Since this article was written back in 2008 for the introduction to our collected poetry of George Markham Tweddell (downloadable for free on pdf here - http://www.tweddellpoetry.co.uk/ we have
- Lost co-editor Paul Tweddell, whose work was invaluable
- Confirmed the connection between Tweddell and Ebenezer Elliot and there is now a page on that on the Ebenezer Elliot site http://www.judandk.force9.co.uk/Tweddell.html
- Confirmed Tweddell's awareness of the work of Whitby Chartist / author john Watkins via Whitby Authors and their publications - Gideon Smales 1867.
- Discovered, in the Tweddell family, another volume of Tweddell's poems, many never published and soon to be made available.
- Paul Tweddell's well researched Tweddell Family History - Poor Lives but with Honour, is soon to be published.
- A major update to the Tweddell History website with Paul's additional research is due soon.
A Poet’s view of George Markham Tweddell (1823-1903)
“What is a modern poet’s fate?
To write his thoughts upon a slate:
The Critic spits on what is done,
Gives it a wipe – and all is gone!”
Thomas Hood 1826 (as quoted by Tweddell’s Bards and Authors)
BARD FROM STOKESLEY
For the first time in history, we present the full collection of poetical works by George Markham Tweddell (or GMT for short by his own wish). A good many of these poems were published during GMT’s lifetime but this collection includes many from his notebooks that remained unpublished until now. With the recent acknowledgement on the internet of various forgotten heroes of the radical tradition we think this new collection provides an ideal opportunity for a reassessment of both GMT’s poetry and his life’s work, which coupled with the recent development of the Tweddell website and relocation of GMT’s extensive notes and correspondence in Cleveland County archives, facilitates a range of resources not previously available.
It is both fitting and a pleasure to publish this collection (albeit 105 years after his demise) because this man spent a lifetime rescuing from obscurity so many of Cleveland’s poets and authors who had passed on.
Indeed without GMT’s dedication to this task, we would now have little or no knowledge of the range of literary figures that lived and wrote in our area. This is no small thing for an area often viewed by literary analysts as a ‘cultural desert’, especially as elements of GMT’s work (and the later author inspired by GMT – William Burnett) alleged that instead of the area being a ‘desert’, the basis of the English literary canon was formed in this general area. A bold claim indeed, but this general area can lay claim to associations with Cademon (Whitby and Lealholm), Beowulf (Boulby and Hartlepool), the Celtic bard Anuerin (Catterick), John Gower, poet and Chaucer’s mentor (Sexhow, Stokesley and Stittenham), and many more. His book (now sadly only available in the local reference libraries and antiquarian shops), along with William Burnett’s book Old Cleveland are beacons of literary enlightenment for an area marginalised as a cultural backwater.
In terms of Tweddell’s own poetry, like many writers, he suffered his share of hack critics who had little understanding of his life’s work and less of the full range of his poetic works. While GMT welcomed objective critical appraisal, he lashed out at some of the mindless reviews he often received. In the dedication to theBards and Authors of Cleveland and South Durham (1875), GMT says of his critics:
“The ill-natured Critics, – those who dip their pens in gall, – are growing fewer, in proportion to the number of their craft, everyday, and are generally the men with the least grasp of thought. Perhaps some of them may have glanced over my books when suffering from an overflow of bile. I don’t want puffs: all I desire from any Reviewer is candid criticism, to state fairly the object of the book under notice, and to express his own opinion how far that object has been accomplished.”[i]
Recently Paul Tweddell, my fellow editor, showed me some of GMT’s unpublished handwritten note booksSonnets on Trees and Flowers, etc. and (for want of a title from the poet) Rhymes (in Manuscript),[ii] in which, about 1892 in the twilight of his life, GMT had attempted to collate some of his best poems and annotate them with details of where they were written or published. There was no doubt in my mind that GMT was intending these to be published at some stage, even if posthumously.
I was impressed with the range of styles GMT had embraced, from the gentle sonnet to the finger-pointing rants against the ‘Tyrant Oppressors’ who imprisoned Chartist leaders. I suggested to Paul that many of his critics would not have seen many of these poems or have had any idea of this poetic range. It was decided then and there that we should endeavour to publish the complete collection for the sake of history and in the hope of a critical reappraisal of his poetic works.
