The Life and Lucubrations of Crispinus Scriblerus

Image: Wolverhampton from the Penn Road. William West, Picturesque Views… of Staffordshire. (Birmingham 1830).

Image from: Local Studies and History, Birmingham Central Library

Now, see the Sun …………
Exhibits bustling Birmingham to sight,
Its multiplying streets and villas bright – ……
And Wolverhampton’s turrets, fair, unfold,
Near northern boundaries, tipt with burnish’d gold;
Fields, countless cotts and villages, between,
Give life, and lustre to the social Scene; ……
Within this orient Landscape’s ample bound
Each matter, and each manufactury’s found,
Which, wide, unfolding all their wealth, and worth,
Diffuse unnumber’d blessings o’er the Earth!
Here, … Lime-rocks large supplies; ……
There clinging Clay, in shallow lodgment, sleeps, ……
Crude Iron rests within its orey bed; ……
Coal’s black bitumen deeper still retires; ……
In Parts … flickering flames, appear,
Like new volcanoes, ……
…smokey curls … rise, …… all around, red, lurid light, ……
Deep, sullen sounds, thro’ all the region roll,
Shocking, with groans, and sighs, each shuddering Soul!
Here clanking engines vomit scalding streams,
And belch vast volumes of attendant steams –
There thundering forges, with pulsations loud,
Alternate striking, pierce the pendant cloud;
While, to these distant hills, respiring slow,
Furnaces’ iron lungs loud-breathing, blow;
Breaking, abrupt, on Superstition’s ear,
And shrink the shuddering frame with shivering fear;
Obtruding on the heart, each heaving breath,
Some vengeful Fiend, grim delegate of Death! …… (pp.24-25, Vol.1)9

This very long verse-autobiography was written by James Woodhouse about 1795.   The lines above, from a section headed ‘Birmingham and Wolverhampton’, present the towns and many products in a positive light.  Next, the region’s earthbound resources are listed, again with positive commentary.   But then description and landscape become dark and fiery because of human activity.   In the following verse-paragraph the imagery and collocation are interesting.   There is a partial merging of the human animal and the mechanical:  ‘… clanking engines vomit …/And belch…’; ‘Furnaces’ iron lungs loud-breathing, blow’.   And there is fear of death.   Unlike both A Letter from a Mechanick and Colebrook Dale, this poem by Woodhouse goes on to offer the described scene as a focus for Christian interpretation.

James Woodhouse (1735-1820) is himself of interest as an example of one whose life changed much because of his interest in poetry.   Initially a journeyman shoemaker, he became a protégé of William Shenstone.   Woodhouse’s 1764 volume, Poems, was a success.   He later became a bookseller in London.

9 James Woodhouse, The Life and Lucubrations of Crispinus Scriblerus, in Vols.1 and 2 of The Life and Poetical Works of James Woodhouse, Edited by The Rev.R.R.Woodhouse, in 2 volumes, The Leadenhall Press, London, 1896.


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