Gerald Massey: a biography - Chapter 3.

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These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us.

(King Lear, Act 1, Scene 2)

FOLLOWING the collapse of Harney's Friend of the People, the demise of which was foreshadowed some time earlier, Massey had to concentrate his activities on lecturing.  Despite his advertised large prospectus it is not certain just how successful he was in obtaining bookings for the spring of 1853, and he may have been limited to provincial mechanics' institutes and working men's associations.  Harney again made two attempts at a weekly paper.  The Vanguard which he commenced in January of that year survived for only three months, and Massey made no signed contributions to it, although an article ‘The Political Refugees’ may have been written by him.  The Beacon, from October 1853 to January 1854 proved equally unsuccessful, and again there are no signed contributions by Massey.

    In the spring or summer of 1853 the family moved probably to cheaper but much smaller rooms in 12, New North Street, Red Lion Square where Massey's second child, Cecilia Geraldine was born on the 4 October.  Due to her pregnancy and following the birth of Cecilia, Rosina had been unable to continue with her clairvoyant consultations, and their finances became once more a cause for concern.  Fortunately Massey was able to obtain a post later that year as book-keeper to the publisher John Chapman, probably taking over the vacancy from a Mr Hogg, who had been employed at a salary of £120 per annum.[1]  Chapman rented out some of the rooms in his large Strand house, of which one occupant from 1851 to October 1853 was George Eliot, and held Friday evening literary discussions with persons notable in the scientific and literary fields.  Improved financial prospects induced the family to move again, this time to better accommodation at 28, Henrietta Street, Brunswick Square.  After the limited success of Voices of Freedom, Massey was encouraged to prepare a further volume of verse, incorporating into it his earlier poems.  By January 1854 Massey had completed his best known poem, the birth to early death tragedy of ‘The Ballad of Babe Christabel’; while an unconscious premonition of ensuing events, the Ballad was not, however, inspired by the death of his daughter, Christabel, who lived to a ripe old age (d. 1934):

It fell upon a merry May morn,
    I' the perfect prime of that sweet time
    When daisies whiten, woodbines climb,
The dear Babe Christabel was born...

O happy Husband! happy wife!
    The rarest blessing Heaven drops down,
    The sweetest blossom in Spring's crown,
Starts in the furrows of your life! ...

And thus they built their Castles brave
    In fairy lands of gorgeous cloud;
    They never saw a little white shroud,
Nor guess'd how flowers may mask the grave...

And still her cheek was pale as pearl,
    It took no tint of Summer's wealth
    Of colour, warmth, and wine of Health:
Ah! Death's hand whitely pressed the Girl!


    The Ballad of Babe Christabel: together with other Lyrical Poems which included a portion of the 1851 biographical sketch by Samuel Smiles, was paid for by Massey and published by David Bogue in February 1854 after being submitted unsuccessfully to other publishers, including John Chapman.  The reviews followed quickly.  Hepworth Dixon, chief editor of the Athenæum journal casually picked it out from a number of other items marked for review on his desk, and noticed one particular poem that seemed to be familiar.  He remembered that two years earlier he had been browsing in a bookshop in the Gray's Inn Road while sheltering from a rain shower, and had looked through a bound edition of Harney's Red Republican.  Inside the dust-wrap cover, under the index, had been a poem 'The Song of the Red Republican' by G. M. that had been published originally in Cooper's Journal.  Yes, this was certainly the author.  Dixon was going to spend the Sunday in Brighton with Douglas Jerrold, former editor of the Shilling Magazine and contributor to Punch, so he took the book to show him.  Both men were impressed with Massey's natural poetic ability.  Dixon reviewed the book in the Athenæum, in which he introduced Massey as a young poet — and as something more:

A man whose ear - though not yet tuned to the complete and glorious harmonies of our English tongue - is sensitive to rhythm . . . whose imagination throws out images in sonorous words . . . so that sound and image seem identical . . . He is a true poet, - but he has grievous defects . . . he lacks culture. He requires taste. His ear is defective. (Yet), our workman-poet has become a teacher to his class. He speaks to them in passion - counsels, exhorts, inspires them with his own vehement and vigorous spirit . . . many a line suggests - and many an image vivifies - the idea of a vast social revolution as that which appears to him the natural and inevitable path of issue into a better state.[2]

Charles Tilt's bookshop at the corner of 86 Fleet Street and St. Bride's Lane
(Payne's Illustrated London, 1846-1847)

Became Tilt & Bogue from 1841-3, then David Bogue to 1856.  Massey had his Ballad of Babe Christabel, War Waits, and Craigcrook Castle published there.

    Douglas Jerrold's review appeared the following day in Lloyd's Weekly, referring to 'Babe Christabel' as wholly a thing of beauty.[3]  Walter Savage Landor's comments in a review letter to the Morning Advertiser mentioned some faulty metre and the use of substantives as verbs (e.g. 'rainbowed'), but considered, together with other praise, that 'Massey has given us thoughts and expressions which remind us of Shakespeare in the best of his sonnets.' [4]  Favourable reviews in most of the main newspapers and journals and especially by these three influential literary personages gave a major impetus to sales.  A second edition was produced in March, following which the third was brought out in June (published in America as Poems and Ballads), the fourth in November and the fifth the following February, 1855.  Although selling five thousand copies, the author's final proceeds amounted to only fifty pounds, the book having to be re-set for each edition.

