Saturday, March 17, 2012

Corn-Law Rhymer

‘Elliott first wrote poetry as a poet, merely to please himself with the exercise of his talents; afterwards, he made use of this godlike gift of Nature for a nobler purpose than even to obtain fame - he advocated the rights of the poor, whose labour is his life, and denounced the oppressor, whose luxuries are wrongs.  What had he to gain by this but hatred on the one side and ingratitude on the other?  Yet he persevered, for the sake of the cause which he had a t heart: that cause was the repeal of the bread-tax!  He knew that nothing had a more demoralizing effect than physical degradation  that misery leads to sin; for Sir Walter Scott himself has said, “unmerited suffering hardens the heart to the consistence of a nether millstone”…’

The biography of the corn-law rhymer, Ebenezer Elliott, as told in John Watkins’s “Life, poetry, and letters of Ebenezer Elliott, the corn-law rhymer…” is enhanced by the quote from Walter Scott above.  Elliott was born on March 17th, 1781; roughly a decade after Scott.

Elliot’s work “The Corn Law Rhymes” was published in 1831, and the abolition of the corn laws in 1846 is considered a major step towards free trade.  As January Searle wrote in “Memoirs of Ebenezer Elliott…”:

‘The philosophy of Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham was the substratum upon which his mind was built ; and this philosophy, inter-penetrated by his genius, found at last a voice which burst forth in Corn Law Rhymes. It was the first melody that ever came from the dead and monotonous mill-wheels of political economy, and is the best result which I, for one, can hope for from that quarter. The works of the above authors, and those of the good Colonel Thompson, made Elliott a politician; and he no sooner saw the evil effects of the Corn Laws upon the industry of the nation, than he began to denounce them. Unfortunately, his hatred of monopoly made him a monoplist in his hatred, limited his vision, dwarfed his sympathies, and converted him into a kind of of Polyphemus — a one-eyed King of Song.’

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