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The Corn Law Rhymer & Poet of the Poor


1781 -1849

Site Contents:-

The Ebenezer Research Foundry Biographical details Chronology of life & works Elliott's Poetry
Books & theses to read The Elliott Statue Elliott & Robert Southey


Biographical details

"Elliott did not sing, but scream; he did not lament, but blaspheme: his verses were curses showered right and left with indiscriminate frenzy. No matter: they stirred the heart of the multitude, and roused the curiousity of the refined." Chambers' Papers For The People, 1850.

Brief biographical details are given below. After this, there is a longer biography of Elliott in the shape of a talk.[For the most comprehensive biography see the book by Keith Morris & Ray Hearne listed in the Reading List].

Ebenezer Elliott was born at Masbrough, Rotherham (UK) in 1781. Early on, he developed an interest in nature & poetry. While working in a Masbrough iron foundry, he started to get the odd poem published & began a long correspondence with Robert Southey, the eminent poet. In politics & religion, he was a non-conformist who hated injustice & had an interest in the condition of the working man & poor people in general. After going bankrupt in Rotherham, he moved to Sheffield where he did well as an iron & steel merchant. The greatest interest of Elliott's life was in bringing attention to the Corn Laws & getting them repealed. His fierce indignation against the Bread Tax (as he called the Corn Laws) inspired his "Corn Law Rhymes" which made him nationally & internationally famous after their publication in 1831. He died in 1849 & was buried at Darfield Churchyard in the Barnsley area.


Given in Rotherham & Sheffield in 2002 on the launch of the book
"Ebenezer Elliott: Corn Law Rhymer & Poet Of The Poor"

I want to talk this evening about the main points in Elliott's life & about the sort of person he was.

You may not know there were 3 Ebenezer Elliotts; one generation after another - the Corn Law Rhymer was the middle Ebenezer Elliott. The Rhymer's father was a man of many parts who had a great influence on his son. The father was well educated, had an ironmonger's shop on Rotherham High St & worked at the New Foundry at Masbrough where the Corn Law Rhymer had been born in 1781. Dad had an interesting nickname earned by his fanatical preaching which he did - not in a chapel as you might expect - but outside the New Foundry once a month. For his sermons shot with hell-fire & eternal damnation, he was nicknamed Devil Elliott! Politically, he was interesting, too - he was a strong supporter of the French Revolution & a big admirer of the American brand of politics across the Pond. In nearly all these areas, the young Elliott followed in the steps of his charismatic father. Another trait which they shared was poetry: Elliott senior took the Book of Job from the bible & transformed it into a very long poem with 2,000 lines. The Rhymer, himself, was also to favour very long poems!

When young Ebenezer was born, there was some excitement. The newly born baby was fine at birth & to keep him out of harm's way in the cramped house, he was carefully placed in a drawer while his mother received the necessary care & attention. Half an hour later, somebody said: "Where the hell's the baby?" The baby was missing & a frantic search was started. Someone had tidily pushed the drawer to & poor Ebenezer was lost & forgotten. He could easily have suffocated in the drawer, he said later.

Another narrow squeak came from his father. The family home was on the canal bank & bath night in the canal was much easier than fetching buckets of water. On one occasion, Dad absentmindedly held his eldest son under water for far too long & the young lad almost drowned. Subsequently, Ebenezer didn't trust his father & used to strip off & jump in the canal as soon as he saw his father coming!

The next significant event was in 1787 when Elliott caught smallpox. The 6 year old wasn't expected to survive, but surprisingly he pulled through though he was left blind for 6 weeks. The illness left Ebenezer pockmarked - something he was always conscious of. It made him a solitary child even though he was in a large family & the area swarmed with kids. Already we have a sense of Elliott being different from other children - he wasn't yet the solitary poet struggling with his lonely muse, but he was perhaps taking the first steps in that direction.

Ebenezer's narrow escapes from an early death should be seen in the context of the deaths of his brothers & sisters. Ely had died when Ebenezer was 2 & Sophia when he was 4. Jacob was to follow in 1791 when Ebenezer was 10 years old. So it was hardly surprising that Ebenezer should grow up a nervous & insecure child with a morbid streak who always expected to die young; a notion reinforced when he later lost another brother, William. Elliott revealed that he was badly affected by this death.

