Imatges de pàgina

phrastic style of Bunyan, Crabbe had his own peculiar signs, though it is clear that he labours with the mighty reality, if not always with the consciousness of a great moral and political purpose, which his critics not perceiving, have judged him by the ordinary vulgar rules and standards of poetical jurisdiction, never once hitting upon the fundamental principle of his compositions. He is the Hogarth of the poets, and the critics read him like a child, nor understand half the meanings figured forth by his successive pictures. These meanings are beginning to glimmer upon them now. It is now seen that Radical wrongs and evils are at the foundation of all the speculations he has illustrated in tale and elegy—that the poor are ever present with him. They may not at all times claim his respect, but they engross his thoughts and his care, and very much of his affection. If he dwell quite enough upon their debas. ing pursuits, and the mean concomitant vices of extreme poverty and extreme ignorance, he does not neglect their redeeming qualities. He loves to paint their piety, patience, resignation ; and their tenacity and delicacy of affection ; their inborn sense of the manly and independent in character, and all “the virtues of the lowly train.” The living truth of his descriptions has been universally acknowledged ; and, than some of them, there are none in the language more powerful in simple pathos, and piteous and tender beauty, whether in thought or expression. Yet in the delineations of the master-poet of the suffering poor, pain must predominate. He, in fact, becomes oppressive and afflicting. The reader is looking in the verse of Crabbe for what he has accustomed himself to expect from all poetry, -pleasure, however melancholy or serious its prevailing character may be ; and he quarrels with the author for not ministering the sweetened or the spiced draught, for which the poet has never bargained. The fastidious recoil, with somewhat of disgust, from his wholesome potions, distilled of rue and euphrasy, and all bitter but salutary herbs; and persons of keen sensibility on the hopeless, sickening view of society which he presents, are, with some shew of justice, tempted to retort upon him his own powerful words:

“I'll know no more;- my heart is torn

By sights of wo it cannot heal!
Long shall I see these things forlorn,

And oft again their woes shall feel,
As each upon the mind shall steal."-

A clear apprehension of the latent purpose of Crabbe and of Elliott will enable the reader to overcome this nausea. The poetry of both is something entirely different from the sounding brass and tinkling cymbal of ordinary minstrelsy, or “the voices of those who play sweetly upon the instrument.” They probe the festering sore to the bottom; and tear away the veiling rags which, in our impatient selfishness, we are content to see interposed between the foul, eating ulcer and our daintiness ; but this disgust is given only that the canker may be thoroughly exposed and examined, and skilfully salved. Neither of the Radical bards seems to give himself much concern whether his passionate representations of truth be what are conventionally considered fit for the purposes of poetry or not; contented if, by rousing, agitating, and affecting our feelings, they can awaken the torpid sense to the justice which society owes to its outcast, and its degraded and suffering members. The admonitions both have received, not to write in verse what must give pain, are about as reasonable as forbidding a physician to administer a healing draught in

a self

a glass vessel, as such vessels are usually consecrated to vinous beverages and social potations.

We need not longer detain the reader from the avowed Radical poet, by citing from the writings of Crabbe proofs of how closely their feelings and opinions were akin.

EBENEZER ELLIOTT is an original writer in an imitative age; and a powerful one at a time tending in literature to feebleness and effeminacy. He is himself; and in manner resembles no one else. Like every other original writer, he draws from the great mine of nature ; but he works a vein which is wholly his own; and the ore he hammers out-for he is not skil. ful in refining processes or in the use of crucibles and alembics—bears his own deep and distinct impress,—Nature's broad arrow stamping every ingot. There is, accordingly, almost nothing which the Radical poet has written that could have been the composition of any other man. The shaping and cast of his thoughts are as much his own as the garb of strong and glowing words in which they are clothed. He is “ educated poet ;” and it were to be wished that some one would, once for all, explain this parrot phrase, and fix the limits which divide the taught from the “self-taught " poets. To the latter class belong Shakspeare, Burns, and Elliott; to the former class, Milton, Wordsworth, and Byron. But were Milton and Byron poets because they studied at Oxford and Cambridge ; and was Shakspeare an infinitely greater poet than either, because he could only have transiently smelt the air of the former learned city in passing through it, a fugitive adventurer? This phrase, “ self-educated” poet, has, we suspect, no fixed meaning of any kind, if it have any meaning at all; and we imagine that the elements of all literary education, reading and writing, once attained, every poet may be described as “ self-educated.” Burns has said that no poet ever met the Muse, until he had learned to wander, solitarily,

« Adown some wimpling burn's meander,

And no' think lang.” The only essential difference, we apprehend, between man and man, in whom the native genius lurks, over which time and the hoar can have influence, may be the enjoyment of leisure, and an employment favourable to the ripening and development of the poetical character. Like the business of Burns, for example,

«In glory and in joy,

Following his plough upon the mountain's side;"> while Elliott's toilsome and noisy Cyclop calling, though it could not preclude the reception and gradual accumulation of poetical ideas, must have been adverse and retarding to their germination and development. The superincumbent weight of circumstances must have pressed heavily upon him; but the undying, unquenchable principle was there. The seed slowly received into a soil so naturally fertile and congenial, might long lie hidden; but gently nourished and quickened at last by the sun of truth and the dews of heaven, like the chilled and retarded buds and blossoms of a hyperborean region, it sprung at length into “the bright, consummate flower."

