—Memorials of George Heath, The Moorland Poet - 1870 Edition—
OUR pleasant task is over. Our labour of love is finished. It remains for the public now to appreciate the genius of our poet. A few words, perhaps, are necessary in explanation of raising the price of the present volume, which originally was intended to cost 3s.6d. At that price it was found that many pieces must have been omitted, which, for their own intrinsic merits, it was desirable should be included in the volume. As it is, we have been obliged to curtail several of the lengthy pieces, viz. - “A Country-woman’s Tale,” “Icarus,” and the “Doom of Babylon.” Sufficient, however, it is presumed, has been given of these to enable the reader to form a tolerably good idea of the drift and style of the whole. As regards myself, I can only say that I have considered it the greatest privilege of my life to have been allowed to help a little in arranging and bringing out the present volume. And any one (and I feel sure my fellow-labourers, who have so materially assisted me in this work participate in my feeling) who knew the late lamented George Heath as well as we did, would envy us the privilege. I take this opportunity of most thankfully acknowledging the valuable assistance I have received from my friend and parishioner, Mr. George Foster, in all the details incident to this publication; also to Mr. Francis Redfern and Mr. H. W. Foster, for their valuable departments of service, which are before the reader to speak for themselves. And I may also here, on behalf of the Poet's family, sincerely thank those ladies and gentlemen who have so kindly subscribed towards the erection of a Memorial Cross to his memory, in Horton Church-yard. By the time this volume is in the hands of the subscribers, it is hoped that the monument also will be over the place
“Where our friend sleepeth.”
Endon, June 20th, 1870.
MEMOIR OF GEORGE HEATH.
“Read from some humble poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start.
Who, through long days of labour,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.”—Longfellow.
It is both interesting and instructive to read over the records and achievements of genius and perseverance under discouraging and oppressive circumstances. They are examples which the thinking part of mankind are ever ready to admire, and which form incentives to others to exertion in future times. A large proportion of British biography is occupied with showing how poverty—a meagre education—the obstructions of friends—enfeebled health—and often unmerited frowns and cold neglect—have failed to prevent Worth rising by its native force to win admiration and renown. In the lives of inventors, men of science, or students of literature, art, or poetry, all do not attain a degree of lofty eminence; neither, perhaps, is it desirable they should. Diversity in degree is as much a law of Mind as it is a law of Nature; when, however, we do observe some peculiar bent of mind breaking through the bars of hindrance, whether of poverty or sickness, and, laying at our feet the varied fruits of its endowments, even though they be but a little bunch of sweet poetic flowers—tinted it may be with many plaintive hues—it becomes a pleasure, if not a duty, to add their names to the list of those who, having toiled hard, have won a place amongst the world’s worthy ones. There is much interest attaching to the story of the brief, sad life of the late George Heath, the invalid Poet. Warmhearted, deeply-feeling, of many moods, and as a student earnest and hardworking, it seems incumbent on his friends, in justice to his memory and merits, to undertake the task necessary for the preservation of his works, and of a knowledge of the incidents of his life.
His published poems, entitled, “Rudyard at Sunset,” “The Pauper’s Child,” and “Heart Strains,” are productions which boded considerable promise. They were read on their first appearance with much delight, and yet remain a surprise as from an author so young, so unfavourably situated, and so severely afflicted, and whose future was shaded in utter gloom. The poems which he published comprise, however, but a small proportion of those he wrote. Many are left in manuscript evincing great advancement and poetic insight; some of these are in a finished state, and several to all appearance (although of considerable length) have not been carried to completion. In this condition are found his two most ambitious attempts, named respectively, “The Doom of Babylon,” and “The Country Woman’s Tale.” It is evident he intended most of these poems for the press; and their publication, with those which appeared in his lifetime, would be a consummation of his fondly cherished hopes; indeed, were they not published; the poetic literature of our county would sustain the loss of a. most interesting chapter by one of her truest and most earnest children.
