Ebenezer Jones, 1820-1860
— An English Symbolist

Jack Lindsay


The least explored period of our poetry is that between 1830 and 1850. The Romantic surge had died down and the Victorian middle-class synthesis had not yet emerged. The two decades saw much violent upheaval and deep‑going change. They began with rick-burnings and the Bristol riots, then saw the rise and culmination of the Radical and Chartist movements, the Poor Law riots and the risings at Devises, Birmingham, Sheffield, Newport and elsewhere, the great mass-meetings of the Chartists, which reached their climax and breakdown in 1848. They saw the decisive construction of British capitalism; the old forms of popular resistance were crushed and struggle was able to reawaken effectively only with the expansion of trade-unionism that went on from the 1880s.

Dickens comes out of this period, expressing many of its pressures, dislocations, anxieties, and the reassertion of human solidarity. But what of the poets? There was a considerable number who did their best to tackle the situation, aware of a pervasive crisis in human relationships, which they expressed and illuminated in varying degrees; but none of them was able to encompass the issues in their full reach. The best name yet found for them is that of Gilfillan: the Spasmodics. The term expresses well enough the way in which their moments of penetrating vision came in unstable bursts, but it hardly suggests the remarkable insights which they could not sustain.

Philip James Bailey’s Festus of 1830 first definitely revealed the new turn that was being taken: ‘the hero is the world-man.’ Indeed the idea of Faustus brooded over the epoch, though mostly in secondhand forms derived from Carlyle or the like; a lesser though important archetypal figure was Byron’s Cain. The conclusion may be said to come with Alexander Smith’s A Life Story and his Glasgow, in which the industrial city is realised from within for the first time. Among the poets who made valuable contributions were ‘Orion’ Horne, John Stanyan Bigg,

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W. H. Smith, Sydney Dobell, D. B. Starkey, J. E. Reade, A. J. Symington, Gerald Massey, with Darley as forerunner and Beddoes as off-sider. The first works of Browning and Tennyson, Paracelsus and The Devil and the Lady, belong to the movement, but with these two poets the deep striving element, in which the poets seek to grasp what is happening tumultuously among the uprooted people, dies out or is diverted to lesser ends. Hopkins and Meredith alone can be said to have carried on to some extent from Spasmodic bases.

The Spasmodics were keenly aware that the systems which had held men together in previous ages were being disintegrated and that new ways were being opened up. They knew that it was necessary to fight all along the line for human values if the new ways were not to be wholly destructive. Their poetry, in both its virtues and its vices, is conscious of a fierce disruptive pressure, which they can only partially understand and control. They lacked an adequate philosophic instrument and could grasp the threatening forces at work only in momentary intuitions. Their imagery, owning much suggestive vitality, fails to cohere in the comprehensive vision they wanted. Still, taken all together, they reveal richly the nature of the crisis they confront and the new possibilities opening up in culture, in human relationships; at their core is the quest for the new kind of union that will overcome the evil effects of the dehumanising forces at work throughout society.

In this quest the poet who goes furthest and deepest is Ebenezer Jones. He was born on 20 January 1820 in Canonbury Square, Islington, and he died after a cramped and miserable life on 14 September 1860. His father was Welsh; his mother Hannah Sumner came from an Essex family. The family lived in comfortable style, though with harsh Calvinist restrictions. All contacts with the corrupt world were seen as a backsliding. Ebenezer’s brother, Sumner, tells us:

Dr Watts and Kirke White were permitted in our Parnassus; but Shakespeare and even Milton were left in rigourous quarantine. Of Byron we had a mysterious notion, gathered from hearing our elders now and then speak of him shudderingly, as of some Satanic spirit who had been permitted visibly to stalk abroad. Of Shelley we had never heard.

Ebenezer went to a school at the foot of Highgate Hill under a

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nasal dissenting minister, Snipe. Then his father fell ill and the family fortunes collapsed. The boys began to fight the dark Calvinist controls, aided by reading Carlyle’s French Revolution and Shelley’s poems. A sister to whom Ebenezer was deeply attached died at the age of twenty-two. He tried to stay on at school as junior usher, but at seventeen had to take a city-clerk’s job in a tea-merchant’s house. He worked from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., without counting the time taken in getting to work and coming home. The tea-trade, he found, involved grossly dishonest practices.

The rest of his life was spent in this sort of drudgery, against which every fibre of his being revolted. We hear (from T. Watts) of an unrequited love for a woman ‘who passionately loved another man—a man to whom Ebenezer was very dear—and who soon afterwards died’. He was saving what money he could in the hope of publishing his poems: which he did in 1843 under the title Studies of  Sensation and Event. The book ‘utterly failed of public appreciation’ (Linton). Sumner says that the misery of the lost love had led him to ‘throw the medley of his poems into the cauldron of his ill-fated book’. He sent copies to several leading authors, from whom he is said to have received slighting or unkindly responses, Proctor and Horne being the exceptions. He was deeply depressed by the book’s reception.

In time he was to gain the interest of other poets: Houghton, Barry Cornwall, W. B. Scott, Allingham, Swinburne, Browning, and above all Rossetti, but too late to help him on his way as a poet. The conventional-minded keenly disliked his work. Thomas Hood imputed to him an ‘impure motive’ and accused him of ‘shamefully prostituting the gift of poetical powers’. Ernest Jones, one is sorry to say, granted him power and originality, but attacked him for ‘unintelligible obscurity’, for neglect of the harmonies of rhythm, and for setting ‘his heroes in the most preposterous and extraordinary situations’. Worse, he endangered ‘the dignity of the democratic character’, indulging in indelicacies and obscenities, ‘which, in plain prose, would subject the writer to contempt and disgust’.