School days weren't any fun either. Ebenezer was lucky his father could afford to send him to school - you had to pay in those days. Unusually, he was kept at school until he was 16, so he had many years of misery. He was too thick to learn a deal: "I was born dull and slow" he admitted. (This lack of a good education was something the poet always regretted, but it did mean that he had to self-educate himself, something which is part of the self-sufficiency concept we see in Elliott & in the Victorian period). For a time, Elliott went to school at Dalton walking along the River Don watching "the kingfisher shooting along the Don as I hiked school ward through Aldwarke Meadows, eating my lunch 4 hours before dinner time." Because he hated school, Ebenezer was playing truant & he was enjoying spending his time exploring the countryside round Rotherham, observing the plants & local wildlife: he was developing a passion for nature which was to be so significant to him all his life.

Another significant event in Elliott's life was when he saw a public flogging in Rotherham town centre. A lad called Yates had stolen a chicken & was sentenced to be flogged behind a cart. Elliott knew Yates, who was also from Masbrough, & was horrified at seeing the lad's back being ripped apart by the law's barbarous punishment. At this impressionable age, the young Elliott was incensed by the cruelty of the law & he was thus sensitised at an early age to the injustices of society. Again this was a significant marker in Elliott's development.

Around this time there were 2 or 3 events which shaped Ebenezer's life. Firstly, his father fed up with his truanting son, set him to work in the foundry as a punishment. To his surprise the reluctant scholar discovered he actually liked working; something else he discovered was the alehouse & going out boozing with his workmates! In contrast, he had just discovered his father's library & was becoming a keen reader, being very attracted to the verse of John Milton

To sum up so far, we see Ebenezer as a solitary figure developing an interest in poetry & in nature.

These 2 interests were to alter his life. One Sunday morning, after a heavy night's drinking, the young man turned up at his Aunt Robinson's & picked up a botany book, Sowerby's "English Botany." He was entranced by the colour plates of flowers. His aunt encouraged him to make his own flower drawings & he was thrilled to find he had a flair for it. This aptitude greatly improved his morale & he no longer felt over-shadowed by Giles, his young brother. The latter, who was handsome, articulate & clever, also had a sudden influence on Ebenezer. When Giles read out a poem from Thomson's "Seasons" about polyanthus & auricular flowers, Ebenezer was overwhelmed with excitement: he suddenly realised poetry & botany could be linked. His favourite pastimes could all be combined: walking in the countryside, studying nature, collecting & pressing wild flowers, drawing them, writing poems about nature & decorating them with flower illustrations. This was a turning point in the poet's life.

Such was Elliott's enthusiasm for his new outlook that he spent most of his spare time either reading poetry or composing his own efforts which received mixed results. An early poem was ridiculed as he had some sheep scampering away across the meadows; this was unlikely as lightning had killed them off earlier in the poem! However, locally, people were starting to pay attention to the young man's aspirations. One was a Rotherham minister, Rev Jacob Brettell. Elliott submitted his poems to Rev Brettell & they enjoyed discussing them and improving them. We know, too, that Earl Fitzwilliam was impressed by Elliott's early work.

The biggest influence on the young poet was undoubtedly Robert Southey who later became Poet Laureate. In 1808 Ebenezer wrote to Southey asking for advice on getting published. Elliott was absolutely delighted when the great man replied. Their correspondence over the years gave Ebenezer tremendous encouragement & reinforced his determination to make a name for himself as a poet. The letters lasted until 1824, and the Corn Law Rhymer declared that it was Southey who had taught him the art of poetry.

The iron business was another dominant element in the poet's story. He enjoyed working in the New Foundry at Masbrough so much that he didn't take a wage for 9 years! Elliott's father eventually took over the New Foundry & later Ebenezer replaced his father. Business was tough & getting tougher, causing the foundry business to go bankrupt. Early commentators concluded that this happened in 1820 or 1821; later research pinpointed 1819, the year Elliott left Rotherham, but it can be revealed here, for the first time, that the Corn Law Rhymer actually went bankrupt in 1816 when he was 35 years old. Now going bankrupt would have been a terrible blow to the poet's morale & in a small town like Rotherham the humiliation would have been immense. Poor Ebenezer lost his pride, lost his business & lost his home; he was reduced to begging & for a time suicide was attractive.

