William Barnes 1801–1886
English poet and philologist.
William Barnes is considered an outstanding regional poet, who produced highly regarded verse in the dialect of Blackmore Vale—a semi-secluded valley in the southern English county of Dorsetshire. This poetry, which preserves the speech and character of rural life in early nineteenth-century England, earned Barnes the enduring designation as "the Dorset Poet." An accomplished philologist as well as a versifier, Barnes also composed extensive linguistic, grammatical, and historical works, including several writings on Anglo-Saxon etymology which would inform his poetry. Overall, Barnes's collected poems are thought to represent a celebration of the pastoral ideals of harmony with nature and gentleness as represented by the people and language of Blackmore Vale, while his prose writing is said to offer tacit criticism of modern notions of economic, social, and scientific progress which he believed threatened to destroy the cultural traditions of the past.
Barnes was born in Bagber near Sturminster Newton, the principal town in Blackmore Vale, Dorsetshire, England. His father was a relatively poor farmer, though he descended from a family of gentlemen. Barnes attended grammar school in Sturminster, and in his early teens worked for a solicitor in town. During this time he began to display varied and extensive interests: in modern and classical languages, Welsh poetry, music, mathematics, and many other subjects. In 1817, he traveled to Dorchester. There he again was employed as a solicitor's clerk and met Julia Miles, who would later become his wife. Barnes published his first book of poetry, a pamphlet of ten poems in the Queen's English entitled Poetical Pieces, in 1820, but failed to derive any significant notoriety from the work. At the age of twenty-two Barnes, looking for an increase in his wealth for marriage, traveled to Wiltshire where he became a schoolmaster in the town of Mere. He would continue as an educator for the next four decades. A higher salary allowed Barnes to marry Julia Miles in 1827. In 1835 he and his wife returned to Dorchester, where Barnes opened a small school. He continued to pursue his philological studies and write poetry, with many of
his verses appearing in the Dorset County Chronicle. Barnes then published what would become his defining collection, Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect, in 1844. He was encouraged to produce works in the national idiom as well, culminating in Poems Partly of Rural Life in National English (1846). In 1847 Barnes, now the father of seven children of whom six had survived, was ordained a deacon (later a priest) in the parish of Whitcomb. He received his degree of Bachelor of Divinity from Cambridge University in 1850. After his wife fell ill in 1852 and died, a bereaved Barnes produced several poems of love and grief that appeared in his second and third collections of dialect poetry in 1859 and 1862. During the last twenty-five years of his life Barnes retired from teaching and became the parish priest at Winterbourne Came. His literary production of this period was primarily focused on prose, particularly on philological works. In 1885 the respected Dorset novelist and poet Thomas Hardy moved near Barnes, but their friendship was brief. Barnes, by now a familiar and highly-respected figure in Dorset, died the following year.
Barnes arranged his first poetic collection, Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect, seasonally, fitting the individual poems into spring, summer, fall, and winter sections, along with a fifth "miscellaneous" category. The work is largely comprised of portraits of country people and glimpses of rural life in the Blackmore Vale region of Dorset. The pieces in Poems of Rural Life, along with its sequels Hwomely Rhymes. A Second Collection of Poems in the Dorset Dialect (1859) and Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect. Third Collection (1862), encompass a variety of verse forms and display a considerable technical range, featuring devices used in the poetry of the medieval Welsh, Anglo-Saxons, Persians, and others. Critics observe in Barnes's eclogues, lyrics, and idylls simple, but vivid natural imagery and a pastoral sensibility. His works include several autobiographical and emotional lyrics related to his love for and loss of his wife, including "My Darling Julia" and "Wife A-Prais'd." Within his series of dialect eclogues are several which protest the neglectful treatment of Dorsetshire farmers in an age of agricultural enclosures: "The 'Lotments" and "The Common A-Took In." Another political eclogue, "The Times," an animal fable of a crow and a pig, objects both to the labor policies of the Chartists and to new agricultural laws in England, while "The Happy Daes When I Wer Young" includes a reference to the encroachment of modern science—characterized as "venom"—on the humbly faithful of Dorset. More typical of Barnes's often professed belief in universal harmony and natural beauty, his well-known poem "My Orcha'd in Linden Lea" features a content laborer wandering through a secluded orchard. The poem likewise demonstrates Barnes's eclectic technical virtuosity and demonstrates the poet's use of Welsh cynghanedd, a sound pattern of consonants later adopted by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Barnes's celebration of pastoral beauty and his nostalgia for the past are likewise seen in works such as "Zummer Stream," "Hallowed Pleäces," and one of his final poems "The Geäte a-Vallèn To."
