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THE CORN LAW RHYMER.
A SCHOLAR AT HOLLIS SCHOOL
the house connected with the after Phenix Foundry in
Greasborough Lane, Masborough, which stone domicile is still to be seen, being included in the premises of the Brass Works, now belonging to Mr. Andrew Thomson, the chairman of the Hollis Trustees. Mr. Elliott, the father, held a responsible position as practical manager of Clay & Co.'s New Foundry. In religion he was ultra-Calvanistic, calling himself a Berean, that is, one believing in the literal meaning of the Bible. It was natural, therefore, that he should have his son christened by a Berean teacher, and give him the name “Ebenezer," meaning “a stone-of-help. ” Samuel, after smiting the Philistines, set up a stone, and called it "Ebenezer," signifying, “Hitherto hath Jehovah helped us," (I. Sam., vii., 12). The mother of the boy was of a melancholy disposition. Before her marriage, as she afterwards told her son, “I had placed under my pillow a shank-bone of mutton to dream upon ; and I dreamed that I saw a little, broad-set, dark, ill-favored man, with black hair, black eyes, thick stub-nose, and tup-shins ; it was thy father.” She had eleven children, eight of whom she reared to adult age. The father had original ideas as to bathing his children. He would dip them in the canal, near his house, three times, keeping their heads, the third time, under water a considerable time, in Ebenezer's case, almost to suffocation, so that this lad preferred bathing himself, and of course nearly drowned himself. Mr. Elliott believed in making converts to his stern Calvinistic creed, and preached every fourth Sabbath to persons who came long distances to imbibe from him this gloomy faith. In politics, Mr. Elliott was a fierce Radical, defending in his fervid harangues the virtues of slandered Cromwell, and of Washington, the Rebel. So conspicuous was his hostility to the ruling powers, that he got the name of “ Devil Elliott."
Ebenezer was sent first to a Dame's school, and there got many a tap on his head with the thimble for his dulness in mastering “A. B. C.” Afterwards he was sent to the Hollis School, then kept by Joseph Ramsbottom, an excellent schoolmaster of the old-fashioned type of pedagogue. But he could make nothing out of Ebenezer, regarding the boy as one of the dull, stupid sort, and at last gave him up in despair. But Ebby was not so crass as he seemed to be. He loved to watch the reflection of the sky and clouds in the then clear water of the rolling Don, and watch the waving of the reeds on its banks. He could make and fly a kite. He even displayed mechanical genius enough to cut and shape a wooden model of an eighteen-gun ship, which passed into the possession of Earl Fitzwilliam. Conceiving the ambition to see the world, he once crept inside a huge iron-pan, of several tons weight,which his father had made at the Foundry, and was carried therein on the truck to Thurlestone, where an uncle lived. This relative determined to give the wandering nephew a lesson for life, and kept him for a year and a half, sending him to the village school. Ebby pined for his mother's society and tender care. After being fetched home, the boy was again sent to Hollis School. Old Joseph Ramsbottom gave his former scholar another trial, but could not succeed in imparting, with all his effort and patience, any education worth mentioning into the boy's big cranium. The fact was, the youth's brain was slow in developing, and needed gentle coaxing and encouraging awakening. A fellow scholar of James Martineau, at the Norwich Grammar School, once told the present scribe, that he thought the after celebrated James rather dull and backward at school, considering himself far more proficient. That Joseph Ramsbottom did his best for the boy is very evident from the after
poet's grateful tribute to this teacher of his youth. The sending of the boy, afterwards to a school at Dalton, a village near Aldwarke Hall, within a walk from Rotherham, proved a happy change for the boy. Not that he was to turn out anything of a scholar at school, for he had a particular fancy for truanting. What would have been bad for most lads, proved the very best for him. He became Nature's child.” He went to her out-door school. Along the Aldwark meadows and banks of the Don would the young truant linger, to watch the Kingfisher and Dragon-fly, to climb the trees for the pretty eggs of the wild bird, and forget all about his school lessons in breathing into his soul all the ravishing charms and sweet melodies of that then lovely district. In after years he recalled in verse, these early vagaries :
“Scenes of my thoughtless youth ! here are ye all ;
Dalton and Dalton School ! and Dalton Deign !
O, far-known Silverwood;
There was nothing else for it, thought the father, but to send that disappointing lout of a lad into the Foundry, to see what hard work would do for him. Well, manual labour instilled self-respect into the young worker, and he soon could do man's work, excelling in making that very useful domestic article, a frying-pan. He had a brother Giles, who was raised to the elevation of a high stool in the counting office, attracting by his cleverness all the admiration of the family. Ebby was stimulated by this example the more to mental improvement. At this critical period of his career, he formed an attachment with the elder son of his aunt Robinson, who, in after life, became Dr. Benjamin Robinson, well remembered and highly esteemed by those, who can go back forty or fifty years in the past of the town. This promising youth was then buying out of his pocket-money "Sowerby's English Botany," in monthly parts. The sight of the attractive pictures fired the admiration of Ebenezer, who devoted his spare hours to tracing, by aid of the window glass, copies of the flowers. He was led also to resort to the country in search of fine flowers, and succeeded in making a Hortus Siccus, or a volume, in which dried flowers were inserted. This was a favorite pursuit of those more clever boys and girls of a former generation.
It has to be confessed, that the young botanist's Sundays were ofen devoted to country rambles in search of wild plants and flowers. Instead of regularly attending “ Parson Allard's ” ministry at the Meeting-house, where his father became a seat-holder, the son was very often missed from his seat in the family pew. Happily, the eyes of the “ Parson," as he was called, were directed, as before hinted, mostly to the pew in which Miss Bingley sat, so that. Ebenezer would escape many an admonition that his Reverence ought to have addressed to the young Sabbath-delinquent. But it was not the parson who was to develop the poetic genius of the after corn-law rhymer. Sunday mornings found him at the top of Primrose Lane-at Thistle-bed Ford—in the Aldwark pastures, on the banks of the Rother and the Don, in Canklow Quarry, in “Hail Mary Wood.” There was a beautiful speckled snake at Primrose Hill that caught his admiration, as it basked in the sun, and was in his after verse, denoted “ this beautiful and harmless child of God.”
The first inspiration of young Elliott's muse was aroused, while listening to that clever brother Giles reciting to the admiration of all the family circle, a passage in Thompson's “Seasons,” descriptive of the polyanthus and auricula. At once, Ebby conceived the ambition, that he would not be content with the recitation of poetry, but would himself compose poetry, so he attained the achievement, of the description in rhyme of a flock of sheep running away, after they had been killed by lighting. This came to pass because the rhyme would have it so! Henceforward, he rapidly made good his educational deficiences. He could not, however, master Grammar, more than he could arithmetic at Hollis School. But he happily hit upon the idea of not only reading, but studying and copying out, the language employed by good writers in prose and poetry. From admiration of Shenstone, he proceeded to the adoration of Milton. It was afterwards that the transcending genius of Shakespeare won upon him. We find him more and more becoming acquainted with those favorites of a former generation of readers, "Junius' Letters."