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William Rowlinson

A Note on William Rowlinson

A scrapbook made by William Rowlinson, first exhibited at a meeting of the Manchester Literary Club, and then liberally presented by Mr. Charles Roeder to the Manchester Free Library, is an interesting relic, and may justify a note on this now forgotten but promising young poet. It contains many newspaper cuttings, the earliest pages being devoted to his own compositions, and the remainder consisting of miscellaneous matter, chiefly poetical, that had attracted his attention.

William Rowlinson was born in 1805, it is believed, somewhere in the vicinity of Manchester. The family removed, for a time, to Whitby, but returned again to Manchester. He must early have developed a passion for writing, as contributions of his appear in the British Minstrel  in 1824. The British Minstrel was a weekly periodical consisting of songs and recitations, old and new. The number for November 20th, 1824, contains two lyrics by Rowlinson (p. 171). The editor remarks, “We have received a letter from Mr. Rowlinson, of Manchester, and are obliged to him for the Originals enclosed. Mr. Wroe, of Ancoats' Street, is our bookseller at Manchester; he, no doubt, will afford him every facility in communicating with us at any time he may have a packet for London.” A packet was sent, and is acknowledged in the number for December 25th, 1824. One of his lyrics appears in the last number of the British Minstrel , which came to an end January 22nd, 1825. His contributions are—“I'll come to Thee” (p. 171). “It is not for Thine Eye of Blue” (p. 171). “Yes, Thyrsa, Yes” (p. 194). “Farewell Land of My Birth” (p. 197). “How Calm and Serene” (p. 303). “Think not when My Spirits” (p. 304). “Serenade” (p. 306). “Knowest Thou My Dearest” (p. 367). “How Sweet to Me” (p. 369). A copy of this volume has been placed in the Manchester Free Library by the present writer.

On the cessation of the British Minstrel , he began, in January, 1825, to write for Nepenthes , a Liverpool periodical. Still earlier, he is believed to have contributed to the Whitby Magazine .

From the age of eighteen to his death, at the age of twenty-four, he was a frequent and a welcome writer of prose and verse for the local periodicals. His range was by no means limited; he wrote art criticisms, essays in ethics, studies of modern poets, and verse in various styles and of varying quality. There is a musical flow about his lyrics that shows a genuine poetic impulse, but his talents had not time to ripen. His contributions to Nepenthes British Minstrel Phœnix , and Manchester Gazette  have never been collected, and it is too late for the task to be either attempted or justified. An essay of his on Drunkenness is reprinted in the Temperance Star  of May, 1890. The best of his poems is probably “Sir Gualter,” which is quoted in Procter's “Literary Reminiscences” (p. 103). The same charming writer has devoted some pages to his memory in his “Memorials of Bygone Manchester” (p. 161). One example, “Babylon,” is given in Procter's “Gems of Thought and Flowers of Fancy” (p. 47), and four lyrics appear in Harland's “Lancashire Lyrics” (pp. 71-75). One of these, “The Invitation,” was printed—with another signature!—in the Crichton Annual , 1866. One of Rowlinson's compositions—the “Autobiography of William Charles Lovell”—is said to be an account of his own experiences; this I have not seen. The story of his life is brief. He studied literature whilst earning his daily bread in a Manchester warehouse. He was a clerk in the employ of Messrs. Cardwell & Co., Newmarket Buildings, and to gratify his love of mountain scenery, he has been known to leave the town on Saturday night and walk to Castleton, in Derbyshire, and, after spending the Sunday there, walk home again through the night, to be ready for his Monday morning task. Literature did not wholly absorb him, for at twenty-four years of age he was a husband, with a son and an infant daughter. Early in 1829 he obtained a more congenial position as a traveller for the firm of Piggott, the famous compilers and publishers of directories. This gave him the opportunity of seeing Cambridge, where Kirke White is buried, and other places, whose historic and literary associations would appeal to his vivid imagination. But whilst enjoying thoroughly the beautiful scenery of the south, he pined for his northern home. Whilst bathing in the Thames he was drowned, June 22nd, 1829, and was buried in Bisham churchyard, on the 25th.[9]

The Manchester Free Library has copies of the exceedingly rare Phœnix  and Falcon , with the contributions of Rowlinson and others, identified in MS. In the Phœnix  “Bag-o-nails,” an imitation of the “Noctes Ambrosianæ,” he appears as Jeremiah Jingler. These periodicals, and the scrapbook, make as complete a collection of his scattered writings as is now possible.

John Bolton Rogerson and R. W. Procter have each borne affectionate testimony to the moral worth and literary promise of William Rowlinson. Soon after his death there appeared in the Falcon  some stanzas which declared,

“The great in soul from his earthly home,
In his youthful pride hath gone,
Where the bards of old will proudly greet
The Muses' honoured son.
Oh, there is joy in the blessed thought
Thou art shrin'd on fame's bright ray,
Though the stranger's step is on thy grave
And thy friends be far away.”

We need not cherish illusions. The stranger's step is on Rowlinson's grave, but he is not “shrined on fame's bright ray,” whatever and wherever that may be. No stone marks his grave, his very resting-place is unknown; we cannot even brush aside the grass from the forgotten and moss-grown tomb of William Rowlinson, one who perished in his early prime; whose music, faint, yet melodious, passed into silence before it could be shaped into a song the world would care to hear or to remember.


9. I have to thank the Vicar (Rev. T. E. Powell) for searching the registers. There is no gravestone.