By signs too numerous to be counted, yet some of them made fruitful by specification, the Spirit of the Age announces that she is slowly, toilsomely, but surely, working that revolution, whose mighty deluge rolling back, shall leave a new aspect smiling on earth to greet the “most ancient heavens.” The wave rolls forward slowly, and may be as long in retreating, but when it has retired into the eternal deep, it will leave behind it a refreshed world, in which there may still be many low and mean men, but no lower classes; for it will be understood that it is the glory of a man to labor, and that all kinds of Labor have their poetry, and that there is really no more a lower and higher among the world of men with their various spheres, than in the world of stars. All kinds of Labor are equally honorable, if the mind of the laborer be only open so to understand them. But as
For this his dower did he receive,
That he in mind should contemplate
What with his hands he doth achieve.”
* * * * *
“Observe we sharply, then, what vantage
From conflux of weak efforts springs;
He turns his craft to small advantage
Who knows not what to light it brings.”
It is this that has made the difference of high and low, that certain occupations were supposed to have a better influence in liberalizing and refining the higher faculties than others. Now, the tables are turning. The inferences and impressions to be gained from the pursuits that have ranked highest are, for the present, exhausted. They have been written about, prated about, till they have had their day, and need to lie in the shadow and recruit their energies through silence. The mind of the time has detected the truth that as there is nothing, the least, effected in this universe, which does not somehow re-present the whole, which it is again the whole scope and effort of human Intelligence to do, no deed, no pursuit can fail, if the mind be ‘divinely intended’ upon it, to communicate divine knowledge. Thus it is seen that all a man needs for his education is to take whatsoever lies in his way to do, and do it with his might, and think about it with his might, too; for,
Who knows not what to light it brings.”
And, as a mark of this diffusion of the true, the poetic, the philosophic education, we greet the emergence more and more of poets from the Working Classes,—men who not only have poet hearts and eyes, but use them to write and print verses.
Beranger, the man of the People, is the greatest poet, and, in fact, the greatest literary genius of modern France. In other nations if “the lower classes” have not such an one to boast, they at least have many buds and shoots of new talent. Not to speak of the patronized plow-boys and detected merits, she has now an order, constantly increasing, able to live by the day labor of that good right hand which wields the pen at night; with aims, thoughts, feelings of their own, neither borrowing from nor aspiring to the region of the Rich and Great. Elliott, Nicol, Prince, and Thom find enough in the hedgerows that border their everyday path;—they need not steal an entrance to padlocked flower-gardens, nor orchards guarded by man traps and spring-guns.
Of three of these it may be said, they
And learn in Suffering what they taught in Song.”
But of the fourth—Prince, we mean—though he indeed suffered enough of the severest hardships of work-day life, the extreme hardships of life when work could not be got, yet he was no flint that needed such hard blows to strike out the fire, but an easily bubbling naphtha-spring that would have burned much the same, through whatever soil it had reached the open air.
He was born of the poorest laboring people, taught to read and write imperfectly only by means of the Sunday Schools, discouraged in any taste for books by his father lest his time, if any portion were that way bestowed, should not suffice to win his bread;—with no friends of the mind, in youthful years, except a volume of Byron, and an old German who loved to tell stories of his native land;—married at nineteen, in the hope of mingling some solace with his cup; plunged by the birth of children into deeper want, going forth to foreign lands a beggar in search of employment, returning to his own country to be received as a pauper, having won nothing but mental treasures which no man wished to buy: he found his wife and children in the Work-House, and took them thence home to lie with him on straw in an unfurnished garret. Thus passed the first half of the span allotted on earth to one made in God’s image. And during those years Prince constantly wrote into verse how such things struck him. But we cannot say that his human experiences were deep; for all these things, that would have tortured other men, only pained him superficially. Into the soul of Elliott, the iron has entered; the lightest song of Beranger echoes to a melancholy sense of the defects of this world with its Tantalus destinies, a melancholy which touches it at times with celestial pathos. But life has made but little impression on Prince.—Endowed by Nature with great purity of instincts, a healthy vigor of feeling more than of thought, he sees, and expresses in all his works, the happiness natural to Man. He sees him growing, gently, gradually, with no more of struggle and labor than is wanted to develope his manly strength, learning his best self from the precious teachings of domestic affections, fully and intelligently the son, the lover, the husband, the father. He sees him walking amid the infinite fair shows of Nature, kingly, yet companionable, too. He sees him offering to his God no sacrifice of blood and tears, whether others’ or his own, but the incense of a grateful and obedient heart, ever ready for love and good works.
