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never was I so happy as when listening to his recitations of Homer's Greek, of which I did not understand a word, and yet after the lapse of nearly half a century, its music has not departed from my soul. Willingly, too, would I have shared the praises showered on my brother Giles, but, alas, how was that to be accomplished P Hitherto I had been fat and round as a ball—I now became pale and lean. My health visibly suffered, but I had now resolved to undertake the great task of self-instruction—I purchased a grammar, but proved unable to remember a single rule, however laboriously com mitted to memory. About a year afterwards, I added the “Key” to my grammar, and read it through and through a hundred times. I found at last that by reflection, and i. supplying elisions, &c., I could detect and correct grammatical errors. The pronouns bothered me most, as they still do. At this moment I do not know a single rule of grammar ; and yet I can now, I flatter myself, write English as correctly as Samuel Johnson could, and detect errors in a greater author, Samuel Bailey. Flushed with success, my enthusiasm knew no bounds. To the great joy of my father, I resolved to learn French, but though I could with ease get and say, my lessons, I could not remember a word of them. I therefore, at the end of a few weeks, gave up the attempt. For once, however, I was lucky in calamity; for my French teacher, not understanding the language himself, I was allowed to throw the blame on him, which I did gloriously. It would seem that my poetical propensities are traceable to certain accidents, but that about the end of my fourteenth year my mind began to make efforts for itself. Those efforts, however, were favoured by an accident of importance in the history of my education. A clergyman, called Firth, who held a poor curacy at a desolate place called Middlesmoor, bequeathed to my father his library, containing, besides scores of Greek and Latin books, “Barrow's Sermons,” “Ray's Wisdom of God,” “Derham's Physico-Theology,” “Young's Night Thoughts,” “Harvey's Meditations,” “Henepin's Travels,” and three volumes of the “Royal Magazine,” embellished with views of Bombay, Madras, The Falls of Niagara, Pope's Villa at Twickenham, and fine coloured representations of foreign birds. , My writings owe something to all these books' particularly to Henepin, who carried me with him from Niagara to the Mississippi. I was never weary of Barrow ; he and Young taught me to condense. Ray also was a favourite. The picture of Pope's Villa induced me to buy his “Essay on Man,” but could not enable me to like it. In the “Royal Magazine” I found the narrative of a shipwreck on a SouthSea island, on which I made a romance in blank verse, twenty years before Scott printed his “Lay of the Last Minstrel.” My next treasure was Shenstone : I could repeat all the mottos, translated from the Greek and Latin, which he has prefixed to his poems; I think he is now undervalued. Then I followed Milton—who held me captive long, I have said, I always took the shortest road to
an object : this tendency led me into some errors, but was the principal cause of my ultimate success as an author. I never could read a feeble book through : it follows that I read master-pieces only, the best thoughts of the highest minds—after Milton, Shakspeare—then Ossian—then Junius, with my father's Jacobinism for a commentary—Paine's “Common Sense”—Swift's “Tale of a Tub”—“Joan of Arc." —Schiller’s “Robbers”—Bürger’s “Leonora”--Gibbon’s “Deeline and Fall"—and long afterwards, Tasso, Dante, De Staël, Schlegel, Hazlitt, and the “Westminster Review.” But I have a strange memory. Sometimes it fails me altogether, yet, when I was twelve years old, I almost knew the Bible by heart ; and in my sixteenth year I could repeat, without missing a word, the first, second, and sixth books of “Paradise Lost 1” If then, I possess that power which is called genius, how great must be my moral demerits--for what have I written that will bear any comparison with the least of my glorious models . But I possess not that glorious power. Time has developed in me, not genius, but powers which exist in all men and lie dormant in most. I cannot, like Byron and Montgomery, pour poetry from my heart as from an unfailing fountain; and of my inability to identify myself, like Shakspeare and Scott, with the characters of other men, my abortive “Kerhoneh,” “Taurepdes,” and similar rejected failures, are melancholy instances. My thoughts are all exterior--my mind is the mind of my own eyes. A primrose is to me a primrose, and nothing more; I love it because it is nothing more. There is not in my writings one good idea that has not been suggested to me by some real occurrence, or by some object actually before my eyes, or by some remembered object or occurrence, or by the thoughts of other men, heard or read. If I possess any power at all allied to genius, it is that of making other men's thoughts suggest thoughts to me which, whether original or not, are to me new. Some years ago my late excellent neighbour, John Heppenstel, after showing me the plates of Adubon's “Birds of America,” requested me to address a few verses to the author... With this request I was anxious to comply ; but I was unable to write a line, until a sentence in Rouseau suggested a whole poem, and coloured all its language. Now, in this case, I was not like a clergyman seeking a text that he may write a sermon ; for the text was not sought but found---or it would have been to me a lying and a barren spirit. From my sixteenth to my twenty-third year, I worked for my father at Masbro' as laboriously as any servant he had, and without wages, except an occasional shilling or two for pocket-money; weighing every morning all the unfinished castings as they were made, and afterwards in their finished state, besides opening and closing the shop in Rotherham when my brother happened to be ill or absent. Why, then, may not I call myself a working man? But I am not aware that I ever did so call myself; certainly never as an excuse for my poetry if bad, or if good as a claim for wonder. There are only two lines in my writings which could enable the reader to guess at my condition in life. I wrote them to show that, whatever else I might be, I was not