    But amid the praise, there was one non-committal review and one that was distinctly adverse.  The Westminster Review wished that Massey would subject himself to a rigorous course of study and self-culture, before venturing into print again.[5]  However, G. H. Lewes, in the Leader, went further by referring to ‘Admiration pushed to absurdity by the Athenæum’, declaring that:

Gerald Massey has a prodigal command of words, a faculty of poetic expression, and a certain spontaneity of song, which may hereafter develop into poetry worthy to be called by the name.  He wants some of the characteristic qualities of a poet — taste and good sense, for example …[6]

    The following week a more caustic extension was added:

Our readers must have been somewhat amazed — as we ourselves were — last week by the chaotic article on Modern Poets, wherein, among other incongruities, we were made to praise, with all the emphasis of italics, some of Gerald Massey's lines emphasised for special disapprobation … By an accident at the printer's … we had our proof ‘shorn of its fair proportions’ … after quoting liberally and approvingly specimens of the really good writing in Gerald Massey's volume, we had, in all fairness, to point out some of the defects; the passage in which this was done was dropped out by accident, and we now restore it from a copy of our proof … [7]

    Lewes complained and gave examples of ‘fantastic tricks played with the English Language’, and of ‘the tawdry splendour of fine phrases’.  He quoted one passage which contained ‘vices and affectations’, which was marked by Massey's liking for contracted words at that time.  ‘Heaven'd’, ‘region'd’, ‘jewell'd’ and ‘swirl'd’, may have been influenced by Landor's enthusiasm for the fidelity of spoken sound.[8]  Lewes concluded his censure with:

The passage thus restored may explain the verdict which on summing up we had to pronounce upon the writer, but which must have seemed to the reader unjustified by the specimens given, the more so as we appeared to praise the affectations no less than the beauties.  (N.B. Since the foregoing was in type we have received a letter from Mr. Massey, which proves — if proof were needed — that the want of good sense and taste we noticed in his poems extends to his letters.)

    The letter Lewes referred to was mentioned in a communication from George Eliot to Sara Hennell, written on the 9th March:

Mr. Lewes has just come in and put into my hands the enclosed letter from Gerald Massey, which shew Mr. Bray.[9]  Be it noted, that the 'letter' G. Massey refers to contained the question when was Mr. L. going to review G.M.'s book, as he (G.M.) meant to advertise in the Leader.  Also, that Mr. Lewes has been very kind to Gerald Massey as an author …[10]

    One may speculate that if Massey had not written so impetuously, the review might have continued in moderately critical vein, without the more caustic comments presented the following week.  A few days later, on 15 March, George Eliot wrote in a letter to Charles Bray, ‘… I thought it right to let you know the worst side of Gerald Massey,[11] for his sake as well as yours, for Athenæums and Savage Landors can only lead to perdition.  Otherwise I should be sorry to expose a ‘fellow sinner.’[12]  Charles Bray had met previously with the Masseys at his home in St. James', in January 1853.  In his autobiography he mentions:

We had Mr & Mrs Gerald Massey staying with us.  She exhibited in public professing to be able to read without her eyes.  Her eyes were carefully tied over, or you were allowed to put your hands over her face, but I noticed that she could not read until the bandage was considerably displaced, and she was obliged to go to the light, and if when you held her eyes, you did it effectually, she always complained that you hurt her till you gave her more space.  My opinion in this case was that there was no more than an exaltation of the natural sense of sight, which enabled her to see under conditions which she could not do in her ordinary natural state.[13]

    W. E. Adams also mentions a case of mesmerism and blindfold reading which he saw probably in the early 1850s.  A girl of about his age had her eyes held by Adams while he produced a book from his pocket which she had never seen.  At a random page she was able to read well, though Adams was quite sure that she could not possibly see at all.[14]

    It has been attributed by various sources that Gerald Massey was the 'natural' for George Eliot's Felix Holt, the Radical.  This was presented in J. Churton Collins' Studies in Poetry and Criticism, 1905, in Sir Sidney Lee's portrait of Massey in the Dictionary of National Biography, 1912, and in later publications.  The earliest reference I can trace is in the American Banner of Light of 1 December 1883.  It states, ‘Friends of Marian Evans (George Eliot) have heard her say that she had the character and career of Massey in mind when she portrayed her Felix Holt, the Radical.’  Alfred Miles' Poets and Poetry of the Century, 1897, then repeats the statement.  Unfortunately no source is given for any of this information, and it is difficult to attribute to Massey either the physical characteristics of Felix Holt, with his mild radicalism, and with only slight interest in political causes.  Holyoake defined Felix Holt as a positivist, and one who fulfilled George Eliot's idea as to the radical which ought to be.[15]  It is known that Eliot studied various works preparatory to writing Felix Holt, which probably included Samuel Bamford's Passages in the life of a Radical, 1844, as well as using for her portrayals characteristics of persons she met while staying at Chapman's house.  Although she probably met Massey casually at that time, it is unlikely that they had any form of acquaintanceship, despite Eliot in 1868 asking her publisher to send Massey a copy of her Spanish Gypsy.  Gordon Haight is unable to explain her reason for this, and there are none of Massey's books listed in the Eliot-Lewes library catalogue.[16]

    At that time Massey was secretary to the Society of the Friends of Italy. Formed to promote more popular sympathy in England and to influence foreign policy by propaganda towards its democratic cause as promoted by Mazzini, the society had many persons of literary influence on its committee. Douglas Jerrold, Walter Savage Landor, W. J. Linton, George Jacob Holyoake and G. H. Lewes were active supporters, which helped to make Massey's name more widely known.[17]

    Massey sent copies of his book to friends and literary persons, including Louis Kossuth, Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin and Alfred Tennyson.  This was a common practice among new authors, who were able to edit any favourable response for inclusion in later editions or future works.  Kossuth commented, ‘Thanks, many thanks for your gift, which I value very much indeed.  It will do good to my chilled heart, to warm at the fire of your genius …’[18]  The cynical Thomas Carlyle wrote to thank him, and added:

I wish I could do anything to help towards maturity and real usefulness such a talent as yours … it is to your own truthfulness … piety and loyalty of mind, that we must look for a solution of that problem; help is not elsewhere,—else—in various forms, is hindrance mainly!

