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(1781 - 1849)
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.
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 But it grieves me to say that I have no unpublished non-political poem, except one which is 300 lines too long for any magazine, and having been written as an experiment to combine the humorous and the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
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,
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.
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."
Great Houghton, near Barnsley, 8th
I am, dear Sir, yours truly,
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.
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!
Great Houghton, 25th Feb., 1845
My hair is grey, my blood is cold,
The minstrel is infirm and old.
I am, dear Sir, yours very truly,
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.
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!
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.
Tweddell wrote four poems in honour of Elliott, prefaced with a
brief note as follows below.
George Tweddell's poems about Elliott
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.
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.
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.
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.
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