Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ebenezer Elliott and George Markham Tweddell

Paul Tweddell wrote ( in a bio of George Markham Tweddell) and in response to Tony Nicholson's research into 'Cultural Encounters' research -

Network of  Interlinking Northern Radical Thinkers and Poets.
Ebenezer Elliott
It is likely that research into Victorian intellectual activity in Yorkshire and the North East would find Tweddell’s life and work serving as a paradigm for its study. Tweddell's work in North Yorkshire and South County Durham, for example, is part of a network of interlinking clusters of radical thinkers (or men sympathetic to their ideology) and interested in literature. Tweddell could be a candidate for Cleveland’s representative; William Andrews in Hull, Ebenezer Elliott in South Yorkshire, James Montgomery in West Yorkshire, John Critchley Prince and Charles Swain over the Pennines in North East Cheshire and South East Lancashire (respectively), William Hall Burnett in Blackburn; all of whom could be shown to know each other. Nor would it be surprising to find one in Newcastle upon Tyne, perhaps Joseph Cowan (1831-1901), the local newspaper owner and radical M.P. who harassed Gladstone about the unsatisfactory agreement between his administration and politically-aware working-class men toward the end of the 19th century."

One of these 'cultural encounters' involved Ebenezer Elliott - variously known as the Corn Law Rhymer, the Poet of the People or The Rabble's Poet.

Who Was Ebenezer Elliott?

According to the Ebenezer Elliott website

Ebenezer Elliott was born at Masbrough, Rotherham (UK) in 1781. Early on, he developed an interest in nature & poetry. While working in a Masbrough iron foundry, he started to get the odd poem published & began a long correspondence with Robert Southey, the eminent poet. In politics & religion, he was a non-conformist who hated injustice & had an interest in the condition of the working man & poor people in general. After going bankrupt in Rotherham, he moved to Sheffield where he did well as an iron & steel merchant. The greatest interest of Elliott's life was in bringing attention to the Corn Laws & getting them repealed. His fierce indignation against the Bread Tax (as he called the Corn Laws) inspired his "Corn Law Rhymes" which made him nationally & internationally famous after their publication in 1831. He died in 1849 & was buried at Darfield Churchyard in the Barnsley area." Read more and some of Ebenezer Elliott's poems here - 
(An excellent and informative site!).

This poem by Ebenezer Elliott sums up in his own words, the spirit of the man -

The Poet's Epitaph

Stop, Mortal! Here thy brother lies,
The Poet of the Poor.
His books were rivers, woods and skies,
The meadow and the moor,
His teachers were the torn hearts' wail,
The tyrant, and the slave,
The street, the factory, the jail,
The palace - and the grave!
The meanest thing, earth's feeblest worm,
He fear'd to scorn or hate;
And honour'd in a peasant's form
The equal of the great.

But if he loved the rich who make
The poor man's little more,
Ill could he praise the rich who take
From plunder'd labour's store.
A hand to do, a head to plan,
A heart to feel and dare -
Tell man's worst foes, here lies the man
Who drew them as they are....................................................

Following a conversation with Labour historian - Professor Malcolm Chase of Leeds University, Paul Tweddell became more aware of his ancestors radical work as a Stokesley Chartist and contributor to the Chartist Newspaper Northern Star. In relation to this Paul referred me to the Ebenezer Elliott website. Elliott was also a contributor to the paper and I felt sure they must have at least been aware of each other's work even in they didn't know each other. When I communicated this to Paul and Malcolm we soon established that not only was there a mutual awareness but there had been both a poetic and letter exchange between the two. Paul searched his Tweddell data base and sent the following poem by Tweddell in response to one by Elliott - (Although both radical poets, both had a love of nature -

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.


Ebenezer Elliott was also well acquainted with the area Tweddell was born in and loved so well - Cleveland - and Roseberry Topping (the landmark conical hill on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors). 

This is from Ebenezer's poem on Roseberry Topping  quoted by John Walker Ord in his 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.

I did think that a relevant comparison between the poetry of George Markham Tweddell would be between him and Ebenezer Elliott given the shared perspective and interests. Malcolm Chase agreed and offered some interesting observations -

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!


Soon the links between Tweddell and Elliott multiplied. They were there all along in references in his books and in Horsfall's essay on Tweddell on another post on here.

I contacted the Ebenezer Elliott site and in an exchange between Keith Morris who runs the site and Paul Tweddell and I, it was revealed that Tweddell had written to Elliott in 1844 by which time he had started Tweddell's Yorkshire Miscellany and wanted to include some of Elliott's work in the magazine. Elliott obviously held Tweddell in high regard but was doubtful about the possible success of Tweddell's new literary project in the light of how such magazines had fared before. Keith has since set up a page on the Elliott site for the letters and poems between the two and you can read them here on the page George Tweddell and the Rabble's Poet

On the above page you can also read three further poems by Tweddell in honour of Elliott after he died in 1849 - with a note which reads -

"Sonnets 1 & 2, first published December 15th 1849, were written on hearing of the Death of my esteemed Literary Correspondent, who I was to have visited in his "Den," as he humorously called his retired abode at Hargitt Hill."

Whitby Playwright, poet, Chartist John Watkins married daughter and wrote a biography of Elliott which is available free on line here

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