I have not anything to say on these sorrowful times through which we are now passing.  To my mind the greatest fountain of them all is (little as we yet suspect it) precisely excess of ‘saying’ and talking and palavering,—which the English Nation, for a great while past, has grown to consider as the chief function of man, and the substitute for silent hard work in all kinds.  I believe the cure of Balaclava,—and of the universal ‘Balaclava’, which that small Crimean one is but a symbol of,—lies far beyond the dominion of speech: at any rate my sad ominous thoughts upon it are better to be kept silent than spoken, if they were even speakable

    Ruskin respected Massey's genius, but thought he was ‘too hot a socialist’.[20]  Tennyson referred to Massey's ‘captivating volume’, and although ‘you make our good old English tongue crack & sweat for it occasionally . . . Time will chasten all that.’[21]

    The author and journalist Eliza Linton received a copy, and wrote an enthusiastic acknowledgement referring also to Landor's continued interest in Massey following his earlier review in the Morning Advertiser:

I was with dear Mr. Landor not long ago, and you have quite a warm niche in that brave noble heart of his.  He seems to have a fatherly love for you, and to be proud of your success I wasted not one but many tears over the sweet Babe Christabel I could scarcely have believed that a man could have written it If you have been praised by the Athenæum, you have muzzled the great Cerberus of all, have you not? Why has the Leader flown at your throat?  I thought you were a great pet of theirs—for I have heard you spoken of by me of them at least very affectionately and I was surprised at the onslaught, and pained too.  I hope Mrs. Massey is better, and that all will be bright and golden with you …[22]

    The following letter was written by Massey to Samuel Smiles, former editor of the Leeds Times, whose article in Eliza Cooke's Journal encouraged Massey to continue as a ‘people's poet’ following the publication of Voices of Freedom.  Smiles at that time was contemplating commencing a newspaper in London, but later decided against the idea.

28, Henrietta St.,
Brunswick Square.

My dear Sir,
I have just sent off the small parcel of my books including one in Cloth which I hope you will accept from me.  The Review in the
Athenæum has given a strong impetus to the sale, but I shall not be able to take advantage of the tide of success for want of means to advertise.  I was somewhat surprised to hear what you had in contemplation.  The establishment of a Cheap Newspaper is a formidable affair.  I had a taste of that some time ago.  A friend of mine bought O'Connor's Star and started the Star of Freedom of which I was one of the Editors.  He spent 700 or 800£ and it failed.[23]  To be sure, there were many reasons for the failure.  It was damned already in public opinion, and the old partisans had dwindled down to a thousand subscribers.  At the same time Ernest Jones started his Paper and we were beaten, as we considered it better to give up than to exist on such terms as he did.  And then again, Harney is used up and worn out; he never was anything more than one of the barnacles that stuck to O'Connor.[24]  I wrote the reviews and most of the leading articles in addition to compiling a portion of the news.  I still think there is room for a paper if it could be made well known, and I should like to have a hand in the undertaking.  I suppose I shall drift into Journalism like others, by force of circumstances; very few persons I think would do it from choice.  Just now I am doing nothing saving a weekly letter to the New York Tribune, and am greatly in want of something.  I hope if you should come to London to start a paper, you will not complete your arrangements without remembering me.  I have not been at Chapman's for some time past.  I found my engagement there only a mere stop gap.  I must either get something soon or emigrate, for we have spent the last 2 years in miserable plight.

                                                  I am dear Sir,
                                                               Yours truly,
                                                               Gerald Massey

    Chapman had moved from the Strand to Blandford Square in May, and this was probably when Massey left the firm.

    The third edition of Babe Christabel published in April contained a preface in which Massey explained why he had included his political pieces, for which he had been considerably censured.  Although many people still held those views which he had so forcibly expressed, his opinions had changed to a less radical though still strongly socialistic direction.  At the time those rebellious feelings were quite natural, and were his deliverance from what he termed ‘a fatal slough’:

For the slave, degradation and moral death are certain; but for the rebel there is always a chance of becoming conqueror; and the force to resist is far better than the faculty to succumb … My experience tells me that Poverty is inimical to the development of Humanity's noblest attributes.  Poverty is a never ceasing struggle for the means of living, and it makes one hard and selfish.  To be sure, noble lives have been wrought out in the sternest poverty.  But they were so in spite of their poverty, not because of it

    The fourth edition of Babe Christabel (1855) had one long and quite perceptive review, which noted Massey's originality of imagery and description resolving themselves into epithets of colour—unusual in a lyrical poet.  Certain lines suggestive of plagiarism were mentioned, but the good-hearted reviewer thought they might be unconscious reminiscences of other poets or, used openly as common property, due to their intrinsic excellence.  But disintegration of metre was condemned, and it was hoped that the author would never again attempt blank verse, the reviewer preferring to ‘listen to Mother Hubbard's dog playing on the fiddle’.[26]

    Because of Massey's immediate popularity and his biographical sketch, John Blackwood of Blackwood's Magazine had approached him regarding the possibility of writing about his personal experiences within a socio-political framework.  Massey replied, asking for further suggestions.  Unfortunately for period history, this autobiography was later commenced but never completed:

28 Henrietta St.,
Brunswick Sq.,

Dear Sir,

I pray you accept my best thanks for your very kind note to me, and for the friendly suggestion it contained. I have long had thoughts of attempting such a work as you mention but have distrusted my limited experience and my powers of transmuting that experience into a Book.  Again, I have been somewhat deterred by ‘Alton Locke’ which contained a great deal of my experience, admirably rendered.  So much so that I should fear the charge of plagiarism were I to claim my own.  I should certainly have an advantage over Mr. Kingsley in having lived my life, whereas he only sympathised with it.  I have had a little experience in writing prose, but, only in the shape of Newspaper Articles.  As regards my present opinions on Society, Religion, and Politics—it would just take a Book to work them out in, therefore, I cannot pretend to give you them in a letter.  Suffice it to say that I have passed thro' various phases and vast changes during the last few years and I am still striving upwards and caring less for mysteries as I get nearer to the heart of things.

