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Born: 1783

Died: 6th February, 1856.

Hodgson

William Billington described Hodgson as "the earliest—or at least the earliest known—of the Blackburn poets;" and that he was one of the earliest seems evident from the fact that he was born at Rishton in or about the year 1783.  He became a handloom weaver, and he appears to have had no better opportunities for self-culture than others of his class.

This fact, or at least this strong probability, should be borne in mind by every critic of his versified productions, for no reasonable person will expect to find in the verses of a self-taught weaver, born before the close of the eighteenth century, the polish and taste which might be expected from a classical scholar, or even from a workman poet in our own days, when educational facilities are so immensely greater than they ever were while Hodgson lived.  Considerations such as these, however, do not seem to have weighed much with Billington, Baron and other Blackburn writers who—though much younger than Hodgson—were old enough to be his contemporaries: for they joined heartily with Clemesha in the production of all manner of satirical rhymes upon "his rhythmical majesty, Hodgson," as Billington styled him.

Possibly, however, these youngsters were not without provocation, for the older Bard was of a combative disposition, as may easily be seen from a perusal of his rhymes, which are very often so argumentative as to lessen—and sometimes, even, to destroy—their strictly poetical value.  As a denouncer of abuses Hodgson was absolutely fearless; and persevered in his self-imposed mission notwithstanding many a threat of ruinous legal proceedings.

From an article by Billington we learn, amongst other very interesting things, that "in 1840, when Hodgson was about 50 years of age, and in the zenith of his fame, he resided in Manner Sutton Street, Eanam, and possessed a wonderfully extensive library for a person of his humble station, the apartments on the ' ground floor being literally wainscotted with books. . . . . He had been a hand-loom weaver in his time, and had latterly become a teetotaler."

He is further described as "a man of most mild and genial temperament," who "wielded the rod of satire, as the doctor does the lancet, to take off the tumours and excrescences of society. . . His style was smooth and flowing, and if he never rose above mediocrity he seldom sank below it."

"Hodgson was a most voluminous writer, and he published almost everything he wrote as soon as it was written, in single-sheet or broadsides, which he labelled with the price, depositing the whole edition in the crown of his big box hat, and hawked them wherever he went. . . . His productions were on a multitude of subjects, and their number was legion.  "The Railway to Heaven," upward through teetotalism and Methodism; "The Railway to Hell," downward through moderation and drunkenness."

"Hodgson was once librarian of the Mechanics' Institution a few years, in the earlier days of that educational institute.  It having become generally known that the poet carried his compositions in his hat, the boys began to have a fine time of it, and the bard a most fearful one.

"An amusing scene. . . was enacted one night in King Street, anent the old Post Office, just as the factories were loosing, and the throngs of workpeople coming up from Feilden's, Livesey's, Turner's, Townley's, and other places.  The librarian was going down to the Mechanics' Institution, and quietly thridding his way through the mill hands, when, on some account, by some means or other, somebody "tipped the poet's tile."  Its contents, consisting chiefly of "Railways to Hell" and "Railways to Heaven," flew in all directions, and were scattered about the pavement, "thick as autumnal leaves in Valambrosa;" and, as if in the very irony of fate, one, a "Railway to Hell," was blown right across the Quaker Chapel door, whilst another, a "Railway to Heaven," had firmly fixed itself in the fanlight over Mrs. Woolfall's public-house door, the Angel Inn."

Prominent among Hodgson's printed rhymes is a pamphlet, printed by W. and C. Tiplady, Church Street, in 1837, entitled "Owen's Social System Examined, and proved to be unnatural, anti-scriptural, and False . . . . By J. Hodgson . . . Dedicated to the Revd. J. H. Roebuck."

In this twelve-paged pamphlet, as in so many of his other versified productions, Hodgson argues in rhyme with immense vigour; but, it must regretfully be said, with only occasional outbursts of true poetic feeling.  It is not given to everyone to successfully emulate the great example of Dryden, who, as Billington has told us,

—taught the art of reasoning in rhyme, And cast the couplet for all coming time."

Though dedicated to Mr. Roebuck, the poem is addressed to one "George," whom Hodgson refers to (with a capital "H,") as a "Heap of absurdities and contradictions."  This poor fellow, whoever he may have been, comes in for as much sledgehammer criticism as Robert Owen himself, as witness these lines—

For whate'er is wild and vicious
You stand ready to embrace;
If it's something that's malicious
In your breast it finds a place.

