What is a Communist? One who has yearnings
For equal division of unequal earnings;
Idler or bungler, or both, he is willing
To for out his penny and pocket your shilling.
–Ebenezer Elliott (1781-1849)
I enjoyed this poem last night. This is an example of a poem that counters the romantic idealism that floats around in the meme pool where people confuse the Romanticism movement with the form of expression called “poetry”.
But I also enjoyed the “communism” discussion from such an early time and so decided to read a bit about Ebenezer. Let me share a few chronological points from this Wiki article:
- He was born the son of a extreme, fiery Calvinist preacher.
- At 6 years-old he became “fearfully disfigured” from smallpox and as a child, he was generally regarded as a dunce. Apparently he had a rather solitary and morbid childhood.
- He became and artist and a poet (first poem at age 17) while helping with his father’s lucrative steel business.
- He married at age 25 and with his wife eventually had 13 children
- He went bankrupt and destitute at age 35. He blamed his losses on the Corn Laws (anti-free trade laws) and fought to repeal them. Because of this, and his political poems, he became know as “the Corn Law Rhymer”. Historical notes: Adam Smith wrote “The Wealth of Nations” in 1776 opposing mercantilism. John Stuart Mill wrote “On Liberty” in 1859.
- By age 48 he regained his wealth by successful re-entry as a merchant in the iron industry. But his previous poverty left him inspired to fight for “the conditions of both the manufacturer and the worker”. His famous poetry “Corn Law Rhymes“ were initially thought to be written by an uneducated Sheffield mechanic who had rejected conventional Romantic ideals for a new style of working class poetry aimed at changing the system.
- He retired at age 60 with a small fortune and died 8 years later. In the end of his life, Elliott suffered much pain and depression.