing moral effects to their causes, might, perhaps, be able to prove that the strong love of freedom which so nobly characterises the poet's compositions, was, in a large measure, developed by the harsh treatment to which, in his early youth he was subjected; and that the ardent love of Nature, which breathes through his strains, was heightened by contrasting the gay and joyous life of the inhabitants of woods and wilds, and the harmony and beauty of trees, streams, and flowers, with the unrelieved and still recurring toil of his own occupation, carried on in the poverty-stricken chamber,—

" Where the pale artist plies his sickly trade."

All the adverse circumstances that surrounded him were unable to "freeze up the genial current of his soul;" the passion was intense, and would be gratified.  When the family had retired to rest, full oft would young Prince, at the witching hour of night, leave his bed, and with furtive steps and slow, creep down stairs, and by the dim light of the "slacked fire," revel in the charms of "Robinson Crusoe," or the horrible and mysterious grandeur of Ann Radcliffe and Monk Lewis.  The native longings of his heart found a rich banquet in the wild and wondrous of these tales; and the beautiful descriptions of natural scenery which give such a charm to the "Mysteries of Udolpho," and the free scope for inventive genius in Defoe's "Shipwrecked Mariner," fed the enthusiasm of the embryo bard, and made him sigh to visit foreign lands, and meet with "moving incidents by flood and field."

    Distress and embarrassment compelled his father, in 1821, to leave Wigan and proceed to Manchester, in search of employment, when he took our young friend, then thirteen years of age, with him.  After a time they obtained employment with the eminent machinists of Manchester, Messrs. Sharp and Roberts, then of Toll. lane, Deansgate.  They remained here but a short time, leaving for Stockport, and shortly after came back to Manchester, and were again employed by the respectable firm before mentioned.

    It was about this time that young Prince first obtained a copy of the works of Byron, which he read with the most intense and rapturous delight.  His mind had now met with its natural aliment; the strains of the noble poet awoke a kindred response in the breast of the obscure and humble boy; who from that moment became a worshipper at the fane of the Muses.  To confirm the bent, he became acquainted, at this time, and formed an endearing intimacy with an old German, who had been wounded at Waterloo.  He had seen much of the world, and was, withal, of a well-cultured and communicative disposition; and in their summer evening rambles, he stimulated the warm enthusiasm of his young companion, by the wild and mysterious legends of his fatherland, and nourished in him the germs of poesy with those overwrought colourings of the excited fancy, with which the exile loves to paint the fondly remembered scenes of his native soil.

    Pecuniary difficulties once more compelled the father to quit Manchester, and take up his abode at Hyde, a village about eight miles from thence.  Here young Prince dragged on a miserable sort of life, made so by a combination of circumstances which it is not necessary here to explain.  In the hope of making a happier home to himself, he entered into the matrimonial state with a pretty and interesting young woman of his own rank of life, a "neebor lassie" of Hyde, in the latter end of 1826, or beginning of 1827, when he was yet under nineteen years of age.  He had not at this time acquired the necessary proficiency in his trade, and he had still to work for his father.  Under these circumstances his income was extremely limited, and when offspring began to come, the joint endeavours of both parents were barely sufficient to procure the necessaries of life.  Things dragged on thus heavily until 1830, when his hopes were excited by the statements put forth of the want of English artizans in France, and those of his craft especially.  He thereupon set off for St. Quentin, in Picardy, leaving his wife, to provide, by her labour, for his three children and herself, until he should procure employment, and such a remuneration for it as he had been led to expect.  When he arrived in London, he heard of the Revolution in Paris, and the flight of Charles X.  Not reflecting on the necessary stagnation which this must occasion in manufactures, he determined that, having proceeded so far, he would venture onwards.  Arrived at Calais, he had to remain some days, until news was brought that Louis Philippe was elected King of the French.  He now proceeded up the country to St. Quentin.  Here he was doomed to disappointment: the revolution had paralyzed every thing;—business was at a stand still, and no employment for him was to be had.  He knew not now what to do; whether to return home, his hopes frustrated, and money wasted, or to proceed to the great seat of manufactures, Mulhausen, on the Upper Rhine.  He chose the latter course, and accordingly wended his way thitherwards, by the way of Paris, where he staid eight days, during which time he visited the Theatres, the Church of Notre Dame, Pere la Chaise, the Palais Royal, the Luxemburg, the Thuilleries, and the Gallery of the Louvre,—ascended the column in the Place Vendome, and viewed other "lions" of the French metropolis, till at length finding his viaticum—so small at the beginning—dwindling to a most diminutive bulk, he proceeded forward through the province of Champagne, to his destination.

    On arriving at Mulhausen, he found trade little better than at St. Quentin.  Many manufactories were shut up, and the people in great distress.  His means were completely exhausted.  In a land of strangers, and entirely ignorant of their language, with the exception of the few words he had picked up on the road, he was indeed forlorn.  Without the means to return, and in the hope of a revival in trade, he remained here five months in a state of comparative starvation; sometimes being two entire days without food.  During this time some trifling relief was afforded him by the generous kindness of Mr. Andrew Kechlin, a manufacturer, the mayor of the town.
    Finding that his hopes were fruitless, and the desire of again seeing his wife and children becoming insupportable, he at length determined to undertake the task of walking home, through a strange land, for many hundred miles, without a guide, and without money.  Accordingly in the middle of a severe winter, (January, 1831,) with an ill furnished knapsack on his back, and ten sous in his pocket, he set off from Mulhausen to return to Hyde, in Lancashire, with a heart light as the treasure in his exchequer.  His wants, his privations damped not the ardour of his soul; his poetic enthusiasm, while it drove him into those difficulties which a more prudent and less sanguine temperament would have made him avoid, yet served to sustain the buoyancy of his spirits under the troubles which environed him, and which it had superinduced.

    For a few days he kept along the beautiful and romantic banks of the Rhine, exploring its ruined castles, and visiting every scene of legendary lore that came in his path, exclaiming, in the words of his favourite poet, Goldsmith,—

"Creation's heir, the world, the world, is mine!"

He journeyed through Strasburg, and admired its splendid cathedral; through Nancy, Verdun, Rheims, Luneville, Chalons, and most of the principal cities, &c., that lay near his route, till he reached Calais once more; obtained from the British Consul a passage across the channel, and again set his foot on his native soil.

    During his toilsome journey he subsisted on the charity of a few English residents, whom he found on his way.  He lay in four different hospitals for the night, but not once in the open air, as he did afterwards in his own country.  The first night after his arrival, he applied for food and shelter at a workhouse in Kent, and was thrust into a miserable garret, with the roof sloping to the floor, where he was incarcerated along with twelve others—eight men and four women, chiefly Irish—the lame, the halt, and the blind.  Some were in a high state of fever, and were raving for drink, which was denied to them; for the door was locked, and those outside, like the bare walls within, were deaf to their cries.  Weary and way-worn, he lay down on the only vacant place amid this mass of misery, at the back of an old woman, who appeared to be in a dying state; but he could get no rest for the groans of the wretched around him.  Joyfully did he, indeed, hail the first beam of morning that broke through the crannies of this chamber of famine and disease; and when the keeper came to let him out, his bed-fellow was dead!

    Released from this lazar house, he proceeded onward, pennyless and shoeless towards London, begging in the day time, and lying in the open fields at night.  When he reached London he had been the whole day without food.  To allay the dreadful—but to him then familiar—cravings of hunger, he went to Rag Fair, and taking off his waistcoat, sold it for eight-pence, he then bought a penny loaf to mitigate his hunger, and four-pennyworth of writing-paper, with which he entered a tavern, and, calling for a pint of porter, proceeded to the writing of as much of his own poetry as his paper would contain, and this amid the riot and noise of a number of coal-beavers and others.

    As soon as he had done his task he went round to a number of booksellers, hoping to sell his manuscript for a shilling or two, but the hope was vain.  The appearance and manners of the famishing bard, to these mercantile men, were against him—he could not succeed in finding a customer for his poetry, or sympathy for his feelings.

