Irish Quarterly Review: Poets of Labour.

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VOL. V., 1855


  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 Enlarged.  London: Bogue. 1851.

    We have, in THE IRISH QUARTERLY REVIEW, written of the poets of Conviviality and of the poets of Fashion,[1] and why should we not write of the poets of Labour: not, of necessity, of those who have sung of Labour, 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 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 Cuttar's Saturday Night and denies flint, 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 Crabbe, 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 him 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."[2]

From Crabbe and Wordsworth, but chiefly from the former, our Poets of Labour 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.

    And how that spirit of poesy enters into the soul of the Poet of Labour: it becomes the object of his life; the witching, hiring, 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 find desires, and so it is with those of whom we write—the Muse is the Syren, the highways of life are her shore.[3]

    Amongst the most remarkable of our Poets of Labour 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 vigour 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, must 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, ill 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—his 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,

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, O Tyrants, the spiritless drove,
    Old England's Helots 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 might 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 thoughts, 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 beer).  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 Suffering 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, 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,
     Of Memory ripely hings,—
 To live again the happiest hours
     Of happy days gane by,—
 To dream again as I ha'e dreamed
     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 he 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 honour, and independence of character.  In pathos and in feeling, Nicoll excels Massey; but in vigour, 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—humour.  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 seemed 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-manufactory, 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; breathing an atmosphere laden with rank oily vapour, his ears deafened by the roar of incessant wheels:—

'Still all the day the iron wheels go onward,
     Grinding life down front its mark;
 And the children's souls, which God is calling sunward,
     Spin on blindly in the dark.'

    What a life for a child!  What a substitute for tender prattle, for childish glee, for youthful playtime!  Then home shivering under the cold, starless shy, on Saturday nights, with 9d., 1s., or 1s. 3d., for the whole week's work; for such were the respective amounts of the wages earned by the child labour of Gerald Massey.

    But the mill was burned down, and the children held jubilee over it.  The boy stood for twelve hours in the wind, and sleet, and mud, rejoicing in the conflagration which thus liberated him.  Who can wonder at this?  Then he went to straw-plaiting,—as toilsome, and, perhaps, more unwholesome than factory-work.  Without exercise, it, a marshy district, the plaiters were constantly having racking attacks of ague.  The boy had the disease for three years, ending with tertian ague.  Sometimes four of the family, and the mother, lay ill at one time, all crying with thirst, with no one to give them drink, and each too weak to help the other.  How little do we know of the sufferings endured by the poor and struggling classes of our population, especially in our rural districts!  No press echoes their wants, or records their sufferings; and they live almost as unknown to us as if they were the inhabitants of some undiscovered country.

    And now take, as an illustration, the child-life of Gerald Massey.  'Having had to earn my own dear bread,' he says, ‘by the eternal cheapening of flesh and blood thus early, I never knew what childhood meant.  I had no childhood.  Ever since I can remember, I have had the aching fear of want, throbbing in heart and brow.  The currents in my life were early poisoned, and few, methinks, would pass unscathed through the scenes and circumstances in which I have lived; none, if they were as curious and precocious, as I was.  The child comes into the world like a new coin with the stamp of God upon it; and in like manner as the Jews sweat down sovereigns, by hustling them in a bag to get gold-dust out of them, so is the poor man's child hustled and sweated down in this bag of society to get wealth out of it; and even as the impress of the Queen is effaced by the Jewish process, so is the image of God worn from heart and brow, and day by day the child recedes devil-ward.  I look back now with wonder, not that so few escape, but that any escape at all, to win a nobler growth for their humanity.  So blighting are the influences which surround thousands in early life, to which I can bear such bitter testimony.'

    And how fared the growth of this child's mind the while?  Thanks to the care of his mother, who had Sent him to the penny school, he had learnt to read, and the desire to read had been awakened.  Books, however, were very scarce.  The Bible and Bunyan were the principal; he committed many chapters of the former to memory, and accepted all Bunyan's allegory as bona fide history.  Afterwards he obtained access to Robinson Crusoe' and a few Wesleyan tracts left at the cottage.  These constituted his sole reading, until he came up to London, at the age of fifteen, as an errand boy; and now, for the first time in his life, he met with plenty of books, reading all that came in his way, from ‘Lloyd's Penny Times,' to Cobbett's Works, ‘French without a Master,' together with English, Roman and Grecian history.  A ravishing awakenment ensued,—the delightful sense of growing knowledge,—the charm of new thought,—the wonders of a new world.  ‘Till then,' he says, ‘I had often wondered why I lived at all,—whether

'It was not better not to be,
I was so full of misery.'

Now I began to think that the crown of all desire, and the sum of all existence, was to read and get knowledge. Read! read! read! I used to read at all possible times, and in all possible places; up in bed till two or three in the morning,—nothing daunted by once setting the bed on fire.  Greatly indebted was I also to the bookstalls, where I have read a great deal, often folding a leaf in a book, and returning the next day to continue the subject; but sometimes the book was gone, and then great was my grief!  When out of a situation, I have often gone without a meal to purchase a book.  Until I fell in love, and began to rhyme as a matter of consequence, I never had the least predilection for poetry.  In fact, I always eschewed it; if I ever met with any, I instantly skipped it over, and passed on, as one does with the description of scenery, &c., in a novel.  I always loved the birds and flowers, the woods and the stars; I felt delight in being alone in a summer-wood, with song, like a spirit, in the trees, and the golden sun-bursts glinting through the verdurous roof; and was conscious of a mysterious creeping of the blood, and tingling of the nerves, when standing alone in the starry midnight, as in God's own presence-chamber.  But until I began to rhyme, I cared nothing for written poetry.  The first verses I ever made were upon ' Hope', when I was utterly hopeless and after I had begun, I never ceased for about four years, at the end of which time I rushed into print.'

    There was, of course, crudeness both of thought and expression in the first verses of the poet, which were published in a provincial paper.  But there was nerve, rhythm, and poetry: the burthen of the song was, ‘At eventime it shall be light.'  The leading idea of the poem was the power of knowledge, virtue, and temperance to elevate the condition of the poor a noble idea truly.  Shortly after, he was encouraged to print a shilling volume of ‘Poems and Chansons’ in his native town of Tring, of which some 250 copies were sold.  Of his later poems we shall afterwards speak.

    But a new power was now working upon his nature, as might have been expected,—the power of opinion, as expressed in books and in the discussions of his fellow-workers.

    ‘As an errand-boy,' he says, I had, of course, many hardships to undergo, and to bear with much tyranny; and that led me into reasoning upon men and things, the causes of misery, the anomalies of our societary state, politics, &;c., and the circle of my being rapidly outsurged.  New power came to me with all that I saw, and thought, and read.  I studied political works,—such as Paine, Volney, Howitt, Louis Blanc, &c., which gave me another element to mould into my verse, though I am convinced that a poet must sacrifice much if he write party-political poetry.  His politics must be above the pinnacle of party zeal; the politics of eternal truth, right, and justice.  He must not waste a life on what to-morrow may prove to have been merely the question of a day.  The French Revolution of 1848 had the greatest effect on me of any circumstance connected with my own life.  It was scarred and blood-burnt into the very core of my being."

(The following lines, by Ebenezer Elliott, are worthy to follow this extract:—

"The day was fair the cannon roar'd,
    Cold blew the bracing north,
And Preston's Mills by thousands poured
    Their little captives forth.

All in their best they paced the street,
    And glad that they were free;
And sang a song with voices sweet—
    They sang of liberty!

But from their lips the rose had fled,
    Like 'death-in-life’ they smiled;
And still as each pass'd by, I said,
    Alas! is that a child?

Flags waved, and men—a ghastly crew—
    March'd with them side by side;
While hand in hand, and two by two,
    They moved—a living tide.

Thousands and thousands—oh, so white!
    With eye, so glazed and dull!
Alas! it was indeed a sight
    Too sadly beautiful!

And oh, the pang their voices gave
    Refuses to depart!
This is a wailing for the grave!
    I whisper'd to my heart.

It was as if, where roses blush'd,
    A sudden blasting gale,
O'er field of bloom had rudely rush'd,
    And turned the roses pale.

It was as if, in glen and grove,
    The wild birds sadly sung;
And every linnet mourn'd its love,
    And every thrush its young.

It was as if, in dungeon gloom,
    Where chain'd Despair reclined,
A sound came from the living tomb,
    And hymn'd the passing wind.

And while they sang, and though they smiled,
    My soul groan'd heavily—
Oh! who would wish to have a child!
    A mother who would be!")

"Dragged up" thus; seeing, and bitterer still, feeling the pitiable condition of his class, and "writing his heart," he [Massey] proclaims, in

           THE PEOPLE'S ADVENT.*

IS coming up the steep of Time,
    And this old world is growing brighter!
We may not see its dawn sublime,
    Yet high hopes make the heart throb tighter.
We may be sleeping in the ground,
    When it awakes the world in wonder;
But we have felt it gathering round,
    And heard its voice of living thunder.
                'Tis coming! yes, 'tis coming!

'Tis coming now, the glorious time,
    Foretold by Seers and sung in story;
For which, when thinking was a crime,
    Souls leapt to heaven from scaffolds gory!
They pass'd, nor see the work they wrought,
    Now the crown'd hopes of centuries blossom!
But the live lighting of their thought
    And daring deed, doth pulse Earth's bosom.
                ‘Tis coming! yes, 'tis coming!

