22 February 2013

John Critchley Prince in Hyde, Greater Manchester

The grave of John Critchley Prince in St George's churchyard, Church Street, Hyde. The inscription is no longer easy to read.

DIED 5TH MAY 1866.'
(ADDENDUM: There are three links at the bottom of this page: click on the last one for a view of the grave after the clean-up.)
The poet John Critchley Prince was born in poverty in Wigan, his father being a reed maker and a heavy drinker. Prince became an apprentice in his father's trade at the age of eleven.

He died in his 'lowly house' in Brook Street, Hyde and his funeral was attended by, among others, Edwin Waugh, Benjamin Brierley, Samuel Laycock and Elijah Ridings.

Below is the full chapter on Prince from Thomas Middleton's Annals of Hyde and District: Containing Historical Reminiscences of Denton, Haughton, Dukinfield, Mottram, Longdendale, Bredbury, Marple, and the Neighbouring Townships (1899):


Author of Hours with the Muses

JOHN CRITCHLEY PRINCE, the Bard of Hyde, was one of a band of gifted singers and prominent literary man—self taught be it said—whose names are household words in the great industrial hive about Cottonopolis. In his day Prince was a great force in the active life of the manufacturing north, and probably no writer ever exercised a greater power over the people, or pleaded more eloquently for the emancipation of the sons of toil. Just as Burns was the bard and wonder of the farmer–folk of Ayr, so was Prince the wonder, the product, and the pride of the factory workers of Lancashire. His lays cheered them through long years of weary labour, filled them with fresh hopes and aspirations, and now when the writer has gone to rest, their melody still lingers and many weary hearts are gladdened by its sound.

Critchley Prince was born on June 21st, 1808, at Wigan, in Lancashire. He was brought up amid the greatest poverty, and was never sent to school. His education was obtained solely from his mother and from the teachers of a Sunday School. The Princes eventually settled in Hyde, where the poet married in 1826, when under 19 years of age. His income at the time was very small, and when a young family appeared, it took the united efforts of both parents to procure even a bare subsistence. Misled by glowing accounts of the prospects of artisans in France, Prince at length left his family to seek his fortune abroad. Disappointment, however, met him on the Continent; the greatest distress prevailed, and unable to obtain work, he found himself a beggar in a strange country, possessing no knowledge of the language.

In the middle of the winter of 1831 Prince left
Mühlhausen  to return to Hyde. He followed the romantic wanderings of the Rhine, exploring the ruined castles and visiting the principal scenes of legendary lore. Travelling through Strasbourg, Nancy, Rheims, Chalons, and most of the principal cities, he at length arrived in Calais, having subsisted on the charity of the few English residents he had met with on the way. A passage was procured for him by the British Consul at Calais, and he at length set foot again in England.

On his return Prince first applied for food and shelter at a workhouse in Kent, and was cast into a filthy garret with 12 other unfortunates, some of whom were in a high state of fever; indeed, the dawn of the next day found his bedfellow dead. From here he proceeded with bare feet to London, begging in the daytime and sleeping in the open fields at night. A portion of his clothing he sold at "Rag Fair" for 8 pence, which treasure he spent partly in allaying the dreadful cravings of hunger, and partly in the purchase of paper and writing materials. Entering a neighbouring tavern, he wrote as much of his own poetry as the paper would contain, and that task done he went round to a number of booksellers, hoping to dispose of the manuscript for a shilling or two. But disappointment again met him, and after staying in London a short time—lying on the stones of some gateway at night, he left the metropolis and set off northward. His biographer tells us that he slept in barns, vagrant offices, under hay–stacks, in the lowest of lodging–houses; one day he ground corn at Birmingham, another he sang ballads at Leicester, the cool night wind found him sleeping under the oaks of Sherwood Forest, and finally he rested his weary limbs in the " lock–up " at Bakewell. By perseverance, however, he at length reached Hyde, only to find that his wife, unable to sustain herself and children, had been obliged to apply for parish relief, and was then in the workhouse at Wigan. Prince hurried off to that town, removed his family to Manchester, where he took a bare garret, and without furniture of any sort, with a bundle of straw for a bed, the wretched family remained several months. The Princes subsequently returned to Hyde, where a fairer fortune smiled upon them than had been the case in former years.

It was not until 1841 that Prince published his first work, "Hours with the Muses." He contributed at different times to the Manchester periodicals, and to three now defunct local magazines, "Microscope," "Phoenix," and "Companion."

The publication of " Hours with the Muses " brought Prince numbers of friends, but unfortunately he became a prey to habits of intemperance. He seems to have fallen into an unsettled state, sometimes working at his old trade of reed–making, often hanging about the country, and chiefly depending for subsistence on the profits of the five successive volumes which issued from his pen. An attempt was made to secure for him a pension, which, although fruitless as far as its main effort was concerned, won for him a grant from the Royal Bounty. He died at Hyde in 1866, and was buried in St. George's Churchyard, where a head–stone commemorating his works has been erected over his grave by a few admiring friends.