    He stayed in London during two days, wandering by day, foodless, through its magnificent and well-fraught streets, and pacing about or lying on the cold stones in gateways, or on the bare steps of the affluent by night.  In despair on the third day, he left the metropolis of the land of his birth, where he was a greater stranger, and less cared for than in a foreign land, and wended his way homeward, first applying for relief to the overseer of "merry Islington," where, urged by the stings of famine, he was importunate, when denied assistance, and was, therefore, for his temerity, thrust into the streets to starve.  A youthful and unabused constitution, however, saved him from what might have befallen a less healthful frame, and a less buoyant heart.

    At length, by untiring perseverance, he reached Hyde, having slept by the way in barns, vagrant offices, under hay stacks, and in miserable lodging-houses, with ballad-singers, match-sellers, and mendicants, fully realizing the adage of Shakespear, that "misery makes a man acquainted with strange bed fellows."  On his route from London, he ground corn at Birmingham, sung ballads at Leicester, lay under the trees at Sherwood Forest, near Nottingham, lodged in a vagrant office at Derby, made his bivouac at Bakewell, in Derbyshire, in a "lock up," and finally reached Hyde, but found, alas ! it contained for him a home no longer.

    Whilst poverty had thus brought suffering upon him, when in quest of better means to provide for his family, it had also brought woe and privation upon his wife and babes.  Unable to provide for her children by her labour, she had been compelled to apply for parish aid, and was, in consequence, removed to the poor house of Wigan.  After a night's rest, Prince hurried off to that town, and brought them back to Manchester, where he took a garret, without food and clothes, or furniture of any description.  On a bundle of straw did this wretched family, consisting of a man and his wife and three children, lay for several months.

    During all this time Mr. Prince was unable, but at very long intervals, to obtain very insufficiently rewarded employment; and had it not been for the labour of his wife, who is a power loom weaver, and withal a most industrious and striving woman, they would have starved outright.  At this period of privation, their youngest child died.

    During this series of years, he has written his poetry at all times and under all circumstances.  The gratification of this passion was always a source of enjoyment, and enabled him to revel in pleasure in an ideal, even when misery was nipping him keenly in the real world.  At different times he has contributed to the Manchester newspapers, and to three of its local periodicals—the Microscope, the Phœnix, and the Companion, all of which latter are now immured in "the tomb of the Capulets."

    It is pleasing to observe that Mr. Prince's poetry is little touched with that spirit of repining misanthropy, or harsh hatred of those superior to him, which has too frequently characterised the effusions of several other poets of the suffering poor.  There is gracefulness in the expression, and a musical flow in the language, which mark the suavity of the poet's temperament.  Nor would a stranger to the man infer that his polished lines were the outpourings of a self-educated artizan, who had given them birth amid scenes of the most dire distress, or under the prostrating influence of fatigue, surrounded by the anti-poetical smells of oil and steam, and the rumbling clatter of wheels and machinery in a cotton-mill.  Yet under these adverse circumstances have some of the most beautiful of his compositions been conceived, and noted down at meal times and after the labour of the day.

    Mr. Prince is of a retiring character; and no one would imagine, from a slight acquaintance with him, that he had seen much of the world, much less that he had wandered in foreign lands, and drank so deeply of the bowl of misery.  He seems to have passed through these varieties of human condition rather as an observing wayfarer, than as participating therein.  In a great measure, his ill success in the world is fairly attributable to the want of confidence in himself, and of that becoming assurance, without which, however great a man's talent, or sterling merit, the path to advancement is not in his way.



THE subject I have chosen whereon to make a few random remarks, may, perhaps, be considered as one of minor importance, compared with the large practical utility of general science, or the more abstruse, but not less interesting, study of social and political economy: nevertheless, it is a subject with which I have formed a slight acquaintance, and one to which I have been long and ardently attached.  I shall not speak of this "dainty Ariel of the mind" in the technical and almost unintelligible jargon of the critics; but in the language of one who loves it for its delightful and never-to-be forgotten associations, and for the influence it has in soothing the heart and refining the human mind.

    Poetry, and the things which superinduce poetical thoughts and feelings, are co-existent and co-eternal with the Universe itself.  When the Almighty, in the plenitude of his wisdom, created the Earth, the plan and progress of his work was the opening, and the gradual development, of a poem which no inferior Intelligence should ever be able to alter, imitate, or destroy; a poem of transcendent grandeur and sublimity, which should never become obsolete, but retain its pristine loveliness to the very end of time.

    In the beginning the Spirit of God moved in the realm of Chaos; and this wondrous world, fair in its aspect, and vast in its proportions, rose from the dark and mysterious abyss.  He said, "Let there be light," and the young sun sprang forth on his ethereal way, never to rest again.  The clouds, brightening in his smile, followed after him, to decorate the heavens, and fructify the earth.  The chaste and quiet Moon made her first journey up the steep of night, while her attendant stars, mingling in a maize of intricate but perfect harmony, rang with the music of according spheres.  He spake again, and the waters were gathered together into seas, leaving the dry land filled with the germs of beauty and abundance.  Every valley was mantled with delicious verdure, and every mountain with the waving majesty of woods.  The silent earth lay beneath the smile of heaven, like an unbounded Paradise, where herb and leaf, bud and blossom, flower and fruit, grew spontaneously together ; making a spot so formed for peace and love, that angels afterwards came down to hallow it with their divine presence.

    Again the Invisible spake, and countless myriads of creatures started into active life.  The mighty leviathan gambolled in the great deep; the lordly lion and colossal elephant, yet harmless in their strength, startled the forest solitudes with cries; the graceful antelope and bounding fawn scoured the luxuriant vales; and cattle of each kind answered each other from a thousand hills.  Birds, radiant in plumage and prodigal of song, waved in the light of heaven innumerable wings, and filled the vocal air with sounds of freedom, melody and joy.  Again the fiat of the Eternal went forth, and Man—proud, complicated Man—erect and in the image of his Maker, rose up from his native dust, the last and crowning ornament of Creation.  Behold, then, the object of Divine Wisdom accomplished,— the glory of Divine Power made known, and the everlasting Poem of Nature completed.

    After a time, man acquired the faculty of speech, or the art of communicating to his fellow-beings, by oral sounds, his wants, his wishes, feelings, and ideas.  Melted into sorrow, cheered into gladness, or warmed into enthusiasm by the surrounding circumstances of his existence, he gave utterance to more than ordinary language, and that language was—Poetry.  Love for woman, affection for offspring, esteem for a friend, triumph over an enemy, and devotion to the Deity, were the first and natural subjects of his rhapsodies.  At length, men appeared more largely endowed with the higher powers of the mind, more thoroughly imbued with the love of Nature, and more deeply skilled in the secret workings of the human heart.  They raised themselves by the strength and beauty of their inspirations, to a place pre-eminently above the rest of mankind; poured out their whole souls in poetry, and transmitted to future generations the splendid and imperishable emanations of their genius.

    The first effusion we have on record, containing all the characteristics of true poetry, is the Song of Moses.  Indeed, the whole of that sublime and extraordinary book—the Bible, is enriched with a thousand inimitable specimens of this divine art.  The fervent and devotional tenderness of David, the minstrel King of Israel,—the pastoral sweetness of Solomon,—the prophetic grandeur of Isaiah,—the pathetic lamentations of Jeremiah,—the majestic diction and sublime imagery of Job, have seldom been equalled, and never surpassed by any of the Poets of ancient or modern times.

    It is almost impossible to take too extended a view of the nature and character of Poetry.  All the strange vicissitudes of human life,—all the harmonious beauty of the Universe,—all the incomprehensible sublimity of the Supreme Being is Poetry, in the widest and most significant sense of the word.  Whatever excites our wonder and admiration, awakes our best sympathies, and stirs up the hidden depths of our passions, is Poetry; inasmuch as it brings into exercise the moral and intellectual faculties of the mind.  Nature is the grand Temple of Poetry, and that man who hath received the celestial fire of inspiration, is the chosen High Priest of her rites.  He expounds her sacred mysteries; he points out her ineffable beauties.  In fancy his feet are planted from mountain to mountain; his face is lifted towards heaven; he opens his mouth, and in the language of angels, he moves, raises, and refines myriads of human hearts.  He is all eye, all ear, and almost all soul; for the strong wing of his imagination soars through the uttermost regions of Time and Space,—pierces the veil of Eternity, and even attempts to penetrate into the holy sanctuary of the Invisible himself.