At the end of 1819, Elliott made a bold decision & set off for unknown territory emigrating to distant Sheffield taking his wife, children & possessions on the back of a horse & cart. He set up in Burgess St in the town centre as an iron merchant & did nicely, soon having an iron & steel warehouse in Gibraltar St & a villa in rural Upperthorpe as well. The bankruptcy had taught Elliott to be a very careful businessman & he developed a good reputation as a canny dealer who could ride the ups & downs in trade. So you could say that Ebenezer benefited in the end from the bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy had been caused by the Corn Laws, Elliott insisted. Here is the final piece in the Rhymer story. He constantly raged against the Bread Tax as he called the Corn Laws & this rage was expressed strongly in his "Corn Law Rhymes." The demand to repeal the Corn Laws became the greatest issue in Ebenezer's life and his "Corn Law Rhymes" made him nationally famous. His poems were even published in the USA, & the French magazine, Le Revue Des Deux Mondes, even sent a journalist all the way to Sheffield to interview the ferocious revolutionary, which was how the establishment viewed the Rhymer. The journalist was very surprised when he found Elliott to be a mild man with a nervous temperament - he wasn't the fearful drinker of blood the magazine had expected him to be!

So we realise the public figure was very different from the private person. At home he was dutiful, quiet & kind; spending his spare time reading or keeping in touch with friends, often through correspondence. Yet he was an excitable person. A good example of this was when a clerical gent had a row in the workshop with one of Ebenezer's friends. This wasn't on! The furious poet picked up a broomstick & clouted the reverend gentleman with it chasing him out of the workshop & down the street.

This excitable nature was a factor in Elliott's decision to leave Sheffield - he was a celebrity - and was always being asked to speak at this meeting & to support that cause. Wherever he was involved, he gave his all & would often over-exert himself. His doctor told him that he simply had to lead a quiet life. If he didn't, he was likely to drop dead during his furious tirades against the Bread Tax. So in 1841 Ebenezer shocked everybody by abandoning Sheffield for a house at Hargate Hill near Great Houghton where as he grew older he suffered from poor health & depression. He died in 1849 following an attempt at self-surgery.

To conclude, I am going to read you two items. One is a nice letter about Elliott, the other is a poem Elliott wrote which says much about how he saw himself. It is called:-

The Poet's Epitaph

Stop, Mortal! Here thy brother lies,
The Poet of the Poor.
His books were rivers, woods and skies,
The meadow and the moor,
His teachers were the torn hearts' wail,
The tyrant, and the slave,
The street, the factory, the jail,
The palace - and the grave!
The meanest thing, earth's feeblest worm,
He fear'd to scorn or hate;
And honour'd in a peasant's form
The equal of the great.

But if he loved the rich who make
The poor man's little more,
Ill could he praise the rich who take
From plunder'd labour's store.
A hand to do, a head to plan,
A heart to feel and dare -
Tell man's worst foes, here lies the man
Who drew them as they are.

The second item is by Thomas Carlyle, the eminent writer & the leading critic of the day. The grand old man of English literature wrote the following letter about Elliott to the editor of the Edinburgh Review:-

"I write at present mainly to ask you about some Poetical Pieces, entitled Corn Law Rhymes, the Village Patriarch etc; and whether a short notice of them would be acceptable for your next Number. The Author appears to be a middle-aged Mechanic, at least Poor Man, of Sheffield or the neighbourhood: a Radical, yet not without devoutness; passionate, affectionate, thoroughly in earnest. His Rhymes have more of sincerity, and genuine natural fire than anything which has come my way of late years: both on himself and his writings, and their social and moral purport, there were several things to be said. I would also do the unknown man a kindness, or rather a piece of justice, for he is, what so few are, A Man and no Clothes-horse."

Keith Morris 2002



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Three Great Tributes to Elliott

In 2009, a public house called The Corn Law Rhymer was opened in Rotherham; the  pub (a Wetherspoon's house) is situated at the top of High Street. Rotherham High Street played a large part in the poet's life: firstly, Elliott as a teenager worked in his father's ironmongers shop near the top of High Street; secondly, in 1813 Elliott accosted Lord Byron outside the Old Bank at the foot of High St (the bank is still there); and lastly, the poet's bankruptcy hearing in 1816 was held at the Crown Inn half way up High Street.

A second tribute to Elliott also came in 2009: an artwork called "Harvest" was erected on a Rotherham traffic island. The artwork celebrates Elliott's "Corn Law Rhymes" and displays giant ears of corn blowing in the wind & leaning towards Rotherham town centre a mile away. The town council has officially named the roundabout where the artwork stands "Rhymer's Roundabout."

A third great tribute to Elliott came
 from the USA in a poem written by the Quaker poet, John Greenleaf Whittier.
The picture of Whittier (below) shows him in 1844 when he was 37 years old.