Among Barnes's volumes on art, language, and society, Philological Grammar (1854) derives from his research and comparison of sixty languages and their essential components. Tiw; or, A View of the Roots and Stems of the English as a Teutonic Language (1862) locates approximately fifty principal English root words from provincial dialects. Barnes formulates his aesthetic theory primarily in the essay "Thoughts on Beauty and Art" (1861), which sets what is "beautiful in art … in accordance with the beautiful in nature." Barnes's prescient essay Views of Labour and Gold (1859) considers "the possible effect of the increase of great working-capitals and monopolies on the labourer's freedom or welfare."
When considering his own work, Barnes expressed the belief that his dialect poems were not only about the people of Dorset, but also primarily intended for them. His Poems of Rural Life was well received locally, particularly by the Dorset County Chronicle, and by The Gentleman's Magazine, a national periodical. Despite critical approval, popular interest in his verse was lacking. Soon after his death, several of his literary acquaintances, including Coventry Patmore and fellow Dorset-native Thomas Hardy, published favorable pieces designed to increase popular awareness of Barnes's poetic accomplishments, but with limited success. By the mid-twentieth century, commentators had begun to assess Barnes's poetry more critically and to recognize the full extent of his philological research, as well as the considerable effects of these scholarly pursuits on the nature and development of his poetic output. Contemporary estimations of Barnes have continued to acknowledge the strengths of his dialect verse and to contrast these regional works with Barnes's poems in national English, which have generally been considered of inferior quality. Barnes's considerable influence on the later, more well-known poets Thomas Hardy, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson has recently been observed. Barnes has additionally been recognized for his preservationist philosophy and for his stalwart opposition to the inclusion of Latin, Greek, and French vocabulary—rather than words of Anglo-Saxon origin—in the English language.
Poetical Pieces (poetry) 1820
Orra, a Lapland Tale (poetry) 1822
Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect (poetry) 1844
Poems Partly of Rural Life in National English (poetry) 1846
Humilis Domus: Some Thoughts on the Abodes, Life and Social Conditions of the Poor, Especially in Dorsetshire (essay) 1849
Se Gefylsta, An Anglo-Saxon Delectus (linguistics) 1849
A Philological Grammar (linguistics) 1854
Notes on Ancient Britain and the Britons (history) 1858
Hwomely Rhymes. A Second Collection of Poems in the Dorset Dialect (poetry) 1859
Views of Labour and Gold (essay) 1859
"Thoughts on Beauty and Art" (essay) 1861
Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect. Third Collection (poetry) 1862
Tiw; or, A View of the Roots and Stems of the English as a Teutonic Language (linguistics) 1862
A Grammar and Glossary of the Dorset Dialect (linguistics) 1863
Poems of Rural Life in Common English (poetry) 1868
Early England and the Saxon-English (history and linguistics) 1869
A Selection from Unpublished Poems (poetry) 1870
An Outline of the English...
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SOURCE: "William Barnes and His Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect," in William Barnes of Dorset, by Giles Dugdale, Cassell and Co. Ltd., 1953, pp. 245-66.
[In the following essay, a lecture originally delivered by Palgrave in 1886 and published with brief editorial comments by Giles Dugdale in 1953, Palgrave offers his assessment of Barnes's dialect poetry and his "reasons, both why Barnes has not gained popularity, and … why he deserves it."]
Professor Palgrave began by giving an outline of William Barnes' life and then continued:
I will now first try to define the general aims and characteristics of Barnes as a poet, in as few words as possible, wishing to leave his work to speak for itself; which, indeed, if we approach with hearts at once unbiassed and sensitive, is the one and only way of gaining the pleasure inherent in all true poetry. Like Theocritus, Vergil, Tasso, Spenser, and Milton, Barnes had received, or, rather, given himself a full literary education. He was an eminent example of genuine high culture. But more than any of these great forerunners in the Pastoral, he devoted his Muse to rural poetry. More, perhaps, than anyone known to me, he presents the image of the true idyllist. The Pastoral has been often, and often justly, blamed as artificial, it slips easily into affectation and unreality; it has always been difficult for the poets to keep their music...
