THE CORN LAW
RHYMES OF EBENEZER ELLIOTT
AN ARTICLE BY ROBERT SOUTHEY, POET LAUREATE
The following article by Robert Southey (1774-1843) was rejected for publication by John G. Lockhart, editor of the Quarterly Review. Lockhart did accept for publication a discussion by Southey of the Corn Laws, but rejected that part of the article (printed below) which looked at Elliott's "Corn Law Rhymes." There was a mighty row between a disgruntled Southey & Lockhart for his stubborn refusal to re-consider. (See article by Simon Brown in Review of English Studies vol22 1971, pp 307-311).
This very rare (and rejected) article by Southey finally appeared in 1850 in "More Verse & Prose" vol 2 by Ebenezer Elliott.
CRITIQUE, WRITTEN BY THE LATE ROBERT SOUTHEY FOR THE QUARTERLY REVIEW, BUT REJECTED BY THE EDITOR, AFTER THE AUTHOR HAD CORRECTED A PROOF FOR THE PRESS.
The pamphlet which bears the extraordinary title of " Corn Law Rhymes," and the not less remarkable imprimatur of a Mechanics' Anti-Bread-Tax Society, was introduced to the "reading public " by a well-written letter in the" New Monthly Magazine," addressed to the Poet Laureate, and recommending the, poems to his notice as the productions of an uneducated poet. Such, indeed, they might have been supposed to be at first sight, printed as they were in a cheap form (price ninepence), and manifestly intended for circulation among the class of men from whom such a society was composed. That the author had identified himself with that class in his political opinions and feelings, or rather passions, was evident at a glance; but the perusal of a single page might have shown the critic who so successfully and so justly recommended his poems on the score of the ability which they displayed, that whatever the writer's education had been, he had long and elaborately studied the art of poetry, and long and diligently practised it. The celebrity which these "Cornlaw Rhymes" obtained surprised the author himself. He says, - Two generous critics (one of them writing in the' New Monthly Magazine,' and the other in the' Athenaeum ') have praised so highly this little, unpuffed, unadvertised book, that I am almost compelled to doubt whether I still live in England. What! in the land of castes and cant, take a poor self-educated man by the hand, and declare to the world that his book is worth reading ! To the select writers and readers of the Squires' Review,' such conduct must be utterly incomprehensible, and ought to make Gifford, in his coffin, shake the worms from the brow of a dead slave. One of my warm-hearted critics, he of the 'Athenaeum,' in his kindness and zeal for my welfare, (which cannot but be sincere, and which I shall never cease to be grateful) advises me to rhyme no more politics. Poetry, he thinks, is thrown away on such subjects. I think differently, and I will tell him why. But I must first inform him, that I have long ago published poems which contained no political allusion, (two of them are reprinted at the end of this volume,) and that the worst of them all might justly claim a hundred times the merit of the 'Cornlaw Rhymes. There are some things in this passage upon which a few observations must be made, before we proceed to comment upon the drift and tendency of the 'Cornlaw Rhymes. A little reflection might have shown Mr. Elliott, that if the book of a poor self-educated man carries with it the stamp of desert, it is likely to be more favourably received because of the unfavourable circumstances in which the author has been placed, and of the difficulties he may have had to struggle with. A little reflection might have shown him that, in what he calls " the land of caste & and cant," this has always been the case, and that it is so at this day. He has mentioned Burns; and poor Bloomfield and Clare and the Etttrick Shepherd might have occurred to his recollection. But, in fact, he himself in this very preface virtually acknowledges that it is so, when he asks, whether the notice which had been taken of his , "Cornlaw Rhymes" was owing to the supposition that they were the work of a mechanic? Undoubtedly, in some degree it was; though nothing could have been more erroneous than the opinion that they were the productions of an uneducated man. Mr. Elliott must have been as much amused at seeing them introduced to the Laureate with such a recommendation, as the benevolent and otherwise judicious critic, who thus introduced them, must have been surprised, (when he saw in the poet's recent volume, a dedicatory inscription for one of the pieces, in these words:-
To My great master, ROBERT SOUTHEY, who Condescended to teach me the Art of Poetry, I most respectfully DEDICATE THIS DRAMA."