Born in Massachusetts in 1807, Whittier campaigned for the end of slavery & many of his poems deal with this theme, although he also wrote on rural topics. Whittier worked as a newspaper editor & liked to include poems in his papers; both his own poems & those of other up & coming young poets. Whittier also wrote hymns; some of which remain popular today. He was later very famous as a politician - the Idaho city called Greenleaf was named after him. Whittier was once described as "the poet of freedom and philanthropy." [The curious christian name, Greenleaf, probably suggests Scottish ancestry since Greenleaf occurs as a Scottish surname].

It is interesting that Whittier knew enough about Elliott & was sufficiently moved by the Corn Law Rhymer's death to write the verses below. The two poets clearly had much in common: both were determined campaigners & both faced powerful & aggressive opposition.

We know that Elliott's poems were published in the USA & he was much appreciated there as a reformer.

It is vaguely possible that Elliott and Whittier met in 1840 though this is not recorded anywhere. Elliott's Barnsley friend,
Thomas Lister, who was also a Quaker poet, did actually meet Whittier.  If this meeting took place at Lister's home in Barnsley, this was only a few miles from Elliott's house and inevitably Elliott would have been there. However, Artificial Intelligence now reports that Lister attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, so Whittier and Lister met in London - and not in Barnsley. Another possible connection was the Quaker , Henry Brewster Stanton, a lawyer friend of Whittier, who also fought to end slavery. Stanton, too, came to England to attend the World Anti-Slavery Convention on June 12th 1840 in London & was invited to speak all over the country. He & his wife took the opportunity to visit many Quaker families during their travels. While in Yorkshire, Stanton met Ebenezer Elliott at the latter's Sheffield workshop in 1840. (It appears that Whittier did not accompany his friend, Stanton, on his travels to Yorkshire since Stanton did not mention him. And surely Whittier would have left a record of meeting with the famous Corn Law Rhymer? Conclusion: Elliott and Whittier did not meet.)

Whatever the link between Whittier & the Corn Law Rhymer, Whittier's poem is simply called "Elliott"


Hands off! thou tithe-fat plunderer! play
No trick of priestcraft here!
Back, puny lordling! darest thou lay
A hand on Elliott's bier?
Alive, your rank and pomp, as dust,
Beneath his feet he trod:
He knew the locust swarm that cursed
The harvest-fields of God.

On these pale lips, the smothered thought
Which England's millions feel,
A fierce and fearful splendour caught,
As from his forge the steel.
Strong-armed as Thor, - and a shower of fire
His smitten anvil flung;
God's curse, Earth's wrong, dumb Hunger's ire,
He gave them all a tongue!

Then let the poor man's horny hands
Bear up the mighty dead,
And labour's swart and stalwart bands,
Behind as mourners tread.
Leave cant and craft their baptized bounds,
Leave rank its minister floor;
Give England's green and daisied grounds
The poet of the poor!

Lay down upon his Sheaf's green verge
That brave old heart of oak,
With fitting dirge from sounding forge,
And pall of furnace smoke!
Where whirls the stone its dizzy rounds,
And axe and sledge are swung,
And, timing to their stormy sounds,
His stormy lays are sung.

There let the peasant's step be heard,
The grinder chant his rhyme;
Nor patron's praise nor dainty word
Befits the man or time.
No soft lament nor dreamer's sigh
For him whose words were bread, -
The Runic rhyme and spell whereby
The foodless poor were fed!

Pile up thy tombs of rank and pride,
O England, as thou wilt!
With pomp to nameless worth denied,
Emblazon titled guilt!
No part or lot in these we claim;
But, o'er the sounding wave,
A common right to Elliott's name,
A freehold in his grave

A further tribute to Elliott came in March 2013, when the Rotherham District Civic Society erected a blue plaque for the  "rabble's poet" at Rotherham's medical Walk-in Centre. The plaque marked the site of the iron foundry where the Corn Law Rhymer was born in 1781.

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Chronology for Ebenezer Elliott


The main events in the Corn Law Rhymer's life are listed below.