    Poetry is cultivated and brought out under many forms and names.  The Philosopher cultivates it by discovering and making known the sublime facts and wonders of creation and of human nature: the Moralist, by extolling the loveliness of truth, and pointing out the efficacy of virtue in alleviating the ills of life: the Patriot, by fostering a love of country and kindred, and speaking with enthusiasm of the blessings of freedom in every land: the Musician, by awakening the spirit of melody, and giving an audible voice to every passion that sways the human breast: the Sculptor, by creating from the cold and shapeless marble, forms of life-like vigour, majesty, and grace; the Painter, by transferring to his canvass the hues and features of external nature, the visions of imagination, and the strange and stirring events of the dreamy past: the Poet, by sending his soul abroad to revel in the universe, and clothing his inspired thoughts in language lovely as the earth, and lasting as the sun in heaven.

    It is true that the greater portion of the people, the poor and uneducated, can neither understand nor appreciate the higher principles of Poetry; but while they can be cheered by a simple air, and melted by a pathetic ballad,—while they have joys and griefs, hopes and fears, feelings and affections, in common with all mankind, they cannot be said to be entirely unmoved by its influence.  The spirit of poetry is within them, and only requires the quickening breath of moral and mental culture to give it a more permanent and elevated character.  I think that a day will come, and I look forward to it with the cheerfulness of constant hope, when the sayings and sentiments, beauties and truths, of the masterminds of every age and clime, shall become "familiar as household words;"—when the Poet shall be looked up to as a being sent by Providence for a special and benevolent purpose, as the favoured interpreter of all that is good and true, all that is lovely and sublime, all that is wonderful and harmonious in universal things;—when he shall be loved and revered while living, honoured and mourned when dead, and his name enshrined in the hearts and memories of myriads of his fellow-creatures.

    It is almost impossible to imagine a more exalted character than that of a man possessed of great mental powers and indomitable moral courage;—a man dignified in manners, winning and eloquent in speech, prompt and decisive in action; a man just, brave, benevolent, pure, and serenely virtuous; in private, gentle and affectionate as a child,—in public, upright and awful as a sage.  But, if in addition to these rare qualities, he were gifted with a Poet's inspiration—that holy fire which gives light to thought, and warmth to feeling—his pre-eminence would be greater still.  Above all, if he had the will to devote his God-like energies to the good of his fellow-men, his existence would be a blessing and a benefit to the age in which he lived, and his name a beacon of glory to succeeding generations.  A few such mighty spirits would effectually regenerate the human race, and raise it to a state of perfection "little lower than the angels."  It is gratifying to believe—and this is a faith from which I cannot willingly swerve—that such men will rise up in after times, whose purifying powers shall banish from the earth selfishness, superstition, ignorance, and crime; and make their fellow-mortals more worthy of the beautiful world in which it has pleased God to place them.

    It is a lamentable fact—and one that almost appears an anomaly in nature—that the divine gift of Poesy has been made subservient to the basest of purposes; by pandering to licentious passions,—promulgating dangerous doctrines, and giving false and distorted views to men and things.

    One sad perversion of this great gift—thanks to reason and truth—is now becoming obsolete, namely, the practice of singing in praise of war and the wine-cup;—flinging the halo of Poesy over two of the greatest evils that ever afflicted humanity; exalting rapine, revenge, and wholesale slaughter as the noblest object of man's pursuit, and raising their most successful followers to a place among the demi-gods; holding up drunkenness and debauchery as things worthy of imitation; and making them the supreme sources of enjoyment.  It is, however, consoling to know that a few Master-Spirits of the Lyre have soared above these ignoble themes, and vindicated the high character of the Muse, by singing as men to men capable of every virtue here, and born for immortality hereafter.  The Song of Milton is deathless as the subject upon which it is built; the ethereal verse of Shelly will continue to rise in estimation while there is beauty and truth in the world; the simplicity, sympathy, and philosophy of Wordsworth will take a permanent place in the literature of his own age, and keep it for ages to come; and Shakspeare, in whom all the rest are blended,—Shakspeare, the Poet of the Universe,—shall follow the footsteps of Time, and only cease to be remembered when our language is forgotten.

    To many these "Random Thoughts" may appear false and extravagant; but, as I do not dogmatically assert them to be correct, I may, at least, be allowed to flatter myself with the hope that they are so.  My enthusiastic love of Poesy may have led me to view it through a too highly-coloured medium; for I cannot express how much I have been indebted to poetry, as a source of intellectual enjoyment, during years of many sorrows, many baffled hopes, and many vain endeavours to rise above the evils of my condition.  Yes; Poetry has been the star of my adoration, affording me a serene and steady light through the darkest portion of my existence;—a flower of exquisite beauty and perfume, blooming amid a wilderness of weeds,—a fountain of never-failing freshness, gushing forth in an arid desert,—a strain of witching and ever varying melody, which so softens my heart with sympathy, and strengthens my heart with fortitude, that I bless God for having made me susceptible of feelings so elevating, so humanizing, so divine.


Fraser's Magazine

A Lancashire Poets' Corner,


J. A. Noble.

THE Poets' Corner at Westminster is known to all the world as one of the sacred places of historic renown—as the repository of the dust of men whose living remains are among our most precious possessions, and must ever remain the theme of our proudest boasts.  The Poets' Corner in Lancashire had little venerableness, less fame, and hardly any beauty, and yet it possessed certain features of interest which render it worthy of remembrance by those to whom the humblest forms of literature have a peculiar charm.  It was not a transept in a world-famed abbey, but a little public house situated in Millgate, Manchester—a narrow, ugly, unpoetic street at the back of the Cheetham College, and not far from the parish church, which has since its day of fame been made the cathedral of the diocese.  It was a low, old, and, in its way, picturesque-looking building, with an aspect which carried the mind at least a couple of hundred years into the past.  Those who have seen Shakespeare's house at Stratford-on-Avon, and can imagine it set down in the busiest part of a Lancashire manufacturing centre, will have a better idea of the appearance presented by the little tavern than could be given by any elaborated architectural description.  It had not always been known as the Poets' Corner, for it possessed a flaming sign on which appeared the likeness of a human face contained in a circle, from the circumference of which spread out a number of spokes or rays—a design which, as every one knows is recognized as a correct likeness of the sun whenever that luminary has to do duty on a signboard.  The Sun Inn was accordingly for many years the name of the little hostelry; and that name it would probably have retained had it not, some time before the year 1842, passed into the hands of a certain Mr. William Earnshaw, who, being a man with some literary tastes, conceived the happy idea of making it a meeting-place for the poetic souls who at that time mustered in good numbers in and around Manchester.  Earnshaw had been a small manufacturer somewhere—where I know not—but things had not gone well with him, and he had accepted a situation on the staff of the Manchester Examiner, not then the influential organ it has since become.  He took the old-fashioned inn; had the legend, the "Poets' Corner," inscribed over the narrow doorway; and felt a pride in gathering round him the choice spirits of the pen, the sock, and the buskin, the first being in the majority, and the poets being among them the principal "stars."  Earnshaw had not only a natural taste for the things of the mind, but a fair amount of cultivation; and his wife was a singularly superior woman, who seemed out of place as a dispenser of beer, even to customers of bardic inspiration.  The Poets' Corner could not have been described, even in an advertisement where a little license is allowed, as a house doing a roaring business; for, with the exception of its regular artistic frequenters, hardly any one ever entered it; and if a stranger, attracted by the old-world look of the place, had crossed the threshold, it would probably have puzzled good Mrs. Earnshaw how to treat or where to put him.