Creeds, Empires, Systems, rot with age,
    But the great People's ever youthful!
And it shall write the Future's page,
    To our humanity more truthful!
The gnarliest heart hath tender chords,
    To waken at the name of “Brother;”
And time comes when brain-scorpion words
    We shall not speak to sting each other.
                'Tis coming! yes, 'tis coming!

Out of the light, ye Priests, nor fling
    Your dark, cold shadows on us longer!
Aside! thou world-wide curse, call'd King!
    The People's step is quicker, stronger.
There's a Divinity within
    That makes men great, when'er they will it.
God works with all who dare to win,
    And the time cometh to reveal it.
                'Tis coming! yes, 'tis coming!

Freedom! the tyrants kill thy braves,
    Yet in our memories live thy sleepers;
And, tho' doom'd millions feed the graves,
    Dug by Death's fierce, red-handed reapers,
The world shall not for ever bow
    To things which mock God's own endeavour;
'T is nearer than they wot of now,
    When flowers shall wreathe the sword for ever.
                'Tis coming! yes 'tis coming!

Fraternity!   Love's other name!
    Dear heaven-connecting link of Being!
Then shall we grasp thy golden dream,
    As souls, full-statured, grow far-seeing.
Thou shalt unfold our better part,
    And in our Life-cup yield more honey;
Light up with joy the poor man's heart,
    And Love's own world with smiles more sunny.
                ‘Tis coming' yes, 'tis coming!

Ay, it must come!   The Tyrant's throne
    Is crumbling, with our hot tears rusted;
The sword earth's mighty have leant on
    Is canker’d, with our heart's blood crusted.
Room! for the men of Mind make way!
    Ye robber Rulers, pause no longer;
Ye cannot stay the opening day:
    The world rolls on, the light grows stronger,—
                The People's Advent's coming!

 (* Ed. - song, The People's Advent - the score and midi file)

    Although not reared amongst the whirring steam engines, or surrounded by sights so miserable as those described by Gerald Massey, Robert Nicoll's childhood was spent in poverty, his youth was a struggle against difficulty and disease.

    He was born on the 7th of January, 1814, in the parish of Auchtergaven, in Perthshire.  His father was, at Robert's birth, a respectable farmer; but, having become surety to the amount of £600, for a relative, who failed and absconded, he was forced to sell his farm to defray the debt, and he became, in Robert's second year, a day-labourer upon the fields, which he had recently held in his own possession.  At nine months old Robert could speak as infants speak; at eighteen months he knew his letters, and in his fifth year he could read the New Testament, and his mother was his teacher. In an account of his early life, written for a friend, he observes, after relating, his father’s misfortune:—

    "He was ruined 'out of house and hold.'  From that day to this, he has gained his own and his children's bread by the sweat of his brow.  I was then too young to know the full extent of our misfortunes; but, young as I was, I saw and felt a great change.  My mother, in her early years, was an ardent book-woman.  When she became poor, her, time was too precious to admit of its being spent in reading, and I generally read to her while she was working; for she took care that her children should not want education.  Ever since I can remember, I was a keen and earnest reader.  Before I was six years of age, I read every book that came in my way, and had gone twice through my grandfather's small collection, though I had never been at school.

    "When I had attained my sixth year, I was sent to the parish school, which was three miles distant, and I generally read going and returning.  To this day, I can walk as quickly as my neighbours, and read at the same time with the greatest ease.  I was sent to the herding at seven years of age, and continued herding all summer, and attending school all winter with my 'fee.'"

    In a few notes written by Nicoll's younger brother, Mr. William Nicoll, now of Glasgow, in adverting to Robert's childhood, it is stated:—

"Even at this early period, Robert was a voracious reader, and never went to the herding without a book in his plaid, and he generally read both going and returning from school.  From his studious disposition, though a favourite with the other boys from his sweetness of temper, he hardly ever went by any other name than The Minister.  When about twelve, he was taken from herding, and sent to work in the garden of a neighbouring proprietor.  With the difference, that he had now less time for reading than before, the change in his employment made very little change in his habits.  He went to school during the winter as usual.''

    His school education consisted of two years attendance upon a young student named Marshal, attendance for short periods in two other schools, and six weeks instruction in the parish school Monedie. He seems to have learned little beyond writing and accounts, with some slight knowledge of Geometry. Of languages, save the English, he never acquired more than the Latin rudiments. Whilst attending Marshall, being then in his twelfth year, a book club was established in a neighbouring village, and of it, and of his after reading, he gave the following account, in the sketch of his life to which we have already referred:—

    "When I had saved a sufficient quantity of silver coin, I became a member. I had previously devoured all the books to be got in the parish for love, and I soon devoured all those in the library for money. Besides, by that time I began to get larger 'fees,' (the Scotch word is the best,) and I was able to pay 1s. 6d. a month, for a month or two, to a bookseller in Perth, for reading. From him I got many new works; and among the rest the Waverley Novels. With them I was enchanted. They opened up new sources of interest, and thought, of which I before knew nothing. I can yet look with no common feelings on the wood, in which, while herding, I read Kenilworth.

    "As nearly as I can remember, I began to write my thoughts when I was thirteen years of age, and continued to do so at intervals until I was sixteen, when, despairing of ever being able to write the English language correctly, I made a bonfire of my papers, and wrote no more till I was eighteen.

    "My excursive course of reading, among both poets and prosers, gave me many pleasures of which my fellows knew nothing; but it likewise made me more sensitive to the insults and degradations that a dependent must suffer. You cannot know the horrors of dependence; but I have felt them, and have registered a vow in heaven, that I shall be independent, though it be but on a crust and water.

    "To further my progress in life, I bound myself apprentice to Mrs. J. H. Robertson, wine-merchant and grocer in Perth. When I came to Perth, I bought Cobbett's English Grammar, and by constant study soon made myself master of it, and then commenced writing as before; and you know the result.

    "When I first came to Perth, a gentleman lent me his right to the
Perth Library, and thus I procured many works I could not get before; Milton's Prose Works, Locke's Works, and, what I prized more than all, a few of Bentham's, with many other works in various departments of literature and science, which I had not had the good fortune to read before.

    "I was twenty years of age in the month of January last; and my apprenticeship expires in September next.  By that time I hope, by close study, to have made myself a good French scholar; and I intend, if I can raise the monies, to emigrate to the United States of North America.

    "I do not rate my literary productions too highly; but they have all a definite purpose that of trying to raise the many.  I am a Radical in every sense of the term, and I must stand by my order.  I am employed in working for my mistress from seven o'clock in the morning until nine o'clock at night; and I must therefore write when others are asleep.  During winter, to sit without fire is a hard task: but summer is now coming—and then!"

    Whilst residing in Perth it was his custom to rise, during the summer, at five o'clock, and proceeding to the North Inch, he seated himself there and read and wrote in the open air until seven o'clock, at which hour his employer's shop was opened; he also joined a debating society of young men, and its object appears to have been partly, political and, partly literary.  At one of these meetings he read a story, entitled Il Zingaro, which he sent to Johnstone's Magazine; it was accepted and printed, and thus in his eighteenth year, (1832) he made his first appearance as an author.  Having injured himself internally by incautiously lifting a heavy weight, and having increased the injury by too assiduous study, he was obliged to return to his native air, through the effect of which he rapidly recovered, and set out for Edinburgh in search of employment; he could obtain none, but having been introduced to Robert Chambers and Robert Gilfillan, and either through their encouragement, or from the natural bent of his own mind, he resolved to devote his whole attention to literature; and as a further means of support, he was induced to open a circulating library in Dundee, which he was enabled to do through the slight assistance of his friends and his own frugal and self-denying habits.

    It will have been perceived that in politics he was a radical.  He delivered political lectures, made speeches and read much, and wrote largely and frequently for the liberal newspapers of the town; and, in addition, prepared his volume of Poems and Lyrics.  The work was put to press in one of the newspaper offices of Dundee, and the cost was almost defrayed by the subscriptions of the young workmen of the town; Mr. Tait, of Edinburgh, consenting to become the publisher.  Being unable, owing to his want of capital, and to his literary occupations, to carry on the library, he assigned it to a young man whom he had some short time previously taken into partnership; besides he had fallen in love with a niece of the editor of one of the papers to which he contributed, and was anxious to discover some more certain means of obtaining a livelihood.  To add to his troubles be had involved his mother in pecuniary engagements to the amount of twenty pounds, which, though a small sum, was a very considerable loss to her.  Shortly before disposing of the library he wrote thus to his mother:—

    "Half the unhappiness of life springs from looking back to griefs which are past, and forward with fear to the future.  That is not my way.  I am determined never to bend to the storm that is coming, and never to look back on it after it has passed.  Fear not for me, dear mother; for I feel myself daily growing firmer, and more hopeful in spirit.  The more I think and reflect—and thinking, instead of reading, is now my occupation—I feel that, whether I be growing richer or not, I am growing a wiser man, which is far better.  Pain, poverty, and all the other wild beasts of life which so affright others, I am so bold as to think I could look in the face without shrinking, without losing respect for myself, faith in man's high destinies, and trust in God.  There is a point which it costs much mental toil and struggling to gain, but which, when once gained, a man can look down from, as a traveller from a lofty mountain, on storms raging below, while he is walking in sunshine.  That I have yet gained this point in life I will not say, but 1 feel myself daily nearer it."