1781   Born at Masbrough, Rotherham, Mar 17th
1787   Caught smallpox
1790   Ran away from home
1797   Started work at the New Foundry, Masbrough
1798   First poem written: "The Vernal Walk"
1801   Above poem published
1806   Married Fanny Gartside
1807   Birth of first child, Ebenezer
1813   Encountered Byron in Rotherham
1815   Mother died
1816   Went bankrupt
1819   Moved to Sheffield
1822   Father died
1823   Met Robert Southey
1830   Founded first anti-corn law sociey in UK
1831   "Corn Law Rhymes" published
1832   Reform Act passed by parliament
1834   Moved to rural Upperthorpe
1838   Attended Chartist Meeting, Westminster
1839   Renounced Chartism
1840   Poetical Works published
1841   Wrote a fragment of autobiography
1841   Moved to Hargate Hill,near Barnsley
1846   Corn Laws repealed
1849   Corn Laws officially abolished
1849   Elliott died 1st Dec

For a detailed chronology of the life & work, please click here

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Reading List


Below are listed the main sources of information on the Corn Law Rhymer, both books & theses. Most of the books are out of print, but can probably be viewed in major library collections. The theses can probably be obtained on inter-library loan.



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Some Early Reviews of Elliott's Poetry

The Monthly Repository  Volume 6 1832,  p189-201

CORN LAW RHYMES: THE RANTER  (1ST ED 1830)    The New Monthly Magazine  Volume 31 1831  p289-295

THE RANTER  (1ST ED 1830)   For an introduction to the poem, the  full text of the poem and notes on The Preface To The Ranter, see The Ranter

CORN LAW RHYMES (2nd ed)    Athenaeum  1831  June 11th & 18th
CORN LAW RHYMES*  (3rd ed )  
The Monthly Repository  Volume 6 1832, p189-201
MORE VERSE AND PROSE     Westminster And Foreign Quarterly Review    Volume 53  1850

POETICAL WORKS ed by Edwin Elliott (the poet's son)    Dublin University Magazine  Volume 89 1877,  p148-153

* Both of these are reviewed in an article called "The Poor And Their Poetry."


SHEFFIELD AND ROTHERHAM INDEPENDENT    1849   Dec 8th    (NB Elliott died Sat 1st December, aged 68)
GENTLEMENS MAGAZINE    Volume 33  1850,  p214-7

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The Statue of Ebenezer Elliott


The statue of the Corn Law Rhymer is to be found in Sheffield's Weston Park, almost opposite the Children's Hospital. The statue was originally erected in 1854 outside the Post Office in Market Place which is now called High Street. It was moved into its present position in Weston Park in 1874.

The statue was funded by the people of Sheffield & Rotherham. The sculptor, Neville Burnard (1818-78), was selected to produce the statue. Burnard was born in a Cornish fishing village & taught himself how to sculpture stone. He later gained experience in several London workshops, including that of Francis Chantrey - the famous sculptor from Sheffield.

The rock on which the Poet of the Poor is seated reflects a favourite rock in the Rivelin Valley where Elliott liked to perch, to ponder the power of nature & to work on his latest verses.

The statue was cast in bronze, while the pedestal is granite. Elliott was a legend in his day & the pedestal was simply inscribed "ELLIOTT."

Today, the Friends of Crookes Valley & Weston Park keep a watchful eye on the statue. The Friends have helped with bids to restore many heritage features in Weston Park including work on Ebenezer's statue. In 2008, an information board was provided giving biographical details of the Corn Law Rhymer & the statue itself was restored.

When the statue was erected in 1854, a poem was written for the occasion by Walter Savage Landor (1775 - 1865). Landor was a prolific poet of the Romantic movement & was a great friend of Robert Southey, Elliott's mentor. The title of Landor's poem is very long & he gets the sculptor's name wrong - as do a few other commentators!

"On the Statue of Ebenezer Elliott by Neville Burnand,
Ordered by the Working Men of Sheffield"

Glory to those who give it! who erect
The bronze and marble, not where frothy tongue
Or bloody hand points out---no, but where God
Ordains the humble to walk forth before
The humble, and mount higher than the high.
Wisely, O Sheffield, wisely hast thou done
To place thy Elliott on the plinth of fame;
Wisely hast chosen for that solemn deed
One like himself, born where no mother's love
Wrapt purple round him, nor rang golden bell,
Pendant from Libyan coral, in his ear,
To catch a smile or calm a petulance;
Nor tickled downy scalp with Belgic lace;
But whom strong genius took from poverty,
And said, Rise, mother, and behold thy child!
She rose, and Pride rose with her but was mute.