In recent years, too, there have been judgements made of GMT’s poetry. In 1989 Andy Croft (then lecturer in Literature at Middlesbrough’s Leeds University Adult Education Centre) referred to GMT’s poetry, in the Cleveland Local History Society’s Journal, as being ‘Arcadian’ and not addressing itself to the concerns of the workingman in the newly developing Ironopolis that was Middlesbrough. Andy quotes GMT’s ‘Rosebury Topping’ (p. 28 below):
“Not among smoke of busy, crowded town,
Where manufactures for the world are made,
And man’s best nature seems all trodden down,
To suit vile necessities of trade,
Has my life’s Spring been past: ……”
and was clearly looking for poetry that supported his valid thesis that Middlesbrough never produced the working class writers that other industrial areas produced such as Gaskell, Dickens etc. and that Middlesbrough was only ever represented in literature in a negative way as “a hole like that”. Perhaps GMT, in the poem, was trying to identify himself with the poor workers who spent as much of their spare time contemplating that very view as they could. Indeed his son-in-law was to die prematurely in a house barely yards from the smoke of the North East railway’s locomotive sheds in Middlesbrough leaving six young children fatherless. Ebenezer Elliot, with even more impeccable credentials for radicality than GMT, also wrote about the same vista in John Walker Ord’s History of Cleveland (1846):
“When Cook, a sailor's boy, with aching eye,
Gazed from the deep and oft-climbed Roseberry;
While trembling as she listened to the blast,
The anxious parent sea-ward wishes cast,
And fervent prayer was mute, but not surpressed
Though love was resignation in her breasts.
Why did thou not—thou happiest name of joy—
Bid her cheered spirit see that that deathless boy
Bear round the globe Britannia's flag unfurled,
And from the abyss unknown call forth a world.”
Andy’s poem on the same subject, with a very different but telling slant, includes the verse:
On Roseberry Topping you can see for miles
Of shining streets – the Golden City
In an Ironmaster's jangling dreams.
This high up, who could tell the pity
Of a place without choice, without all
But men and women, a life that seems
Windily unwanted, exposed to the fall
Of a sticky rain, a yellow, nuclear smile?[iii]
However, it is only fair to say that Andy never had access twenty years ago to the range of poems by GMT, the growing knowledge of the Tweddell family nor the knowledge of nineteenth century radical history now being made available.
Paul Tweddell has since revealed that GMT, besides producing the city’s best history at the end of the 19thcentury, indeed lived and worked in the developing ‘Infant Hercules’ for a decade. His concern for the rural proletariat was strong throughout his life as evidenced from the editorials of the radical newspaper that he produced when he was 19 against the oppressive Corn Laws, to the poem written in his last years and sympathetic to travelling workers, ‘The Poetry of an Old Besom’,[iv] (pp. 52 et seq.) Nor must be forgotten his work as one of the Stokesley Chartists or his support for the Cleveland Ironstone miners’ union in the 1870s.
Between 1842 and 1845 GMT produced his radical newspaper, The Stokesley News and Cleveland Reporter,and, not surprisingly his poems served to reinforce his political purposes as ‘The Muses’ Bower’ (p. 3), ‘Death’(p. 6), ‘An African Slave’ (p. 6), ‘Superstition’ (p. 11), ‘Oddfellowship’ (p. 11), etc. On Sunday January 1st1843 in issue No 3, GMT reacted to the conservative backlash of his time (see the next section for details) by writing an editorial in language that echoes Shelley’s invective in the Masks of Anarchy and predates Marx’s introduction to the Communist Manifesto, A Spectre is Haunting Europe, by 6 years:
“Notwithstanding the base attempt to crush our little periodical, by the vilest and most ungenerous means, yet we again pay our monthly visit to our subscribers, to amuse and instruct…”
“When The Stokesley News, and Cleveland Reporter first made its appearance in the political and literary world, it was with a firm determination to lash every species of vice, with an unsparing hand; and to be the unflinching advocate of civil and religious liberty. Fearlessly to tear the mask from the sinister deeds of unprincipled legislators and trafficking politicians, of every party……”[v]
In defence of one of the Chartist leaders, John Frost (sentenced to decapitation but later commuted to transportation to Australia for his part in the Newport riots), GMT wrote ‘Lines to Tyrants’ of which this is a snatch:
Think not because taxation robs us
Of most the wages that we earn;
Think not because tyrants oppress us
And cause the nation sore to mourn,
That we will ever cease demanding,
The rights that are to us most dear:
The justice of the “People’s Charter”
Does Frost e’en in his dungeon cheer.