In 1836 he determined to remove to London, but upon reaching Edinburgh he was offered employment by Mr. Tait, and shortly afterwards he obtained, through the intervention of the same kind friend, the situation of editor of The Leeds Times, with the salary of one hundred pounds per annum.  He rendered this paper a very able advocate of radicalism, and waged a fierce warfare with the opposite organ, The Leeds Mercury.

    In December, 1836, he married Miss Alice Suter, the young lady to whom we have already referred.  She possessed considerable beauty, was about two years younger than her husband, but of constitution more delicate than his own.  Their wedded life was happy, and he stated that, from the period of his marriage to his death, he never dined out of his own lodgings.

    The spring of 1837 was cold and harsh, and it developed the disease under which Nicoll laboured; this attack was rendered still more violent by the exertions which Nicoll felt, himself bound to make in aiding to secure the return of Sir William Molesworth, who contested the representation of Leeds with Sir John Beckett.  Nicoll was ordered to seek his native air at once; there his health improved, and he removed to Knaresborough, where lodgings were provided for him by a friend.  Whilst residing at Knaresborough he wrote the following letter to his brother, and we insert it as a very beautiful expression of thought and feeling:—

"KNARESBOROUGH, October, 1837.
Y OWN DEAR KIND BROTHER,—Both your letters have been received, and I would have answered them long ago, had I been able.  I came to this place, which is near Harrowgate, and eighteen miles from Leeds, about a fortnight ago; but I feel very little better for the change.  My bowels are better; but I am miserably weak, and can eat little.  My arm is as thin as that of a child a month old. Yet, it is strange, that with all this illness and weakness, I feel as it were no pain.  My breast, cough, and all have not been so well for years. I feel no sickness, but as sound and wholesome as ever I did.  The length of time I have been ill and my weakness alone frighten me; but whether I am to die or live, is in a wiser hand.  I have been so long ill I grow peevish and discontented sometimes; but on the whole I keep up my spirits wonderfully.  Alice bears up; and hopes for the best, as she ought to do.  Oh.  Willie!  I wish I had you here for one day,—so much, much I have to say about them all, in case it should end for the worst.  It may not, but we should be prepared.  I go home to Leeds again on Friday.

    "Thank you for your kind dear letter; it brought sunshine to my sick weariness.  I cried over it like a child.  Sickness has its pains, but it has likewise it pleasures.  From——and others, I have received such kind, kind letters; and the London Working-Men's Association, to whom I am known but by my efforts in the cause, have written me a letter of condolence filled with the kindest hopes and wishes.

    "I have just received another letter from Tait, which made me weep with joy, and which will have the same effect upon you.  He bids me send to him for money, if I need it; and urges me to leave Leeds and the paper instantly, and come to Edinburgh, where there is a house ready for me; and there to live, and attend to nothing but my health till I get better.  He urges me to this with a father's kindness; and bids me feel neither care nor anxiety on any account . . . . . . . And so delicately, too, he offers and urges all this.  How can I ever repay this man and the Johnstones for such kindness.—Should I do this? I know not.  You admire my articles: they are written almost in torment.

    "You will go to Tulliebeltane on Sunday, and read this letter to them.  Tell them all this.  I wish in my mother to come here immediately to consult with her.  I wish to see her.  I think a sight
of her would cure me.  I am sure a breath of Scottish air would.  Whenever I get well I could get a dozen editorships in a week, for I have now a name and a reputation.

    "My mother must come immediately.  Yet I feel regret at leaving the paper, even for a season.  Think on all that you, and I, and millions more have suffered by the system I live to war against, and then you will join with me in thinking every hour misspent which is not devoted to the good work.

    "Dear, dear Willie, give my love to, them all,—to my parents—to Joe—to Maggie—to Charlie—to aunt—to grandfather. Write, to say when my mother comes.  Write often, often, and never mind postage.  I have filled my paper, and have not said half of what I wished.   .   .   .   . I can do nothing till I see my mother.  I cannot find words to say how I feel Tait's kindness.  Write soon.  I have much more to say, but I am tired writing.  This is the most beautiful country you ever saw, but I have no heart to enjoy it.—God bless you,

    He was ordered again to return to his native place, and he left Leeds accompanied by his wife, his mother, and his mother-in-law, intending to proceed from Hull to Leith.  As he was seated in the railway carriage he was met, for the first and last time, by the man who afterwards proclaimed him—"Scotland's second Burns"—Ebenezer Elliott.

    He arrived at Leith towards the end of October, and went to a friend's house in the neighbourhood.  Here he was visited by Doctor Andrew Combe, and his nephew, Doctor Cox.  He seemed to rally, and his mother returned to her home, sending to him his sister and his brother.  Sir William Molesworith sent him a very kind letter, enclosing fifty pounds, but he did not long, outlive the receipt of this timely supply.  A few days after it reached him his disease assumed its worst and most aggravated form.  His father and mother were informed of his condition; they were too poor to hire a conveyance, but, upon receiving the intimation late on a December day, they set out for Leith, and walking all night they reached the deathbed of their son a few hours before he expired.[4]

    Robert Nicoll died in the month of December, 1837, in the 24th year of his age, and was buried in the church-yard of North Leith. "Burns," writes Ebenezer Elliott, "at his age had done nothing like him.  Unstained and pure, at the age of twenty-three, died Scotland's second Burns; happy in this, that without having been a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious, he chose, like Paul, the right path; and when the Terrible Angel said to his youth, 'Where is the wise?—where is the scribe?—where is the disputer?—Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?'—he could and did answer, 'By the grace of God, I am what I am.' "

    During his residence in Leeds, Nicoll wrote several short poems; but two only of these were published during his lifetime, and appeared in Tait's Magazine.  The following poem was written during his last severe illness, and is believed to be the last of his compositions:—


THE dew is on the Summer's greenest grass,
    Through which the modest daisy blushing peeps;
The gentle wind that like a ghost doth pass,
    A waving shadow on the corn-field keeps;
But I who love them all shall never be
Again among the woods, or on the moorland lea.

The sun shines sweetly—sweeter may it shine!—
    Bless'd is the brightness of a Summer day;
It cheers lone hearts; and why should I repine,
    Although among green fields I cannot stray!
Woods!   I have grown, since last I heard you wave,
Familiar with death, and neighbour to the grave!

These words have shaken mighty human souls—
    Like a sepulchre's echo drear they sound—
E'en as the owl's mild whoop at midnight rolls
    The ivied remnants of old ruins round.
Yet wherefore tremble?   Can the soul decay?—
Or that which thinks and feels in aught e'er fade away?

Are there not aspirations in each heart,
    After a better, brighter world than this?
Longings for beings nobler in each part—
    Things more exalted—steeped in deeper bliss?
Who gave us these?   What are they?   Soul!   In thee
The bud is budding now for immortality!

Death comes to take me where I long to be;
    One pang, and bright blooms the immortal flower;
Death comes to lead me from mortality,
    To lands which know not one unhappy hour:—
I have a hope—a faith;—from sorrow here
I'm led by Death away—why should I start and fear?

If I have loved the forest and the field,
    Can I not love them deeper, better, there?
If all that Power hath made, to me doth yield
    Something of good and beauty—something fair—
Freed from the grossness of mortality,
May I not love them all, and better all enjoy?

A change from woe to joy—from earth to heaven,
    Death gives me this—it leads me calmly where
The souls that long ego from mine were riven
    May meet again!   Death answers many a prayer.
Bright day! shine on—be glad:—Days brighter far
Are stretched before my eyes than those of mortals are!

I would be laid among the wildest flowers,
    I would be laid where happy hearts can come;—
The worthless clay I heed not; but in hours
    Of gushing noontide joy, it may be, some
Will dwell upon my name, and I will be
A happy spirit there, Affection's look to see.

Death is upon me, yet I fear not now:—
    Open my chamber window—let me look
Upon the silent vales—the sunny glow
    That fills each alley, close, and copsewood nook:—
I know them—love them—mourn not them to leave;
Existence and its change my spirit cannot grieve!

    We have written these biographical sketches of these two Poets of Labour, as we wished the reader to understand, as fully as ourselves, the principle upon which we contend that the genuine poetry of all such men must be the fruit of the whole moral and spiritual being; that the poet and the man must be one—that every Poet of Labour must, as Nicoll declared he himself had done, "Write his heart in his poems."

    What the moral and spiritual being of these two men is the reader knows—beauty, pathos, and vigour in the one; energy, fire, pathos and passion in the other.  In love, Nicoll is a lover, Massey an idolater; in politics, Nicoll is a reformer, Massey a revolutionist.  Take, for example, the manner in which each sings to his wife,—thus Nicoll to his


My breast is press'd to thine, Alice;
    My arm is round thee twined;
Thy breath dwells on my lip, Alice,
    Like clover-scented wind:
Love glistens in thy sunny e'e,
    And blushes, on thy brow,
Earth' s Heaven is here to thee and me,
    For we are happy now!

