FREE READINGS FOR THE PEOPLE. --- The following sonnets, composed by “Sylvanus” on hearing the Rev. J. G. Rogers reading from British and American poets, at the Albion Schools, have been sent for publication: ---
Bright homes set in a weary waste of days,
Like gems of landscape in a dusky frame:
How can we tender best our heartfelt praise,
Or fan this liquid air with unsought fame?
The poet caters, but the reader serves,
And, should he blunder, how it spoils the feast;
Spill’d gravy on a dress must try the nerves,
And words mistook are bores, to say the least,
Then praise is due to one who so expounds
As to be clear to all, grave truths and great,
Who, like a steward wandering through his grounds,
Points out some beauty, marks some bog’s sad state.
Praise such, all such, of whatever creed, ---
The man had no relation to the deed.
Write “progress” on the banner of all time;
Inscribe it on the mind of rising youth;
Be “progress” still our watchword as we climb,
Hand, heart, and soul intent on priceless truth.
Press on, ye sons of freedom, noble band,
Heel on old errors, eye on liberty;
Devotees of a cause, great, glorious, grand,
Than which no nobler is or e’er can be.
A blot is on your ‘scutcheon, broad and dark,
And every Christian bears alike the stain;
‘Tis slavery, - curse accursed by God; and hark!
E’en now is heard the rattling of its chain.
Say, shall it rear still rampant, like a wave,
And we stretch forth, no kindly hand to save?

Title:Free Readings for the People


Publication:Ashton and Stalybridge Reporter

Published in:Ashton-under-Lyne

Date:Feb 21st 1863

Keywords:morality, slavery


These two sonnets work well as a set in that they were both written in response to readings of poetry in a public educational setting. The introduction states that the poems recited at the Albion School were of both British and American origin and the themes of these poems reflect this, the first focussing on British education, and the second of the subject of American slavery. Education flourished during the Cotton Famine due to many workers being forced into idleness by the closure of the mills, and several poems on the database reflect this focus on labouring-class self-improvement (see ‘Gooin’ t’ Schoo’ by Joseph Ramsbottom, for example). Slavery was a subject obviously on many people’s minds at this point, especially after Lincoln’s Proclamation of Emancipation in the September of the previous year shifted the perception of the war from secession to abolition. – SR