[The full poem can be seen on p. 225 et seq. below]
In the following poem extract, written in the 1800’s, GMT’s views on education wouldn’t be out of place in Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1972) where he talks about the ‘Banking Concept of education’ in which the student receives, memorises and repeats ‘deposits of knowledge’ rather than develops a ‘critical consciousness and spirit of enquiry’.
“To educate does not mean pumping in
Knowledge, even to cramming in the brain;
But, by judicious efforts, so to train
The virgin mind, that it must surely win
Wisdom from all it reads or hears or sees;”
(page 158 below)
In his poem ‘A Model Female’ GMT offers what might be seen as a kind of early feminist poem:
“For she is no gay butterfly, but true
To all that elevates humanity;
And much intelligence behind that brow
Dwells in her brain; and none will e’er receive
Unkindness from her, or have cause to grieve.”
[page 170 below]
Andrew Prescott – former Director of the Centre for Research into Freemasonry at Sheffield University – has recently taken GMT’s published book of A Hundred Masonic Sonnets to be the standard of his writing. Written in later life during ill health (published after the persuasion of his friends) these poems are more didactic; instructive to others in the ‘Craft’.[vi] It is clear that this new work containing all the known poems of GMT will provide a more substantial basis for judgement than was hitherto possible.
However an initial look at the Masonic poems shows that they are:
· Clearly didactic (in accordance with the style of the time) and suited to his intended purpose in instructing his fellow Masons and in the words of the second Masonic poem (p. 99 below)“to elevate his vision...help to warm [at least] one frozen mind to life; show the plan of Masonry to be no useless maze to puzzle fools”.
· Have a recognisable form – that of the Sonnet. It is clear that GMT is well acquainted with the form and its variants and there’s evidence to suggest that he might even be innovating with the form if you consider the wide variations of the rhyme schemes over the 100 poems including a few with a non-standard number of lines (these are identified after each poem).
· The diction may not be as ‘elevated’ as in other of his poems however, considering it is a didactic work, the language seems appropriate and nonetheless still contains persuasive imagery with some extended metaphors, etc.
· Indeed the poems employ a range of Masonic emblems such as ‘The All-Seeing Eye’, ‘The Great Architect’, ‘The Gavel’, ‘The Compass’ and more. Furthermore some of the poems refer directly to the emblematic and symbolic function of his poetry but more on that later!
· These sonnets treat a wide range of themes both close to his heart and life’s work as well as being pertinent to being a ‘good Freemason’. Among the themes we find ‘justice’, ‘truth’, ‘love’, ‘sincerity, ‘charity’, ‘freedom from ignorance and superstition’, ‘wisdom’, ‘spiritual development’, ‘prudence’, ‘equality’, ‘friendship’, ‘silence’, ‘tyrants’, ‘oppressors and slavery’, ‘symbolism’, ‘Robbie Burns’, the ‘spiritual temple of the soul’ and many more.
A few of the poems read almost as if he is writing alternative (or Masonic) prayers. Sonnet No. 6 in the collection [p. 100 below] certainly seems to read that way, as could the last, prayer-like four lines of the previous sonnet [p. 100 below], ‘Truth, No I’:
“With joy will welcome in the glorious time
When truth alone will reign. Then, as in heaven
God will be truly served; all wars will cease
And Love and Charity for aye increase”?
In Bards and Authors of Cleveland and South Durham GMT comments, in a chapter on Great Ayton’s poet, William Martin, himself a Freemason, with lines that might explain the purpose of his later A Hundred Masonic Poems:
“Save poor Burns’s ever famous “Farewell to the Brethren of the St. James Lodge, Tarbolton”, …… and few other glorious exceptions, the things miscalled Masonic songs are mere bombast, doggerel, or drunken staves, scribbled by men who have been totally unable to comprehend the beautiful system of Morality, “veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols,” which they have profanely professed to defend and illustrate.”
I think, therefore this work clearly attempted to address those concerns. One might therefore look at this work to see to what extent (in compliance with his wish to be judged by the aim of the work) he achieved those aims. Of course GMT exempted William Martin himself from the above!