It was in the later 1840s that Rossetti chanced to pick up a copy of Studies; he was fascinated and finally sought Ebenezer out. The book left an indelible impression on him and in 1870 he wrote:

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I met him only once in my life, I believe in 1848, at which time he was about thirty, and would hardly talk on any other subject but Chartism. His poems had been published some five years before my meeting him, and are full of vivid, disorderly power. I was little more than a lad at the time I first chanced on them, but they struck me greatly, though I was not blind to their glaring defects, and even to the ludicrous side of their wilful ‘newness’; attempting, as they do, to deal recklessly with those almost inaccessible combinations in nature and feeling which only intense and oft-renewed effort may at last approach. For all this, these Studies should be, and one day will be, disinterred from the heaps of verses deservedly buried. Some years after meeting Jones, I was pleased to hear the great poet Robert Browning speak in warm terms of the merit of his work. [1]

Helped by his response to Carlyle and Shelley, Ebenezer had been deeply stirred by the popular movements of protest and revolt. He became an Owenite sort of socialist. Rossetti found him obsessed by Chartism, though Sumner and Linton, presenting his work later to the Victorian public, tried to minimise his political passion. Yet even Sumner speaks of him as ‘picturing a leader of revolt (such as he could himself have been) in lines of startling force’. At least one of his poems, A Coming Cry, was ‘thrillingly recited from the platform by W.J. Fox’. This poem, which contrasts the great constructive powers in men with the degraded ends to which they are put, and with the denial of human dignity by unemployment, has a darkly menacing line at the end of each stanza: ‘We’ll go on building workhouses, million, million men.’

We know the sort of ideas he set out to Rossetti; for in 1849 he published The Land Monopoly, the Suffering and Demoralisation caused by it; and the Justice and Expedience of its Abolition. He writes passionately throughout, demanding an ‘equitable distribution to the people of what may be produced’. The wage-system he denounces as essentially evil; it ‘demoralises the entire people’, and is a form of slavery. But society conspires to conceal this deep truth. The parties

try to pass it off by misuse of language, as ‘having to earn one’s living’, ‘getting one’s bread by honest industry’, ‘gaining one’s bread by the sweat of one’s brow’; meaning by these phrases, working for capitalists, employers, masters. There is, however, all difference in the world between having to earn a living, and having to depend on an employer for permission to do it. . . .

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As a remedy, ‘The Right to Labour’, has been demanded, and fought for, and consecrated by the blood of thousands of martyrs; and though the foolish and the vicious have succeeded for a time in suppressing the demand, it, or some similar one, will yet triumph, if there long enough remains in heaven God, and in man the human soul. Ay, triumph! though the blood in the next struggle be the blood not of martyrs. The victims of social wrong must be politically curbed, or they would soon render illegal their social victimisation.

As things are, everyone in society is forced to accept the distorting pressures of a morally evil situation, which pervades all relations. Society is divided into robbers and robbed, and the result is a demoralisation of all concerned. The final horror comes when efforts are made to turn the suffering working class ‘contented with their inferiority’. Baseness can sink no lower. If the wage-system and monopoly-forms are indeed eternal, then ‘let poets cease their singing, or raise only protests against fate, or elegies over prohibited grandeur’, and let the workers cease to propagate their enslaved kind. But Jones does not believe that the movement into intensified degradation is fated; it can be halted and reversed; monopoly can be expropriated. And he calls for the expropriation.

There is however a confusion in his thinking, which appears in the very name of the essay. He sees Monopoly as solely vested in land, certainly influenced by the tradition of Spence; yet he pours his fiercest wrath on the wage-system and the enslavement of the workers by the capitalist employer. Indeed he bases his whole moral thesis on this point. However, when he comes to the steps needed to end the situation, he thinks only of the land. The monopoly-forms in industry seem to him so insecurely developed that they will fall away if only the land is handed back to the people. (His only direct reference to Communism shows that he thinks of it as a utopian system in which all property is shared out equally.)

He proposes then that the land be taken over by the people and vested in commissioners periodically elected by the whole nation. The rent from the land is to be used wholly for social purposes such as Education, Recreation (Gardens, Libraries, Music Halls, Ball Rooms, Picture Galleries), and Science. Landlords and their children are to be compensated with a life-interest. Thus the burden of land-monopoly will be removed from the ‘wages of the working-man, and the profit of the

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trader,  manufacturer, and merchant’. Jones instances corporations such as the University or Crown Lands, declares that the French Revolution made the fatal mistake of sharing the land out capitalistically, and attacks Feargus O’Connor’s scheme for getting every Englishman an acre of land.

As a political thinker he is then only an advanced radical attacking the landed interest; but his moral and social analysis is primarily concerned with the essentially dehumanising nature of the capitalist wage-relation, anticipates attitudes of Ruskin and Morris, and is in the key of what his contemporary Marx was thinking about the alienations of class-society. (Sumner refers to a work by Ebenezer on the Condition of England Question, but this did not reach print.)

The engraver-poet W. J. Linton was a close friend of both Ebenezer and Sumner. He tells how he was freed from orthodox religious views by a stockbroker’s clerk who seems certainly to be Sumner and with whom he read Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary. In 1841-2 he edited a weekly newsletter, Odd-Fellow, put out by Hetherington as one of his unstamped penny-ventures, with a small circulation among the independent friendly societies of London; but it was not scurrilous enough for the lodges or political enough for the Chartists. When he dropped it, Ebenezer edited it for the short while before it died. He was a very handsome man: Linton calls him ‘the type of Alcibiades but with an idea of duty which the Greek had not, which made him heroic in a time of severe martyrdom’. They went once on a ramble in the Lake country.