When I have been thinking of writing a Book I have generally concluded that it should be an Autobiography—can you give me any advice on this point?  My chief points or heads for my subject would consist of Childhood among the Poor—life in a Factory—Character among the people and the effect of Circumstances on its development—Village heroes—the Calvinists among whom I was brought up—coming to London—Life as Errand Boy,—as Draper—as Secretary of a Co-operative Association—Lecturer and Litterateur—Courtship—Marriage—Children—these with my internal revolutions—passions—mental developments—and especial ‘goes on’ at the Mill and Manchester Men—and that Beast Reynolds
[27] whose ‘mysteries’ have such a pernicious effect on the ignorant poor and a dash of ‘Clairvoyance’ of the existence of which I have greater proofs than most men as my Wife possesses the faculty prominently.

This would be my main material. Think you it would do?  I shall be glad to hear your opinion. I have thought of killing my 'hero' at the commencement and editing his MSS which would permit me to maintain my present standpoint in surveying my past. I cannot possibly tell what should constitute a specimen by which you could judge?  And how do you mean to help me toward publishing it were it to suit you?  Will you be good enough to present the Author of ‘Fermilion’ with a Copy of my Book which I will send per post?  Excuse my troubling you at this Length and believe me Dear Sir

                                                 Yours Respectfully
                                                                 Gerald Massey.

P.S. I forgot to mention that I should give a version of the Chartist affair of '48 with some sketches of ‘Patriots’ whom I have met

    The reference to ‘Fermilion’ was a satirical review article written by William Edmondstoune Aytoun, Professor of Literature at Edinburgh University, in which he criticised Fermilian: or the Student of Badajoz. A Spasmodic Tragedy by T. Percy Jones.[29]  This 'T. Percy Jones' was himself, and he had not yet written the book he was criticising![30]  His censure was against what he termed the ‘Spasmodic School’, poets of which were noted for extravagant expressions of sentiment and mysticism emphasised in varying quality of style.  This was directed particularly against Sydney Dobell, whose epic poem Balder. Part the First was the subject of a favourable review article by Massey.[31]  Aytoun had stated also: ‘When one of our young poetical aspirants, on the strength of a trashy duodecimo filled with unintelligible ravings, asserts his claim to be considered as a prophet and teacher, it is beyond the power of humanity to check the intolerable tickling of the midriff.’  Massey and some of his friends questioned if this sentence referred to his first edition of Babe Christabel, as this was published in duodecimo size.  His letter to Aytoun, sent via Blackwood in 1854 for forwarding read:

As one of the Readers of your glorious article—‘Fermilion a Tragedy’—and as one that enjoyed it with immense gusto, permit me to thank you for it; and at the same time to mention that some very kind and attentive friends have construed some of your words into a notice of my Book.

You speak of a ‘trashy duodecimo’ & my own guilty conscience tells me I have said many foolish things and thereby lends countenance to the statement of the aforementioned friends. In case it was intended for me, I beg to ask you to read the preface of my 3rd.  Edition, a Copy of which has been sent to you, and you will see that I do not claim the title of ‘Prophet & Teacher’. I never said such a thing, never thought of such a thing.  If such words have been spoken of me, I am not to be responsible for all the foolish things said whether uttered by the Revd. Gorgeous Gilfillan or the
Athenæum.[32]  Excuse me for troubling you, and I trust you will not attribute to me the object attributed to Apollodorus[33] in writing to the ‘Great ones in the land’.

                                           I am dear Sir
                                                     Yours Gerald Massey

    Although there is no record of Massey sending a copy of his book to Walt Whitman, a note written by him showed that he had received a copy and made comments:

"1855 – I have looked over Gerald Massey’s Poems - London. - They seem to me zealous, candid, warlike, - intended, as they surely are, to get up a strong feeling against the British aristocracy both in their social and governmental political capacity. Massey, I hear, is a youngish man, a radical, an editor now I believe in one of the provincial towns. His early life laborious, a workman in a factory I think."

Walt Whitman, Note on Gerald  Massey, 1855,Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David. M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.


Walt Whitman in 1854.
A steel engraving by Samuel Hollyer
 from a lost daguerreotype by Gabriel Harrison.

The "provincial town" to which Whitman refers, is Edinburgh.

    During Massey’s later tours of America he had not made contact with Whitman.  However, in an article 'New Englanders and the Old Home' he made a brief reference to Whitman and to Charles Dickens' Hon. Elijah Pogram. (Quarterly Review, vol. 115, Jan. 1864, 42-68.)  Dickens’ Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit  written in 1843-44 following his visit to America in 1842, had referred to the Americans as brash, vulgar and boastful.  Epithets that caused considerable irritation in that country.

    Following the publication of Babe Christabel, Massey concentrated on making literary contacts and had little time for writing, apart from a poem and an article ‘Mazzini and Italy’ for the Northern Tribune.  His wife, Rosina, was in poor health while expecting their third child, and they made yet another move, from Brunswick Square to 14, Oak Villas, Oak Village, Kentish Town.  Since his review of Sydney Dobell's Balder he had continued with friendly communications with this author, who wrote to him from Edinburgh on 17 August:

My dear Massey,
My Wife is I believe about to write a word of sympathy on the subject of yr Invalide & her expected trouble & I will only say therefore—what, after all, sums up the whole that can be said—God help her—& you
… [35]

    Exactly what trouble Rosina was having at that time is not recorded, but it was probably a depressive precursor of greater health problems to which the family would be subjected during the following years.  Marian Mertia was born one week later on 24 August 1854.

    The fifth revised and enlarged edition of Babe Christabel, published in February 1855, was dedicated to Lady Marian Alford ‘as a small memento of respect and gratitude’.  Hepworth Dixon, chief editor of the Athenæum was friendly with Lady Marian Alford, widowed daughter of the second Marquess of Northampton.[36]  Her son, John William Spencer, was the second Earl Brownlow.  Dixon had mentioned Babe Christabel to them and given them details of Massey's background together with a summary of the family's present circumstances.  Lady Alford was considerably impressed, also by the fact that Massey's birthplace was near to Ashridge.  This prompted her patronage, in which she either paid for publication of that edition, or gave Massey financial assistance.  In addition to the dedication, Massey named his third daughter Marian after her.

