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EBENEZER ELLIOTT
(1781 - 1849)




George Tweddell & the Rabble's Poet


Late in Elliott's life, he had some contact with George Tweddell, a poet, publisher and historian. This article brings together three letters from the Rabble's Poet (as Elliott once described himself) and four short poems written by Tweddell when he heard that Elliott had passed away.

George Markham Tweddell (1823-1903) lived in Stokesley in North Yorkshire. He was a keen Chartist who spent forty days in prison in 1846 for contempt of court. His radical views would have appealed to Elliott as the correspondence below demonstrates. Tweddell promoted his views in the short lived newspaper which he set up called the "Cleveland News." Another venture lasted from 1844-6; this was the "Yorkshire Miscellany and Englishman's Magazine," which is the subject of the first letter below.

For more information on Tweddell, see www.tweddellhistory.co.uk
For his poetry, see www.tweddellpoetry.co.uk


The following three letters by Elliott are all addressed to Mr George Tweddell, editor of "The Yorkshire Miscellany." The letters appeared in January Searle's book "Memoirs of Ebenezer Elliott, the Corn Law Rhymer," 2nd ed 1852.
(January Searle was the nom de plume of Elliott's friend, George Searle Phillips)


Great Houghton Common, near Barnsley,
13th August, 1844

DEAR SIR,

I feel honoured by the receipt of a letter from such a man as George Tweddell. But it grieves me to say that I have no unpublished non-political poem, except one which is 300 lines too long for any magazine, and having been written as an experiment to combine the humorous and the beautiful, by a writer destitute of humour, is, of course, a failure. I will send you something soon, if I can bring my drape of a muse to her milk again. But what can you expect from an old  bitch past bearing? I set her to work for you last night, and she conceived and brought forth certain glimmerings of moonshine, but of such a red, ferrety, anti-corn-law hue, that I put them into the fire, without at all weakening the flame. She is like the painter who could paint nothing but red lions; if she tries to paint angels, it is plain at a glance that they come of red lions, let the lady say what she will. Perhaps the truth is, that I am humbled by the excellence of the poetry in your magazine. Who is Sylvan? I have long suspected that I am nobody in such company. The author of "The Island of Demons," gone to the Capulets, was assuredly somebody.

Why should futurity give me or thee hopes,
When not a pinch of dust is left of Cheopes?

Could we persuade some other great folks to suspect that they are not gods, but mortals of the useless species, our bread-taxers would be much wiser and happier devils than they are.

I am, dear Sir, yours very truly,
EBENEZER ELLIOTT.


I am unwilling to depress you, yet I must in honesty say, that you cannot succeed without a miracle, and miracles are no longer wrought, except for the strong. No town out of London (Edinburgh excepted) has been able to support a magazine; not Manchester, nor Liverpool; it is whispered, not Dublin, though, like Edinburgh, a metropolis.

 EE


Elliott is responding to a request from Tweddell who is clearly soliciting a poem for his "Yorkshire Miscellany" magazine. The poem should not be political - a great problem for Elliott as his writing had been driven by his strident views for twenty years and more! When the Rabble's Poet says of himself that he is "a writer destitute of humour," this is a realistic self-assessment: you don't find a deal of laughter in the Corn Law Rhymer's work! Then Elliott - perhaps disappointed by his vain efforts to compose a few lines of verse for Tweddell - uses an extended simile intended to show that he can still perform as a writer. To the modern reader, however, he comes over as pretentious. With his afterthought, Elliott returns to earth, advising Tweddell to reconsider his plan for publishing a magazine. The bard is knowledgeable about literary journals since he contributed to many & would have seen several worthy attempts flounder. He knew for instance that purchasing the "Westminster Review" had cost Thos. Perronet Thompson thousands of pounds & of course Elliott had made a friend of William Tait, owner of the "Edinburgh Magazine."




The second letter from January Searle's book on Elliott was written to Tweddell five months later, evidently following another communication from the latter.


Great Houghton, near Barnsley, 8th Jan., 1845.


DEAR SIR,

If I have not sent you a contribution, it is because I have not been able to write one likely to be of service to you. The only things I have sent to the press during the last three years are failures, extreme in their politics. Indeed I did not leave Sheffield before my energies had left me. I need no bookseller, and have none, for the only book I buy is a weekly newspaper at second hand. But that I have read a few articles in the Westminster Review, I might say that I am newspaper taught, and after passing a very active life, I cannot read without being ill.

