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George Heath


The Moorland Poet

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In August 2012 I discovered that the Staffordshire Record Office possessed a number of items relating to George Heath, including sixteen of his notebooks. The explanation of how they came by this material was given on their website when Heath was the subject of their Featured Collections:

“All the documents shown are from a collection of manuscript notebooks and other items, which had been kept by his family until they were passed to a local man Mr J. Levitt who was researching Heath's life and works in the 1960s. They were donated to the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service in 2008 with the permission of the remaining members of the Heath family in Leek. The collection is held at Staffordshire Record Office and its collection reference is 6857.”

Details of the collection are available on the Gateway to the Past website but I thought it might be useful to copy the brief descriptions of the contents and list them here.




Notebook 1:


Contains one or two long poems written in pencil, including all or part of “Consumption” [the position of a loose page makes it unclear].
Hard-backed book, originally used as labour record book ?of Samuel Heath, relating to roads, 1852-1853 and 1866-1867, including work by James Heath, and Simeon, Thomas and George Sims.


Notebook 2:


Hard-backed book originally used as a school exercise book for arithmetic. Inscribed at front end “Of Jessy Hall 1861” and “William Heath”. From the back end, other names are recorded, (perhaps contacts, within and outside Staffordshire). Also contains accounts of wages paid to George Heath by S Heath; a pencil comment apparently taken from a review of “Heart Strains” in the Ladies’ Own Journal (“...gracefully written but very mournful...”); drawing of the Cape of Good Hope, signed by Heath, above a four-line verse.Dated poems are 1865 and 1866.
Poems mainly written in pencil, also contains several sketches of faces and figures, some in ink. Notes accompanying these refer to “George Heath, RA”, and “HW Foster RA”.


Notebook 3:


Originally used as a school exercise book for arithmetic. Inscribed “Simeon Sims His Book Nov 24 1811”, with exercises written in ink. Also contains notes in ink relating to woodlands or timber?, 1853, and caricature sketch.
Used throughout with notes and poems in pencil.
Cover contains printed text relating to Army Expenditure .


Notebook 4:


Notebook, loose covers.
Contains only a long poem The Doom of Babylon (Revelation XVIII) [poem continues in MS Book 5].
Written in ink, a few annotations, also pencil notes inside both covers.


Notebook 5:


Continuation of The Doom of Babylon from MS Book 4. Remainder of book unused.
Loose at front, pages containing To a Thundercloud, and Myself (1868).


Notebook 6:


Notebook titled “My Scrap Book, January 1st AD 1864”.
Contains poems written in ink, the first untitled or partial (first line “The Pouring out of the Fourth Vial”); followed by True to the Last, Epitaph (on a Loved Friend), A Fragment, Farewell to Jenny, To Harriet in Heaven, The Mother on the Death of her Infant Child, Spring, Sonnet, Light in the Darkness, The Sagacity of Ducks (A Stray Leaf for Naturalists), Sonnet (Der Patriot Hofer), Lines to Mdlle. IR, Over the Body, Despair [also known as A Peasant Poet’s Despair], Minnie Edith & Lizzie, All Alone, To Hannah, The Pauper Child, Rudyard (Sunset Musings), Sonnet (The Sabbath), Lines to a Lady, and Preface (introduction in prose to the Kind Reader, giving an illustration of his home and family, and the young poet at work by the fire), A Little Child Shall Lead Them, Guesses at Truth.


Notebook 7:

[c. 1866]

Hard-backed book. Fly leaf bears the title “Odds and Ends. Gratton 1866”.
Contains neat copies of poems in ink, with some pencil annotations. Blank pages left throughout the volume.
To Ida, To A Lady, The Miser’s Angel, Baffled, Mow Cop, Farewell to the Sunday School, A Dedication, To the Ocean, Sonnet, Melancholy Moments, A Country-Woman’s Tale [title “Consumption” deleted. A very long poem, using colloquial speech].


Notebook 8:


Notebook, loose covers.
Fly leaf bears the illustrated name of “George Heath, My Scrapbook 1866”, with sketched figures of Fate, Ridicule and Dullness.
Inserted in front, neat manuscript title page identifying it as “Heart Strains”, with introduction by Heath.
Poems written in ink, with a few pencil annotations.
The Discarded, Song, Sonnet, Lines on the Cattle Plague, To My Mother, Sunrise, Christmas Greetings, A Fragment, Autumnal, A Valentine, Bereaved, April Fools, The Dawning, Stanzas, A Song of the Shadows.


Notebook 9:


Notebook, titled “George Heath 1865”.
Contains poems written in ink: Virgil’s Aeneas (Liber Primus), The Single Grave, Glympses No 1, Songs of the Shadows (How is Celia Today?, The Old Blind Man, ), No 2 Hannah.
Loose at front: copies of Stanzas and Young Ambition; also a letter written by James Heath, 1880 [? to Francis Redfern], concerning the latest publication of the Poems.


Notebook 10:


Notebook containing poems written in ink, with some annotations.
September, A Fragment, October 19th 1868 Resolved that- , October, The Poet’s Monument, A Love-Song, A Local History, Inscription (on a rude slab), December, Tired Out.
[This is thought to be the book containing his final poems].