Three Elliotts there have been, three glorious men,
Each in his generation. One was doom'd
By despotism and prelacy to pine
In the damp dungeon, and to die for Law,
Rack'd by slow tortures ere he reacht the grave.
A second hurled his thunderbolt and flame
When Gaul and Spaniard moor'd their pinnaces,
Screaming defiance at Gibraltar's frown,
Until one moment more, and other screams,
And other writhings rose above the wave
From sails afire and hissing where they fell,
And men half burnt along the buoyant mast.
A third came calmly on and askt the rich
To give laborious hunger daily bread,
As they in childhood had been taught to pray
By God's own Son, and sometimes have prayed since.
God heard; but they heard not. God sent down bread;
They took it, kept it all, and cried for more,
Hollowing both hands to catch and clutch the crumbs.
I may not live to hear another voice,
Elliott, of power to penetrate as thine,
Dense multitudes; another none may see,
Leading the muses from unthrifty shades,
To fields where corn gladdens the heart of man,
And where the trumpet with defiant blast
Blows in the face of war and yields to peace.
Therefor take thou these leaves, fresh, firm, tho' scant,---
To crown the City that crowns thee her son.
She must decay: Toledo hath decaid;
Ebro hath half forgotten what bright arms
Flasht on his waters; what high dames adorn'd
The baldric; what torn flags o'erhung the aile;
What parting gift the ransom'd knight exchanged.
But louder than the anvil rings the lyre;
And thine hath raised another City's wall
In solid strength to a proud eminence,
Which neither conqueror, crushing braver men,
Nor time, o'ercoming conquerer, can destroy.
So now, ennobled by thy birth, to thee
She lifts with pious love the thoughtful stone.
Genius is tired in search of gratitude;
Here they have met; may neither say farewell.

There are some amusing anecdotes & further information on the statue available elsewhere on this site, if you click here

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Ebenezer Elliott and Robert Southey

Robert Southey was one of the leading poets of his day & became Poet Laureate in 1813; in fact he was a more popular poet in his time than William Wordsworth.


Robert Southey

Southey & Elliott only met once. This was in Sheffield in November 1823. Afterwards, Southey wrote to his wife: "Did I tell you the Rotheram (sic) man's name was Ebenezer? We all like him hugely."

Southey was enormously influential in guiding the young Elliott through his early struggles with poetry. Something which Elliott always recognised. After Elliott had become a well known poet, he volunteered that "it was Southey who taught me the art of poetry." Samuel Smiles (of "Self Help" fame) visited Elliott in his later years at Hargate Hill & said: "Of Southey, he spoke in terms of much affection. 'Southey,' he said, 'does not like my politics: he thinks me rabid: but he admires my poetry ... I am much indebted to him for his kindness and goodness.'"

Elliott started writing to Southey in 1808. After 1824, they no longer are writing letters to each other. So when the Corn Law Rhymes appeared in 1831, it is perhaps not too surprising that Elliott did not send a copy of the book to Southey. On receiving a copy of the Corn Law Rhymes from William Wordsworth, Southey recalled his meeting with Elliott & made some interesting observations about him in a letter to Lord Mahon in 1833:-

"It was a remarkable face, with pale grey eyes, full of fire and meaning, and well suited to a frankness of manner and an apparent simplicity of character ... I never suspected him of giving his mind to any other object than poetry, till Wordsworth put the Corn Law Rhymes into my hands."

The Correspondence between Elliott & Robert Southey

Elliott's first letter to Southey, asking for advice on how to get his poetry published. Southey wrote back on 13th October urging Elliott to keep practising writing poems & to submit them to newspapers. "My advice to you is, to go on improving yourself." Southey also commented about Elliott's poem, The Soldier's Love: "From that specimen of your production which is now in my writing desk, I have no doubt that you possess the feeling of a poet, and may distinguish yourself."

Southey letter from Keswick on Feb 3rd 1809. The following are the more interesting extracts: "You are probably a young man, Sir, and it is plain from this specimen that you possess more than one of those powers which form the poet, and those in a far more than ordinary degree." Southey also commented: "The sum of my advice is - do not publish this poem, but if you can without grievous imprudence afford to write poetry, continue to do so, because, hereafter, you will write it well. As yet you have only green fruit to offer; wait a season, and there will be a fair and full gathering when it is ripe."
Elliott made the following reply: on 10th March 1809:-


On my return this evening I find your favour of the third February. I hope I need not say how much I am obligd to you for the candour and friendliness of your letter. It is just such a letter as I should expect from Mr Southey. Kindness costs a good man little, but it is not the less valuable on that account.