Thy check is warm and saft, Alice,
    As the summer laverock's breast;
And Peace sleeps in thy soul, Alice,
    Like the laverock on its nest!
Sweet! lay thy heart aboon my heart,
    For it is a' thine aim;
That morning love it gi'es to thee,
    Which kens nae guile or stain!

Ilk starn in yonder lift, Alice,
    Is a love-lighted e'e,
Fill'd fu' o' gladsome tears, Alice,
    While watching thee and me.
This twilight hour the thoughts run back,
    Like moonlight on the streams,
Till the o'erladen heart grows grit
    Wi' a' its early dreams!

Langsyne amang the hills, Alice,
    Where wave the breckans green,
I wander'd by the burn, Alice,
    Where fairy feet had been,—
While o'er me hung a vision sweet,
    My heart will neer forget—
A dream o' Summer twilight times
    When flowers wi' dew were wet!

I thought on a' the tales, Alice,
    O' Woman's love and faith;
Of Truth that, smiled at Fear, Alice,
    And Love that conquer'd Death;
Affection blessing hearts and hames,
    When joy was far awa,
And Fear and Hate; but Love, O Love!
    Aboon and over a'!

And then I thought w'i me, Alice,
    Are walk'd in beauty there—
A being made for love, Alice,
    So pure, and good, and fair—
Who shared my soul—my every hour
    O' sorrow and o' mirth;
And when that dream was gone, my heart
    Was lonely on the earth!

Ay, lonely grew the world, Alice—
    A dreary hame to me;
Without a bush or bield, Alice,
    Or leafy sheltering tree;
And aye as sough'd life's raging storm,
    Wi' keen and eerie blaw,
My soul grew sad, and cold my heart,
    I wish'd to be awa.

But light came o'er my way, Alice,
    And life grew joy to me;
The daisy in my path, Alice,
    Unclosed its gentle e'e;
Love breath'd in ilka wind that blew,
    And in ilk birdie's sang;
Wi' sunny thoughts o'summer time
    The blithesome heart grew thrang.

My dreams o' youth and love, Alice,
    Were a' brought back again;
And Hope upraised its head, Alice,
    Like the violet after rain:
A sweeter maid was by my side
    Than things of dreams can be,
First, precious love to her I gave,
    And, Alice, than wert she!

Nae lip can ever speak, Alice,
    Nae tongue can ever tell,
The sumless love for thee, Alice,
    With which my heart doth swell!
Pure as the thoughts of infants' souls,
    And innocent and young;
Sic love was never tauld in sings,
    Sic sangs were never sung!

My hand is on thy heart, Alice,
    Sae place thy hand in mine;
Now, welcome weal and woe, Alice,
    Our love we canna time.
Ae kiss! let others gather gowd
    Frae ilka land and sea;
My treasure is the richest yet,
    For, Alice, I ha'e thee!

Here we have beautiful thoughts, tender, holy, and true.  But thus sings Massey, in his deep-hearted love, to the Poor Man's Wife:—

                   A POOR MAN'S WIFE.

HER dainty hand nestled in mine, rich and white:
    And timid as trembling dove;
And it twinkled about me, a jewel of light,
    As she garnisht our feast of love:
'T was the queenliest hand in all lady-land,
    And she was a poor Man's wife!
O! little ye'd think how that wee, white hand
    Could dare in the battle of Life.

Her heart it was lowly as maiden's might be,
    But hath climb'd to heroic height,
And burn'd like a shield in defence of me,
    On the sorest field of fight!
And startling as fire, it hath often flasht up
    In her eyes, the good heart and rare!
As she drank down her half of our bitterest cup,
    And taught me how to bear.

Her sweet eyes that seem'd, with their smile sublime,
    Made to look me and light me to heaven,
They have triumph'd thro' bitter tears many a time,
    Since their love to my life was given:
And the maiden-meek voice of the womanly Wife
    Still bringeth the heavens nigher;
For it rings like the voice of God over my life,
    Aye bidding me climb up higher.

I hardly dared think it was human, when
    I first lookt in her yearning face;
For it shone as the heavens had open'd then,
    And clad it with glory and grace!
But dearer its light of healing grew
    In our dark  and desolate day,
As the Rainbow, when heaven hath no break of blue,
    Smileth the storm away.

O! her shape was the lithest Loveliness,—
    Just an armful of heaven to enfold!
But the form that bends flower-like in love's caress,
    With the Victor's strength is soul'd!
In her worshipful presence transfigured I stand,
    And the poor Man's English home
She lights with the Beauty of Greece the grand,
    And the glory of regallest Rome.

    In thoughts, showing poetic fancy, we think the crowning of our Poets of Labour a very difficult office of criticism.  For tenderness and beauty of thought we know few poems finer than the following, Nicoll's I Am Blind.

                   I AM BLIND.

THE woodland! O! how beautiful,
    How pleasant it must be!
How soft its grass—how fresh the leaves
    Upon each forest tree!
I bear its wild rejoicing birds
    Their songs of gladness sing;
To see them leap from bough to bough
    Must be a pleasant thing:
I must but image it in mind,
I cannot see it—I am blind!

I feel the fragrance of the flowers,—
    Go, pull me one, I pray:
The leaves are green upon its stalk—
    'Tis richly red you say?
O!  It must full of beauty be—
    It hath a pleasant smell;
Could I but see its loveliness
    My heart with joy would swell!
I can but image it in mind—
I ne'er shall see it—I am blind!

The trees are glorious green, you say—
    Their branches widely spread:
And Nature on their building leaves
    Its nursing dew hath shed.
They must be fair; but what is green?
    What is a spreading tree?
What is a shady woodland walk?
    Say, canst thou answer me?
No! I may image them in mind,
But cannot know them—I am blind!

The songsters that so sweetly chant
    Within the sky so fair,
Until my heart with joy doth leap,
    As it a wild bird were—
How seem they to the light bless'd eye?
    What! are they then so small?
Can sounds of such surpassing joy
    From things so tiny fall?
I most but image them in mind
I cannot see them—I am blind!

A something warm comes o'er my hand;
    What is it? pray thee tell:
Sunlight come down among the trees
    Into this narrow dell?
Thou seest the sunlight and the sun,
    And both are very bright!
'Tis well they are not known to me
    Or I might loathe my night:
But I may image them in mind—
I ne'er shall see them—I am blind!

My hand is resting on your cheek—
    'Tis soft as fleecy snow:
My sister, art thou very fair?
    That thou art good, I know.
Thou art—thou art!  I feel the blush
    Along thy neck doth wend!
Thou must be fair—so carefully
    Thy brother thou dust tend!
But I must image thee in mind—
I cannot see thee—I am blind!

The changes of the earth and sky—
    All Nature's glow and gloom—
Must ever be unkown to me—
    My soul is in a tomb!
O! I can feel the blessed sun,
    Mirth, music, tears that fall,
And darkness sad, and joy, and woe,—
    Yea, Nature's movements all:
But I must Image them in mind—
I cannot sec them—I

    If the reader has ever seen that excellent lady, and admirable actress—Mrs. Charles Kean—in King René's Daughter, he will understand how exquisitely this description of the feelings of the blind are word-painted in the poem.   Besides, to those who have studied the thoughts of the blind, this poem is as perfect in observation as that in which Wordsworth describes the earliest dawn of morning, and in which he tells us:—

"By this the stars were almost gone,
 The moon was setting on the hill,
 So pale you scarcely looked at her;
 The little birds began to stir
 Though yet their tongues wire still

    There is, however, another poem in this volume, entitled The Sick Child's Dream, so beautiful, so pathetic, that we must insert it.  Tennyson's New-year's Eve, has been compared with this; but, much as we admire the Laureate's genius, we do not think that in this instance he is victor:—


O! mither, mither, my head was sair,
    And my een wi' tears were weet;
But the pain has gane for evermair,
    Sae mither dinna greet;
And I ha'e had sic a bonnie dream,
    Since last asleep I fell,
O' a' that is holy an gude to name,
    That I've wauken'd my dream tell.

I thought on the morn o' a simmer day
    That awa' through the clouds I flew,
While my silken hair did wavin' play
    'Mang breezes steep'd in dew:
And the happy things o' life and light
    Were around my gowden way,
As they stood in their parent Heaven's sight
    In the hames o' nightless day.

An' sangs o' love that nae tongue may tell
    Frae their hearts cam' flowin' free,
Till the starn stood still, while alang did swell
    The plaintive melodie;
And ane o' them sang wi' my mither's voice,
    Till through my heart did gae
That chanted hymn o' my bairnhood's choice,
    Sae dowie, saft, an' wae.

Thae happy things o' the glorious sky
    Did lead me far' away,
Where the stream o' life rins never dry,
    Where nathing kens decay;
And they laid me down in a mossy bed,
    Wi' curtains o' spring leaves green,
And the name o' G
OD they praying said,
    And a light came o'er my een.

And I saw the earth that I had left,
    And saw my mither there;
And I saw her grieve that she was bereft
    O' the bairn she thought sae fair;
And I saw her pine till her spirit fled—
    Like a bird to its young ane's nest—
To that land of love; and my head was laid
    Again on my mither's breast.

