Noah Heath "The Poet of the Potteries"

Noah Heath "The Poet of the Potteries"

Noah Heath, son of a working potter, was born about the year 1780, at Sneyd Green, near Burslem.What little education the boy received is is believed to have obtained at Far Green Free School, which was within a short distance of his father's cottage. But when in 1787 the Methodists opened a Sunday School at Burslem, his father, who was a decent minded sort of man, caused him to attend this also.

It was here Noah Heath seems to have acquired that taste for poetry and reciting which led him to become the recognised seer and poet of his tiribe. The Sunday scholars were all taught and encouraged to commit to memory not only passages from the Bible, but to memorise and recite poetry, generally wellknown and popular For a career, the lad was put to his father's trade ; at first he worked at that branch of potting called hollow-ware pressing ; but in the latter part of his life he was engaged as a modeller and mould-maker.

So much did young Noah Heath feel himself indebted to the beneficent influences of the Sunday School, he composed a piece of poetry on the subject, which he recited in chapel at the close of the annual Charity Sermon, one of the great days of the year, when every child was decked out in new clothes, the girls in white frocks and blue sashes, the boys in new suits, all to walk in procession with their teachers, and sing special hymna before the doors of the principal inhabitants. In this environment young Noah found the life that leads to song. The recitation, in which he first spoke in winged words, began : "

Indulgent friends, accept my humble strain. Ye kind supporters of the youthful train. Who laid the basis of this grand design, And bade fair science through our realms to shine. Once started rhyming he does not appear able to have resisted the inclination, and his next attempt is on the same subject, written for another Charity School Celebration.

Thrice blessed the day when fair science and truth First beamed in the bosoms of innocent youth ; And blessed be they who the work first began That grand institution,the Sunday School plan. While working in the employment of Joseph Mayer, with whom the young man was a great favourite, he had the misfortune to be bitten by his master's dog. Mr. Mayer persuaded him to have the wound cauterised, an operation which in some way caused paralysis, and made Noah Heath a cripple for the remaider of his days. Mr. Henry Wedgwood (to whose " Romances of Staffordshire " we are indebted for all that is known of our poetaster), says that " he was a man of strong individuality," and made an impression on the mind of the district in which he lived and moved. " Feeble as may have been his poetical power, his fame was spread through the whole of this part of the country." All who knew him seemed to have retained a kindly recollection ol Noah Heath. He had a " love of conviviality " which always made him the hero of the table. He was fond of reciting his own poetry, particularly the humorous pieces ; and having the power to bring out their points, and show them in their best form, he was ever a welcome guest among all conditions of men.

" His sense of the grotesque and the humorous in character was very great, and such models as he had at command he drew to the life. But as may be easily understood his knowledge of character was very limited "; ranging only over the district in which he earned his bread. His humour was somewhat broad and coarse, and occasionally a little vulgar " but then the times in which he lived were coarse.

" His power," continues Mr. Wedgwood " breathes of the moorlands, the woods, and dales " the rivers, the singing birds, and the beautiful landscape that beamed around him.....Deep feeling may be discovered, dispite the uncouth and inharmonious character of his rhymes. To him the beautiful sky, whether illumined with the all pervading sun or gemmed with myriads of stars, revealed, the all powerful Creator ; and to contemplate His works was one of the delights of his life." Here are some of his views on " Night "

In sweet retirement let me musing stray And contemplate the scenes of parting day ; And while I muse, O, heav'n my soul inspire And every thought be wrapt in hallow'd fire. A poem on " The Wild Rose " he brjngs to a conclusion in these Unes : " Of all the flowers which nature boasts. Or spices, sweet from India's coasts ; Nor India's spice nor flower that grows So fragrant are as the Wild Rose.

But it ia in his humorous compositions that Noah Heath best realizes himself. He has one on " The Pig and the Watch," describing how a hog once found a " turnip watch " beneath his favourite oak tree, and grunted out his porcine dissatisfaction with the glittering toy : "My labour had been better crown'd Had I a single acorn found. Another piece entitled " The Doctor and the Parson," turns on a squabble between these two functionaries just named, who find them- selves, at the bedside of a patient, in violent disagreement as to the method of treatment. Says the former : "

