The newspaper press and the Victorian working-class poet

Blair, Kirstie; Goodridge, John and Keegan, Bridget, eds. (2017) The newspaper press and the Victorian working-class poet. In: A History of British Working-Class Literature. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 264-280. ISBN 9781108105392 (

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The relationship between the aspiring working-class poet and the newspaper press has always been crucial. Indeed, it is possible to argue that at least from the late eighteenth century onwards, every laboring-class or working-class poet had a significant relationship with the press. In the case of many, like Robert Burns, the relationship was vexed. As Lucyle Werkmeister’s detailed studies have shown, Burns sent a number of poems to London and local newspapers in the late 1780s and 1790s, both pseudonymously and under his own name, and developed relationships with editors like Peter Stuart of the London Star. “I would scorn to put my name to a Newspaper Poem,” he wrote to one friend; yet, in a letter to Stuart in the same week, he observed that “I am charmed with your paper. I wish it was more in my power to contribute to it” and gave Stuart license to do what he wished with the poems Burns sent him, short of publishing Burns’s name with them (Burns 405, 407). Burns valued the press for its publication of political poems, though as a government employee, he had to be cautious, running into trouble when satirical poems on Establishment figures were wrongly attributed to him, or when editors were unable to resist adding his name to his own satires (see Werkmeister). John Clare, as Eric Robinson has shown, was also an avid reader of and contributor to the newspaper press, local and national, though the extent of his contributions has still not been fully traced. Burns and Clare, who was supported and championed by the London Morning Post, had a status that entitled them to consideration by the London papers. As the press expanded and expanded again in the course of the nineteenth century, however, and as the rise of literacy and the prior reputation of poets like Burns increased the number of would-be working-class poets, the primary relationship tended to be between a working-class poet and one or more of their local newspapers.