Died: 6th February, 1856.
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.
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
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
Hodgson," as Billington
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—
is wild and
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:—
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
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,
The following characteristic stanzas are taken from a poem entitled "Infidelity its Own Punishment and Fidelity its Own Happiness":—
sure a fool
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
give ear to my
Another song, entitled "The Evils of Monopoly, and the Curses of War," commences—
|But all I
dread is want
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
His shop is
O rogue, for
So much for the sins of the private tradesman! Now for public corruption, as shewn at a—
If we cannot
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—
I cannot fetch