The present “Memorial Edition” of a selection from his writings (suggested by myself) has been partly undertaken to meet this object, and partly with the hope that some profit may accrue to benefit his worthy parents, whose difficulties, though cheerfully borne, must have been seriously augmented. by the protracted illness of the author of these poems. The invalid Poet has left a “Diary,” extending from January 1st, 1866, to the day preceding his death. It is a curious record of his moods and feelings, of the almost daily aspect of Nature, which he loved so much to contemplate, and as seen by an ardent and imaginative person; of the visits and kindness of his friends, of his reading, his books and his studies; it affords a characteristic picture of its recorder, but not many details for a “Memoir.” It is most touching to trace his lingering hopes of life and amended health running through this “Diary;” to see how they gradually faded out, and then arising over those “hopes” the grander light of fortitude and submission to the will of God. His literary career was a short one, and not crowded with many incidents or great events. His time passed quietly on, alternating between bodily suffering, producing at times sad melancholy and gloom; at others keen visual and mental enjoyment from the beautiful works of creation, and the pursuit of knowledge, in acquainting himself with English authors, and in giving form to his own poetic conceptions and feelings. Such facts, however, as the “Diary” affords, with a few from other sources, and in particular from our mutual friend, Mr. Foster, of Endon, who knew him intimately, may be woven into the best account of him it is in our power to prefix to his Poems.
George Heath was born at Gratton, a hamlet in the moorlands, about midway between Endon and Horton, in the latter parish, on the 9th of March, 1844. The house in which he died has been occupied by his parents for many years, and is just such a humble, time-worn cottage one loves to associate with the name of a lowly-born poet. It is in a romantic part of the rnoorlands. The views therefrom, of Bradshaw Edge, the heights of Dunwood, the hills overlooking Rudyard Lake, Harper’s Gap, the Endon Valley and the Roaches, with their clustering associations, are well calculated to nurture the ideas of a poet. He was the eldest son of a large family; two of his married sisters died during his own sickness. His parents—to use his own words,
“The toiling ones who gave him birth,
Whose influence strewed his way with joys,
Whose care had shared and soothed his many woes,
Whose overburdened shoulders had sustained
His tottering footsteps on the path of life”—
are small farmers, worthy and industrious people, whose lot has been one of difficulty and toil with a numerous family and humble means. He received the merest elements of reading and writing at the National School, at Horton, with religious instruction subsequently obtained at the Endon Wesleyan Sunday School, under the superintendence of his relative and namesake, George Heath. He was taken early to farm labour, at which he toiled early and late for several years. These rustic employments, however, were exchanged for another calling. He was apprenticed to Mr. Samuel Heath, of Gratton, joiner and builder. Soon after this, his mind became more thoroughly awake and active; he acquired a thirst for knowledge; “fancy (he states) indulged in wildly beautiful dreams to the curl of the shavings and rasp of the saw:” imagination began to jingle poetic lines that were never written down; afterwards the poor joiners’ apprentice boy felt his first pulsations of ambition. Strange feelings moved in his breast, and as novel conceptions flitted through his brain. A chord had by some means been struck, which awoke his whole being to a new life and purpose. He felt that he must be a poet. Following this instinct, he formed the resolution to make the cultivation of poetry his chosen pursuit. His inward teachings seem to have intimated that there was room in the large human world even for him to utter a few thoughts, and that there were some in it, he felt persuaded, who would listen to, and remember the revealings which swelled upwards from his heart for expression.
There were few at Gratton who could sympathize with George Heath in his new dawnings. The means of improvement were far away, and books of the right sort were not at hand, and certainly had not before fallen in his way. He did, however, meet with a young friend of like mind with himself, one who bad received a good education at the old Grammar School of Alleyne’s, at Uttoxeter, and to whom a well-stocked library at home had always been accessible. This young friend was Mr. H. W. Foster, son of Mr. Foster, of Endon. Their natural tastes drew them together: they both loved the beauties of the woods and fields, and delighted to converse on intellectual subjects. They both formed their resolutions at the same time as to their future pursuits in accordance with their individual taste and talents, H.W. Foster choosing to pursue the study of art. I find this interesting circumstance referred to by poor George Heath in an isolated note in his “Diary,” written a few months before his death, thus—“my dear old friend and fellow toiler, Herbert Foster, came up for just an hour. He is still as earnest and persevering as ever. He and I started together in the life struggle. We have gone on both of us undeviatingly in the paths we first chose. We cannot be said to have fought shoulder to shoulder, for our paths have lain apart, and he, I believe, has through my ill health and one thing or other; gained upon me. But we have always been one in heart, and still we are agreed our motto must be steadily onward.” The further success of his friend, in securing a National Art Scholarship at South Kensington, is referred to with great elation at a subsequent date.
