Puslapio vaizdai

be doubted whether he had ever in his life had a moment of exuberance. He

was cheerful, I say: not in the least morose. Simply he faced life with immense seriousness, the seriousness of the best type of the northern workman who has paid dear for his experience and knowledge, the working man of the mechanics' institutes and debating clubs. The debating society was strong within Joseph Skipsey. He would argue any point, often taking up untenable positions and, in defiance of all the rules of warfare, defending them to the last, and longer. He was not solemn-only serious. He had seen afar off the promised land of knowledge, not from a mountain top but from the bottoms of the black, foul pits where his childhood and his youth and best manhood were spent; and he had fought his way to it while grimly toiling for his daily bread. Of the world and of men he knew next to nothing; but what he did know he had struggled to acquire and, no wonder, prized and took very seriously.

Joseph Skipsey wrote and published a fair amount of verse; it, and through it he, became known to many of the greatest guns in the land. Whether his verse endures or not, Dr. Spence Watson has taken care that his name shall live, at any rate in the memory of all Northumbrians; for he has written an account of the man and his work with a care and restrained enthusiasm which seem to be admirable. Skipsey was born in 1832 at Percy Main, a little pit-village near the mouth of the Tyne, grimy then as now, sordid, squalid. When he was only a few months old his father was murdered by a policeman. When seven years old Joseph went to work in the pit, and taught himself to read and write there. At the pit he stayed till 1852, when he got employment in London; in 1854 he married and returned to other pits in the north. Five years

later he published some verse which fell into the hands of a genial editor who found him a job as storekeeper at some engineering works. Then he was made sub-librarian of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle-on-Tyne-the "lit-'n'-phil."-and


and afterwards

found the books there so engrossing that he forgot to attend to the wants of the members. So he went quietly back to the mines; and though he presently stayed with Jowett at Oxford and became a friend of Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Holman Hunt and Mr. Watts-Dunton in London, and published verse from time to time-verse some of which was highly praised by Rossetti-he remained unspoilt and returned to the mines again and labored there till he was fifty. He rose to some sort of foreman's post; then became caretaker of a Board-school in Newcastle-on-Tyne, porter in the Armstrong College in the same coaly city. Hear Dr. Spence Wat"One morning I was taking Lord Carlisle over the new building, and our Principal joined us (Principal Garnett)"-now with the L.C.C. "As we went along the great corridor, Skipsey, bending under the weight of two coalscuttles of fair dimensions, met us. He at once pulled up, and Lord Carlisle, recognizing him, took him by the hand and said, 'My dear Skipsey, whatever are you doing here? We had a long talk, and explanations were made, but I saw from that time that it was impossible to have a college where the scientific men came to see the Principal and the artistic and literary men came to see the porter." So another position was got for him--that of custodian of Shakespeare's house at Stratford. Here is a list of names to make one stare-Browning, Tennyson, John Morley, Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Theodore Watts (-Dunton), Leighton, F. R. Benson, Andrew Lang, Lord Carlisle, Austin Dobson, Bram

Stoker, Lord Ravensworth, Thomas Burt, William Morris, Wilson Barrett, Edmund Gosse, Dowden. This is an incomplete list of those who backed the porter in getting a humble job. He got it; and in half a year our American visitors drove him out of it. He loved to argue, but not with fools; and the fools doubted every statement he made in showing them over the place until, Dr. Spence Watson says, "He felt he would end by doubting the very existence of Shakespeare ."; so he left. In 1886, through BurneJones, a grant of fifty pounds was made him from the Royal Bounty, and a tiny pension he had was raised to twenty-five pounds a year; on this, with assistance from his now grown-up children, he lived until his death in September 1903.

This Life of Joseph Skipsey, written with beautiful simplicity, calm and lucid, yet tinged and warmed with generous feeling and an affectionately humorous perception of the man's odd angles and comical obstinacies, is a most fitting memorial of one who was not a great poet but, in his humble path though life, always a noble man.


my mind, little of his verse is genuine poetry, and that little is not of the highest order. At the outset a disastrous deficiency of ear made him as a color-blind painter. He had no technique. To get the mere rhyme and rhythm he resorted to puerile dodges and warped and twisted plain sentences into unholy monstrosities. Here are some remarks addressed by Rossetti to Skipsey: " . . . throughout the book the want I feel is of artistic finish only, not of artistic tendency: the right touch sometimes seems to come to you of its own accord, but, when not thus coming, it remains a want. Stanzas similarly rhymed are apt to follow each other, and the metre is often filled out by catching up a word in repetition-I mean, as for in

stance, 'May be, as they have been, may be.' It seems to me that, as regards style, you might take the verbal perfection of your admirable stanzas 'Get up' as an example to yourself, and try never to fall short of this standard, where not a word is lost or wanting. This little piece seems to me equal to anything in the language for beauty and quiet pathetic force." Let me quote the little piece, "The Caller":

"Get up!" the caller calls, "Get up!"
And in the dead of night,
To win the bairns their bite and sup,
I rise a weary wight.