    The poets, however, knew where to put the arts of emotional expression to which life owes so much of its beauty and charm.  I say one or more of the arts, because, as I have already hinted, the haunters of the Poets' Corner were not exclusively men of verse.  Artistic power or appreciation of any kind was a passport of admission to this select circle; and though there were few painters and no sculptors among the company in the old-fashioned parlour, the professors of a sister art, members of the regular company of the Theatre Royal and occasional wandering histrionic stars, were numerous and welcome visitors to this Lancashire Parnassus.  The actors were most of them good talkers—better talkers as a rule than the poets, some of the latter seeming as if they had made a vow to keep all their intellectual jewels concealed from view until they could be fairly secured by a setting of type.  This, of course, was not the real explanation of the comparative conversational barrenness of the poets of the Corner.  Most of them were by nature meditative men; and, to such, expression comes most quickly in solitude, and most slowly in a talking throng.  It is perhaps unfair to expect a fine poet to be also a fine talker; it is against the analogies of nature.  More than once or twice in literature has the poet been compared to the lark, and, as Alexander Smith says, "the lark is not always singing, no more is the poet."  Harry Bedford was one of the loungers at the Corner, but I remember that he and his vivacious and artistic acting were frequent subjects of panegyric whenever dramatic criticism was the order of the evening.  One of his best characters was that of Bob Cratchit in a dramatized version of Dickens's "Christmas Carol," which was almost as popular as the story itself; though the play proved an unfortunate one for the lessee of the Royal, as it was on the night of its performance that the theatre was burnt down.  I am not sure whether Bedford ever appeared again in Manchester; if not, there is no doubt that he was missed.  He was a fine-natured fellow, of infinite wit, and when he died in Dublin he left behind a number of very sincere mourners.

    It must not be supposed that the poets were mere dummies, who did nothing but sit, and drink, and smoke, and look intellectual.  In fact they did not look particularly intellectual; for, so far as personal appearance went, the bards of the Corner were by no means an extraordinary or striking set of men.  There were, however, some of them whose very silence had an impressiveness of its own, and even the silentest had his flashes of eloquence, or humour, or rough satire, while three or four were unmistakably good talkers, who would from almost any company have carried away the conversational palm.  Prominent among these was John Bolton Rogerson, author of "Rhyme, Romance, and Reverie," or, as he chose to spell it, "revery," a volume of both prose and verse; "A Voice from the Town" (poetry); and a third volume, which I never saw, the name of which has slipped from my memory.

From the Poetical Works of the late
John Bolton Rogerson.

And this, then, is the place where Romans trod,
    Where the stern soldier revell'd in his camp,
Where naked Britons fix'd their wild abode,
    And lawless Saxons paced with warlike tramp.
Gone is the castle, which old legends tell
    The cruel knight once kept in barbarous state,
Till bold Sir Launcelot struck upon the bell,
    Fierce Tarquin slew, and oped the captive's gate.
No trace is left of the invading Dane,
    Or the arm'd followers of the Norman Knight;
Gone is the dwelling of the Saxon thane,
    And lord and baron with their feudal might;
The ancient Irwell holds his course alone,
And washes still Mancunium's base of stone.

Where once the forest-tree uprear'd its head,
    The chimney casts its smoke-wreath to the skies,
And o'er the land are massive structures spread,
    Where loud and fast the mighty engine plies;
Swift whirls the polish'd steel in mazy bound,
    Clamourous confusion stuns the deafen'd ear,
The man-made monsters urge their ceaseless round,
    Startling strange eyes with wild amaze and fear;
And here amid the tumult and the din,
    His daily toil pursues the pallid slave,
Taxing his youthful strength and skill to win
    The food for labour, and an early grave:
To many a haggard wretch the clanging bell,
That call'd him forth at morn, hath been a knell.

But lovely ladies smile, in rich array,
    Fearing the free breath of the fragrant air,
Nor think of those whose lives are worn away
    In sickening toil, to deck their beauty rare;
And all around are scatter'd lofty piles,
    Where Commerce heapeth high its costly stores—
The various produce of a hundred isles,
    In alter'd guise, abroad the merchant pours.
Learning and Science have their pillar'd domes;
    Religion to its sacred temples calls;
Music and Art have each their fostering homes,
    And Charity hath bless'd and sheltering halls;
Nor is there wanting, 'mid the busy throng,
The tuneful murmurings of the poet's song.

At the time when he was a frequenter of the Corner he held the post of editor of the Oddfellows' Magazine, so that he might be considered a professional man of letters.  He had, in his day, pursued many callings.  He had once been a bookseller; then we hear of him as an actor; then taste and circumstance conspired to force him into authorship; and, lastly, he became the registrar of a Manchester cemetery, where he died and, I suppose, was buried.  He was, on the whole, the most attractive and fascinating man in the little circle.  In person and in manner he was singularly graceful; and, unlike some of his brother poets, impressed strangers at once as being a man of real cultivation, which, indeed, he was.  He was not only a full man, but a ready one, and seemed never at a loss for facts, or thoughts, or fancies to add to the discussion of any theme which supplied the question of the hour to the poetic forum.

    Among the few artists who occasionally put in an appearance and contributed to the stream of talk was a certain George Liddell.  He had no special idiosyncrasies, no angles of character on which reminiscences can be hung; but old haunters of the Poets' Corner remember him gratefully in connection with a picture of the exterior of their beloved rendezvous, afterwards engraved, which gives a very accurate impression of the old-fashioned inn.  What became of Liddell I do not know; but it is hardly likely that he achieved either fame or fortune by his art, for his most marked characteristic was a genial, happy, careless indolence, and he was only too ready, like the plumbers in Mr. Dudley Warner's delightful book, "My Summer in a Garden," to leave anything in particular for the sake of a chat about things in general.  He did little, but he enjoyed much, and was a source of enjoyment in others; for, in spite of didactic moralists, the melancholy fact remains that the useful member of society has not half the popularity of the jovial ne'er-do-weel.

    Elijah Ridings, whose various verses now lie before me in a good-sized but not very artistic-looking volume entitled "The Village Muse," had none of the external features which we are accustomed to associate with the typical poet; indeed, if the truth must be told, he bore a much stronger resemblance to a rural butcher.  He was a big, burly man with a rubicund face, the colour of which displayed an increasing tendency to concentrate itself in the most prominent feature—a testimony to his appreciation of the flowing bowl which was not unjustified by the facts.  Of immoderate drinking, as the phrase was then understood, there was not much at these nightly congresses; but there was a good deal of what may be described as very thorough-going conviviality, and several of our poets undoubtedly shortened their days by lengthening their potations.  Ridings could indulge more freely than the majority of his poetic comrades without seeming much the worse for it, and it must be admitted that he did not hide this special talent in a napkin.  His voice was in harmony with his appearance—a loud, thunderous, overpowering organ; and when he overrode the ordinary hum of talk with what Rogerson in his principal poem describes as "sage remarks on bards of old," no one could choose but listen.  "Bards of old" is perhaps a poetical license, for Ridings's poetical affections did not stray further into the past than the age of Elizabeth.  Shakespeare and Byron were his two prime favourites; and, as the latter was the god of his enthusiastic idolatry, the fact that his poems contain comparatively few and unimportant traces of Byronic influence says something for the individuality and spontaneousness of his verse.  Ridings was for a time the bell-man at Newton Heath, a rural district not far from Manchester, but he afterwards took a bookstall in the busy thoroughfare of Shudehill; and there, surrounded by the beloved silent friends with whom he delighted to hold converse night and day, he probably died.  He was still bell-ringing in 1842, and on March 24 in that year the poetic brotherhood held a sort of symposium.  Various poems, nineteen in all, were contributed for the occasion, and were afterwards collected in a small volume, or rather pamphlet, entitled "The Festive Wreath," copies of which are now rare, and are much prized by local collectors.  One of these poems was a somewhat rollicking ditty from the pen of Alexander Wilson, one of three brothers who were the joint authors of a collection of verse called "Songs of the Wilsons;" and the second stanza has a mention of Elijah Ridings which recalls very vividly the personality of the burly and jovial poet.

The Sun is a school, where the wit or the fool
    May improve him by rule, both by night and
        by morn;
Lit up by a Bamford, the Radical gaslight,
    Whose flame will shed lustre on ages unborn.

There's Elijah the bellman, who, self-taught
        and well, man,
    I'm happy to tell, man, hath courted the muse;
He'll quote and recite far a day and a night,
    From Tim Bobbin, or Shakespeare, at "owd
        Bobby Booth's."