It is this childishness, rather this virginity of soul, that makes Prince’s poems remarkable. He has no high poetic power, not even a marked individuality of expression. There are no lines, verses or images that strike by themselves; neither human nor external nature are described so as to make the mind of the Poet foster-father to its subject. The poems are only easy expression of the common mood of a healthy mind and tender heart, which needs to vent itself in words and metres. Every body should be able to write as good verse—every body has the same simple, substantial things to put into it. On such a general basis the high constructive faculty, the Imagination, might rear her palaces, unafraid of ruin from war or time.
This being the case with Prince, we shall not make detailed remarks upon his Poems, but merely substantiate what we have said by some extracts.
1st. We give the description of his Journey and Return. This, to us, presents a delightful picture: the man is so sufficient to himself and his own improvement; so unconquerably sweet and happy.
2d. The poem “Land and Sea,” as giving a true presentment of the riches of this poor man.
3d. A poem to his Child, showing how a pure and refined sense of the beauty and value of these relations, often unknown in palaces, may make a temple of an unfurnished garret.
4th. In an extract from ‘A Vision of the Future’; a presentation of the life fit for man, as seen by a ‘reed-maker for weavers’; as we doubt Mrs. Norton’s Child of the Islands would not have vigor and purity of mental sense even to sympathize with, when conceived, far less to conceive.
These extracts speak for themselves; they show the stream of the Poet’s mind to be as clear as if it had flowed over the sands of Pactolus. But most waters show the color of the soil through which they had to force their passage; this is the case with Elliott, and with Thom, of whose writings we shall soon give some notice.
Prince is an unique, as we sometimes find a noble Bayard, born of a worldly statesman—a sweet shepherdess or nun, of a heartless woman of fashion. Such characters are the direct gift of Heaven, and symbolize nothing in what is now called Society.*
* * * Things dragged on thus heavily until 1830, when his hopes were excited by the statements put forth of the want of English artisans in France, and those of his craft especially. He thereupon set off for St. Quentin, in Picardy, leaving his wife to provide, by her labor, for his three children and herself, until he should procure employment, and such a remuneration for it as he had been led to expect. When he arrived in London he heard of the Revolution in Paris, and the flight of Charles X. Not reflecting on the necessary stagnation which this must occasion in manufactures, he determined that, having proceeded so far, he would venture onwards. Arrived at Calais, he had to remain some days, until news was brought that Louis Philippe was elected King of the French. He now proceeded up the country to Quentin. Here he was doomed to disappointment: the revolution had paralyzed every thing;—business was at a stand-still, and no employment for him was to be had. He knew not what to do; whether to return home, his hopes frustrated and money wasted, or to proceed to the great seat of manufactures, Mulhausen, on the Upper Rhine. He chose the latter course, and accordingly wended his way thitherwards, by the way of Paris, where he staid eight days, during which time he visited the Theatres, the Church of Notre Dame, Pere la Chaise, the Gallery of the Louvre,—ascended the column in the Place Vendome, and viewed other “lions” of the French metropolis, till at length, finding his viaticum, so small at beginning, dwindling to a most diminutive bulk, he proceeded forward, through the province of Champagne, to his destination.
