Brief Biographies VII.
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Samuel Bamford (1788-72: handloom weaver, radical, poet and author.

SAMUEL BAMFORD, the handloom weaver of Lancashire, is a true specimen of the poet of the working class.  Into his heart the sacred fire of poetry has descended, and the music of his lyre is not the less sweet that his mind has been tempered, and his affections tried, by persecution and suffering.  Nor has stern poverty, which, for many of the best years of his life, condemned him to work hard and fare meanly, in any wise served to close his eyes or ears to the beauties and melodies, of nature, whose spirit-whispers have spoken eloquently to his soul on the mountain-side, and in his home-valley; and which have often found for themselves beautiful and cheerful echoes in his songs and lyrics.

    Bamford is a Lancashire man born and bred,—an inheritor of that sturdy spirit of independence, which the indomitable old Saxons carried with them into the forests and morasses of South Lancashire, when driven thither before the superior discipline and prowess of the mailed Norman men-at-arms,—a spirit which they have retained to the present day.  The inhabitants of the south-western districts of Lan­cashire are a robust, manly, industrious, shrewd, and hard-headed race.  They have peculiar physical characteristics, and their moral features correspond to them.  They inhabit a rugged and naturally barren district; deemed unworthy of being taken possession of by the followers of the Norman William, who, having possessed themselves of the rich pasturelands of the low country, drove their former occupiers into the morasses of the interior, and the forests of Pendle and Rossendale.  The conquerors then built fortresses at the entrances of all the valleys commanding the "wild" district, at the mouths of the Ribble, the Lune, and the Mersey, the ruins of which are still to be seen; and thus they hemmed in the Saxon foresters who would not consent to resign their independence.  It was long, indeed, before their resistance to the Norman authority entirely ceased; and in all great popular movements, even down to our own day, the men of these districts have usually been among the foremost.  In the civil wars of the Stuarts,—more especially during the "Great Rebellion" in Charles the First's time,—the inhabitants of the Lancashire forests were almost to a man on the side of the Parliament; and the first open encounter in which blood was shed took place at Manchester, then, as now, the great metropolis of the district.  Bradshaw, President of the Council of the Commonwealth, one of the purest of the great public men of that period, was born in the forest of Rossendale, in the midst of a bold and freedom-loving population, and in a district calculated to develop the republican tendencies of his nature.  Indeed, the resistance which the people of that district have uniformly offered to the ascendant aristocratic power may be regarded as part of the same struggle between Norman and Saxon which formerly ravaged the country.  And to this day, it still is, in some measure, a struggle of races as well as of classes.  The institutions of the Conqueror have never been heartily recognized; the Church which it offered has been rejected, almost the whole population being even now extreme Dissenters.  The recent Anti-Corn-Law agitation, which originated with and was virtually carried by the men of Lancashire, was a striking instance of the hereditary resistance offered even to this day, by the men of Saxon descent, to the institutions of the conquerors.

    In such a district, and amid such a people, was Samuel Bamford born.  Though sprung from poor and hard-working parents, we find in one of his books, presently to be men­tioned, that he claims gentle blood; the elder branch of the lords of Bamford, from whom our poet is descended, having lost his lands by rebellion against the king during the civil wars, whilst the loyal younger brother, at the Restoration, obtained possession of the estate.  The birthplace of the subject of our sketch was the town or village of Middleton, near Manchester, where he first saw the light, in February, 1788.  His parents were poor but respectable, and were deeply imbued with religious feelings, belonging to the then new sect which followed John Wesley.  His mother, like the mothers of most men of strength of character and intellect, was a remarkable woman,—and to a strong mind in her were united a great tenderness and delicacy of feeling, which caused her no less to sympathize with others in distress, than to be sensitive of wrongs received by herself and her family from proud and unfeeling relations.  The father having succeeded in obtaining a situation in the Manchester workhouse, the family removed thither; but small-pox and fever suddenly fell upon them, and in a very short time two of the children were carried off by the one, and Bamford's mother and uncle by the other.

    His father having contracted a second marriage which turned out most unhappily for the children, they were shortly after sent out into the world to make their way as they could; "shorn to the very quick."  Samuel had, however, by this time—about his tenth year—acquired the art of reading, and already become a devourer of such books as he could obtain. His school education was very scanty, but it was sufficient for his purpose then.  He read all sorts of romantic legions and ballads, varied by Wesley's Hymn's, and Hopkins and Sternhold's Psalms, on Sundays.  An old cobbler, whose acquaintance he made, taught him tunes to such ballads as "Robin Hood" and "Chevy Chace;" and also excited his wonder, by remarkable ghost-stories, and accounts of fairies, witches, and wonderful apparitions, in all of which—like most of the Lancashire peasantry of that day—he was a rigid believer.

    Bamford, after leaving his father's home at this early age, was taken to reside with an uncle and aunt at Middleton, where the monotony of the bobbin-wheel and the loom soon cast a shade over his buoyant spirits.  A merely mechanical, gin-horse employment, like that now before him, was intolerable to his mind; and he seized the opportunity of every piece of out-of-doors drudgery which presented itself to escape from his hated in-doors occupation.

    The relations with whom he lived were, like his parents, of the Methodist persuasion.  They regularly attended chapel and class, and were frequently visited by the ministers on the circuit. Jonathan Barker, a first-rate preacher, was one of the favourites.  Jabez Bunting, then a very young preacher, excited great expectations, but when in the pulpit he had a most unseemly way of winking both eyelids at once, like two shutters, which caused some mirth and much observation amongst the youngsters as to the cause of it.  John Gaulter was always heard with pleasure, both in the pulpit and out of it.  He imparted an interest to whatever he said, by introducing anecdotes, short narratives, and other apt illustrations of his subjects; and if it became of an affecting turn, as it was almost sure to do, the good man and his congregation generally came to a pause amid tears.  He and Mr. Barker had no slight influence on the feelings, convictions, and opinions of Bamford, in his after years.

    The Sunday school connected with this place of worship Bamford, of course, had to attend with the other members of the family.  He was one of the Bible-class, and was probably a better reader than any person about the place except the preacher.  The only things he desired to be taught were writing and arithmetic, and as he felt his want, particularly of writing, and was anxious to get on, he was placed at a desk, and after a copy or two of "hooks and O's," he began to write "joynt hand," as it was termed in the homely phrase of his instructor; and from that time he made his own way in self-culture.

    Meanwhile time passed, and Bamford was promoted from the bobbin-wheel to the loom; turning out a good and ready weaver.  He became more reconciled to his condition, and, as if to vary its sameness, love, which is seldom absent where the spirit of poetry is present (and he was imbued with that), now made approaches in an unmistakable form, and to him proved an angel both of light and of darkness.  More than one tender acquaintance was formed in succession, and the romantic susceptibility of his temperament seldom permitted him to remain uninfluenced by some "Cynosure of neighbouring eyes."  But this sort of life could not be continued without leading to temptations which require the guardianship of better angels than Bamford had the grace to invoke.  The usual consequences followed, and regret and deep humiliation were the dregs found at the bottom of his cup of sweetness.

    The evil example also, and conversation of reckless acquaintances, corrupted his better nature, and a wild and perilous course of life ensued.  Feeling but little satisfaction at home, he resolved to seek it in far other scenes abroad.  In the nineteenth year of his age he entered into an engagement with a large ship-owner at Shields; and went on board his brig, the Eneas, engaged in the coasting-trade betwixt Shields and London.  A storm of three days was the first circumstance that welcomed him to the ocean.  Many vessels were lost in that storm; and though the old sailors on board said nothing to him, and but little to each other, he could not but remark the expressive looks which they interchanged.  He remained some time with this vessel, and made a number of voyages coastwise, but the almost irresponsible power of the captain, and his capricious use of it, disgusted Bamford, as it was sure to do, with his situation and with the sea­service in general.   He accordingly embraced an opportunity of leaving the ship at London, and set out on foot to walk the journey homewards into Lancashire.  At St. Albans he was stopped and questioned by a press-gang, and escaped only by his presence of mind, and the fortunate circumstance that the commander of the party could not read writing.

    Bamford reached home a more thoughtful man than he had left it.  He now obtained a situation in a warehouse at Manchester, and having, at times, considerable leisure, he resumed his habits of reading.  "Cobbett's Register" was now amongst the prose-works which he read with avidity, and those of Shakespeare and Burns were the chief poetical ones,—the latter being his especial favourite.  He was now, if possible, more imbued with romance than ever, and when not at his place in the warehouse he lost no opportunity of seeking out "fresh woods and pastures new."  Manchester and its suburbs were not then what they are now.  The heights of Cheetwood were rural knolls, with quiet dells out in the country.  Cromsal, with its undulating pastures and gentle slopes, was interlaced with meadow and field walks, where one might have "wandered many a day," without being disturbed by unwelcome observation.  Broughton, with its old Roman Causey, its Giant-stone, and its woodlands, offered a complete labyrinth of by-paths, shady lanes, and quaint cottages, with vines, rose-bushes, and creepers trailing down from the thatch,—to say nothing of those delightful domestic attractions which are always found in cottages which are happy, and in gardens that are like Paradise.

    We now come to the middle life of Bamford, during which he took a prominent part in the stirring political movements of his time, some forty years ago.  This portion of his life is to be found detailed in a remarkably graphic and deeply interesting book which he has published, and by which he is chiefly known beyond the range of his own district, entitled "Passages in the Life of a Radical."  This is truly a remarkable book,—written with great force and brilliancy, teeming with fine poetic descriptions of rural scenery, wonderful in its delineations of character and its descriptions of persons, which are hit off, like Retsch's outlines, almost at a stroke,—in other parts, shrewd, homely, and humorous,—and, again, earnest, emphatic, and truly eloquent in the advocacy of the best means of elevating the condition of the great body of workmen to whom the author belongs.  But the chief value of the book, in our estimation, is in that it is a true and faithful history of a deeply eventful period in the political life of England,—not of the heads of parties and leaders of factions, but of the masses of his industrious countrymen,—portrayed by a leading actor in the stirring events which he describes.  We have had many lives of Pitt, and lives of Canning, and lives of this, that, and the other party leader; but the humble political life of Samuel Bamford, modestly entitled "Passages in the Life of a Radical," gives a truer insight into the life and political condition of the English people in recent times, than all the lives of political leaders that we know of put together.

    Bamford begins his political life with the introduction of the Corn Bill, in 1815,—one of the first-fruits of that long series of victories and havoc which covered Britain with "glory," the aristocracy with stars and ribbons, and the people with taxes. Waterloo had just been fought; the banded kings of Europe had hunted Napoleon from his throne; and the lords of England proceeded at once to celebrate their triumph by the enactment of a Corn Law.  Riots took place in most of the large towns,—in London and Westminster, Bridport, Bury, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Glasgow, Dundee, Nottingham, Birmingham, Walsall, Preston, and numerous other places.   The public mind was deeply excited, and organized political agitation commenced.  Cobbett's writings were extensively read among the working classes, and he directed their attention to the main cause of the then misgovernment, in the corruption of Parliament and the insufficient representation of the people.  Hampden Clubs were formed in the towns, villages, and districts of the country, which gathered around them the active spirits of the time.  One of these clubs was established at Middleton, in 1816, of which Samuel Bamford, by reason of his knowledge of reading and writing, was chosen Secretary.  Religious services were connected with the political discussions of the members; and the influence of the clubs extended over almost the entire working population. Meetings of delegates from various parts of Lancashire took place, and the organization of the movement rapidly spread. Some members of the clubs went out as missionaries, Bamford being himself frequently sent to rouse the inactive in remote parts.  When these Hampden Clubs had been sufficiently extended over the country, a general meeting of delegates was summoned, to be held in London, under the presidency of Sir Francis Burdett, about the beginning of the year 1817.  Bamford attended as a representative of the Middleton Club, and while in London he had interviews with most of the leading "Reformers," graphic descriptions of many of whom are given in his "Passages."  Bamford again returned to Middleton, with a report of his mission; but by this time the alarm of the government was excited, and the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended.  Then followed the infatuated "Blanket Expedition," to which Bamford was always opposed: still worse, destructive physical force projects were recommended.   The usual consequences followed: public meetings were put down, and secret ones took place; spies went among the people, blowing the embers of rebellion; apprehensions of the suspected followed; and Bamford, among others, was arrested on suspicion of high treason, carried across the Manchester "bridge of tears," and imprisoned in the New Bailey. Nothing can be more interesting than Bamford's description of his wanderings in company with his odd friend, "Doctor Healey," among the moors and morasses of the wild districts of South Lancashire, in their attempts to evade apprehension, and of their after confinement and adventures in the New Bailey.  Here is the portrait which he gives of himself, his wife, and family, at this period.  Of himself:—

"Behold him then. A young man, twenty-nine years of age; five feet ten inches in height; with long, well-formed limbs, short body, very upright carriage, free motion, and active and lithe rather than strong. His hair is of a deep dun colour; coarse, straight, and flakey; his complexion a swarthy pale; his eyes gray, lively, and observant; his features strongly defined and irregular, like a mass of rough and smooth matters, which, having been thrown into a heap, had found their own subsidence, and presented, as it were by accident, a profile of rude good-nature, with some intelli­gence. His mouth is small; his lips a little prominent; his teeth white and well set; his nose rather snubby; his cheeks somewhat high; and his forehead deep and rather heavy about the eyes."

Then follows Bamford's portrait of his home, his wife, and his children:—

"Come in from the frozen rain, and from the night wind, which is blowing the clouds into sheets, like torn sails before a gale. Now down a step or two.  'T is better to keep low in the world, than to climb only to fall.

    "It is dark, save when the clouds break into white scud; and silent, except the snort of the wind, and the rattling of hail, and the eaves of dropping rain.  Come in!  A glimmer shows that the place is inhabited; that the nest has not been rifled whilst the bird was away.

    "Now shalt thou see what a miser a poor man can be in the heart's treasury.  A second door opens, and a flash of light shows we are in a weaving-room, clean and flagged, and in which are two looms with silken work of green and gold.  A young woman, of short stature, fair, round, and fresh as Hebe, with light brown hair escaping in ringlets from the sides of her clean cap, and with a thoughtful and meditative look, sits darning beside a good fire, which sheds warmth upon the clean-swept hearth, and gives light throughout the room, or rather cell.  A fine little girl, seven years of age, with a sensible and affectionate expression of countenance, is reading in a low tone to her mother:

    "'And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.   Blessed are the peace­makers; for they shall be called the children of God.  Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you for my sake.'