    The Bamford, for whose gaslight such enduring brilliance is here predicted, was Samuel Bamford, well known in his own neighbourhood as the author of "Hours in the Bowers" and another volume of verse, and over a more extended area as the writer of an intensely fascinating autobiography entitled "Passages in the Life of a Radical."  Bamford had always a certain air of power and distinction; he was six feet or more in height, well-built and well-proportioned, and when in old age his long beard became perfectly white he presented an imposingly, venerable appearance.  At the time of which I am writing, however, he could not be called old, though he had crowded into his years an experience of action and passion which might have made him feel like a centenarian.  He had been present at the great meeting held on August 16, 1819, in St. Peter's Field, Manchester, to petition for reform in Parliament—the meeting which was the scene of the notorious Peterloo massacre—and he had been imprisoned for two years on a charge of treason.  This fact and the name of his book render it unnecessary to add that Bamford was on the side of the people—the side not only of glory but of danger, of both of which he had his share.  The danger he probably enjoyed for the sake of the excitement; but for glory of any kind, at any rate for literary glory, he seemed to have a measure of contempt.  In the flourishing days of the Poets' Corner Bamford was residing at Middleton, a village about four miles from Manchester, and was making a fair livelihood by hawking his own books, which he sold at about ten or twelve shillings each.  Some one—I think it was one of his less successful brother poets—suggested that for Bamford to constitute himself his own bookseller was not exactly respectable; that it was rather derogatory from the true dignity of a poet; and that it might, moreover, interfere with his fame.  But Bamford was proof against this appeal to the last infirmity of noble minds, and replied brusquely, "Dash the fame!" (the original word was stronger than dash, but dash is near enough); "don't talk to me about fame; I take care of the bread and cheese, and let the fame take care of itself."  Bamford could feel the force of the proverb concerning a bird in the hand, to say nothing of the fable of the dog and the shadow; and perhaps had a shrewd idea that while the bread and cheese were fairly certain, the posthumous honour which Wilson had predicted for him was hardly to be depended upon.  If this were so, events have proved that he was not mistaken.  "Hours in the Bowers" are forgotten hours for all but a few Lancashire men who are interested in every scrap of the literature of their county; and, from all that I can hear, even the Radical autobiography has few readers, though it is well worth reading as a most interesting contribution to the history of England in the first quarter of the nineteenth century.  Bamford was a Bohemian to the backbone.  Lord Francis Egerton, who had a genuine love of literature and a generous sympathy with literary men, got for him a place in Somerset House; but the atmosphere of officialism did not agree with the doughty Radical, so he returned to Lancashire to earn his bread and cheese by following his own bookselling devices.

    Alexander Wilson, the author of the lines quoted above, was, as I have said, a member of a vocal family, and the small volume "Songs of the Wilsons" contains a fair number of really good specimens of dialect verse.  In a biographical account of the Wilsons prefixed to the songs, I find an amusing and characteristic anecdote which is perhaps worthy of reproduction.  One of the family, named William, happened, somehow or other, not to be a poet.  He was in fact a mute, inglorious Wilson; but, though he never wrote a song, he had a capital voice, and could sing with wonderful effect the lays of his kinsfolk.  Being once in a party of six at an inn in Manchester he was astounded by the impudence of a man named Macfarlane, who, after singing the song, the "Countryman's Description of the Collegiate Church," written by Thomas Wilson, another of the brothers, coolly claimed the authorship for himself.  William Wilson was able at once to establish the falsehood of this claim; and one of the company, determined that the impostor should be thoroughly annihilated, made a bet with Macfarlane that he could not even write a verse, and that William Wilson could.  This was hard on William as well as on Macfarlane, for he had left poetry to his brothers and had never strung together a couple of rhymes in his life; but the honour of the family as well as his friend's money was at stake, and he soon produced the following veritable impromptu:—

Six jolly fellows in the castle met,
To smoke their pipes and drink their heavy wet;
When one arose and wished them all to know it,
That he himself was really born — a poet.

This was not absolutely a great effort, but it was too great for poor Mr. Macfarlane.  He tried and tried and tried again, but he was fairly beaten and had to drown his discomfiture in glasses round.  His victor reposed upon his laurels, and never dimmed his suddenly won reputation by the composition of another verse.

    Alexander Wilson, the frequenter of the Poets' Corner, was the youngest son of the family, and was not only a poet but a self-taught painter—a humble follower of Hogarth, Wilkie, and the realistic humorists and humanists.  His most important pictorial work was entitled "The Manchester Rush-cart," and into it he introduced very recognizable portraits of local celebrities, the most prominent object in the picture being the rush-cart itself, which is shown standing opposite the Manchester Arms Inn in Long Millgate while morris-dancers, fighting women, pickpockets, and pigs contribute to the life and movement of the work.  The picture excited a good deal of interest, and was ultimately disposed of in a raffle for sixty guineas—a price which proves that the artist had won, for an amateur, a good local reputation.  It was, however, as a song-writer and a boon companion that Alick Wilson, as he was always called, was distinguished at the Poets' Corner.  He was a mercurial little fellow, brimming over with animal spirits, and not without a fair share of vanity, which rendered him the butt of tolerably frequent good-tempered banter.  On one occasion Mr. John Dickinson, a Manchester bookbinder, who was among the regular frequenters of the Corner, addressing Alick at a pretty full meeting of the Parnassians, congratulated him on having been seen lately in very distinguished company.  Wilson assumed an amusing air of self-satisfaction and pleaded for particulars; but Dickinson withheld them until the poet's curiosity was strained to the fullest extent, when the revelation was made that the distinguished company had consisted of certain notorious aristocratic local roués, and that the place of meeting had been one of the most fashionable, but also one of the most disreputable, resorts in Manchester.  The poet was very angry for a moment, for he saw at once that his weakness had been played upon by a fabricated story, but he was compelled at last to join in the laughter which greeted his discomfiture.  Conversational horse-play of this kind was not perhaps very elevating, but it was human; and even favourites of the Muses cannot always be talking of Shakespeare and the musical glasses.  It is certain that, on the whole, the talk of the somewhat rough-hewn Lancashire poets would have compared favourably with much of the conversation in metropolitan literary circles of far higher pretensions; for it was always sincere, generally vigorous, and occasionally felicitous with that felicity which comes not of the study of professional phrase-makers, but of the spontaneous activity of original minds.  Poor Alick Wilson was not a long liver, for he died in 1846, at the early age of forty-three; and Ridings, whose praises he had sung in life, wrote an epitaph, which is engraved on his tombstone in the Cheetham Hill Cemetery:—

Thy strains have charm'd the evening hours
    With inoffensive glee;
And they who knew thy varied powers
    May well remember thee.

While wit and humour are admired,
    Thy quaint and cheerful rhymes,
By truest genius inspired,
    Will brighten future times.

