Page images
PDF
EPUB

domitable resolution to work-to work despite bodily pain-to make that great truth, LABORARE Est ORARE, the guiding principle of each day's toil. “Many men," writes Julius Hare, “spend their lives in gazing at their own shadows, and so dwindle away into shadows thereof." Not thus John Banim ; he had hopes and aspirations, but no shadows; shadows are but the fancy-created children of day-dreamers, and pass away as we enter upon the reality of the world-its honest toils, its earnest efforts.

And if it shall be said that in Banim's fiction there is too much of the sombre bue; that pain and grief are too frequently, with the fiercer passions, made the topics of his novels, the reader will ask, are not these the points in the drama of existence; was not John Banim writing the innerviost experiences of his own soul and of his own feelings; was he not proving by writing thus that thought expressed by Henry Taylor, “Out of the heart are the issues of life, and out of the life are the issues of poetry" -- that is of genius ?

ART. III.—THE POETS OF LABOR.

1. Poems. By Robert Nicoll. Second Edition : With

Numerous Additions, and a Memoir of the Author.

Edinburgh : Tait. 1842. 2. The Ballad of Babe Christabel, with other Lyrical Poems.

By Gerald Massey. Fourth Edition : Revised and En

larged. London: Bogue. 1854. We have, in The Irish QUARTERLY REVIEW, written of the poets of Conviviality and of the poets of Fashion,* and why should we not write of the poets of Labor: not, of necessity, of those who have sung of Labor, but of those who, springing from the sons of toil, have obeyed the instinct of Genius, and have burst into song? Where can we find love, and kindness, and self-denial, and heroic patience, shining with so glowing a glory as amongst the poor? True, they have their vices, the clouds upon their brightness, as have the rich-there are foul quagmires upon the hills as well as in the valleys—but in the deep feelings with which our great common

• See Vol. III., No. 9, p. 120 : Do. No. 11, p. 626.

mother, Nature, imbues us, she gives to the poor, through the harsh training of suffering, the most exquisite sense, the most perfect acquaintance with all the joys and woes, the smiles and tears of life. True, these feelings and experiences can not produce a poet who will compose an epic poem--but every day existence has nothing epic about it.

But although this life of the poor may not be epic in its traits, it has pathos and passion, such as the lives of the rich can never present. There is not an alley of our cities, not a hamlet of our counties, but has its humble households where, amidst the lowly, sordid, grasping cares of busy life, great deeds of holy worth are done, known but to the actors, and the Omniscient Father of the poor and of the rich.

We have heard it said-there can be no true poetry amongst the poor. Is there no feeling, no hope, no love, no hate, amongst the poor? and what are all these but Nature, and what is Poetry but the uttered spirit of Nature. Who reads The Cottar's Saturday Night and denies that there is poetry amongst the poor? Who reads The Gentle Shepherd and declares that there is no poetry amongst the poor? And then Crabbe,

-Nature's sternest painter, yet the best ;" take Crabb, who made the woes and wrongs of the poor his theme; take Crabbe who, as Ebenezer Elliott wrote, “ clasps his hideous mistress in his arms, and she rewards liim with her confidence, by telling him all her dreadful secrets,"-take Crabbe, -- from first to last of his works is not poetry drawn from the every day life of the poor? Wordsworth, too, has found poetry in the life of that sad one who said,

“And homeless near a thousand homes I stood, And near a thousand tables pined and wanted food."* From Crabbe and Wordsworth, but chiefly from the former, our Poets of Labor have derived their inspiration. Doubtless Burns has had a very considerable share in forming this section of writers, but he alone could never have been the founder of this band.

Could Hood have had these lines from “The Female Vagrant” in mind, when writing the following, in “The Bridge of Sighs"

“Oh! it was pitiful
Near a whole city full,

Home she had none."

And how that spirit of poesy enters into the soul of the Poet of Labor : it becomes the object of his life; the witching, luring, temptress, blinding him to every consequence, and hurrying him onward to beggary, or to that fame which comes to men of his order as a curse. Warnings and cautions are unheeded; the enchantress holds them in her toils; the shores where the Syrens dwelt were covered by the bones of those who had been the victims of temptation, yet over these bones youths passed enslaved by the same longings and desires, and so it is with those of whom we write-the Muse is the Syren, the highways of life are her shore.*

Amongst the most remarkable of our Poets of Labor are those the titles of whose works we have placed as the heading of this paper : Nicoll formed by the genius of Burns and of Elliott ; Massey owing his first inspiration to Elliott, his latest to Tennyson. And when one comes to consider the social position of these two men ; the hard struggles; the earnest, longing, love of books; the aspirations felt even in childhood; the fire of poetry—the light of Genius-burning brightly in their souls, even amidst the depressing, chilling horrors of poverty, neglect, and hardship, how gloriously the melody and vigor of their lines fall upon the ear, and we discern a charm far above the charm of thought and rhythm in the poems of the Cow Herd and of the Factory Boy.