We do not exactly know how long Mr. Elliott may have been writing poetry ; but he must have been revolving it, and brooding over it, for many years, and long maintaining a manly vigorous struggle, though, so far as we see, all his more important compositions have been published within the last three years. Though our information is neither full nor perfect, every thing about the mental constitution and intellectual growth of “ a self-educated mind” belonging to Elliott's class, is at present doubly interesting and curious, even though it may be far from arriving at the maturity and manly vigour of his disciplined understanding. These are the men, the influence of whose opinions is already strongly and directly felt in public affairs. They are the sinews of our society, and they must soon be more. With their virtue and intelligence, or their profligacy and ignorance, the weal or wo of Britain is bound up; and, apart from poetical accomplishment, we linger on the character of Elliott, as on a bright augury; trusting that, though far superior in poetic genius, he may be in knowledge and principle only a fair specimen of tens of thousands of our artisans. He says himself, in a private letter to a friend, that there was no early sign of the elemental poet about him, nor indeed bright promise of any kind. But it must be noticed that he has no faith in original genius. He, however, confesses to that inborn propensity which is the unfailing and least equivocal mark of the genuine poetic temperament—the love of nature. The love of nature and the education of Jacobinism formed the Radical Poet. Elliott was born rather more than fifty years since, in a village near the town of Sheffield. There,—we use his own strong words, and none can be found so fit,-he is still “ a dealer in steel, working hard every day ; literally labouring with head and hands, and alas with my heart too! If you think the steel trade, in those profitless days, is not a heavy, hard-working trade, come and break out à ton.” A man of his knowledge and energy was not likely to remain the mere workman of another. Elliott, though labouring with his hands and head, is his own master, as well as his children's provider. But we must briefly advert to his origin and his youth. His father, a man of education and of great natural humour, was a commercial clerk in an iron establishment, and also a Jacobin, the name given in those days to the friends of liberty by the artifice of its enemies, and meant to express 'the last degree of whatever was ruffianly and opprobrious. He was, his son writes, “ a Jacobin, marked as such, and hunted, literally hunted out of society on that account. The yeomanry used to amuse themselves, periodically, by backing their horses through his windows. “1," says Elliott, I have not forgotten the English Reign of Terror ; there you have the source of my political tendencies.” This holds in thousands of instances besides that of Mr. Elliott. The blood of the martyrs of freedom in the end of the last century has been the fruitful seed of liberty in this. The children of the persecuted then, are among the most determined of the Radicals now. Young Elliott excelled all his companions in kite-making, and such feats of boyish mechanical dexterity ; but nevertheless obtained the reputation of a dunce, and almost a fool ; and to prove that he deserved it he chose to play truant for weeks and months on end, preferring to hunt li. zards, and search out bird nests in the Threybergh woods to the first four rules of Arithmetic. " To those wild wanderings,” he says in the letter to a friend quoted above, “ I impute the love of Nature and her wonders, which will quit me but with life.” Though averse to school learning, Elliott speaks with the utmost affection and respect of his early teacher, Joseph Ramsbottom,- What a name ! Mr. Croker or Mr. Hooke might exclaim, for one whom Elliott describes “as one of those unsophisticated beings, whom the improved state of society will no longer permit to subsist among us. He was disinterestedness personified ; a man of genius, of infantine kindness, of patriarchal simplicity; the gentlest and most benevolent of human creatures: humble, pious, industrious, resigned, he lived and died as few can live and die.” He was an able mathematician and ingenious mechanic, and distinguished by a fondness for flowers. Had the Radical Poet been trained at Harrow or Eton, we should, as soon as he became popular, have heard among the great a great deal about his tutors; and on as just a principle we here notice “the best of men, Joseph Ramsbottom.”

