In my last postings I introduced you to William Harrison – the Fenland Poet. William was born at Pymore near Ely in the Cambridgeshire Fenlands in late November 1794, and died on Saturday January 19th 1872. My aim is to tell his whole story later this year – hopefully in an eBook or similar. However, in this blog over the next few weeks I’ll be posting many of William’s pieces of poetry – usually on a Wednesday evening.
This first one is called The Clod’s Complaint which William wrote in 1814. The background to the poem is the cessation of the war with Napoleon and the resultant re-opening of overseas trade – which meant that local farmers no longer controlled the market.
The Clod’s Complaint
Come, all my brethren of the plough, here’s woeful news from London;
We all shall surely rue it now for Bonaparte is undone.
If peace is made, ’twill spoil our trade and work our overthrowing,
Corn sells so low, you all well know, it will not pay for growing.
Now we may pay a long adieu to bottles, bowls and glasses;
To gigs and hounds and horses too; we now must ride on asses.
But what is worse, to quench our thirst we shall have nought but water,
We’d wine and ale when wheat had sale at seven pounds per quarter.
If long our rent remain unpaid our landlords will be seizing,
And duns of every rank and trade importunately teazing.
While we away are hauled, the prey to bailliffe and to jailers,
No friend is found who, for five pound, will foreward come to bail us.
Our children have such prudish tricks to heighten our disasters;
What once were country Nans and Dicks are mis’ses now and masters.
But they must all to dunghill fall, where we had our beginning;
Pawnbroker’s shops will strip their fops and they must go to spinning.
But hard and wretched is our fate; our glory is departed;
Our pride and wealth is gone of late, and left us broken hearted.
Ambition’s dreams and Fancy’s schemes are tumbled all to pieces;
Gold projects in the dust must sleep till price of corn increases.
Hear Ceres, patron of the plough, our solemn invocations;
And those who seak our overthrow, confound their machinations.
The French and Dutch will hurt us much by sending corn to Britain
O, grant their corn with blight or rain or mildew may be smitten.
When crossing o’er the raging seas .. our continental neighbours,
O, father Neptune! thou might with ease bring nought to all their labours
Bid torrents sweep the roaring deep and put thy waves in motion;
Then dash themselves on rocks and shelves and sink them in the ocean.
When war thoughout all Europe reigned, we farmers lived in clover,
But now the friendly fiend is chained, our golden age is over.
When Peace first came, a meagre dame, the cry was ‘Peace brings plenty!’
But if she did, the good was hid from nineteen out of twenty.
O Mars! resume thy wonted way, the flames of war rekindle,
Beneath thy pestilential sway the olive branches dwindle.
And Discord, pray, without delay, the seeds of strife be sowing,
That we might get some good by it, and corn may pay for growing.
Give hard Oppression’s iron heart a feeling of reflection,
And send another Bonaparte to keep her in subjection.
While he had reign we throve amain; but when his wreaths did wither,
He in his fall involved us all; we rose and fell together.
Our rents and taxes must decrease, and parsons show compassion
Or soon the infant rule of Peace must have its termination.
For peace and ease… our bread and cheese… we do not like to barter
More cause by half to cry than laugh, had we at war’s departure.
Our statesmen every sinew strain (old Nick reward their labours)
From Africa to wrest the chain, and bind it on their neighbours;
But as they roam so far from home for Afric’s manumission,
First let them free such slaves as we from this forlorn condition.
We’re doomed a load of tax to bear, our rights are torn asunder,
And we are bound by laws severe to keep us at an under.
This freedom all we’re taught to call a vague and foolish notion;
But who’er kicks against the pricks, the gallows is his portion.
Till times do for the better change we must keep ‘under hatches’,
Obliged for bread the world to range with ballads and with matches.
But grant, O Fate, ‘ere ’tis too late, when men have had a blowing,
War may revive, that we may thrive, and corn may pay for growing.
Nota Bene Perhaps it may be necessary to apologize for some of the expressions in the foregoing lines such as the desire for the destruction of foreigners, the renewal of war, the return of Bonaparte etc. I think it right to declare they were never my sentiments having always been a friend and lover of lover of peace, both public and domestic; but I have remarked some who were loudest in their prayer for peace and who no sooner blessed with their expectations (so capricious is human nature) they immediately wished for renewal of war, as if it were the only source of prosperity, which was, in fact, the cause of our present distress. I think after what has been said it is almost needless to add that poor ‘Clod’ represents such persons, though time and experience have proved that his apprehensions were all too well founded.