1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Rushton

Anonymous, "Biographical Sketch of Edward Rushton, written by his Son" Belfast Monthly Magazine 13 (December 1814) 474-78.



EDWARD RUSHTON was born on the 13th of November, 1756, in John-street, Liverpool. His education, which he received at a free school, terminated with his ninth year. At ten he read Anson's voyage, resolved to be a sailor, was bound as an apprentice to Watt and Gregson, and before he entered his eleventh year. he was a sea boy in the West Indies. He performed the various duties of his station with skill and credit, this was evinced by the following fact. At this time, i.e. when be reached his sixteenth year, he received the thanks of the captain and crew of the vessel, for his seaman like conduct, having seized the helm, and extricated the ship, when the captain and crew were wandering about in despair.

Before seventeen, whilst yet in his apprenticeship. he signed articles as second mate of the vessel, in which a short time before be entered as cabin-boy. When in this situation in the West Indies, a circumstance occurred, which is worthy of preservation. He was despatched from the ship with a boat's crew, on some errand to the shore, the vessel then lying a few miles from the shore; when about three miles from Jamaica, the boat, from some unknown cause, upset, and five or six individuals were left to struggle for life, depending only on their bodily strength and skill for their, preservation. The boat in a short time presented itself keel upwards, upon which they all speedily mounted, but no sooner had they seated themselves, and congratulated each other on their escape, than the boat slipped from under them, and they were again left to struggle.

In the boat, among others, was a negro, whose name was Quamina, between this individual and my father, a friendship had for some time subsisted, for my father taught Quamina to read. When the boat disappeared, my father beheld at some distance, a small cask, which he knew contained fresh water; for this cask he made, but before he could reach it, it was seized by the negro, who, on seeing my father almost exhausted, thrust the cask towards him, turned away his head, bidding him good bye, and never more was seen. This cask saved my father's life. I can remember well his telling me this story with tears in his eyes. It made an impression on my mind, which no time can ever efface.

As second mate of the vessel he continued until the term of his apprenticeship was expired. At this period, the offer of a superior situation, and of course, of greater emolument, induced him to proceed to the coast of Africa, on a slaving voyage. His sentiments of this disgraceful traffic, when he beheld its horrors, though in a subordinate situation, with that boldness and integrity which characterized his every action, he expressed in strong and pointed language; he went so far in this respect, that it was thought necessary to threaten him with irons, if he did not desist.

On this fatal voyage, whilst at Dominica, he was attacked by a violent inflammation of the eyes, which in three weeks left him with the left eye totally destroyed, and the right entirely covered by an opacity of the cornea. Thus in his nineteenth year, was he deprived of one of the greatest blessings of nature; thus, to use his own language, "doomed to penury severe, thus to the world's hard buffets left."

In 1776, attended by my grandfather, he visited London, and amongst other eminent men, he consulted the celebrated Baron Wentzell, oculist to the king, who declared he could not be of the least service.

In this hopeless situation, my poor father returned to Liverpool, and resided with my grandfather. With him he continued for some short period, until by the violent temper of my grandfather's second wife, he was compelled to leave the house, and to maintain himself on four shillings per week. For seven years he existed on this miserable, and, considering the circumstances of my grandfather, this shameful allowance; for an old aunt gave him lodgings. Whilst subsisting on this sum he managed to pay a boy two-pence or three pence per week, for reading to him an hour or two in the evenings. I have now in my possession, a gold brooch, to which I have heard him declare, he has often been indebted for a dinner; nor was this brooch confined to himself, a noted comedian of the present day, whose avarice has long since got the better of his principle, has borrowed and pledged this very brooch for the self-same purpose. From this state my father was removed to one much more comfortable. My grandfather placed one of his daughters, and my father, in a tavern, where he lived for some years, and soon after my aunt's marriage, his also took place, his age being then twenty-nine. My father finding, however, his pecuniary circumstances rather diminishing than increasing, left the public house.

He now entered into an engagement as an editor of a news-paper, called the Herald, which he for some time pursued with much pleasure, and little profit, until finding it impossible to express himself in that independent and liberal manner which his reason and his conscience dictated, he threw up his situation, and began the world once more.

With an increasing family, and a very small fortune, for a while my father hesitated before he fixed on any particular line of conduct. He thought of several plans, but none seemed more agreeable to has feelings, than the business of a bookseller; his habits and his pursuits combined to render it more eligible than any other which presented itself to his thoughts.

With thirty guineas, five children, and a wife, to whose exertions we owe more than words can express, my father commenced bookselling. My mother, my excellent mother, laboured incessantly, and with frugality and attention, the business succeeded, and my father felt himself more easy.

At this time politics ran very high in Liverpool, my father had published several of his pieces, all in favour of the rights of man. He became a noted character, was marked, and by some illiberal villain shot at; the lead passed very close to his eyebrow, but did not do him the smallest injury.

