Picture of Robert Gammage

Robert Gammage

places mentioned

Touring the Welsh border in 1852 and 1853

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I was once more in Wales, where, as far as inclination was concerned, I could have remained for life. This was in 1852.

I was engaged to deliver five lectures in Llanidloes. By arrangement of my friends, I put up as before at an inn called The Castle. I could not expect to have such numerous audiences as previously, when there was much excitement in view of the impending election—a gentleman, afterwards celebrated, like Mr. Newdegate, for his extreme jealousy of the Papacy, and, in later years, for his persistent advocacy of the cause of the claimant, being the popular candidate. I allude to the late G.H. Whalley, in his latter days member for Peterborough. Five addresses, too, given on consecutive evenings, are no trifle even to sympathising audiences; but my lectures were well attended on each occasion, and, what is better, well listened to and applauded. I believe the whole of them were attended by a Welsh minister of the town, who, every time, both on my previous visit and this, came up and very cordially grasped my hand, like a real Christian.

On the Sunday morning after these lectures, several of my friends proposed a walk, to which I was nowise averse. A lovely walk it was. The sun kept in that morning, but a walk amid such scenery may always be enjoyed, unless the rain be pouring down, and on that occasion we had not to suffer from that infliction, for it was fine, though not bright. The whole day I felt happy, and, after the walk was over, went to dine with a friend, little aware of the reception I was about to meet. The mother of my host assailed us in true Sabbatical style. She was almost boiling over with wrath, that we should have taken a walk on the Sabbath morning. I almost fancied myself in the strictest part of Scotland. My friend looked across at me, with one of those meaning glances which may be better understood than described, which seemed to mean, 'Say as little as possible'. I made but little reply, more out of regard to the conscientious scruples of my good hostess than to my own feelings. But she clearly gave me to understand that she wished never to see me in the house again—a wish which I fully reciprocated and acted upon.

We went in the evening to hear a discourse by the minister who had so regularly attended my lectures. He first read his sermon in Welsh, of which I did not understand a word, but for my benefit, as I understood, he afterwards read it in good English. On the whole, the sermon was a good one. I have heard many a worse in an English pulpit, and, what pleased me most, he was downright earnest.

During the week which I spent in Llanidloes, I could not but be struck with the musical talent of the ladies. Two of the daughters of my host of The Castle were accomplished musicians, instrumental and vocal. Their voices were such as to make them blend most harmoniously. Almost every day, in company with other friends, I was entertained by them. 'Come to the West', by Thomas Moore, and my especial favourite, 'The Old Arm-Chair,' by Eliza Cook, which is sufficient to arouse all the feelings of love for a mother, were two of the songs which most pleased me. As I was praising these ladies, a gentleman said to me in a low voice, 'Come with our friend James and dine with me tomorrow, and you shall hear my wife sing.' I thanked him, and we went accordingly. After dinner, we spent a large part of the afternoon in listening to the melodious voice of this young Welsh nightingale. Let me say, too, that the beauty of these ladies was as pleasing to the eye as their music was to the ear.

From the manner in which I was gratified in Llanidloes, it may readily be inferred that I went from it with regret, but we must all bend, before the law of duty. Accordingly, I went on to Newtown, where I spoke on 'The Social Oppression of the Working Classes: its Causes and Cure,' to a large audience. My lecture was on the same lines as those laid down by Bronterre O'Brien. It was on land, credit, currency, and exchange. So well was the lecture appreciated, that I was requested to get it printed and published, which I did. Several thousand copies were sold in the several towns of Wales, England, and Scotland, and some even in Ireland. It was brought out in so cheap a form that all but the penniless could purchase it.

I must mention, before I leave this part of my subject, that on the Sunday after my lecture I went to dine with my friend Mr. Rickards, secretary to the Chartist Association, with three bachelor brothers and their maiden sister. We had a true Welsh reception, and spent a very pleasant afternoon with quiet, agreeable chat.