The epitaph came in my way; but it is unfair to quote such thin and commonplace lines without a protest against their being taken as a sample of Ridings's best, or even of his average, work.  They are, however, an illustration of a weakness which the Manchester school of poets shared with other poetical cliques—a provoking habit of indulging in perpetual and public mutual admiration.  The members of it were a little too fond of predicting immortality for each other, without considering carefully enough whether there were sufficient grounds for these complimentary prophecies.  Ridings eulogizes Critchley Prince; Critchley Prince eulogizes Ridings; Wilson and Rogerson eulogize everybody—one in flowing rhymes, the other in rather wooden blank verse; and others of the circle whose volumes are not at hand to refer to were equally given to scattering panegyric round the country in a painfully reckless manner.  For this weakness, however, they can hardly with fairness be accounted personally responsible.  They lived at a time when it was a literary fashion to talk about the poet as an altogether exceptional and extraordinary specimen of humanity; to regard the ability to run together a few rhyming lines about the beauty of nature, or the glories of liberty, or the delights of love, as a sure sign of "Heaven-sent inspiration;" and Lancashire working-men who had—and who knew that they had—genuine poetic instincts might well be excused for applying to each other exaggerations of language which were sanctioned by some of the most influential of contemporary literary authorities.
    One of the names just mentioned was more widely known than that of any other of the poetic brotherhood.  No casual visitor to the Poets' Corner could fail to notice a dark-complexioned, delicate, fragile-looking man, with a finely moulded head, who drank slowly but steadily, and said little, but whose dark eyes, which gleamed through the glasses of a constantly-worn pair of spectacles, seemed the eyes of a man who might have much to say.  The indication was deceptive, for the owner of them, John Critchley Prince, was among the silent singers.  Never was there a man of genius— and genius Prince undoubtedly possessed— whose conversation gave less evidence of his powers.  He had travelled much both in England and on the Continent in search of work; had passed through the most varied and exciting experiences; had read as many books as he could get hold of; and yet, as an intimate friend of his observed, "he seemed to know nothing."  He was, in fact, a man whose expressional gift was purely literary; whose avenues of utterance were opened by a pen, an ink-bottle, and a sheet of paper, but closed by the presence of even the most congenial associate.  His prose has a certain freedom and mastery which we are accustomed to associate with a greater amount of culture than fell to poor Prince's lot; and much of his verse possesses the true lyrical charm, which in the work of many poets of the people atones so splendidly for the absence of that artistic craftsmanship which we are wont to call classical.  Prince was well acquainted with privation: he had known what it was to sell the clothes from his back in order to allay the pangs of hunger; but, as soon as his earliest verses were published, he obtained abundant recognition both in Lancashire and the metropolis, and certainly could never be described as a neglected poet.  If, however, the world did not neglect him, he neglected himself; for he was one of that numerous class who are, as the popular saying has it, no one's enemies but their own.  A craving for alcohol, natural or acquired, blighted his life and hastened his death.  A wealthy admirer of his verse, who had often befriended him, offered to pay him two pounds weekly so long as he abstained from intoxicating drinks, and for some time the pension was fairly earned and duly received; but Prince found it impossible to carry out his part of the contract, and the two pounds was given up that he might return to his favourite liquor—rum.  He did not drink much at a time—indeed he probably could not; but, to use the expressive words of an occasional visitor at the Corner, "he was always at it."  At last he became so entirely dependent upon artificial stimulus that he could not rise from bed in the morning without a dram, and when this point was reached the end was not far distant.  He had not the constitution of his friend Ridings; when the breaking-up came it was a rapid one, and his death brought to a sad and early close a warped and ineffectual career.  The value of his accomplished work I do not attempt to estimate; for this is a sketch, not a criticism.  It was loudly praised by contemporary writers of repute, and probably over-praised; for there is no gentle critic who will not err, if he err at all, on the kindly side in dealing with the simple, heart-felt utterances of a poet known to be as heavily handicapped as was poor Prince; but, after all deductions are made, it may, I think, be declared that he had the true "vision and faculty divine," and no small measure of the "accomplishment of verse."

    Another life, even more wantonly wasted than Prince's, was that of Robert Rose, known as the "Bard of Colour."  He was a finely-made, full-blooded negro, of whose early history I know nothing; but at the time when he was one of the poets of the Corner, he was a man of wealth—or of what seemed wealth to his poorer comrades—and lived in a good house in Salford.  He was a quick, vivacious fellow, with the inborn gaiety of his race, very companionable and thoroughly hospitable.  He was fond of asking his friends to breakfast with him; and those who received an invitation for the first time, and asked at what hour they must put in an appearance, were somewhat startled at being informed that it was Mr. Rose's habit to take his first meal at three or four o'clock in the afternoon.  Of course this meant that he did not retire to rest until the small hours were growing into large ones, and this turning of day into night was symptomatic of his whole life.  He was a restless soul with a passion for adventure, and his favourite recreation was to run over to Liverpool and take a trip to sea in one of the pilot-boats belonging to that port.  He contemplated embodying the imaginative results of these excursions in a poem the length of "Paradise Lost," which was to be entitled "Ocean Mysteries;" but before the mysteries of the ocean were grappled with he was suddenly brought face to face with a greater mystery still.  After a presumably heavier drinking-bout than usual, he was picked up insensible in the street and carried to the lock-up, where, with no friendly hand to receive a farewell pressure or to close his eyes, the Bard of Colour breathed his last.

    Many unforgotten faces rise before one, and many names seem to claim at least a mention; but, for the time, the record as it stands must needs suffice.  Of the men who were at all prominent members of the bardic coterie I know of only one survivor, Mr. R. W. Procter, who in those "days of story and song" was a little, bashful man, full of shyness yet by no means devoid of sociability, still on the whole an observer rather than a talker.  He ought, indeed, if in his composition the general fitness of things had been observed, to have been a brisk and ready conversationalist; for he was by trade a barber, and published a volume of very bright and readable sketches entitled "The Barber's Shop," to say nothing of a number of poems given to the world under cover of the pen-name of "Sylvan."  I believe he still follows his humble but useful vocation somewhere in Old Millgate, and has of late years gained a new title to the gratitude of his fellow-citizens by a large work on the "Streets of Manchester," full of curious information, the harvest of long and loving research among the archives and traditions of one of the most venerable of our great centres.  He remains, but his companions have departed.  They have joined those more illustrious singers who slumber in that other Poets' Corner, and have gained that last and most enduring of dignities which is in the gift of King Death.  The Poets' Corner in Manchester will never attract the crowds who are drawn to the spot where lie some of the great masters of English literature but so long as poetry is precious, not merely to the cultured critics but to the careworn crowd, not even the humblest shrine of simple song deserves to be altogether forgotten.

Autumn Leaves


The Examiner (1857)

    WE have not seen a little book entitled Autumn Leaves, by J. C. Prince, but we have seen in the columns of a contemporary a few verses quoted from it, with this statement, which forms its preface:

"The author of the following miscellaneous poems has nothing to say in their favour.  They have been published in the hope that they may afford him some means of gaining a humble livelihood.  His own trade, that of reed-making always uncertain and fluctuating, has latterly been much depressed, and is not at all to be depended on.  These are his chief motives for publication.  The author hopes that the critics will, in consideration of these circumstances, be indulgent to his very imperfect effusions."

    The stanzas we have seen are good enough to make us wish that the poor reed-maker may with his own "pastoral reed" win of the world more than he can earn by his mere work-a-day manner of dealing with the grass that has so long been sacred to the muses.  One of the stanzas runs as follows:

"How beautiful is nature, and how kind
     In every season, every mood and dress,
 To him who woos her with an earnest mind,
     Quick to perceive and love her loveliness.
     With what a delicate, yet almighty stress,
 She stills the stormy passions of the soul,
 Subdues their tossings with a sweet control,
    Till each spent wave grows gradually less,
     And settles into calm!  The worlding may
 Disdain her, but to me, whate'er the grief,
 Whate'er the anger, lingering in my breast,
     Or pain of baffled hope,—she brings relief;
 Scares the wild harpy-brood of cares away,
 And to my troubled heart serenely whispers
        'Rest.' "

    Nature has done her part, but man can also do something towards bringing about the more perfect fulfilment of the last two lines in that tranquil strain of verse.



[Appended to the "The Poetic Rosary"—Ed.]

    Mr. Prince is one of those men, so rare, yet so welcome when they come, who, born and educated amid poverty, and invested with a quick intellect, have, amid the gloom of their world, such an expansion of heart, that when they condemn, they condemn without bitterness.  In the entire range of literary history we have read of no poet with a mind more elastic than that possessed by Prince.  His mind rebounds from the passions and the degradation with which he has been unavoidably associated, and the rebound has been both signal and lofty.  Apart from birth and education, and in the completeness and individuality of the word, J. C. Prince is a poet.  He has an intuitive perception of the finest beauties of life, and a quick comprehension of the beauties of nature.  We need not say more.  We have written only what is generally admitted; but our desire is that Mr. Prince's works should be the companions of every poor man, because they will increase his social tendencies; and further, we wish them to be in the possession of every rich man, because they will teach him that a Poet of the People is not necessarily antagonistic to the wealthy.—The Critic (April, 1847).

    One of the chief merits of his productions lies in their being so faithful a transcript of the feelings and sentiments cherished by the class of men to which he belongs.  His poems are one and all the products of a sound and healthy mind, equally free from moody misanthropy or pining discontent.  His ill success in life has soured neither his temper nor his verses.  While pleading the rights of the poor, he does not forget the respect due to those of the rich, and, accordingly, no harsh hatred of those superior to him in station is to be found in his pages.  The regeneration for which he longs is perfectly compatible with the permanence of existing institutions; and no man anathematises more strongly than himself, the popular demagogues who, for the attainment of their own lawless ends, would disturb the peace of society, and remorselessly involve the nation in ruin and bloodshed.—Monthly Magazine.