I am sorry you blame the people for not helping you: famine is helping hundreds of thousands of them into the grave, and the survivors will be more to be pitied than the dead.

I have tried in vain to obtain a subscriber or two for you. I live surrounded by several hundred acres of wood, nine miles from the nearest market town, with three neighbours in the circuit of a mile, reading no book but Old Moore. With Roseberry - with the whole district of Hambleton, Helmsley, Guisbrough, Rosedale, Eskdale, - I am much better acquainted that I dare try to be with these police-haunted woods, and farmsteads tenanted by unliveried dependents of palaced paupers. Alter or omit the lines in your poem which refer to your detracters. Why stand on your defence without occasion? Live them down, or die them down.


I am, dear Sir, yours truly,
EBENEZER ELLIOTT



When Elliott left Sheffield in 1841, he needed somewhere quiet & affordable: his health had deteriorated during his hectic life in Sheffield. His new residence was in a rural area, and country folk had little in common with the bard. Sheffield had many radicals, but in the countryside most people had to keep on good terms with the gentry. Elliott thus lacked good company, something which speeded his decline.

It is sad to note for someone who had read widely for over forty years that he could no longer read without feeling ill. His letters from this period always discuss his poor health & morale.

The Rabble's Poet claim that he was not familiar with his local scenery was nonsense! When he first moved to Hargate Hill, he loved exploring the local countryside & delighted in showing off the local beauty spots to his visitors. His comments on "these police-haunted woods" suggest that the bard had been warned off for trespassing on private land: for sure, he would not respect the landowner's right to privacy! Moreover, they in turn would have been keen to put the penniless firebrand in his proper place!

 



The last of Elliott's three letters to Tweddell was written a month later - again in response to a letter from Tweddell.


Great Houghton, 25th Feb., 1845

DEAR SIR,

I thank you for your favour of the 20th instant, and gladly subscribe for your friend's "Songs of the Heart," heartily wishing him success, though the days of verse are numbered. My sonnet on the Dearne is utterly worthless. In "Tait" there are one or two good ones of mine, addressed to our friend Thomas Lister. You will find him in many respects remarkable - a courageous, energetic, gristle-bodied man, with a bump of "I'll have my own way," bigger than a hen's egg, on his summit ridge; his face is handsome, except the eyes, or rather their position, which is cavernous; the eyes themselves are keen and characteristic; his lips are beautiful. If there is truth in phrenology, his observant faculties should be strong and active, as his writings seem to prove. If I had known such a man forty years earlier, I could have climbed Ben Lomond with him, for, with the assistance of my hands, I could then have sprung over such a man. But well-a-day!

My hair is grey, my blood is cold,
The minstrel is infirm and old.

I am, dear Sir, yours very truly,
EBENEZER ELLIOTT

I shall be glad to see you in my den, but home-brewed I have none. When I married "Ar Mester," she agreed that she would have two bairns, a lad and a lass, and the best home-brewed ale in England. She more than kept her promise as to the bairns, for they came so fast that they stopped the brewing.


Towards the end of Elliott's life, he found difficulty in getting his poems published which explains the comment "the days of verse are numbered." Note the rare pun: Elliott wishing a hearty success to "Songs of the Heart." The mention of "Tait" refers to Tait's Edinburgh Magazine.

The description of Thomas Lister is remarkable. Elliott's close friend was the Quaker postmaster of Barnsley.
More can be seen of Lister in the article on Elliott's friends & contacts on this site.

Elliott was very keen to invite people to visit him at his remote home - it gave the bard something to look forward to, the chance of long discussions about the Corn Law, politics & literature plus the opportunity to read his poems to admirers. The agreement with his wife of having just two children is amusing, since Elliott was to sire thirteen children! No wonder, then, the lack of time & energy for beer making!




George Tweddell's poems about Elliott

Tweddell wrote four poems in honour of Elliott, prefaced with a brief note as follows below.

"Sonnets 1 & 2, first published December 15th 1849, were written on hearing of the Death of my esteemed Literary Correspondent, who I was to have visited in his "Den," as he humorously called his retired abode at Hargitt Hill."