How well to this day I can retrace our steps and recall the pleasant bright companionship, that, like the sparkle in wine, made that pleasure-draught but more enjoyable; our delight in the moonlight walk from the Windermere Station by the Lakeside to Ambleside, that loveliest five miles in all England; our next day’s climb (the track missed) over the Stake Pass, after bathing under the fells in a pool at the head of Langdale; how we lingered dallying with our joy, on the mountain tops till night came on, a cloudy night of late September, after a day of autumn glory, overtaking us before we could reach the Borrowdale road; how, unable even to grope our way, we lay down together on the stones to sleep, and awakened by rain, crept under an overhanging rock, and cold and hungry, smoked our pipes and talked till the dawning light enabled us to find a path to Stoneihwaite; how we sat in a cottage porch to await the

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rising of the inmates and welcome a breakfast of bad coffee and mutton-ham so salt that it scarified our mouths. No grave-minded man was either of the pair who went laughing and singing, if somewhat limping, on their way; nor was there much disposition to gravity two evenings later, when, after supper, at the little Fish Inn at Buttermere, we amused ourselves with improvising verses (certainly never printed) not exactly in honour of

William Marshall, William Marshall,
Cotton-Spinner of Leeds.

Verses of more rhythmical extravagance in proper poetic execration of the factory-owning plutocrat who had the impudence to possess the one grand house in pastoral Buttermere. Full capacity for enjoyment, whether of his senses or his intellectual faculties, characterised the man in his day of health: delighted with all he saw, from the rugged bleakness of Wastdale to the pastoral repose of Buttermere, enjoying equally a row on Crummock Water and our evening walk beside the golden woods to Keswick. . . . His week’s holiday over Jones returned to London, in order that a fellow-clerk in the same house might take his turn at recreation. This young man went with a friend into Scotland, and four or five days later, the two were found dead on a hillside, having, as Jones and I had earlier, lost their way and laid down to sleep in the cold air.

That is the one living glimpse we get of Ebenezer. In 1844 he married Caroline Atherstone (niece of Edwin Atherstone, author of the Fall of Nineveh). The marriage was a total failure; Linton and Sumner speak of Caroline in terms of bitter reproach, but give no details. Ebenezer continued to write verses, but as so much of his later work seems to have been unpublished or destroyed we cannot properly estimate his development, though it is clear his powers did not weaken. He meant to issue a second book, Studies of Resemblance and Consent, and at least some of it appeared in the 1879 book of his poems. Sumner depicts him as carrying on through desolate years, detesting the money-world to which he was tied and struggling to carry on as a poet: strolling with his dog Fool (named after the Fool in Lear) and talking feverishly, after he had blown out the candles to save pennies, in his parlour in Paulton Square, to which he moved in 1856. There he was excited by his nearness to Carlyle, though he could never bring himself to speak to him. The Rev. T. Mardy Rees of Chelsea adds that he ‘might be seen in his latter days walking on the sunny side of the square’, that he

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burned many poems before his death, and that ‘what Mary was to her brother no one can declare’ (I have not been able to find the year of his sister’s death). He died of consumption while wintering in Jersey.

Now let us look at his poetry. We might begin with the late poem which found its way into the Oxford Book of Victorian Verse. Here we find the strangeness to which Ernest Jones objected. As in all his work there are clumsy touches; and yet in his very clumsiness we feel his originality, his attempt to evade conventional poeticality and romantic cliches. The poem has no title, but a prefatory statement tells us that it was written for music. Its theme is that the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper; or rather something more subtle than that: that world-end creeps upon men without their being aware of it, so that they are unable to distinguish the disastrously ubiquitous death from the normal processes of nature, of their world, and therefore make no effort to do anything about it. That such a conception should be found in a poem on the 1840-50s brings us sharply up against Jones’s unusual angle of vision.

When the world is burning,
Fired within, yet turning
     Round with face unscathed;
Ere fierce flames, uprushing,
O’er all lands leap, crushing,
    Till earth fall, fire-swathed;
Up amidst the meadows,
Gently through the shadows,
    Gentle flames will glide,
Small, and blue, and golden.
Though by bard beholden,
When in calm dreams folden, —
    Calm his dreams will bide.  

Where the dance is sweeping,
Through the greensward peeping,
    Shall the soft lights start;
Laughing maids, unstaying,
Deeming it trick-playing,
High their robes upswaying,
    O’er the lights shall dart;
And the woodland haunter
Shall not cease to saunter

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    When, far down the glade,
Of the great world’s burning
One soft flame upturning
Seems, to his discerning,
    Crocus in the shade.  

The rhyme-scheme, we may note, long antedates Swinburne.

Studies of Sensation and Event deserves to be analysed poem by poem; indeed no other way can fully bring out the force and interrelation of Jones’s ideas and images. But here we can deal only with three main points: (a) the strong sensuous pictorial effect, which clearly had much effect on Rossetti and played its part in bringing about the key-ideas of Pre- Raphaelitism, (b) the strange or bizarre situation, image, event, which dominates in each poem as did the unrealised doom-fires in the poem cited above, (c) the dialectical interrelation of ideas and emotions, which has affinities with Blake’s method and leads on to a doctrine of symbolic correspondences linking Jones with the French symbolistes, with Baudelaire and Rimbaud.

First then the peculiarly precise pictorial definition, which at the same time has a dynamic quality. The long blankverse ‘A Crisis’ will serve here. Amid all its broken form, which seeks to express and directly evoke the distraction of love, we find a steady elaboration of visual detail which builds up the complete image. It is not a question of naturalistic accretion, but of a sharpened awareness that sees the world of forms stirring and infused with new energies in all its ‘minute particulars’: a new relation of the parts and the whole. The movement of the seemingly detached eye is one with the movement of a strong almost-tranced emotion, bringing about a unity of observer and observed, of isolated object and the totality of scene and episode: a sort of comprehensive dream-state merged with a near-sight realism. Such an approach to the image is based on a distrust of past generalisations, a need to reconstruct the world afresh from the smallest possible units or facets inside a unifying vision.