    "Observe the room and its furniture. An humble but cleanly bed, screened by the dark, old-fashioned curtain, stands on our left.  At the foot of the bed is a window closed from the looks of all passers.  Next are some chairs, and a round table of mahogany; then another chair, and next it a long table, scoured very white.  Above that is a looking­glass, with a picture on each side, of the Resurrection and Ascension, on glass, 'copied from Rubens.'  A well-stocked shelf of crockery-ware is the next object; and in the nook near it are a black oak carved chair or two, with a curious desk or box to match: and lastly, above the fire-place are hung a rusty basket-hilted sword, an old fusee, and a leathern cap.  Such are the appearance and furniture of that humble abode.  But my wife!

'She looked; she reddened like the rose;
 Syne, pale as ony lily.'

Ah! did they hear the throb of my heart, when they sprung to embrace me? my little loving child to my knees, and my wife to my bosom.

    "Such are the treasures I had hoarded in that lowly cell. Treasures that, with contentment, would have made into a palace

            'The lowliest shed
That ever rose on England's plain.'

They had been at prayers and were reading the Testament before retiring to rest.  And now, as they a hundred times caressed me, they found that indeed 'Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.'"

Such was the home, and such the domestic treasures, from which Bamford was torn, to be immured in a jail.  But he did not remain long in the Manchester New Bailey.  He was sent to London, the "Manchester Rebels" exciting no small degree of interest in the towns through which they passed.  They were lodged in Borough Street prison, and shortly after their arrival were examined before Sidmouth, Castlereagh, and others of the Privy Council; and after a short residence in Coldbath Fields prison, and several other examinations before the Council, the prisoners were discharged, as no case could be made out against them.  Bamford reached home, and for a time found happiness in the bosom of his family.  But political excitement continued to have its attractions for him, and again he engaged with greater ardour than ever in the movements of the day.  "I now," he says, "went to work, my wife weaving beside me, and my little girl, now doubly dear, attending school or going short errands for her mother.  Why was I not content?  What would I more?  What could mortal enjoy beyond a sufficiency to satisfy hunger and thirst,—apparel to make him warm and decent,—a home for shelter and repose,—and the society of those I loved?  All these I had, and still was craving,—craving for something for 'the nation,'—for some good for every person,—forgetting all the while to appreciate and to husband the blessings I had on every side around me."

    Political agitation recommenced on the termination of the Habeas Corpus Act suspension, and immediately Bamford was in the midst of it.  Hunt came down to Manchester, and a row took place at the theatre; female political unions were started; and almost the whole population became enlisted in the movement.  At length a series of great public meetings was projected, the first of which was to be held at Manchester on the 16th of August, 1819.  The men in the mean time were drilling themselves by night, in marching, counter-marching, and military evolutions.  They were divided into companies under captains and drill-masters,—so, at least, said the depositions before the magistrates,—and they were, it was further rumoured, ready for the most des­perate deeds.  Not so, however, does Samuel Bamford think of the intentions of the agitators; their sole object being, he says, to excite public respect by the regularity of their march and the orderliness of their demeanour.

    The 16th of August arrived. Streams of men, marching in regular order, poured into Manchester, with bands of music and banners flying, from all the neighbouring towns and villages.  Bamford went thither with the rest,—one of the leaders of six thousand marching men, whom "he formed into a hollow square, at the sound of a bugle," and addressed on the importance of preserving order, sobriety, and peace during that eventful day.  The meeting was one of great magnitude, and was held in St. Peter's Field, nearly on the spot where the great Free-Trade Hall now stands,—the principal banners (remarkable coincidence!) having inscribed on them "No Corn-Laws!"

    The business of the meeting had scarcely commenced when "a noise and strange murmur arose towards the church, and a party of cavalry in blue and white uniform came trotting, sword in hand, round the corner of the garden­wall, and to the front of a row of new houses, where they reined up in a line."

"On the cavalry drawing up they were received with a shout of goodwill, as I understood it.  They shouted again, waving their sabres over their heads; and then, slackening rein, and striking spur into their steeds, they dashed forwards, and began cutting the people.

    "Stand fast!" I said, "they are riding upon us, stand fast.  And there was a general cry in our quarter of 'Stand fast!'  The cavalry were in confusion; they could not, with all the weight of man and horse, penetrate that compact mass of human beings; their sabres were plied to hew a way through naked held-up hands, and defenceless heads; and then chopped limbs, and wound-gaping skulls were seen; and groans and cries were mingled with the din of that horrid confusion.  'Ah! ah!'  'For shame! for shame!' was shouted.  Then 'Break! break! they are killing them in front, and they cannot get away!'  And there was a general cry of 'Break!'  For a moment the crowd held back in pause; then was a rush, heavy and resistless as a headlong sea; and a sound like low thunder, with screams, prayers, and imprecations from the crowd-moiled and sabre-doomed who could not escape.

    "On the breaking of the crowd, the yeomanry wheeled, and, dashing wherever there was an opening, they followed, pressing and wounding. Many females appeared as the crowd opened; and striplings and mere youths also were found. Their cries were piteous and heart-rending, and would, one might have supposed, have disarmed any human resentment; but here their appeals were vain.

    "Women, white-vested maids, and tender youths were indiscriminately sabred or trampled; and we have reason for believing that few were the instances in which that for­bearance was vouchsafed which they so earnestly implored.

    "In ten minutes from the commencement of the havoc the field was an open and almost deserted space.  The sun looked down through a sultry and motionless air.  The cur­tains and blinds of the windows within view were all closed.  A gentleman or two might occasionally be seen looking out from one of the new houses before mentioned, near the door of which a group of persons (special constables) were collected, and apparently in conversation; others were assisting the wounded, or carrying off the dead.

    "The hustings remained, with a few broken and hewed flag­staves erect, and a torn and gashed banner or two drooping; whilst over the whole field were strewed caps, bonnets, hats, shawls, and shoes, and other parts of male and female dress, trampled, torn, and bloody. The yeomanry had dismounted,—some were easing their horses' girths, others adjusting their accoutrements, and some were wiping their sabres. Several mounds of human beings still remained where they had fallen, crushed down, and smothered. Some of these were still groaning,—others with staring eyes were gasping for breath, and others would never breathe more.

    "All was silent, save those low sounds and the occasional snorting and pawing of the steeds.  Persons might sometimes be noticed peeping from attics and over the tall sidings of houses, but they quickly withdrew, as if fearful of being observed, or unable to sustain the full gaze of a scene so hideous and abhorrent."

    Such is Bamford's graphic account of the "Massacre at Peterloo," as it is still called in the neighbourhood.  The author was too much mixed up with the movement to escape detection, and he was again apprehended and imprisoned in Manchester New Bailey, from which he was transferred to Lancaster Castle.  He was shortly after liberated on bail, to take his trial at the next York assizes.  In the mean time, he proceeded to London, with the view of obtaining some connection with the press.  Disappointment was in every case the result; and after a ramble through the rural districts of England, and being reduced to great poverty in London, he returned to Lancashire to prepare for his trial at York.  Bamford defended himself with great shrewdness and skill, conducting his case with much propriety.  The result, however, much to the astonishment of the court, was that he was found "Guilty," and was bound in recognizances to appear in London the ensuing Easter, at the Court of King's Bench, to receive his sentence.  He returned for a short time to Middleton, and on his way home, at Oldham, he met his wife and child.

    Bamford's journey to London on foot was full of incident and adventure, and his description of it reminds one of some of the best passages in Fielding and Smollett's novels.  His adventures among the booksellers, hunting for a publisher; his cold and inhospitable treatment by Hunt and the London "patriots;" the impending destitution with which he was threatened; the suspense connected with his sentence; con­stitute a most painful relation, though told in a highly graphic style.  He was eventually sentenced to another twelve months' imprisonment in Lincoln jail, which he endured, comforted by the sympathy and aid of many kind friends, but also pained by the calumnies and slander of secret enemies.  At length he was liberated, and in company with his wife, a noble-hearted woman, whom Bamford invariably speaks of in terms of the warmest affection, he walked homewards to his native village,—his sixth and his last im­prisonment at an end.  On leaving the prison, he left "Old Daddy," the turnkey, his pair of Lancashire clogs, at which he "expressed great delight, saying he would place them in his collection of curiosities."  Before leaving, the magistrates and the governor complimented Bamford and his fellow­prisoners on their good behaviour; and Bamford in return thanked them sincerely for their kindness during his confine­ment.  He went northwards by Great Markham, Worksop, and Sheffield, up the beautiful vale of Hathersage, past Peveril's Castle of the Peak, to Chapel-on-the-Frith, Stockport, Manchester, and then home. "We entered Middleton," he says, "in the afternoon, and were met in the streets by our dear child, who came running, wild with delight, to our arms.  We soon made ourselves comfortable in our own humble dwelling; the fire was lighted, the hearth was clean swept, friends came to welcome us, and we were once more at home!"

    We have left ourselves little room to speak of Bamford's writings as a poet.  Yet here one might descant at considerable length.  Many of his best pieces were written in prison; and he has since added to them from time to time.  The last edition of his poems was published in 1843, and we regret to perceive that he has excluded from it many productions which, though inferior to those retained, and deemed unworthy of republication by their author, are nevertheless valuable as marking the historical features of the period at which they were written, as well as showing the gradual development of the poet's mind.  A kindly feeling, however, seems also to have influenced Bamford in the selection.  "Many topics," he says in his Preface to this last edition, "of exciting public interest, which the author does not wish to be a means for perpetuating, are either totally omitted, or considerably modified.  This may disappoint some of our pertinacious friends, but neither can that be avoided, except by the sacrifice of a good and rightful feeling; if we learn not to forget and forgive, how can we expect to be forgiven?—how can we pray, 'Forgive us our trespasses as we have forgiven those that trespassed against us'?"

    Of all the poems of Bamford, the most touching, in our opinion, are his "Lines Addressed to my Wife,"—equal almost to the "Miller's Daughter" of Tennyson,—the "Verses on the Death of his Child," and "God Help the Poor,"—lines such as none but a man who has known and lived amongst poverty could have written.  Take the following two verses:—

God help the poor!   An infant's feeble wail
Comes from yon narrow gateway; and behold
A female crouching there, so deathly pale,
Huddling her child, to screen it from the cold!
Her vesture scant, her bonnet crushed and torn,
A thin shawl doth her baby dear enfold:
And there she bides the ruthless gale of morn,
Which almost to her heart hath sent its cold!
And now she sudden darts a ravening look,
As one with new hot bread comes past the nook;
And, as the tempting load is onward borne,
She weeps.   God help thee, hapless one forlorn!
                                                                God help the poor!

God help the poor, who in lone valleys dwell,
Or by far hills, where whin and heather grow!
Theirs is a story sad indeed to tell;
Yet little cares the world, and less 't would know
About the toil and want they undergo.
The wearying loom must have them up at morn;
They work till worn-out Nature will have sleep;
They taste, but are not fed.  The snow drifts deep
Around the fireless cot, and blocks the door;
The night-storm howls a dirge across the moor,—
And shall they perish thus, oppressed and lorn?
Shall toil and famine hopeless, still be borne?
No! GOD will yet arise and HELP THE POOR!

    Bamford's "Pass of Death," written on the death of George Canning, has also been much admired.  Ebenezer Elliott, in his "Defence of Modern Poetry," has said of this piece: "I have an imperfect copy of a poem, written by an artisan of Oldham, to which, I believe, nothing equal can be found in all the plebeian authors of antiquity, with Æsop at their head."  Take one or two stanzas:—

The sons of men did raise their voice
    And cried in despair,
We will not come, we will not come,
    Whilst Death is waiting there!'

But Time went forth and dragged them on
    By one, by two, by three;
Nay, sometimes thousands came as one,
    So merciless was he.
                   *        *        *        *
For Death stood in the path of Time
    And slew them as they came,
And not a soul escaped his hand,
    So certain was his aim.

The beggar fell across his staff,
    The soldier on his sword;
The king sank down beneath his crown,
     The priest beside the word.

And Youth came in his blush of health,
    And in a moment fell;
And Avarice, grasping still at wealth,
    Was rolled into hell.

And some did offer bribes of gold,
    If they might but survive;
But he drew his arrow to the head,
    And left them not alive!"

    For many years Bamford continued to work at his trade of a hand-loom weaver at Middleton, occasionally enlivening his labours at the loom with exercises of the pen.  He wrote out and published his "Passages in the Life of a Radical," and many of his best poetical pieces, such as his "Wild Rider," Béranger's "La Lyonnaise," and "The Witch o' Brandwood."  More recently he has written an interesting little volume, entitled "Walks in South Lancashire," in which he gives many highly instructive sketches of the moral and physical condition, interspersed with descriptions of the domestic life, of the industrious classes of his neighbourhood.  From one of the chapters in this last work, entitled "A Passage of my Later Years," we find that Bamford was personally instrumental, in 1826, in preventing a mischievous outbreak and destruction of machinery, which would certainly have been accompanied with great loss of life (as the military were on the alert) in his native place.  Indeed, Bamford, towards his later years, invariably set himself determinedly against all physical force projects, which some of the working class political leaders were but too ready to recommend, and their admirers but too ready to follow.  In the note to his "La Lyonnaise," which he published in 1839, when the physical force policy was in considerable favour, he says, alluding to the sentiment which runs throughout Béranger's poem: "Unfortunately for the too brave French, their common appeal against all grievances has been, 'To arms!'  And their indomitable poet naturally falls in with the sentiment of the nation.  By arms, in three days, (the 'glorious' ones,) they obtained freedom! and they lost it in one!—a lesson to make the heart bleed, were it not perhaps sternly necessary to admonish mankind, that, without high wisdom and entire self-devotion, mere valour is helpless, as a blind man without his guide.  It is true the middle and upper classes have not dealt justly towards you (the working class).  All ranks have been in error as respects their relative obligations, and prejudice has kept them strangers and apart.  But the delusion is passing away like darkness before the sun; and knowledge, against which gold is powerless, comes like the spreading day, raising the children of toil, and making their sweat-drops more honourable than pearls."

    And in a "Postscriptum" to his volume of poems, Bamford thus concludes: "The salvation of a people must come at last from their own heads and hearts.  Souls must be matured, giving life to healthful minds.  Hands may be learned to use weapons, and the feet to march, but the warriors who take freedom and keep it MUST BE ARMED FROM WITHIN."

    Bamford eventually gave up working at his loom, and maintained himself for some time by his pen.  An appointment which he obtained in a public office in London, followed by a pension from the government against which, when a younger man, he had so often been in rebellion, have enabled him to spend his declining years in peace and comfort in his native village of Middleton, where he still lives.



John Clare (1793-1864): major English poet.