Why then should Mr. Elliott, who knows that the gifts of poetry will be given in vain, unless they are assisted by the grace of art, and who has condescended to study that art, why should he say that there are many mechanics in Sheffield who can write better than himself ? As a poet in which character it is that he appears, and is speaking of himself, he must be well aware, not only that there are not many persons in that rank of life in that populous town, who could write as well, but that there are very few in the three kingdoms, and in America to boot. When he writes his best, indeed, there are none who could write better; and when he is possessed by radicalism, God forbid that there should be many who, in such a spirit, should write so well! He says, of the poems which he formerly published, and which contained no political seasoning, that the worst of them had a hundred times the merit of the "Comlaw Rhymes." If this opinion were well founded, the obvious inference would be, that to their political tendency the recent publications are indebted for their celebrity. In a great degree that inference would be true, and would be wholly so, were there no other difference between the earlier and later productions, than that the latter are in the spirit of the times. But this, though the greatest, is not the only difference. The art of poetry, as he well knows, is neither soon nor easily acquired; and he was acquiring it when those earlier poems were produced. They are the work of a learner - of an aspirant. They contain abundant proofs of Genius, but the best of them are comprised of heterogeneous materials, like the image in the king of Babylon's dream, and the clay and the brass are in greater proportion than the precious metals.
It is Mr. Elliott's own observation, that perhaps no publication is less calculated to excite notice than a volume of poetry by an unknown author." This has been the case whenever poets were numerous. "Quis leget haec? Vel duo, vel nemo," [ = Who will read this? Perhaps a couple, perhaps no one.] has ever been the dissuasive remark of the prudent friend to the aspirant author; and more than in any former age would it be the part of a true friend, in the present times, to use the language of dissuasion. The race of men whom Wordsworth eloquently describes as:-
Poets that are sown by nature; men endowed with highest gifts, the vision and the faculty divine, yet wanting the accomplishment of verse, which, in the docile season of their youth, it was denied them to acquire, through lack of culture and the inspiring aid of books," - that race has now become as scarce as the bustard upon our heaths and plains, and the cappercailics[stet] in our forests. But while that moral culture, by which alone the true poet can be perfected, has become rarer and more difficultly to be attained, no garden was ever more highly manured than the common-field of intellect is at this time. More students are annually entered at the Royal Academy, than there were sign-painters in all England a century ago, when every shop, as well as every inn and ale-house, hung out its sign in conspicuous colours. Aspirant poets have increased, perhaps, in a still greater proportion the gift of versifying appears to be less uncommon than the talent of design, for which the peculiar adaptation of two organs is required, accuracy of eye being of no avail without dexterity of hand. That the means of improvement should be within reach of all, - that education should be so general, as that there should be opportunities for genius of every kind to develope and manifest itself, is beyond all doubt most desirable; but it is also to be wished that the fine arts were cultivated more frequently for their own sakes, and that men would be warned in time not to engage in them as in a profession or trade, - not to build upon them their expectations of advancement in life, and their hopes of fortune, still less their means of subsistence.
Those volumes of Mr. Elliott, which contained no political seasoning," were carried to a market overstocked with poetry. They obtained that share of notice which every book that issues from the public press in a substantive shape obtains in the regular course of monthly and weekly criticism; and they had their ordinary share of censure and of praise. The first of these volumes is advertised in a subsequent one, with the "decided opinion of the "Literary Gazette" that it "possesses much original excellence; and with the recommendation of the "Anti-Jacobin Review " to all lovers of poetry" for the originality of its language and descriptions. On the other hand, the "Monthly Review" pronounced it to be "the ne plus ultra of German horror and bombast;" and the Monthly Magazine" appears to have delivered a sentence not more favourable. Such censure and such praise are of so little avail, that it matters not under which of the forms an unlucky book is entered in the literary bills of mortality. The sort of criticism which is intended for the improvement of a young author, and by which alone he is likely to be improved, is never to be found in critical journals. The task of pointing out faults in design or execution, of indicating where the defects lie, in what mistaken principle, or want of knowledge they have originated, and how they are to be avoided in future, requires a minute attention, which is rather to be expected from private friendship, than from a public writer, though perhaps it might come from a stranger with most effect. There are few authors to whom admonitory strictures, in the language and spirit of good will, would not be found highly beneficial at the commencement of their career. But that public criticism in this country is too generally either eulogistic or vituperative, there are flagrant instances with which every reader's recollection will supply him. The legitimate objects of presenting a fair estimate of the book, and of assisting the author who may be willing to be so assisted, to