But in the height of his newly-formed plans and brilliant dreams
“All woven in gorgeous tissues,
Flaunting gaily in the golden light;
Large desires, with most uncertain issues,
Tender wishes, blossoming at night.”
George Heath was unfortunately seized with a sad affliction. He took cold whilst assisting at the restoration of Horton Church, just before the close of his apprenticeship in 1864 (with the sorrow of a broken first love, following in its train). This cold brought on the insidious disease of consumption, to which, after years of suffering, he ultimately fell a victim.
Being entirely laid aside from work, he began, after the suspension of his first prostrating attack, to read, write, and study in earnest, although quite uncertain of the use of doing so. He had written some verses before this, early in the year of 1863. To this period belongs a lengthy rhyme, an earnest of something better, having the title of “The Churchyard,” and also another shorter one of a more pretentious character. His first published Poems appeared in 1865 under the title of “Preludes,” afterwards altered to “Simple Poems,” including “Rudyard,” “The Pauper’s Child,” and a few others. A second edition was called for in 1866, and the reading of these for the first time, makes one feel as if wrapt round with the spell of a wonderful singer. In January of this year he speaks of thinking over the past, and trying to plan a poem, which should excel all his previous efforts, and to weave into the narrative, characters whom he had known. The “Discarded,” a Reverie, was finished by the 19th of this month, and this (his then longest poem) he thought would be his last. The Volume entitled, “Heart Strains,” which included “The Discarded,” was ready for the press by the 19th of June, and the first instalment of 50 copies came to his hands from Mr. Hallowes, of Leek, in September following. His direct profits from the sale of this small volume did not amount to much, but if it did not yield great pecuniary profit, it was an advance in the right direction, and increased the number and deepened the sympathy of his friends. These poems were very favourably reviewed by the press at the time of their issue. They were also honoured with Public Readings, both at Stafford and Leek. And falling into the hands of Walter Montgomery, Esq., who felt much interest in them, that gentleman also gave Readings from them, which was properly regarded by the poor invalid as a great honour. He contributed a number of poems to the Staffordshire Advertiser, and several were accepted for Literary Journals. The first money, however, he received direct from a Publisher, was from Messrs. Walker and Son, York, for the use of a “School Dialogue” in verse, but very superior to the general run of such kind of compositions. There were 1500 copies printed, and his fee was very small, but he received that which was equally dear to him—usually the Poet’s only meed—“the tribute of a smile.” To many, “The Discarded” may seem a production of some mystery, but careful readers will perceive, from its warm and indignant outburst of feeling, that it is no mere work of art or imagination, only, but “an o’er true tale,” and such it really is—it is a “heart strain.” His Jenny had proved unfaithful. This cruelly broken first love, caused many an after-bitterness to George Heath, and appears to have followed and haunted him through many of his lines. This entry in his “Diary” will throw some light upon it.
“February 26th, 1868.—To-day I have brought down and committed to the flames, a batch of letters that I received from a love, that was once as life to me—such letters—yet the writer in the end deserted me. O, the anguish I suffered! I had not looked at them for three years, and even to-day, when I came and fingered them, and opened the portrait of the woman I loved so much, I could scarcely keep back the bitter tears. O, Jenny, the bitterness you caused me will never be obliterated from my heart.” We will let the spell lie lightly on the “Deserted One,” and only say, that although he loved her so intensely, he fully forgave the object that left him, and breathed that forgiveness in lines at the close of the following Poem, entitled “True to the Last.”
“Prop me up with my pillows, sweet sister, and then
Just open the casement, and, close the room door,
And let me look out on the landscape again,
And breathe the pure air of the summer once more.
Then twine your arm round me to comfort and stay,
And wipe the big tears from these deep mournful eyes,
And listen awhile; I have something to say
Ere I pass from this world to my home in the skies.
’T was summer, sweet sister, bright summer, as now,
And earth wore a mantle of radiant sheen;
A wreath of pure roses encircled the brow
Of the queen of my bosom—you know who I mean.
At twilight we met, ’neath the sycamore’s shade,
And there ‘twas she whispered those words, ‘Ever thine;’
Her beautiful head on my bosom was laid,
And her lily-white hand was clasped fondly in mine.