I have long thought the poem unmarketable. Sorry that your opinion confirmed my own. I determine to follow your advice.

I am a tradesman, at school I was not taught grammar. I have since endeavoured to learn the english [sic] language. From the age of sixteen my leisure hours have been devoted to poetry; and, when you are told that I have been eleven years a writer of verses, you will perhaps cease to think favourably of my abilities. Yet If I live I will be a poet. But I have much reason to believe I shall not live long, and have on that account been anxious for publication.

There are no persons in the world who care for me, except my wife and her sisters, good but not literary ladies, who are not acquainted with the master-wish of my heart to live beyond the life of man: so that if I die young I shall leave no memorial behind.

I am


with sincere respect your obliged & obed servt

Ebenezer Elliott

Elliott wrote another letter on 30th October & addressed it to 'Robert Southey/ Keswick/ Cumberland'. The letter contained an unpublished poem with the evocative title: "On A Snowdrop Seen By Moonlight." The text of the poem is given below. Obscurities in the poem may stem from the autograph manuscript which is faded and difficult to read or they may be caused by the clumsy young Elliott (aged 28) who still has to learn his trade with Southey's patient help! The original is to be found in Rotherham Archives.

Lily of Winter! daughter of the storm!
Oh hide thy lovely whiteness from his ire;
For, strong to ruin, oer thy lovely form
Growls the harsh wrath of thine horrific sire.
Poor trembling flower, how dismal are these vales
As in the morn the vast clouds hurried fly!
Thy circling hills are herbless; and rude gales
Bear Winter's strength, like fate, along the sky
Yet, tho the landscape wide is wildly drear
And scourged by storms that bow thine humbled head,
Thy simple smile and vernal grace appear
Like Spring reposing on a snowy bed.
Alas pale flower of Winter's paler snows
Thou smiles thro' horrors, beautifully lone,
And thou mayst smile beneath the storm of woes,
Sits North unblessed, but not like North unknown.
Silent tho' wrong'd! Gadst thou the train of May?
Art thou the harbinger of vernal hours?
Grant thou (beauteous in declension) Say,
The last the loveliest ruin of the flowers?
Which een thou art; while storms on storms arise,
And ocean humbles oer his rocky isles,
His white foam mingling with the troubled skies
I turn to thee and lo the desert smiles!


A further letter from Southey to Elliott was written from Keswick in the Lake District on Nov 22nd 1809. The following are all extracts from it: "There are in this poem unquestionable marks both of genius and the power of expressing it." However, Southey adds that Elliott must learn how to plan out a poem & goes on to say: "In your execution you are too exuberant in ornament ... This makes you indistinct." He suggests Elliott should copy Spenser & then adds: "Your language would well suit the drama: have your thoughts ever been turned to it?" If Southey's travels ever take him near to Rotherham, hewould like to meet Elliott (they were to meet eventually in Sheffield in November 1823). "It would give me great pleasure to be of any service to a man of genius, and such I believe you to be," Southey wrote though he qualified his flattery by commenting: "I have no doubt that you will succeed in attaining the fame after which you aspire; but you have yet to learn how to plan a poem."

1810 - 1819
Several letters were written in this period.

Southey wrote: "your couplets have great point and vigour." On 24th September, the Corn Law Rhymer wrote to Southey: "I thank you for your very kind letter. I have long been aware that the higher I pitch my tone the better I succeed ... I have made one attempt more to rise to the simplicity of truth to nature, and I will contrive some way to forward it to you free of expence, for your perusal."

1823 - 1824
After their Nov 1823 meeting in a Sheffield inn, Southey moved on his travels to Bakewell in Derbyshire from where on the following day he wrote to Elliott expressing concern about Elliott's eldest son. In 1824, Southey wrote to Elliott from Richmond in North Yorkshire and also from Keswick. On both occasions, Southey advised Elliott on getting his oldest son accepted at university. We can conclude that the Sheffield meeting discussed a university education for Eliott's eldest as well as such topics as poetry & the Corn Laws. Elliott followed the advice from the Poet Laureate & the Rhymer's eldest son did go to university.

For a long article by Southey on the "Corn Law Rhymes," please click here

Wordsworth letter to Montgomery 1843, concerning Ebenezer Elliott

Following the death of Robert Southey on March 21st 1843, Wordsworth wrote to James Montgomery and asked him about some letters written by Southey which were in the possession of the Corn Law Rhymer. Presumably the letters could make a good source for any biography of Southey, who had been Poet Laureate from 1813-1843. Extracts from Wordsworth's letter to Montgomery are shown below. Montgomery was Sheffield's celebrated hymn writer, poet and newspaper man. Information on Montgomery is available here.