discover and correct those faults from which no young author can be free, are disregarded for considerations which, in the mind of an equitable critic, ought to have no place. It may be said, that such criticism as has for its special end the improvement of the author whose work is under review, would be flat and unprofitable to the general reader, for whose use and entertainment all journals are intended. It would not be so if the book were worthy of the pains, and the critic competent to his task; but some rare qualifications are required for such competency; and perhaps Pope's assertion that" Ten censure wrong for one who writes amiss," still is, and always will continue to be true. Indeed, were some skilful satirist to compile canons of criticism from the journals of the last 30 years, the contrariety of opinions in matters of taste would be ludicrously apparent, and the want, of consistent principles, and of adequate acquirements in the self-constituted censors pitiably so. That improvement which has brought the whole junior race of poets up to a certain standard above the level of the antecedent generation, has been effected, not only without the aid of contemporary criticism, but actually in spite of it; it has been brought about by imitation of those authors who have been attacked with most severity, and with most confidence condemned. This won't do!' was the memorable phrase with which an arch critic, some twenty years ago, commenced his reviewal of Mr. Wordsworth's great poem, " The Excursion." Nevertheless, it has done; no other poet ever produced so great an effect upon the style of his contemporaries, and the mind of the rising generation, as Mr. Wordsworth; and whatever may be the fate of the critic's other works, these three words will secure for him a remembrance as long as English literature continues to exist. Mr. Elliott resented the attack of the Monthly Reviewers" in a contemptuous satire; and in the preface to another poem in the same volume, he expressed more seriously his resentment. The poem which they had so unsparingly condemned, he said, - was written under great depression of mind, in sorrow and despondency. I thank those critics who have spoken of it with candour; nor ought I perhaps to be sorry that it has enabled those literary bigots, the Monthly Reviewers, (whose sapient liberality , connected, as it is, with the names of Cowper and Kirke White, will be immortal) to write a masterpiece of criticism in which they have excelled themselves. Inasmuch as their attack may affect the sale of my book, I have certain uncomfortable reasons for wishing it had not been made; for my purse is pathetically poetical; but on no other account is it of the least importance. On all subjects of poetry, the Monthly Reviewers' are of less than no authority: they are the men-milliners of literature. Yet (for I would not resemble them in anything) let me be just even to the nameless oracle of petulance and prejudice, although they would extinguish at once a schismatic bardling, who has fed on hopes and tears, until he has become almost as poor and lean as their own criticisms on poetry. I allow them the merit of which, perhaps, they are most proud, and truth rewards the acknowledgment, that, in the genuine virtues of the cruel coward, their infallibility is unquestionable. Always anxious to avoid hostility and equally ready to repel aggression, I will impress the precept upon the minds of my children, never to shrink from the enmity of persons, whom God in his inscrutable wisdom, has cursed with minds capable only of evil perception, and hearts cadaverous and putrid in vitality. When a creature without name, home, character, intellect, or sixpence, (I beg pardon of decorum, but language sinks beneath the expression of the vileness to which I allude,) when such a reptile, after turning over at the publisher's counter, the title of a book, and reading a line or two in the first page, proceeds to pass on it his sentence of unqualified condemnation, what redress can the author have, if that redress lies not in his own arm? And if the circulation of the work in which he has been traduced, be extensive in proportion to its general atrocity, how great is the injury which he has sustained!" This characteristic passage shows the same temper of mind which has since manifested itself in the "Cornlaw Rhymes." The vehemence of the author's feelings has hurried him beyond those bounds which, in his cooler judgment, he would not have overpast; and the strong resentment of injustice has made him guilty of injustice himself. Mr. Elliott, indeed, was not a man to be daunted by censure at any time; nor, if judicious criticism had been addressed to him in a conciliatory tone, was he, at that time, an osier that might have been fashioned how to grow. The tree was of tougher texture, and had taken its bent. Thus he describes himself when his first printed poems were published:-
To THE REV. J. B. WITH A COPY OF "NIGHT."
|A care-aged bard of thirty-eight,
Weighing two stone more than cuckold's weight,
Who may not be the thing he should be,
But would be clever if he could be,
Who - lo ! what good the loves have done him!
Has had eight bantlings father'd on him;
And, though he ne'er had free grace any,
Might tell his faults (some say they're many),
Like Byron, were he skilld to word it,
But that he can't, like him, afford it;
Of form erect, and hurried pace,
Not rather rough-dash'd in the face;
Whose grizzly locks, that once were brown,
|And somewhat curly, are his own;
Whose dark frock-coat and neckcloth plain
Cause him to be for Quaker taen
Or saint, (sad blunder!) or demure
Quack-doctor, who all ills can cure,
Save ills i the pocket, which the poet
Would hide just now, but cannot do it;
In stature dwarfd, not five feet seven,
Too much to sheepish blushing given;
With ghost-like brow, and pale blue eye;
As questiond man in office shy;
Yet form'd for action, though not well,
And prouder than the devil in hell.