And, mither, ye took me by the hand,
    As ye were wont to do;
And your loof, sae saft and white, I fand
    Laid on my caller brow;
And my lips you kiss'd, and my curling hair
    You round your fingers wreath'd;
And I kent that a happy mither's prayer
    Was o'er me silent breath'd;

And we wander'd through that happy land,
    That was gladly glorious a';
The dwellers there were an angel-band,
    And their voices o' love did fa'
On our ravish'd ears like the deein' tones
    O' an anthem far away,
In a starn-lit hour, when the woodland moans
    That its green is turn'd to gray.

And, mither, amang the sorrowless there
    We met my brithers three,
And your bonnie May, my sister fair,
    And a happy bairn was she;
And she led me awa 'mang living flowers,
    As on earth she aft has done;
And thegither we sat in the holy bowers
    Where the blessed rest aboon:—

And she tauld me I was in Paradise,
    Where G
OD in love doth dwell
Where the weary rest, and the mourner's voice
    Forgets its warld-wail;
And she tauld me they kent na dule nor care;
    And bade me be glad to dee,
That yon sinless land and the dwellers there,
    Might be hame and kin to me.

Then sweetly a voice came on my ears,
    And it sounded sae holily,
That my heart grew saft, and blabs o' tears
    Sprung up in my sleepin' e'e;
And my inmost soul was sairly moved
    Wi' its mair than mortal joy;—
Twas the voice o' H
IM wha bairnies lov'd
    That wauken'd your dreamin' boy!

    Excellent as these poems are, and possessing genuine poetic feeling and expression, Massey has his own peculiar beauties which, in the opinion of many readers, may exceed those possessed by the productions of Nicoll just inserted.  In The Ballad of Babe Christabel, Massey appears to have concentrated all his powers; but it is neither so original, nor so worthy of his genius, as many of the shorter pieces in his book.  It is marked by all that wild luxuriance, that lavish scattering of poetic beauty, distinguishing Alexander Smith's Life Drama: but we never doubt the originality of Smith, whilst Massey, by saturating his mind with the full, deep floods of Tennyson s genius, and by adopting the remarkable metre of In Memoriam, startles us frequently by passages forcing us to pause and ask ourselves—"Is this Massey or Tennyson?".

    However, there are passages of exquisite beauty in this poem, and, of these, the following, describing the birth of Babe Christabel is unquestionably worthy of all, our highest, admiration:—

It fell upon a merry May morn,
    I' the perfect prime of that sweet time
    When daisies whiten, woodbines climb,—
The dear Babe Christabel was born.

All night the Star' bright watches kept,
    Like Gods that look a golden calm;
    The Silence dropt its precious balm,
And the tired world serenely slept.

The birds were darkling in the nest,
    Or bosom'd in voluptuous trees.
    On bed of flowers the panting breeze
Had kist its fill and sank to rest.

All night beneath the Cottage eaves,
    A lonely light, with tremulous Arc,
    Surged back a space the sea of dark,
And glanced among the glimmering leaves.

Without! the quiet heavens above
    The nest of life, did lean and brood!
    Within! the Mother's tears of blood
Wet the Gethsemane of her love!

And when the Morn with frolic zest,
    Lookt through the curtains of the night,
    There was a dearer dawn of light ,
A tenderer life the Mother's prest!

Ah! bliss to make the brain reel wild!
    The Star new-kindled in the dark—
    Life that had flutter'd like a Lark—
Lay in her bosom a sweet Child!

How she had felt it drawing down
    Her nesting heart more close and close,—
    Her rose-bud ripening to a Rose,
That she should one day see full-blown!

How she had throbb'd with hopes and fears,
    And strain'd her inner eyes till dim,
    To see the coming glory swim
Through the rich mist of happy tears:

For it, her woman's heart drank up,
    And smiled, at Sorrow's darkest dole:
    And now Delight's most dainty soul
Was crusht for her in one rich cup!

And then delicious languors crept,
    Like nectar, on her pain's hot drouth,
    And feeling fingers—kissing mouth—
Being faint with joy, the Mother slept.

Babe Christabel was royally born!
    For when the earth was flusht with flowers,
    And drencht with beauty in rainbow showers,
She came through golden gates of Morn.

    That Poets of Labour should sing, and sing with all the stern and bitter feeling which want, and real, or fancied wrongs produce, is but the natural result of adverse circumstances surrounding a quick, ardent, and strong disposition.  That social position makes and moulds such men as these none call doubt.   The

"Eye, to which all order festers, all things here
are out of joint,"

may be but tinged with a jaundiced hue, which will pass away as life grows brighter with hope and knowledge.  Massey tells us that he does not now think as bitterly as when he wrote—that is, his own feelings, warped in youth by suffering, have been restored to that shape and form which, whilst it enables him to see both sides of the picture of life, leaves him, with his fine mind, as clear as ever in the contemplation of the condition of his class.  Nicoll had no need of such re-formation of character as this.  Sprung from the poor, Presbyterian stock, he was, by nature, of the sturdy race who never paltered right, as they esteemed right; growing up self formed, but kindly used, he became self-reliant and independent: the world had shown him kindness, and he knew that as the heart of the world was sound, so the evils existing in the world could be amended, and thus he sung that we are Brethren All:—

                 WE ARE BRETHREN A'.

A HAPPY bit hame this auld world would be,
If men, when they're here, could make shift to agree,
An' ilk said to his neighbour, in cottage an' ha',
"Come gi'e me your hand—we are brethren a'."

I ken na why ane wi' anither should fight,
When to 'gree would make a' body cosie an' right,
When man meets wi' man, 'tis the best way ava,
To say, "Gi'e me your hand—we are brethren a'."

My coat is a coarse ane, an' yours may be fine,
And I maun drink water while you may drink wine;
But we baith ha'e e leal heart, unspotted to shaw:
Sae gi'e me your hand—we are brethren a'.

The knave ye would scorn, the unfaithfu' deride;
Ye would stand like a rock, wi' the truth on your side;
Sae would I, an' nought else would I value a straw;
Then gi'e me your hand—we are brethren a'.

Ye would scorn to do fausely by woman or man;
I haud by the right aye, as weel as I can;
We are ane in our joys, our affections, an' a';
Come, gie me your hand—we are brethren a'.
Your mither has lo'ed you as mithers can lo'e;
An' mine has done for me what withers can do;
We are ane hie an' laigh, an' we should na be twa:
Sae gi'e me your hand—we are brethren a'.

We love the same simmer day, sunny and fair;
Hame!   Oh, how we love it, an' a' that are there!
Frae the pure air o' Heaven the same life we draw—
Come, gi'e me your hand—we are brethren a'.

Frail, shakin' Auld Age, will soon come o'er us baith,
An' creepin alang at his back will be Death;
Syne into the same mither-yird we will fa':
Come, gi'e me your hand—WE ARE BRETHREN A'.

    And here again, with kindly, but independent feeling he sings in strains worthy Robert Burns, the rights and glories of the Poor Folk:—

                    THE PUIR FOLK.


SOME grow fu' proud o'er bags o' gowd,
    And some are proud o' learning:
An honest poor man's worthy name
    I take delight in earning.
Slaves needna try to rin us down—
    To knaves we're unco dour folk;
We're aften wrang'd, but, deil may care!
    We're honest folk, though puir folk!

Wi' Wallace wight we fought fu' weel,
    When lairds and lords were jinking;
They knelt before the tyrant loon—
    We brak his crown, I'm thinking.
The muckle men he bought wi' gowd—
    Syne he began to jeer folk;
But neither swords, nor gowd, nor guile,
    Could turn the sturdy puir folk!

When auld King Charlie tried to bind
    Wi' airn, saul and conscience,
In virtue o' his right divine,
    An' ither daft-like nonsense;
Wha raised at Marston such a stour,
    And made the tyrants fear folk?
Wha prayed and fought wi' Pym and Noll?
    The trusty, truthfu' puir folk!

Wha ance upon auld Scotland's hills
    Were hunted like the paitrick,
And hack'd wi' swords, and shot wi' guns,
    Frae Tummel's bank to Ettrick,—
Because they wou'dna let the priest
    About their conscience steer folk?
The lairds were bloodhounds to the clan—
    The martyrs were the puir folk!

When Boston boys at Bunker's hill
    Gart slavery's minions falter;
While ilka hearth in a' the bay
    Was made fair freedom's altar;
Wha fought the fight, and gained the day?
    Gae wa', ye knaves! 'twas our folk:
The beaten great men served a king—
    The victors a' were puir folk!

We sow the corn and hand the plough—
    We a' work for our living;
We gather nought but what we've sown—
    A' else we reckon thieving:—
And for the loon wha fears to say
    He comes o' lowly, sma' folk,
A wizen'd saul the creature has—
    Disown him will the puir folk!

Great sirs, and mighty men o' earth,
    Ye aften sair misca' us;
And hunger, cauld, and poverty
    Come after ye to thraw us.
Yet up our hearts we strive to heeze,
    In spite o' you and your folk;
But mind, enough's as guid's a feast,
    Although we be but puir folk!

We thank the Powers for guid and ill,
    As gratefu' folk should do, man;
But maist o' a' because our sires
    Were tailors, smiths, and ploughmen.
Good men they were, as staunch as steel—
    They didna wrack and screw folk:
Wi' empty pouches—honest hearts—
    Thank God, we come o' puir folk!

    Not thus does Massey sing.  Fierce, from the herding place of what he considers an outcast race, he shouts, his wrongs, and demands that all shall succumb to his class.  What is a Patriot he asks—and thus he replies:—

                                    THE PATRIOT.