AMONG the uneducated poets of England, who have risen up from the humblest ranks, and poured the melody of their poetry into the world's ear, John Clare will ever hold a distinguished place. The gifts of nature are of no rank or order; they come unbidden and unsought; as the wind wakens the chords of the Æolian harp, so the spirit breathes upon the soul, and brings its music to life.  It is not necessary to graduate at a university to see nature with a poetic eye.  The heart can be fed elsewhere than in the schools; Nature and Life are better teachers.  Even the poor man, who daily toils for bread, may be surrounded by natural harps that yield the sweetest music; he may even catch higher utterances from the spirit-whispers that speak to his soul from the leafy wood, the purling brook, or the mist-capped mountain, than have ever been awakened by the finger or the mind of the most highly-cultured man.

    It is not often, however, that the peasant has overleaped the barriers of his class, and vindicated his claim as an author to the poetic wreath.  He may be a true poet, struggling for utterance, deep thoughts lying brooding within him quick with life; but the hand of poverty lies heavy on him; he is a labourer, and has to work for bread; his lot forbids contemplation, ease, and study; perhaps he is uneducated, and his mental apprehension is impeded by early neglect.  If he has struggled on, and risen into the region of authorship, perhaps he finds he has mounted into a sphere where he has no natural supporters; where he is petted, patronized, perhaps spoiled; and where, severed from the class to which he naturally belonged, he floats adrift upon the surface of society, without a definite place or function, ill at ease, miserable, and sometimes frantic with disappointment.  He may wear the crown which he has won; but, while to some it may look green, he feels it burning around his brows like fire.  The painful instances of the Scottish peasant poets—Burns, Tannahill, and Thom—will at once start up before the mind's eye.  Nor are those of the English peasant poets—Bloomfield, Kirke White, and Clare—less melancholy, the fate of the last, still living, being the most unhappy of all.  He is, and has been for many years, subject to the restraints of a lunatic asylum.

    John Clare is a child of genius, a born poet, inspired by nature, but destroyed by the world.  His poetry is not the result of books, but of loving intercourse with the flowers, the woods, the fields, "the common air, the sun, the skies."  His poems are thoroughly original; there is nothing hackneyed nor commonplace about them; you see in them at once that he has looked on nature with his own eyes, loving her with his whole heart.  He seizes incidents in the fields, features in the flowers, aspects of the skies and the clouds, which less faithful and accurate observers had entirely overlooked.  In this admiration of nature he is earnest almost to an excess.  His poems present a perfect calendar of rural on-goings, of atmospheric beauties, of the life of the flowers, woods, and fields.  While he lived in the presence of nature, and worshipped her with deep passion, he had also a loving eye for the common people among whom he lived,—their customs, their loves, their griefs, and their amusements; and these he has immortalized in his verse, linking nature and humanity together in one golden chain.

    The life of Clare presents a striking and affecting example of the pursuit of knowledge under difficulties; but it also furnishes an exceedingly painful illustration of the misery which is occasionally produced by the gift of poetry descending upon a mind struggling in a humble station, and without the requisite means of development and sustenance.  John Clare was born at Helpstone, a village near Peterborough, Northamptonshire, in 1793; his father was a crippled day-labourer, afterwards a parish pauper.  He obtained no education, save what he gave to himself; and he contrived, by working extra hours as a ploughboy, to obtain, in about eight weeks, as many pence as would pay for a month's schooling.  John Clare educated himself; but he was no common youth; in multitudes of cases similar to his own, in England, children grow up altogether illiterate, and remain so through life.  He learned to read; and at thirteen he "ambitioned" buying a book.  He had seen a copy of Thomson's Seasons, and hoarded up a shilling for the purpose of buying it.  The shilling was accumulated by slow degrees, and at last it was saved.  What a fever of delight he was in all that night! he could scarcely sleep; he was up by daylight, and away to Stamford, six or seven miles off, brushing the early dew of the fields in that bright spring morning.  When he reached the town, the shopkeepers were still abed, and there stood John Clare at the bookseller's door, waiting impatiently the taking down of the shutters.  What a picture of boyish enthusiasm and thirsting genius!  Well, the book was purchased, carried lovingly away in the hand, put into the pocket, then taken out again, and the leaves turned over and gazed into wistfully.  Then he hurried homeward full of joy.  No wonder he felt inspired then!  And so, as he passed on through the beautiful scenery of Bingley Park, with the sky shining overhead, and the birds carolling in mid-air, and all nature fresh and fair and beautiful, the peasant-boy composed his first piece of poetry, "The Morning Walk."  He was unable to muster funds to procure paper, but he could carry the verses in his head.  Nor could he write, even though he had been rich enough to buy paper.  But a kindly-hearted exciseman, feeling an interest in the youth, took him in hand, and taught him writing and arithmetic; so, in course of time, he was enabled to commit his verses to paper.

    "Most of his poems," says the memoir prefixed to his first volume,

"were composed under the immediate impression of his feelings in the fields, or on the road-sides.  He could not trust his memory, and therefore he wrote them down with a pencil on the spot, his hat serving him for a table; and if it happened that he had no opportunity soon after of transcribing these imperfect memorials, he could seldom decipher them, or recover his first thoughts.  From this cause, several of his poems are quite lost, and others exist only in fragments.  Of those which he had committed to writing, especially his earlier pieces, many were destroyed from another circumstance, which shows how little he expected to please others with them.  From a hole in the wall of his room, where he stuffed his manuscripts, a piece of paper was often taken to hold the kettle with or light the fire!"

    He was twenty-four years old when he bethought him of risking the publication of a volume.  He was then working as a labouring man at Bridge Casterton, in Rutlandshire.  By dint of hard working, day and night, he managed to save a pound, for the purpose of printing a prospectus.  This was done, and "A Collection of Original Trifles" was announced.  Only seven subscribers were got!  But one of his prospectuses got into the hands of a bookseller at Stamford, through whom Taylor and Hessey, their publishers in London, were induced to publish the book, and, what was more, they gave the poet £20 for the copyright.  They were published with the title of "Poems descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, by John Clare, a Northamptonshire Peasant."  The little volume created quite "a sensation" in literary circles.  It was hailed, as it deserved to be, as a truly original book.  Highly favourable notices appeared in the leading reviews, and the author was sought up.  Great men took him by the hand, sent for him to their houses, and made him presents of money.  Visitors came to see him working in the fields; the vulgar curiosity that runs agape after every notorious thing, from a poet to a parricide, ran after Clare; he was no longer his own master, but a kind of public property; he had written a book, and everybody thought it but right that be should be exhibited to them.  The result, however, was, that his circumstances improved.  His second book, "The Village Minstrel," appeared about four years after his first; and what with the profits of this work and the presents made to him by Earl Fitzwilliam, Lord John Russell, the present King of the Belgians, Lord Radstock, and others, his income amounted to about forty pounds a year.  On the strength of this, he married his "Patty of the Vale," the daughter of a humble farmer; and, with his young wife, and his poor and infirm parents, he then enjoyed a pleasant cottage in his native village, and basked, for a time, in the sunshine of prosperity.

    But the notoriety he had acquired had awakened in him a love of excitement which the quiet village could but ill satisfy.  In 1824 he went to London, where he became one of the contributors to the London Magazine, and began to mix in the society of literary men, and to be petted at the brilliant parties of the lion-hunting.  De Quincey met him in London, and furnishes the following reminiscence:

"By a few noble families and his liberal publishers, he was welcomed in a way that, I fear, from all I heard, would but too much embitter the contrast with his own humble opportunities of enjoyment in the country.  The contrast of Lord Radstock's brilliant parties, and the glittering theatres of London, would have but a poor effect in training him to bear that want of excitement which even already, I had heard, made his rural life but too insupportable to his mind.  It is singular that what most fascinated his rustic English eye was, not the gorgeous display of English beauty, but the French style of beauty, as he saw it among the French actresses in Tottenham Court Road.  He seemed, however, oppressed by the glow and tumultuous existence of London; and, being ill at the time, from an affection of the liver, which did not, of course, tend to improve his spirits, he threw a weight of languor upon any attempt to draw him out into conversation.  One thing, meantime, was very honourable to him, that, even in this season of dejection, he would uniformly become animated when anybody spoke to him of Wordsworth,—animated with the most hearty and almost rapturous spirit of admiration.  As regarded his own poems, this admiration seemed to have an unhappy effect of depressing his confidence in himself.  It is unfortunate, indeed, to gaze too closely upon models of colossal excellence."

    On his return into the country, matters did not improve with poor Clare.  Unfortunately, he speculated in farming, which he could not manage; a large family grew up around him, his means were frittered away, and he fell back almost into his original state of poverty, his mind unsettled, his nerves unstrung, and in a state of almost hopeless despondency.  He published a third volume of poems in 1839, entitled "The Rural Muse," probably the best of all his works.  But he had ceased to be a novelty; the public were no longer astonished by him, as they had been at first; and the book had but a small sale.  Indeed, we have heard that it scarcely paid the expenses of its publication.  All this preyed upon his mind.  His genius did not sustain him; it only embittered his misery.  He was the victim of nervous despondency, which ended in a complete unsettlement of the state of his mind, so that confinement in a private asylum at length became necessary.

    There he has now been for many years, writing poetry at lucid intervals, which shows that he still retains all that minute and delicate descriptive power which formerly marked his productions.  He has written songs and verses addressed to his Patty, his mind contemplating her as in youth; all the dark intervening period which had brought age and sorrow upon both being blotted out.  Friends have occasionally visited him in his confinement, and found him harmless and docile, though occasionally labouring under strange hallucinations.  He once fancied himself to be a great prize-fighter, and that he wore the belt.  He would rave about matches to come off, and of his antagonists, who were men most of them long since dead.  He would also describe the deaths, executions, and murders of distinguished personages of former times, and fancy himself to have been an eyewitness of them.  Through all this, his early love of nature and rural scenery often burst forth in enthusiastic description, coloured with the rainbow hues of poetry.

    John Clare is entitled to a high place, if not to the highest, among the "uneducated" poets of England.  His keen observation of nature amounted to a genius; his delicacy in painting natural objects, whether a flower, a tree, a sunset, or a spring scene, was next to marvellous.  He owed little to books, but wrote from his heart.  He saw things with the eye of a true poet, and as he observed, so did he write.  Some of his expressions are extremely delicate.  Take the following as an instance:—

"Brisk winds the lightened branches shake,
     By pattering, plashing drops confessed,
 And, where oaks dripping shade the lake,
     Paint crimping dimples on its breast."

    How well he paints the cottage fireside too,—the farmer reading the news by the tavern Ingle, the blacksmith at his anvil, the reapers in the corn-field, the maid a-milking the kine, and the quiet and beauty of rural life!  He has many delicious pictures of the approach of spring, the advent of summer, the rich glory of autumn, and the stern gloom of winter.  Here is a stanza, taken from a poem descriptive of the first breath of spring:—

"The sunbeams on the hedges lie,
     The south-wind murmurs summer soft;
 The maids hang out white clothes to dry
     Around the elder-skirted croft.
 A calm of pleasure loiters round,
     And almost whispers winter by;
 While fancy dreams of summer's sound,
     And quiet rapture fills the eye."

    We conclude with a piece which, though by no means one of his best, we select because of its convenient length for the purpose of quotation.

"The snow has left the cottage top,
     The thatch-moss grows in brighter green;
 And eaves in quick succession drop,
     Where grinning icicles have been,
 Pit-patting with a pleasant noise
     In tubs set by the cottage door;
 While ducks and geese, with happy joys,
     Plunge in the yard-pond, brimming o'er.

"The sun peeps through the window-pane,
     Which children mark with laughing eye;
 And in the wet street steal again,
     To tell each other spring is nigh.
 Then, as young hope the past recalls,
     In playing groups they often draw,
 To build beside the sunny walls
     Their spring-time huts of sticks or straw.

"And oft in pleasure's dreams they hie
     Round homesteads by the village side,
 Scratching the hedgerow mosses by,
     Where painted pooty shells abide;
 Mistaking oft the ivy spray
     For leaves that come with budding spring;
 And wondering, in their search for play,
     Why birds delay to build and sing.

"The mavis thrush with wild delight,
     Upon the orchard's dripping tree,
 Mutters, to see the day so bright,
     Fragments of young hope's poesy;
 And oft dame stops her buzzing wheel
     To hear the robin's note once more,
 Who toddles while he pecks his meal
     From sweetbrier hips beside the door."



Gerald Massey (1828-1907): English Chartist, minor poet, literary critic and essayist, lecturer, and researcher into ancient Egyptian mythology and its influence on Christianity and Judaism.

THE reader of the miscellaneous literature of the day has doubtless met with the name of Gerald Massey attached to poems strikingly beautiful in language and intensely passionate in feeling.  These poems have heretofore been published chiefly in journals which are yet in a great measure tabooed in what are regarded as "respectable literary circles." The "Spirit of Freedom," a cheap journal, started in 1849, and written exclusively by working-men, contained a large number of them; and others have since appeared in the "Christian Socialist," a cheap journal conducted by Clergymen of the Church of England; and many others also, of great beauty, have been published in the "Leader," a remarkably able journal conducted by Thornton Hunt, the son of the poet.
    You see at once that the writer is a man of vivid genius, and is full of the true poetic fire.  Some of his earlier pieces are indignant expostulations with society at the wrongs of suffering humanity; passionate protests against those hideous disparities of life which meet our eye on every side; against power wrongfully used; against fraud and oppression in their more rampant forms; mingled with appeals to the higher influences of knowledge, justice, mercy, truth, and love.  It is always thus with the poet who has worked his way to the light through darkness, suffering, and toil.  Give a poor down-trodden man culture, and, in nine cases out of ten, you only increase his sensitiveness to pain: you agonize him with the sight of pleasures which are to him forbidden; you quicken his sense of despair at the frightful inequalities of the human lot.  There are thousands of noble natures, with minds which, under better circumstances, would have blessed and glorified their race, who have been for ever blasted—crushed into the mire-or condemned to courses of desperate guilt!—for one who, like Gerald Massey, has nobly risen above his trials and temptations, and triumphed over them.  And when such a man does find a voice, surely "rose-water" verses and "hot-pressed" sonnets are not to be expected of him: such things are not by any means the natural products of a life of desperate struggling with poverty.  When the self-risen and self-educated man speaks and writes now-a-days, it is of the subjects nearest to his heart.  Literature is not a mere intelligent epicurism with men who have suffered and grown wise, but a real, earnest, passionate, vehement, living thing-a power to move others, a means to elevate themselves, and to emancipate their order.  This is a marked peculiarity of our times; knowledge is now more than ever regarded as a power to elevate, not merely individuals, but classes.  Hence the most intelligent of working-men at this day are intensely political: we merely state this as a fact not to be disputed.  In former times, when literature was regarded mainly in the light of a rich man's luxury, poets who rose out of the working-class sung as their patrons wished.  Bloomfield and Clare sang of the quiet beauty of rural life, and painted pictures of evening skies, purling brooks, and grassy meads.  Burns could with difficulty repress the "Jacobin" spirit which burned within him; and yet even he was rarely, if ever, political in his tone.  His strongest verses, having a political bearing, were those addressed to the Scotch Representatives in reference to the Excise regulations as to the distillation of whiskey.  But come down to our own day, and mark the difference: Elliot, Nichol, Bamford, the author of "Ernest," the Chartist Epic, Davis the "Belfast Man," De Jean, Massey, and many others, are intensely political; and they defend themselves for their selection of subjects as Elliot did, when he said, "Poetry is impassioned truth; and why should we not utter it in the shape that touches our condition the mostly closely-the political?"  But how it happens that the writings of working-men now-a-days so generally assume the political tone, will be best ascertained from the following sketch of the life of Gerald Massey:—