You have been a brawling sinner,
It is time that you should mend;
You may talk to please a Spinner,—
When were you the spinner's friend?

Did you ever help a weaver
When cast down through want of work?
No, you've been an old deceiver,
And as rude as any Turk.

You may talk of human kindness,
And what men should do in trade;
But it's all deceit and blindness,
You will give them little aid.
.            .            .            .            .            .


Thus far we find our author much more forcible than polite—or poetic—in his stanzas.  Further on in the pamphlet, however, we come upon verses of a different quality:—


Is man, then, whom God created,
Over-looked through being small:
Will he be annihilated
When his present organs fall?

Did he first commence existence
By a power that is unknown,
And then left without assistance
Like an orphan here alone?

This is what you cannot teach us,
Volney tried, and he fell short;
And what Owen does, may warn us,
Not with sacred things to sport.

If His eye observe the sparrows,
When they rise and when they fall,
He'll not let old Owen mar us
With his scorn that "we're too small."

HE hath made both plants and flowers,
Grass and lilies are His care;
These are fed with fruitful showers,
Zephyr breezes, sun, and air.

He that made us will preserve us,
Though we all are prone to stray,
And His watchful eye observe us,
Whether it be night or day.


Owen and his disciples appear, like some of their modern followers, to have been "men of little faith," and Hodgson thus continues his criticism of them—

These can find no first man Adam,
No originating pair;
Earth is their eternal Madam,
Nature has the sovereign care.

Tell me, where is nature's reason?
Tell me, where is nature's mind?
Everything comes forth in season,
But the eye of nature's blind.

Nature is no legislator,
Though it has unchanging laws;
It is ruled by our Creator,
He's the first and moving cause.

Having, in conclusion, left the religious—or irreligious—side of Owen's system, in order to discuss the secular side, Hodgson closes his pamphlet as follows:—

Owen's plan is out of season,
It will soon grow sick and die;
And for this I've one good reason,—
None but fools will ever try.

Wise men will not give their trouble,
Rich men will not give machines;
Then will Owen's empty bubble
Tumble down for want of means.

The following characteristic stanzas are taken from a poem entitled "Infidelity its Own Punishment and Fidelity its Own Happiness":—

The Atheist sure a fool must be
To risk a future prize
Because a soul he cannot see
With his material eyes.

He cannot see the cooling breeze
Or sound of deep-toned bell;
He cannot see the water freeze,
Nor view the fragrant smell.

No eye can see the sacred law
Which brings life into birth;
And yet how little do we know
Of all we have on earth.

We ne'er can view the human thought,
Nor see the human voice;
Nor how the human brain is fraught
With reason, will, and choice.

The moving Cause we cannot see
Which guides the heavenly spheres;
We only see the harmony
In seasons and in years.

We know we've sight within our eyes,
And blood within our veins
But who can see ideas rise
Within our hearts or brains?

I've felt a shock as quick as light,
That shock I never saw;
Then why should we depend on sight
And heavenly hopes forego?

We've joys, and pains, which human eyes
Can never once behold;
We've doubts, and fears, within that rise,
Of no material mould.

The magnet has a secret force
Which none could e'er find out;
It guides the sailor in his course,
And turns the pin about.

I scorn whate'er some fools advance
Who say there's no design
In what is made,—that all is chance,—
The cause is not divine.

Can nature, chance, or mother earth,
Produce the smallest fly,
Without a parent stock give birth?—
No, that I must deny.

The scoffer, with his jaundiced eye,
Surveys the sacred page;
He deems the Bible one huge lie,
Brought forth in some dark age.

And thus the poor deluded wight
Goes rambling to the tomb,
Without one ray of mental light
To cheer his dreary home.

Among Hodgson's other pieces are "The Spiritual Railway," "Memorial of Respect for Sir Robert Peel," "The Railway Trip" (on seeing the Sunday scholars ride off to Blackpool, June 12th, 1848), and "The Weaver's Complaint" (written at the time of the decline of hand-loom weaving), commencing—

Ye Weavers of Blackburn, give ear to my song,
When I sing of tyrants I seldom do wrong,
For if they transport me to Canada's wild shore
I then shall have freedom, when I have sailed o'er;
Free from slavery,
Fetters and knavery,
Never tormented with tyrants again!