O God! how intensely and madly I loved!
How wildly I worshipped that beautiful one.
You know how inconstant and faithless she proved,
How basely she left me when summer was gone.
You’ll see her perchance when affliction hath chased
The bloom from her cheek and the light from her eye;
When sorrow’s dark signet hath silently traced
Deep lines on her forehead, once noble and high.
Then tell her, sweet sister, that all was forgiven,
And all was forgot, but the bliss of the past,
And tell her I wished her to meet me in heaven,
Where all who have loved are united at last.”
Amongst the loose papers of George Heath, I have met with upwards of fifty more lines to be added to the “Discarded," and which have, therefore, been placed in connection with that poem. They commence with
and conclude with
Nearly the whole of the unpublished poems which he left in manuscript were written after the spring of 1867. From that date till towards the autumn of the succeeding year, his pen must have been almost incessantly at work; after that the strains he did write were few and plaintive. In March, he had put together about three hundred lines of “The Countrywoman’s Tale,” which was extended to more than nine hundred. This poem is no doubt the one he was planning before he published his “Heart Strains,” and some of the incidents in it are actually taken from his mother’s personal history. As a tale it is very interesting and affecting, and some parts, especially the latter, are highly poetical.
Of the “Doom of Babylon” its author made much account, more than of any of his other poems, and he mentions it often. It is certainly his most ambitious endeavour; it displays much power of imagination and grasp of mind, and evinces, as much as anything, his real strength, and of what he might have been capable. Whilst engaged upon it he wrote, “I know not whether it will reflect me much credit, but I will do my best.” Again, “I often wonder if it possesses any sterling merit, yet I am determined to persevere, and trust my efforts will not be fruitless.” About this period he was likewise engaged in one way or another upon the poems under the name of “Songs of the Shadows,” a title which he adopted on account of his own shadowed life. He says of them, as if in anticipation of some one undertaking the publication of his poems, “This has struck me as being the most likely title for my little things, as they are what my life has been, a series of shadowed scenes.” Amongst these will be found some of his choicest productions, including the “Single Grave,” and “The Blind Old Man,” a picture. The poem, “Icarus,” which was left on a number of loose sheets, purports to be an extract from an imaginary journal, and to give an obituary notice of a fictitious Thomas String, who had suffered neglect, became lorn, and hid himself from public gaze, his poor wailing harp, sadly shattered and beat, still remaining his only companion and solace. The poor Poet was lost sight of, and one Sir Hodge Poyson, who had been deeply touched by a knowledge of his troubles, is represented as going on an expedition in quest of the scene of his conflict.
“To search out and know
The deep yearnings, the sorrows, and all that befel
The true bard of the sad, and his merits as well.”
The worthy Baronet is represented as being successful in his enquiries, and the scenes he describes are very touching, and have been often repeated in the history of friendless poets, artists, and authors in their life struggles.
“In a hole where he crept, in his pain and his pride,
Mournful song-scraps were scattered on every side;
I read the damp slips, till my eyes were tear-blind.
‘Neath a couch where he nestled with hunger, and died,
In a dirty damp litter of mouldering straw
Stood a rude alder box, which when opened, supplied
Such proofs of a vastly superior mind,
That filled me with anguish, and wonder, and awe.”
Further pictures of the scene are given, interspersed with the “Singer’s Tale” and other “Song-Scraps,” assumed to have been found about the poor Singer—
“Rumpled and creased,
Long lines all awry, blotted, jumbled, and stark.”
This is a remarkable poem, and sufficient of itself to make its author remembered, if he had written nothing else. Alas! the poor desponding poet had himself in view when he wrote “Icarus.” It was finished in February, 1869, as is evident from an entry in his Diary over the two pieces found there, “Enamoured” and “Yearnings,” and attached to which is this remark, “To be added to ‘Icarus.’”
The names and titles, belonging to several poems, not specified here, but which will be found in the volume, are sweet poetic names borne by children, ladies, and friends, who visited him. Prominently amongst these are “Edith,” “Minnie,” “Lizzie,” “ Mademoiselle Ida Ratchez,” a Swiss lady, living near, and on her removal from the neighbourhood, his lamentation, “Now thou art gone,” was dedicated to her.