    He was born in May, 1828, and is, therefore, barely twenty-five years of age.  He first saw the light in a little stone hut near Tring, in Herts, one of those miserable abodes in which so many of our happy peasantry—their country's pride!—are condemned to live and die.  One shilling a week was the rent of this hovel, the roof of which was so low that a man could not stand upright in it.  Massey's father was, and still is, a canal boatman, earning the wage of ten shillings a week.  Like most other peasants in this "highly-favoured Christian country," he has had no opportunities of education, and never could write his own name.  But Gerald Massey was blessed in his mother, from whom he derived a finely-organized brain and a susceptible temperament.  Though quite illiterate, like her husband, she had a firm, free spirit—it's broken now!—a tender yet courageous heart, and a pride of honest poverty which she never ceased to cherish.  But she needed all her strength and courage to bear up under the privations of her lot.  Sometimes the husband fell out of work; and there was no bread in the cupboard, except what was purchased by the labour of the elder children, some of whom were early sent to work in the neighbouring silk-mill.  Disease, too, often fell upon the family, cooped up in that unwholesome hovel: indeed, the wonder is, not that our peasantry should be diseased, and grow old and haggard before their time, but that they should exist at all in such lazar-houses and cesspools.
    None of the children of this poor family were educated in the common acceptance of the term.  Several of them were sent for a short time to a penny school, where the teacher and the taught were about on a par; but so soon as they were of age to work, the- children were sent to the silk-mill.  The poor cannot afford to keep their children at school, if they are of an age to work and earn money.  They must help to eke out their parents' slender gains, even though it be only by a few pence weekly.  So, at eight years of age, Gerald Massey went into the silk-manufactory, rising at five o'clock in the morning, and toiling there till half-past six in the evening; up in the grey dawn, or in the winter before the daylight, and trudging to the factory through the wind or in the snow; seeing the sun only through the factory windows;  breathing an atmosphere laden with rank oily vapour, his ears deafened by the roar of incessant wheels;—

"Still all the day the iron wheels go onward,
     Grinding life down from its mark;
 And the children's souls, which God is calling sunward,
    Spin on blindly in the dark."

    What a life for a child!  What a substitute for tender prattle, for childish glee, for youthful playtime!  Then home shivering under the cold, starless sky, on Saturday nights, with 9d., 1s., or ls.  3d., for the whole week's work; for such were the respective amounts of the wages earned by the child labour of Gerald Massey.
    But the mill was burned down, and the children held jubilee over it.  The boy stood for twelve hours in the wind, and sleet, and mud, rejoicing in the conflagration which thus liberated him.  Who can wonder at this?  Then he went to straw-plaiting,—as toilsome, and perhaps, more unwholesome than factory work.  Without exercise, in a marshy district, the plaiters were constantly having racking attacks of ague.  The boy had the disease for three years, ending with tertian ague.  Sometimes four of the family, and the mother, lay ill at one time, all crying with thirst, with no one to give them drink, and each too weak to help the other.  How little do we know of the sufferings endured by the poor and struggling classes of our population, especially in our rural districts!  No press echoes their wants, or records their sufferings; and they live almost as unknown to us as if they were the inhabitants of some undiscovered country.

    And now take, as an illustration, the child-life of Gerald Massey.  "Having had to earn my own dear bread," he says, "by the eternal cheapening of flesh and blood thus early, I never knew what childhood meant.  I had no childhood.  Ever since I can remember, I have had the aching fear of want, throbbing heart and brow The currents of my life were early poisoned, and few, methinks, would pass unscathed through the scenes and circumstances in which I have lived; none, if they were as curious and precocious as I was.  The child comes into the world like a new coin with the stamp of God upon it; and in like manner as the Jews sweat clown sovereigns, by hustling them in a bag to get gold-dust out them, so is the poor man's child hustled and sweated down in this bag of society to get wealth out of it; and even as the impress of the Queen is effaced by the Jewish process, so is the image of God worn from heart and brow, and day by day the child recedes devil-ward.  I look back now with wonder, not that so few escape, but that any escape at all, to win a nobler growth for their humanity.  So blighting are the influences which surround thousands in early life, to which I can bear such bitter testimony."

    And how fared the growth of this child's mind the while?  Thanks to the care of his mother, who had sent him to the penny school, he had learnt to read, and the desire to read had been awakened.  Books, however, were very scarce.  The Bible and Bunyan were the principal; he committed many chapters of the former to memory, and accepted all Bunyan's allegory as bond fide history.  Afterwards he obtained access to "Robinson Crusoe" and a few Wesleyan tracts left at the cottage.  These constituted his sole reading, until he came up to London, at the age of fifteen, as an errand-boy; and now, for the first time in his life, he met with plenty of books, reading all that came in his way, from "Lloyd's Penny Times," to Cobbett's Works, "French without a Master," together with English, Roman, and Grecian history.  A ravishing awakenment ensued,—the delightful sense of growing knowledge,—the charm of new thought,—the wonders of a new world.  "Till then," he says,

"I had often wondered why I lived at all,—whether

'It was not better not to be,
 I was so full of misery.'

Now I began to think that the crown of all desire, and the sum of all existence, was to read and get knowledge.  Read I read I read!  I used to read at all possible times, and in all possible places; up in bed till two or three in the morning, nothing daunted by once setting the bed on fire.  Greatly indebted was I also to the bookstalls, where I have read a great deal, often folding a leaf in a book, and returning the next day to continue the subject; but sometimes the book was gone, and then great was my grief!  When out of a situation, I have often gone without a meal to purchase a book.  Until I fell in love, and began to rhyme as a matter of consequence, I never had the least predilection for poetry.  In fact, I always eschewed it; if I ever met with any, I instantly skipped it over, and passed on, as one does with the description of scenery, &c., in a novel.  I always loved the birds and flowers, the woods and the stars; I felt delight in being alone in a summer-wood, with song, like a spirit, in the trees, and the golden sun-bursts glinting through the verdurous roof; and was conscious of a mysterious creeping of the blood, and tingling of the nerves, when standing alone in the starry midnight, as in God's own presence-chamber.  But until I began to rhyme, I cared nothing for written poetry.  The first verses I ever made were upon 'Hope,' when I was utterly hopeless; and after I had begun, I never ceased for about four years, at the end of which time I rushed into print."

    There was, of course, crudeness both of thought and expression in the first verses of the poet, which were published in a provincial paper.  But there were nerve, rhythm, and poetry; the burthen of the song was, "At eventime it shall be light." The leading idea of the poem was the power of knowledge, virtue, and temperance, to elevate the condition of the poor,—a noble idea, truly.  Shortly after he was encouraged to print a shilling volume of "Poems and Chansons," in his native town of Tring, of which some 250 copies were sold.  Of his latter poems we shall afterwards speak.
    But a new power was now working upon his nature, as might have been expected,—the power of opinion, as expressed in books, and in the discussions of his fellow-workers.

    "As an errand-boy," he says, "I had of course, many hardships to undergo, and to bear with much tyranny; and that led me into reasoning upon men and things, the causes of misery, the anomalies of our societary state, politics, &c., and the circle of my being rapidly out-surged.  New power came to me with all that I saw, and thought, and read.  I studied political works,-such as Paine, Volney, Howitt, Louis Blanc, &c., which gave me another element to mould into my verse, though I am convinced that a poet must sacrifice much if he write party-political poetry.  His politics must be above the pinnacle of party zeal; the politics of eternal truth, right, and justice.  He must not waste a life on what to-morrow may prove to have been merely the question of a day.  The French Revolution of 1848 had the greatest effect on me of any circumstance connected with my own life.  It was scarred and blood-burnt into the very core of my being.  This little volume of mille is the fruit thereof."

    But, meanwhile, he had been engaged in other literary work.  Full of new thoughts, and bursting with aspirations of freedom, he started, in April, 1849, a cheap journal, written entirely by working-men, entitled, "The Spirit of Freedom:" it was full of fiery earnestness, and half of its weekly contents were supplied by Gerald Massey himself, who acted as editor.  It cost him five situations during the period of eleven months,—twice because he was detected burning candle far on into the night, and three times because of the tone of the opinions to which he gave utterance.  The French Revolution of 1848 having, amongst its other issues, kindled the zeal of the working-men in this country in the cause of association, Gerald Massey eagerly joined them, and he has been recently instrumental in giving some impetus to that praiseworthy movement,—the object of which is to permanently elevate the condition of the producing classes, by advancing them to the status of capitalists as well as labourers.

Massey photographed shortly before his death in 1907.

    A word or two as to Gerald Massey's recent poetry.  Bear in mind that he is yet but a youth;—at twenty-three a man can scarcely be said fairly to have entered his manhood; and yet, if we except Robert Nichol, who died at twenty-four, we know of no English poet of his class, who has done any thing to compare with him.  Some of his most beautiful pieces originally appeared in the columns of the "Leader."  They give you the idea of a practised hand-one who has reached the full prime of his poetic manhood.  Take, for instance, his "Lyrics of Love," so full of beauty and tenderness.  Nor are his "Songs of Progress" less full of poetic power and beauty.

    Gerald Massey is a teacher through the heart.  He is familiar with the passions, and leans towards the tender and loving aspect of our nature.  He takes after Burns more than after Wordsworth, Elliot rather than Thomson.  He is but a young man, though lie has had crowded into his twenty-three years already the life of an old man.  He has won his experience in the school of the poor, and nobly earned his title to speak to them as a man and a brother, dowered with "the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn, the love of Love." [p.448]



Elizabeth Barrett (1806-61): major English poet;
wife of the poet Robert Browning.  Picture Wikipedia.

FEMALE poets hold, at this day, a more distinguished place in our literature, and their works occupy a larger space in our libraries, than at any previous period in literary history.  Women who write are no longer regarded as a questionable sisterhood, nor are their works noticed merely with fine words by way of courtesy.  They have made good their position as honourable literary workers, and thereby entitle themselves to our respect; and their poems demand notice and receive the meed of approbation by right rather than by favour.  Nor do we know of any land that possesses a choir of poetesses equal to our own.  France and America possess sweet singers, indeed; but we defy the world combined to equal our songstresses.  And yet our race of female poets may almost be said to have begun with Joanna Baillie, a woman of our own day.  Unquestionably she was a great writer, as strong as a man, but with all the delicate purity and sweetness, the instinctive quickness and fine sensibility, of a woman.  After her, the most distinguished and popular was Mrs. Hemans, a great lyrist, a true poet,—a pure and high-minded woman.  What exquisite pathos is there in her "Graves of a Household," on reading which few parents can resist shedding a tear; and her "Treasures of the Deep" and "The Coming of Spring" are familiar in our mouths as household words.  Indeed, Mrs. Hemans may be said to have founded a school of poetry, which has even more ardent followers and admirers in America than in England.  The young and devout love to resort thither when they desire to raise their hearts by sonorous heroics, or to soften them by the familiar pathos of certain well-known strains.  After Mrs. Hemans came Miss Landon, who deliciously improvised her beautiful songs, and then passed away from sight like a bright meteor.  But she left behind her many strong and clear singers,—true women, and great poets.  Need we do more than name Mrs. Southey, Mrs. Howitt, Mrs. Butler, Mrs. Norton, and—perhaps greatest of all—Mrs. Browning?

    We do not know much of Mrs. Browning, except what we can gather from her published works.  It is now some twenty years since a translation, privately circulated, of Æschylus's "Prometheus Bound," by a young lady, was favourably spoken of in one or two literary circles.  It indicated a remarkable sympathy on the part of the translator for the sculptural old Greek drama; and displayed, also, an accurate knowledge of the dead language, almost wonderful in so young a writer, and that writer a young lady.  The Preface was, however, perhaps the most curious part of the book; for it was so crowded full of thoughts and meanings, one jostling the other so hard for outlet, that none was completely seen, and the utterance remained comparatively unintelligible.  Speaking of this part of Miss Barrett's published works, Mrs. Browning, in the preface to her collected edition of 1850, thus writes:

"One early failure, a translation of the 'Prometheus' of Æschylus which, though happily free of the current of publication, may be remembered against me by a few of my personal friends, I have replaced here by an entirely new version, made for them and my conscience, in expiation of a sin of my youth, with the sincerest application of my mature mind."

From the dedication of the same collection to her father, we learn that when she was but a child she wrote verses, (Miss Mitford says she wrote largely at ten years old,) and dedicated them to him; and as she grew into mature years, verse-writing became "the great pursuit of her life."  Shortly after accomplishing her translation from Æschylus, Miss Barrett wrote "An Essay on Mind," showing that she was pushing her inquiries in other directions besides poetry.  She also acquired a knowledge of the Hebrew language, and even of the Chaldæan, and read through the Bible in the original tongue, from Genesis to Malachi.  Plato, in the original Greek, was also one of her favourite books.  But a serious illness compelled her, in a measure, to give up these severe pursuits; added to which, a terrible domestic calamity occurred to her, which had the effect of throwing a dark shadow over her entire future life.  Here we quote from the "Recollections" of Miss Mitford:—

    "My first acquaintance with Elizabeth Barrett commenced about fifteen years ago.  She was certainly one of the most interesting persons that I had ever seen.  Everybody who then saw her said the same; so that it is not merely the impression of my partiality or my enthusiasm.  Of a slight, delicate figure, with a shower of dark curls falling on either side of a most expressive face, large, tender eyes, richly fringed by dark eyelashes, a smile like a sunbeam, and such a look of youthfulness, that I had some difficulty in persuading a friend, in whose carriage we went together to Chiswick, that the translatress of the 'Prometheus' of Æschylus, the authoress of the 'Essay on Mind,' was old enough to be introduced into company,—in technical language, was out.  Through the kindness of another invaluable friend, to whom I owe many obligations, but none so great as this, I saw much of her during my stay in town.  We met so constantly and so familiarly, that, in spite of the difference of age, intimacy ripened into friendship; and after my return into the country, we corresponded freely and frequently, her letters being just what letters ought to be,—her own talk put upon paper.