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SOURCE: Preface to Select Poems of William Barnes, edited by Thomas Hardy, Humphrey Milford, 1908, pp. iii-xii.
[In the following preface to Select Poems of William Barnes, Hardy explores the unique character of Barnes's dialect poetry.]
This volume of verse [Select Poems of William Barnes] includes, to the best of my judgement, the greater part of that which is of the highest value in the poetry of William Barnes. I have been moved to undertake the selection by a thought that has overridden some immediate objections to such an attempt,—that I chance to be (I believe) one of the few living persons having a practical acquaintance with letters who knew familiarly the Dorset dialect when it was spoken as Barnes writes it, or, perhaps, who know it as it is spoken now. Since his death, education in the west of England as elsewhere has gone on with its silent and inevitable effacements, reducing the speech of this country to uniformity, and obliterating every year many a fine old local word. The process is always the same: the word is ridiculed by the newly taught; it gets into disgrace; it is heard in holes and corners only; it dies; and, worst of all, it leaves no synonym. In the villages that one recognizes to be the scenes of these pastorals the poet's nouns, adjectives, and idioms daily cease to be understood by the younger generation, the luxury of four demonstrative pronouns, of which he...
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SOURCE: "William Barnes," in Two Cheers for Democracy, Edward Arnold and Co., 1951, pp. 209-12.
[In the following essay, originally composed in 1939, Forster praises Barnes's gentle and skillful poetry.]
It is surprising that William Barnes has not been more widely worshipped. Perhaps there was a touch of pride in his gentleness, which led him to conceal himself from notoriety beneath the veil of the Dorset dialect. The veil is slight: anyone can lift it after half an hour's reading. Yet it seems to have served his purpose, and to have confined him to the audience whom he loved. He should have been a popular poet, for he writes of matters which move everyone and in a way which everyone can understand. There is no mysticism in him beyond the trust that we shall, through the goodness of God, be reunited to the dead whom we have loved. There is no difficult or disturbing view of society, no crankiness, no harshness of diction or thought. He is truly, sweetly, affectionately, a Yes-man, and considering how many worthless Yes-men are being boosted to-day as national assets, it is surprising that he should have been left alone, he a clergyman, he a schoolmaster, he of the soil. Propaganda has passed him by. He has been left where he wished, to his own people, and to the few outsiders who have cared to lift the veil and win an easy and a rich reward. To read him is to enter a friendly cottage where a family...
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SOURCE: "William Barnes: 1800-1886," in The Mint: A Miscellany of Literature, Art and Criticism, edited by Geoffrey Grigson, George Routledge and Sons Ltd., 1946, pp. 72-101.
[In the following excerpt, Grigson evaluates Barnes's collected works of poetry and speculates on the influence of his verse.]
[William Barnes's] first book was Poetical Pieces, printed for him in Dorchester in 1820—ten poems in ordinary English. He was then twenty years old, and there is nothing much to mark in these conventional album verses but their neatness, and the fact that he began to write in normal English, and for many years continued to do so. Orra: A Lapland Tale, Dorchester-printed in 1822, is worth more. It stands to his later writing like Gebir to the rest of Landor, or Midnight Crabbe, or A Vision of The Mermaids to the rest of Hopkins, and it came partly out of his reading of Joseph Acerbi's Travels Through Sweden, Finland, and Lapland to the North Cape, a travel book published twenty years before, and partly from eighteenth-century visions of the frozen sea. The title-page text comes from Dryden's version of the Georgics:
There as they say perpetual night is found
In silence brooding on th' unhappy ground.
And the subject is Orra's search for her lover, a night she spends in a frozen cave,...
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SOURCE: "The Language of Speech: Relph and Barnes," in The Rural Muse: Studies in the Peasant Poetry of England, George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1954, pp. 143-64.
[In the following excerpt, Unwin investigates Barnes's philological writings and describes the "pastoral simplicity" of his dialect poetry.]
Except as a forerunner [Josiah] Relph is of little importance compared with the greatest English dialect poet, William Barnes. It happened that Barnes was born in the first year of the nineteenth century, but the dates of his life and works are singularly irrelevant in considering his poetry. He was as isolated and independent of external influence as any poet that has ever written. The sea of faith might ebb or flow, passions might be stirred and intellects perplexed, but Barnes continued to live a tranquil and happy life in the Vale of Blackmore. Dorsetshire was his microcosm, and the intellectual isolation in which he lived unnoticed was to him a calm but complete unit of existence. Tennyson, who, after having drawn the elderly Barnes into uneasy speculations on Darwin and Pantheism, commented "he is not accustomed to strong views theologie," might have extended his statement without confining it to theology.