After October, 1868, he uses the pen less frequently, and the few after-strains which did flow from his Harp, as the “September,” “The Poet’s Monument,” “Tired out,” and “December,” which is the last he wrote, are very plaintive. His prospects of life were growing perceptibly short, and his songs woefully melancholy, and gradually but surely he begins bravely to face his inevitable destiny.
During the whole of the time George Heath was embodying his thoughts in verse, and thereby trying to fulfil the only sacred duty of productive labour in his power, he was engaged with equal earnestness in cultivating his mind by special educational studies. There was a charm in earnest endeavour to him; and consequently he had set times in each day which he devoted to study, except when he was too ill to make any mental exertion. During his long illness he strove to gain a good knowledge of his own language, making at the same time highly satisfactory advancement in Latin and Greek. The study of these languages he prosecuted under the kind direction of the Rev. J. Badnall, M.A., Vicar of Endon, who also presented him with Greek and Latin books. He felt much the kindness of this gentleman, and amongst the many expressions of it, there are these two, “1866, January 7th, my esteemed friend, the Rev. J. Badnall came to see me. He has acted a noble part by me in giving all the instruction possible in my attempts to master Latin.” On the 1st of March, 1868, he likewise observes, “The Rev. Mr. Badnall, my dear old tutor, has paid me a visit, has spoken many kind encouraging words, and has spoken very graciously of the progress I have made; I am much cheered though sorely afflicted.” The following translation, the result of this instruction in Latin, is from Virgil’s Æneid, and does not read amiss.
“I sing of grand exploits and martial might,
Of Rome's great hero, valiant in the fight;
Whose fame, like incense, floats from clime to clime,
And sweeps re-echoing down the stream of time;
Who, first cast out by fate, unknown to fame,
From mighty Troy to fair Italia came,
Paused in his wanderings and his heavy toil,
And pitched his tent on rich Laviniums’ soil.
Plagued by the Gods above, on sea and shore,
With sorrow, suffering, and misfortune dire
On Juno’s count, and Juno’s ‘vengeful ire,
And bloody war by Demon Passion waged
With horrors fraught around him madly raged;
Whilst he, with dauntless hand, the city wrought,
And th’ household Deities to Latium brought;
The source from which in widening streams we trace
The Albanian fathers, and the Latin race;
And Rome’s magnific walls that proudly rise
In cloud-capped spires and turrets to the skies.”
He made an effort to read himself up in Ancient and also in English History, and his Saturdays were exclusively devoted to the study of Arithmetic. His ardent thirst for knowledge also led him to seek acquaintance with “Flowers,” “Those loving faces which looked up to him from the earth,” and on this delightful subject he oftentimes sought information from his botanical friend, Mr. G. Foster, of Endon, the friend and coadjutor of Richard Buxton, the Lancashire Botanist. On one occasion, in March, 1868, he sent to Mr. Foster a collection of flowers, gathered. within the narrow range of his walks round Gratton, for description, etc., accompanied with a note so modest, that I am tempted to give this extract from it.
“There is a great change just beginning to creep over our surroundings now: the earth is about to trap herself out in her holiday attire, and ripple out her tresses to the sunshine, and the sky is about to take on a new and marvellous splendour. This, if we are spared, I know we shall both enjoy. I am a true lover of Nature; and I think that the more prominent features of her scenery are quite familiar to me. But I am miserably deficient in the minutia. I know nothing of Botany, Natural History, or anything of that stamp, and have no chance of knowing much, for there is not one in my neighbourhood who seems to have the least taste in that line. The flowers are all of them beautiful faces looking up at me; but though familiar to me in one sense, they are not familiar, inasmuch as I do not even know their names. On this account, as well as on others, I often wish I were nearer to you, because I know you possess some knowledge on the above subjects, and believe it would be a pastime and a pleasure to communicate it. I have no doubt that I should lay myself open to your just ridicule, on account of my ignorance, but am quite willing to make a good many concessions in the pursuit of knowledge, and would consider a lowering of my dignity a cheap exchange for reaI information. I now send you a few little things I have met with in my rambles. One of them is but in leaf. I would be glad to know their names if you will be kind enough to explain, as I shall look upon you from this time, as a sort of travelling dictionary, to which I may refer at pleasure.” It is scarcely necessary to add that the information thus so nicely requested, was ever after cheerfully afforded him. He was far from being ignorant of Literature and writers in general. He had means, through the kindness of his friends, of thoroughly imbuing himself with the spirit of some of the most genial authors of the age, especially of those who were so much to his taste. He read with admiration Buchanan’s London Poems, and those of George Mc’Donald, Alexander Smith, and Gerald Massey; also several of the works of Thackeray, Dickens, and Tom Hood. “Ecce Homo” and Mr. Gladstone’s Essay upon it interested him much. He was delighted with the writings of Wordsworth, and carefully read all the poems of Tennyson. Dante he made a study in a translation by Thomas. He read Byron with much delight for his Poetry, but thoroughly guarded himself against his voluptuousness and irreligion. The works of Scott, Shakspeare, and Livingstone’s Travels fell into his hands - and pithy quotations from these are found in his Diary. His favourite Burns he read with pride, but the story of this bard—“The loved of Scotia’s heart,” set him thinking some sad, but withal, needful thoughts. His taste for literary gossip was supplied by a kind friend in the “Bookseller.” He was also fairly read in several of the high-class “Monthlies,” American and English, but the “Argosy” appears to have been a special favourite with him. Thus it will be seen, from the completest lack at the outset, he ultimately revelled in a feast of intellectual things of the first order.