This is a more faithful portrait, in its better parts, than that from the engraver's hand, which is prefixed to another of Mr. Elliott's volumes, and in which the artist seems to have aimed rather at personifying the Tyrtreus of a mechanics' anti-bread-tax society, or of a Sheffield election, than the poet of nature. The poet has not flattered himself in his metrical sketch; for the pride which he proudly acknowledges might probably have been called, with more truth, a consciousness of his own powers; and the finer materials must largely have predominated in the moral constitution of one, who, on the verge of forty, could describe himself as still shy, and incommoded with bashfulness. That they should predominate, an address to the muse, in one of the books of "Night," seems both to promise and to prove:-
|Oh thou, with thought coeval, who
Man, the barbarian, in the dawn of time,
Songs grandly wild, and wildly beautiful!
Thy suitor calls thee, in the gloomy hour
Congenial with his soul, while the winds chaunt
The dirge of the past year, and the moon sets
Red on the heathy hill, the couch of storms.
High Spirit! privileged to fly where soars
No seraph's wing, and in the heaven of heavens
To talk with God! by thee upborne, the bard,
A favoured stranger, roves where hallowed streams
Warble through bower'd Elysium's boundless bliss;
And, as with silvery locks dishevelld, treads
The eternal verdure. To thy votary
The royalty of fancy give thy words
Immortal! When the spectred Night is past,
He yet may seek thy footsteps, on the hill
Where sleeps the young year cradled on the snow;
|While o'er the wan flower tripping,
Crush not a leaf that strews its dews on him,
And shake her shining pearls from April's hair.
Yet, while the love-taught skylark meets the morn
With music, and the sunny-cloud showers wide
The daisy o'er the dews, - yet may he seek
Thee, as in better days, when all he saw
Was beauty, and hope led him by the hand,
And to his blissful eye the face of man
Was mirrord truth, and heaven in miniature.
Smile on him, Thou, his early hope adored!
Still burns within, sublimed, the living fire;
And ere the coming of the long, long night,
The dreamless and the dread, whose gloom no star
Illumines, and whose slumber doth not breathe, -
Fain would he dedicate to memory
Some strain, though sad and tuneless, yet not quite
Unworthy of the spirit he invokes.
Night pp. 67-9
Another of his introductions manifests the same tone of reflective feeling, and the same cast of mind, in a strain of highly elaborate language. It is an address to the Sun:-
|Descend from heaven, proud prosperer!
and oh give
With light to darkness, good to all that live.'
Thou canst not - for on earth is known to none
The smile that is not sister to a tear:
Man dreams of hope, but always wakes to fear.
World-lighting flambeau of that awful One
Whose greatness thought hath not conceived, - thou bright
And ruby-hair'd similitude of might
Omniscient, yet invisible and low,
The stillness of All-Power upon his throne,
The life of life, whose fountain none can tell!
Thou flar'st o'er ocean's nation-girding streams,
Fearless of change, as though indeed thy beams
Were of the eternal, uncreated light.
High, not secure; bright, not unchangeable;
Oh, couldst thou boast immutability,
Man's envious awe to worship thee would bow.
Thou eye of splendour, say, what dost thou see
With that bright glance, above, around, below
|Unweeping Tide and pleasure only? No,
Vicissitude and ruin are to thee
Too, too familiar; and thou look'st on woe,
And feel'st no pity. Thou thyself shalt fade
Extinguish'd as a taper. He who made
Can unmake all things. He who reigns alone,
The sole unrivall'd; He, whose burning throne
Is wheel'd on suns, shall quench thee with a frown,
And cast thy dust beneath his axle down;
Crush'd, thou shalt roll no more. No wrinkle yet
Of age insults thy beauty. Thou art bright
As man's vain youth, with harlot joys beset,
Who says, while love, in ecstasy divine,
Seals his warm cheek with life that glows like thine
My fortune shall be splendid as thy light.'
Thou laughing parent of the woful years,
Hence with thy beams that mock the sorrowing heart!
In all thy pageantry of flame depart!
And let me commune with pale Night in tears.
Peter Faultless etc. pp 51, 52.