But I was not yet quite done with beautiful Wales, for in the summer of 1853 I was travelling with Ernest Jones. We spoke at a large open-air meeting on the Crown Bank, Hanley, and went on the same evening to Stafford—a town as renowned for ladies' boots and shoes as Northampton is for men's. We had a rather laughable scene at Stafford. It was getting late, and we were in search of an hotel in which to rest ourselves until the time of our starting for Shrewsbury. We came in front of a huge building. My eyesight was stronger than my friend's. 'Oh!' I exclaimed, 'we are at home; this is Stafford Gaol.' But Ernest Jones, having already suffered two years' imprisonment in London for a political offence, had no inclination to apply for admission, and I was in a similar frame of mind. This incident brought other things to my mind. It was in this gaol that many were confined in some of the stormy periods of the Chartist movement It was here that Thomas Cooper suffered two years' confinement the first part of which was most galling to the mind, more even than to the body, of the prisoner. It was here that Mr. Cooper seized the clergyman on a Sunday in the chapel, and demanded in no gentle tones that he as a Christian minister should see him better treated. It was here that he wrote that remarkable poem, 'The Purgatory of Suicides,' a poem which one of his critics declared to be the greatest that had been produced in England for the last 200 years. That was saying a great deal, when we remember that much more recently than that England had produced its Byron and Shelley, Scotland its Burns and Campbell, and Ireland its immortal Thomas Moore. But whether the critic was correct in his criticism or otherwise it is here hardly necessary to inquire. It is more than thirty years since I first read that poem. I thought it then a great production, and after Mr. Cooper visited Sunderland, not very long ago, I gave it a second reading. Although it contains so many of the long hard names of the ancients, I thought more of it as a poem than on my first reading. It was the opinion of Ernest Jones, as expressed to me, that, although in some parts it was heavy, it was sufficient to immortalise its author. When one poet says this of another, we may he sure that there is some truth in it.

I laving found a more suitable place than Stafford Gaol, we obtained refreshment, and in due time went by train to Shrewsbury, where we arrived at 3 o'clock in the morning. It was at this pleasant little town that I first knew the meaning of hotel charges. We were in the house no more than six hours. I only took for drink a bottle of lemonade, and my friend a glass of beer. We got hardly any sleep, but of course the people of the hotel could not help that. We had breakfast also. But the bill was so enormous that my friend was disgusted, accustomed as he had been in his earlier days to 'good society'.

We went at 9 o'clock by stage coach to Newtown. It was a beautiful drive. The hills, and dales and woods, the charming scenery nearly the whole of the way, and the genial weather, made us for the time being forget every care, and the distance seem but trifling.

My friend being a poet, and always ready to listen to good poetry composed by other men, I quoted from memory a profusion from the one whom I must pronounce—as a leading popular minister of Sunderland has pronounced—to be England's greatest poet. I never had a better listener. Had he been a boy at school, he would not have been half so attentive, nor would he have expressed the delight which my friend evidently felt at my quotations.

We arrived in course of the day at Llanidloes, where we addressed a crowded meeting; and on the following evening went back and spoke at Newtown, where we were equally well received.

Ernest Jones, as all who well knew him will remember, was a very sociable man, and he could not refrain from a joke upon me when our friends at Llanidloes had adjourned with us to our lodgings. 'I never knew,' said he, 'the length of "Don Juan" till today, and then I found it out. For the first 16 miles on the coach, Gammage quoted half of it, and as it is 32 miles between Shrewsbury and Newtown, that poem must be 32 miles in length'. There was much laughter at this sally, in which I heartily joined.

I cannot relate much more of that period at present. We visited Cheltenham, where we addressed a large public meeting, and took breakfast next morning with our friend Mr. Edwin Wilks.

On our way South, we spent a night at my dear brother William's in the little town of Stony Stratford, and on the following day had a pleasant ramble in the wood, where my friend lay down on the grass in one of the ridings, and, poet like, kicked up his heels, delighted with the rural beauty and freedom from restraint Very undignified. So thought a pious gentleman, who once visited the great Robert Hall, and who, when he entered the room and found him on the carpet with his children playing and rollicking, exclaimed, 'Is this the great Robert Hall?' Poor man, he little knew that one of the chief delights in a great man's life is to descend from his pedestal, and make himself one of the humblest of his species.

Robert Gammage, 'Recollections of a Chartist', in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle , Saturday, February 23 1884

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