10 AUGUST 1850, Page 18


WE never ranked among the vehement admirers of the "Corn-law Rhymer " ; and the soundness of the distrust may rest upon fact instead of criticism. From early manhood Elliott had been ac- customed to write and publish poetry, some of it better in all points of view than his violent diatribes in verse. Yet those pro- ductions fell still-born from the press, yielding him neither profit nor fame. It was not till he took up a question ripe enough for political agitation, and addressed himself to the excited feelings and prejudices of party men, that he became a provincial lion, with sufficient name to induce the editors of Annuals to address him for contributions and notoriety-hunters to seek him out. Elliott, however, had more genius, power, pathos, and delicacy,

than any "poet- from the people" except Burns. Why he was not able to exhibit his genius to the best advantage, by bringing art to; the aid of nature, can be traced in this volume, as well as the cause of the violence, onesidedness, and it may be said vulgarity of some of his poetry. He wanted education in every sense of the word, and a more various knowledge of mankind. Ile had no learning, and not much reading : his domestic training was as bad as coarse (rather than homely) manners, religious bigotry, political violence in violent times, and a hard ill-conditioned temper in his father, could make it. His school acquirements were less than the common Yorkshire schools would have furnished to average application ; and his early associates (smiths and found- ers in his father's employ) by no means improved his manners or ideas, while they maculated him with a taste for tipple— he narrowly escaped being a confirmed drunkard. Neither were his pursuits of manhood altogether compatible with high excellence in poetry. As journeyman and master, his time was spent in the iron trade ;—not in the mode of manufacturing princes, who delegate their affairs to a confidential representative, or even after the fashion of respectable tradesmen who in the morn- ing seat themselves in their place of business for a few hours—but with close and laborious attention. After realizing a competence, and losing it during the disastrous years of panic and ruin that followed the close of the French war, Elliott set to work again, an.d was enabled in less than twenty years to place out his sons in the world and to retire upon some eight thousand pounds. The mental attention and bodily exertion which this required in a place Lae Sheffield—coupled with political agitation—rendered the pur- suit of poetry- as an art impossible' for that requires the devotion of a life. Elliott, too, appears to have been fond of seeing himself in print ; so that he would not be satisfied with selecting a few of his best poems, or take the time to finish those which correction might have improved, but kept continually throwing off verses and printing them. Hence, in his longer pieces ill-chosen subjects, and in the mass of his poetry coarseness, crudity, and often a fiat diffuseness. When, however, the adverse circumstances of his life both in poverty and prosperity are considered, the won- der really is that he wrote so well, or found time to observe na- ture so much as he did. Life in one of its wretched aspects was indeed familiar to him; and he was frequently amongst natural scenes on holydays, his taste for which he ascribed to an acci- dental stimulus to the study of botany. Of his birth no registry exists ; for his father was a low Methodist, "who baptized me himself," writes the poet, "or employed his friend and brother Berean, Tommy Wright, to baptize me." But he was born in March 1781; and he died on the 1st of December 1849.

The Life of Ebenezer Elliott, by his son-in-law, is better as a

book than a biography. It is not well planned ; the narrative of the career is too much broken up by essays illustrative of features of the poet, by criticism on his works, or by extracts from them. Besides this want of continuous connexion, there is also a want of fulness as regards events and of distinctness in the chronology. With the exception of the early period, in which Elliott appears as his own biographer, the book is a series of essays upon the life and character of the poet, rather than a narrative of the one and a delineation of the other.

It is, notwithstanding, an able book; though somewhat weakened

by a tendency to fine writing, and a natural disposition to overrate the subject. It contains a good many sketches of Elliott as he ap- peared at various times • together with extracts from his corre- spondence, which exhibit him on the whole to more advantage in prose than in poetry. This picture is from Mr. Watkins's account of their first interview.

"We arrived at his house with a good appetite for dinner ; after which we resmned our table-talk over a bottle of claret He said he was very sorry to hear a man like me speak ill of Byron. I told him there was no poetry that satisfied my mind more fully than his, but maintained my opinion of the man; for, beiug a public man, I said, he was all the more bound to lead a goo. private life. Mrs. Elliott joined me. He got up, and said he would leave us two to tear him to pieces. He had once seen Byron, he said, in a bank at Sheffield, and thought that the noble poet looked athim with a sneer; for it was a time, he soul when I was in great distress! He likened Byron's com- plexion to a marble bust.

