James Montgomery (poet)

Last updated

James Montgomery
Portrait of James Montgomery Esq (4672641).jpg
James Montgomery, 1855
Born(1771-11-04)4 November 1771
Irvine, North Ayrshire, Scotland
Died30 April 1854(1854-04-30) (aged 82)
Sheffield
OccupationPoet / Newspaper editor
LanguageEnglish
NationalityScottish
GenrePoetry

James Montgomery (4 November 1771 – 30 April 1854) was a Scottish-born hymn writer, poet and editor, who eventually settled in Sheffield. He was raised in the Moravian Church and theologically trained there, so that his writings often reflect concern for humanitarian causes, such as the abolition of slavery and the exploitation of child chimney sweeps. [1]

Contents

Early life and poetry

Montgomery was born at Irvine in south-west Scotland, the son of a pastor and missionary of the Moravian Brethren. He was sent to be trained for the ministry at the Moravian School at Fulneck, near Leeds, while his parents left for the West Indies, where both died within a year of each other. At Fulneck, secular studies were banned, but James still found means of borrowing and reading a good deal of poetry and made ambitious plans to write epics of his own.

On failing to complete his schooling, Montgomery was apprenticed to a baker in Mirfield, then to a store-keeper at Wath-upon-Dearne. After further efforts, including an unsuccessful attempt to launch a literary career in London, he moved north again to Sheffield in 1792 as an assistant to Joseph Gales, auctioneer, bookseller and printer of the Sheffield Register , who introduced him into the local Lodge of Oddfellows, to which he later addressed a song. [2] In 1794, Gales left England to avoid political prosecution and Montgomery took the paper in hand, changing its name to the Sheffield Iris.

These were times of political repression. Montgomery was twice imprisoned on charges of sedition, first in 1795 for printing a poem to celebrate the fall of the Bastille in revolutionary France, and secondly in 1796 for criticising a magistrate for forcibly dispersing a political protest in Sheffield. Turning his jail experiences to some profit, he then published a pamphlet of poems written during his captivity: Prison Amusements (1797). His later prose account of the period appeared in 1840. [3]

For some time the Iris was the only newspaper in Sheffield, but beyond an ability to produce fairly creditable articles from week to week, Montgomery lacked the journalistic skills to take full advantage of his position. [4] Other newspapers arose to fill the place which his might have held and in 1825 he sold out to a local bookseller, John Blackwell.

Meanwhile, Montgomery continued to write poetry. He achieved some fame with The Wanderer of Switzerland (1806), a poem in six parts written in seven-syllable cross-rhymed quatrains. [5] It addressed the French annexation of Switzerland and quickly went through two editions. When it was denounced the following year in the conservative Edinburgh Review as a poem that would be speedily forgotten, Lord Byron came to its defence in the satire English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. [6] Nevertheless, within 18 months a fourth impression of 1500 copies was issued from the very presses that had printed the criticism, and several more would follow. This success brought Montgomery a commission from the printer Bowyer to write a poem on the abolition of the slave trade, to be published with other poems on the subject by Elizabeth Benger and James Grahame in a handsome illustrated volume. The subject appealed to the poet's philanthropic enthusiasm and his own family associations with the West Indies. The four-part poem in heroic couplets appeared in 1809 as The West Indies. [7]

Montgomery also used heroic couplets for The World before the Flood (1812), a piece of historical reconstruction in ten cantos. He then turned to attacking the lottery in Thoughts on Wheels (1817) and took up the cause of chimney sweeps' apprentices in The Climbing Boys' Soliloquies. [8] His next major poem was Greenland (1819) in five cantos of heroic couplets. [9] It was prefaced by a description of the ancient Moravian church, its 18th-century revival and its mission to Greenland in 1733. The poem was noted for the beauty of its descriptions:

The moon is watching in the sky; the stars
Are swiftly wheeling on their golden cars;
Ocean, outstretcht with infinite expanse,
Serenely slumbers in a glorious trance;
The tide, o'er which no troubled spirits breathe,
Reflects a cloudless firmament beneath,
Where poised as in the centre of a sphere
A ship above and ship below appear;
A double image pictured on the deep,
The vessel o’er its shadow seems to sleep;
Yet, like the host of heaven, that never rest,
With evanescent motion to the west,
The pageant glides through loneliness and night,
And leaves behind a rippling wake of light.

Canto 1, lines 1-14

Later career

The statue of James Montgomery on the Sheffield Cathedral forecourt. James Montgomery statue.jpg
The statue of James Montgomery on the Sheffield Cathedral forecourt.