Prince's fame as a poet has been for the most part provincial, although his writings have been frequently quoted by the press in all parts of the world. His verse exhibits unmistakeable signs of genius, and is well worth perusal. la all his poetry there is a decided literary quality, which is surprising when one remembers that his surroundings were anything but encouraging to study. Another pleasing feature of his work is that it is so little touched with the spirit of the misanthrope, or hate of the moneyed class, as one might have expected from a writer who had suffered so bitterly the pangs of poverty. There is a gracefulness of expression, and a musical flow in the language, which rather indicate the well–read and educated man than the wearied, self–taught artisan. His verse is permeated with a deep reverential spirit and an inherent love of nature. This latter quality is shown forcibly in his stirring lines on Kinderscout:

Dark Kinder! standing on thy whin–clad side,
Where storm and solitude and silence dwell,
And stern sublimity hath set his throne
I looked upon a region wild and wide :
A realm of mountain, forest haunt, and fell,
And fertile valleys, beautifully lone,
Where fresh and free romantic waters roam.
Singing a song of peace by many a cottage home.
Oh! is it not religion to admire.
O God! what thou hast made in field and bower,
And solitudes from man and strife apart

To feel within the soul the awakening fire
Of pure and chastened pleasure, and the power
Of natural beauty on the tranquil heart;
And then to think that our terrestrial home
Is but a shadow still of that which is to come.

Prince gave forth in the form of verse the national aspiration after "progress, peace, and temperance," and his lyrics are among the finest that have been written on those topics. Indeed, on those questions his poems attained the force of platform power, and as such they have been, and are to day, often quoted. The poet's greatest sympathies probably lay with the efforts made toward the amelioration of the working–classes, to which he belonged, and his feelings in this direction were clearly indicated in his numerous "Lyrics for the People." One of them is well worth quoting. It is headed

"The Songs of the People."
Oh! the Songs of the People are voices of power
That echo in many a land.
They lighten the heart in the sorrowful hour
And quicken the labour of hand;
They gladden the shepherd on mountain and plain,
And the mariner tossed on the sea;
The poets have given us many a strain,
But the Songs of the People for me.

The artizan, wending full early to toil,
Sings a snatch of old song by the way;
The ploughman who sturdily furrows the soil,
Cheers the morn with the words of his lay;
The man at the smithy, the maid at the wheel.
The mother with babe on her knee.
Chant simple old rhymes, which they tenderly feel,
Oh! the Songs of the People for me.

An anthem of triumph, a ditty of love,
A carol 'gainst sorrow and care,
A hymn of the household that rises above.
In the music of hope or despair;
A strain patriotic that wakens the soul
To all that is noble and free;
These lyrics o'er men have a strong control,
Oh! the Songs of the People for me.

As before stated, Prince was no misanthrope, and he seems to have been instilled with hope as to the future of the English toilers. The following verse is quoted from the stirring poem, "A call to the People."

O God! the future yet shall see
On this fair world of thine,
The myriads wise, and good, and free,
Fulfil thy blest design;
The dawn of Truth, long overcast,
Shall kindle into day at last.
Bright, boundless and divine;
And man shall walk the fruitful sod,
A being worthy of his God.

Of the facile and musical flow of his language many evidences could be quoted; the following, however, will suffice. The lines are taken haphazard from a poem called "The Maid of a Mountain Land."

A smile of delight from all went round,
As she turned to the casket of sleeping sound;
On the tremulous keys her fingers fell.
As rain-drops fall in a crystal well;
Till full on the ear the witchery stole,
And melody melted the captive soul;
She touched the cords with a skilful hand,—
That dark-eyed Maid of a Mountain Land.

One of the best of Prince's poems is "The Golden Land of Poesy," and the following verses extracted from it are evidently the poet's own estimate of his work.

At length, oh joy! the enchanted shore
Loomed up in far-off loveliness,
And I grew eager to explore
The wondrous realm;—my tears ran o'er
With very gladness of success;
Odours of spices and of flowers
Came on the breezes flowing free;
Rich branches, reft from gorgeous bowers,
Bestrewed the wave;—the land was ours—
The Golden Land of Poesy.

Not yet! a barrier crossed my way—
My shrinking vessel back recoiled;
I could not reach the sheltering bay.
For rocks and shoals about me lay.
And winds opposed, and water boiled,
Thus baffled by the Poet-God;
I only brought—alas for me—
Some waifs and strays from that bright God;
Which I have seen, but have not trod—
The Golden Land of Poesy.'

A link to R. A. Douglas Lithgow's biography of Prince is below, and the website has a number of other links to information on Prince.

A further link is to a simple memorial stone in Queen's Park.

The Life of John Critchley Prince (1880), by R. A. Douglas Lithgow
John Critchley Prince in Harpurhey, Manchester
John Critchley Prince cleaned up


Hydonian said...

What a fantastic post... The grave yard at St Georges is in such a state you did very well find the headstone.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

I have to say that it wasn't easy to find, although the relative smallness of the graveyard helped a great deal! Many thanks for this comment.