Monthly Archives: April 2017

A Chartist Poem for May Day

In August 1842  the Chartist pastor Arthur O’Neill, arrested for declaring that he would not pay income tax to a government that used the money to fight wars, refused to remove his hat when he appeared before the magistrates.  In April 1843 the Birmingham correspondent for the Northern Star George White, arrested for making seditious speeches, demanded that the magistrates provide him with a sandwich before he cross-examined his accusers.

There was defiance, too, from George Tweddell.  The magistrates called this contempt of court.  In autumn 1846 Tweddell was incarcerated for forty days in York Castle.  If the magistrates thought that he had been taught a lesson, George had other ideas.  We know very little about this man.  Almost certainly he was an autodidact.   He wrote derivative verse.  OK it’s not great poetry… but so what?  Like so much Chartist poetry, it has spirit in it:

Think not, because a prison’s massive wall

Deprives my body of its liberty,

That stones and locks and iron bars can thrall the soaring mind, which, mounting over all,

Can freely roam o’er each declivity …

For tyrants ne’er can keep the soul in chains,

The heart that nobly learned to soar above,

Mere worldly wealth and rank and lawless power …

The heart that in its love

Can comprehend the meanest thing that crawls

Defies all terror of your castle walls!


Cooper’s Journal, 27 April 1850.