Montgomery's only other long poem, after retiring from newspaper editorship, was The Pelican Island (1828): nine cantos of descriptive blank verse, which garnered mixed responses, ranging between the summarily dismissive and Blackwood's Magazine's "the best of all Montgomery's poems: in idea the most original, in execution the most powerful." [10]

Montgomery himself expected that his name would live, if at all, in his hymns. Some of these, such as "Hail to the Lord's Anointed", "Prayer is the Soul's Sincere Desire", "Stand up and Bless the Lord" and the carol "Angels from the Realms of Glory", are still sung. "The Lord Is My Shepherd" is a popular hymn with many denominations, based on Psalm 23. [11] "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief" has been adopted as a favourite in the Latter Day Saint movement. The earliest of his hymns dates from his days in Wath on Dearne and he added to their number over the years. The main boost came when the Rev. James Cotterill arrived at the parish church St Paul's, a chapel of ease to St Peter's, Sheffield's only parish church, in 1817.

Cotterill had compiled and published A Selection of Psalms and Hymns Adapted to the Services of the Church of England in 1810, but to his disappointment and concern he found that his new parishioners did not take kindly to using it. He therefore enlisted the help of James Montgomery to help him revise the collection and improve it by adding some hymns of the poet's own composition. This new edition, meeting with the approval of the Archbishop of York (and eventually of the parishioners at St Paul's), was finally published in 1820. In 1822 Montgomery published his own Songs of Zion: Being Imitations of Psalms, [12] the first of several more collections of hymns. During his life he composed some 400 hymns, although less than a hundred of them are commonly sung today. [13]

From 1835 until his death, Montgomery lived at The Mount in Glossop Road, Sheffield. [14] He was well regarded in the city and played an active part in its philanthropy and religious life. He died on 30 April 1854, was honoured by a public funeral, and buried in Sheffield General Cemetery. He had remained unmarried. [15]

Legacy

In 1861, a monument designed by John Bell (1811–1895) was erected over his grave in the Sheffield cemetery at a cost of £1000, raised by public subscription on the initiative of the Sheffield Sunday School Union, of which he was among the founding members. On its granite pedestal is inscribed: "Here lies interred, beloved by all who knew him, the Christian poet, patriot, and philanthropist. Wherever poetry is read, or Christian hymns sung, in the English language, 'he being dead, yet speaketh' by the genius, piety and taste embodied in his writings." There are also extracts from his poems "Prayer" and "The Grave". After the statue fell into disrepair it was moved in 1971 to the precincts of Sheffield Cathedral, where there is also a memorial window to him.

Elsewhere in Sheffield there are various streets named after Montgomery, as is a Grade II-listed drinking fountain on Broad Lane. The Surrey Street meeting hall of the Sunday Schools Union (now known as The Montgomery) was named in his honour in 1886. It houses a 420-seat theatre, which also bears his name. Elsewhere, Wath-upon-Dearne, flattered by being called "the queen of villages" in his work, has repaid the compliment by naming after him a community hall, a street and a square. His birthplace in Irvine was renamed Montgomery House after he had paid the town a return visit in 1841, but it has since been demolished.

Other works

Related Research Articles

Claudius Claudianus, known in English as Claudian, was a Latin poet associated with the court of the Roman emperor Honorius at Mediolanum (Milan), and particularly with the general Stilicho. His work, written almost entirely in hexameters or elegiac couplets, falls into three main categories: poems for Honorius, poems for Stilicho, and mythological epic.

Ebenezer Elliott English poet and Corn Laws opponent

Ebenezer Elliott was an English poet, known as the Corn Law rhymer for his leading the fight to repeal the Corn Laws, which were causing hardship and starvation among the poor. Though a factory owner himself, his single-minded devotion to the welfare of the labouring classes won him a sympathetic reputation long after his poetry ceased to be read.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" is an English Christmas carol that first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems. The carol, based on Luke 2:14, tells of an angelic chorus singing praises to God. As it is known in the modern era, it features lyrical contributions from Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, two of the founding ministers of Methodism, with music adapted from "Vaterland, in deinen Gauen" by Felix Mendelssohn.

<i>Georgics</i> Poem by Virgil

The Georgics is a poem by Latin poet Virgil, likely published in 29 BCE. As the name suggests the subject of the poem is agriculture; but far from being an example of peaceful rural poetry, it is a work characterized by tensions in both theme and purpose.

<i>Childe Harolds Pilgrimage</i> 1812–1818 narrative poem by Lord Byron

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage is a long narrative poem in four parts written by Lord Byron. The poem was published between 1812 and 1818. Dedicated to "Ianthe", it describes the travels and reflections of a world-weary young man, who is disillusioned with a life of pleasure and revelry and looks for distraction in foreign lands. In a wider sense, it is an expression of the melancholy and disillusionment felt by a generation weary of the wars of the post-Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras. The title comes from the term childe, a medieval title for a young man who was a candidate for knighthood.