    Here we have a volume of verses which, considering the condition and opportunities of the poet, may be pronounced wonderful.   But, wherever or howsoever composed, his poems possess very considerable merit, merely as poems, and laying aside altogether the circumstances under which they have been produced.  If the Muse "found him poor at first, and kept him so," the measure of the divine gift he possesses has brought its own delights and rewards; and, in the midst of poverty, he can still wisely and piously bless God for "having made him susceptible of feelings so elevating, so humanising, so divine."—Tait's Magazine.

    Had such a volume of poetry as the one before us been produced twenty years ago by a poor cotton weaver, its author would have been accounted a prodigy.  Mr. Prince's merits are enthusiasm, earnestness, freshness of feeling, and a quiet power of painting bits of scenery, and nature.  His command over language is remarkable, and he sometimes evinces great felicity of expression.  It will be seen from our extracts that he has caught a real spark from the great meteor of Poesy, and we trust he will still solace his leisure hours with the Muses, gaining his, meed of tribute and applause from his fellow men.—Westminster Review.

    It is greatly to the credit of Mr. Prince's heart, and the divine art which he pursued with such enthusiasm, that poverty has had no power to sour or corrupt his nature.  His poems slow an innate refinement of mind, and a sweet healthy tone of sensibility, together with a pure and ennobling morality, which speak volumes in favour of the author's head and heart.—Sun.

    Having closed our extracts, we may express our estimation of the author.  If poetry may be defined as an intense love of the beautiful, the right, and the true, then is Prince a poet in the noblest sense of the word. All his thoughts, sentiments, and aspirations are in the right direction. His poetry has a healthy, fresh tone, which must reach the unsophisticated heart.—Manchester Guardian, (Second Notice.)

    In taking leave of this volume, we may say that, as an appropriate gift to youth of either sex, we know few that can compare with it in genuine poetry, blended with the highest moral feeling, and the purest taste and sentiment.  It is full of earnestness and sincerity, and has many other good qualities which must make for it a path to favour, wherever truth is valued, the best affections prized, and the moral advancement of man desired.—Manchester Guardian, (third notice.)

    Considering the many grave disadvantages with which the author of this volume has had to contend, he must be accounted a poetic genius of the highest order.  There are an elasticity of thought, a fruitfulness of imagination, and a high-toned generosity about everything he writes, which must of necessity gain him troops of friends.—Manchester Courier.

    We are happy to say that these poems require no tenderness on the score of circumstances, from the hand of a critic.  They abound with images of beauty and themes of rejoicing; and except when a pensive thought breaks in upon him for a moment, there is scarcely a solitary evidence of the pangs out of which all this sweet music is extracted.  We have sufficient cause to wonder that these poems possess so much intrinsic beauty, and so much real weight of unadulterated truth.—Atlas.

    It is wonderful that this man, after what he has suffered, should still have the heart to write poetry—poetry gentle and beautiful in sentiment, and graceful in composition.  He is a man of originality and genius.  "Hours with the Muses," all things considered, is a wonderful production.  We see in it the evidence of a great power, which, we hope and trust, will be worthily developed.—Sheffield Independent.

    Of all those whose names have risen as a bright star from the low horizon of society, the author of "Hours with the Muses," is, in our opinion, almost unequalled.  We hate half praise when we have felt whole pleasures; and certainly, our minds have never kindled with more true fervour than while reading the poems of J. C. Prince.  Most warmly do we recommend this volume to the notice of our readers; we are indeed in error if any one can read it without being better and wiser.  We hesitate not to predicate that the name of J. C. Prince can never die.—Midland Counties' Herald.

    Mr. Prince is no ordinary man, and no ordinary poet.  His poetry is a marvel; its high finish, melodious rhythm, purity of sentiment, and elegant diction, would do honour to any living poet.  We regard it as an honour to our age and country to have produced such a man, and heartily recommend his volume to all lovers of true poetry.—Sheffield Iris.

    Mr. Prince's poetry is the natural expression of a mind observing and thoughtful, and his mind has been prompted by his heart in all its remarkable enterprises.  His intellect has never left his feelings in the background.  There is always a drop of benevolence at the bottom that sweetens the whole draught.—Leeds Times.

    The poetry of J. C. Prince is of a free and flowing melody and graceful expression.  The "Poet's Sabbath" offers proof that the writer has both a painter's hand and a poet's heart.  All his sentiments, as represented by his poetry, do him great credit.—Athenæum.

    Mr. Prince's poetry is of a high and sterling class.  It is full of imaginative beauty, and of a delicate and pure diction.  But what is even more admirable than the poetry itself, are the sound sense and the true philosophy which distinguish it.  All his unmerited sufferings have not embittered his nature, nor distorted his reason; he calls upon his fellows to liberate themselves, but warns them against the destructive delusions of physical force.  He points out in peaceful language the real enemies of the working man; he advocates at once both political and domestic reform.  Mr. Prince has only to hold on, to be a prince amongst poets, and a blessing to the meritorious but suffering masses of this country.—WILLIAM HOWITT.


Favourable notices have also appeared in The Spectator, The Metropolitan, The Church of England Magazine, The Christian Teacher, The Manchester Times, The Manchester Advertiser, The Leeds Intelligencer, The Liverpool Albion, The Liverpool Mercury, Chambers' Journal, Bradshaw's Journal, The New York Herald, The New York Tribune, Channing's American Magazine, and others.



of the life of

John Critchley Prince.

Compiled by Stuart Smith,
great, great grandson of Critchley Prince's sister, Sarah.


Wigan 21.6.1808.  All books show his birth as 21st June but Baptismal Record for Wigan All Saints shows 20th June with baptism on 9th May 1813.


1826 to Ann Orme who died September 1858. Remarried 1862 to Ann Taylor.


By trade Critchley Prince was a Reedmaker in the spinning industry.  His father and brother followed the same trade.


Hyde 5.5.1866. Buried St Georges Church Hyde 10.5.1866.



Joseph Prince b. 21.10.1787. m. 1.2.1807. d. 1854.  Father's parents were John Prince and Elizabeth Batkin; the family originated from Yoxall, Staffs.


Nancy Critchley b.17.8.1789. m. 1.2.1807 d.? His mother's parents were Robert Critchley and Phoebe Finch; the family originated from Wigan.


James b. 17.3.1820, d. 12.5.1864. James married:
 1. Caroline Cheetham in 1844 and
 2. Harriet and had three children, a son Thomas and two daughters Alline and Annie.


Sarah b. 28.3.1828, d. ?, Sarah married William Oldham and had four children, Joseph Prince Oldham, Alfred Oldham, Charles Oldham and Nancy Prince Oldham.


Elizabeth born Wigan 24.2.1813. Elizabeth married Joseph Catlow.


Mary b. 24.11.1817. m. 11.3.1839. d. 2.1.1909. Mary married John Marsden.


One further sibling for whom there are no details.



Married in 1826 (or early 1827) to Ann Orme. Following Ann's death in 1858, on 30th March 1862 Critchley Prince remarried,  to Ann Taylor (b. 1814).

Ann Orme

Born 8.3.1805, christened on 28.4.1805 at St Michaels Church Ashton Under Lyne. Parents were William and Ann Orme. Ann died in 1858.


Three children by his first wife Anne Orme: a daughter Elizabeth b. 20.2.1828, m. Charles Hall 30.2.1849, d. ?; a son b. 182? d. 1832; a daughter b. 182? d. 1855.  Prince's youngest daughter married and had a son and a daughter.  The son died prior to 1858; the daughter was looked after by Elizabeth the elder daughter of John C. Prince).



Born at Wigan 21.6.1808. Christened at Ebeneezer Methodist New Connexion Chapel, Bolton Le Moors, on 11.7.1808.

1812 (ca.).

Attended Sunday School at a local Baptist Chapel in Wigan.


Apprenticed to his father in the trade of reed maker (worked 14 to 16 hour days).


Removed to Manchester; employed by Sharp-Roberts at Todd Lane, Deansgate.


Removed to Hyde with family.


Married to Anne Orme.


Daughter Elizabeth born 20.2.1828; christened at Denton 20.4.1828.


Son born.


Left for France to find work. See description of travels in France in “Life of John Critchley Prince


Returned from France to Hyde to find wife and children in the Wigan Poorhouse.  Removed to Long Millgate Manchester. At this time (according to “Life”) Critchley Prince had three children.