In this, as in many other passages of Mr. Elliott's poems, it may be perceived on what authors he has dwelt, till he has associated their conceptions with his own. And nothing can be more strange than that he should ever have been mistaken for an uneducated poet ; - unless, indeed, it be that he should have been eulogized as being no sentimentalizer, every page of his serious pieces being in the highest degree sentimental, and bearing the strongest marks of elaboration! There were some prominent faults in Mr. Elliott's earlier volumes; the comic pieces were disfigured by coarseness; and in the tragic ones horrors were heaped on horrors. That uncultivated minds delight in what may be termed hyper-tragedy is proved by popular ballads, properly so called, - those which ballad-mongers of the lowest class compose for the wide public upon the same grade with themselves. "The Lady Isabella's Tragedy and The Bloody Gardener are examples of this. Nor is this taste confined to the lowest vulgar. "Titus Andronicus" has been twice revived on the London stage, - once for Quin's benefit, who must therefore have chosen it himself, and no doubt had as much satisfaction in performing Aaron the Moor as in enacting Cato. The same abominable story has been dramatized in Dutch, by ]an Vos, and was, during more than a century, the most popular play among all the stock pieces of the Amsterdam theatre. But we need not go abroad to discover that literature has both its dram-drinkers and its foul feeders. Those eminent patriots and dealers in spirituous liquors, Messrs. Coates and Fearon, have more customers for their gin than for their wine; and the proportion of coarse minds is as great as of coarse palates. They who have neither understanding to comprehend, nor heart to feel, those fine touches in which true pathos is conveyed, have yet flesh that can be excited and thrilled by horrors. There is nothing new or surprising in this; the wonder is when a poet, who possesses legitimate power, and can move the heart as it ought to be moved, chooses to play the terrorist. It is not necessary to produce specimens of these faults; nor indeed would they now have been noticed if Mr. Elliott appeared to have outgrown them. We shall presently have to consider errors that draw after them far graver consequences. But, before we proceed to consider his poems in their political tendency, let the readers see him, in his better feelings and better mood, offering a tribute to the memory of his early teacher - in his own words, "one of the most respectable of an ill-rewarded class of men, - a humble schoolmaster. He was 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 infantile kindliness, of patriarchal simplicity, the gentlest and most benevolent of living creatures. Humble, pious, industrious, and resigned, - he lived and died as few can live and die; and his appropriate epitaph would be: 'Here lies the best of men, Joseph Ramsbottom.' "
This is the person whose worth his grateful pupil has perpetuated in the following strain:-
|Don, like a weltering worm, lies blue
And Wincobank before me, rising green,
Calls from the south the silvery Rother slow,
And smiles on moors beyond, and meads between.
Unrivall'd landscape! Oh it is a scene
That to remembrance brings the hope-bless'd days,
But not their hope! And at my feet, serene
And cold lies he, and deaf to mortal praise,
Who from this mount erewhile rejoiced to gaze;
Who in this temple plain and unadorn'd
Duly as sabbath came, throughout the year,
The word of Him in Jewry heard and scorn'd,
In Jewry scourged and slain, rejoiced to hear;
While age shed oft the involuntary tear,
And younger voices sweetly joined to sing
The warbled anthem, plaintive, soft, and clear,
Till soar'd the soul on pure devotion's wing,
And God lookd down, and angels, listening..
Daughters Of Memory! shall the good man sleep
Unnoted, though immortal, in the grave,
While forms of angel-mockery seem to weep
O'er tyrant vile, or viler willing slave?
The lying line shall prosperous villains crave,
To bid their flatter'd baseness live again?
Shall verse from sure oblivion try to save
Each worthless name? and no unvenal pen
Write, 'Here lies nature's child, the best of men,
The sire of that mourn'd youth, whose soul of fire
Cherish'd in mine a spark that else had died,
The love of Miltons song, and Ossian's lyre,
And Burns', to glory's noblest sons allied.
Cold o'er thy bosom shall the earthworm glide,
Where communed oft that low-laid youth with me.'
And shall I hang my harp on Rothers side,
For ever mute and stringless there to be,
Teacher and friend! without one strain to thee?
Teacher and friend, who bad'st me syllable
Words cull'd from learning's page with weary eye!
Thy patience taught me zealously and well,
But could not teach like thee to live and die;
|To envy nought beneath the ample sky;
To mourn no evil deed; no hour misspent;
And, like a living violet, silently
Return in sweets to heaven, what Goodness lent,
Then bend beneath the chastening shower, content.
But thou no more, with eye refresh'd, shalt see
The long-watch'd seedling from the soil aspire,
Or bind the rose, or train the gadding pea:
No more shalt thou for victor flowers inquire;
Or proudly hear the expected guest admire
Thy gemm'd auricula, a growing flame,
Or polyanthus, edged with golden wire,
The poor man's flower, that lifts to humble fame,
Till e'en in print appears his envied name.