Wath upon Dearne Town in South Yorkshire, England

Wath upon Dearne is a town south of the River Dearne in the Metropolitan Borough of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England, 5 miles (8 km) north of Rotherham and almost midway between Barnsley and Doncaster. It had a population of 11,816 at the 2011 census. It is twinned with Saint-Jean-de-Bournay in France.

In poetry, a fourteener is a line consisting of 14 syllables, which are usually made of seven iambic feet for which the style is also called iambic heptameter. It is most commonly found in English poetry produced in the 16th and 17th centuries. Fourteeners often appear as rhymed couplets, in which case they may be seen as ballad stanza or common metre hymn quatrains in two rather than four lines.

Lady Emmeline Stuart-Wortley

Lady Emmeline Charlotte Elizabeth Stuart-Wortley was an English poet and writer, best known for her Travels in the United States, etc. During 1849 and 1850. She was editor of The Keepsake volumes for 1837 and 1840.

Fulneck School Independent school in Pudsey, West Yorkshire, England

Fulneck School is a small independent day and boarding school, situated in the Fulneck Moravian Settlement, in Pudsey, West Yorkshire, England. It provides education for pupils between the ages of 3 and 18.

Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature.

1738 in poetry Overview of the events of 1738 in poetry

Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature.

Christian Ignatius Latrobe

Christian Ignatius Latrobe was an English clergyman of the Moravian Church, as well as an artist, musician and composer. He created a large number of works for, and most famously edited, a Selection of Sacred Music in six volumes between 1806 and 1826, introducing the sacred music of Haydn, Mozart and Pergolesi and other European continental composers who were largely unknown to English audiences.

The Sheffield Iris was an early weekly newspaper published on Tuesdays in Sheffield, England.

John Holland was an English poet, newspaper editor and writer on mining, botany, geology, topography and metallurgy.

Harold the Dauntless is a narrative poem in six short cantos by Walter Scott, published in 1817. It employs a variety of metres.

We Plough the Fields and Scatter

"We Plough the Fields and Scatter" is a hymn of German origin commonly associated with harvest festival. Written by poet Matthias Claudius, "Wir pflügen und wir streuen" was published in 1782 and set to music in 1800 attributed to Johann A. P. Schulz. It was translated into English by Jane Montgomery Campbell in 1861. It appears in a shortened form in the musical Godspell, as the song, "All Good Gifts". It is among the most performed of hymns in the United Kingdom.

Jacob Brettell (1793–1862) was an English Unitarian minister.

George Williams Fulcher (1795–1855), was an English poet and miscellaneous writer. He was also a practical botanist.

Christian Frederick Hassé (1771–1831) was a composer of church music and an organist. He was a member of the Moravian community.

Christian Frederick Ramftler (1780-1832) was a German born teacher, minister, and supporter of missionaries, serving the Moravian Church, who worked for most of his career in England. He founded the Moravian Church in Brockweir, Gloucestershire.

References

  1. Williamson, Robert T (May 1950). "II, The Development of Montgomery's Religious Life and Thought" (PDF). The Religious Thought of James Montgomery (PhD). University of Edinburgh. p. 42. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  2. "Piqua Public Library".
  3. , pp. 237–266.
  4. J. Wigley, James Montgomery and the Sheffield Iris, 1792–1825: A study in the weakness of provincial radicalism. The Hunter Archaeological Society, Vol. 10, p. 173 ff.: .
  5. James Montgomery (1812). The Wanderer of Switzerland, and Other Poems. J. Belcher.
  6. "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers: A Satire". Charles B. Richardson. 1 January 1865.
  7. Montgomery, James (1 January 1823). The West Indies, and Other Poems. Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown via Internet Archive. james montgomery poems.
  8. Griswold, Rufus Wilmot (1 January 1845). "Thoughts on wheels. The climbing boy's soliloquies. Songs of Zion, being imitations of the Psalms. Narratives. Tributary poems. Miscellaneous poems". Sorin & Ball.
  9. Montgomery, James (1 January 1819). Greenland, and other poems via Internet Archive. james montgomery poems.
  10. Google Books Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  11. There is a recording of 13 of these, excerpts of which can be heard at .
  12. Montgomery, James (1 January 1823). Songs of Zion: Being Imitations of Psalms. Wells and Lilly via Internet Archive. songs of zion montgomery.
  13. The words of almost all are at .
  14. "Sheffield's Remarkable Houses", Roger Redfern, ISBN   0-9519148-3-9, p. 12.
  15. Garnett, Richard (1894). "Montgomery, James (1771-1854)"  . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography . 38. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
Media offices
Preceded by
Joseph Gales
Editor of the Sheffield Iris
1794–1796
Succeeded by
John Pye-Smith
Preceded by
John Pye-Smith
Editor of the Sheffield Iris
1796–1825
Succeeded by
John Holland