Lady Marian Alford, from an oil-painting
(Trustees of the British Museum).

John William Spencer, Earl Brownlow
In Massey's 'In Memoriam'. (British Library copy only).

    Not having been able to obtain permanent employment since he left Chapman, his financial state was becoming quite critical.  He had managed to remain solvent that year, 1855, by contracting some unsigned biographical sketches for Bogue's Men of the Time, for which he wrote for personal information to Sydney Dobell (for Alexander Smith the poet), Louis Blanc, and Ferdinand Freiligrath the German poet and Communist.  Also that same year Bogue published his Crimean war poems, War Waits, dedicated to John Bright, the anti-Corn Law campaigner and noted orator against the Crimean war.  Despite Massey referring to these poems as ‘rough and ready war-rhymes’, the reviews were quite approving.  The Edinburgh News mentioned their 'beauty of expression and imagery', and wrote in general terms of the author's 'nervous, vivid and impassioned' style.  The Athenæum again praised his descriptive power: 'After verses so vigorous that it seems to echo the tramp of horses and the roar of cannon, most of our minor minstrels would be tame . . .'[37]  It then added a shrewd comment, ‘The charge, the contest, the retreat are vividly drawn by the writer, who has never seen a squadron in the field.’  Sydney Dobell, attracted to Massey since the Balder review, wrote to the Rev. R. Glover:

I enclose you Gerald Massey's ‘War Waits’, and know how heartily you will respond to their fine flushing enthusiasm. . . If you don't know his other works yet, by all means lose no time in seeing them, and in reading his Preface, which contains sentences of prose which Milton might have written …[38]

    Those literary works were financially unrewarding.  However, by March, Massey had obtained the promise of a post as an editor on the Edinburgh News, due probably to some assistance from Dobell who may have been the reviewer of War Waits.  Rosina was now expecting their fourth child.  Massey wrote to Harney on the 21 March, whom he had been expecting to meet during the family's journey to Edinburgh:

It's all up about our coming to Newcastle.  I find that we go straight on to Edinburgh in one night and in less time than it will take to go to Newcastle.  Mrs. Massey is already knocked up and very poorly and thinks we had better go direct … We shall be in a precious fix in moving and this plan will obviate the necessity of our all sleeping in London after the goods are moved and packed up in a ten feet room …[39]

    Just before moving he had time to write to James Macfarlan, the Glasgow ‘Pedlar-poet’ who had sent him a copy of one of his volumes of poems:

Dear Sir,
I have received your pleasant little Vol and your kind letter.  Many thanks for both.  There is one thing in your lines I protest against; it is, calling Fame ‘'fickle’.  Notoriety maybe; but true Fame is fame for ever.  But, Fame
grand lady as she iscan never be a true Poet's Mistress, he cannot worship her, she is only hand-maiden to his Beloved.

If you are a Poet, be sure Fame will find it out.  There is no need for haste, the Spring will come, the rose will blow, the Poet will be recognised for what he is.

I am in expectation of seeing auld Scotland in a few days—I go to Edinburgh —how far is that from Glasgow?

    Macfarlan's friend J. P. Crawford had scribbled on the letter: ‘Sold to me by Macfarlan for a 6d to Buy drink no doubt’.[40]

    The family arrived in Edinburgh at the end of March 1855, where they stayed in temporary accommodation at 14 Trinity Crescent, which had been found for them by Dobell:

And first of the [Massey]s, who arrived in Edinburgh eight days ago, and on Monday entered upon the lodgings we had found for them at Trinity—where they now seem comfortably settled.

I have seen them every day, and am pleased to the heart to find in him more even than I allowed myself to expect of beautiful and good ... The upper part of his face reminds me of Raphael's angels, and I catch myself dwelling upon him with a kind of optical fondness, as one looks upon a beautiful picture or a rare colour. And this in spite of a blue satin waistcoat! and a gold-coloured tie! The second morning I came upon him early, sans neckerchief or collar, nursing his sickly baby, the grey wrapper in which he sat, being like the mist to the morning as regards his wonderful complexion, and it would be difficult to imagine more marvellous (masculine) beauty

    Massey was not due to take up his post with the Edinburgh News for another two months, so he busied himself then and later by writing some articles for Hogg's Instructor, which also formed the basis for two of his future lecture subjects.  In ‘Thomas Hood, Poet and Punster’, Hood's ‘Song of the Shirt’ received honourable mention, continuing Massey's commitment to the opposition of social injustice at that time.  He referred to it as a ‘piercing cry’ that:

woke up the wealthy and the great from their luxurious beds … that showed them the human lives they were wearing out - the blood of little children wrung out to dye their costly crimson … their sisters who stitched their lives into their work for 4½d. per day …  some, indeed, cursed the voice of the poet that had so rudely broken their voluptuous dream and they slunk back to their silken pillows. But the rest stared on, and could not turn away... None but the poor know what the poor endure. But this song led England to see that there were, in London alone, 33,500 poor women, working for from 2½d. to 5d. per day [42]

                 …O! Men, with Sisters dear!
       O! Men with Mothers and Wives!
It is not linen you're wearing out,
       But human creatures' lives!
                 Stitch - stitch - stitch,
       In poverty, hunger and dirt,
Sewing at once with a double thread,
       A Shroud as well as a Shirt

    ‘The Poetry of Alfred Tennyson’, an appreciation of Tennyson's Poems, The Princess, and In Memoriam, was probably the best article he had written on a living poet up to that time, and was one of the first articles to show his development of prose style when divorced from political commentary:

It is his colossal calmness, the absence of blind hurry, that is often mistaken for a want of passionate earnestness … The poetry of Alfred Tennyson constitutes a world of exceeding loveliness, a world of peculiar beauty, unique in all literature … When his verse 'trembles and sparkles as with ecstasy', it is intellectual, and not a dance of the blood ... After that grand debauch with the fire-waters of Byron, which we look back upon, how pure, how fresh, and sparkling with health is the poetry of Tennyson! … We find that the subjectivity of our poetry is representative of the time and the circumstances that produced it, as the objective drama of the times of Shakspeare. In Tennyson this subjectivity has its culmination

