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Poetry, Music, and Art in Sheffield


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Ebenezer Elliott is the writer associated with Sheffield who, more than any other, produced, in rare moments of inspiration, true literature, that is, writing that will not be forgotten. Often he is mentioned with his friend, James Montgomery, the hymn-writer, but Elliott was by far the more vigorous poet. When his feelings were deeply stirred, he attained a clearness of insight, directness of expression, and a literary cadence, that belong to a different realm of literature from that in which the placid piety of James Montgomery found its voice. The wonder, is that Ebenezer Elliott could write so finely in his best moments, and yet manufacture commonplace verse in an ordinary way. But all poets are judged at last by their best, and being so judged Ebenezer Elliott is the first of Sheffield writers.

He was born at Masborough, a part of Rotherham, on March 7, 1781, and, after an ordinary day-school education, worked for his father in the iron trade till he was twenty-three. After marrying a wife with a little money, he joined his father in business and failed; but, later, he succeeded so well in Sheffield that he was able to retire, when he had turned sixty, and live near Barnsley on the few thousand pounds he had saved. He died on December 1, 1849, and was buried at Darfield. A statue of him, subscribed for by the working men of Sheffield, stands in Weston Park near the University, and a portrait hangs in the Town Hall.

Elliott was descended from the clan of Border robbers of that name, but was a gentle, inoffensive man, fond above all things of country walks, flowers, and little streams like the Black Brook, which cuts down through Rivelin Edge and has in its'bed a rock inscribed with his name. He did not wander far away from Sheffield. Indeed, he looked upon Win Hill rising above Ashopton as a huge and distant mountain, and described its ascent as if it were Mont Blanc.

His hatred of the bread-tax, which in those days hampered trade, demoralised and unsettled the people, saved him from being regarded as a diligent tradesman with a charming love of country scenes, and made him the soul-thrilling champion of a national cause. To help towards the abolition of the tax he wrote his Corn Law Rhymes, which became one of the few examples of poetry universally read. The misery of a starved people bites deep into these verses. No wonder that the working men of Sheffield raised a statue in his honour. Before he rare moments of inspiration, true literature, that is, writing that will not be forgotten. Often he is mentioned with his friend, James Montgomery, the hymn-writer, but Elliott was by far the more vigorous poet. When his feelings were deeply stirred, he attained a clearness of insight, directness of expression, and a literary cadence, that belong to a different realm of literature from that in which the placid piety of James Montgomery found its voice. The wonder, is that Ebenezer Elliott could write so finely in his best moments, and yet manufacture commonplace verse in an ordinary way. But all poets are judged at last by their best, and being so judged Ebenezer Elliott is the first of Sheffield writers.

He was born at Masborough, a part of Rotherham, on March 7, 1781, and, after an ordinary day-school education, worked for his father in the iron trade till he was twenty-three. After marrying a wife with a little money, he joined his father in business and failed; but, later, he succeeded so well in Sheffield that he was able to retire, when he had turned sixty, and live near Barnsley on the few thousand pounds he had saved. He died on December 1, 1849, and was buried at Darfield. A statue of him, subscribed for by the working men of Sheffield, stands in Weston Park near the University, and a portrait hangs in the Town Hall.

Elliott was descended from the clan of Border robbers of that name, but was a gentle, inoffensive man, fond above all things of country walks, flowers, and little streams like the Black Brook, which cuts down through Rivelin Edge and has in its'bed a rock inscribed with his name. He did not wander far away from Sheffield. Indeed, he looked upon Win Hill rising above Ashopton as a huge and distant mountain, and described its ascent as if it were Mont Blanc.

His hatred of the bread-tax, which in those days hampered trade, demoralised and unsettled the people, saved him from being regarded as a diligent tradesman with a charming love of country scenes, and made him the soul-thrilling champion of a national cause. To help towards the abolition of the tax he wrote his Corn Law Rhymes, which became one of the few examples of poetry universally read. The misery of a starved people bites deep into these verses. No wonder that the working men of Sheffield raised a statue in his honour. Before he lifetime. He was in his twenty-first year when he arrived in Sheffield.