SONNET 1

And he is dead! - the Bard who sweetly sung,
In stirring strains, the wrongs of bread-tax'd men;
And for the rights of Labour used his pen
Unceasingly. Few lyres have louder rung
For equal rights, and equal laws for all:
A million hearts obey'd his patriot call,
A million tongues have echoed all its strains;
And whilst one wrong remains to be redress'd,
Whilst man by fellow-man is still oppress'd,
Yea, whilst one word of Shakespeare's tongue remains,
Will ELLIOTT be adored. Much was he bless'd
With that calm spirit which on hills and plains,
By brooks, in woods, field-paths, or rustic lanes,
From Mammon's gyves the Poet's soul unchains.



SONNET 2

But he is dead - all of him that can die!
For the true poet liveth on for aye:
Of ELLIOTT but the body can decay;
His well-tried soul has now soar'd up on high
To swell the choir of angel-harmony,
And yet his spirit will on earth remain,
And down the stream of Time his songs be borne,
To cheer the weak, to solace those in pain,
To teach the patriot he ne'er toils in vain,
Though tyrants for a time may bind the world!
For Freedom will her long-lost rights regain,
And Tyranny to ruin swift be furl'd.
Class-legislator, partial magistrate,
Ye were the objects of his sternest hate.



SONNET 3

They who are truest heroes in the strife
For Liberty, are the most meek of men
When peace prevails: and ELLIOTT's powerful pen
Loves to depict all gentle scenes of life,
And soothe the soul as much as rouse its ire.
Dearly he doted on wildflowers and birds;
Deftly his well-skill'd hand swept the sweet chords,
Bringing true music from his noble lyre,
E'en when the hand of Death had gripp'd him hard,
And his brave life was near upon its close
On earth for ever, at his window rose
The robin's much-loved song; 'twas then the Bard
Trill'd his last lay, by loving hand writ-down,
And in a little time his soul to heaven had flown.


Tweddell sums up the Corn Law Rhymer very well in the first two sonnets which make an excellent tribute to the Rabble's Poet. The third sonnet refers to the touching poem about a robin which Elliott composed on his death bed: "Last Lines" was dictated to his daughter, Fanny Ann.

A further verse was written by George Tweddell about Elliott or more accurately about one of his poems. One of Elliott's most successful poems is "To The Bramble Flower," a simple nature poem, well observed but free from political ideas. Tweddell knew Elliott's poem & clearly admired it since he wrote a poem about the bramble inspired by the Corn Law Rhymer's verses. Both are shown below to aid comparison.




"To The Bramble Flower" by Elliott


"The Bramble" by Tweddell


  Thy fruit full-well the schoolboy knows, 
     Wild bramble of the brake! 
  So, put thou forth thy small white rose; 
     I love it for his sake. 
  Though woodbines flaunt and roses glow 
      O'er all the fragrant bowers, 
  Thou needst not be ashamed to show 
      Thy satin-threaded flowers; 
   For dull the eye, the heart is dull, 
      That cannot feel how fair, 
   Amid all beauty beautiful, 
       Thy tender blossoms are!
   How delicate thy gauzy frill! 
       How rich thy branchy stem! 
   How soft thy voice, when woods are still, 
       And thou sing'st hymns to them; 
   While silent showers are falling slow 
      And, 'mid the general hush, 
   A sweet air lifts the little bough, 
      Lone whispering through the bush! 
   The primrose to the grave is gone; 
      The hawthorn flower is dead; 
   The violet by the moss'd grey stone 
      Hath laid her weary head; 
   But thou, wild bramble! back dost bring, 
      In all their beauteous power, 
   The fresh green days of life's fair spring, 
      And boyhood's blossomy hour. 
   Scorn'd bramble of the brake! once more 
      Thou bid'st me be a boy, 
   To gad with thee the woodlands o'er, 
      In freedom and in joy.


Brave Elliott loved "thy satin-threaded flowers,"
Dear Bramble! All who appreciate those things
Of beauty which Nature as largess flings
So freely over valleys, plains, and moors,
Must share the Corn Law Rhymer's healthy love.
And who in Autumn does not like to taste
Thy pleasant Dewberries? There is no waste
Throughout the universe; for all things move
In strict obedience to the unchanging laws
Wisely laid down by Him who cannot err;
And He alone is His true worshipper
Who studies to obey them. The Great First Cause
Adorns our very brakes with fruit and flowers, -
As if to teach us all that happiness may be ours.


  

For more verses by George Tweddell, see www.tweddellpoetry.co.uk


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