AY, Tyrants, build your Babels! forge your fetters! link your chains!
As brims your guilt-cup fuller, ours of grief ebbs to the drains:
Still, as on Christ's brow, crowns of thorn for Freedom's Martyrs twine;
Still batten on live hearts, and madden, o'er the hot blood-wine.
Murder men sleeping, or awake,—torture them dumb with pain,
And tear, with hands all bloody red, Mind's jewels from the brain!
Your feet are on us, Tyrants—strike! and hush Earth's wail of sorrow:
Your sword of power, so red to-day, shall kiss the dust to-morrow.
O! but 'twill be a merry day, the world shall set apart,
When Strife's last brand is broken in the last crown'd Tyrant's heart!
And it shall come,—despite of Rifle, Rope, and Rack, and Scaffold,
Once more we lift the earnest brow, and battle on unbaffled.

Our hopes ran mountains high, we sang at heart, wept tears of gladness,
When France, the bravely beautiful, dasht down her sceptred madness;
And Hungary her one-hearted race of mighty heroes hurl'd
In the death-grip of the nations, as a bulwark for the world.
O Hungary! gallant Hungary! grand and glorious thou wert,
The World's soul feeling, like a river, gushing from God's heart:
And Rome,—who, while her Heroes bled, felt her old breast heave higher,
How her eyes redden'd with the flash of all their Roman fire!
Mothers of children, who shall live the Gods of future story!
Your blood shall blossom from the dust, and crown the world with glory.
Ye'll tread them down yet! curse and crown, Czar, Kaiser, King and slave,
And Freedom shall be sovran in the courts of fool and knave.

Wail for the hopes that have gone down! the young life vainly spilt!
Th' Eternal Murder still sits crown'd, and throned in damning guilt.
Still in God's golden sun the Tyrants' bloody banners burn,
And Priests,—Hell's midnight Thugs!—to their soul-strangling work
See how the oppressors of the poor with serpents hunt our blood;
Hear, from the dark, the groan and curse go maddening up to God.
They kill and: trample us poor worms, till earth is dead men's dust;
Death's red tooth daily drains our hearts, but end, ay, end it must.
The herald of our coming Christ leaps in the womb of Time;
The poor's grand army treads the Age's march with step sublime.
Ours is the mighty future! and what marvel, brother men,
If the devoured of ages should turn devourers then?

O! brothers of the bounding heart, I look thro' tears and smile,
Our land is rife with sounds of fetters snapping 'neath the file;
I lay my hand on England's heart, and in each life-throb mark,
The pealing thought of freedom ring its Tocsin in the dark.
I see the Toiler hath become a glorious Christ-like preacher,
And, as he wins a crust, stands proudly forth, the great world-teacher;
He still toils on, but, Tyrants, 'tis a mighty thing when slaves,
Who delve their lives into their work, know that they delve your graves.
Anarchs! your doom comes swiftly I brave and eagle spirits climb,
To ring Oppression's death-knell from the old watch-towers of time;
A spirit of Cromwellian might is stirring at this hour,
And thought is burning in men's eyes with more than speechful power.

Old England, cease the mummer's part! wake, Starveling, Serf, and Slave!
Rouse in the majesty of wrong, great kindred of the brave!
Speak, and the world shall answer, with her voices myriad fold,
And men, like Gods, shall grapple with the giant-wrongs of old.
Now, Mothers of the people, give your babes heroic milk;
Sires, soul your sons to daring deeds, no more soft words of silk;
Great spirits of the mighty dead take shape, and walk our mind,
Their glory smites our upward look, we seem no longer blind;
They tell us how they broke their bonds, and whisper, "So may ye,"
One sharp, stern struggle, and the slaves of centuries are free!
The people's heart, with pulse like cannon, panteth for the fray,
And, brothers, gallant brothers, we'll be with you in that day.

    But, whilst singing thus, the land that gave him birth has its own proper place in the heart of our Poet of Labour.  And here, we would remark, that Massey's poetry discloses an admiration, and complete appreciation of all the glories of his country, not always discoverable in the verses of the great body of his brother Poets of Labour.  He appears to understand very clearly that there are memories "which God and good men will not let die;" and that bread and wages are secured, and other topics of the virtuous and indignant  order granted, there are matters without which life is not life.  This spirit is very plainly evinced in lines entitled, Our Land;—

                              OUR LAND.

'TIS the Land that our stalwart fore-sires trode,
    Where the brave and the heroic-soul'd
Implanted our freedom with their best blood,
    In the martyr-days of old.
The huts of the lowly gave Liberty birth,
    Their hearts were her cradle glorious,
And wherever her foot-prints lettered the earth,
    Great spirits up-sprang, victorious,
In our rare old Land, our dear old Land,
    With its memories bright and brave,
And sing hey for the hour its sons shall band
    To free it of Tyrant and Slave.

Alfred was of us, and Shakespeare's thought
    Bekings us, all crowns above!
And Freedom's dear faith a fierce splendour caught
    From our grand old Milton's love!
And we should be marching on gallantly,
    And striding from glory to glory,
For the Right with our Might striking valiantly,
    On the track of the famous in story —
For our rare old Land, our dear old Land,
    With its memories bright and brave,
And sing hey for the hour its sons shall band
    To free it of Tyrant and Slave.

On Naseby-field of the fight sublime,
    Our old red Rose doth blow!
Would to God that the soul of that earlier time
    Might marshal us conquering now!
On into the Future's fair clime the world sweeps,
    And the time trumpets true men to freedom:
At the heart of our helots the mounting God leaps,
    But O for the Moses to lead 'em!
For our rare old Land, our dear old Land,
    With its memories bright and brave!
And sing hey for the hour its sons shall band
    To free it of Tyrant and Slave.

What do we lack, that the ruffian Wrong
    Should starve us 'mid heaps of gold?
We have brains as broad, we have arms as strong,
    We have hearts as big and as bold.
Will a thousand years more of meek suffering school
    Our lives to a sterner bravery?
No! down and down with their robber rule,
    And up from the land of slavery!
For our rare old Land, our dear old Land,
    With its memories bright and brave!
And sing hey for the hour its sons shall band
    To free it of Tyrant and Slave.

    In addition to this admiration of all that should be admired in his native land, Massey possesses, in his poet's soul, love of the beautiful in all its phases.  In the following noble lines, which he calls The Chivalry of Labour, there is a grandeur and heroicness of thought, wonderful in one so reared as its writer; and, in our mind it is the finest poem in his book.  There is a ring in the lines that rouses the spirit like the clashing of the swords in the German accompaniment to Korner's noble lyric; as we read it we feel inclined to exclaim, as a refrain to each verse, "Come, let us Worship Beauty:"—




OUR world oft turns in gloom, and Life hath many a perilous way,
Yet there's no path so desolate and thorny, cold and gray,
But Beauty like a Beacon burns above the dark of strife,
And like an Alchemist aye turns all things to golden life.
On human hearts her presence droppeth precious manna down,
On human brows her glory gathers like a coming crown:
Her smile lights up Life's troubled stream, and Love, the swimmer! lives;
And O 'tis brave to battle for the guerdon that she gives!
Then let us worship Beauty with the knightly faith of old,
O Chivalry of Labour toiling for the Age of Gold!

The first-fruits of the Past at Beauty's shrine are offer'd up,
From which a vintage meet for Gods she crusheth in her cup:
And from the living Present doth she press the rare new wine,
To glad the hearts of all her lovers with a draught divine.
Earth's crowning miracle! she comes! with blessing lips, that part
Like mid-May's rose flusht open with the fragrance of her heart:
And life turns to her colour—kindles with her light—like flowers
That garner up the golden fire, and suck the mellow showers.
Come let us worship Beauty with the knightly faith of old,
O Chivalry of Labour toiling for the Age of Gold!

Come-let us worship Beauty where the budding Spring doth flower,
And lush green leaves and grasses flush out sweeter every hour;
Or Summer's tide of splendour floods the lap o' the World once more,
With riches like a sea that surges jewels on its shore.
Come feel her ripening influence when Morning feasts our eyes—
Thro' open gates of glory—with a glimpse of Paradise:
Or queenly Night sits crowned, smiling down the purple gloom,
And Stars, like Heaven's fruitage, melt i' the glory of their bloom.
Come let us worship Beauty with the knightly faith of old,
O Chivalry of Labour toiling for the Age of Gold!

Come from the den of darkness and the city's soil of sin,
Put on your radiant Manhood, and the Angel's blessing win!
Where wealthier sunlight comes from Heaven, like welcome-smiles
        of God,
And Earth's blind yearnings leap to life in flowers, from out the sod:
Come worship Beauty in the forest-temple, dim and hush,
Where stands Magnificence dreaming! and God burneth in the bush:
Or where the old hills worship with their silence for a psalm,
Or ocean's weary heart doth keep the sabbath of its calm.
Come let us worship Beauty with the knightly faith of old,
O Chivalry of Labour toiling for the Age of Gold!