    "The next year was a painful one to herself and to all who loved her.  She broke a blood-vessel upon the lungs, which did not heal.  If there had been consumption in the family, that disease would have intervened.  There were no seeds of the fatal English malady in her constitution, and she escaped.  Still, however, the vessel did not heal, and after attending her for above a twelvemonth at her father's house in Wimpole Street, Dr. Chalmers, on the approach of winter, ordered her to a milder climate.  Her eldest brother,—a brother in heart and in talent worthy of such a sister,—together with other devoted relatives, accompanied her to Torquay; and there occurred the fatal event which saddened her bloom of youth, and gave a deeper hue of thought and feeling—especially of devotional feeling—to her poetry.  I have so often been asked what could be the shadow that had passed over that young heart, and now that time has softened the first agony, it seems to me right that the world should hear the story of an accident in which there was much sorrow, but no blame.

    "Nearly a twelvemonth had passed, and the invalid, still attended by her affectionate companions, had derived much benefit from the mild sea-breezes of Devonshire.  One fine summer morning her favourite brother, together with two other fine young men, his friends, embarked on board a small sailing-vessel, for a trip of a few hours.  Excellent sailors all, and familiar with the coast, they sent back the boatmen, and undertook themselves the management of the little craft.  Danger was not dreamt of by any one; after the catastrophe, no one could divine the cause; but in a few minutes after their embarkation, and in sight of their very windows, just as they were crossing the bar, the boat went down, and all who were in her perished.  Even the bodies were never found.  I was told by a party who were travelling that year in Devonshire and Cornwall, that it was most affecting to see, on the corner houses of every village street, on every church door, and almost on every cliff for miles and miles along the coast, handbills offering large rewards for linen cast ashore marked with the initials of the beloved dead; for it so chanced that all the three were of the dearest and the best, one, I believe, an only son, the other the son of a widow.

    "This tragedy nearly killed Elizabeth Barrett.  She was utterly prostrated by the horror and the grief, and by a natural but a most unjust feeling that she had been in some sort the cause of this great misery.  It was not until the following year that she could be removed, in an invalid carriage, and by journeys of twenty miles a day, to her afflicted family and her London home.  The house that she occupied at Torquay had been chosen as one of the most sheltered in the place.  It stood at the bottom of the cliffs, almost close to the sea; and she told me herself that, during that whole winter, the sound of the waves rang in her ears like the moans of one dying.  Still she clung to literature and to Greek: in all probability, she would have died without that wholesome diversion to her thoughts.  Her medical attendant did not always understand this.  To prevent the remonstrances of her friendly physician, Dr. Barry, she caused a small edition of Plato to be so bound as to resemble a novel.  He did not know, skilful and kind though he were, that to her such books were not an arduous and painful study, but a consolation and a delight.

    "Returned to London, she began the life which she continued for so many years, confined to one large and commodious but darkened chamber, admitting only her own affectionate family and a few devoted friends, (I myself have often joyfully travelled five and forty miles to see her, and returned the same evening without entering another house,) reading almost every book worth reading, in almost every language, and giving herself heart and soul to that poetry of which she seemed born to be the priestess."

    Poetry has thus been a serious pursuit with Mrs. Browning, while it has also been a source of deep pleasure.  But if one asks the meaning of the sad wail which runs through her writings, like the moan of a lost seraph, then contemplate the great fact of her life, its prolonged pain and sickness, and we think it will furnish the adequate explanation and meaning.  Her poetry is, throughout, earnest, and full of deep feeling.  She herself has said, in the Preface to one edition of her poems:

"Poetry has been to me as serious a thing as life itself, and life has been a very serious thing: there has been no playing at skittles for me in either.  I never mistook pleasure for the final cause of poetry, nor leisure for the hour of the poet.  I have done my work, so far, as work,—not as mere hand and head work, apart from the personal being, but as the completest expression of that being to which I could attain; and as work I offer it to the public, feeling its short-comings more deeply than any of my readers, because measured from the height of my aspiration; but feeling, also, that the reverence and sincerity with which the work was done should give it some protection with the reverend and sincere."

    Mrs. Browning may, therefore, be regarded as not merely a singer, but eminently a poet of purpose.  A deep current of religion—sometimes we might regard it as religious melancholy—pervades most of her poetry.  The first pieces which she published were "Margret" and "The Poet's Vow," which appeared in a periodical; and her first volume, published in 1838, contained "The Seraphim" and other shorter poems; in all of which an obvious purpose was apparent.  Thus, in "Margret," the truth was exhibited that the creature cannot be sustained by the creature; in "The Poet's Vow," she teaches the great truth that the sympathies of humanity are the fountains of beauty, and that no atmosphere of external loveliness can keep alive the poetry whose roots are not nourished by the springs of loving-kindness in the heart.  "The Seraphim" was a religious poem, in which the lofty subject of the Crucifixion is approached in a most reverent spirit, for it is one before which angels may veil their wings.  But with its many bursts of delicious music, its rich imagery, its occasional great force, and the beautifully tender distinction which the poet draws between the nature of the two angelic witnesses of the tremendous mysteries of Calvary, this poem was nevertheless felt, we believe, by the authoress herself, to be a failure.  It was loose in texture, sometimes capricious in rhythm, and frequently obscure in meaning.

    But she was a conscientious and diligent labourer, and went onward with increased power.  "The Vision of Poets," and other poems shortly after published, showed a wider sweep and a bolder wing.  This noble woman, confined to her sick-chamber for years, for the most part confined to her bed by actual illness, nevertheless devoted herself to the unwearied pursuit of truth and excellence, making of her couch of pain the very seed-ground for the highest and noblest thoughts.  Thus shut out from actual intercourse with the world, she was left to feed upon her own thoughts; and books being almost her only companions, she was necessarily led to adopt their language, which subjected her to the charge (made by those who did not know her) of being somewhat of a pedant and a book-worm.  The Quarterly Review, who proposed to make a wreath of our English poetesses, commenced with Mrs. Norton as "The Rose, or, if she like it, Love-lies-a-bleeding," and Miss Barrett as "Greek Valerian, or Ladder to Heaven, or, if she pleases, Wild Angelica."  Notwithstanding, however, all that Miss Barrett might glean from books, she, nevertheless, projected herself into her poems, which, with all their occasional ruggedness, apparent affectation, and, as some have called it, Carlylism, were yet full of vigour, originality, and true poetic beauty.  They were, withal, pervaded by the tenderness and delicacy of a noble woman's heart.  Speaking of the spirit in which she wrote "A Vision of Poets," she herself has said:—

"I have endeavoured to indicate the necessary relations of genius to suffering and self-sacrifice.  In the eyes of the living generation, the poet is at once a richer and poorer man than he used to be; he wears better broadcloth, but speaks no more oracles; and the evil of his social incrustation over a great idea is eating deeper and more fatally into our literature than either readers or writer may apprehend fully.  I have attempted to express in this poem my view of the mission of the poet,—of the self-abnegation implied in it, of the great work involved in it, of the duty and glory of what Balzac has beautifully and truly called 'la patience angélique du génie;' and of the obvious truth, above all, that if knowledge is power, suffering should be acceptable as a part of knowledge."

    Here spoke the sick poet from her sick-bed.  It is not cheerful,—perhaps it is not quite true.  In an age which has given us Southey, Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Tennyson, Bailey, Mrs. Browning herself, and other great and true poets, it does not become us to bewail the decadence of poetry.  And with respect to suffering, though it is well to bear it patiently and bravely, not writhing nor querulously murmuring against it, still suffering is, after all, a hindrance, an imperfection, and an evil to be got rid of.  Though Shelley's line,

"We learn in suffering what we teach in song,"

is very often quoted in proof of Mrs. Browning's theory, yet suffering is by no means to be regarded as the best school for a poet, or for anybody else.  We draw no true inspiration from pain; it may discipline us, but it is not beautiful, nor a source of beauty.  It may teach us to wrestle with our own weak hearts, but we do not see how it can promote the culture of the poetic powers and faculties.  Can we learn gladness in prostration, music in groans, beauty in distortion?  No!  Mrs. Browning has pushed her theory too far.  It is rather the spirit of love, of cheerfulness, of beauty, and of health, in which the true poet finds his best nourishment.  At the same time, it is a beautiful sight to see a poor life-long sufferer like this poet rise above her personal sufferings, and convert her crown of thorns into a circlet of glory and beauty.

    The "Drama of Exile" and other poems next followed.  The Drama is Mrs. Browning's most ambitious work.  In venturing upon a theme that had already been handled so divinely by Milton in "Paradise Lost," and so powerfully by Byron in "Cain," she certainly took a bold step,—almost a daring one.  The "Drama of Exile" is, however, a very fine poem, full of beauties.  It has been highly praised in many quarters; but the voice of the critics is by no means unanimous.  The Westminster Review regarded it as "among the least successful of her efforts;" and the British Quarterly also speaks somewhat disparagingly of it, though admitting "its singularly varied merits,—the very good and the very bad style which distinguishes it."  The character of Eve seems to us very fine, indicating the true woman's hand; and the spirit of the whole is pure and elevated.  But the style is often crabbed, and wanting in simplicity.  The writer has a way of putting adjectives and nouns together in the Carlylian style, which makes her lines sometimes jerk and halt in an odd way, while the force of meaning which was intended is not given.  Thus we have such new words as "God-breath," "fire-hearts," "soul-wings," "child-mouth," "shadow-claws," which, in our opinion, detract from the simple force of poetry.  Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, and Burns wrote the strongest poetry without needing to compound words to convey their meaning, after the manner of the Germans.  There was an abounding well of English undefiled ready at their hand, and if it answered all their purposes, why coin new-fangled words now, which neither suit our English tastes, nor help our English understandings?  But there are many detached passages in the "Drama of Exile" which show that Mrs. Browning possesses a full command over the purest and best English, making us lament the more that she should, in so many cases, have departed from the purer and better style.  Take the following magnificent passage, descriptive of the effects of "The Fall" on the animal creation, which the greatest of English poets would be proud to own:—

                                 "On a mountain-peak
 Half sheathed in primal woods, and glittering
 In spasms of awful sunshine, at that hour
 A lion couched,—part raised upon his paws,
 And his calm massive face turned full on thine.
 .  .  .  .  .  .  .  When the ended curse
 Left silence in the world, right suddenly
 He sprang up rampant, and stood straight and stiff,
 As if the new reality of death
 Were dashed against his eyes—and roared so fierce—
 Such thick carnivorous passion in his throat
 Tearing a passage through the wrath and fear—
 And roared so wild, and smote from all the hills
 Such fast keen echoes crumbling down the vales
 Precipitately—that the forest beasts,
 One after one, did mutter a response
 In savage and in sorrowful complaint
 Which trailed along the gorges."

    In the preface to the "Drama of Exile" Miss Barrett spoke modestly of her estimate of the work, observing:

"If it were not presumptuous language on the lips of one to whom life is more than usually uncertain, my favourite wish for this work would be, that it be received by the public as a step in the right track towards a future indication of more value and acceptability.  I would fain do better, and I feel as if I might do better,—I aspire to do better."

And, indeed, she had already done better, though she herself knew it not; for authors are not always the best judges of their own works.  But we believe there are not two opinions as to the great superiority of some of Mrs. Browning's minor poems to her "Drama of Exile."  "Bertha in the Lane" is one of them,—a tribute to the noble disinterestedness of woman, unrivalled in pathetic beauty.  "The Cry of the Children" is also a poem of wonderful force, and will always form a worthy companion-piece to Hood's "Song of the Shirt," losing nothing by the comparison.  It is full of a thrilling energy of thought, clothed in simple, nervous language.  Amongst her other best poems we would particularly make mention of "The Romaunt of the Page," which rings out like a trumpet-strain, "The Rhyme of the Duchess May," "Little Ellie," "Catarina to Camoens," "Crowned and Buried," "The Dead Pan," a grand echo from the old Greeks, and "The Lady Geraldine's Courtship."  This last poem seems to have been suggested by Tennyson's "Locksley Hall," and somewhat resembles it, but is wanting in its music.  Some of its best verses are injured by serious flaws.  She introduces railway locomotives into one stanza, as "resonant steam-eagles," (in another poem she speaks of horses as "ground-eagles,") and these said locomotives are engaged in "trailing on a thunderous vapour underneath the starry vigils."  Nevertheless, the poem is a fine poem, though not (as some regard it) her best.  It is impetuous and passionate, and the action is carried forward with immense vehemence.  Were it within a quotable compass, we would prefer giving it as probably the most characteristic specimen of Mrs. Browning's peculiar powers and genius.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning with her son 'Pen' (Robert
Wiedemann Barrett Browning) in 1860.  Picture Wikipedia.

    According to Miss Mitford, "The Lady Geraldine" was composed with great rapidity, under the following circumstances.  There wanted a further quantity of "copy" to make up the letter-press of the second volume, in order to complete the uniformity of the two-volume edition; and whatever further copy might be supplied for this purpose must be composed in time to catch the vessel that was to carry the proofs to America, where the edition was also to appear.  Under these circumstances, Mrs. Browning (then Miss Barrett) set to work and wrote out "The Lady Geraldine" in twelve hours.  As Miss Mitford observes:

"The delicious ballad must have been lying unborn in her head and in her heart; but when we think of its length and of its beauty, the shortness of time in which it was put into form appears one of the most stupendous efforts of the human mind,—as the writer was a delicate woman, a confirmed invalid, just dressed and supported for two or three hours from her bed to her sofa, and so back again.  Let me add, too, that the exertion might have been avoided by a new arrangement of the smaller poems, if Miss Barrett would only have consented to place 'Pan is Dead' at the end of the first volume, instead of the second.  The difference does not seem much.  But she had promised Mr. Kenyon that 'Pan is Dead' should conclude the collection; and Mr. Kenyon was out of town and could not release her word.  To this delicate conscientiousness we owe one of the most charming love stories in any language."

    Shortly after Miss Barrett contracted an intimacy with Mr. Browning, the accomplished author of "Paracelsus;" and it grew into a mutual affection, and was shortly consummated by marriage.  Strange to say, the invalid was suddenly restored to the world, as if by magic.  She left her sick-chamber, and walked abroad with her husband.  In ancient times people would have cried out "A miracle!" at less.  The newly-married pair went to Pisa and Florence, where they have since chiefly lived, and there Mrs. Browning composed her last poems; amongst others, "Casa Guidi Windows," "Aurora Leigh," and "Poems before Congress."  We will only quote a further sentence from Miss Mitford, who said, writing in 1851:

"This summer I have had the exquisite pleasure of seeing her [Mrs. Browning] once more in London, with a lovely boy at her knee, almost as well as ever, and telling tales of Italian rambles, of losing herself in chestnut forests, and scrambling on mule-back up the sources of extinct volcanoes.  May Heaven continue to her such health and such happiness!"

