Lancashire Rhymes

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Lancashire Rhymes; or, Homely Pictures of the People.

By Samuel Laycock.

(Simpkin & Co.)

Samuel Laycock

Undoubtedly a great deal of peculiar poetry exists in the life of the poor: a hidden book from which poets like Hood have but snatched a leaf or two.  There will be epics of battle compared with which the tale of Troy is lacking in human interest; dramas as full of fierce, wrestling passions as any that are shown on the visible stage; lyrics of love and affection faithful unto death; poems that lie closer to nature than imagination can grip; if we could only get them written out as they are often lived by those who have no suspicion that what they say or do would make poetry.  The writer who shall give us a glimpse of these possibilities requires to live the life of the poor.  Those who write of the poor and for them whist living apart from them can at best make some pathetic appeal in their behalf.  But the poor themselves are able to see their own sorrows at times in other than a lachrymose light; they have that humour which dwells on the other side of pathos—the twinkle in the tear, and the spirit that will make fun of its own troubles.  Hence they can only be represented by a poet like Burns, who springs from them and is one of them; who includes the whole of their nature and call bring a smile of humour into the saddest face of things.

    Mr. Laycock is a far-off follower of the lyrist who showed the world that the human nature of the poor was not always sterile and stunted, but had a laugh left in it, and a keen, keeking eye for the absurdities around it.  Nor would he stand much chance of doing any justice to the Lancashire poor unless he had something of the Scottish bard's sound-hearted good sense and irrepressible humour.  His excuse for these rhymes is, that nobody has come forward to thank the contributors to the Lancashire Fund, and so he will try and do it himself. This he does with great heartiness of feeling, if in very homely poetry.—

God bless'em for o'at they've done,
    An' aw hope they'll keep doin' as well,
Till th' dark cleawd 'at hangs o'er's blown away,
    An' we're able to do for eawersel',
Excuse me for writing these loines,
    For it's no use aw conno' be still,
As long as they help us to live,
    Aw'll thank'em, if nob'dy else will.

In a 'Sewing-Class Song' will be found the true twinkle of Lancashire humour:—

We're welly kill'd wi' kindness, neaw, we really are, indeed,
For everybody's tryin' hard to get us o we need,
They'n sent us puddins,—bacon, too, an' lots o' decent
An' what they'll send afore they'll done there's nob'dy here
            'at knows.
                    Then, lasses, let's cheer up, an' sing, &c.

God bless these kind, good-natured folk, 'at sends us o this
We conno tell 'em o we feel, nor thank 'em hawve enuff;
They help to flind us meat an' clooas, an' eddicashun, too,
An' what creawns o', they g'en us wage for goin' to th'
            sewin' schoo'!
                    Then, lasses, let's cheer up, an' sing, &c.

We'll sich a chance o' larnin' neaw we'll never had afore;
An' oh, we shall be rare an' wise when th' Yankee wars are
There's nob'dy then can puzzle us wi owt we'n larned to do,
We'n gotten polished up so weel wi goin' to th' sewin'
                    Then, lasses, let's cheer up, an' sing, &c.

Young follows lookin' partners eawt had better come this
For, neaw we'n larned to mack' a shurt, we're ready ony day;
But mind, they'll ha' to ax us TWICE an' mak' a deol ado,
We're gettin' rayther saucy neaw wi' goin' to th' sewin'
                    Then, lasses, let's cheer up, an' sing, &c.

There'll be some lookin' eawt for wives when the factories
            start again,
But we shall never court wi' noan but decent, sober men;
Soa vulgar chaps beawt common sense will ha' no need to
For, sooner than wed sich as these, we'd better stop at
                    Then, lasses, let's cheer up, an' sing, &c.

The author has plenty to tell us of the opposite side of the picture.  He has seen the suffering of his fellows, and cries "God bless 'em!  how patient they are."  He bears testimony that the struggle has been mortal sharp for many:—

If they think it's noan true what we sell,
    Ere they charge me wi' tellin' a lie,
Let 'em look into th' question loike men,
    An' come deawn here a fortnit an' try.

The following lines afford a fair specimen of that cheery spirit with which many of the poor will put the best face on the matter in circumstances that are comically rueful, and in the narrowest limits of life show a heart large enough to make room for all the little ones that may come, and find the softest, warmest corner in their nature for the latest of these small but hungry gifts of God.  The new-comer may not be wanted exactly, but then it is sure to be the prettiest!—

Tha'rt welcome, little bonny brid,
But shouldn't ha' come just when tha did;
                    Toimes are bad.
We're short o' pobbies for eawr Joe,
But that, of course, tha did'nt know,
                    Did ta, lad?