My flannel dudden donn'd, thrice o'er
My birds are kissed, and then
I with a whistle shut the door
I may not ope again.

In the pit, at the pit-mouth, in the pit-row, Skipsey found inspiration, and where, as here, by happy chance "the right touch" comes "of its own accord," something like a true poetic miracle is wrought. But when he leaves

the pit and tackles subjects where dainty workmanship and conscious artmastery are requisite, we get experiments like "The Daffodil." Dr. Watson speaks of his power of thought and of making words live. I never observed any original thought in him: great and sincere character, not intellect, distinguished him. As for making words live, it is a fact that he did recite his verses with stupendous earnestness. His elocution simply made me smile; it was a ridiculous exhibition. And as in repeating his poems, so in composing them, the pressure of emotional steam was ludicrously out of proportion to the importance of the subject. It is idle to say that small things are as important as great ones; for they are not. The lingo he wrote in was part pit-Northumbrian, part conventional collocations of the eighteenth century, part reminiscences of contemporaries. A poet of great orig

inal force may borrow from anywhere O, the bugle horn I heard last night; with impunity; he loads his phraseology Its wild tone set the echoes flying, with a new meaning which And night-long in my soul, Delight Danced, danced, her gift for dancing trying;


whelms the old associations. Skipsey's burden was not fresh and new enough; and his "adorn", "gem", "peer" and, in other verses, "bard", "Fortune's darling", "fancy", and so on--stand out bald, expressionless, hopelessly prosaic. And to show how he produced all the unfortunate effect of a plagiarism where there was no real plagiarism let me make a last quotation. Skipsey had gone to Grasmere with Dr. Spence Watson; the wild scenery, the spirit of ancient days that reigns omnipotent amongst the hills and woods and waters, the memories of the great poets who lived there and the poetry they wrote there these wrought upon him; and in the darkness and silence of night a bugle-call woke the echoes, gathered all his feelings into one channel, and flooded his soul with a most poignant sensation of sweetness and joy. So he gave vent to his feelings in "The Bugle Horn":

The Saturday Review.

No wilder tone had echo known,
Since first upon the height she

She cried to fly, yet fled to cry,

What awed, when heard, and yet en


Alas! where is it now, the glory and the dream? We have a bald account of the incident; the essence of the matter, the magic, is rigorously excluded; and "bugle", "wild", "echoes", "flying", shout aloud the names of Tennyson and his "Princess."

It would be impertinent of me to give a pontifical judgment on Joseph Skipsey's work. I am only trying to show why he failed when he got away from the pit-shaft. His pit-poems are

his best; and, if the appointment of a successor to Tennyson had not forced us to think that to be a laureate nowadays a man must be not a poet at all, Skipsey might be called the laureate of the Northumbrian pits.

John F. Runciman.


To those who knew Whitechapel some years ago such a thing as the Children's Pageant, now being acted every evening in the Art Gallery there, would have seemed incredible. Just a quarter of a century has passed since the first beginnings were made with a few dreary recitations, a wretched farce or two, and an occasional concert which people who cared about decency could not attend. Now if you want to see a historic display, with gallant songs and dances, all performed with the irresistible spirit of zeal, you can go to Whitechapel and see it. Some four or five hundred boys and girls from East End schools, working in shifts of alternate nights, will show you



how it is done. Full of the joy of acting, they are so determined not to fail that during all the speeches the mouths of the whole company move in unison with the speaker, whispering the words to themselves. They have the zest of the amateur. They are as keen for stage perfection as Territorials are for bloodshed on a field-day. The audience is delighted, especially those who own a real child in the show. One may hope they are profited by some sort of historic interest. But, as in all art, the best delight and the best profit remain with the performers, and they are just the children for whom such a thing as this pageant would have seemed incredible only a quarter of a century ago.

That is a real "Triumph of Time," and we do not see why painters should always represent Time's triumph by a melancholy figure trampling on poets, men and priests, kings, and other women, instead of designing some joyful and exuberant creature leading in a happier breed of men with each generation. The authors of the pageant are of more hopeful mind than allegorical painters, for they have arranged their scenes to display the growth of liberty and the progress of great deeds, even on the eastern edges of London. They have written it all in the conventional heroics that give just the right touch of humorous grandeur for a children's show. The rich and great habitually address rebellious inferiors as "dogs." "Out of my sight, dogs," they cry; or "Drive off these noisy curs!" And if the people stir, it is whispered, "Foul treason is afoot." And yet, beneath the fine heroics and the splendor of old phrase, no one can miss the sense of growth. of advance from point to point, and of life becoming a finer and nobler sort of thing, from the time when Boadicea takes the poison, all through the centuries, to the scene representing Elizabeth preparing to oppose the Armada, and Shakespeare speaking John of Gaunt's familiar lines on England. In the final words of the pageant, as though to summarize the purpose of it all, Burleigh says to Elizabeth:

Let the centuries

Set forth the scenes that fill old London's story

The men, the heroes, great and humble folk,

Whose life is ours, whose lives have given us life.