Who now shall tend thy plants, thy priceless flowers,
Emblems of thee, but not more pure than thou?
The Morn shall miss thee, and the dewy hours
Of Eve deplore, as I deplore thee now;
And Spring shall pass her hand athwart her brow,
When not a gem of thine shall deck her hair,
Then shake in haste the dewdrop from the bough,
And to the spot where thou art laid, repair:
Where is my Druid?' Death shall answer, There'
How hopeless, happy spirit, is the groan
When God calls guilt from all his joys away!
But heavenly sweet is music's saddest tone,
When o'er the lyre of Love Death's fingers stray;
Less sweet the sound, when winds of midnight play
On that wild harp which well thy skill could frame.
And when thy dust was mingled with the clay,
To weep o'er thee Affection, Friendship came;
And there was one who could not sob thy name!
Thou, guest of angels, hast of praise no need;
But I have need of thine and virtue's aid:
And, taught by thee each deathless lay to read,
Shall I forget my teacher lowly laid?
Though every strain of mine, alas! must fade,
Like idle vapour on the barren sea,
Shall I forget the Christian undismay'd,
The meekest child of truth and purity?
Love, pp 85-88
If Joseph Ramsbottom's pupil had written always in this strain, - thus wisely, thus thoughtfully, thus tenderly, thus religiously, - he would not indeed have blazed forth like a meteor; nor would it have been asked, "Is not the Cornlaw Rhymer a king ?" but he would have enjoyed immediate and abiding recompense in the approbation of that "still small voice" which is heard in the inmost heart, and he would have had his future reward in that enduring good fame (to look no further) which is the sure inheritance of those poets who deserve it. Such a fame was within his reach. Alas! in Mr. Elliott's own words, - for they occur in his "Night," not, as the reader might suppose, in Young's, -
It is himself whom man hath cause to fear;
Cruel in kindness, terrible in love,
His heart strange contradictions reconciles
Itself the strangest.
The demon of anarchy has never inspired anything more ferocious than the whole of the Cornlaw Rhymes, - those poems which have given Mr. Elliott his "crowning" fame. - Adsum dirarum ab sede; Bella manu letumque gero! [ = I am here from the abode of the dreaded beings; in my hand I bear wars and death.] - He might be congratulated on that fame, if the power and vigour of these pieces could be contemplated apart from the spirit that they breathe and the purposes to which they are devoted; but if the vials of wrath are to be poured out upon this guilty nation, and the author should live to see the fulfilment of his poetical and political prophecies (wishes we will not call them), it will be to him like "Luke's iron crown;" and "Damien's bed of steel" could not inflict upon him keener pangs than he would feel in reflecting that, to the utmost of his power, he had contributed to inflame the madness of the people. In that old-fashioned book, "The Whole Duty of Man," which was once in general sale and in deserved repute, Mr Elliott, peradventure, may in his younger days have read, and would now do well to perpend this admonition:- "If thou wilt not be guilty of the murder committed by another, take heed thou never give encouragement to it, or contribute anything to that hatred or contention that may be the cause of it, for, when thou hast either kindled or blown the fire, what knowest thou whom it may consume? Bring always as much water as thou canst to quench, but never bring one drop of oil to increase the flame." Not in a spirit of ill-will, but earnestly, and as a Christian admonition, we entreat him to take this warning into his calmest and most serious consideration.
Mr. Elliott is but half a Radical; for in the fiercest of his effusions there is an avowal of Christian belief. Is it too late for him to ask himself, as he formerly asked Lord Byron:
Did God to thee
Impart a ray of that divinity
Whence burn the universal suns of space,
And glows the soul in every seraph's face,
To light thee in the darkness of thy deeds,
And aid the blow from which a brother bleeds?
Reprove, if thou art sinless, child of earth!
But, danger-nurs'd, and sightless from thy birth,
Judge not thy brethren! for their Sire is thine,
And vengeance, saith the God of all, is mine!
Giaour, p 147
Let him examine his own writings and his own feelings by the test of that faith which he professes, - of that book which he believes. We should be sorry to consider him as one to whom
Comes like sweet showers to over-harden'd ground;
They wet, but pierce not deep.