But in cases like these ever alence pray keep " And if you be the shepherd, preserve well your sheep ; Let us both mind our business, without more control, For I'll mind the body if you'll mind the soul. At a time when the sports of the people were essentially brutal-exemplified chiefly in pugilism, bull baiting, and cock-fighting " the state of public opinion on such subjects was very difierent from that of the present day. Newspapers openly advocated prize-fighting as tests of strength and courage" perhaps a little excusable during the long and severe strain of the Napoleonic struggle, when British bulldog tenacity seemed the only likely quality to pull this country suc-cessfully through that titanic conflict. In a rhyme called " The Tinker and the Tanner," Heath describes a match at fisticuffs between these two gladiators. Quite as a commonplace incident, it began when "

A tinker and tanner one day met together " The one works in metal, and the other in leather. After a description of seventeen hard-fought rounds, the rhyme tells how the gallant tanner has to give way, because He found the young tinker a man of much metal. He hammered his hide as he hammered a kettle ; And after all courage and science were tried The tanner gave up with a double-tanned hide. To have spoken disparagingly of such sport in those days would have been to be accounted un-English. From the same point of view, " Bull baiting " "which is the title of our next extract " was a perfectly legitimate pastime.It is quoted in full because it so well reflects the habits and customs of the people among whom he cultivated his muse.

The stake being fixed, and marked out the ground. All the vulgar spectators were gaping around," Oh, yes ! " cries the bullward, i' the midst of the crowd To the audience around thus he bawls out aloud, ' I'm to give notice, to young and to old, To keep at a distance and not be too bold, Ten yards is the distance to keep from the stake. And plenty of sport we'll be sure to make. Here's a good beaver hat, and brass collar likewise. For the best dog that runs for to claim as a prize. Three puts at the nose, if none pins him at three The prize shall be due unto Roger and me.*' The sport now begins, and the game they pursue. And a hell upon earth now exhibits to view. With yelping and shouting, " Now, Toss," is the cry. Till the noise of the vulgar ascends to the sky. ' Toss ' ' misses his hold, and aloft now he goes, For vengeance now falls on the innocent foes ; His belly ripped open, and from the death wound His warm smoking entrails now fall to the ground. ' Room, Room," now the cry for old Simpson's bitch " Nellie,"

Who none can stirpass for true courage and mettle ; But while she was running, the tinker's bitch " Rose *' Stole slyly behind and got Roger by th' nose. Round and round now they go all confused in a pother Some tumbling down this way and some up the other, Rou^ Robin, quite drunk^ and devoid of all care. Got a hurt by the bull, and tossed up in the air, " D your eyes," to the tinker the bullward he cries And " D you again," thus the tinker replies. So to combat they went, and exchanged a few blows. But the latter declined with a sad bleeding nose ; The bull breaks the rope and for home again makes. And knocks down whole standings of gingerbread cakes. Such such are the fruits of the bull-baiting sport, And such do the laws of our country support.Black eyes, bleeding noses, torn waistcoats and breeches. Lost lives, broken limbs, and a thousand vain speeches. But knowledge informs us that brutes for our use Were never designed for such cruel abuse. And time will no doubt such vain practice destroy That man to more wisdom his time may employ, That the bull with the herds unmolested may reign And graze the sweet herbs on his own native plain.

Noah Heath's works are now very scarce. Hanley Free Library is fortunate in the possession of a copy of his " Miscellaneous Poems," volume I.of which was printed by James Amphlett, at the office of the " Pottery Gazette," Hanley,1823, and volume II., by S. Brougham, at Burslem, in 1829. " Lines on the World, from its Chaotic State to the Deluge," appeared in the New Connection Magazine (printed by TaUbut, Hanley) in 1814. The first section appeared in the November number ; the concluding lines in the following month's issue, signed and dated from Sneyd Green, allude to his biblical namesake thus: "

The pious Noah now an altar rears. Offers a sacrifice, pours forth bis prayers. Well pleased, the Lord the offering receives. And to the Patriarch His. promise gives : " Never, for man, shall earth be cursed more ; Nor will I smite the living, as before ; Winter and Summer, heat and cold shall reign So long as Earth's foundations shall remain ; The great vicissitudes of night and day Shall never cease till Time shall fade away." Our poet's metre, it must be confessed, is rather monotonous. He never strikes the lyric note, nor can it be said that he has caught the real rhythm of the folk tongue.

The British Museum does not possess a copy of Noah Heath's works, and he is not mentioned in Watt's " Bibliotheca Britannica," where reference to out-of-the-way books is often to be found. Nor is there any reference to Heath in Southey's " Lives of Uneducated Poets." Extracts from the works of standard poets.

"Taken From Staffordshire Worthies by Frederick William Hackwood, 1851".

Harry Burn