Robert Peddie, “A Voice from Beverley” (Chartist Circular, 1840)

Critical Introduction


Chartist leader Robert Peddie was charged with conspiracy, sedition, and riot for his participation in the attempted rising in Bradford in January 1839. A staymaker by trade, Peddie served three years’ hard labour between 1840 and 1843. He suffered from the horrors of the “silent system,” prison regulations that forbade all verbal communication between the prisoners, intending to prevent the perceived contaminating associations of prison subculture and to induce the prisoners’ internal transformation by isolating them. Officers even silenced their footsteps by wearing cloth shoes, compounding the prisoner’s sense of isolation as they laboured on the treadmills. Peddie was allowed to write home to Edinburgh once a month. The poems he sent appeared in The Chartist Circular, a Chartist paper based in Glasgow, Scotland; and he later collected them together with extracts from his petition to the House of Commons, publishing a volume called The Dungeon Harp (1844).

Because The Chartist Circular did not pay the stamp duty, it was not permitted to publish any news; and the original poetry it published could only refer to politics in general or abstract terms. Peddie’s poem “A Voice from Beverley,” which “cannot fail to be popular with our readers,” refers to topical events despite ostensibly being a sentimental love lyric addressed only to Peddie’s wife. Posing as a solitary confession of feelings overheard by the wider audience of the newspaper’s readers, in the context of the Chartist Circular the poem actually functions as an exhortation to the families and communities fractured by the repercussions of the Chartist risings. The poem appeared in the Circular on September 26, 1840. While the date “August 1840” marks the poem as contemporary, the title indicates that the speaker is serving time in the Corrections House for the east riding at Beverley in Yorkshire, rather than languishing in an imagined or historical dungeon. Peddie’s decision to name his poem “A Voice” calls attention to his suffering under the silent system, under which he was forbidden to speak or sing, to receive sympathetic visitors, or to send poems or letters containing explicit references to political matters.

“A Voice from Beverley” is one of several lyrics of feeling that Peddie wrote while imprisoned. Peddie developed his own exhortatory variety of the lyric of feeling, which politicized the familiar Wordsworthian imagery of rivers and rainbows, and Burns’ sentimental apostrophies to absent lassies, using them to express Chartist solidarity. Peddie’s later poems — “Spirit of Freedom,” “Ode to Freedom,” and “Verses Written in Prison” — are panegyrics on “the stream of mind”: the working classes’ freedom to think, communicate, and convoke. Hallmarks of lyric thus become “contaminating associations,” connecting Peddie’s personal dream of returning to an idealized Scottish community with the Chartist goal of reaching liberty and equality through collective action. In Peddie’s lyrical mode, the individual’s verbalized feelings are the fundamental source (and the last holdout) of political resistance.

Circulation Note

“Its first issue achieved a circulation of over 20,000, and the paper maintained a circulation of 22,500 copies a week through its first year. However, by 1841 The Chartist Circular was struggling financially and sales started to decline. It eventually ceased publication in July 1842, having at the close achieved a circulation of only 7,000 a week” (British Library).

A Voice from Beverley.

[The following beautiful and affecting Song has been addressed by Mr ROBERT PEDDIE to his WIFE. It cannot fail to be popular with our readers.]

Hark, the doleful prison bell
Resounding through my dreary cell,
That wakes me up to tortures fell,
Far frae love and thee, lassie.

But there’s a spark not tyrants’ [1] power
Can quench in my most doleful hour;
For spite of dungeon, bolt, and tower,
My soul’s at hame wi’ thee, lassie.

Soon as I close my waukrif’ [2] e’e
On fancy’s wings I’m borne to thee,
Where I would fain for ever be,
At hame wi’ love and thee, lassie.

Again the virtuous wife I find,
The tried, the true, the ever kind;
The workings of whose constant mind
Is filled with love to me, lassie.

Again that pensive face I see —
That lofty brow and speaking e’e,
That’s beaming still with love to me,
’Midst a’ that I maun dree, [3] lassie.

But oh! the day-spring’s [4] earliest beams
Dissolve in air those happy dreams;
And now to me existence seems
A blank when wanting thee, lassie.

But memory here exerts her powers,
Conjuring up those happy hours
I blythey spent in Scotia’s bowers,
A’ wi’ love and thee, lassie.

And fresh and lovely bring to min’
That scene upon the banks of Tyne, [5]
When first ye whispered “I’ll be thine,
I’ll live wi’ love and thee, laddie!” [6]

Our happiest hour of early life.
I clasp’d you to my breast — a wife,
And fondly thought that far from strife,
I’d live with love and thee, lassie.

But glorious hope yet gilds the gloom
That canopies my living tomb,
And kindly tell the days will come
That I’ll meet love and thee, lassie.

Or points to scenes beyond the grave,
Where meet the good, the pure, the brave,
Where I no more a tyrant’s slave
Will meet with love and thee, lassie.

Till then, farewell! may heaven’s high power, [7]
On thee his choicest blessings shower,
And cheer thee in affliction’s hour,
When far from love and thee, lassie.
August, 1840.

[1] The letterpress in the Chartist Circular reads “tyrants.” I have added the apostrophe so that the text matches the poem as it appears on p.59 of Peddie’s volume The Dungeon Harp (1844).

[2] Waukrife, adj. Scots. Sleepless, wakeful, insomniac (DSL).

[3] Maun, aux. v. Scots. Must. Dree, v. Scots. Dread, fear.

[4] Day-spring, n. Daybreak, early dawn (OED).

[5] There are two rivers in the UK named the River Tyne. Peddie likely refers to the river that rises in the Moorfoot Hills in Midlothian (south of Edinburgh), and empties into the North Sea off the coast of East Lothian.

[6] The letterpress in the Chartist Circular reads “lassie.” I have changed the text to match the poem as it appears on p.60 of Peddie’s volume The Dungeon Harp (1844).

[7] The letterpress in the Chartist Circular reads “powe.” I have added the word-final “r” and comma, so that the text matches the poem as it appears on p.61 of Peddie’s volume The Dungeon Harp (1844).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s