On arriving at Mulhausen, he found trade little better than at St. Quentin. Many manufactories were shut up, and the people in great distress. His means were completely exhausted. In a land of strangers, ignorant of the language, with the exception of a few words he had picked up on the road, he was indeed forlorn. Without the means to survival, and in the hope of a revival in trade, he remained here five months in a state of comparative starvation; sometimes two entire days without food. During this time some trifling relief was afforded him by the generous kindness of Mr. Andrew Kechlin, a manufacturer, the Mayor of the town.
Finding that his hopes were fruitless, and the desire of again seeing his wife and children becoming insupportable, he at length determined to undertake the task of walking home, through a stranger-land, for many hundred miles, without a guide, and without money. Accordingly, in the middle of a severe winter, (January, 1831,) with an ill-furnished knapsack on his back, and ten sous in his pocket, he set off from Mulhausen to return to Hyde, in Lancashire, with a heart light as the treasure in his exchequer. His wants, his privations damped not the ardor of his soul; his poetic enthusiasm, while it drove him into those difficulties which a more prudent and less sanguine temperament would have made him avoid, yet served to sustain the buoyancy of his spirits under the troubles which environed him, and which it had superinduced.
For a few days he kept along the beautiful and romantic banks of the Rhine, exploring its ruined castles, and visiting every scene of legendary lore that came in his path, exclaiming, in the words of his favorite poet, Goldsmith—
He journeyed through Strasberg, and admired its splendid cathedral; through Nancy, Verdun, Rheims, Luneville, Chalons, and most of the principal cities, &c. that lay near his route, till he reached Calais once more; obtained from the British Consul a passage across the channel, and again set foot on his native soil.
During this toilsome journey, he subsisted on the charity of the few English residents whom he found on his way. He lay in four different hospitals for the night, but not once in the open air, as he did afterwards in his own country. The first night after his arrival he applied for food and shelter at a workhouse in Kent, and was thrust into a miserable garret, with the roof sloping to the floor, where he was incarcerated along with twelve others—eight men and four women, chiefly Irish—the lame, the halt, and the blind. Some were in a high state of fever, and were raving for drink, which was denied to them; for the door was locked, and those outside, like the bare walls within, were deaf to their cries. Weary and way-worn, he lay down on the only vacant place amid this mass of misery, at the back of an old woman who appeared to be in a dying state; but he could get no rest for the groans of the wretched around him. Joyfully did he indeed hail the first beam of morning that broke through the crannies of this chamber of famine and disease; and when the keeper came to let him out, his bed-fellow was dead.
Released from this lazar-house, he proceeded onward pennyless and shoeless, towards London, begging in the day-time and lying in the open fields at night. When he reached London he had been the whole day without food. To allay the dreadful—but to him then the familiar—cravings of his hunger, he went to Rag Fair, and taking off his waistcoat, sold it for eight pence. He then bought a penny loaf to mitigate his hunger, and four penny-worth of writing paper, with which he entered a tavern, and, calling for a pint of porter, proceeded to the writing of as much of his own poetry as his paper would contain, and this amid the riot and noise of a number of coal-heavers and others.
As soon as he had done his task he went round to a number of booksellers, hoping to sell his manuscript for a shilling or two, but the hope was vain. The appearance and manners of the famishing bard to these mercantile men were against him—he could not succeed in finding a customer for his poetry, or sympathy for his sufferings.
He stayed in London during two days, wandering by day, foodless, through its magnificent and wealth-fraught streets, and pacing about, or lying on the cold stones in gateways, or on the bare steps of the affluent, by night. In despair, on the third day, he left the metropolis of the land of his birth, where he was a greater stranger, and less cared for, than in a foreign land, and wended his way homeward, first applying for relief to the overseer of “merry Islington,” where, urged by the stings of famine, he was importunate when denied assistance, and was, therefore, for his temerity, thrust into the street to starve. A youthful and unabused constitution, however, saved him from what might have befallen a less healthful frame and a less buoyant heart.