Barnes's retirement was not occasioned by misanthropy, but because he needed to be withdrawn in order to judge things in their simplicity and fitness. The beautiful and the good...
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SOURCE: "The Dorset Poet," in William Barnes: The Man and the Poems, Longmans (Dorchester) Ltd., 1960, pp. 1-152.
[In the following excerpt. Levy discusses the importance of nature in Barnes's poetry.]
Emerson calls the sky the daily bread of the eyes, and so it and all present nature were to Barnes. He did not write of the sea nor of great mountains, for he was not familiar with them. Rather, he selected those details on which with delicacy of perception he lovingly lingered, and composed them into vignettes of unmistakable authority. They have the freshness necessary to arrest the most jaded and outrageously stimulated city dweller, and their accuracy stems from a desire to present without diminution of the Creator's intention those works for which man is not responsible: to capture, if possible, the "calm of blest eternity."1 These songs of purity and innocence are not naive; they contain power enough to give man a serene and nourishing contact. The sanity of the countryman grows from his balanced conservatism and radicalism. Carl Van Doren has put it this way: breaking the soil, felling trees, wrenching a livelihood from the earth, makes one radical, and the repetitive march of day and night, of the seasons, keeps one conservative. One learns what must be done and what cannot be done. Nature establishes itself for man only when man acknowledges that it does...
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SOURCE: Foreword to The Poems of William Barnes. Volume 1, edited by Bernard Jones, Centaur Press, 1962, pp. 3-22.
[In the following foreword to The Poems of William Barnes, Jones surveys Barnes's life and work as a philologist and poet, particularly studying the nature of his dialect eclogues set in his native Dorset.]
Since the publication of Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect in 1844, the name of William Barnes has seldom for long dropped out of publishers' lists. New editions of this book were published in 1847, 1862 and 1866. In 1846 his Poems Partly of Rural Life in National English was brought out; in 1859 Hwomely Rhymes. A Second Collection of Poems in the Dorset Dialect, which went into a second edition in 1863; in 1862 Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect. Third Collection, which went into a second edition in 1869; in 1868 Poems of Rural Life in Common English; in 1870 what Barnes would have called a bookling under the heading of A Selection from Unpublished Poems; and between 1878-81 a little Bible play on Ruth. These last two were printed and published—if they can be said to have been published at all—in Dorchester. Finally, in 1879, the three collections of dialect poems were published as one volume, and this went on being issued into the twentieth century, until, indeed, it was replaced by two selections, the one made by the...
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SOURCE: "The Poetry of William Barnes," in Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces, 1955-1982, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1982, pp. 149-52.
[In the following excerpted review of The Poems of William Barnes, originally published in 1962, Larkin discusses the positive aspects of Barnes 's use of dialect in his poetry.]
It is little short of astonishing that we should have had to wait seventy-five years for the complete poems of William Barnes1. When he died in 1886, as old as the century, his work was known and admired by Tennyson, Patmore, Hardy, Allingham, Gosse, Palgrave and Quiller-Couch, and when Bridges made a characteristic sneer at 'the supposed emotion of peasants', his correspondent, Gerard Manley Hopkins, replied sharply: ' I hold your contemptuous opinion an unhappy mistake: [Barnes] is a perfect artist and of a most spontaneous inspiration.' Nor was his appeal limited to men of letters: 'an old Domestic Servant' wrote to him in 1869, having found his poems among some books she was dusting: 'Sir, I shook hands with you in my heart, and I laughed and cried by turns.' Nor has time devalued these tributes. Barnes's work is still acknowledged as a unique part of the variegated richness of nineteenth-century English poetry. His view of nature is clear, detailed and shining, full of exquisite pictorial miniatures: his view of human life is perceptive, compassionate and sad. Yet the time...
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SOURCE: "The Conserving Myth of William Barnes," in Victorian Studies, Vol. VI, No. 4, June, 1963, pp. 325-54.
[In the following essay, Forsyth probes Barnes's theme of the preservation of rural simplicity.]