The evening church-chimes had dispersed the mowers
From all the fields of toil; the evening sun
Slanted his golden light, as he did lapse
Towards underneath the earth; his light was ray’d
So gorgeously upon this sacred meadow,
Its yellow buttercups, its ruby sorrels,

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Its milk-white clover, and its cool green grass,
Seem’d blended into one rich colour’d woof
Changing in hue, as waved beneath the breeze;
When leaned therewithin, against its fence,
A form white robed, which the whelming sunshine
Show’d to be fullest symmetry of woman
Swelling thro’ girlhood’s prime. Fronting the mead
She stood; against the fence her shoulders rest;
Above it gently her head and neck bend back;
Her long brown hair behind her straightly fall’n
Leaves unconcealed her twin-breasted bosom,
Thus raised against her vest; her pertinent feet
Pressingly side by side, are forwarded
Into the mead, and planted firmly there;
And from her planted feet to her fall’n back head,
One proud full arch she arches.
                        A large wind
Came o’er the mead, and flaggingly on her fell,
Weighing her vestments downwards and around;
Sleeker than apples show her round young knees;
Show beauteously together twined her limbs:
The frontage of her body broadly orbs;
The sunlight whelmeth all: — loosely her head,
Loosely her neck falls backward; her round chin,
And its rich blood‑red lip, now idly sink
Down to the upwardly curved lip above;
While round the corners of her idling mouth,
Slow smiling dimples, when her basking eyes,
A little uplifting their nigh-closed lids,
Thrill with voluptuous light, — above her cheeks
Like opening crevices to measureless splendour.
Bounds she out thus on firmly-planted feet
Her enjoying form, and thus her face is naked
In glowing rapture. . . .

The detail is used throughout to make us feel the plasticity of the girl’s form, and the movement of light and of wind is used to harmonise her with the scene, to beget a unity of the human being and nature. The outer movement is again one with the eager eye of the absorbed lover before the girl and with the love stirring inside her, communicated to every part of her body. The sloping form is one with the slanted sunset-light, and the lapsing curves are one with the deeply-felt moment of surrender, of intense union.

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And spake
Of the meadow sleeping goldenly before, —
The trees around — the richly slanting sunlight;
And as she spake, her shoulders to the fence;
No longer curved she out as sail wind-filled,
For her exquisitely supple body revolved
Over its ample throne; and negligently
Her feet slid out apart into the mead
And to her bosom, with low dropping lids,
Her face declined; and down from her propp’d shoulders
Her arms fell loosely; and her slackening limbs,
Loosen’d out all her form; and, there towards him,
She sloped. . . .

And so on and on. The moment is drawn out into an endless realisation of its components of body and spirit, and yet is concentrated into a single sustained movement of union. We can see how Rossetti was affected by the plastic effect gained by a continuous precision of detail, and by the use of the love-union as the sensuously organising centre of the image. Though Jones’s verse then was by no means the sole stimulus of Pre-Raphaelitism, it cannot be omitted in considering the origins of that movement. An enthusiast like Rossetti would have read the poems to his friends and associates, one of whom, W. B. Scott, had later much to say of them.

Next we may take another poem where a strange situation is used to get inside the ‘normal world’ and to show its extreme abnormality, its distance from human truth and meaning. Here are what Rossetti called inaccessible combinations. The first poem in Studies is ‘The Naked Man’, which describes a high tower-room in the midst of fashionable London.

The winds uncheck’d around it swept:
    And o’er all others high,
Straight into it the sunshine stept
    Stark naked from the sky.

This stripping of light sets the key for the lonely man in the tower, who himself strips and paces round.

Twelve times the lonely chamber round,
    This naked man cloth pace,
His globing eyes growing more profound,
    Scorn fixing more his face.

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The light breaks over him with a sheen that ‘kills every shade and haze’, and, ‘multitudinous and keen’, picks out his naked form. Watching the people who pass below, he laughs in his contempt.

Why seeks this man the lonely height?
    His fellows sport below:
Why is he naked, what doth he write,
   Nakedly crouching low?
What means the scorns that swiftly surge
    O’er his expanded eyes?
Why do his mind-strung muscles urge?
    What is their mind’s emprize?
What means the room, of life’s stuff bare
    As mountain- hollow’d grave?
The naked manhood, nerving there
    Like a tongue in its dark red grave?

He carries out the bidding of his dying father, an old lord who had led armies ‘through this world, like sea-snakes through the sea’, and who on his deathbed realised something of the truth of things. ‘I die a fool, a duping fool; I leave a veiled world.’

I sink within the senseless tomb, —
    The shapes I seem to leave,
Now strike their masks, and midst the gloom,
    Some real glimpses give . . .
I thought I fought for man, — I know,
    ’Twas for the thing man seemed;
I thought to man my blood did flow,
    It flowed to dreams I dreamed.
With armies I have lashed the world,
    And at my will it flew,
I know not what the power I hurled,
    Nor that I did subdue.
I die deceived, but one shall tear
   The masks that lied to me . . .
Through him I hurl detecting scorn
    At life’s old harlot zone,
I crush her masks for centuries worn,
    I strip her, on her throne.

So, while the careless passers of Kensington chat below, the unknown man brooding above men, the naked man at his vigil in stark light, the son who must redeem his father’s blood-guilt

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and tear off the masks of the power-world, struggles to achieve a new depth of consciousness, meditates in anguish.

His body writhes beneath the strife,
    To make men keenlier see . . .

‘Beyond earth’s creeds’, he is alone even in the arms of love.

The next poem, ‘Egremont’', seeks to break through the tormented loneliness of the poet who is concentrated solely on discarding the masks of men’s false consciousness. It opens with a sketch of evolutionary growth and depicts primeval days, then declares that the time is ripe for changing life by ‘competent energies’. The poet’s task is to

Leap with passionate reason down the depths
Tempestuously tossed, of human nature,
Seeking the masked demons, that invoke
Suffering and wrong.

Now he is no longer inturned. He desires storm, the violent convulsions of revolutionary change.

‘So that my soul may widen to her fate,
And throb exultingly against the storm. . .’
The moon slants bright on his sky-lifted face,
Haggard with eager intellectual toil,
Beautifully haggard as the face of a corpse,
That, peering through its riven sepulchre,
Lists to the resurrection-trumpetings.