Come let us worship Beauty: she hath subtle power to start
Heroic word and deed out-flashing from the humblest heart:
Great feelings will gush unawares, and freshly as the first
Rich Rainbow that up startled Heaven in tearful splendour burst.
O blessed are her lineaments, and wondrous are her ways
To repicture God's worn likeness in the suffering human face!
Our bliss shall richly overbrim like sunset in the west,
And we shall dream immortal dreams and banquet with the Blest.
Then let us worship Beauty with the knightly faith of old,
O Chivalry of Labour toiling for the Age of Gold!

    In the edition of the Poems before us, the author has introduced some short pieces recently written.  Amongst these the best is that in honour of the alliance with France.  There is a rough, manly, and withal poetical, spirit in the lines quite in keeping with the subject.  He calls the poem,—


             ENGLAND'S RED ROSE.

LIKE a stern old friend, War grimly comes
    To the temple of peaceful Life;
With the well-known nod of his beckoning plumes

    He hurries us into the strife.
And we meet once more, in the fields of fate,

    With our chivalrous Enemy,
Who knows, by the grip of our hands in hate,

    What the strength of our love may be.
O! the Lilies of France and old England's Red Rose

    Are twined in a Coronal now;
And at War's bloody bridal it glitters and glows

    On Liberty's beautiful brow.

We have dasht together like waves and rocks!

    We have fought till our shirts grew red!
We have met in the shuddering battle-shocks,
    Where none but the freed soul fled!
Now side by side, in the fields of fate,

    And shoulder to shoulder, are we;
And we know, by the grip of our hands in hate,
    What the strength of our love may be.
O! the Lilies of France and old England's Red Rose

    Are twined in a Coronal now;
And at War's bloody bridal it glitters and glows

    On Liberty's beautiful brow.

Then gather ye, gather to battle, ye Braves,

    In the might of your old renown!
And follow ye, follow ye, over the waves,

    Where Liberty's sun went down!
By the bivouac-fire, in the battle-shower,

    Remember your destiny grand,
To set in the thrones of their olden power
    The peoples of many a land!
For the Lilies of France and old England's Red Rose
    Are twined in a Coronal now;
And at War's bloody bridal it glitters and glows
    On Liberty's beautiful brow.

Till the last fetter'd nation that calls us is free,
    Let us fall upon Tyranny's horde!
Brave Italy, Poland, and Hungary, see,
    With their praying hands seek for a Sword!
Till the Storm-God is roused in each suffering land,
    Let us march thro' the welcoming world;
And till Freedom and Faith shall go hand-in-hand,
    Let us keep the war-standard unfurl'd!
For the Lilies of France and Old England's Red Rose
    Are twined in a Coronal now;
And at War's bloody bridal it glitters and glows
    On Liberty's beautiful brow.

We have observed that Massey has given us no poems of a humorous character—and this quality of humour the peculiar circumstances of his life were calculated to depress—as very few human beings possess the enviable temperament of Oliver Goldsmith, or Mark Tapley.  Whilst Massey has no joys save those of the present, or those which shine in the future, the early memories of Nicoll were full of odd and droll events and characters.  He has given us most humorous poetic sketches of' Scottish life and Scottish feeling, and as we read The Bailie, or The  Provost, we have the little great men of the country town before us.  We have, however, selected as best specimens of his humour, The Wooing, and Bonnie Bessie Lee.

                           THE WOOING.

THOUGH overly proud, she was bonnie an' young,
    And, in spite o' her jeers an' her scornin',
I lo'ed her as weel, or mair than mysel';
    An' I followed her e'enin' an' mornin'.
She trysted me ance, an' she trysted me twice,
    But—the limmer!—she never came near me;
And, when I complained o't, she leuch, while she speer'd,
    Was I fear'd that the bogles would steer me?

I gaed to the market to meet wi' my joe,
    An' to buy her back-burdens o' fairin',
My lang-hoarded shillin's and saxpences took;
    For I vow'd that I wou'dna be sparin'.
She pouch'd a' my sweeties, my apples, an' rings,
    Till awa was ilk lang-treasured shillin',
Then says I, "We'll go hame."—"Losh, Geordie, gae wa',"
    Says she, "for your supper is spoilin'!"

Wi' puir Geordie's fairings, sae fine in her pouch,
    She gaed an' drew up wi' anither;
The chield threw his arms about her sweet neck,
    An' awa' hame they cleekit thegither.
Wi' a heart sad an' sair I followed the twa—
    At her auld father's door saw them partin'—
Syne lifted the sneck, an' crap after my joe,
    Wi' a waefu' like look, I am certain!

I whispered her name, an' I clinkit me down
    In the dark, on the settle, aside her,
An' clew at my head—I was sairly tongue-tied;
    For I hadna the smeddum to chide her.
I now an' then mumbled a short word or twa—
    A saft word or twa to my dearie;
But she gapit an' gauntit, sae aft an' sae lang,
    An' she said she o' courtin' was weary!

I raise to gae hame; but the deil, for my sins,
    O'er the floor gart me stoiter an' stammer,
Till the pans made a noise, as the tinker had been
    A-smashin' them a' wi' his hammer.
At the clatter, up startit the waukrife auld wife,—
    Her claes she put on in a hurry;
Says she, "There's a loon 'yont the hallan wi' Meg,
    An' the tangs in his harns I will bury!"

The flytin' auld rudas cam' but wi' a bang;
    An' my bosom was in a sad swither;
An' maist I would 'greed to forgotten my Meg,
    If I had got but quit o' her mither.
The wife an' the tangs were ahint me, I trow;
    An' the window was high,—but I jumpit;
An' up to the neck in a deep midden-hole,
    Like a trout in a bucket, I plumpit!

Baith mither an' dochter glower'd out on the fun,
    An' the young gilpie Maggie was laughin';
The auld ane skreigh'd out wi' a terrible yowl,
    "Hey, lad! ye are row'd in a rauchan."
My face it was red, an' my heart it was sair,
    While my fause love my sorrow was mockin';
And an uncanny something raise up in my throat,
    Till I thought that I surely was chokin'.

I ran to the burn, an' to drown me I vow'd,
    For my heart wi' my fause love was breakin';
But the banks were sae high, and the water sae deep,
    That the sight o't wi' fear set me quakin'!
Says I, Why despair? Sae comfort I took:—
    A sweatheart! I'll soon get anither:
Sae hamewith I toddled, an' endit it a'—
    For I told my mischance to my mither!

    That time tries all, and changes all, every body knows; and possibly, in no case do we perceive those changes so clearly as upon returning after a few years absence, to find the blooming maiden transformed into the grave wife and mother; and, doubtless, many a man has been able to apply to his own particular case that line of Nicoll's which declares of the maid and the wife—

"I'd rather hae' the ither ane than this Bessie Lee."

                            BONNIE BESSIE LEE.


BONNIE Bessie Lee had a face fu' o' smiles,
    And mirth round her ripe lip was aye dancing slee;
And light was the footfa', and winsome the wiles,
    O' the flower o' the parochin—our ain Bessie Lee!

Wi' the bairns she would rin, and the school laddies paik,
    And o'er the broomy braes like a fairy would flee,
Till auld hearts grew young again wi' love for her sake:—
    There was life in the blithe blink o' Bonnie Bessie Lee!

She grat wi' the waefu', and laughed wi' the glad,
    And light as the wind 'mang the dancers was she;
And a tongue that could jeer, too, the little limmer had,
    Whilk keepit aye her ain side for Bonnie Bessie Lee!

And she whiles had a sweetheart, and sometimes had twa—
    A limmer o' a lassie!—but, atween you and me,
Her warm wee bit heartie she ne'er threw awa',
    Though mony a ane had sought it frae Bonnie Bessie Lee!

But ten years had gane since I gazed on her last,—
    For ten years had parted my auld hame and me;
And I said to mysel' as her mither's door I passed,
    "Will I ever get anither kiss frae Bonnie Bessie Lee?"

But Time changes a' thing—the ill-natured loon!
    Were it ever sae rightly he'll no let it be;
But I rubbit at my eon, and I thought I would swoon,
    How the carle had come roun' about our ain Bessie Lee!

The wee laughing lassie was a gudewife grown auld—
    Twa weans at her apron and ane on her knee;
She was douce, too, and wiselike—and wisdom's sae cauld:—
    I would rather ha'e the ither ane than this Bessie Lee!

    But, it may be asked, has Ireland no Reader, yes; in the days of our "wrath and cabbage" patriotism, when the future rulers of Ireland were assumed to be, perhaps, walking the streets, out at elbows, and with empty pockets, some very admirable specimens of poetry by artisans were inserted in The Nation, and other organs of the Young Ireland faction.  But,  strangely enough, these Poets of Labour, although sprung from the artisan class, and living by the work of their hands, sang in most cases,  of Saxon wrongs heaped on Ireland, and took the condition of the country rather than the condition of their fellows as the theme of their songs.  Davis—better known under the nom de plume of "The Belfast Man," was a very remarkable poet of this order; and Frazer, writing under the signature of "De Jean," was a more prolific, if not a better Poet of Labour.  The best specimen of "De Jean's" ability is entitled The Holy Wells; and it is worthy of note also for the peculiar "twist" in the author's mind, enabling him to give to such a theme a semi-political semi-demogogical character:—

                                      THE HOLY WELLS.