Repulsive, and even hateful as his invectives are, it is not difficult to perceive where the root of his error lies; and that the root is good, though it is upon a worse than Upas graft, a graft of Zaccoum - the Tree of Hell, that it now bears poisonous fruit! He has "considered all the oppressions which are under the sun, and "the tears of such as are oppressed and have no comforter;" he has regarded those "of whose labour there is no end;" and those also "whose insatiable eye no riches can satisfy." But the light which leads him astray is not "a light from heaven!" He has not borne in mind the monitory words of the Preacher, "Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God." - The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. "Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry." If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter, for "He that is higher than the highest regardeth." "Is it strange," he says, that my language is fervent as a welding heat, when my thoughts are passions that rush burning from my mind, like white-hot bolts of steel?" And is it strange, we would ask, if one who lets these fiery passions take the place of thought, should be misled by them? Alas! error is never so dangerous as when it obtains full possession of an ardent mind and a benevolent heart. The moral and intellectual state which renders it so is well described in some stanzas, which we may be allowed here to transcribe from an unpublished poem (The Minstrel of the City by Mr John Bull). Mr. Elliott will recognise the truth, and admire the strength of the delineation.
|His mind was apprehensive from the
Twas melancholy; but 'twas also more;
Not timid, but in mood appalling nurst,
And which for sympathy did vainly implore;
The souls of none around could sink or soar
Near to the height or depth wherein he dwelt.
His thoughts walked in strangs paths; to him earth wore
New forms, and his imagination dwelt
With fancies and with fears which others never felt.
These made him from his childhood upward seem
Wilful or sullen, gay or passionate,
Without all cause, as other minds would deem,
Because on them the readiest thoughts await;
|But his came from afar, and held
With all they met, dark-lowering in their pride,
And arrogant and fierce from power innate,
And, till by truth directed, erring wide,
Sowing regret, and shame, and thousand ills beside.
Mourn ye the minstrel; for before his soul,
Ere principles of truth take firmest hold,
Strong visions of endazzling falsehood roll,
And lying hopes that do their forms enfold
In outward garb of truth; and fancies bold,
And images of things of awful mien,
And speculation which may not be told;
Such were the things by Morna's spirit seen;
Mourn him, - but marvel not that he so strange hath been.
That there are great and crying evils, by which the social system of this country is at this time deformed and disgraced, and disturbed and endangered, we are as deeply convinced as Mr. Elliott himself, and from the commencement of this Journal, that conviction has been declared in its pages. That many of these evils are remediable, we also believe; nor have we failed to point out such remedial means as might be pursued without danger in the process, and with the best probability of eventual success. That the poor are too poor is a truth which we have proclaimed as loudly as the Cornlaw Rhymes, but in a different spirit and in a different tone; and that there are cases in which the rich are too rich, because, in proportion to the growth of their riches, is the consequent increase of poverty and wretchedness, is another and not less momentous truth, which it would be worse than folly to dream of concealing, while that poverty and that wretchedness are trumpet-tongued in proclaiming it. Upon these points there is a general agreement between Conservatives and Destructives - appellations in which all former distinctions of Whig and Tory, Ultras and Radicals, High and Low Church, Churchmen and Dissenters, may be merged. But, though there is this agreement, the appellations themselves are not more opposed than the practical conclusions which each would deduce from the admitted premises. Let us hear the Declaration of the Sheffield Mechanics' Anti-Bread-Tax Society.
Convinced that the mechanics are the only body of men in this country sufficiently independent to oppose, with any chance of success, the host of corruptionists who are feeding on our labour, and, at the same time, limiting the market for our productions; trusting also that we shall speedily be joined by every wise and good mechanic in the empire, and Supported by the yet undebased portion of the middle class of our countrymen, if any such there be, - We, the Sheffield Mechanics' Anti-Bread-Tax Society, declare, that, in a fully-peopled country, it is an act of national suicide to restrict the exchange of manufactured goods for corn, because, where there is a law which restricts the necessaries and comforts of life, profits and wages, being no where worth more than the necessaries and comforts which they will purchase, are demonstrably measured by the restriction; - That the present Cornlaw, while it enables a few thousand landed annuitants to convert the general loss into a temporary but ultimately fatal gain to themselves, is destructive of everything which is valuable to us as men; and that, while that law, and the will and power to alter it for the worse, continue as they are, no reduction of taxation, how extensive so ever, can be other than a mere transfer of a certain amount of the public money from the government to the landlords. We therefore further declare, That, as we cannot escape from the consequences of the Cornlaw, (except by causing it to be repealed, or by emigrating with our heart-broken wives and children) we will, by all the legal means in our power, oppose the horrible anti-profit law, alias Cornlaw; and never remit in our exertions until the monopoly of the first necessary of life be utterly destroyed. The case of our oppressors, as stated by themselves, furnishes unanswerable reasons why we ought no longer to maintain them in their present character of palaced paupers. They say they cannot live without alms. If the assertion be true, why do they not go to the workhouse for their pay as other paupers do? If it be not true, why are they not sent to the tread-mill for obtaining money under false pretences? These questions suggest two others. We, however, insist not yet on compensation for the past.