Another song, entitled "The Evils of Monopoly, and the Curses of War," commences—

These cursèd wars, with Russian Czars,
Have brought us into trouble;
An Income Tax, laid on our backs,
Which we've to pay, is double:

and concludes—

But all I dread is want of bread,
And dying through starvation;
And this, I fear, will end me here
If rogues must rule the nation!

But if we die, let Freedom cry,
"Long live Free Trade and Plenty;"
And may we see our commerce free,
And not a rogue in twenty!

Whatever may be thought of Hodgson's claims to the possession of the genuine poetic gift, no one who reads his verses will deny that he "wielded the rod of satire" with a power peculiarly his own; and, in his sphere, he must, by means of this same "rod," have proved a source of terror to many an arrant rogue.  When, for instance, he published the satire (with its very prosaic title) from which our next-quoted lines are taken, almost everyone in Blackburn would know the "whitewashed" tradesman who was the possessor of—

THE STEAM-ENGINE COFFEE GRINDER.

He grinds his coffee now with steam,
To shew the world how he can scheme,
And how he buys with ready cash,
Because his credit's gone to smash.

His shop is painted neat and new,
With angels, flying, painted blue,
With golden trumps and golden wings,
And all such bright and pretty things.

Instead of cherubs, to compound
He should have devils wheeling round,
To shew his black, deceitful heart,
And how he failed and paid a part.

You cannot hear this fellow's name,
But all his deeds of sin and shame,—
His church, his shop, and warden's staff,—
Have caused both rogues and fiends to laugh.

But some in churches now attend
Who will in time like Judas end,
Who carry bags like him of old
And sell their Lord for shining gold.

For ready cash!!!  O rogue, for shame!
What will thy creditors exclaim?
Can they believe that thou art just,
When thou hast murdered all their trust?

No wonder that our trade is bad,
When such as thee drive thousands mad;
When honest men are forced to flee
From roguish scenes of infamy,
And leave such villains in the trade,
Who spoil with sin what God has made.

So much for the sins of the private tradesman!  Now for public corruption, as shewn at a—

"BLACKBURN ELECTION."

These ten-pound electors can guzzle in beer,
And censure corruption, as if they were clear;
Like Judas, they dip their foul hands in the dish,
And swallow the bait like some ravenous fish.

They'll tell us that none of the beer-barrel tribe
Will e'er be corrupted with any man's bribe;
But when Mr. Turner their puncheons did tap,
Then Grocers and Landlords were caught in the trap.

They wallow like pigs in the candidate's swill,
And fuddle as long as the landlords will fill;
They sacrifice freedom for barrels of ale,
And this is the way that bad systems prevail.

If we cannot vote without beer-barrel storms,
Then farewell elections and "ten pound" reforms!
A curse it will prove to this town in the end,
Which neither a Turner nor Feilden will mend.

I thought Bowring's friends were so firmly combined
They'd never let beer-barrels throw them behind;
But when he'd to run against interest and gin,
I gave up all hopes that the Doctor would win!

Hodgson died an February 6th, 1856, aged 73 years, leaving behind him such a reputation, as a Rhyming Reformer, as would have done credit to many a more gifted Poet.  His books were, after his death, removed an a large lurry, and they made, I am told, two full loads.  Before parting from this honest old weaver and songster, let me place here a bunch of his own poetic flowers, in the shape of the following stanzas from—

AN ELEGY,

ON THE DEATH OF A YOUNG CHILD,
(THAT DIED NOVEMBER 23RD, 1827.)

Dear child!  I cannot fetch thee home
To view thy pleasing smiles;
Thy tender frame lies in the tomb,
Secure from Satan's wiles.

Thy hands made known what thou desired,
As well as tongue could tell;
We gave thee all thy age required,
But could not make thee well.

Thy pleasing ways were my delight,
Thy toys I still esteem;
I've clasped thee in my arms each night,
But now it's like a dream.

And what are all our earthly joys,
But life's fantastic dreams?
We often change our pleasing toys
And start new infant schemes.

Sweet babe!  Thy smiles of innocence
With Saints and Angels join;
Our Lord hath said when such go hence
They must in glory shine.

Oh! that we were made meet for bliss,
Like those snatched from the breast,
That we might dwell where Jesus is,
And be for ever blest!

Then cease to weep, they've nought to fear,—
Their troubles are blown o'er,—
But who can check the parting tear,
At seeing them no more?

References

http://gerald-massey.org.uk/hull/c_blackburn_1.htm