The Masonic poems illustrate the point that GMT’s full range of poetry functioned in different ways for his various purposes. Here are some pointers in consideration of this that might be useful to keep in mind while reading the full works.
GMT’s poetry was just one aspect of his wide-ranging work that Paul Tweddell refers to later. Some of the poems are written to supplement other types of work as illustrated below and falls into a number of categories:
· Poems written to supplement his early editorials in his radical Newspaper Cleveland News and Stokesley Reporter, which fought against the oppressive Corn Laws. GMT would quite wittily add another perspective to his editorial in the form a short poem under the pseudonym Peter Proletarius.These poems are clearly functional, serving the greater political cause rather than poetic affectations.
· Poems that introduce chapters and themes in some of his books such as the Bards and Authors of Cleveland and South Durham and some of his Cleveland geographical works. These poems are again functional in introducing authors or themes and not meant to be inspired works of art.
· Poems that are didactic in nature and intended to ‘instruct’. The Masonic poems fall into this category. Again he is employing his skills in the service of a greater cause.
· Poems that I would consider more personal, sonnets that denote important family occasions. These might employ more poetic conceits and Tweddell is documenting his family history as it evolves, via his poetry.
· Poems of invective, full of passion, that come from the heart. His early poems hitting out at the tyrants of oppression, against the imprisonment of his Chartist comrades would come under this category.
· Poems, mainly sonnets, written as a poet rather than as a passionate activist although Tweddell is never far away from his greater concerns even if presented symbolically. His ‘Arcadian’ style poems may be included here and the collection he called Sonnets on Trees and Flowers which are, I believe, symbolic in nature.
· Biographical poems often (but not always) written as obituaries, usually about Locally Eminent People, friends or acquaintances or well known to GMT through his correspondence.
A RADICAL CANON OF POETS: EBENEZER ELLIOT[vii]
I’d long considered GMT a one-off until a recent discussion Paul Tweddell and I had with the historian Malcolm Chase, of the History Department of Leeds University, whose expertise on Chartism made a valuable contribution to our understanding.
I had a hunch that there was a link between Corn Law Rhymer Ebenezer Elliot and GMT. Both had had work published in the Chartist paper The Northern Star and so at the very least would possibly have seen each other’s work. I thought that if some further connection could be established this might be a more relevant bard with which to establish a comparison. I fed this notion back to Paul Tweddell and Malcolm Chase and Paul searched his Tweddell database and immediately came across the following poem by GMT written in response to Elliot showing a clear awareness of Elliot’s work. Paul also found evidence of correspondence between the two shortly before Elliot passed away in 1849. On p. 186 is GMT’s poem (p. 185):
The Bramble (Rubus Vulgaris)
Brave Elliot loved "thy satin-threaded flowers,"
Dear Bramble! All who appreciate those things
Of beauty which Nature as largess flings
So freely over valleys, plains, and moors,
Must share the Corn Law Rhymer's healthy love.
And who in Autumn does not like to taste
Thy pleasant Dewberries? There is no waste
Throughout the universe; for all things move
In strict obedience to the unchanging laws
Wisely laid down by Him who cannot err;
And He alone is His true worshipper
Who studies to obey them. The Great First Cause
Adorns our very brakes with fruit and flowers,–
As if to teach us all that happiness may be ours.
George Markham Tweddell
Here is the relevant poem from Ebenezer Elliot:
To the Bramble Flower
Thy fruit full-well the schoolboy knows,
Wild bramble of the brake!
So, put thou forth thy small white rose:
I love it for its sake.
Though woodbines flaunt and roses glow
O’er all the fragrant bowers,
Thou needst not be ashamed to show
Thy satin-threaded flowers;
For dull the eye, the heart is dull,
That cannot feel how fair,
Amid all beauty beautiful,
Thy tender blossoms are!
How delicate thy gauzy frill!
How rich thy branchy stem!
How soft thy voice, when woods are still,
And thou sing'st hymns to them;
While silent showers are falling slow
And, 'mid the general hush,
A sweet air lifts the little bough,
Lone whispering through the bush!
The primrose to the grave is gone;
The hawthorn flower is dead;
The violet by the moss'd grey stone
Hath laid her weary head;
But thou, wild bramble! back dost bring,
In all their beauteous power,
The fresh green days of life's fair spring,
And boyhood's blossomy hour.