At length, by untiring perseverence, he reached Hyde, having slept by the way in barns, vagrant offices, under haystacks, and in miserable lodging-houses, with ballad singers, match-sellers, and mendicants, fully realising the adage of Shakspere, that “misery makes a man acquainted with strange bedfellows.” On his route from London, he ground corn at Birmingham, sang ballads at Leicester, lay under the trees in Sherwood-forest, near Nottingham, lodged in a vagrant office at Derby, made his bivouac at Bakewell, in Derbyshire, in a “lock-up,” and finally reached Hyde, but found, alas! it contained for him a home no longer.
Whilst poverty had thus brought suffering upon him, when in quest of better means to provide for his family, it had also brought woe and privation upon his wife and babes. Unable to provide for her children by her labor, she had been compelled to apply for parish aid, and was, in consequence, removed to the poorhouse of Wigan. After a night’s rest Prince hurried off to that town, and brought them back to Manchester, where he took a garret, without food and clothes, or furniture, of any description. On a bundle of straw this wretched family, consisting of a man and his wife and three children, lay for several months.
During all this time Mr. Prince was unable, but at very long intervals, to obtain even very insufficiently rewarded employment; and had it not been for the labor of his wife, who is a power-loom weaver, and withal a more industrious and striving woman, they would have starved outright. At this period of severe privation, their youngest child died.
The seaman may sing of his own vast sea,
And the swain, of his own sweet land;
But it boots not where the wanderer be,
With a chainless heart and hand;
In storm the sea hath a fearful power—
A beauty in repose;
And the land is rich in fruit and flower,
Or bleak in winter’s snows.
How free to bound o’er the waters wide,
Swift as the rushing gale!
How sweet to look from the mountain’s side
On the calm and sequestered vale!
There’s a charm in the green-wood’ s summer sigh—
There’s a spell in ocean’s roar;—
I have loved, I have sought them both, as fly
Spring birds from shore to shore.
I was born on the verge of the ocean deep,—
I have played with his locks of foam
And watched his weltering billows leap,
From the door of my cottage home;
I would die on the breast of some lonely isle,
Where no rude footsteps sound,—
Where a southern heaven on my grave may smile,
And the wild-wave boom around.
WELCOME! blossom fair!
Affection’s dear reward;
Oh! welcome to thy father’s sight.
Whose heart o’erflows with new delight,
And tenderest regard;
While on thine eyes
Soft slumber lies,
And, bending o’er thy face I feel thy breath arise.
Upon thy mother’s cheek
Are trembling tears of joy:
We have no thought of worldly pain,—
Past hours of bliss are felt again,
Unmingled with alloy;
May Heaven hear
The prayer sincere
Which, for thy earthly weal, a father offers here!
May death’s relentless hand
Some kind protection spare,
To guide thy steps through childhood’s day,—
To turn thee in religion’s way,
By teaching early prayer;
In every hour
Check evil’s power,
And in thy guileless heart, plant virtue’s fadeless flower!
Youth hath a thousand dreams,
As false as they are fair;
And womanhood’s sad season brings
The stern reality of things—
Too oft the blight of care;
For man deceives,
And woman grieves
When passion plucks joy’s flower, and scatters all its leaves.
May no such lot be thine,
My loved and only child!
Nor sin’s remorse, nor sorrow’s ruth,
But weded love and holy truth
Preserve thee undefiled!
And when life’s sun
Its course hath run.
Be thy departing words—“My God! thy will be done!”
“A Father’s lament,” is also beautifully expressive of the same pure feelings with their sorrows and joys,
Bathed in the sunlight of an azure June,
Where the rich mountains lift their forms above
The crystal calmness of the bright lagoon;
Where timid Peace, like some domestic dove,
Broods in the lap of Joy, and every boon
That harmonizing Liberty can give,
Clings round a spot on which ‘tis heaven to live!
