Lancashire In 1862.

There are victories other than those of tented fields,
And heroic lives away from the roll of drums
And clang of steel. God’s heroes are not deck’d
With flowing plumes, but live in peace, like violets,
Hidden in modesty, and must be sought for;
For garish flowers flaunt their heads above them.
Men’s holiest deeds have had no witnesses;
History has leaves for war, and tears, and blood,
But none for inward, honest, god-like struggles
In the hearts of those who live all quietly
Fame’s steps are daubed with slime from robber’s heels
But at her doors sit, careless of an entrance,
The brave workers whose lives have been all noble,
And in whose hearts white wing’d angels vested.
Such are the men ‘gainst whom pinching want and cold
Marshalled all their forces for a deadly struggle;
The men who shielding dear old wife and may-be darling child,
By fireless hearths, and tables bare, have thanked God
They knew their duty, then calmly bowed their heads.
Their duty was to suffer, and yet stand still,
And though at times this calmness is harder task
Than that of facing deadly throat of cannon
Belching swift death, or e’en the fiery sweep
Of thirsty swords, is there one shall ever say
They have not done it, and done it right nobly?
In time, the gold-stricken world will know its men,
And Fame shall keep her laurels for their foreheads,
Deck’d e’en now with crowns although by us [unseen] ,
None the less bright or glorious because, world-blind,
We cannot perceive the heavenly dower.
Matters it if ragged cap and ragged coat
Be the king’s only garments, so that in his heart
Flows triumphant royal blood. The day shall come
When robes and rags will be no longer standards,
For ‘tis by the soul, and by the soul alone
Man shall be judged.
Then men shall know their true kings, and bow to them,
And Lancashire! these true kings in rags are thine
Be proud this wintry day of thine inheritance.
Such men would keep old England afloat, e’en were
Her helm in the hand of traitors.
And dear, dear Motherland, have thou no fear
While souls are living such heroic daily lives.
In thy famine-struck workless northern streets,
So lately throng with hurrying bands of men
And all the signs of happy peace and daily toil;
And when God – to whom these gallant heroes say,
With bated breath, “Thy will be done!” shall mission
His dove with olive branch, do not thou forget
The lesson of these hard times; the English story
Of such endurances, patience, and cheerful trust
That led Rome in all her annals proud, has bought
More glorious or brightly beautiful!

Title:Lancashire in 1862

Author:J. Bowker

Publication:Preston Chronicle

Published in:Preston, Lancashire

Date:3rd Jan 1863

Keywords:blankVerse, gender, morality, poverty, religion, war


Unusually for Lancashire Cotton Famine poetry, this piece is composed in blank verse, the unrhymed iambic pentameter used in much of Shakespeare’s dramatic works, and Milton’s Paradise Lost .This form, along with heroic couplets, is the favoured medium for the epic in English, and this poem, whilst not so long that it would not be published in a newspaper, is appropriately expansive in its subject, sophisticated in its language, and lofty in its ideals. Indeed, the use of martial imagery, despite this being a celebration of ordinary people in times of great financial hardship, suggests that the poet is deliberately referencing not just military bravery itself, but its celebration in verse, in order to foreground the heroism of the people of Lancashire in the face of the Cotton Famine. Examples like this illustrate the importance of form to Victorian poetics, and suggest that in a cultural sense, it becomes and underlying language in itself, woven through poetic subject, voice, and imagery.

James Bowker proves himself adept at two very different poetic styles when this piece is compared to his ‘Hard Times; Or, Th’Weyvur to his Wife’. Bowker also wrote the prose work, Goblin Tales of Lancashire, which in its exploration of regional legend frames Lancashire dialect accounts with standard English prose. ‘Lancashire in 1862’ in a sense mythologises its subject and attempts to glorify the people of the region by highlighting the nobility if their attitude to the suffering they are subjected to. To some extent, this poem foreshadows the tone and content of Abraham Lincoln’s letter to the people of the region written just fifteen days after this poem was published. – SR.