Through struggle the New Man will be born. The poet cries to the Moon (which for him as for Keats expresses transformation and love-union, union with nature), but offers no ‘parasitical and insulting worship of terror-wrenched thanks’. He wants ‘the discords of a deepening harmony’: a powerful phrase that goes to the heart of Jones’s aesthetic and social positions. ‘Like thee, do I arise in life’s dark night.’ But not to soar aloft above the earth. He needs a chaos, he declares, to subdue and organise by his grasp of the new harmony arising from the discords, the resolution won by the fully fought-out conflict of opposites:

I know creation rapture: what creation,
Save harmonising elements! . . .
I claim, by virtue of the peace I make,
Some dim, disorganised, sullen star,
That I may be to it in place of thee,

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Teaching its hearts all musics; through thy world
Dismiss me glorying!

A voice answers: ‘Come up hither.’

Next, in ‘The Waits’, Jones seeks to state the positive aim born from the struggle to unmask evil. His image of uncorrupted union comes from childhood, from Baudelaire’s paradis enfantin, in a perspective of snowlight and all that is loveliest and strongest in nature:

I have seen the snow sink silently to the ground;
    And beauteously its white rest
Quieted all things; and the hushing sound
Murmuring and sinking everywhere around,
    Blessed me and was blest.

He had been lustrously greeted by the moon coming through ‘the dark cloud-flight’; he had heard ‘the ungovernable sea’,

I had mark’d afar his raging radiancy,
And proudly, in his pride, had felt that he
    And I were twain god-born.
But than the under-uttering hush of snow,
    Than the moon’s queenly reign,
Than ocean’s pride, more beautiful did glow
One other beauty, — even now bending low
    I adore to it again.  [2]

In a lonely house the Child steals down a dark gallery into a room of ‘mellowed moonlight blown’, where a little girl lies on a couch with ‘the sleeping light, pleasuring beneath her eyes’. In a leap of music he kisses her and she wakes. He tells her that again has come the music they feared never to hear again.

This vision of the Child, he says, gives joy and hope in a ‘strange world’, fierce and mean, alien to happiness, where is ‘throned the wrong’ that destroys hope. It persists through terror and madness, through the loss of love, in a world of palsied mechanistic science and maniac muttering poetry. In the drear of the storm the boy’s voice is still heard murmuring, ‘Listen.’

Now we turn to the creed of dialectical correspondences. This indeed pervades the poems, but is set directly out in Two Sufferers. In a rich ancient garden of the dusk stands a lily, its ‘alone star’. At the lily-root gnaws an invisible worm. ‘Distant a

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Moth-flight from the suffering lily’ is a temple of pleasure with ‘lights dazzlingly undulating it within ever with varying hues’.

Like one gorgeous opal 
It glowed, and in its vast capaciousness 
Exquisitely nerved life sought all sensation, 
Crises, and tides of pleasure . . .  
                                      
Its broad mirrors
The company multiplies, the space disbounds,
And its music strangely wantoneth, and aye changeth
The hue of its light.

(We meet here the symboliste derangement of the senses: the aim of which is to fuse the sensory material in a new unity.) The dancers sweep on, wreathed with music and filled with lights; the ‘secret hurrying notes bewilder sense’.

The merciless music
Sweeps eddying on, and on each lady whirls,
And whirling aloft her draperies, her limbs
Startle the hall with symmetry, like sea surge
The light lace heaped above each shelterless knee.

At last the music swings the dancers into the culminating love-embrace. But the loveliest girl comes out alone under the acacia by the lily and leans on the tree. ‘The universe is the millstone round her neck.’ She wants to sink back into the life before men evolved:

When no ocean rolled
Her serpent form in continent-strangling folds
Around the struggling earth, thus torture claspt,
Compelled to struggle its endless orbit round,
The jaws of its still tightening enemy
Plunged deep into its heart: when no false spring
Summered with flowers —

She wants to return to the other side of the world of lies where all hope and desire are betrayed; she alone is not deceived by the pleasure-whirl. Then she has a vision of the cataclysm inherent in that sphere with its masks and cheats. She sees the moon, ‘suddenly stayed, turn a dead face amidst the skurrying clouds as a drowned man on the waves’. The moon that once lighted the poet’s face, the face of the dead about to be resurrected, in ‘Egremont’, is now the face of death itself, its transformative powers gone.

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Suddenly would my heart befit its death time
By wonderful growth, and suffer mightiest thoughts
Of the glory of its storm; — the stricken world
Grinding its atmosphere to thundering surf
As wild it plunges: — with enormous joy
Feeling itself last-life, I-d hear all cease;
And when the air grew icy, when the darkness
Abolish’d vision, into the deepening silence
Would I expire.

Then the wind blows the moonlight through the garden; the lily snaps; the hidden worm comes out.

Oh, friends! what secret woe
Has blooded the vision of the pagan lady,
That she saw nought but wounded suffering
In our glad world! Children of earth! believe,
That though but a moth-flight distant yonder temple,
It was no chance that led the lady suffering
To impart her fate to a like suffering flower;
For it may make sacred every nook in space,
May annihilate despair, alleviate sorrow,
To believe in a rule unseen.

The ‘rule unseen’ is the system of dynamic correspondences, the discords of a deepening harmony. The discovery of the veiled connections forces into the open the worm gnawing at the root of life and makes possible a new consciousness, an uncorrupted series of relationships. (The poem strongly suggests The Sick Rose of Blake.) From one level Jones draws on the opposites of pagan enjoyment and Christian repression, but he makes clear that he rejects both opposites in terms of a higher synthesis of organic harmonies or realised correspondences. The pleasure-temple is the space of those who seek to enjoy the world without facing its lies, cruelties, parasitisms. To stress this point Jones follows with the ‘Song of the Kings of Gold’, which shows the pleasure-world stript of its pretences and openly dominated by the rulers of the cash nexus, the economic system treating people as things and turning all relationships into reifying death-forms. The Kings of Gold possess the earth and its fullness, but transform it into a hell, with all relationships become those of prostitution:

And all on earth that lives,
Woman, and man, and child,

[166/167]

Us trembling homage gives;
Aye trampled sport-defiled . . .  

