1845 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ebenezer Elliott

John Holland, "Ebenezer Elliott" Poets of Yorkshire; comprising Sketches of the Lives, and Specimens of the Writings of those Children of Song (1845) 182-85.



There is no poet, properly indigenous to Yorkshire, who has more distinct claims to the first place in the first rank of native genius than Ebenezer Elliott. Intense feeling; a keen and vigorous perception of the beautiful and the sublime, in natural, moral, and intellectual objects, and an imagination capable of modifying, and of grouping these elements into the most striking forms of artificial combination, and of exhibiting the result to others in terms the most happily chosen, appear to he united in him. That he has so frequently misused these superlative powers, is indeed, deeply to be lamented. Mr. Elliott was born on the 17th of March, 1781, at Masbro', a suburb of Rotherham, and is one of the seven children — three sons and four daughters of Ebenezer Elliott, previously mentioned — "an old Cameronian, and born rebel," as his son styles him; and on the same authority, "a thorough hater of the Church, as by law established" — a feeling, it maybe presumed, that descended but one degree in the family, as two of his grandsons — children of our poet — are Clergymen in that same Established Church! Ebenezer's birth was registered nowhere but in the family Bible: and while a boy at the village school of the Unitarian Ramsbottom, of whom he has made grateful mention in one of his poems, he was deemed so unpromising a pupil, that the prospect of his being likely to learn any "useful calling" was considered very obscure! He grew up silent and thoughtful; mingling little, and being less understood, among young men of his own age: and this even when engaged with his father and brothers in the management of a small foundry and ironmonger's shop at Rotherham. His earliest published poems; though not uncharacterised by his ultimately predominant tone of strong thought, produced no effect; and perhaps the birth of his popularity may be dated with the appearance of "Corn Law Rhymes: the Ranter," in a small volume, and the publication in the "New Monthly Magazine," for 1831, of a long anonymous letter addressed to Dr. Southey, concerning our author, who is there called "a Mechanic." This led to a kindly correspondence and interview between Elliott and the generous Laureate: and from this period, the "Corn Law lthymer" took his recognised place among the "genus irritabile vatum." It would be extremely difficult to classify Mr. Elliott's productions, which have been collected and revised by the anther, and published in one volume by Tait, of Edinburgh, in 1840; but this may be safely affirmed of the whole — that it would not be easy, if indeed possible, to find one hundred and seventy closely printed pages of modern English rhyme, more richly imbued with sweet poetical sentiment and feeling, and at the same time more offensively dashed with vile political expressions than this collection. The larger poems are entitled "The Village Patriarch," the hero of which, Enoch Wray, the anther tells us is "The Incarnation of a Century;" "The Splendid Village;" and "The Ranter," a sort of Radical Methodist preacher: these strikingly exemplify the beauties and the faults of the author. There are several other pieces of considerable length, and great diversity of interest, including some juvenile poems, and two or three dramatic compositions; upwards of one hundred Miscellaneous Poems;" then the celebrated "Corn Law Rhymes," which have won for the poet about an equal amount of praise and blame; and lastly, "Rhymed Rambles," which comprise some of the most exquisite pen-and-ink sketches of local scenery or subjects, anywhere to be found in the form of sonnets — and yet every one of these miniatures of thought is almost as distinct and characteristic a reflection of the poet's mind as the longest poem in the volume. The final estimate of Elliott's genius belongs to the next generation, when the political prejudices and passions which at present influence alike the author and his readers, will have passed away. Other prepossessions, perhaps as violent, if not more unreasonable, may succeed: but they will not be concerned about a living contemporary, but about one whose posthumous renown can be better decided, or at least apportioned, between those who love poetry — as good men have ever loved it — for the power which it has to open and affect the soul with sweet and elevating "thoughts and images," and those who seek, even in verse, for the history or the weapons of party strife. Nor let it be imagined that Ebenezer Elliott has been made the victim, or made himself the martyr of the "Bread Tax," otherwise than in his "Rhymes:" he has been, in fact, an active and successful man of business; and within the last few years, notwithstanding, he tells us in terms which have formed so long and loudly the burden of his songs, that

Dear Sugar, dear Tea, and dear Corn,
Conspired with dear Representation,
To laugh worth and honour to acorn,
And beggar the whole British nation.

He has been fortunate enough, in common with thousands of others, to outmatch, the "Four Dears," as he calls them; to give up business and leave Sheffield for the enjoyment of a country retreat, in a house of his own, at "Hargot Hill," in the vicinity of Barnsley. Long, happily, and usefully may he there enjoy "the poet, parent, and the patriot's lot!"

SUNDAY MORNING — THE RANTER PREACHES.
SHIRECLIFFE, NEAR SHEFFIELD.
And must she wake that poor, o'er-labour'd youth?
O yes, or Edmund will his mother chide;
For he this morn, would hear the words of truth
From lips inspired, on Shirecliffe's lofty side,
Gazing o'er tree and tower on Hallam wide.
Up, sluggards, up! the mountains one by one,
Ascend in light; and slow the mists retire
From vale and plain. The cloud on Stannington
Beholds a rocket — No, 'tis Morthen spire!
The sun is risen! cries Stanedge, tipp'd with fire.
On Norwood's flowers the dew-drops shine and shake;
Up, sluggards, up! and drink the morning breeze!
The birds on cloud-left Osgathorpe awake;
And Wincobank is waving all his trees
O'er subject towns, and farms, and villages,
And gleaming streams, and woods, and waterfalls.
Up, climb the oak-crown'd summit! Hoober Stand,
And Keppel's Pillar, gaze on Wentworth's halls,
And misty lakes, that brighten and expand,
And distant hills, that watch the western strand.
Up! trace God's foot-prints, where they paint the mould
With heav'nly green, and hues that blush and glow
Like angel's wings, while skies of blue and gold;
Stoop to Miles Gordon on the mountain's brow;
Behold the Great unpaid! the prophet, lo!
Sublime he stands beneath the Gospel tree,
And Edmund stands on Shirecliffe at his side;
Behind him, sinks, and swells, and spreads a sea
Of hills, and vales, and groves; before him glide
Don, Rivelin, Loxley, wandering in their pride
From heights that mix their azure with the cloud;
Beneath him, spire, and dome, are glittering;
And round him press his flock, a woe-worn crowd.
To other words, while forest echoes ring,
"Ye banks end bra", o' bonny Doon," they sing;
And far below, the drover, with a start
Awaking, listens to the well-known strain,
Which brings Shihallian's shadow to his heart,
And Scotia's loneliest vales; then sleeps again,
And dreams, on Loxley's Banks, of Dunsinane.
The hymn they sing is to their preacher dear;
It breathes of hopes and glories grand and vast,
While on his face they look, with grief and fear;
Full well they know his sands are ebbing fast;
But, hark! he speaks, and feels he speaks his last!