His butterfly friends who had constantly visited while all was serene, now began to desert him; they were afraid of being seen near the house, merely because my father had boldly stepped forward in the cause of liberty and of truth. Let it not be forgotten, that the foremost of these was the comedian, before mentioned, a man who owes his wealth to my father's advice, who persuaded him to try the stage. Such are the narrow prejudices, and paltry feelings, with which a man has to struggle, whose determination it is to speak and act as his heart shall dictate. But great was the satisfaction my father experienced from the steady attachment, the unremitting attention of a few tried and true friends, who with him had hailed the light wherever it appeared, and exulted in the triumphs of liberty in whatever land they were achieved. Whilst in business as a bookseller, the purses of the late William Rathbone, and of William Roscoe, were offered so him; he was invited to take what sum he might want; he refused them both; and he has often told me, his feelings have been those of satisfaction, when he reflected on this refusal. He was in poverty, nay, the very moment he was struggling hard to gain a scanty pittance, yet he maintained his independence, and triumphed.

His life for some year was but little varied. He continued successively to produce poetical pieces, and in the year 1797 wrote a letter, since published, to Washington on the subject of negro slavery. If I mistake not in 1799 he wrote Mary Le More; the outrages daily committed roused his slumbering genius, and induced him to write not only this, but several other pieces on the same subject; all of them breathing that spirit which it was at once his pride and boast to cherish.

But the principal event in the latter years of his isle was the recovery of his sight; an event which tended to make those years much more comfortable than any he had experienced since his youth. In the autumn of 1805 hearing of the repeated successes of Dr. Gibson, of Manchester, as an oculist, he was induced to obtain his opinion: that opinion was favourable, and after enduring with his accustomed fortitude five dreadful operations. in the summer of 1807 he was again ushered into that world, from which for more than thirty years he had been excluded. His feelings on this occasion, which I well remember, are truly recorded in the lines addressed to Gibson on this happy event.

For the last few years he has not written much, but those poems he has produced are excellent. The Fire of English Liberty, Jemmy Armstrong, and Stanzas addressed to Robert Southey, are all strongly in favour at those principles, which with "fire unabated," he preserved to the last moment at his mental existence.

In January 1811, after a tedious illness, my mother died. On the 25th of May, in the same year, my sister Anne died also.

For three or four years my father had been in the habit of taking Eau Medicinale for the gout. He again took this medicine about three weeks before his death. It is generally believed this was the remote cause of his death; its operation formerly was as a cathartic, but the last time it operated very forcibly as an emetic. So severe was the shock his constitution received, that the morning after taking the medicines as I stood by his bedside, I expressed some fears respecting its operation; he rose to convince me of its wonderful effects; he knew not how weak he really was, for as he attempted to walk, he reeled, and had I not caught him, would most likely have fallen. He however walked down stairs and appeared very cheerful; he gradually amended, and once or twice walked out alone. A slight complaint in the ear, with which he had been troubled previously to taking the Eau Medicinale, now returned, accompanied by a slight discharge. On Saturday evening, the 19th of November, about nine o'clock. I left my father in high spirits, to attend my sister home. I returned about eleven; he was gone to bed. At nine in the morning, I passed through his room and inquired how he was. He had had but a poor night, but he ordered his boots to be cleaned, intending to dine at my sister's. Not thinking any thing unusual in his slight complaints, I left him, and returned as twelve with a gig, in order to take him to my sister's. In the mean time he grew worse, and had twice asked for me. I immediately procured medical assistance. When the doctor arrived the pulse was lost; the feet were cold; and my father was then troubled with a violent vomiting. Prompt measures were resorted to for the purpose of reanimation, and not without success. A profuse perspiration broke out, but in vain, his faculties become more and more clouded, he was insensible to all around him, his children he knew not after a very short period, and gradually grew worse until Monday, noon, when he opened his eyes, and looked at those around him. He took some little nourishment, and perhaps possessed some little consciousness. Towards evening he seemed much better; at half past two in the morning a suffusion on the brain took place, the right side was paralized, the breathing became heavy and laborious. Medical assistance immediately arrived, and arrived but to see him expire, for no assistance could be given. At five o'clock on Tuesday the 22d of November Edward Rushton died without a struggle, and without pain — leaving behind him a character, pure and immortal as the principles he professed.

The foregoing interesting memoir was obligingly communicated by his son, a young man of tender years, and large promise, to whom his father has bequeathed the rich inheritance of his eminent virtues, which it is hoped, the son will appropriate and cultivate with sedulous attention.

It now remains to attempt a delineation of the character of Edward Rushton, a task at once attended with regret and pleasure; regret for so much worth being lost to the world, pleasure to record that he so strongly adorned our common nature, and proved how far a possibility exists, by the benefit of his example, to rescue it from the charges of selfishness, and baseness, with which the conduct of many gives room to reproach it. Many, to cover their own errors, leave the blame of their wrong deeds, according to their own phrase, on poor human nature, as certain religionists place their misconduct to the account of the devil, the personified author of evil. Edward Rushton has shewn to what heights human nature may be raised, by a strict attention to the duties of the moral code, and the virtues of a firm and independent mind. His own words on the death of his friend, Hugh Mulligan, may be borrowed to express a sense of the justice due to departed worth, in what are called the humbler walks of life, when they are truly dignified by virtue.

When the lordly are called from their state,
The marble their virtue imparts,
Yet the marble, ye insolent great,
Is often less cold than your hearts.

When the life of the warrior is o'er,
His deeds every tongue shall rehearse,
And now a pale bard is no more,
Ah! would you deny him a verse!