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's tomb from Harper's Magazine, 1896.
Picture Wikipedia.



Frances Brown {also Browne} (1816-79): Irish poet, novelist
and author of children's stories.

FOR several years past the name of Frances Brown has been familiar to general readers.  We believe it was in the columns of the Athenæum that many of her smaller poems first appeared.  The pieces were dated "Stranorlar,"—a place we had never before heard of,—quite out of the beat of business life.  It turned out, however, that there really was such a place in the county of Donegal, in the north of Ireland, and that Stranorlar could even boast of its post-office.

    We were very much struck by the verses published by Frances Brown in the Athenæum.  There was something extremely fascinating about them, in their sweet melancholy, their saddened gayety, or their cheerful philosophy.  There was something new about them, which interested us.  They did not run in the common rut, but excited a novel sensation in the reading.  Then their rhythm was excellent, a quality in which English verse is often deficient.  Take as an example the following well-known lines:


The first, the first!—O, naught like it
    Our after years can bring!
For summer hath no flowers as sweet
    As those of early spring.
The earliest storm that strips the tree,
    Still wildest seems, and worst;
Whate'er hath been again may be,
    But never as at first.

For many a bitter blast may blow
    O'er life's uncertain wave,
And many a thorny thicket grow
    Between us and the grave;
But darker still the spot appears
    Where thunder-clouds have burst
Upon our green unblighted years,—
    No grief is like the first.

Our first-born joy,—perchance 'twas vain,
    Yet that brief lightning o'er,
The heart, indeed, may hope again,
    But can rejoice no more.
Life hath no glory to bestow
    Like it,—unfall'n, uncursed;
There may be many an after glow,
    But nothing like the first.

The rays of hope may light us on
    Through manhood's toil and strife,
But never can they shine as shone
    The morning stars of life;
Though bright as summer's rosy wreath,
    Though long and fondly nursed,
Yet still they want the fearless faith
    Of those that blessed us first.

It's first love deep in memory
    The heart forever bears;
For that was early given, and free,
    Life's wheat without the tares.
It may be death hath buried deep,
    It may be fate hath cursed;
But yet no later love can keep
    The greenness of the first.

And thus, whate'er our onward way,
    The lights or shadows cast
Upon the dawning of our day
    Are with us to the last.
But ah! the morning breaks no more
    On us, as once it burst,
For future springs can ne'er restore
    The freshness of the first.

    These lines appeared in the Keepsake for 1843, then edited by the Countess of Blessington, and from a note added to the poem by the fair editress, we learnt for the first time that the authoress of the numerous verses in the Athenæum, which we, in common with thousands more, had so greatly admired, were written by a blind girl!

    We immediately felt interested about the writer's history, and longed to know how, in a remote village in the north of Ireland, a young woman, deprived of most of the ordinary helps to knowledge, having no intercourse with nature except through books, and doomed to live in solitary darkness in the midst of the beauties of the external world, should nevertheless have reared a temple of beauty in her own mind, and found therein not only joy and rejoicing for herself, but to all others whom the press has brought within reach of her utterances.

    The story of the inner life of such an one, if it could be related in all its fullness, were indeed most interesting as well as most instructive.  In any case, it is curious to watch a strong mind developing itself; but where, as in this case, it is under conditions of social and physical disadvantage so great, it is most profitable as an example, even to those more favourably circumstanced, to watch the ardent mind groping, by the aid of its strong instincts, through the darkness of which it was conscious, appropriating to itself everything whence it could draw nourishment in the barren elements by which it was surrounded, and seizing upon all that could help it onward, while, by its own undirected energies, it was struggling upwards to the light.

    Frances Brown is of humble birth.  She was born at Stranorlar, in the county Donegal, where her father was postmaster, a humble man of small means but respectable character.  At eighteen months old, Frances was seized by the smallpox in its severest form, and when she recovered from the disease it was at the sacrifice of her sight.  She has never since seen the light of day.  Of her early calamity Miss Brown has no recollection; and no forms of the outer world have followed her into her world of darkened meditations.  The hues and shapes of things, as they present themselves to human eyes, are to her an utter blank, even in memory.  She has been spared that perplexity which often haunts the blind who have lost their sight later in life, in the baffled attempts to summon up and recover the fading impressions and images of a past life; for of things as seen by her infant eyes she has no recollection whatever, nor is she pursued by regret for the loss of that which she was too young to appreciate.  The mind has thus been left more clear to act in the conditions to which it was limited; and by devices of her own, by the promptings of a clear natural intellect, by a careful process of self-culture, she has been enabled to see into the world of thought, and made the unpromising soil about her yield intellectual fruit of the most delightful and profitable kind.

    We cannot better relate the story of Miss Brown's early education than in her own words.

"I recollect very little," she says,

"of my infant years.  I never received any regular education, but very early felt the want of it: and the first time I remember to have experienced this feeling strongly was about the beginning of my seventh year, when I heard our pastor (my parents being members of the Presbyterian Church) preach for the first time.  On the occasion alluded to, I was particularly struck by many words in the sermon, which, though in common use, I did not then understand; and from that time adopted a plan for acquiring information on this subject.  When a word unintelligible to me happened to reach my ear, I was careful to ask its meaning from any person I thought likely to inform me,—a habit which was probably troublesome enough to the friends and acquaintance of my childhood; but, by this method, I soon acquired a considerable stock of words; and, when further advanced in life, enlarged it still more by listening attentively to my young brothers and sisters reading over the tasks required at the village school.  They were generally obliged to commit to memory a certain portion of the Dictionary and English Grammar, each day; and by hearing them read it aloud frequently for that purpose, as my memory was better than theirs, (perhaps rendered so by necessity,) I learned the task much sooner than they, and frequently heard them repeat it.

    "My first acquaintance with books was necessarily formed amongst those which are most common in country villages.  'Susan Gray,' 'The Negro Servant,' 'The Gentle Shepherd,' 'Mungo Park's Travels,' and, of course, 'Robinson Crusoe,' were among the first of my literary friends; for I have often heard them read by my relatives, and remember to have taken a strange delight in them, when I am sure they were not half understood.  Books have been always scarce in our remote neighbourhood, and were much more so in my childhood: but the craving for knowledge which then commenced grew with my growth; and, as I had no books of my own in those days, my only resource was borrowing from the few acquaintances I had, to some of whom I owe obligations of the kind that will never be forgotten.  In this way, I obtained the reading of many valuable works, though generally old ones;—but it was a great day for me when the first of Sir Walter Scott's works fell into my hands.  It was "The Heart of Mid-Lothian," and was lent me by a friend, whose family were rather better provided with books than most in our neighbourhood.  My delight in the work was very great, even then; and I contrived, by means of borrowing, to get acquainted, in a very short time, with the greater part of the works of its illustrious author,—for works of fiction, about this time, occupied all my thoughts.  I had a curious mode of impressing on my memory what had been read,—namely, lying awake, in the silence of night, and repeating it all over to myself.  To that habit I probably owe the extreme tenacity of memory which I now possess; but, like all other good things, it had its attendant evil,—for I have often thought it curious that, whilst I never forget any scrap of knowledge collected, however small, yet the common events of daily life slip from my memory so quickly, that I can scarcely find anything again which I have once laid aside.  But this misfortune has been useful in teaching me habits of order.

    "About the beginning of my thirteenth year," continues Miss Brown, "I happened to hear a friend read a part of Barnes's History of the French War.  It made a singular impression on my mind; and works of fiction, from that time, began to lose their value, compared with the far more wonderful romance of History. But books of the kind were so scarce in our neighbourhood, that Hume's History of England, and two or three other works on the same subject, were all I could read, till a kind friend, who was then the teacher of our village school, obliged me with that voluminous work, 'The Universal History.'  There I heard, for the first time, the histories of Greece and Rome, and those of many other ancient nations.  My friend had only the ancient part of the work; but it gave me a fund of information, which has been subsequently increased from many sources; and at present I have a tolerable knowledge of history.

    "In the pursuit of knowledge, my path was always impeded by difficulties too minute and numerous to mention; but the want of sight was, of course, the principal one,—which, by depriving me of the power of reading, obliged me to depend on the services of others,—and, as the condition of my family was such as did not admit of much leisure, my invention was early taxed to gain time for those who could read.  I sometimes did the work assigned to them, or rendered them other little services; for, like most persons similarly placed, necessity and habit have made me more active in this respect than people in ordinary circumstances would suppose.  The lighter kinds of reading were thus easily managed; but my young relatives were often unwilling to waste their breath and time with the drier, but more instructive works which I latterly preferred.  To tempt them to this, I used, by way of recompense, to relate to them long stories, and even novels, which perhaps they had formerly read but forgotten: and thus my memory may be said to have earned supplies for itself.

    "About the end of my fifteenth year, having heard much of the Iliad, I obtained the loan of Pope's translation.  That was a great event to me but the effect it produced on me requires some words of explanation.

    "From my earliest years, I had a great and strange love of poetry; and could commit verses to memory with greater rapidity than most children.  But at the close of my seventh year, when a few Psalms of the Scotch version, Watts's Divine Songs, and some old country songs (which certainly were not divine), formed the whole of my poetical knowledge, I made my earliest attempt in versification,—upon that first and most sublime lesson of childhood, the Lord's Prayer.

    "As years increased, my love of poetry and taste for it increased also, with increasing knowledge.  The provincial newspapers, at times, supplied me with specimens from the works of the best living authors.  Though then unconscious of the cause, I still remember the extraordinary delight which those pieces gave me,—and have been astonished to find that riper years have only confirmed the judgments of childhood.  When such pieces reached me, I never rested till they were committed to memory: and afterwards repeated them for my own amusement, when alone, or during those sleepless nights to which I have been all my life subject.

    "But a source of still greater amusement was found in attempts at original composition; which, for the first few years, were but feeble imitations of everything I knew,—from the Psalms to Gray's Elegy.  When the poems of Burns fell in my way, they took the place of all others in my fancy:—and this brings me up to the time when I made my first acquaintance with the Iliad.  It was like the discovery of a new world, and effected a total change in my ideas on the subject of poetry.  There was at the time a considerable manuscript of my own productions in existence,—which, of course, I regarded with some partiality; but Homer had awakened me, and, in a fit of sovereign contempt, I committed the whole to the flames.  Soon after I had found the Iliad, I borrowed a prose translation of Virgil,—there being no poetical one to be found in our neighbourhood; and in a similar manner made acquaintance with many of the classic authors.

    "But after Homer's, the work that produced the greatest impression on my mind was Byron's Childe Harold.  The one had induced me to burn my first manuscript, and the other made me resolve against verse-making in future; for I was then far enough advanced to know my own deficiency, but without apparent means for the requisite improvements.  In this resolution I persevered for several years, and occupied my mind solely in the pursuit of knowledge; but owing to adverse circumstances, my progress was necessarily slow.  Having, however, in the summer of the year 1840, heard a friend read the story of La Perouse, it struck me that there was a remarkable similarity between it and the one related in an old country song, called 'The Lost Ship,' which I had heard in my childhood.  The song in question was of very low composition; but there was one line at the termination of each verse which haunted my imagination, and I fancied might deserve a better poem.  This line and the story of La Perouse, together with an irresistible inclination to poetry, at length induced me to break the resolution I had so long kept; and the result was the little poem called 'La Perouse' [since published in Frances Brown's collection of poems and lyrics].

    "Soon after, when Messrs. Gunn and Cameron commenced the publication of their 'Irish Penny Journal,' I was seized with a strange desire to contribute something to its pages.  My first contribution was favourably received, and I still feel grateful for the kindness and encouragement bestowed upon me by both the editor and the publishers.  The three small pieces which I contributed to that work were the first of mine that ever appeared in print, with the exception of one of my early productions, which a friend had sent to a provincial paper.  The Irish Penny Journal was abandoned on the completion of the first volume; but the publishers, with great kindness, sent me one of the copies, and this was the first book of any value that I could call my own. But the gift was still more esteemed as an encouragement, and the first of the kind."

    About this time Miss Brown, in her remote retreat, heard of the Athenæum, and probably desirous of obtaining access to a wider circle of readers, she addressed a number of her small pieces to the editor.  Months passed, and she had given up all for lost, when at length the arrival of many numbers of the journal, and a letter from the editor, astonished her, and gratified a wish which had haunted her very dreams.  One may easily imagine the interest and the delight which a complimentary letter from the editor of a London journal will excite in the mind of a literary aspirant in a remote village in the country.  From that time Frances Brown's name has been often seen in the public journals and magazines,—in Hood's, in the Keepsake, and in several literary periodicals.  She has also published a collection of her poems, which we cannot help thinking are full of interest and beauty.  And doubtless the reader, who chances to see her name in print again, will read her productions with all the greater interest, after having read the above account of her sufferings, her difficulties, and her triumphs.



Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli {Margaret Fuller}, (1810-50):
American teacher, critic and author.
Picture Internet Text Archive.

FEW women of her time have created a livelier interest throughout the literary world than Margaret Fuller, of Boston, has done.  The tragic circumstances connected with her death, which involved at the same time the destruction of her husband and child, have served to deepen that interest; and therefore it is that the Memoirs of her life and labours, edited by Emerson and Ellery Channing, have been hailed in England as among the most welcome books which have come across the Atlantic for many a day. [p.470]

    Margaret Fuller had not done much as a writer; but she had given great promise of what she could do.  Her "Woman in the Nineteenth Century," [p.470] and a collection of papers on Literature and Art, originally published in the American periodical called "The Dial," with the book entitled "A Summer on the Lakes," include her principal writings, and even these are of a comparatively fragmentary character.  It was chiefly through her remarkable gifts of conversation that she was known and admired among her contemporaries; it was to this that her great influence among them was attributable; and, like John Sterling, Charles Pemberton, and others of kindred gifts, the wonder to many who never came within the reach of her personal influence is, how to account for the literary reputation she has achieved, upon a basement of writings so slender and so incomplete.  It was the individual influence, the magnetic attraction, which she exercised over the minds within her reach, which accounts for the whole.