    He was pleased with it sufficiently to send a copy to the Tennysons with a covering letter to Mrs Tennyson, rather imperiously requesting some personal details of her husband that he could include in a sketch for Bogue:

Dear Madam,
In my last note I quite forgot to say that Mr. Woolner told me that Mr. Tennyson had said that if I still persisted in writing the sketch for the ‘Men of the Time’, he supposed he must give me the Data—or something to that effect. Pray say that I do persist, and shall be glad to get it at once. I enclose a Review which I wrote in a paper here. I had no Copy of Mr. Tennyson's Poems at hand or I might have convicted the young Gentleman on other counts

                                                   Yours dear Madam
                                                   very Respectfully,
                                                   Gerald Massey.

Emily replied and, in more gentle tone, commented on the article:

My dear Sir,
Thank you very much for having sent us your Review.  Our Mother and Aunt were so charmed with it I ordered a copy for each, and may I add I too also like it extremely.  I only remember one thing with which I cannot quite agree, for I cannot help looking upon my husband as among the universal poets.  He is too human to be merely a subjective poet and I cannot help thinking if you read his poems now as I hope you will one day read them in the light of himself, if I may so speak, you would agree with me.  Is not his genius both Idyllic and Lyrical? the first quite as much as the last; and is not an Idyll a kind of concrete drama at least in its highest form is it not so—& does not this imply universality? … I hope Mrs Massey is improving as rapidly as possible …
                                                   Truly yours
                                                   Emily Tennyson


Following this letter Tennyson wrote to Massey:

Freshwater I.W.
July 11/55.

Dear Mr. Massey,
Will you accept a little volume from me of my own poems?  I have ordered Moxon to forward one to you.  My mother now between 70 & 80, one who takes far more interest in the next world than in this, & not generally given to the reading of literature, was quite delighted with your paper in
Hogg's Instructor.
                                                    Believe me
                                                    dear Mr Massey
                                                    yours very truly
                                                    A. Tennyson

    The Masseys had now found more permanent accommodation at 12, Henderson Row, near the Royal Botanic Garden and Edinburgh Academy, but the first of several tragedies was being enacted.  Marian, the Masseys' ten months old youngest daughter who had been sickly from birth as mentioned by Dobell, developed enteritis, and died on 19 July.  Massey wrote to Emily Tennyson:

Dear Madam,
Our little darling's gone.  At one o'Clock this morning while the world slept the death-angel dived and snatched, we think blindly, from this troubled sea of life one of the purest preciousest pearls that were ever set in the crown of God.
                                                    Yours, very heartbrokenly
                                                    Gerald Massey

    Dobell mentioned this also in a letter to Dr Samuel Brown: ‘… You will be glad to know that [Massey] has got a good appointment in Edinburgh.  He is in great grief just now, poor fellow, for the death of his youngest child…’[48]

    This was a severe blow, especially to Rosina for whom it was the beginning of a decade of depressive ill health.  It is not certain when Rosina had commenced taking alcohol, but she certainly became addicted to it during this time.  Psychologically the shock must have caused traumatic hysteria with depressive conversion.  She suffered exaggerated physical and mental symptoms which showed themselves as hyper-expression of feelings that gave episodes of dramatisation, changeable moods, irritation and fits of temper.  Early in her illness she was queried as having tuberculosis, and later as being hyperthyroid, but no firm physical diagnosis was recorded.  Although there were to be occasional remissions over the following ten years, she remained virtually an invalid, with pathological jealousy causing Massey great problems both in his working and writing life.  An anonymous writer in the New York Mercury gave a generally inaccurate account of the Masseys, with whom he had stayed on one occasion.  But he did mention Rosina's jealous reactions in the mid 1850's when she thought her husband was receiving approving glances from attractive young women during his lectures (St Louis Globe Democrat, 21 October, 1875).  To his credit, when Massey could have sent her on a number of occasions to a mental hospital, he looked after her with affection and always gave her support.

Craigcrook Castle.

    During his first year in Edinburgh he came in contact with a number of literary figures, including the poet Alexander Smith who was secretary to the University, Professor John Blackie of the University, John Buckle, historian, and Professor James Simpson, the discoverer of the anaesthetic properties of chloroform.  Simpson also advised treatment for Massey's wife, without charge.  But it was William Stirling, MP for Perth, referred to as ‘That princely Stirling of Keir’ who befriended Massey with a generosity that was typical of his practical and sympathetic personality.  Stirling owned Craigcrook Castle, at Keir, some three miles from Edinburgh.  Dating from the 14th century and enlarged in the early 1800s, it was originally a large manor house with a round tower and extensive grounds.[49]  Stirling willingly placed the castle grounds at the family's disposal.  But now Massey was feeling trapped by his job which he found to be mentally exhausting as well as taking up more of his time than he had anticipated.  Hopes of financial security ended when he was forced to employ a resident housekeeper to look after Rosina and the children when he was at work, and he found himself getting poorer by the month.  To give Rosina a change of surroundings he arranged for a short holiday at the Bridge of Allan, but even this had to be curtailed due to the illness of one of his children.  To add to his problems Rosina was well into another pregnancy, complaining that she found Edinburgh too cold and wanted to return south.  All those factors so restricted his time that he could undertake only a small amount of extra writing.  His next book of poems, Craigcrook Castle, for which he over-optimistically expected to receive £200 if it sold well, was consequently delayed.  That extended venture into blank verse included ‘The Mother's Idol Broken’, an elegy on the death of Marian with a theme similar to ‘Babe Christabel’.  However, Massey's depressing personal experience increased his fault of excessive sentiment almost to the point of morbidity which, by today's standards, makes the poem uncomfortable reading:

She only caught three words of human speech:
One for her Mother, one for me, and one
She crowed with, for the fields, and open heaven.
That last she sighed with a sweet farewell pathos
A minute ere she left the house of life,
To come for kisses never any more …
Ere the soul loosed from its last ledge of life,
Her little face peered round with anxious eyes,
Then, seeing all the old faces, dropt content...

