1896 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bernard Barton

Evelyn Noble Armitage, in Quaker Poets (1896) 24-26.



BERNARD BARTON was born at Carlisle on January 3Ist, 1784. His quiet plodding, yet intensely independent nature, seems to have come to him from his great-grandfather, John Barton, of Ive Gill, a fine simple patriarchal man, who supported himself and his family in plain comfort on the proceeds of his own small estate, the annual rental of which was only estimated at 2 15s.! Yet this small estate not only enabled the family to live, but provided money for charitable purposes, John Barton having been the chief contributor in building the small chapel in the dale. Bernard Barton's father left the Church, and joined the Society of Friends, marrying Mary Done, a Cheshire Quakeress. Three of their children grew up, Bernard and two sisters; one of whom, Maria Hack, wrote several useful children's books. Bernard went to school at Ipswich, and at the age of fourteen was apprenticed to Samuel Jesup, at Halstead, in Essex; here he remained eight years, and in 1806 went to Woodbridge. In 1807, he married Lucy Jesup, his old master's niece, and entered into partnership with his step-brother as a corn and coal merchant. A year after their marriage, his wife died in giving birth to a daughter, the Lucy of his poems, who afterwards married Edward Fitzgerald, and who is still living at Croydon; Edward Verrall Lucas, Bernard Barton's latest biographer, having dedicated his book, Bernard Barton and his Friends, to her.

After his wife's death he tired of the place, which recalled his lost happiness, and engaged himself as a tutor in the family of Mr. Waterhouse, a Liverpool merchant. Here he became acquainted with the Roscoes and other interesting people, but at the end of a year returned to Woodbridge, and became a clerk in Dykes and Samuel Alexander's Bank. For forty years he worked quietly on as a bank clerk, only leaving his place two days before his death. But his active mind found vent in a long series of poetical productions and a large and varied correspondence. His friendships included nearly all the men of his day eminent in literature and philanthropy. Among his correspondents were Southey, Scott, Wordsworth, Byron, Chas. Lamb, Chas. Lloyd, Allan Cunningham, John Mitford, Airey the Astronomer Royal, Crabbe, and Fitzgerald, and if a poet could be judged by his friends, Bernard Barton would be indeed a king of song, but as it has been said by a friend of his that his talk was far more humourous than his writings, so I think the man must have been far greater than his verse. Possibly the daily monotony of his work in the bank shadowed and chilled the delicate flower of poetry in his soul, but anyone reading L. V. Lucas's word-picture of him, which I cannot forbear quoting, must, I think, feel disappointed with his work: — "At the door our host greets us heartily with a warm handshake that does not loosen until he has drawn us well within his walls: a man of middle height with a fine open face, eminently genial; gentle, luminous brown eyes, kindling as he talks; brown hair, and a rich clear voice of singular pleasantness of tone."

Those "luminous brown eyes" must have flashed, one would think, with the humour which was so strong a characteristic of the quiet young Quaker, when Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, encouraged by some praiseful verses which Bernard Barton had addressed to him, on reading The Queen's Wake, asked him, in his letter of thanks, to use his influence with the London managers in getting a tragedy Hogg had written produced there!

Bernard Barton published in 1812 Metrical Effusions; in 1817, The Triumph of the Orwell; in 1818, The Convict's Appeal and Poems by an Amateur; in 1820, A Day in Autumn, and Poems; in 1822, Napoleon and Other Poems and Verses on the Death of Percy Bysshe Shelley; in 1823, A Short Account of Leiston Abbey, with Descriptive and Illustrative Verses, by Bernard Barton and Others; in 1824, Minor poems, including Napoleon, and Poetic Vigils; in 1826, A Missionary's Memorial and Devotional Verses; in 1827, A Widow's Tale, and Other Poems; in 1828, A New Year's Eve, and Other Poems; in 1845, Household Verses.

Besides these volumes, he wrote a great deal for various magazines, annuals, etc., and many introductory and valedictory verses for other people's books and albums.

Bernard Barton is not a great poet, but his verses have the serene charm of the quiet country in which he lived; a land of placid streams, and wide green pastures, of cool stretches of grey distance, and many wild flowers; a land of quaint old towns, and sleepy villages nestling around their square church towers; a land of peace and plenty to the outward eye, bounded and glorified by the sea, whose music beats a ceaseless refrain to the quiet lives of the Woodbridge poet and his daughter, in the poetry which pulsed an ever-active tide through what might otherwise have been the stagnant existence of a banker's clerk.

Bernard Barton died at his Suffolk home, February 19th, 1849, aged sixty-five, and was buried in the Friends' burial ground at Woodbridge.