    From early years Margaret Fuller was regarded as a kind of prodigy.  Her father, Mr. Timothy Fuller, who was a lawyer and a representative of Massachusetts in Congress, from 1817 to 1825, devoted great pains—far too great pains—to the intellectual culture of the little girl.  Her brain was unmercifully taxed, to the serious injury of her health.  In after-life she compared herself to the poor changeling, who, turned from the door of her adopted home, sat down on a stone, and so pitied herself that she wept.  The poor girl was kept up late at her tasks, and went to bed with stimulated brain and nerves, unable to sleep.  She was haunted by spectral illusions, nightmare, and horrid dreams; while by day she suffered from headache, weakness, and nervous affections of all kinds.  In short, Margaret Fuller had no natural childhood.  Her mind did not grow,—it was forced.  Thoughts did not come to her,—they were thrust into her.  A child should expand in the sun, but this dear little victim was put under a glass frame, and plied with all manner of artificial heat.  She was fed, not on "milk for babes," but on the strongest of meat.

    Thus Margaret Fuller leaped into precocious maturity.  She was petted and praised as a "prodigy."  She lived among books,—read Latin at six years old, and was early familiar with Virgil, Horace, and Ovid.  Then she went on to Greek.  At eight years of age she devoured Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Molière!  Her world was books.  A child without toys, without romps, without laughter; but with abundant nightmare and sick-headaches!  The wonder is, that this monstrously unnatural system of forced intellectual culture did not kill her outright!  "I complained of my head," she said afterwards; "for a sense of dullness and suffocation, if not pain, was there constantly."  She had nervous fevers, convulsions, and so on; but she lived through it all, and was plunged into still deeper studies.  After a course of boarding-school, she returned home at fifteen to devote herself to Ariosto, Helvetius, Sismondi, Brown's Philosophy, De Stael, Epictetus, Racine, Castilian Ballads, Locke, Byron, Sir William Temple, Rousseau, and a host of other learned writers!

    Conceive a girl of fifteen immersed in all this farrago of literature and philosophy!  She had an eye to politics, too; and in her letters to friends notices the accession of Duke Nicholas, and its effect on the Holy Alliance and the liberties of Europe!  Then she goes through a course of the Italian poets, accompanied by her sick-headache.  She lies in bed one afternoon, from dinner till tea, "reading Rammohun Roy's book, and framing dialogues aloud on every argument beneath the sun."  She had her dreams of the affections, too, indulging largely in sentimentality and romance, as most young girls will do.  She adored the moon,—fell in love with other girls, and dreamt often of the other subject uppermost in most growing girls' minds.

    This wonderfully cultivated child, as might be expected, ran some risk of being spoilt.  She was herself brilliant, and sought equal brilliancy in others.  She had no patience with mediocrity, and regarded it with feelings akin to contempt.  But this unamiable feeling she gradually unlearned, as greater experience and larger-heartedness taught her wisdom,—a kind of wisdom, by the way, which is not found in books.  The multitude regarded her, at this time, as rather haughty and supercilious,—fond of saying clever and sarcastic things at their expense,—and also as very inquisitive and anxious to "read characters."  But it is hard to repress or dwarf the loving of a woman.  She was always longing for affection, for sympathy, for confidence, among her more valued friends.  She wished to be "comprehended,"—she looked on herself as a "femme incomprise," as the French term it.  Even her sarcasm was akin to love.  She was always making new confidants, and drawing out their heart-secrets, as she revealed her own.

    The family removed from Cambridge Port, where she was born, to Cambridge, where they remained till 1833, when they went to reside at Groton.  Margaret had by this time written verses which friends deemed worthy of publication, and several appeared.  But her spirit and soul, which gave such living power to her conversation, usually evaporated in the attempt to commit her thoughts to writing.  Of this she often complains.  "After all," she says in one of her letters, "this writing is mighty dead.  O for my dear old Greeks, who talked everything!"  Again she said: "Conversation is my natural element.  I need to be called out, and never think alone without imagining some companion.  Whether this be nature, or the force of circumstances, I know not it is my habit, and bespeaks a second-rate mind."

    But she was a splendid talker,—a New England Corinne,—an improvisatrice of unrivalled powers.  Her writings give no idea of her powers of speech,—of the brilliancy with which she would strike a vein of happy thought, and bring it to the daylight.  Her talk was decidedly masculine, critical, common-sense, full of ideas, yet, withal, graceful and sparkling.  She is said to have had a kind of prophetic insight into characters, and drew out, by a strong attractive power in herself, as by a moral magnet, all their best gifts to the light.  "She was," says one friend, "like a moral Paganini: she played always on a single string, drawing from each its peculiar music,—bringing wild beauty from the slender wire no less than from the deep-sounding harp-string."

    In 1832 she was busy with German literature, and read Goethe, Tieck, Körner, and Schiller.  The thought and beauty of these works filled her mind and fascinated her imagination.  She also went through Plato's Dialogues.  She began to have infinite longings for something unknown and unattainable, and gave vent to her feelings in such thoughts as this:

"I shut Goethe's 'Second Residence in Rome,' with an earnest desire to live as he did,—always to have some engrossing object of pursuit. I sympathize deeply with a mind in that state.  While mine is being used up by ounces, I wish pailfuls might be poured into it.  I am dejected and uneasy when I see no results from my daily existence; but I am suffocated and lost when I have not the bright feeling of progression."

    But she was always full of projects, which remained such.  She meditated writing "six historical tragedies, the plans of three of which are quite perfect."  She had also "a favourite plan" of a series of tales illustrative of Hebrew history.  She also meditated writing a life of Goethe.  She tried her hand on the tragedies.  Alas! what a vast difference is there, she confesses, between conception and execution!  She proceeded, as Coleridge calls it, "to take an account of her stock," but fell back again almost in despair.  "With me," she says, "it has ended in the most humiliating sense of poverty; and only just enough pride is left to keep your poor friend off the parish."  But in this confession you will find the germs of deep wisdom.  She now, more than ever, felt the need of self-culture.  "Shall I ever be fit for anything," she asked, "till I have absolutely re-educated myself?  Am I, can I make myself, fit to write an account of half a century of the existence of one of the master-spirits of this world?  It seems as if I had been very arrogant to dare to think it."  She nevertheless proceeded to accumulate materials for the Life of Goethe, which, however, was never written.

    Yet often would the woman come uppermost!  She longed to possess a home for her heart.  Capable of ardent love, her affections were thrown back upon herself, to become stagnant, and for a while to grow bitter there.  She could not help feeling how empty and worthless were all the attainments and triumphs of the mere intellect.  A woman's heart must be satisfied, else there is no true, deep happiness of repose for her.  She longed to be loved as a woman, rather than as a mere human being.  What woman does not?  The lamentation that she was not so loved broke out bitterly from time to time.  She knew that she was not beautiful; and, conceal her chagrin as she might, she felt the defect keenly.  There was weakness in this, but she could not master it.

    In her journal is a bitter sentence on this topic, the meaning of which cannot be misunderstood.  She is commenting on the character of Mignon, by Goethe:

"Of a disposition that requires the most refined, the most exalted tenderness, without charms to inspire it, poor Mignon! fear not the transition through death; no penal fires can have in store worse torments than thou art familiar with already."

Again she writes, in the month of May:

"When all things are blossoming, it seems so strange not to blossom too,—that the quick thought within cannot remould its tenement.  Man is the slowest aloe, and I am such a shabby plant of coarse tissue.  I hate not to be beautiful, when all around is so."

She writes elsewhere:

"I know the deep yearnings of the heart, and the bafflings of time will be felt again; and then I shall long for some dear hand to hold.  But I shall never forget that my curse is nothing, compared with those who have entered into these relations, but not made them real; who only seem husbands, wives, and friends."

But she endeavours to force herself to feel content:

"I have no child; but now, as I look on these lovely children of a human birth, what low and neutralizing cares they bring with them to the mother!  The children of the Muse come quicker, and have not on them the taint of earthly corruption."

Alas!  It is evidently a poor attempt at self-comfort.

    Her personal appearance may be noted.  A florid complexion, with a tendency to robustness, of which she was painfully conscious, and endeavoured to compress by artificial methods, which did additional injury to her already wretched health.  Rather under the middle size, with fair complexion, and strong, fair hair.  She was near-sighted, from constant reading when a child, and peered oddly, incessantly opening and shutting her eyelids with great rapidity.  She spoke through the nose.  From her passionate worship of Beauty in all things, perhaps she dwelt with the more bitterness on her own personal short-comings.  The first impression on meeting her was not agreeable; but continued intercourse made many fast friends and ardent admirers,—that is, intellectual admirers.  An early attack of illness destroyed the fineness of her complexion. "My own vanity," she said of this,

"was severely wounded; but I recovered, and made up my mind to be bright and ugly.  I think I may say, I never loved.  I but see my possible life reflected in the clouds.  The bridal spirit of many a spirit, when first it was wed, I have shared, but said adieu before the wine was poured out at the banquet."

    The Fuller family removed to Groton in 1833, and two years after Margaret's father died suddenly of cholera.  He left no will behind him; there was little property to will,—only enough to maintain the widow and educate the children.  Margaret was thrown into fresh lamentations,—wished she had been a man, in order to take charge of the family; but she "always hated the din of such affairs."  About this time she had made the acquaintance of Miss Martineau, then in the States, and clung to her as an "intellectual guide," hoping to be "comprehended" by her.  She had strongly desired to accompany Miss Martineau back to England, but the sad turn in the family affairs compelled her to give up the project; and she went to Boston instead, to teach Latin, Italian, and French, in Mr. Alcott's school.  She afterwards went to teach, as principal, in another school at Providence.  She still read tremendously,—almost living upon books, and tormented by a "terrible feeling in the head."  She had a "distressing weight on the top of the brain," and seemingly was "able to think with only the lower part of the head."  "All my propensities," she once said, "have a tendency to make my head worse: it is a bad head,—as bad as if I were a great man."

    Amid all this bodily pain and disease, she suffered moral agony,—heartache for long days and weeks,—and on self-examination, she was further "shocked to find how vague and superficial is all my knowledge."  Some may say there is a degree of affectation in all this; but it is the fate of the over-cultivated, without any solid basis of wisdom; they are ever longing after further revelations, greater light,—to pry into the unseen, to aim after the unattainable.  Hence profound regrets and life-long lamentations.  The circlet which adorns the brow of genius, though it may glitter before the gazer's eye, has spiked thorns for the brow of her who wears it, and the wounds they make bleed inwards.  Poor Margaret!

    Emerson's memoir of his intercourse with Margaret Fuller is by far the most interesting part of the volume.  He was repelled by her at first, being a man rather given to silence; but she gradually won upon him as upon others, and her bright speech at length reached his heart.  He met her first in the society of Miss Martineau, and often afterwards in the company of others, and alone.  He was struck by the night side of her nature;—her speculations in mythology and demonology; in French Socialism; her belief in the ruling influence of planets; her sympathy with sortilege; her notions as to the talismanic influence of gems; and her altogether mystic apprehensions.  She was strangely affected by dreams, was a somnambule, was always full of presentiments.  In short, as Emerson says, "there was somewhat a little pagan about her."  She found no rest for the sole of her restless foot, except in music, of which she was a passionate lover.  Take a few instances of her strange meditations.  "When first I met with the name Leila," she said,

"I knew from the very look and sound, it was music; I knew that it meant night,—night, which brings out stars, as sorrow brings out truths."  Later on, she wrote: "My days at Milan were not unmarked.  I have known some happy hours, but they all lead to sorrow, and not only the cups of wine, but of milk, seem drugged with poison for me.  It does not seem to be my fault, this destiny.  I do not court these things,—they come.  I am a poor magnet, with power to be wounded by the bodies I attract."

    But Emerson, like everybody else, was especially attracted by Margaret's powers of conversation.

"She wore her circle of friends, as a necklace of diamonds about her neck.  The confidences given her were their best, and she held to them.  She was an active, inspiring correspondent, and all the art, the thought, and the nobleness in New England seemed at that moment related to her, and she to it.  Persons were her game, especially if marked by fortune, or character, or success; to such was she sent.  She addressed them with a hardihood,—almost a haughty assurance,—queen-like.  She drew her companions to surprising confessions.  She was the wedding-guest to whom the long-pent story must be told; and they were not less struck, on reflection, at the suddenness of the friendship which had established, in one day, new and permanent covenants.  She extorted the secret of life, which cannot be told without setting mind and heart in a glow; and thus had the best of those she saw: the test of her eloquence was its range.  It told on children and on old people; on men of the world, and on sainted maids.  She could hold them all by the honeyed tongue.  The Concord stage-coachman distinguished her by his respect; and the chambermaid was pretty sure to confide to her, on the second day, her homely romance."

But she lived fast.  In society she was always on the stretch.  She was in jubilant spirits in the morning, and ended the day with nervous headache, whose spasms produced total prostration.  She was the victim of disease and pain.

"She read and wrote in bed, and believed she could understand anything better when she was ill.  Pain acted like a girdle, anything to give tension to her powers."

Her enjoyment consisted of brief but intense moments.  The rest was a void. Emerson says:

"When I found she lived at a rate so much faster than mine, and which was violent compared with mine, I foreboded a rash and painful crisis, and had a feeling as if a voice had said, Stand from under! as if, a little farther on, this destiny was threatened with jars and reverses, which no friendship could avert or console."

    There was one very prominent feature in Margaret Fuller, which she could never conceal, and that was her intense individuality,—some would call it self-esteem: she was always thoroughly possessed by herself.  She could not hide the "MOUNTAINOUS ME," as Emerson calls it.  In enumerating the merits of someone, she would say, "He appreciates me."  In the coolest way, she boasted, "I now know all the people worth knowing in America, and I find no intellect comparable to my own."  She idealized herself as a queen, and dwelt upon the idea that she was not her parents' child, but a European princess confided to their care.  "I take my natural position always," she said to a friend; "and the more I see, the more I feel that it is regal.  Without throne, sceptre, or guards, still a queen."  In all this there was exhibited a very strong leaning towards a weak side.

    Yet, at other times, she was strongly conscious of her imperfections.  She was impatient of her weakness in production.  "I feel within myself," she said, "an immense force, but I cannot bring it out."  Notwithstanding her "arrogant talk," as Emerson called it, and her ambition to play the Mirabeau among her friends, she felt her defect in creative power.  Her numerous works remained projects.  She was the victim of Lord Bacon's idols of the cave.  She was a genius of impulse, but wanted the patience to elaborate.  "How can I ever write," she asked, "with this impatience of detail?  I shall never be an artist; I have no patient love of execution; I am delighted with my sketch; but if I try to finish it, I am chilled.  Never was there a great sculptor who did not love to chip the marble."  And then she attributed her inability to sex.  Speaking of the life of thought, she said: "Women, under any circumstances, can scarce do more than dip the foot in this broad and deep river; they have not strength to contend with the current.  It is easy for women to be heroic in action; but when it comes to interrogating God, the universe, the soul, and, above all, trying to live above their own hearts, they dart down to their nests like so many larks, and if they cannot find them, fret like the French Corinne."  A little later she says: "I shall write better, but never, I think, so well as I talk; for then I feel inspired.  The means are pleasant; my voice excites me, my pen never.  I want force, to be either a genius or a character."