of the genius “Dunghill Spurner”—for in this land of castes the dunghill sprang with good coats on their backs are not yet generally anxious to claim relationship with hard-handed usefulness. But as a literary man I claim to be self-taught : not because none of my teachers ever read to me or required me to read a page of English grammar; but because I have of my own will read some of the best books in our language, original and translated, and the best only---laboriously forming my mind on the highest models. If unlettered women and even children write good poetry, s, who have studied and practised the art during more than forty years, ought to understand it or I must be a dunce indeed. I have laid before the reader a history of my boyhood and youth. What excuse can I plead for troubling him with these common-place incidents in the history of a commonplace person That I write not for the strong but for the weak; who may learn from this narrative that as by the mere force of will such persons can write poetry, no honest man of good sense need despair of accomplishing much greater because more useful matters. The history of my manhood and its misfortunes.(your famous people have a knack of being unfortunate and of calling their faults misfortunes) remains to be written. It would not, I have said, even if honestly written,
15e more instructive than an honest history of almost any other man ; but when I said so, I forgot that it would be, in part, a history of the terrific changes of fortune, the alternations of prosperity and suffering, caused by over-issues or by the sudden withdrawal of inconvertible paper money, in those days “when none but knaves throve * none but madmen laughed—when servants took their masters by the nose, and beggar'd masters slunk aside to die—when men fought with shadows, and were slain—while, in dreadful calm, the viewless storm increased, most fatal when least dreaded, and nearest when least expected.” I am not yet preparednot yet sufficiently petrified by time and trouble—to tell a tale, in telling which I must necessarily live over again months and years of living death.
hen I made the astounding assertion many years ago (in “Tait's Magazine”) that the food-taxes were costing or destroying, or preventing the earning of more than a hundred millions sterling a year, I knew well that in a short time the truth of the assertion would be confirmed by the wisest and best informed of my countrymen. It has been objected to my political poems that I sometimes repeat in them the same thoughts and words. Why should I not repeat the same thoughts and words, if they are wanted and I cannot find better? My countrymen were robbed of knowlege as well as food ; and it is not my fault that, born dull and slow, I find thoughts and words with difficulty. I husband my materials because I am intellectually poor. No man can “by taking thought” add an inch to his stature ; but any man may do the best he can with the means in his power, and he who would usefully live in his deeds “must fight for eternity with the weapons of time.” Newspaper-taught as I am, and having no ideas of my own, I can only seize those of others as they occur, earnestly applying them to current occasions. If I have been mistaken in my objects I am sorry for it: but I have never advocated any cause without first trying to krow the principles on which it was based. On looking back on my public conduct—thanks to that science which poor Cobbett, ever floundering, yet great and brave, called in scorn “poleetical economy,” I find I have had little to unlearn, and when I shall go to my account, and the great Questioner whose judgments shall not err say to me, “What didst thou with the lent talent?” ... I can truly answer, “Lord it is here ; and with it all that I could add to it—doing my best to make little much.”
o EBENEzER ELLIoTT. Sheffield, 21st June, 1841
We doubt if he formed a true estimate of himself in this sketch He was a better poet and worse politician than he believed. The fierce personal denunciations which disfigured his poems were neither wise, good, nor effective. Nor was he a working man in the sense he would have it believed, . He seems to have risen into comparative opulence by the vulgar luck of bargains which fell in his way. But he was a poet ; and what with that undoubted qualification and his temporary success in buying and selling iron he rose into notice with some influence over his neighbours. We find him judiciously using that influence among the working classes of Sheffield, when they, instigated by a leader named Feargus O'Connor, a man of doubtful sagacity, opposed the repeal of the corn laws because the anti-corn law league comprised a large numberof “masters,” or “employers” in its ranks. The occasion was in 1839, when a convention of workin men's delegates assembled in London and ended their deliberations with an advice to resort to physical force to overturn the government or anything else which that leader of doubtful sagacity might pronounce wrong. Ebenezer Elliott wrote thus:
To the Secretaries of the Sheffield Working Men's Association.
SIRs---Cannot your enemies starve you off fast enough If they can, why do they seek to get you butchered like sheep? The convention, by defending monopoly, and advising physical force, are fighting the battle of the aristocracy, under the peoples' colours; a battle ultimately for self-destruction, and which those magnificent wretches seem well able to fight for themselves, without your assistance. I learn from the newspapers of Saturday last, that your representatives in the convention (with the concurrence of your own man) are about to send deputations into the country, to advocate the starvation laws. Of those laws you will very soon have quite enough, and so, thank God, will their authors. If you like such laws what use do you intend to make of the franchise when obtained ?
I have no wish to force my opinions upon you. No ; be corn-lawed to your heart's content, for we shall not have Jong to wait ; but, in the meantime, it must not be supposed that I am one of the body of men who are willing to be represented by persons capable of supporting such barbarous legislation. If then my name is on your list of members please erase it, and oblige your fellow-townsman,
Sheffield, 6th May, 1839. EBENEzen ELLIorr.