1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ebenezer Elliott

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:457.



EBENEZER ELLIOTT, sprung from the manufacturing poor of England, and early accustomed to toil and privation, derived, like Clare, a love of poetry from the perusal of Thomson. Being thrown among a town population, he became a politician, and imbibed opinions rarely found among the peasantry. He has followed Crabbe in depicting the condition of the poor as miserable and oppressed, tracing most of the evils he deplores to the social and political institutions of his country. The laws relating to the importation of corn have been denounced by Elliott as specially afflictive of the people, and this he has done with a fervour of manner and a harshness of phraseology, which ordinary minds feel as repulsive, even while acknowledged as flowing from the offended benevolence of the poet.

For thee, my country, thee, do I perform,
Sternly, the duty of a man born free,
Heedless, though ass, and wolf, and venomous worm,
Shake ears and fangs, with brandished bray, at me.

Fortunately the genius of Elliott has redeemed his errors of taste: his delineation of humble virtue and affection, and his descriptions of English scenery, are excellent. He writes from genuine feelings and impulses, and often rises into pure sentiment and eloquence. The Corn-Law Rhymer, as he has been called, was born in 1781 at Masbrough, a village near Sheffield. He has passed an industrious youth and middle age in a branch of the well known manufactures of his native district, from which manual toil was not in his case excluded; and he now enjoys the comparatively easy circumstances merited by his labours as well as his genius.