' • Life. Poetry, and Letters of Ebenezer Elliott, the Corn-law Rhymer. With an Abstract of his Polities. By his Son-in-law, John Watkins, Author of the "Life of JIM/ llyest,•' "George Chambers," Ike. Published by Mortimer. "I had now an opportunity of studying him more closely. When I had first seen him at his warehouse, he was dressed in a suit befitting the place; but now his appearance was that of the gentleman. He wore a black surtout with a velvet collar, and bore eye-glasses suspended with a riband. He walk- ed with a rather jaunty air, or with a slight swing of the body from side to side, as one desirous to appear younger than he really was, though he did not disguise that he was fifty-eight. He was somewhat nervous, and had got an idea that he would not live long ; indeed, he said he had been dying four years of consumption. His general look expressed a kind of severe benignity. His head was not what phrenologists would term a good one; it was small, and of an oval shape, but his forehead was neither high nor broad. He said his wife was his critic. Her familiarly affectionate manner of addressing him as Ebby, or Eb, sounded rather oddly in my ears. He could not write, he said, unless he was warm and comfortable; and generally sat near the oven, which was his muse.

"He generally walked about while he talked ; stopping when uttering anything particular. His voice was deep and solemn, and had a kind of dying falL No one could read his poetry like himself. It was as if he was reading Scripture with all the fervour and unction, but, at the same tame, some of the monotony, of a zealous preacher. In reciting he was very vehe- ment. He startled me with a passage from his speech at Palace Yard : 'They poisoned Socrates—they crucified Jesus—and they are starving you!' The climax he delivered with all the force of his stentorian lungs. "it was his constant habit to disparage himself, and to speak in a tone of hyperbole of the merits of others. Thus he said, I have one of the poorest intellects that God ever made. I have no mind. I cannot create. I wish I could write like you ; your prose is perfect. If I were to read your play to you I would make you wonder at the merit of it!' On giving hmi a few MS. verses to read, he said, They were beautiful as an expression of the writer's feelifigs, but were not poetry.' I asked what was poetry? And he answered, It is the heart speaking to itself.' . "He said, if you wish to know what human nature is, you should solicit subscriptions for a poem. He had done so ; and one nian said, Damn you! why don't you write something a gentleman can read ? ' Another, Well, I suppose I must patronize your vanity, or what you please to call it !' "

The following passage from a letter to a young friend is perhaps a specimen of the mock-modest habit of self-disparagement that Mr. Watkins speaks of. If given in good faith, it is one of the truest judgments that ever author passed upon himself.

"Seine of my speeches, however, are still readable ; I can actually read them without falling asleep ; and if you can select from all my poetry a poem like Death and Dr. Hornbook,' combining humour with pathos or sublimity, I will believe that it may keep my book alive for a few years. But the mere heaviness of my poetry will sink me. I sat down to read it yesterday, beginning with the Vernal Walk,' and in ten minuteal was asleep, with the volume at my feet. The strongest proof that it will not live is the fact that it is dead already. What Sheflielder reads it except yourself and the Doctor? Are there fifty persons living who can truly say they have each read ten pages of my verse? I once had an opportunity of examining a copy of may works presented by meto a great admirer of my genius,' His had commenced reading 'The 1 ter,' a poem of some laboured merit; but he stuck fast half-way. All the pages exeept twenty-three were uncut; and I found that the admirer of my genius' probably did not know by name The Village Patriarch," The Exile," Bothwell," Withered Wild Flowers,' They met in Heaven," The Recording Angel," Come and Gone,' $ The Splendid Village,' &e."

It is not improbable that there was something in Elliott's father amounting to a monomania which descended to the poet, and was displayed in the violence of his politics—for the religious fanati- cism he got over. When the Corn-laws were put aside, he could judge the poor peasantry sternly enough. "I was aware, when I came hither, that the country possesses no advan- tages except for him who loves it for its own sake; and that this situation possesses none over Sheffield, except cheaper and better fuel, sweeter water, purer air, and good roads, without toll-bars. I did not expect to find here a paradise of cherubs praising God, though we have some strapping ones of that species. I knew that if there is vice in towns there is crime in the country—crime of the blackest ; for in crimes of violence, and in proportion to population, the village of Wombwell, four miles hence, exceeds the orimin. ality of Sheffield one hundred per cent. I knew that if we would fall in with a rogue able to cheat the Devil, we have only to buy horses at a coun- try fair ; and that if we would know who they are that cheat railway companies, by getting into wrong carriages, or not paying at all, we shall find on inquiry that nineteen-twentieths of them are country people."