On beds of azure down,
In halls of torturing light,
Our poison’d harlots moan,
And burning toss to sight.
They are ours — for us they burn;
They are ours, to reject, to hold;
We taste — we exult — we spurn —
For we are the Kings of Gold.
    We cannot count our slaves,
    Nothing bounds our sway,
    Our will destroys and saves.
    We let, we create, we slay.
           Ha, ha! who are Gods?
In a glorious sea of hate,
Eternal rocks we stand. . . .

Even the few poems I have cited will suffice to show what Rossetti meant by speaking of Jones’s vivid, disorderly powers and his reckless effort to deal with almost inaccessible combinations of nature and feeling. I have treated the poems as making a consecutive argument, and this approach is justified by the poet’s own theory of dynamic interrelations and by many of the titles, which make explicit his use of opposed states or emotions. Thus, ‘A Pagan’s drinking chaunt’ leads on to ‘A Christian’s drinking chaunt’; ‘A Plea for Love of the Individual’ on to ‘A Plea for Love of the Universal’; ‘Feminine Spite’ on to ‘'Feminine Goodness’. Often the resolution of the conflict is made in a third poem, though at times the triadic movement occurs inside a single poem. At times the links are tenuous, but it is clear that Jones has a definite dialectical principle in his mind, which links the notion of the unity of opposites with that of organic correspondences. How he arrived at these positions it is hard to say; he belongs to the tradition of Smart and Blake, but certainly did not know these poets. [3]

I must omit many of his poems that I should like to discuss, but cannot here ignore his ‘Ways of Regard’ (different levels of consciousness), which opens:

Sharks’ jaws are glittering through the eternal ocean
Now, even as ever; through the topmost seas
That mightily billow, through the secrecy

[167/168]

Of its abysses, where the waters bide
Omnipotently shuddering — scattering fear,
Onwards they go; their illuminating teeth,
Perpetually parting . . .

An image of ravening divisive forces that looks back to Keats but is developed with fuller insights. Slaughter, says Jones, sways earth and ocean, jungle and town. And ‘dire is the woe when first the vision of slaughter’ breaks in on the young who have just left the shared love of home. Such a person stumbles, reaches for aid; ‘then the howl of the world arouses him.’ He stares ‘through heavens and hells, eternities and times . . . seeking the power that bids this terrible reign . . . Baffled, his gaze retreats.’

He strips his being of all control and veil,
With which men gird themselves; and he thinks his teeth
Could grasp Earth’s wretched breast, and that he could leap
With her to oblivion. And while thus he dreams,
Steals sensual pleasure to him. The nakedness,
To which in noble rage he smote his being,
But exposes him to her dalliance.

Thus emerge the conflicts of adolescence. The lad hides from bloody reality in pleasure and ignominiously sleeps: if we can call it sleep, this stupor into which keeps descending ‘the vision of possible and gentle glory That circles brightly round his youth’ — if we can call it sleep from which he rises to murder ‘these entreaties’, or from which he wakes to watch with sane intellect his moral idiocy. Many persons remain at this level of unresolved conflict. They accept the murder-principle and try to use it for their own profit. If all goes well, they think that everything is right; if they founder, they accuse life of being a torture-house, and stab ‘a poisoning blade into the hearts of their brothers’. Many become quite inhuman in their acceptance. They drift along with a false consciousness of freedom:

Otherwise, haughty steps,
Of men who tread with appropriating feet
Earth and its causeways; and of beauteous women,
Who walk our pavements, and our terraces,
And our swung bridges, as though hoveringly
Their scornful feet the fitness questioned

[168/169]

Of every spot they press, — would drop to a shuffle
Of slaves and tools.

Yet there are some who face the truth and what it implies in act and thought. Such a man,

Commanding time,
And extinguishing space, and past the furthest reach
Of the five senses reaching, — he beheld
Within this earth, where night was dark, a cavern,
Peopled with slaves contemplating revolt.
Under the light of many a lurid fire
That burned on upper ledges of the rock,
The countless slaves stirred noiselessly; the light
Fell on the mass, as eagerly it upturned
Its face to the chief, who on a ledge
Above them stood.

This is the reality of revolt gathering at the heart of an alienating and exploiting society. A woman rushes in to tell the leader that his daughter has been ravished while she herself had to watch helpless. He cries out in utter repudiation of a world where rape and murder are the way of life and where the ravished ones end by being fascinated by the process of demoralisation, where the raped virgin shades off into the harlot. ‘Slaves! Brothers! are we already thus cursed! Damned are we to endurance, to acquiescence, to content?’ The ultimate horror is to become blinded to the murder-rape process surrounding and conditioning them.

Oh! being men, they who would hold you slaves,
Do murder you alive! They blind your minds
With writhing toil, and say you have no sight;
They break you from the majesty of man,
Into gaunt monsters, crooked miseries,
And call you brute-like, — trample down your hearts,
And say you have none, — banish from your souls
The light of knowledge, and proclaim you soulless . . .
Because they have so damned us,
That we’ve endured these shames! Oh for this murder,
This poisoning, this pollution, this dead life,
What, what revenge?

Thus he addresses the working-class, who break into an ‘answering tumult,’ and an upraised light burned lurid on his face, like the reflection of a burning kingdom.

[169/170]

The vision changes. The poet goes on to deal with the ways in which reality is evaded, veiled, distorted. A young man and a girl slip from the cave of the class-war. He is of the ruling-class, but compassionate, and the girl follows him through love.

Oh monstrous contradiction! —these, possessing 
A curst identity, yet having no power 
To self-determinate, — a tortured tool
For others’' usage.

He swears that he’ll attack his own class in the senate.

If I move not the king to piteous thought,
His lips shall whiten. All their boasted order,
Their laws unbroken, all the deep submission  
Of their whipped slaves — is terrible disorder;
Disorder of the universe, and of the heart.