Notebook 11:


Notebook, inscribed “Waifs and Strays, Gratton December 1866”.
Contains poems written in ink, some annotations: Rest in the Eventide, Sunday Poem, The Bells on Watchnight, Bissextile (A Lady’s Valentine), Young Ambition, A Bunch of Snowdrops, Dante, A Night Scene, The Seer, A Prayer, A Chant of Praise, The Soul’s Elysium.


Notebook 12:


Notebook containing neat ink copies of poems, some pencil annotations.
Waiting for Death, The Peasant Poet’s Despair, Good-night, Lines to ****, The Rooks [continues on to two loose sheets at back].


Notebook 13:


Loose pages only, previously stitched together, apparently prepared for a publication, some poems crossed through. One page bears the covering address “Messrs Bemrose, Publishers Derby”, postmarked 1870.
Contains Glimpses No 1 (In Vanishings), Hannah [altered to Edith], How is Celia Today?, The Single Grave, The Shadow of Death [Glimpses No 2 deleted], The Missed Butt (A Superstition), Association: A Reverie, To a Thundercloud (Love and Anxiety).


Notebook 14:


Small notebook marked “Memorandum”, inscribed “George Heath Jany 1865”. Front page contains pencil notes relating to timber and funeral expenses.
Contains pencil versions of poems including Rudyard Lake and The Pauper Child, also ink copy of Rudyard at Sunset.


Notebook 15:


Small notebook titled in pencil “The Invalid Poet, Gratton, 1867”.
Contains pencil version of The Invalid Poet.


Notebook 16:

(Notebook No. 16 is missing from the collection.)


Notebook 17:


Small notebook containing only the poem Found Dead No 2.





1. Loose copies of single poems.


Now Thou art Gone: A Lament; Extract from A Sermon to Fishmen (Rev 3); Spring; two copies of Mow Cop/Man o’ Mow (Reminiscences) “Inscribed to GH”; To Ida; Windy; Lines to ****; “Such lofty ambitions and hopes...” [with note and verse about the death of sister “Hannah”]; “Once more your fingers swept over the keys...” with A Fragment; Fragments to be added to “The Discarded”; A Persian Fable; Ah me! What a dreary day!; An Idyl of Staffordshire; poem inspired by the hymn Come unto me, all ye that labour...; Translation.


2. Annotated set of poems.


These appear to have been written out and commented on by a critical adviser. The name written at the end is Mlle Ida Raetzer, “a Swiss Lady” to whom Heath dedicated at least one poem [the published Preface refers to her as Mlle Ratchez].
They include suggestions for better phrasing or metering, or queries as to clarity of meaning.
The Pauper Child (“..this is decidedly the best and I have read it with a deep interest...”), Lines on the late Mrs Forrester, Despair (“...a passionate outburst...but the feelings expressed in it are not in accordance with a true Christian spirit...”), Sonnet, and Minnie Edith & Lizzie.


3. Notes and drafts by George Heath.


Includes copies of Hannah, Childhood, To a Thundercloud, Introduction to How is Celia Today?, “I drew the white sheet slowly slowly down...” [written on the back of a memorandum of road labour, George Sims, 1868]; materials for the “Doom of Babylon”; Thoughts for the “Doom of Babylon”; “When myriad-funded sleep shall drop upon...”; Greek alphabet, with transliteration of George Heath Gratton Anno Domini 1846 [sic]; the first line of Virgil’s Aeneas with scansion notes.
[Note: some of these are written on the backs of printed notices for meetings and sermons, which indicate the sort of meeting that Heath may have attended.]





Letters from George Heath.


Three letters:
(a) letter to Mr T Johnson of Market Street, “Kind and Dear Friend”, who has commented on some poems, and answering some questioned posed by a “lady friend”, also shows acceptance of the will of God, 1866. [Annotated by James Heath as to how the letter was returned, 1915].
(b-c) two letters to a woman (named as “Hannah” from one of his poems) with whom Heath had developed a deep friendship, exploring the nature of their relationship and the impossibility of love, July and October 1868. [See the poem “Edith”, previously titled “Hannah”, for the story of this relationship. A second poem published as “To Hannah” apparently refers to the death of his own sister of that name.]





1. Four copies of the HW Foster drawing of George Heath, with other items.


Envelope also contains draft notice by Heath requesting the return of his copy of the poem To Ida, 1867, with some pencil verse notes; and a recipe for Mixture for Diarrhoea.


2. Miscellaneous printed items.


Pre-printed letter from George Heath addressed to his readers or subscribers; printed article “Suggestions for the Unemployed: showing them how they can profitably employ their leisure time”; “Papers relative to the Wesleyan Missions and the State of the Heathen Countries”, Sep 1865; advertisement torn from book [?unused scrap paper]; paper wallet from PA Rayner of Spout Street, Leek [suppliers of wool, milinary products, stationery etc.]; poem titled The Postman’s Compliments [light-hearted verses, the name George Heath written in pencil beneath].


3. George Heath’s copy of Webster’s Pronouncing Dictionary.


Authentication written by George’s brother James, 1894. Also contains partial book plate bearing name of James Heath as Sunday School teacher.
Shows signs of frequent use, very few annotations.
Loose pages, soiled.



The collection also contains material relating to the Memorial Editions, various newspaper clippings and other items concerning George Heath.



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