JOHN CARR, Secretary. Pp. 55, 56
Let us hear also the comments upon the
Declaration, as annexed to it by the Society's laureat
"When the Sheffield Mechanics' Anti-Bread Tax Society was first instituted, the members, in common with most of their countrymen, had almost ceased to hope for a reform in parliament. Determined to invite the legal co-operation of all the oppressed throughout the kingdom, they formed themselves into an association, with the design of attacking a particular point in the enemy's line. By overthrowing the Cornlaws, they knew they would compel their enemies themselves to become reformers. The announcement of the Reform Bill, in the infancy of their union, induced them to suspend their operations. Had not that announcement been made, the Society would at this time, I doubt not, have influenced, as members and co-operators, at least five hundred thousand adult males! They who doubt this startling assertion, will make what allowance they please for the exaggeration of a poetical imagination; but I beg of them to remember, that the Birmingham Political Union originally consisted of four members only. Should the Reform Bill disappoint our just expectations, the Sheffield Mechanics' Anti-Bread-Tax Society is still in existence. It may yet be necessary to array a Political Union of all the plundered against all the thieves; and I must, in candour say, that it will not be the fault of the latter; if the very next contest which history will have to record, will not be that of the People of Great Britain v. Fifty Thousand Palaced Paupers. In fact, that contest is already begun. What is the struggle which now agitates the empire, but the beginning of the end - the great question of profit and wages, alias bread, bread, bread, - and whether the Tories, by continuing to tax it, shall destroy the nation with themselves? One would think, the answer cannot much longer be doubtful - NO!
Further, Mr. Elliott says, "I cannot conclude without a few remarks on the present state of the trade of Sheffield, as connected with the tendency of the Corn Laws. The Germans, being able to buy the necessaries of life without restriction, are becoming dangerous competitors to us; but, in consequence of the troubles on the Continent, our merchants have lately received many orders, which, in other circumstances, would have been executed abroad; and the great and sudden demand for our goods has caused a general strike for increased wages. The present glut of orders, then, is an accident; but gluts and scarcities generally are the results of absurd legislation; and I might assert, without fear of refutation, that if trade were universally free, neither gluts or scarcities could, to any great extent, or for any great length of time, exist. This, then, is the favourable moment for the repeal of the Cornlaws. If we wait until the Continent is pacified, and our rivals enter again into active competition with us, the advance which has here taken place in wages will be another premium in their favour. But who does not see, that until the Cornlaws are repealed, the great question of wages can never be settled in England? - that gluts must alternate with scarcities? - gluts of orders with gluts of goods? - that the feast of to-day must be followed by the famine of to-morrow? - insolence by humiliation, humiliation by insolence? - and that, with the intemperance and want of forethought, resulting from the absence of a steady demand for goods, the conflicts and heart-burnings of the employers and the employed must continue? But how long will such a state of things yet last? Can we compete for ever with un-bread-taxed rivals? No! capital will go where it will pay: skill will follow capital; and our manufactories will at length stop, simultaneously, and for ever! The immense camp of London will then be without pay; the immense camp of Glasgow will be without pay; the immense camp of the West-Riding of Yorkshire will be without pay -and almost within shout of a still more multitudinous camp - that of Lancashire, also without pay! And all this may happen; and, if the Cornlaws remain much longer on the statute-book, will happen, perhaps in one and the same week, day, or hour! If I am called upon to produce from history a record of similar catastrophes, I shall answer, that history can furnish no record of a similar state of things. The British Government is the only one that ever legislated against the bread of its people, by impeding the exchange of manufactured goods for food, at the very moment when such exchange ought to have been facilitated by all possible or conceivable means."
The part of Mr. Elliott's volume from whence these passages are extracted, is inscribed to all who revere the memory of our second Locke, Jeremy Bentham, and advocate the greatest happiness of the greatest number for the greatest length of time." But it is not among the professors of Jeremy-Benthamism that those persons are to be found who plead for, and labour for, the good of their fellow creatures with enlarged and enlightened benevolence. The views of such persons extend something further than death and dissection; in their philosophy, the eternal interests of mankind are taken into the account!
(It is remarkable that Mr. Southey omits the Village Patriarch," first published four years before the Cornlaw Rhymes).
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