Aw've often yeard mi feyther tell
'At when aw coom i' th' world misel
                     Trade wur slack;
An' neaw it's hard wark pooin' throo,—
But aw munna fear thee, iv aw do
                    Tha'll go back. 

Cheer up!  these toimes'll awter soon;
Aw'm beawn to beigh another spoon—
                     One for thee;
An', as tha's sich a pratty face,
Aw'll let thee have eawr Charley's place
                    On mi knee.

Hush!  hush!  tha munno cry this way,
But get this sope o' cinder tay
                    While it's warm;
Mi mother used to give it me,
When aw wur sich a lad as thee,
                    In her arm.

Hush a babby, hush a bee—
Oh, what a temper!  dear a me,
                    Heaw tha skroikes!
Here's a bit o' sugar, sithee;
Howd thi noise, an' then aw'll gie thee
                    Owt tha loikes.

We'n nobbut getten coarsish fare,
But eawt o' this tha'll ha' thi share,
                    Never fear.
Aw hope tha'll never want a meal,
But allus fill thi bally weel
                    While tha'rt here.

And tho' we'n childer two or three,
We'll make a bit o' reawm for thee,—
                    Bless thee, lad!
Tha'rt th' prattiest brid we han i' th' nest;
Come, hutch up closer to mi breast—
                    Aw'm thi dad.

The author excels most, however, in his humours of local character.  He cannot do better than follow out this predilection, and he will find much that is quaintly natural it: the obscure nooks of human life, especially in his native county.  One of the best sketches in the present collection is his 'Village Pedlar':

Th' village pedlar's a jovial owd brick,
    A merchant o' great local fame;
He goes trudgin' areawnd wi' his basket an' stick,
    An' a few useful things aw'II just name.
He's needles, an' bodkins, an' thread,
    An' buttons, an' bobbins, an' tape,
An' hair-pins for lasses to stick i' their yead,
    To keep their hair nicely i' shape.

He's wursted a haup'ny a bo,
    Blue-peawder, an' furniture paste,
An' capital mustard i' packets an' o'
    If yo' think it's noan good yo' can taste.
Neaw th' owd pedlar ne'er gets eawt o' tune,
    Tho' he's bother'd wi' o sorts o' foalk;
Iv they vex him a bit, he forgets again soon,
    An' passes it off as a joke.

He's carried his basket so long,
    That at last it's become like a charm;
An' he'll tell yo' he feels as if summat wur wrong,
    If he hasn't it hung on his arm.
E'en at church on a Sunday, awm towd,
    When his mind should be free fro' sich cares,
He's o' ov a shiver, his arm feels so cowd,
    For tit' want ov his basket an' wares.

He's a christian i'th 'spite ov o' this,
    Oh, awve often yeard th' owd fellow tell
That he thowt he could boast o' moor genuine bliss 
    Than even eawr Queen could hersel',
Earthly jewels one sees up an' deawn,
    He will 'tell yo' must crumble to dust; 
But he's livin' i' hopes o' possessin' a creawn, 
    At'll nother turn faded nor rust.

Owd pedlar, aw wish aw wur poor,
    Trampin' reawnd wi' a basket an' wares;
Leavin' blackin' an' blessin's at every one's door,
    An' tryin' to leeten foalk's cares.
When tha claps deawn thi basket to dee,
    Whot a gloom will be felt o' areawnd!
Hot tears 'll stond tremblin' i mony a one's e'e,
    As they lower thi body i th' greawnd.

Th' little childer 'at loved thee so dear,
    To that spot where tha'rt buried will throng,
An' they'll say, wi' sad looks, "Th' owd pedlar lies here, .
    Come, let's sing him a noice little song."
Then they'll deck thi green grave wi' wild fleawers,
    Pat it closer to keep thee reet warm;
An' say, as they leave thee alone a few heawers,
    "Bless th' owd fellow, he's tackin no harm!"

Nearly 40,000 copies of these Rhymes, we are told, have been sold in single sheets; and with a word of caution to the author against a slight tendency to mistake coarseness for humour, we have to express a hope that his Rhymes may circulate as largely in their collected shape.


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