The view that a group of people hold towards their past is one of the controlling factors in their morals, religion, art, and intellectual pursuits, to say nothing of the sights, sounds, and actual feel of their daily experience.
Charles Frankel, "Explanation and Interpretation in History," in Theories of History, ed. Patrick Gardiner
I need not insist upon the social, ethical, and political significance of an age's image of man, for it is patent that the view one takes of man affects profoundly one's standard of dignity and the humanly possible. And it is in the light of such a standard that we establish our laws, set our aspirations for learning, and judge the fitness of men's acts…. Nor is it simply a matter of public concern. For man as individual has a deep and emotional investment in his image of himself… [and he] has powerful and exquisite capacities for defending himself against violation of his cherished self-image.
Jerome S. Bruner, "Freud and the Image of Man," in Freud and the Twentieth Century, ed. Benjamin Nelson
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SOURCE: "William Barnes," in Art and Action, Methuen, 1965, pp. 30-46.
[In the following essay, Sisson examines Barnes's life, his writings on language, and his poetry of rural life.]
William Barnes came of the best blood in England, being the son of a small farmer in the West Country. Like many another in that countryside, the family was "down-start"—in his own language—being an off-shoot, or so he thought, of a gentleman's family of Gillingham in Dorset. That matters little enough, one way or the other. What does matter is that Barnes came from a stock neither high nor low, grown into the country like a tree-root. All distinctions of origin are on the way to being effaced, but there are still those who understand the intense pride of such birth, the furthest possible removed from pretension. In rural society it was a middle station; the gentry were above it, the labourers below, and its members no more aspired to be taken for the one than they feared being mistaken for the other. Snobberies are the product of an urban confusion, now spread too over an urbanised countryside. But before that happened the classes were an order of nature, worth nobody's while to question; a barrier of sorts, but not one that obscured the sottishness or other quiddity of the man on the other side—rather a setting against which his qualities could be shrewdly estimated and tartly commented....
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SOURCE: "Poetry," in William Barnes, Twayne Publishers, 1984, pp. 16-68.
[In the following excerpt, Parins explores Barnes's poetic technique and surveys his love and religious poetry, as well as his folklore verse and "homely rhymes. "]
Barnes as a Dialect Poet
Barnes established himself as a writer of dialect poetry in 1844 with the publication of Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect. Here he turned to what he knew best for the subject matter of his art—the region and people of Dorset—and used as poetic language for those subjects the only appropriate one—the local dialect. Like Robert Burns, Barnes was an originator and a preserver of local tales and legends. The Dorset poet uses the dialect to produce atmosphere and to enhance the local color of his region as well; his language furnishes his descriptions of the countryside with a fresh point of view. His humor, highlighted with quaint expressions, pokes gentle fun at the foibles and vanities of the country folk. Appropriately enough, Barnes's style is low-keyed and folksy, due in large measure to his use of the rural speech patterns. The use of the Dorset language, too, makes poignant his depictions of country people suffering from unjust social and economic conditions and policies.
The decision to write in the dialect was appropriate for Barnes for other reasons as well. His deep interest...
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SOURCE: "Poems of Rural Life: 1844-1846," in William Barnes: A Life of the Dorset Poet, The Dovecote Press, 1985, pp. 106-22.
[In the following essay, Chedzoy studies Barnes 's Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect, recounting the subject matter, technique, and critical reception of this collection.]
The culmination of Barnes's life as a poet came as early as 1844 when the Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect was first published. Though he was to write much more poetry, and was to make second and third collections of his Hwomely Rhymes, the nature and range of his art as a dialect poet was substantially established by 1844. The first edition ran to 373 pages of which 240 were devoted to the dialect poems, but they were sandwiched between a 37 page Dissertation and nearly 100 pages headed 'A Glossary of the Dorset Dialect of the English Language.' Every page bespeaks a profound and an original mind, which combines a knowledge of curious lore with a deep familiarity with the life and language of Blackmore people.
The spirit of the book was antagonistic to that of the age. In a year which saw the publication of Chambers' Vestiges of Creation the poems celebrate ancient pieties. While Thomas Cook was planning his first travel excursions Barnes's poems depict the merits of a settled community. While Bradshaw issued his Railway Guide and the...
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SOURCE: "Exile in Eden: William Barnes's Lyrics of Romantic Encounter," in University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol. 56, No. 2, Winter, 1986-87, pp. 308-18.