He was highly fortunate in the class of friends who gathered round, and showed great kindness towards him during his long wasting away of life; all being of kindly dispositions, cultivated habits, and appreciative of real merit and noble struggles. Those ladies and gentlemen who so expressed their sympathy towards him, will, I am persuaded, continue to feel that it was one of the greatest pleasures of their life. He, in particular, makes mention in his “Diary” of Matthew Gaunt, Esq., of Rudyard; Mr., Mrs., and Miss Pinder; W. Challinor, Esq., of Leek; J. E. Davis, Esq., the learned Stipendiary Magistrate of the Potteries; Mrs. J. Bailey; Miss Cleminson, of Sheffield; the Vicar of Horton; Mr. W. Brough, of Leek; Mrs. Brindley, of London; Mr. and Mrs. Foster, of Endon; Mdlle. Ida Ratchez, a Swiss lady; Mr. Hall, of Stafford; Miss Charlesworth; Mr. Hancock, of Mow-Cop; and Mr. B. Barlow, jun., of Leek. Some of these ladies and gentlemen presented him with some very choice books, lent him others, sent him periodicals and newspapers, contributed materially to his comfort, paid him visits, and used their endeavours to circulate his poems, Mr. Hall selling for him fifty copies of “Heart Strains.” He particularly esteemed the visits of his friends, and the letters which they frequently wrote him. The visits were always made, and the letters written in a way to relieve his sadness, which they invariably did. They acted as charms to him. He often relates in his Diary the purport of the letters he received, and the turn conversation took when his friends called upon him, as, “My kind neighbour, Mrs. Bailey, has been over and spent something like an hour with me; to illustrate perseverance, she has been telling me of Professor Simpson, of Edinburgh, who, by his own exertions, has risen from a baker’s boy to receive the honour of knighthood.”
Two gentlemen, above-named, Matthew Gaunt and J. E. Davies, Esqrs., made a special call, to consult him about his being sent to the seaside; a kind proposal, which his fears of immediate consequences of such a course disposed him to decline. He felt deeply all this kindness, and frequently expressed hopes that he should eventually be enabled to prove himself worthy of it. It is feelingly referred to in the following lines, extracted from a poetical “Dedication,” but of which he did not make any use in connection with the poems he printed.
“To those who in days of anguish and despair
Came unto me with tender words and smiles,
Who from the goodness of their own true hearts
Shed over mine a stream of light and hope,
Whose sympathy was bread of life to me;
To all who, though perchance unknown to me,
Or in the greatness of their noble hearts
Have truly wished their fellow-pilgrim well;
To all who in my secret soul are shrined,
All who are dear to me, with earnest love
I dedicate this little work of mine.”
From the same dedication, which has supplied previous quotations, it would appear that his affliction was the means of rousing him to think about practical religion; it also indicates his entire submission under it to the will of God, as instance the following—
“To Him, the High, the Mighty, and the Good,
Prompter of all that in my calmer hours,
When passion slept, dawned on my being, and
Suffused my thought of beautiful or good;
The great Upholder of the universe,
Whose power created, and Whose blood redeemed
A fallen world; Whose tender mercies are
O'er all His works; Whose sweet compassion bore
With all my wayward and rebellious youth;
Whose chastening rod but checked my downward course;
Whose light shone round me ‘mid the dark;
Whose loving hand, though oftentimes concealed,
Has led me safely through the wilderness;
Whose voice, in all His works, has cheered me on:
To Him, the First, the Dearest, Best of all.”