Scorn'd bramble of the brake! once more
Thou bid'st me be a boy,
To gad with thee the woodlands o'er,
In freedom and in joy.[viii]
Interestingly, Malcolm Chase commented on the suggested comparison between GMT and Elliot:
“I think Trevor’s right, Ebenezer Elliot is the point of reference against whom GMT should probably be read - rather than the better known chartist poet Ernest Jones who wrote in a more obviously Gothic style. Another point of reference - again replete with classical allusions and similarly very deferential to Shakespeare - is the Chartist Thomas Cooper, whose epic poem Purgatory of Suicides (1846) circulated very widely. There is a very sophisticated but readable LitCrit of chartist poetry by Anne Janowitz, Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition (Cambridge University Press, 1998). But she never notices Tweddell!”
GMT’s use of nom de plumes such as Peter Proletarius, also intrigued me, whilst Malcolm Chase suggested:
“Nom de plumes and modelling: there may be links and given the overlap of their views and rough geographical proximity, Watkins, Tweddell and Elliot may well have consciously borrowed from each other. On the other hand they could be responding to a common earlier source. "Junius" was an important radical political writer of the third quarter of the C18th, while William Cobbett (who visited Stockton, but that's another story) famously used the pseudonym Peter Porcupine - so Peter Proletarius may well be intended as a silent but knowing reference to Cobbett.”
GMT also created his own ‘national canon’ in the poem on p. 186 below, ‘The Daisy (Bellis Perennis)’, which reinforced his wish to be judged alongside the ‘radical’ poets in the widest sense. These were Chaucer, Burns, Wither (1588-1667)[ix], James Montgomery (1771-1854), with Southey added later as a poet, but not for his politics (see the poem ‘Robert Southey’ – p. 50 below) and ‘William Wordsworth’ (p. 63 below). Montgomery, although a Scot, was a campaigning reformist especially against slavery, spending much of his life in Yorkshire and was imprisoned in 1795 and 1796. Later he responded to Ebenezer Elliot’s request for advice on his poetry, information that strengthens GMT’s links to like-minded poets.[x]
Malcolm Chase sent me an article he had written about Whitby Chartist, poet and playwright John Watkins who was imprisoned for sedition after promoting Chartism in Stockton. I felt sure there might be another connection here given the geographical closeness. So far no evidence has come to light in GMT’s work, although Whitby library or the Whitby Philosophical Society archives might have some references of course. However the article did reveal that Watkins married Elliot’s daughter. Nothing conclusive can be judged on this fact, but we have established a trail back to Elliot who knew Tweddell!
More fruitful was a link Paul made with Montgomery, finding a poem that may have influenced GMT’s poem in the Stokesley News and Cleveland Reporter. (Ebenezer Elliott knew James Montgomery who lived mostly in Wakefield.). Compare Montgomery’s poem with GMT’s later poem below:
A Cry from South Africa
On building a chapel at Cape Town
For negro slaves of the colony, in 1828
Britain not now I ask of thee
Freedom, the right of bond and free;
Let Mammon hold, while Mammon can,
The bones and blood of living man;
Let tyrants scorn, the tyrants dare,
The shrieks and writings of despair
An end will come – it will not wait
Bonds, yokes, and scourges have their date,
Slavery itself must pass away,
And be a tale of yesterday.
James Montgomery (1771-1854)
An African Slave
Ye tyrant fiends! who dare usurp
Power o’er your fellow man.
You fill all earth with misery,
The grave you never can.
There ‘tis your pow’r stops short,
You can no further go:
The tomb’s the last, but sure, retreat
From tyranny and woe.
Even kings must rot like common men,
And will return to clay;
And, cheek by jowl, tyrant and slave
Will by each other lay.
[One of GMT’s nom de plumes, see p. 6 below]
JOHN CRITCHLEY PRINCE
John Critchley Prince, (mentioned further in the next section) could also have been a strong influence on GMT, for they shared similar radical opinions. For a while in the early 1840s Prince worked on a newspaper, The Herald of the Future, that espoused Corn Law repeal and the 1833 10 hour Factory Act. He also worked with the Manchester Odd Fellows in Blackburn. Tweddell and Prince corresponded from 1842 firstly concerning the publication of some of Prince’s poems in GMT’s newspaper (Stokesley News and Yorkshire Miscellany). It continued through their shared circumstances and increasingly warm friendship until 1851 when Prince wrote to GMT, “Your fortunes and mine are very much alike,” referring particularly to their shared poverty. They met up finally in 1855 when the Tweddells moved to Bury. Compare the styles:
The Primrose (Primula vulgaris).