[In the following essay, Hertz analyzes the imagery and versification of Barnes's romantic lyric poems.]
Despite its overwhelming lushness, a poem by William Barnes often seems strangely artificial, a kind of verbal topiary. Isolated in an anthology, its self-consciously limited vocabulary and rich, stylized imagery can appear merely an eccentric and unproductive impoverishment of the medium. Seen in the proper context, however, it stands revealed as part of a large and interesting literary enterprise. The poems I call lyrics of romantic encounter—those about unexpected meetings with irresistible women—undergo just such a transformation. On their own, they seem no more than highly wrought curiosities, but the appearance of superficiality is misleading, for beneath the pruned and polished surface lie deep emotion and profound thought. These lyrics are easy to undervalue because so much of their force derives from imagery and techniques of versification established and endowed with significance elsewhere in Barnes's works. Thus, like his other poems, they are flowers best appreciated in their peculiar native habitat, and I begin with an analysis of the soil in which they naturally grow.1
Barnes is a poet with a method: he uses...
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SOURCE: "Hardy's Friend William Barnes," in Celebrating Thomas Hardy: Insights and Appreciations, edited by Charles P. Pettit, Macmillan Press Ltd., 1996, pp. 68-89.
[In the following essay, Levi describes Barnes's life and the enduring power of his poetry.]
That Wessex which we call Hardy's Wessex is only an idea of course. There is something magical or fey about the maps of it that Hardy began to publish in 1895, but they do represent something real—a dialect, the boundaries of a way of life—and it was undoubtedly that deeply original, deeply provincial poet William Barnes who first established it as a literary province. Tennyson talked of Wessex dialect: he got some notes on it from Thomas Hughes of Uffington, and used them in the dialect scenes of his play Becket, where they make a preposterous impression, which the dialect poems of Barnes never did. I have argued in a life of Tennyson' for the virtual certainty that it was Barnes who inspired Tennyson in 1861 to the first of his own Lincolnshire dialect poems. Thomas Hardy grew up very conscious of his provincial origins, in the shadow of Barnes who was the monarch of literary Wessex and a successful poet, one of whom there was a cult when Hardy was born. Hardy, in his early poems, followed Barnes in dialect verse, and in his Welsh and Persian tricks also. And Hardy never lost a certain respect, admiration, affection for the old man,...
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SOURCE: "Society" and "Politics," in The Rebirth of England and English: The Vision of William Barnes, Anglo-Saxon Books, 1996, pp. 55-68 and 83-93.
[In the following excerpt, Phillips looks at the social and political views Barnes expressed in his poetry and prose writings.]
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.
Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village
The enclosing of the commons robbed the country folk in England of leisure and independence, the coming of the factories took them from the fields and the old communities, and flung them into the new ones, which were allowed to grow up anyhow, without art, without thought, without faith or hope or charity, till the face of the land was blackened, and the soul of the land under a cloud.
John Masefield, St. George and the Dragon
… Barnes' values were to a great extent shaped by his upbringing in the Blackmore Vale. True of his artistic values, his attitude to Nature and to Art, true of his attitudes to Marriage, this is also true of all his social values. His fathers and forefathers had all been rooted in the land, the pre-Enclosure, pre-industrial rural way of life. Indeed, despite moving to Dorchester,...
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Badham-Thornhill, D. G. B. William Barnes of Dorset. Beaminster, Dorset: J. Stevens Cox, 1964, 19 p.
Brief sketch of Barnes's life.
Baxter, Lucy. The Life of William Barnes: Poet and Philologist. London and New York: Macmillan and Co., 1887, 98 p.
Biography by Barnes's daughter which endeavors to explore both the scholarly and poetic sides of his character.
Colloms, Brenda. "The Rev. William Barnes: Parson, Poet and Philologist, 1801-1886." In Victorian Country Parsons, pp. 124-51. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977.
Details Barnes's life and the critical reception of his works.
Hardy, Thomas. "The Rev. William Barnes, B. D." The Athenaeum 2, No. 3077 (October 16, 1886): 501-02.
Laudatory biographical sketch by Barnes's fellow Dorset poet.
Hearl, Trevor W. William Barnes, 1801-1886: The Schoolmaster. Dorset: Longmans (Dorchester) Ltd., 1966, 355 p.
Discusses Barnes's career as an educator, presenting "a livelier, if more complex, personality than that popularly associated with the gentle and aged poet of nature."
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