The defenders of the system reply: ‘The nation flourishes, its power is vast.’ ‘Its wealth supreme.’ He cries: ‘Oh, idiot knaves and liars! Say, is a flag a nation? is an army? Do half a million traders make a nation? A thousand lords? The people is the nation.’ Yet, though education is made a weapon of human debasement, the truth will triumph and evil be defeated. However the dissident aristocrat can see only a mad violence in revolution.

Man cannot pause. —
Go! bid the sun to rot within the heavens!
Arrest the marching melodies of stars!
Chill every river into stagnancy!
Deracinate the fruitful earth of growth!
Though infinite space grow dark, the soul of man
Shall soar triumphantly. Within this cavern
Are thousands, sworn to rise from out the mire,
Whereto you damn them; they will rise — will rise,
Though war may hew their pathway; though their march
Be in blood to the armpits! Oh, that it were mine
To lead them bloodless conquerors! They will rise,
But with the chains they shatter from their limbs,
Must they do hellishly. A vessel, laden
With captives fettered with famine and plague,
Now is this land; the slaves force-freed, will make
A burning wreck; themselves, amidst the flames,
Maniacs, wild dancing. Oh, who, who can know,
How to redeem this people?

[170/171]

in answer to that cry we meet the Statesmen. No fool, he knows that sooner or later the people will cast their fetters off. Detached, he scorns the governing class as fools,

To whose whim
Aye I must pander, and the pandering call
Government; for whose robbery of their fellows,
That have no gold, I will forge dutiful tools
And term them law.

His ambition makes him turn from the truth, so that by cheat and oppression he may gain the name of ‘wise, bold statesmanship’, and thus hold the people down for a while. After him speaks the Middleclass Man who interprets all political and social realities in terms of his own mean grovelling plans for security and family-advancement: a creature who cannot see beyond his own petty schemes. To preserve his easy life he will defend slavery to the last. So we are returned to the cave of the class-war. There a tumult breaks out and a radiance of released powers streams circling out on high, with the chant: ‘Soon will be complete Auxiliar changes, and one mighty change.’ The struggle will converge on total revolution.

But at this point the poet’s understanding breaks down. He cannot imagine just how the one mighty change will come about through the revolt of the workers. ‘Big is the earth with the superior creatures waiting to displace man.’ The spirits keep on crying their joy in free process, looking to the great moment:

All things intensify; and we must ever
Intenselier contemplate, intenselier joy.
Rest we above the cave. Rejoice, companions!
Brightly speeds on the baptism of the earth.

Jones writes as if some Übermensch is to appear spontaneously; but he must in fact mean that the men of an unalienated and free earth will live such a different life from that of the present with its inner and outer divisions that they will seem a different species. In any event we see that while he has faith in a total revolution he cannot conceive the forms through which it will take place. This final weakness however does not detract from the depth of vision in the rest of the poem.

We must now glance at his final poem in the book with a title taken from Georges Sand: Car la Pensée a aussi ses ivresses, ses extases, ses voluptés célestes, dont une heure vaut toute une jeunesse,

[171/172]

toute une vie. Here at sunset a child comes out of a cedar-grove. His mother asks what has upset him. He tries to tell her of an overwhelming experience where stand ‘terracing the mighty trees’.

In the shadowy depths he remembered the priest’s blessing; ecstasy went oceanic through his brain and, ‘cresting, raised my hair’. The grove and the lifted hand were fused in a single image; in his mind a thunder-cloud burst ‘in bright wild rain, torrenting through my limbs, and for its goal, mounting back mightily to my brain again’. Now in the ebbing rapture, panged, he tries to explain the revelation, which concerns the dynamic correspondences at work in the whole universe and uniting the most sundered things. The child, says Jones, has shown himself

                                   one of that band
Who, telling the sameness of far-parted things,
Plants through the universe, with magician hand,
A clue, which makes us following, universe-kings.
One of the seers and prophets who bid men pause
In their blind rushing, and awake to know
Fraternal essences, and beauteous laws,
In many a thing from which in scorn they go.
Yea, at his glance, sin’s palaces may fall,
Men rise, and all their demon gods disown;
For knowledge of hidden resemblances, is all
Needed to link mankind, in happiness, round love’s throne.

He knows, however, as he shows in The Land Monopoly, that the realisation of the dialectical nature of the life-process must be linked with the struggle of the victims against the Kings of Gold, if ‘fraternal essences’ are indeed to be realised. (The title of the projected second book, Studies of Resemblance and Consent, shows that he meant to explore further the question of correspondences and union.) The Child of ‘Car la Pensée’ looks back to the Child of ‘The Waits’, and his ivresses are those of the Bâteau Ivre, his idea of universe-kings with magical hands is thoroughly Rimbaudean. Indeed the whole poem may be called a prophecy of ‘the marvellous boy’.

We are thus brought back again to the fact that Jones was trying to bring about in England the development of Romanticism into Symbolisme, which was being effected in France by Baudelaire. (It was no accident that R. H. Shepherd, editor of the 1879 reprint of his poems, published one of the first

[172/173]

translations of Baudelaire in English.) We see then that the English tradition had all the elements needed for a development of its poetry in the nineteenth century into an expression fully adequate to tackling the human condition brought about by the consolidation of capitalism, a fearless confrontation of the vastly intensified alienating pressures. But the forces of Victorian middle-class society were too strong; they cut off English culture into a relatively parochial situation (where the French novel from Balzac to Zola and the Russian novel from Gogol to Dostoevsky had no impact whatever). Jones’s work remains as a remarkable, though broken, monument of what might have been, of a poetic effort to face what was happening to people in all its fullness and to affirm a concept of total revolutionary change. Hopkins and Meredith, we noted above, conserved elements of true dissidence; the Pre-Raphaelites concentrated on the aesthetic aspects of Jones’s vision which Rossetti had taken over. [4] (The early William Morris has affinities with the work of Jones, which Morris probably did not know. Take Jones’s lines: ‘Around her mouth a new smile grew’, or ‘Its smooth slow ankles, very slowly’. Here we have the hypnotic effect, the visual intentness, which Morris achieved so powerfully in The Defence of Guenevere.) But it is only now, with the question of alienation come to the forefront of serious social thinking, and with Jones seen against the following development of European culture, that we can truly estimate what he tried to do. It is of great interest that the poet who could make this particular aesthetic attempt was the social thinker who wrote The Land Monopoly. [5]