1832 (ca).

Death of youngest child, a son. Removed to Hyde and again worked with father as a reedmaker.


Formed an association with some other persons in Hyde known as the “Literary Twelve” who met in each others' houses in rotation.


Employed as a Yarn Warehouseman by Randall Hibbert of Hyde.


A contributor “The Regenerator”, a weekly journal; in one issue is referred to as the “Bard of Hyde”.


Removed to 15 Long Millgate, Manchester, with wife and two daughters (located between Cheetham College and the Grammar School, and opposite the “Sun Inn” in Hanging Ditch). Opened shop selling stationery, etc.


First (of six) edition  of “Hours With The Muses” published  in July. Became a founder member and secretary of the “Literary Association”. Charles Dickens subscribes to “Hours With the Muses” (letter to John Critchley Prince from Charles Dickens dated 31st March 1841 - “The Letters of Charles Dickens”, Pilgrim Edition, Vol. 2, 1974)


Contributed to the “Oddfellows’ Magazine and, in a competition dated the 13th August 1842, was awarded a prize valued at £6 for poetry, his entry being published in the October 1842 edition.  On October 15th he received a £50 grant from Sir Robert Peel.  Lord Leigh wrote a letter to Sir Robert Peel in the hope of obtaining some form of employment (Sir Robert Peel replied in a letter dated 15th October, 1842).  Eldest Daughter Elizabeth attended a small school run by a Miss G. Varley (later Mrs G. Linnaeus Banks, author of “The Manchester Man” 1876).  Removed to 82 Hanover Street, Manchester, having given up the shop at Long Millgate.  Returned to work as a reedmaker.  During this year Critchley Prince was offered, and turned down, employment in the Post Office at Southampton as either a postman or as a sorter.


Removed to Hodgson Street, Ashton, and later to Stamford Street near New Church, Ashton Under Lyne (letter dated 10th December from this address).  Eldest daughter lost her new bible at New Church Ashton Under Lyne on 10th December 1843.  Met and  corresponded with Charles Dickens (“The Letters Of Charles Dickens”, Pilgrim Edition,  Vol. 3, 1974).  During this year worked as a reedmaker for a Mr Moorhouse; also travelled to Blackburn in search of employment staying for a few weeks.


Removed to Henry Street, Ashton Under Lyme. Appointed editor of “The Ancient Shepherds Quarterly” at a salary of £12 per year.


A number of gentlemen from Ashton formed a committee to collect benefit subscriptions. This continued for a few years, but eventually ceased when, due to Critchley Prince's drinking and unreliability, several of them somewhat lost patience with him. During this time he left his trade as a reedmaker to try to make arrangements to have another book published.


Dreams and Realities” published.


Removed to Penny Meadow, Ashton under Lyne (name appears in the “Poor Rates Book” of Ashton Under Lyne in May 8th 1850 and 1851 on a dwelling in Penny Meadow as “Excused Rates due to abject poverty”).


Living at Catherine Street, Ashton.  In a letter to a friend he states that 1250 copies of his last book “Dreams and Realities” had been sold.  He wrote “But I have been sadly fleeced by the publishers. I received £5 for this work.  Had I the means of printing myself I could have made £50.” “Poetic Rosary” published in September 1850, and dedicated to Charles Dickens (with Charles Dickens' permission, but correspondence with Dickens concerning is not extant).


Removed to Dale Street, Ashton under Lyne.  1851 Census shows as living at 30 Wellington Road, Ashton Under Lyne. At some time during this year was also at 2 Bradgate, Ashton.


Was living at Dale Street, Ashton and working as a reedmaker.  At some time travelled to Blackburn to work for a Mr David Carruthers, living there at 34 Bent Street; at Fleming Square; and later lodging with a Mr Henry Liversedge at Anvil Street.


Possibly still working in Blackburn.


Death of father, Joseph Prince.  Late in 1854 was back in Ashton; moved to Hill Street West, Ashton.  Worked at Brook Street, Ashton with his brother James in the business which had been founded by his father.


Returned to Blackburn and, for 12 days, worked with a Mr Parkington, again lodging with Mr Henry Liversedge at Anvil Street. Death of youngest daughter leaving him and his wife with two grandchildren.  Still working with brother.


Autumn Leaves” published (book carries wording that it is being sold by the author from Brook Street, Ashton).


Removed to 138 Charles Street, Ashton.  At this time his brother in law (husband of sister Sarah Prince) states that his income was 5/- per week.  (Vicar of St Peters Church Ashton, on the authority of Lord Leigh and other admirers, donates a weekly sum of 5/- and coals.) (See “Poorhouse Fugitives”, Brain Maidment, 1992 Edition, pages 342-4, correspondence between J. C. Prince and his printer G. Booth, which gives an indication of his financial position).


Death of wife Ann Prince (née Orme) due to an 'accident'.  Following Ann’s funeral returns to Hyde and moves in with his mother, Nancy.  Surviving daughter (Elizabeth, m. to Charles Hall) moves to Sheffield taking his surviving grandchild (the daughter of Prince's youngest daughter) with her.  Short period of time spent at Blackburn living with a Mr John Harwood.


At a meeting at Newton is introduced to a Mr Tetlow and his wife and unmarried sister, Ann Taylor, who subsequently becomes second wife.


Lived in Hyde, Blackburn, and Newton. 1861 Census also shows Prince living with his mother, Nancy Prince, at Brook Street, Hyde.  Received several contributions from the Royal literary Fund, the last one in September, 1860.


Prince's final collection, “Miscellaneous Poems”, is published, being dedicated to his publisher, John Heywood.  2000 copies of “Miscellaneous Poems” are sold by his brother in law, Mr William Oldham.  Prince's health begins to fail.


Remarried to Ann Taylor on 30th March 1862 at St Mary’s Church, Mottram in Longdendale.  Marriage certificate shows John Prince as aged 53, Widower, Reedmaker, Father Joseph Prince Dd.  Reedmaker.  Ann Taylor is shown as aged 48, Spinster, Tenter.  Father's name given as Jonathan Taylor Dd.  Witnesses are Jonathan Hindle and Joseph Bradley.


Living at Brook St., Hyde.  Health deteriorates further with an attack of paralysis (stroke?).


In letter dated 10th May states “Yesterday one of family died” and that his brother is expected to die any day soon from consumption.  Does not state who had died, but his brother's son, Thomas, died in May, 1864.  Prince's brother James was to die on the 12th May, 1864.


Dies at Hyde on 5th May 1866 and is buried on 10th May at St George's Church, Hyde (west side of church to South West of Steeple).  A subscription is made by friends to erect a monument on Prince's grave. Details of the inscriptions on the monument appear, funeral, etc. in “Life".


Prince's widow, Ann, is shown in the 1881 Census (aged 69) living at 2 White Hart Street, Newton, with her sister Mary Tetlow.


Centenary Exhibition held at Wigan Library


Surviving sister, Mary Marsden, dies on 2.1.1909


Programme of readings from J. C. Prince's works given to celebrate 100th Anniversary of his death.


“Life of John Critchley Prince”, R A D Lithgow, 1880, Abel Heywood.

“Poems by J C Prince”. Two Volumes, Edited by R A D Lithgow, 1880. Abel Heywood.

“Encyclopedia of National Biography”.

“Hours With the Muses” John Critchley Prince, 1841.

“Dreams and Realities” John Critchley Prince, 1847.

“The Poetic Rosary” John Critchley Prince, 1850.

“Autumn Leaves” John Critchley Prince, 1856.

“Miscellaneous Poems” John Critchley Prince, 1861.

“Lancashire Characters and Places”, Thomas Newbigging, 1891.

“The Poorhouse Fugitives” Brian Maidment, 1987, Carcanet Press (ISBN 0 85635 970 X.)

Census Records. Hyde 1841 1851. 1861. 1881.

Baptismal Records. Hyde.

Marriage Records. Hyde.

“Letters Of Charles Dickens”, Pilgrim Edition. Vols. 2 & 3.

“Memorials of Bygone Manchester”, R. W. Procter, 1880, Palmer & Howe.

“Lancashire Authors”, J. R. Swann, 1924.

“Poets, Poems and Rhymes of East Cheshire”, Thomas Middleton, 1908.


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