And herein, too, in judging these men, we learn another solemn truth-that the poet and the man are one; that poetry is, and ever must be, " the fruit of the whole moral, spiritual, intellectual, and practical being.” Hence it is that the early days dreamed and wondered away amidst the quiet scenes of Auchtergaven, where he read, in his twelfth year, the Waverley Novels, whilst herding the cows, have given an exquisite gentleness to the thoughts of Nicoll, being but the reflection of his own mind so formed in these early years. Hence it is that Gerald Massey, " dragged up" into manhood amidst the cold, iron, hardships of manufacturing town life, shrieks defiance at all the world of oppressors; or, turning to that only link binding him to humanity-bis wife-his love breaks forth in strains that prove his existence to be passion-great, noble, if properly guided-whole-heart passion ;-and whether he shouts in the fierce agony of one who suffers yet cannot strike,

See “ Essays and Selections," by Basil Montagu. London: Pickering, 1837.

SMITTEN stones will talk with fiery tongues,

And the worm, when trodden, will turn;
But, Cowards, ye cringe to the cruellest wrongs,

And answer with never a spurn.
Then torture, 0 Tyrants, the spiritless drove,

Old England's Úlots will bear:
There's no hell in their hatred, no God in their love,

Nor shame in their dearth's despair.
For our Fathers are praying for Pauper-pay,

Our Mothers with Death's kiss are white;
Our Sons are the rich man's Serfs by day,

And our Daughters his Slaves by night. or whether he cries enraptured

One morning, my Love, like another Eve, found me :
She lookt, and a maëlstrom of joy whirl'd my bosom;

She smiled, and my being ran bliss to the brim:
She

spake, and my eager heart flusht into blossom ;
Dear Heaven ! 'twas the music set to my Life's hymn!
And up went my soul to God, shouting for glee,

"I love my Love, and my Love loves me." he is still himself-his heart, his being, his individuality are in his poem. Truly does he tell us

“I keep my political verses as memorials of my past, as one inight keep some worn-out garment because he had passed through the furnace in it, nothing doubting that in the future they will often prove my passport to the hearts and homes of thousands of the poor, when the minstrel comes to their door with something better to bring them. They will know that I have suffered their sufferings, wept their tears, thought their thonghts, and felt their feelings; and they will trust me.

I have been congratulated by some correspondents on the uses of suffering, and the riches I have wrung from Poverty : as though it were a blessed thing to be born in the condition in which I was, and surrounded with untoward circumstances as I have been. My experience tells me that Poverty is inimical to the development of Humanity's noblest attributes." Poverty is a never-ceasing struggle for the means of living, and it makes one hard and selfish. To be sure, noble lives have been wrought out in the sternest poverty: Many such are being wrought out now, by the unknown heroes and martyrs of the Poor. I have known men and women in the very worst circumstances, to whom heroism seemed a heritage, and to be noble a natural way of living. But they were so in spite of their poverty, and not because of it. What they might have been if the world had done better by them, I cannot tell; but if their minds had been enriched by culture, the world had been the gainer. When Christ said, “Blessed are they who suffer,' he did not speak of those who suffer from want and hunger, and who always see the Bastile looming up and blotting out the sky of their future. Such suffering brutalizes True,-natures ripen and strengthen in suffering; but it is that suffering which chastens and ennobles ---that which clears the spiritual sight,-not the anxiety lest work should fail, and the want of daily bread. The beauty of Šuffering is not to be read in the face of Hunger."

And thus too it was with Robert Nicoll: “I have written," he stated in a letter to a friend, "my heart in my poems; and rude,

To live again the happiest hours

Of happy days gane by,

unfinished, and hasty as they are, it can be read there:"truly and openly he wrote his heart in these poems,-and when he tells us :"A pleasant thing it is to mind

O youthfu' thoughts an' things, To pu' the fruit that on the tree

To dream again as I ha'e dreamed Of Memory ripely hings, -

When I was herdin' kye!" or when he writes :

" His skin may be black, or his skin may be white,
We carena a fig, if his bosom be right;
Though his claes be in rags, an' the wind blawin' through,

We'll honour the man who is honest and true !" he is but writing his own heart ; but disclosing all its love of that land,

" Where heaven taught to Robert Burns

It's hymns in language drest;" Disclosing all its adoration of nature's beauty, all its ever gushing admiration of honesty, and honor, and independence of character. In pathos and and in feeling, Nicoll excels Massey ; but in vigor, in fire, and in sustained strength, the latter is superior. There is however, another quality possessed in an eminent degree by Nicoll, and one of which Massey discovers no traits whatever-humor. We do not imply that Massey is not tender-but his tenderness, his pathos becomes intensified into passion, a passion very frequently bursting into fierceness. Born in poverty, growing up amidst hardships, he is indeed but the “child of misery, baptized in tears;" and all his feelings have been forced into what some of his critics have termed exaggeration. But is it exaggeration ? If he, like Nicoll, writes “his heart in his poems,” if from the weary days of sorrow, if from the hope crushing, mind scathing woes of a youth that had nothing of youth surrounding it, he has come forth, as Alexander Smith sings

“To fling a poem, like a comet, out,” what could he write now, but the wild fierce memories of haunting griefs of days when peace went all adrift; when the future seemned a black lone sea of blank despair, and far away upon its waves, guideless, went hope, and nothing was in hope but death. Is there, in all the records of human sorrow, a more affecting account than the following, inserted in Massey's work :

" At eight years of age, Gerald Massey went into the silk-manu. factory, rising at five o'clock in the morning, and toiling there till half past-six in the evening; up in the grey dawn, or in the winter before the daylight, and trudging to the factory through the wind, or in the snow : seeing the sun only through the factory windows;

« PreviousContinue »