The owner of the Sheffield Register quickly saw that his new clerk could write for the newspaper and loved to do it. Those were days when a free expression of opinion in favour of human liberty was dangerous to a man's own liberty. The French Revolution had begun, and was watched by some with excited hope, and by others with deep horror. The Government of the day was on the watch to suppress sympathy with the revolutionists, especially in an outspoken place like Sheffield. There was no doubt about the sentiments of the owner of the Sheffield Register, for he had roasted an ox whole to celebrate the successes of "our French brethren over despots and despotism." He was ultimately marked down for prosecution, but fled to America, leaving the newspaper under the charge of Montgomery, who changed its name to The Sheffield Iris, and soon became not only the editor but the proprietor.

Though he tried his best to be careful, Montgomery was soon in prison. He was sent there twice in eighteen months. First he was fined 20 and imprisoned for three months for printing a ballad about the fall of the French Bastille; and then he was fined 30 and imprisoned six months for a description of a riot in which the volunteers fired on the crowd in Norfolk Street, killing two men and severely wounding others. For this Montgomery had mildly blamed the officer in command, but that was enough to ensure his conviction. Of course, such stupid persecution helped the newspaper greatly, for sympathy was almost wholly on Montgomery's side.

For thirty years the poet edited the Iris; but he was really more interested in the publication of his poems than of his paper. The poems, largely descriptive - for their principal subjects are the Ocean, Switzerland, the West Indies, and Greenland - have not retained any part of their popularity; but the hymns, which expressed the writer's deep religious feeling, keep a place in every hymn-book, and will preserve the name of one who in a rich degree had all the graces of piety, and in his public life a true sympathy with the oppressed.

Sheffield has not only produced a considerable philosopher in Samuel Bailey, an accomplished musician in Sir William Sterndale Bennett, poets of some notability in Ebenezer Elliott and James Montgomery, a valuable historian in Joseph Hunter, and a pioneer of scientific inquiry in Henry Clifton Sorby, but it is very closely associated with one of England's greatest artists, Sir Francis Chantrey, the sculptor.

Born at Norton, on April 7, 1781, the son of a carpenter and small farmer, Francis Legatt Chantrey, after education in the village school, came down to Sheffield to serve as a boy in a grocer's shop. When he was in his seventeenth year, he was so strongly drawn by the work of a local wood-carver named Ramsay that he apprenticed himself to wood-carving for seven years. Long before that time had passed, however, Chantrey's artistic genius had taken him away from wood-carving and away from Sheffield, and he was making his mark in London as an artist and sculptor.

He was released from his apprenticeship by arrangement when he was twenty-one, and at once set up in Paradise Square as a portrait painter, for he had been studying drawing and painting with Ramsay. To him in Paradise Square went many Sheffield people for their portraits in crayons, and soon his price for a portrait went up from two guineas to five guineas. Then he went to London, partly to study, but returned from time to time to Sheffield to execute his portrait commissions.

When he was twenty-three he began to exhibit pictures at the Royal Academy, but almost immediately turned to sculpture. The first marble statue he produced was that of "Parson Wilkinson," of Broom Hall, which is now in the Chancel of the Parish Church.

From his twenty-sixth year Chantrey's career was a continuous success. He became the most popular sculptor of his day, and it is generally agreed that his success was fully deserved by his art. Particularly fine were his groups of children. The most notable of all is to be seen in Lichfield Cathedral.

Personally, Chantrey was a very popular man, with an openness of manner that won confidence. All kinds of honours were bestowed upon him. In 1835 he was knighted. A happy feature of his character was his fidelity to those who had been his friends when he was young. He kept closely in touch with his Sheffield friends, without being altered by the fact that he was one of the "lions" of London society.

He died, suddenly, on November 25, 1841, and is buried in the Parish Church at Norton. His will has won for him the gratitude of many artists, for he left his great wealth, after the death of his wife, to trustees, who were directed to spend the interest in buying, at a liberal price, the best picture or pictures, or work of art, produced each year. These pictures and sculptures, "purchased under the Chantrey bequest," now number more than 200, and they are exhibited in the Tate Gallery, London, as the best specimens of modern English art. And so Chantrey, being dead, yet stimulates by wise generosity the art he loved.

Sir William Sterndale Bennett, the musician, is the one Sheffield-born man who has received a public funeral in Westminster Abbey.

He was born at 8 Norfolk Row, on April 13, 1816, his father then being organist at the Parish Church. When the boy was two years old his mother died, and before he was four his father also died, and the children - there were two sisters - were sent to their grandparents at Cambridge.