To James Montgomery

Rydal Mount  2nd June 1843

My Dear Sir,

       I am very sorry that you have been at all anxious about the result of your application to Mr Elliot. Immediately he wrote to me, and told me that the letters in his possession should be forwarded, as requested to Mr Taylor. He was quite earnest in his determination, and strongly expressed his regret that in compliance with the persecuting solicitations of certain American autograph-hunters, he had parted with several letters which he had received from Mr Southey.I have just

[Wordsworth then makes some comments on Mr Taylor's health]

         I have just turned to Mr Elliott's letter and will transcribe part of his words - "I still have thirteen letters of Mr S. which (with others if I can recover them) I will forward in about a week." So that my dear Sir we may both be easy upon the subject; I must however repeat my regret, that it has occasioned you so much trouble.

[Wordsworth then comments on how he was pressurised to accept the Poet Laureatship]

Wm Wordsworth            

         My letters are all scrawls, therefore excuse this.

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Elliot wrote 21 poems entitled "Song" and 11 entitled "Hymn" to which can be added the twenty poems contained under the title "Corn Law Hymns." Elliott often meant his poems to be sung and indeed often sang them to friends and visitors.

There is a village in Saskatchewan, Canada, called Ebenezer.

There is a district in Queensland, Australia, called Ebenezer.

In Jersey, a section of the A8 highway is called La Route D'Ebenezer. (There is an Ebenezer Methodist Church on this part of the highway). It's about 6 kilometres from St Helier, the capital of Jersey.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the shortest street in the world is Ebenezer Place. This street in Wick, Scotland, is only 2.05 m long. In 1883, a building called 1, Ebenezer Place was constructed there. The owner was instructed to fix a street name to the building, which is how the street name Ebenezer Place evolved. The building is now Mackays Hotel.

There is also an Ebenezer Place in Bangor, North Wales.

The Corn Law Rhymer never visited Scotland or Wales.

Ebenezer appears frequently as part of a street name. For instance: Ebenezer Street is a street in London, Pontypridd and Billington. While  Ebenezer Terrace is in Filey. There is an Ebenezer Road in Paignton, in Cincinnati, in Llanedi and Hendy. Please note this listing does not attempt to be exhaustive!

Ebenezer was born in Rotherham and became famous while living in Sheffield. In his poems, he mentions Sheffield fifteen times and Rotherham twice.

Regarding agitation to repeal the Corn Laws, Ebenezer once said: "I have won my name as the 'Rhymer of the Revolution.' "

There are 50 original articles available on this site about the Corn Law Rhymer. View them on the Ebenezer Research Foundry.

There are descendants of Ebenezer in Jamaica through his grandson George Edwin Elliott (1816-1901). One of the descendants lives in the USA - Dane Elliott-Lewis by name.

Elliott's grave in Darfield Church cemetery was cleaned and restored in 2012.

When Elliott lived in Great Houghton, he had a large black Newfoundland dog called Tiger.

The distinguished American lawyer & politician,  H B. Stanton, was a great admirer of Elliott. In his 1850 book "Reforms & Reformers of Great Britain and Ireland"  described Elliott as "The Bard of Artisans."  He also referred to Elliott as "The Iron Poet of Sheffield."

Just for amusement, Artificial Intelligence (AI) was asked to write a poem in the style of Elliott. This below is what was concocted. Good, isn't it?

I sing of corn, the golden grain

That feeds the poor and fills the plain;

I sing of bread, the staff of life

That cheers the heart and ends the strife.

But ah! what woes the corn laws bring

To those who toil and those who sing!

They starve the poor, they rob the rich,

They make the land a dismal ditch.


They curse the farmer, crush the mill,

They blast the trade, they stop the skill;

They dim the sun, they chill the air,

They spread despair and dark despair.

But soon shall come a brighter day

When corn laws shall be swept away;

When bread shall be both cheap and good,

And plenty smile on every rood.


Then shall the poor man raise his head,
And bless the hand that gives him bread;
Then shall the rich man share his store,
And love his brother more and more.
Then shall the land be truly free,
And peace and joy and liberty
Shall crown the hills and fill the vales,
And echo in my humble tales.

This site compiled by Keith Morris  (UK)



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