As Elliott was a suspected dunce only for liking the woods and moors better than Dilworth or Cocker, his father gave up the point of school learning, and sent him into the Foundry with which he was himself connected, upon the foreman (a shrewd man, belike,) giving the comforting assurance that the lad was after all no fool. Like the sturdy energetic Radical he afterwards grew, Elliott put his soul into his business, and soon gave promise of becoming a first-rate workman. “ At this period,” he says, in the letter noticed above, “I was saved or lost by an accident;" “ saved,” assuredly, if by this is meant that his character was, from this time, determined to poetry ; or to pursuits which led to it. A young relative was taking in a work on botany, with coloured prints of plants, in monthly numbers, and Elliott was allowed to peruse it, and taught by a common mechanical process to trace the plates. He thus became a draughtsman, and a lover of plants ; which again led him back to the woods, and away from the ale-house, whither he owns he had sometimes gone with the other workmen. About this same time his brother bought a copy of Thomson's Seasons, which, being a good reader, he read aloud to the family, until the reputed dunce silently obtained some faint glimmering perception of the beauty of the descriptions. When Giles laid down the book, Ebenezer took it up, and carried it into the garden, whither he duly went to compare the poet's descriptions with the natural living flowers.

On holydays he still sought the woods to gather flowers. Poets call their writings garlands, and wreaths, and chaplets.” How long Elliott's poetry continued literally so, we cannot tell ; nor yet when his mute, or flower-worship of Nature burst forth into words--the strong, fervid, earnest words of “ impassioned truth.”

When he first published is equally a secret to us; but he did publish long ago, and fortunately found his poetry completely neglected :-Fortunately, we say advisedly; for though there may be minds to whom neglect is annihilation, there are others more nervous and more sternly-strung, to whom it gives strength, pride, self-reliance, and instant and complete emancipation from the trammels of codes of opinion, and the systems of schools of criticism. Something worse than neglect, made, or shewed Lord Byron to be a great poet; and had Elliott's first attempts been received with maukish praise, and the fulsome empty airs of modern patronage, we might have found him still dallying with “ subjects fit for poetry," instead of seeing him the masculine, original, and energetic Radical poet, which, left to himself, and taking counsel of his own mind only, he has become. By the time the critics and self-elected guardians of literature began to claim jurisdiction over him, Elliott had luckily learned to think and judge for himself, and, we suspect, to imagine that he was at least as much in the secret of where his strength lay as any one of them.

We cannot pretend to give an abstract of the poems of Elliott; though, in attempting some account of them, we believe we shall perform an ac

ceptable service to the public, at least in this end of the island ; and to the friends of liberty, and of the improvement of mankind everywhere. Corn-Law Rhymes is a title to which few persons affix any intelligible idea ; and those who chance to be acquainted with the poetry of Elliott, only through this small volume, must have a very inadequate notion indeed of the high poetical merit of the Village Patriarch, of Love, and of the Splendid Village.

Love is a sentimental and descriptive poem, containing passages of touching beauty and pathos. It may be the most sustained and equal of all Mr, Elliott's productions, though it is far inferior in vigour, force, and power, to his subsequent writings. The Corn-Law Rhymes is a mere collection of pieces of very unequal merit, and is somewhat indebted to the attraction of a quaint name ; but of his more regular efforts, every one has been a decided improvement on that which preceded it. From Love we extract a few lines, following the opening apostrophe to “ Love the eldest Muse.” They are recommended by referring to the domestic circumstances of the author, for which reason we prefer them to more brilliant passages :

“ Love, 'twas my heart that named thee! sweetest word,
Here, or in highest Heav'n pronounced or heard !
Whether by seraph near the throne above,
Or soul-sick maiden in the vernal grove,
Or matron, with her first-born on her knee,
Or, sweeter, lisp'd by rose-lipp'd infancy!
Yes, Love, my heart did name thee! not because
Thy mandate gave the bright-hair'd comet laws;
Nor that thy hand, in good almightiest, showers
The everblooming, fiery-petalld flowers
Wide o'er the fields of hyacinthine Heav'n ;
But that to me thy richest smile hath giv'n
Bliss, tried in pain. And mid my rosy boys,
In joy and grief, I sing thy griefs and joys.

Bless'd is the hearth, when daughters gird the fire,

sons, that shall be happier than their sire,
Who sees them crowd around his evening chair,
While love and hope inspires his wordless pray’r,
Oh, from their home paternal may they go,
With little to unlearn, though much to know !
Them may no poison'd tongue, no evil eye
Curse for the virtues that refuse to die,
The generous heart, the independent mind,
Till truth, like falsehood, leaves a sting behind !
May temperance crown their feast, and friendship share !
May pity come, Love's sister spirit, there !
May they shun baseness, as they shun the grave !
May they be frugal, pious, humble, brave!
Sweet peace be theirs, the moonlight of the breast,
And occupation, and altemate rest,
And, dear to care and thought, the rural walk!
Theirs be no flower that withers on the stalk,
But roses cropp'd, that shall not bloom in vain,
And hope's bless'd sun, that sets to rise again!
Be chaste their nuptial bed, their home be sweet,
Their floor resound the trade of little feet;
Bless'd beyond fear and fate, if bless'd by thee,
And heirs, oh, Love, of thine eternity!"

Though Love is not the characteristic volume of the Radical poet, we must give one or two more passages. This is from an address to conjugal and maternal love :

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