There, before he was eight, the lad joined the choir of King's College, with which his grandfather was connected. Before he was ten, young Bennett showed such musical ability that he was taken into the Royal Academy of Music. His first musical composition dates his twelfth year, and from the time when he was sixteen he wrote many kinds of music rapidly. A year later, the performance of his first concerto attracted the attention of the great Jewish genius, Mendelssohn, who was then in England, and the two composers became fast friends. Young Bennett now visited Germany, and made the acquaintance of the leading German musicians, and while there partly composed his beautiful work "The Naiads."

When he was one-and-twenty he became a teacher at the Academy, and taught there all the rest of his life,, thus occupying time that might, perhaps with greater advantage, have been devoted to composition. In 1856 Bennett became Professor of Music at Cambridge. Two years later he produced his melodious work "The May Queen" at the Leeds Festival. In 1866 he was elected Principal of the Academy of Music, and next year wrote the oratorio "The Woman of Samaria," by which he is perhaps best known as a composer. In 1871 he was knighted, and next year a scholarship was founded by subscription at the Academy of Music in his honour. In February, 1875, he died in London, and was buried in the Abbey. A conscientious worker, with a high ideal of musical taste, Sir William Sterndale Bennett was one of the kindest and gentlest of men, much beloved by all who were associated with him. Sheffield is proud of him as a Sheffielder born, for his work is of national importance.

A very interesting group of modern artists, whose reputation in the world of art is not sufficiently realised by the general public, is connected with Sheffield through the influence of Alfred Stevens, the designer of the noble monument to the great Duke of Wellington in St. Paul's Cathedral. Alfred Stevens, Hugh Hutton Stannus, and Godfrey Sykes are perhaps best treated here as they lived, that is, as a group of friends.

Alfred Stevens was born in 1818 at Blandford, Dorsetshire, the son of a house painter, and as a boy began to learn his father's business, but soon showed so much genius as an artist that he was sent to Italy to study, and remained there nine years. He had no English teaching in art, but returned home to teach in the London School of Design what he had learned abroad. His forte was decorative design. In 1850 he came to Sheffield as chief artist to Hoole & Co., of Green Lane Works, workers in bronze and metal, and though he only stayed here two years his influence has been felt ever since in the more artistic forms that metal-work has assumed. He returned to London in 1852, and worked as a designer in "all materials - silver, bronze, iron, marble; and for many purposes - for furniture, churches, porcelain, and mantelpieces." He died in 1875, and his Life was written by his friend, Hugh Stannus.

Hugh Hutton Stannus was born in Sheffield in 1840 of Irish parentage. After attending the School of Art, he went as an apprentice to Hoole's, and there came under the influence of Alfred Stevens, through the designs that artist had left behind at Hoole's. He eventually joined Stevens in London, and assisted him in his work on the Wellington monument. Later he devoted himself to decorative architecture; but much of his time was taken up by teaching and lecturing. He taught modelling at the Royal Academy of Art, and lectured at University College, the Royal College of Art, South Kensington, and elsewhere. Stannus combined in a remarkable manner a knowledge of art with executive power. He died in 1908.

Godfrey Sykes was a Yorkshireman, born at Malton in 1825, who first studied at the School of Art in Sheffield and then became master there. He was attracted by Stevens, and, following him to London, changed from painting to decorative design, specialising with terra-cotta as a material, and so treating it as to popularise its artistic use. The decoration of the buildings of South Kensington Museum is his work. He died in London in 1866.

A personal connection between Sheffield and the development of English art in the nineteenth century is to be found in the fact that Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the painter-poet, married Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall, who had been a student at the Sheffield School of Art, and was of Sheffield birth, and she was the model for a number of his pictures - the woman who represented his ideal of beauty, for he repeated her features again and again.


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Pictures for Poetry, Music, and Art in Sheffield

EBENEZER ELLIOTT
EBENEZER ELLIOTT >>>>
SIR FRANCIS CHANTREY
SIR FRANCIS CHANTREY >>>>
Rev. J. Wilkinson
Rev. J. Wilkinson >>>>
SIR WILLIAM STERNDALE BENNETT
SIR WILLIAM STERNDALE BENNETT >>>>

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