Sweet, modest flower, so gentle in its mien,
I ever love to gaze upon its form.
Full oft in childhood I’ve the Primrose seen,
Hiding its fragrant head from Borean storm,
In sheltered copse, by side of verdant hill,
On where to crystal river whimples still
Through scenes as lovely as the banks of Rhine;
What time the blackbird whistled till the green
Old gnarlêd woods re-echoed back the strain
And I have felt a glory truly mine
When I in primrosed walks have loitering been;
For earth seem’d free from every spot or stain
Of Sin and Care, which make the world a Hell,
And demons roam where angels fain would dwell.
George Markham Tweddell
[This poem was written c. 1849. See p. 179 below]
I pause and listen, for the Cuckoo's voice
Floats from the vernal depths of yonder vale,
Whose aspect brightens at the gaze of morn.
Green woods, free winds, and sparkling waves rejoice—
Sweet sounds, sweet odours freight the wanton gale,
And April's parting tear-drops gem the thorn.
Through field and glade the truant school-boy sings,
And where in quiet nooks the primrose springs,
Sits down to weave a coronet of flowers;
From hill to hill a cheering spirit flies,
Talks in the streamlet—laughs along the skies,
And breathes glad music through the forest bowers:—
God of Creation! on this mountain shrine,
I praise, I worship thee, through this fair world of thine!—
John Critchley Prince [in The Poetic Rosary, 1850]
Praise to John Critchley Prince.
Hail, Prince 'mongst modern Poets! Thou whose song
So oft hath cheered me in dull Sorrow's hour;
To grasp thy gifted hand I ofttimes long,
As few, like thee, have gained the magic power
Of charming heart and mind. It is a dower
Which Nature only on a few bestows,
For fear that she the honour due should lose
Which from her sons she claims. For Poets are
Nature's first favourites; and their only care
Is for their mother; knowing well that she
Is no cross step-dame, but a parent kind,
For ever striving to endow mankind
With Peace; and Love, and Health, and Liberty,
Whose pioneers are Poets—such as thee!
George Markham Tweddell
[Written in 1846 (see p. 30 below) and also appears in The
Life of John Critchley Prince, R.A. Douglas Lithgow, 1880]
EMBLEMS AND SYMBOLS
After reading GMT’s poem for Elliot ‘The Bramble (Rubus Vulgaris)’ (on p. 185 below) I wondered why many of these radical poets also had a strong interest in flowers and plants. Was it purely botanical or was there some kind of esoteric symbolism going on? This was reinforced by finding a Masonic reference in the GMT poem about The Great First Cause (‘The Volume of the Sacred Law’, p. 107 below). In the Alchemist bookThe Secret of the Golden Flower, the golden flower is thought by some to be the Emerald Tablet and in the spiritual side of Alchemy part of the process of purifying the spirit. Symbols of flowers, colours, suns and moons are part of the symbolism. Freemasonry derives is symbolism from the Hermetic tradition and has its own path towards spiritual enlightenment. Could there be a deeper level to some of these poems, especially in GMT’s sequence of sonnets under the heading Sonnets on Trees and Flowers I wondered?
A clue came when Paul sent me a link to some poems by Wither whom GMT had mentioned in his sonnet The Daisy ‘(Bellis Perenis)’ on p. 186 below. Wither’s ‘Marigold’:
When with a serious musing I behold
The graceful and obsequious marigold,
How duly every morning she displays
Her open breast, when Titan spreads his rays.
took my attention as GMT had a poem called ‘The Marsh Marigold (Caltha Palustris)’ immediately before ‘The Daisy’. The Wither poem seemed to be using natural imagery in a symbolic way. Scrolling down I found a footnote that gave the first clue to the mystery:
“The first Emblem book (or book containing pictorial representations whose symbolic meaning is expressed in words) was the Emblematum Libellus of Alciati 1522. This was widely imitated, Quarles and Wither being the best known English emblem writers.”
