William Barnes Criticism - Essay

Francis Turner Palgrave (essay date 1886)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 6451 words.)

Thomas Hardy (essay date 1908)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2260 words.)

E. M. Forster (essay date 1939)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1554 words.)

Geoffrey Grigson (essay date 1946)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 8577 words.)

Rayner Unwin (essay date 1954)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 5309 words.)

William Turner Levy (essay date 1960)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 6369 words.)

Bernard Jones (essay date 1962)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 7019 words.)

Philip Larkin (review date 1962)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1150 words.)

R. A. Forsyth (essay date 1963)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 11964 words.)

C. H. Sisson (essay date 1965)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 5112 words.)

James W. Parins (essay date 1984)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 10487 words.)

Alan Chedzoy (essay date 1985)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 6132 words.)

Alan Hertz (essay date 1986-7)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 4111 words.)

Peter Levi (essay date 1996)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 8111 words.)

Andrew Phillips (essay date 1996)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 8404 words.)