Within a mile of Edinburgh Town
We laid our little darling down;
Our first seed in God's acre sown! …

Today, when winds of winter blow,
And Nature sits in dream of snow,
With Ugolino-look of woe:

Wife from the window came to me,
Now leaves were fallen she could see
The little wee grave thro' shred elm-tree …

Think of our babe that will never wake,
And hold your own till fond hearts ache,
Sweet souls, for little Marian's sake …

    At that time the family was very fortunate in having made the acquaintance of William Stirling, who generously loaned them money on account to pay for the services of their housekeeper, and gave them gifts of game from his estate.

    Their next child, Sidney William Dobell, named after the poet, was born on 7 May 1856 with a fate similar to Marian's, and some four months later Dobell had again to write of bad news: ‘ Death is again going up poor Massey's long stair, I fear; my little namesake was nearly dying when I saw him last.’[50]  Little Sidney died of peritonitis on 10 September, placing another grave in Warriston Cemetery and causing Rosina more mental trauma, especially as the cemetery could be seen from the family's rooms.

Warriston Cemetery (Ref. No 147, Section N, Sub-Section N2, Inner Row 04).
Photos: Chris Halliday.

  Some additional unsigned writing was contracted for Hugh Miller's newspaper the Witness, for which there is positive identification of a series of eleven articles from May to September 1857, covering the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition.[51]  Breaks in the series were made in order to give more coverage to the Crimean war.  As an example of Massey's descriptive prose writing it is among his best works, apart from his common fault of over extended sentences.  Yet even that has a subjective illustrative power in its own right, reminiscent of, but antithetical to, Dickens' colourful objective sketches.  During the train journey to Manchester he noted:

One whiff of Spring fragrance and we are whirled into Preston.  O, town of the multitude of tall chimneys, that reek continually in the face of heaven! it is pleasant to behold thee receiving the nightly baptism of God's cleansing air;—to see the arms of old grey space flung around those lofty soot-fountains, and choking them, as it were, for a short time, that have daily choked the air for so long;—to feel the hand of silence laid on the perturbed spirit of machinery, while it lies like a tired thing at rest.  Gladly also do we again shoot out into the country, away from those towering stacks and clanging mills that will be all alive two hours hence, and clamouring at heaven, like so many frustrated Babels, that all end in smoke; for we get the prettiest of peeps of little nooks, where the lilac is all one mass of starry purple bloom, and the fruit trees look like a winged shower of white.  We take in a good long breath of the sweet country air, as a diver does before he makes his plunge, and, lo! we are in Manchester … [52]

Medal showing the front of the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition Building.

The Nave of the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition Building
(Illustrated Times, 11 June 1857).

    The large exhibition provided a sampling of all aspects of art, with paintings particularly well represented, hanging in long galleries.  Most of Massey's articles were descriptions of these works, and he wrote colourful vignettes of the painters, and stories of the subjects that would have supplemented the published brochures to advantage:

Shapes of grace have started from their marble immurement at the sculptor's wakening touch, and taken their stand on pedestals by the way … rich tapestries and fairy traceries … fruit dishes, starred and bossed with jewels of price … common wood, carved with such art, you might fancy it budded into life in that shape, and put forth those tendrils and leaves that are only waiting for the juices of spring to flow …[53]

    In spite of his dislike of newspaper work, it had developed his prose writing away from the reflected, often excessively emotional, subjectivism that remained a feature in his verse.  There was greater control and refinement of composition, with increasing critical discernment.  Without that experience, favourable literary appreciation for his main prose works soon to follow would have been considerably weakened.

[Chapter 4]




Haight, Gordon S., George Eliot and John Chapman, with Chapman's Diaries (London, Archon Books, 2nd ed., 1969).


Athenæum, 4 Feb. 1854, 139-41.


Lloyd's Weekly, 5 Feb. 1854, 8.


Morning Advertiser, 24 Feb. 1854, 5.


Westminster Review, 5, (Apr. 1854), 427.


Leader, 4 Mar. 1854, 211.


Ibid. 11 Mar. 1854, 233.


Colvin, S., Landor (London, Macmillan 1881), 199-200.


A radical friend of George Eliot, interested in Phrenology and Spiritualism.


Haight, Gordon S. (ed.), The George Eliot Letters (Yale U.P., 1954 etc.), 2, 144-46 and fns. Massey's first advertisement had appeared on 11 February, p. 143. His advertisement for the second edition was published in the Leader of 11 March, p. 238, and included a portion of Lewes' adverse criticism of 4 March. Massey had some of his poems published previously, in the Leader.


Massey was compulsively impatient. Although mellowed and less radically opinionated since his earlier 'wild Republican days', he remained impetuous. He was probably anxious to time the review with his advertisement for financial reasons. Lewes himself was later guilty of this. On one occasion he wanted a new book he had published to be reviewed and praised the moment it came off the press. In Hirst, F. W., Early Life and Letters of John Morley 2 vols. (London, Macmillan, 1927) 1, 295.


George Eliot Letters, 2, 146. The meaning of George Eliot's remark regarding the Athenæum and Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864) is not clear. Rosemary Ashton, author of G. H. Lewes. A Life (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1992), in a personal letter notes that Hepworth Dixon gave an unfavourable review in 1849 to Lewes' biography of Robespierre, and that they were not the best of friends. Eliot and Lewes, although politically radical as was Massey, thought less well of Massey's poems than did Dixon, possibly due to the Dixon-Lewes review.


Bray, C., Phases of Opinion (London, Longmans, 1884), 107-8.


Memoirs of a Social Atom, op. cit., 135-6.


Holyoake, G.J., Bygones Worth Remembering (London, Fisher Unwin, 1905), 91-2.