    She had, however, a genuine fund of practical benevolence about her.  She visited the prisons and penitentiaries on many occasions, for the purpose of restoring to new life and virtue the poor, degraded women confined there.  Behind all her wit, there was always a fountain of woman's tears ready to flow.  She had a passionate love of truth, and ardent thirst for it.

"In the chamber of death I prayed in early years, 'Give me Truth; cheat me by no illusion.'  O, the granting of this prayer is sometimes terrible to me!  I walk on the burning ploughshares, and they sear my feet.  Yet nothing but Truth will do."

And she might be said almost to worship beauty,—in art, in literature, in music.  "Dear Beauty!" she would say,

"where, where, amid these morasses and pine-barrens, shall we make thee a temple? where find a Greek to guard it,—clear-eyed, deep-thoughted, and delicate enough to appreciate the relations and gradations which nature always observes?"

    We can only notice very briefly the remaining leading events in Margaret Fuller's life.  There was not much dramatic character in them, except towards their close.  The student's story is generally a quiet one; it is an affair of private life, of personal intimacies and friendships.  She went on teaching young ladies, conducting conversation-classes, and occasionally making translations from the German for the booksellers.  The translation of Eckermann's "Conversations with Goethe" was by her, as also that of the "Letters of Gunderode and Bettine."  In 1843 she travelled into Michigan, and shortly afterwards published her "Summer on the Lakes."  She then became a writer for "The Dial," an able Boston review, chiefly supported by Emerson, Brownson, and a few more of the "Transcendental" writers of America.  There she reviewed German and English books, and first published "The Great Lawsuit, or Woman in the Nineteenth Century," an eloquent expression of discontent at the social position of woman.  Her criticisms of American books were not relished, and often gave great offence.  The other critics said of her, that she thought that books, like brown stout, were improved by the motion of a ship, and that she would praise nothing unless it had been imported from abroad.  She certainly gave a less hearty recognition to merit in American than in German or English books.  Afterwards, she went to New York, to perform an engagement on Mr. Horace Greeley's newspaper, the New York Tribune.  But she had a contempt for newspaper writing, saying of it:

"What a vulgarity there seems in this writing for the multitude!  We know not yet, have not made ourselves known, to a single soul, and shall we address those still more unknown?"

    The deep secret of her heart again and again comes up in her communications to her bosom friends.  A living female writer has said, that, though few may confess it, the human heart may know peace, content, serene endurance, and even thankfulness; but it never does and never can know happiness, the sense of complete, full-rounded bliss, except in the joy of a happy love.  The most ardent attachment of woman for others of their own sex can not supply the want.  Margaret Fuller tried this, but it failed, as you may see from her repeated complaints.  "Pray for me," she said,

"that I may have a little peace,—some green and flowery spot amid which my thoughts may rest; yet not upon fallacy, but upon something genuine.  I am deeply homesick, yet where is that home?  If not on earth, why should we look to heaven?  I would fain truly live wherever I must abide, and bear with full energy on my lot, whatever it is.  Yet my hand is often languid, and my heart is slow.  I would be gone; but whither?  I know not.  If I cannot make this spot of ground yield the corn and roses, famine must be my lot for ever and ever, surely."

This is the dart within the heart, as well as I can tell it:

"At moments the music of the universe, which daily I am upheld by hearing, seems to stop.  I fall like a bird when the sun is eclipsed, not looking for such darkness.  The sense of my individual law—that lamp of life—flickers.  I am repelled in what is most natural to me.  I feel as, when a suffering child, I would go and lie with my face to the ground, to sob away my little life."

"Once again I am willing to take up the cross of loneliness.  Resolves are idle; but the anguish of my soul has been deep.  It will not be easy to profane life by rhetoric."

In a pathetic prayer, found among her papers, she says:

"I am weary of thinking. I suffer great fatigue from living.  O God, take me!  Take me wholly!  It is not that I repine, my Father, but I sink from want of rest, and none will shelter me.  Thou knowest it all.  Bathe me in the living waters of Thy Love."

    Thus the consciousness of an unfulfilled destiny hung over the poor sufferer, and she could not escape from it; she felt as if destined to tread the wine-press of life ALONE.  To hear the occasional plaintive tone of sorrow in her thought and speech, Mr. Channing beautifully says, was "like the wail of an Æolian harp, heard at intervals from some upper window."  And amid all this smothered agony of the heart, disease was constantly preying on her.  Headache, rooted in one spot,—fixed between the eyebrows,—till it grew real torture.  The black and white guardians, depicted on Etruscan monuments, were always fighting for her life.  In the midst of beautiful dreams, the "great vulture would come, and fix his iron talons on the brain,"—a state of physical health which was not mended by her habit of drinking strong potations of tea and coffee in almost limitless quantities.

    At length, in search of health, Margaret resolved to accomplish her long-meditated, darling enterprise, of a voyage to Europe,—to the Old World, where her thoughts lived,—to England, France, Germany, and Rome.  She left New York in the summer of 1846, in the Cambria, and on reaching England sent home many delightful, though rapid, sketches of the people she had seen and the places she had visited.  These letters are, to us, the most delightful part of the volumes; perhaps because she speaks of people who are so much better known to us than her American contemporaries.  In England and Scotland, she saw Wordsworth, De Quincey, Dr. Chalmers, Andrew Combo, the Howitts, Dr. Southwood Smith, and, above all, Carlyle, of whom she gives an admirable sketch, drawn to the life.  In England, also, she first formed an acquaintance with Mazzini, which she afterwards renewed, amid most interesting circumstances, at Rome, during the tumult of the siege.  At Paris, she made the personal acquaintance of George Sand, of whom she gives a lifelike description, and saw many other notorieties of that time.

    But she longed to be at Rome; and sped southward.  She seems immediately to have plunged into the political life of the city.  But her means were cramped, and she "longed for a little money."  Yet what she had, she was always ready to give away to those who were more in need than herself.  "Nothing less than two or three years," she says,

"free from care and forced labour, would heal all my hurts, and renew my life-blood at its source.  Since destiny will not grant me that, I hope she will not leave me long in the world, for I am tired of keeping myself up in the water without corks, and without strength to swim.  I should like to go to sleep, and be born again into a state where my young life should not be prematurely taxed."

    All the great events of 1847 and 1848 occurred while Margaret Fuller remained in the Eternal City.  She was there when the Pope took the initiative in the reforms of that convulsed period; witnessed the rejoicings and the enthusiasm of the people; then the reaction, the tumult, the insurrection, and the war.  Amidst all this excitement, she is "weary."

"The shifting scenes entertain poorly.  I want some scenes of natural beauty; and, imperfect as love is, I want human beings to love, as I suffocate without."

Then came the enthusiastic entrance of Gioberti into Rome, then Mazzini, then ensued the fighting.  Margaret looked down from her window on the terrible battle before St. Angelo, between the Romans and the French.  Mazzini found her out in her lodgings, and had her appointed by the "Roman Commission for the succour of the Wounded" to the charge of the hospital of the Fata-Bene Fratelli.  She there busied herself as a nurse of those heroic wounded,—the flower of the Italian youth.  But the French entered, and she had to fly.  "I cannot tell you," she writes,

"what I endured in leaving Rome; abandoning the wounded soldiers; knowing that there is no provision made for them, when they rise from the beds where they have been thrown by a noble courage, where they have suffered with a noble patience.  Some of the poorer men, who rise bereft even of the right arm,—one having lost both the right arm and the right leg,—I could have provided for with a small sum.  Could I have sold my hair, or blood from my arm, I would have done it.  These poor men are left helpless, in the power of a mean and vindictive foe.  You felt so oppressed in the Slave States; imagine what I felt at seeing all the noblest youth, all the genius of this dear land, again enslaved."

    So the battle was lost!  Margaret Fuller fled from Rome to her child at Rieti.  Her child?  Yes!  She had married!  The dream of her life had ended, and she was now a wife and a mother.  But in this sweet, new relationship, she enjoyed but a brief term of happiness.  Her connection with Count Ossoli arose out of an accidental meeting with him in the church of St. Peter's, after vesper service.  He waited upon her to her dwelling; returned; cultivated her acquaintance; offered her his hand, and was refused.  But Ossoli was a Liberal, and moved in the midst of the strife.  He had frequent opportunities of seeing Margaret, pressed his suit, and was finally accepted.  There did not seem to be much in common between them.  He was considerably her junior; but he loved her sincerely, and that was enough for her.

Daguerreotype of Margaret Fuller (1846).
Picture Wikipedia.

    The marriage was kept secret for a time, because the Marquis's property might have gone from him at once, had his marriage with a Protestant become known while the ecclesiastical influence was paramount at Rome.  But when the Liberal cause had suffered defeat, there was no longer any need of concealment.  Ossoli had lost all; and the marriage was confessed.  Margaret had left her child in safety at Rieti, to watch over her husband, who was at Rome, engaged in the defence of the city against the French; and we have seen how she was engaged while there.  She returned to her child, whom she found ill, and half starved; but her maternal care made all right again.  Writing to her mother, she said:

"The immense gain to me is my relation with the child.  I thought the mother's heart lived within me before, but it did not; I knew nothing about it."

"He is to me a source of ineffable joys,—far purer, deeper, than anything I ever felt before,—like what Nature had sometimes given, but more intimate, more sweet.  He loves me very much; his little heart clings to mine."

    Margaret is at length happy; but how brief the time it lasted!  The poor Marquis, with his wife and child, must leave Florence, where they for a brief time resided after their flight from Rome; and they resolved to embark for the United States in May, 1850.  Writing beforehand, she said:

"I have a vague expectation of some crisis,—I know not what.  But it has long seemed that in the year 1850 I should stand on a plateau in the ascent of life, where I should be allowed to pause for a while, and take more clear and commanding views than ever before.  Yet my life proceeds as regularly as the fates of a Greek tragedy, and I can but accept the pages as they, turn."

And at the close of a letter to her mother, she said:

"I hope we shall be able to pass some time together yet in this world.  But if God decrees otherwise,—here and HEREAFTER, my dearest mother, I am your loving child, MARGARET."

Ossoli had never been at sea before, and he had an undefined dread of it.  A fortune-teller, when he was a boy, had uttered a singular prophecy of him, and warned him to "beware of the sea."

    The omens proved true.  Everything went amiss on the ill-fated voyage.  The captain sickened and died of smallpox.  The disease then seized the child, Angelino, whose life was long despaired of.  But he recovered, and the coast of America drew nigh.  On the eve of the landing, a heavy gale arose, and the ship struck on Fire Island Beach, on the Long Island shore.

    "At the first jar, the passengers, knowing but too well its fatal import, sprang from their berths.  Then came the cry of 'Cut away,' followed by the crash of falling timbers, and the thunder of the seas, as they broke across the deck.  In a moment more the cabin skylight was dashed in pieces by the breakers, and the spray, pouring down like a cataract, put out the lights; while the cabin-door was wrenched from its fastenings, and the waves swept in and out.  One scream—one only—was heard from Margaret's state-room; and Sumner and Mrs. Hasty, meeting in the cabin, clasped hands, with these few but touching words: 'We must die.'  'Let us die calmly, then.'  'I hope so, Mrs. Hasty.'  It was in the gray dusk, and amid the awful tumult, that the companions in misfortune met.  The side of the cabin to the leeward had already settled under water; and furniture, trunks, and fragments of the skylight were floating to and fro; while the inclined position of the floor made it difficult to stand; and every sea, as it broke over the bulwarks, splashed in through the open roof.  The windward cabin-wall, however, still yielded partial shelter, and against it, seated side by side, half-leaning backwards, with feet braced upon the long table, they awaited what next should come.  At first, Nino, alarmed at the uproar, the darkness, and the rushing water, while shivering with the wet, cried passionately; but soon his mother, wrapping him in such garments as were at hand, and folding him to her bosom, sang him to sleep.  Celeste, too, was in an agony of terror, till Ossoli, with soothing words, and a long and fervent prayer, restored her to self-control and trust.  Then calmly they rested, side by side, exchanging kindly partings, and sending messages to friends, if any should survive to be their bearer."

A long night of agony passed, and at last the tragedy drew to a close:—

"It was now past three o'clock, and as, with the rising tide, the gale swelled once more to its former violence, the remnants of the barque fast yielded to the resistless waves.  The cabin went by the board, the after-parts broke up, and the stern settled out of sight.  Soon, too, the forecastle was filled with water, and the helpless little band were driven to the deck, where they clustered round the foremast.  Presently, even this frail support was loosened from the hull, and rose and fell with every billow.  It was plain to all that the final moment drew swiftly nigh.  Of the four seamen who still stood by the passengers, three were as efficient as any among among the crew of the Elizabeth.  These were the steward, carpenter, and cook.  The fourth was an old sailor, who, broken down by hardship and sickness, was going home to die.  These men were once again persuading Margaret, Ossoli, and Celeste, to try the planks, which they held ready in the lee of the ship; and the steward, by whom Nino was so much beloved, had just taken the little fellow in his arms, with the pledge that he would save him or die, when a sea struck the forecastle, and the foremast fell, carrying with it the deck and all upon it.  The steward and Angelino were washed upon the beach, both dead, though warm, some twenty minutes after.  The cook and carpenter were thrown far upon the foremast, and saved themselves by swimming.  Celeste and Ossoli caught for a moment by the rigging, but the next wave swallowed them up.  Margaret sank at once.  When last seen, she had been seated at the foot of the foremast, still clad in her white night-dress, with her hair fallen loose upon her shoulders.  It was over,—that twelve hours' communion, face to face, with death!  It was over! and the prayer was granted, 'that Ossoli, Angelino, and I may go together, and that the anguish may be brief!'

    "The only one of Margaret's treasures which reached the shore was the lifeless form of little Angelino.  When the body, stripped of every rag by the waves, was rescued from the surf, a sailor took it reverently in his arms, and, wrapping it in his neck-cloth, bore it to the nearest house.  There, when washed, and dressed in a child's frock found in Margaret's trunk, it was laid upon a bed; and as the rescued seamen gathered round their late playfellow and pet, there were few dry eyes in the circle.  The next day, borne upon their shoulders in a chest, it was buried in a hollow among the sand-hills."

    And thus terribly ended the tragedy of Margaret Fuller's life.




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