Since then I’ve found plenty of evidence of GMT’s knowledge and use of emblems in his work. He mentions it in Bards and Authors of Cleveland and South Durham in relation to the work of poet John Riley Robinson and both the word and the technique is used in some of the 100 Masonic Poems and Sonnets on Trees and Flowers at least. The Masonic poems are replete with known Masonic emblems such as the two poems, ‘The All-Seeing Eye’ (p. 119 below), ‘The Gavel’ (p. 108 below), ‘The Compasses’ (p. 118 below), as mentioned above, but the symbolism in the Sonnets on Flowers and Trees is more naturalistic and it’s possible the poems also symbolically reflect a spiritual path of development, that can be understood by those who can read the signs. Soon after I found these poems among the 100 Masonic Poems that may add credence to that thesis. First was ‘Symbols’, (p. 118 below):
Nature abounds in Symbols for the Wise!
Sunset and sunrise; Phoebus in his pride;
Luna, as she does in her glory ride,
With all her starry train; the watchet skies,
Fleckt with all-gorgeous Clouds; the whimpling Rill,
The rushing River, and the booming sea;
Birds of all hues and songs; all seems to me
Pregnant with potent Teachings. Every hill
And Valley, Tree, Flower, Grass, Moss, Lichen; all
The Insect tribes that there have their brief day;
The very Dust we tread on; each, all may
Form Symbols to a thinking Mind, and call
On Masons here to read them. Oh, that we
May think and Work with God through all eternity!
Then, in ‘The All-Seeing Eye No 1’, there were further significant lines (p. 119 below):
To picture forth the Great All-Seeing Eye,
As symbol meet of watchful Deity
‘Twas used in Egypt's far antiquity
Greece, Rome and every ancient mystery.
Wisely preserved the Emblem ....
The poem ‘Skillet’ (p. 109 below) talks about stone masons, building temples, “Lets build our spiritual temple…” while in ‘Legends of the Craft’ the closing lines read (p. 117 below):
But we must have the key
To Unlock Symbolic teaching in the mind
Or allegories ne'er can benefit
The sluggish brain of country clown or cit.
He who knows how to search, will surely Find
Truth hidden in her well; but they who boast
Sole love of literal facts, too oft Err the most.
However the imagery is far more naturalistic and poetic in the Sonnets on Trees and Flowers, with some of the flowers (perhaps like Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’) possibly symbolising the sun and gold is mentioned quite a lot too. Could Wordsworth, who had forged a new attitude in poetry towards nature, favouring the more intuitive and non-mechanistic outlook, have influenced Sonnets on Trees and Flowers? Certainly GMT mentions him a few times in relation to flowers such as The Daisy for instance.
In Alchemy the aim is to transmute base metals into gold. In spiritual Alchemy (or its embodiment in the rituals of Freemasonry), the chemical process is a symbolic and spiritual path and the sun (or flowers that look like the sun) are emblematic and reflect the precipitation of the spirit to the ideal. GMT could also be thinking of the Cabbala (The Tree of Life), which is the spiritual path to God in his reference to trees in these poems. In the following poem (which follows on from Wither’s Marigold) imagery such as ‘Burnish’d gold’ are interesting in this context I think. And here too is GMT’s ‘The Marsh Marigold (Caltha Palustris)’ (on p. 187 below):
Bonnie Marsh Marigold adorns the brook
In clumps like burnish’d gold. The earth is now
Not vile, but fit for angels. We must sow
The seeds of virtue broadcast, and may look
For happiness when we obey the laws
Of Nature, which are God’s: when we rebel
In our own minds we carry the real hell,
Which burns to punish all who may oppose
The great Creator’s will. ‘T was never meant
Mankind should be unhappy. Earth and sky
Unite to ask us the real reason why
Such misery is ours: for God has sent
All that is needful for our happiness,—
Only we hate each other when we should caress.
Hopefully this all serves to indicate that there might be more going on in GMT’s poems than may have been previously suspected by some of his past critics and this new full collection will hopefully help to transform our understanding of his work. The poems all together tell the story of his life, his quest for justice, peace and enlightenment, his joys and sorrows, his wit and cunning and much more besides. This commentary only takes into account a small proportion of the poems here. What might a proper in-depth study find in these poems?
Trevor Teasdel, 2008, Great Ayton