As before observed, the complaint of George Heath assumed a more decided and alarming form towards the latter end of 1868. Indeed, his medical attendant, Dr. Heaton, never entertained any hope of his recovery. His cough became more incessant, and his throat and mouth painfully affected, and greater debility ensued. His beloved books lay around him unread, and all his high designs apparently broken and vanished. He began to see “the restless march of the boundless eyes, and underneath, a little grave, with no inscription, beneath the awfully constant stars.” “All things seemed fading down into the dim obscurity of nonentity - gliding away from the busy world, and entering the valley of shadows, where the circle of interest narrows down to a point;” “drifting further and further down,” “and himself feeling the cold hand of fate crushing off the flowers of his promise.” Yet at times he was not all lethargy; he had some remarkably strange feelings within. “The din and fret of outward things passed before him as a dream, and he seemed to have such a wide sweeping of spirit— such a power to conjure up strange imaginations, that startled him.” The bitterness passed, and he could trust in God, and indulge in “the beautiful thought of that far-off Home—that home whose wonders none may guess, shining through the glory of the sun radiance coming through the windows.” So he wrote with such delightful prospects, of the house of many mansions, on the 29th of April. He witnessed, as he lay almost helpless, the dawn of beautiful May, which he always notes in his Diary with such pleasure as the harbinger of summer's many charming scenes, of verdure and flowers. On the fourth of May he was but just able to scrawl in his Diary, “his thanks to God for one more day,” acknowledge the receipt of “such a kind letter from Mrs. Brindley,” and in the evening he dictated a few farewell lines to his young companion and friend, H. W. Foster; on the morning of the following day he peacefully passed away from the scenes of his earnest struggles, his painful affliction, and blighted hopes, “to his far-off home of perfection and peace.”
All will regret that so hopeful a beginning was so soon closed; that the brief space in which so much had been bravely done, was so mournfully and prematurely terminated. It may be long ere we are called upon to listen to another such singer as George Heath, amidst the bleak hills of the Staffordshire moorlands, where fancy will continue to picture him in association with the scenes and objects in which he delighted.
A memorial was suggested by his kind friend and tutor, the Rev. J. Badnall, of Endon, to be erected over his grave in Horton churchyard, and by the aid of numerous subscribers, it will be successfully carried into effect. It is cheering, therefore, that he will not lie “forsaken and forgotten”—a cold fate he seems to have apprehended—“beneath some tiny dot of earth,” with only “a rude slab” (if even that) reared at its head, but at the foot of a beautiful Runic Cross, raised by the affection of many, after a design by his friend, H. W. Foster, for the respect he bore him, with the following inscription:—
Erected in Memory
Of GEORGE HEATH, of Gratton,
Who, with few aids,
Developed in these Moorlands
Poetic powers of great promise,
But who, stricken by consumption,
After five years suffering,
Fell a victim to that disease,
May 5, 1869, aged 25 years.
“His life is a fragment—a broken clue—
His harp had a musical string or two,
The tension was great, and they sprang and flew,
And a few brief strains—a scattered few—
Are all that remain to mortal view
Of the marvellous song the young man knew.”
The above lines are a quotation from an epitaph found amongst his papers, entitled “Inscription on a Rude Stone.” It seems intended to fit himself, with the date, Nov. 10, 1868, at the foot. The whole epitaph runs as follows:—
“A quiet youth in the valleys grew,
And thought o’er his being a mantle threw,
And dawned on his spirit a meaning new,
And he dreamed of a mission great and true;
But God, in His infinite wisdom, drew
A severing finger his projects through.
His life is a fragment—a broken clue—
His harp had a musical string or two,
The tension was great, and they sprang and flew,
And a few brief strains—a scattered few—
Are all that remain to mortal view
Of the marvellous song the young man knew.
O, ye who have feeling! a tear from you!
Rest, saddest of singers, in peace—adieu!”
Uttoxeter, Dec., 1869.
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