Achievement and failure, reinvigoration of poetic form and collapse into confusion, characterise his work throughout. The critics of his own day who saw him as rising to heights of eloquence, then writing weak or bad lines, failed altogether to get inside his work. His strengths and weaknesses are intertwined. He has staked everything on a wholly new grasp of the formative aspects of the life-process; he continually makes us feel he is coming through and as continually sinks down just short of his goal. His work is thus, as Rossetti recognised, singularly difficult to define, and yet, once known, it haunts us with its sense of deep potentialities, with its insights into the alienated condition of men and with glimpses of a liberating union, a truly human harmony. [6]

[173/174]

NOTES

1   Such Victorian critics as commented on Jones’s poetry were usually more vocal about the weaknesses than the virtues, which they defined only in very general terms. Thus Lord de Tabley: ‘When Jones writes a bad line, he writes a bad line with a vengeance. It is hardly possible to say how excruciatingly bad he is now and then. And yet at his best, in organic rightness, beauty, and, above all, spontaneity, we must go among the very highest poetic names to match him.’

2   It was typical of the New Poets (as the Spasmodics preferred to call themselves) to use adjectives in an active way rather than for mere description. Hence phrases in Jones like ‘globing eyes’, light ‘pleasuring’ beneath the eyes, ‘whelming sunshine’, and so on. Present participles are thus often used for novel effects.

3   Some deep thinking was going on about art and psychology in the 1840s. Thus Bulwer Lytton in his preface to Night and Morning, 1845, remarks on the need to explore 'new regions . . . lying far, and rarely trodden, beyond that range of conventional morality in which Novelist after Novelist has entrenched himself — amongst those subtle recesses in the ethics of human life in which truth and falsehood dwell undisturbed and unseparated’. But Jones carried this discovery of deep ambivalences further, relating them to the struggle to become human.

4   Jones’s ‘wrenching of rhythm’, his particularized diction, and his concern with the ‘thisness’ of the object described seem to point (through the superficial concern with the realistic presentation of detail in the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic) to the more intense attention to singularity in Hopkins’s inscape. Hopkins, by the way, may well be the one poet, following the Pre-Raphaelites, who actually realised the cardinal principle of Pre-Raphaelitism’. (Michael Wolff, editor of Victorian Studies, in communication, 4 December 1963).

5   He has an incessant sense of the pressures of renewal, rebirth. ‘He is born; again he is born . . . The flesh flakes in his face.’ (Zingalee, a poem apparently based on his marriage.) Again his strength and weakness lies in his overwhelming sense of being only a moment of history, compelled by the forces of the people. ‘Who wrote the Revolt of Islam? Not Shelley: ’Tis the mighty utterance of a society whose eyes have just opened to the glory of truth, and she made him her poet.’

6   Note on Sources: DNB, ‘E. Jones,’ by Richard Garnett; W. J. Linton: Memoirs; introductory memoir to Shepherd’s edition, 1879; ‘Reminiscences’, Prose and Verse, xix, New Haven, 1879. See also F. B. Smith, Radical Artisan, William James Linton (Manchester Univ. Press 1973). D. G. Rossetti in N. and Q., 5 February 1870. T. Watts, Athenaeum, September-October 1878 and W. B. Scott in Academy, November 1879. In 1878 Shepherd issued a small brochure with a brief account of Jones and a few poems; W. M. Rossetti’s review started off litigation between Shepherd and the Athenaeum. A second volume of prose and

[174/175]

poems (preserved by E. J.’s friend Horace Harval) was promised, but did not appear. Poems were given in Monckton Miles’s anthology, Vol. V; a few in Stedman; the two directly political ones in H. Salt’s Songs of Freedom. Sumner, who emigrated to Australia, also wrote poems. Garnett speaks of E. J. working for the radical publishers Cleave and Hetherington.


SOURCE: Lindsay, Jack. “Ebenezer Jones, 1820-1860 — An English Symbolist,” in Rebels and Their Causes: Essays in Honour of A. L. Morton, edited by Maurice Cornforth (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1978), pp. 151-175.


EXTERNAL LINKS:

Poems by Ebenezer Jones:

A Winter Hymn to the Snow (Romantic Circles)

Peter Riley reads “A Winter Hymn to the Snow” by Ebenezer Jones

High Summer; also here

Rain in Carman Bliss et al., eds., The World’s Best Poetry. Volume V. Nature (1904) III. The Seasons.

The Hand

When The World Is Burning - Poem

When The World Is Burning, in Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed., The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250-1900 (1919).

When The World is Burning sung to music

When The World is Burning - Ebenezer Jones, read by Nigel Verney (YouTube)

Ebenezer Jones (1820 - 1860) English Poet (Poet’s Corner / The Other Pages)
        from Studies of Sensation and Event (1843)

Studies of Sensation and Event: Poems, edited, prefaced and annotated by Richard Herne Shepherd, with memorial notices of the author by Sumner Jones and William James Linton. London: Pickering, 1879.

About Ebenezer Jones:

Ebenezer Jones - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ebenezer Jones (February 5, 1870) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, in Notes and Queries (February 1870).

The Poems of Ebenezer Jones, The Spectator, 13 September 1879, pp. 20-21.


A Checklist of Jack Lindsay’s Books

William Blake Study Guide

The Anglo-Marxists: A Study in Ideology and Culture
by Edwin A. Roberts

British Marxism in Philosophy, Science, and Culture Before the New Left:
Essential Historical Surveys

Marx and Marxism Web Guide


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