THE holy wells—the living wells—the cool, the fresh, the pure—
A thousand ages rolled away and still those founts endure,
As full and sparkling as they flowed, ere slave, or tyrant, trod
The emerald garden, set apart for Irishmen by God!
And while their stainless chastity and lasting life have birth,
Amid the oozy cells and cave caves of gross, material earth;
The scripture of creation holds no fairer type than they—
That an immortal spirit can he linked with human clay!

How sweet, of old, the babbling gush—no less to antlered race,
Than to the hunter, and the bound, that smote them in the chase!
In forest depths the water-fount beguiled file Druid's love,
From that celestial fount of fire , which warmed from worlds above:
Inspired apostles took it for a centre to the ring,
When sprinkling round baptismal life—salvation—from the spring;
And in the sylvan solitude, or lonely mountain cave,
Beside it passed the hermit's life, as stainless as its wave.

The cottage hearth—the convent wall-the battlemented tower,
Grew up around the crystal springs, as well as flag and flower;
The brooklime and the water-cress were evidence of health,
Abiding in those basins, free to Poverty and Wealth:
The city sent pale sufferers there the faded brow to dip,
And woo the water to depose some bloom upon the lip;
The wounded warrior dragg'd him towards the unforgotten tide,
And deemed the draught a heavenlier gift than triumph to his side.

The stag, the hunter, and the hound, the Druid and the saint,
And anchorite are gone—and even the lineaments grown faint,
Of those old ruins, into which, for monuments, had sunk
The glorious homes, that held, like shrines, the monarch and the monk;
So far into the heights of God the mind of man has ranged,
It learned a lore to change the earth—it s very self it changed
To some more bright intelligence; yet still the springs endure,
The same fresh fountains, but become more precious to the poor!

For knowledge has abused its powers; an empire to erect
For tyrants, on the rights the poor had given them to protect;
Till now the simple elements of nature are their all,
That from the cabin is not filched, and lavished in the hall—
And while night, noon, or morning meal no other plenty brings,
No beverage than the water-draught from old, spontaneous springs;
They, sure, may deem them holy wells, that yield from day to day,
One blessing which no tyrant hand can taint, or take away.

    We will not speculate upon this want of class feeling amongst Irish Poets of Labour, to which we have referred.  It may be that our want of factory employment has, by preventing the aggregation of our artisans, checked this sentiment; but, be the cause what it may, the absence of this spirit is plainly evident, and forms a very remarkable point in the consideration of their poems.

    We have now written as fully as we intended, and indeed as fully as is necessary, upon the subject of this paper.  To write a complete history of the Poets of Labour was beyond our intention, and would exceed our space.  We should begin with the Saxon times, when Cedmon, the Ploughman, sang in the Monastery of Streoneshalh, the lays of his own composition, to beguile the hours of the Lady Hilda, who ruled the community of the house.  We might introduce Ben Jonson; possibly Shakspere; John Taylor, the Water Poet; Ebenezer Elliott; Thom; Cooper, the Chartist; Hugh Miller, and many others; but this would be to write a version of the Pursuit of Knowledge Under Difficulties, and a portion of this task has been admirably performed by Southey, in his introduction to the verses of John Jones, the poetical, self-educated serving man. [5]

    We have selected, as our subjects, Nicoll and Massey, because they are the chief poets of their class—excepting Elliott.  We have not selected them merely as poets: in the Radicalism of Nicoll, in the Chartism of Massey, there are warnings too grave to be despised. In Nicoll's Puir Folk, in Massey's The People's Advent, we have expressed, as a poet only could express them, those feelings ground into the hearts and minds of the class of whom these men form a part.  True, this class cannot express their thoughts—but, they can feel them.  "I write my heart in my poems," declares Nicoll; I do not think now as I thought, when writing some of my poems, declares Massey, but I reprint these poems as they expressed what I then felt, and what my class feel still.  What matters it whether these feelings be well or ill founded—they are in the hearts of the people; they will abide in their hearts, gaining strength, festering into convictions, becoming a Creed, a Faith, a Faith acting by violence, bloodshed, hatred, and destruction, to all above them in the social scale.  We do not seek to check the democratic spirit amongst the great, enduring, wonderful Working Classes of these Kingdoms; but we do most earnestly desire to see that spirit directed to its proper, safe, and wisest end—and this can only be accomplished by proving to these classes that they are an integral portion of the Nation, and by treating them as such; this can be achieved by Education, and by spreading amongst employer and employed a more accurate knowledge of their relative interests and duties.

    These are great questions; questions upon which only practical politicians should write; but we have a politician, practical and wise; one who is intimately acquainted with this subject in its full bearing upon master and workman.  Mr. Charles Morrison, whose excellent Essay on the Relations Between Labour and Capital was reviewed in our last Number,[6] thus writes of this question:—

    "The growth of the democratic element, whether directly by the lowering of the qualifications for the suffrage, or indirectly, through the moral influence of the masses, means the preponderance of the interests of labour, over the interests of property.  If then the working classes, or that portion of them, whose superior intelligence and activity tend to make them the representatives of the rest, very generally believe, that the rate of wages and other arrangements between themselves and the other classes, are unfair and disadvantageous to themselves, and that a better state of things is attainable, it is natural that they will use both their legal right or their actual though not legally recognized power to attain it.  And as their whole  condition, and that of their families, and almost their daily bread are at stake upon the results of such an attempt, at any belief of the injustice of social arrangements which they may entertain, will be constantly irritated into indignation by the contrast which their own general poverty and frequent distress present to the immense masses of wealth amidst which they live, and as agitators will never be wanting to fan their smouldering passions into flame, it is to be expected, that they will bring to the struggle a greater intensity of excitement than is seen in the most animated of merely political contests.  If then they should entertain erroneous ideas upon such subjects; if they should attribute to the faults of individuals or of social arrangements, those evils of their condition, which are in fact, the result of inevitable natural laws, or of their own conduct; if they should believe that these evils are to be remedied by measures, which are in truth, unjust, impracticable, and pernicious; it is difficult to over-rate the amount of mischief and confusion which they may produce, by acting upon such views before thy shall be finally undeceived on all those points."

    Mr. Morrison, after explaining the principles upon which, trade should be conducted, contends that the working classes should be taught,—

    That neither idleness, luxuries nor expensive vanities and tastes, are required, for happiness—that the man who has comfortable diet, clothes, and lodging, freedom from oppression, and a moderate share of leisure and means for mental improvement, has as good a chance of happiness as external circumstances can furnish him with—are trite and admitted maxims which are not the less true and important, because they are ignored in most men's practice.  Looking to man's animal structure, physiologists would certainly pronounce that a very considerable amount of muscular labour is condusive to its perfect action: and looking to his double nature it is hardly less certain that much occupation of the body in useful labour, is a great prevention and cure for manifold disorders of his moral being.[7]

    We like this practical plan by which Mr. Morrison would solve this economic riddle.  Doubtless if men of experience such as his had applied some portion of their time to elucidating these questions, the country would thereby be served.  All philosophy, and all metaphysics, will never settle these difficulties.  The science and the practice are here at issue, and here, as ever, practice is triumphant. "Ipsos tamen politicos multo felicius de rebus politicis scripsisse, quam philosophos dubitari non potest," declares Spinosa; and this admission is but the confession of those qualities making up the great points of statesmanship in the instances afforded by Machiavelli, by Bacon, and by Edmund Burke.

    This is no digression from our subject.  If Poets of Labour tell us that they sing the feelings of their fellows; if they write, as they declare, their hearts in their poems,—and if he who wrote in 1836, is exceeded in strength and genius by him who wrote in 1854, surely a Poet of Labour is something more than a Poet—he becomes a teacher to his readers—a teacher to the statesmen of his country.  These cannot, unless they be forgetful of every duty of a statesman, permit the growth of such a spirit as that which Massey indicates; they cannot suffer ignorance, springing from their own neglect, to produce its terrible results—hatred and crime—ending in a veritable "People's Advent."

    Let us not be understood as at all contemning Gerald Massey because he has published poems written when his heart was imbittered by grief and misconception—he were a knave to suppress them.  Publishing them as we have them now, with the declaration of his preface, he is a patriot, as truly as he is thoroughly a Poet.  If he but continue unspoiled by the just approbation with which his poems have been received, he will yet be as great a poet as he is now an honest, out-speaking man; and as he has taught that Labour has its Chivalry, so it may come to pass that he will yet be the Laureate of that Chivalry.



[1.]    See Vol. III., No. 9, p. 120:  Do. No. 11, p. 626.

[2.]    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."

[3.]    See "Essays and Selections," by Basil Montagu.  London: Pickering, 1837.

[4.]    His family were so poor that when his mother came to see him, on the occasion of his first illness in 1837, she defrayed the expenses of the journey to Leeds by the wages which she received while working as a reaper in the fields by the wayside; her words were, "I shore for the siller."

[5.]    For a full account of the Ettrick Shepherd and his poems, see IRISH QUARTERLY REVIEW, Vol. III. No. 10, p. 396.    Art. "The Harp Of the North."

[6.]    See IRISH QUARTERLY REVIEW, Vol. IV. No. 16, p, 793.   Art. "The Future of The Working Classes."

[7.]    If the reader desires to learn how this identification in interest, of employer and employed, can be accomplished, he will find the secret fully disclosed in the succeeding paper, devoted to an account of the Factory Schools of Price's Patent Candle Company, directed by J. I. Wilson, Esq.—ED.


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