So be it. We will call the vision up. O London, mighty mother of great deeds,

O heart of England, glory of the world,

Show me your story! Let the longdead years

Unroll themselves before me, scene by scene.


They come; may we, their most unworthy sons,

Read London's glorious future in her past.

Leading up to some glorious future, the vision of centuries goes by-the fantastic procession of the men and women who handed on life to us, and were not dreamlike things, but actually lived upon this very ground. Mankind sees the world of space contracting now. It is still a little strange to think that at this very moment the cafés are preparing at Monte Carlo, the bulls are being carted to Madrid for tomorrow's fight, the negroes are groping in deep forests, the Indians are descending with prayer into sacred rivers, and the Amazon flows murmuring through the night. But our inventions have made this earth too small, and when, starting from London, you can reach almost any point on its surface within a month, it seems hardly worth while to start. Space will fail us unless we can fit to another star. But time remains mysterious and inaccessible, nor will the aeroplane be invented that can take us where Richard Coeur de Lion's mace cracks the armor of his foes, like a boy stamping on crabs. All those scenes of the pageant have passed down Aldgate, while it was a gate, and long before it was old. Britons and Romans, bloodstained and worn with battles down Epping way; messengers with news of Hastings, and Harold's body borne to Waltham Cross, where the Rood itself bowed in sorrow for his destiny; kings and queens at war in silly rivalry, beggars' daughters, and rebel artisans, pilgrims to the saint's relics, and sailors of the queen embarking to confront the pride of Spain on rations of mouldy bread and sour beer -they have all gone their road, tramping over the same earth, drawing the

same breath as ourselves, and finding day and night as sweet. Sometimes we can discover a dim trace of their hands upon an old wall or trench, but themselves we cannot find, though, as Burleigh says, their life is ours. What the Sartor said is true:

Thousands of human generations, all as noisy as our own, have been swallowed-up of Time, and there remains no wreck of them any more; and Arcturus and Orion and Sirius and the Pleiades are still shining in their courses, clear and young, as when the Shepherd first noted them in the plain of Shinar.

But whilst we are in the way with the Sartor, another question rises from the pageant. If it is true that clothes are indeed the visible sign of a spiritual state, why is it that in this excellent and historic pageant, so careful of detail, the only hideous clothes are to be seen at the moment of England's greatest glory? Boadicea, as she takes the poison tabloid, is graceful in flowing and not too scanty raiment; the warriors from the Bayeux tapestry look as serviceable as men could be while they sought to ward off death in clothes of steel chain; the kings and queens and rebels and beggar-maids are all beautiful and attractive figures up to the sixteenth century; even Chaucer in black cowl and gown passed very well for a poet. But the moment we approached the great days of Elizabeth— the moment that Drake and Frobisher were to snatch the world from Spain, and Shakespeare himself walked the boards, the paragon of animals-suddenly men and women appeared in the most ludicrous and inhuman apparel that perversity ever fashioned. In padded protuberances, in slashes, puffs, and ruffs they lumbered about the stage like distorted Dutch dolls till one would have supposed them to represent the Saxon temperament at its grossest, at its least inspired solidity, at its nearest

kinship to suet pudding. Could these stuffed and upholstered figures really stand for the most glorious age of our literature and our arms? Alas! we cannot doubt the accuracy and skill of the pageant. Drake sweated in a doublet like a pillow, and Sylvia was commended for hips at right angles to her waist. Where, then, was that subtle correspondence between the visible sign of clothes and the spiritual state that, for good or evil, they should signify?

We may take the question a little further still, and ask why it was impossible to carry the pageant beyond the days of Elizabeth. We can imagine the children acting the meeting of Cromwell and the Levellers on Mile End Waste, but the nearer we get to our own times the more difficult it would be to make a pageant at all. There are plenty of scenes in East End history to be represented—the sailing of the first steamer from London Dock, the arrival of the first Jewish refugees from Russia, Matthew Arnold opening Toynbee Hall, a Christ Church graduate casting off the first pack of "harriers" from Aldgate Pump to draw Cambridge Heath Road, the institution of the 1st Cadet Battalion of the Queen's (old 2nd Foot). But somehow we feel that a pageant of such scenes might be a little dull and colorless on the stage, as well as a little ludicrous. If it is admitted that progress is sure and obvious, if people who know Whitechapel tell us that the advance is astonishing, and such a thing as this pageant would have been incredible even a quarter of a century ago, why are our crowds so drab and smudgy that we should be ashamed to represent them in a show?

It is often embarrassing when an Indian or some other traveller from the East gives us his first impressions of our English life. His expectations have been high. He has come to the land

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