Publication:Burnley Free Press And General Advertiser
Date:22nd August 1863
This poem is rhythmically quite close to standard ballad meter, but inverted with the use of trochees instead of iambs, front-loaded emphases which give it a driving urgency (Wot’s the matter? – wot’s the matter?). Ninety years later, the American poet Charles Olson would describe the trochee’s effect as a ‘heave’. The rhythm is also frequently disrupted with exclamations, caesurae, use of brackets, and enjambments. The overall effect when combined with the very lively language used is conversational and comic. In fact this reads more like one of Robert Browning’s more scurrilous works in tone (‘Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister’ for instance) than some of the very serious or sentimental works which typify Cotton Famine poetry. The form of address at the beginning of the poem is strangely rhetorical, like an exclamation overheard, before moving into a piece of social observation and ending with an ironic encouragement to the town busybodies it describes.
This poem is deeply ironic in its depiction of the Burnley great and good arguing about the causes and consequences of the American Civil War. There is a sense of Swiftian ridicule that these small-town Lancastrians discuss the war as though they have a say in its outcome. Contemporary newspaper accounts place William Cunliffe (the poet’s real name) in similar meetings in the town, and so we can assume that this is comic interpretation of these events.