I see no splendid tyrant on a throne,
Extorting homage with a bauble rod;
No senate heedless of a people’s moan,
Cursing the produce of the fertile sod;
No sensual priest, with pampered pride o’erblown,
Shielding oppression in the name of God;
No pensioned concubine—no pauper peer,
To scorn the widow’s or the orphan’s tear.
I see no bondman at his brother’s feet,
The weak one fearing what the strong one saith;
No biased wealth upon the judgment seat;
Urging its victims to disgrace or death;
No venal pleaders, privileged to cheat,
With truth and falsehood in the self-same breath;
No dungeon glooms—no prisons for the poor—
No partial laws to render power secure.
I see no human prodigy of war,
Borne on the wings of slaughter unto fame,—
The special favorite of some evil star,
Sent forth to gather curses on his name;—
Like him whose grave is o’er the ocean far,
At once his country’s idol and her shame,
The bloody vulture of Imperial Gaul,
Whose loftiest flight sustain a fatal fall.
I see no honest toil unpaid, unfed—
No idler reveling in lust and wine;
No sweat and blood unprofitably shed,
To answer every rash and dark design;
No violation of the marriage-bed—
The worst transgression of a law divine—
No tempting devil in the shape of gold,
For which men’s hearts and minds are bought and sold.
Instead of these, I see a graceful hill,
On whose green sides unnumbered flocks are leaping;
I see the sparkling sheen of flood and rill,
Through cultured vales their tuneful mazes keeping;
And human habitations, too, that fill
A pleasant space, from leafy coverts peeping;
And blithesome swains upon their homeward way,
Singing the burden of some moral lay.
Beneath a lovely and unbounded sky,
Which wears its evening livery the while,
What scene of beauty captivate the eye!
What spots of bloom—what fields of promise smile!
And where yon calm and peopled dwellings lie,
There breathes no slave, there beats no heart of guile;
But all is freedom, happiness, and quiet,
Far from the world, its restlessness and riot.
To healthful, moderate, and mutual toil,
Yon sons of Industry go forth at morn,—
Take from indulgent earth a lawful spoil
Of juicy fruitage, and nutritious corn.
Thus all the children of the common soil
Draw rich supplies from Plenty’s flowing horn;
There is no bondage, no privation there,
To heave the breast, and dim the eye with care.
There Woman moves with beauty-moulded form,
First inspiration of the Poet’s song,
Her heart with fondest, purest feeling warm,—
Soul in her eyes, and music on her tongue;
Esteemed and taught, she lives above the storm
Of social discord, poverty, and wrong;
Graceful and good, intelligent and kind,
The loveliest temple of the mighty mind!
Her offspring, too, unfettered as the fawn,
With elfin eyes, and cheeks that mock the rose,
Chase the wild bees o’er many a flowery lawn,
Or gather pebbles where the brooklet flows:
A little world of purity is drawn
Around their steps; a moral grandeur glows,
Serene in majesty, before their eyes,
Moulding their thoughts and feelings as they rise.
Oh, blest! Community calm spot of earth!
Where love encircles all in his embrace;
Where generous deeds and sentiments have birth,
Warming each heart and brightening every face;
Where pure Philosophy, and temperate Mirth,
The lore of Science, and the witching grace
Of never dying Poesy, combine
To feed the hungry soul with food divine!
* * * * * *
My flight is finished, and my fitful muse
Descends to cold reality again!
Yet she hath dipped her garments in the hues
Of hope and love, and she shall aid my pen,
With firm though feeble labor to diffuse
The lore of truth among the sons of men;
And when her powers shall tremble and decay,
May loftier harps sustain the hallowed lay!
A thousand systems have been formed and wrought,
Where man hath looked for good, but looked in vain;
A thousand doctrines writ, diffused, and taught,
Adding new links to Error’s tangled chain:
But, oh! the Apostles of unfettered thought—
Unwearied foes to falsehood and her train—
Shall lift the veil of mystery at last,
And future times atone for the past!
“Prince’s Poems.” New-York Daily Tribune, 13 August 1845, p. 1.