George Eliot Letters, 4, 460.
Baker, W., George Eliot—G. K Lewes Library Catalogue (New York, Garland, 1977).


King, Bolton, The Life of Mazzini (London, Dent, 1912), 152-3. A receipt on behalf of the Society to Holyoake and signed by Massey 24 July 1854 is in the Co-operative Union Ltd., Holyoake Correspondence Collection, 511.


National Library of Scotland, Ms. 32181148.


Ibid. Ms. 3218.f.152.


Ibid. Ms. 3218.f.164.


Ibid. Ms. 32181143. Published in H. Tennyson, Alfred Lord Tennyson, a Memoir, 2 vols. (London, Macmillan, 1897), 1, 405.


National Library of Scotland, Ms. 3218.f.162-3. Elizabeth Lynn Linton (1822-1898). Letter undated, but probably late March to early April, 1854. It is signed 'E. Lynn', prior to her marriage in 1858 to the engraver William James Linton (1812-1898). The letter is unrecorded in George Layard's (1901) biography of Lynn Linton.


Robert Le Blond, former member of the National Charter Association and council member of the Parliamentary Reformers. He was head of Benetfinck & Co., and financed Harney's purchase of the Star of Freedom. See also Schoyen, op. cit., 226-7, and Harney Papers, fn to letter 25.


A surprisingly unkind remark by Massey at that time. Harney had commenced his political alignment away from O'Connnor in 1850.


Samuel Smiles collection, Archives Dept., Leeds City Library, Ref: SS/A/IX/105. Undated.


Eclectic Review, 9, (Apr. 1855), 415-27.


G. W. M. Reynolds the Chartist leader and Editor of Reynolds's Weekly Newspaper. His Mysteries of London serialised from 1845 then published into 6 vols. (London, Vickers, 1846-1850) were lights and shadows of London life based on elements of fact. Although demonstrating social protest, there were strong moralistic, macabre, violent and sensual overtones. Many people thought his romances coarse and vulgar. (Adams, Memoirs of a Social Atom), 1, 234.



National Library of Scotland, Ms. 4723.ff.174-5. Undated.


In Blackwood's Magazine, May 1854, 533-51.


Published by Blackwood, July 1 854.


Eclectic Review, Oct. 1854, 424-35.


Gilfillan, George, A Third Gallery of Portraits (Edinburgh, Hogg, 1854), 188-99. In a footnote to Massey's portrait, he referred to Massey's review of 'Balder' as being 'excellent, clear, massive, masterly English, very refreshing in this age of mystical fudge’.


Pen-name of George Gilfillan.


National Library of Scotland, Ms. 4106.f.142-143. Undated.


Ibid. Ms. 3218.f.144-147. (Incomplete.)


Formerly Lady Marian Margaret Compton (b. Rome, 1817), her father was Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton (b. 1790), 2nd Marquis of Northampton. She took the name Cust following her marriage to John Hume Cust (b. 1812), Viscount Alford and the 1st Earl Brownlow. After his father's death in 1851, her son John William Spencer Cust (b. 1842) became the 2nd Earl Brownlow. Lady Marian was well known in society as an intellectual conversationalist and patron of the arts. In 1866 she wrote an illustrated Needlework as Art, and helped to establish the School of Art Needlework in 1872 of which Queen Victoria became a patron when the premises moved to South Kensington in 1875.

The Brownlow residence at Ashridge lies in an estate of over three thousand acres situated near to Berkhamsted. It dates from the 13th century and was rebuilt in 1815 from an original monastery of the Order of Bonhommes. The estate belongs now to the National Trust and the house is a management college. The other Brownlow residence, Belton House near Grantham, is owned also by the National Trust and the house and grounds are open to the public.


Athenæum, 3 Feb. 1855.  See also Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. X., Dec 1854—May1855.


J. E., (E. Jolly, ed.) Life and Letters of Sydney Dobell 2 vols. (London, Smith, Elder, 1878). 1, 402-3.


The Harney Papers, op. cit. letter 58.


The Mitchell Library, Glasgow. Ms. Main 763716. Undated. Macfarlan (1832-1862) wrote several small volumes of pleasant but undistinguished poems. The actual volume would be either Poems (1854) or City Songs (1855). Both make reference to 'Fame', but not in connection with 'Fickle', which may have been made allusively, by Massey. A short autobiography with some additional biographical details is given by Colin Rae-Brown in the Poetical Works of James Macfarlan (Glasgow, Forrester, 1882), i-x.


Life and Letters of Sydney Dobell, 1, 416. Letter written to M—. As most of the persons referred to were still alive when the book was published, the editor had deleted a number of names in her presentation of the letters, according to the subject matter of the text. The assumption of Massey's name is virtually certain by text content and dating. Holdings of the original letters have not been traced.


Hogg's Instructor, 4, (1855), 320-28.


Punch, 5, (Dec. 1843), 260.


Ms. The Tennyson Research Centre, Lincoln. Undated.


National Library of Scotland. Ms. 3218.ff.153-154. Undated.


Ibid. Ms. 3218.f.153.


The Tennyson Research Centre, Lincoln. Undated.


Life and Letters of Sydney Dobell, 1, 438.


Grant, James, Old and New Edinburgh 3 vols. (London, Cassell, 1880), 3, 106-112.


Life and Letters of Sidney Dobell, 2, 34.


Hugh Miller (1802-1856), a stonemason from Cromarty, on the Moray Firth. Wrote poetry, and contributed to Chamber's Journal. Actively interested in geology, he attempted to trace the genealogy of man and religion in Footprints of the Creator and Testimony of the Rocks. Editor of the Edinburgh Witness from 1840. Committed suicide 23/24 Dec. 1856, due to intolerable head pains, giddiness and confusion. See Watson, Jean L., Life of Hugh Miller (Edinburgh, Gemmell, 1880). Massey composed a poetic appreciation of Miller in his 'Hugh Miller's Grave'.


Witness, 13 May, 1857.


Ibid. 16 May, 1857.