Monday, May 07, 2012

We are Free to Pay

The Taxed Cake
by Ebenezer Elliott

Give, give, they cry—and take!
For wilful men are they
Who tax'd our cake, and took our cake,
To throw our cake away.

The cake grows less and less,
For profits lessen, too;
But land will pay, at last, I guess,
For land-won Waterloo.

They mix our bread with bran,
They call potatoes bread;
And, get who may, or keep who can,
The starved, they say, are fed.

Our rivals fatten fast,
But we are free to pay;
And dearly they shall pay, at last,
Who threw our cake away.

Lend, lend thy wing, oh, steam,
And bear me to some clime
Where splendid beggars dare not dream
That law's best fruit is crime!

Oh, Landlord's Devil, take
Thy own elect, I pray,
Who tax'd our cake, and took our cake,
To throw our cake away.

I think I'll do Chartist poems this week. Ebenezer Elliott is an interesting example. His life was very much an economic up-and-down. His father, a Calvinist minister, also owned a foundry, but the foundry had increasing troubles in the volatile times, and Elliott ended up losing absolutely everything when it went bankrupt. He was homeless for a while. Borrowing from his wife's family, he managed to start a new business, which prospered and became successful. He was always a little bitter about the bankruptcy and subsequent destitution, though, and became a fierce opponent of the Corn Laws, which he blamed. He was a poet of some talent, but the bitterness always shows through -- practically every poem he writes goes on in the same vein as that above. He wrote The Corn Law Rhymes and became famous for the seething fury and sarcasm with which he attacked the politics of his day. Others called him the Corn-Law Rhymer; he called himself the Bard of Free Trade. His most famous poem is The People's Anthem, a sarcastic re-writing of "God Save the Queen" that became so popular that it sometimes even ended up in hymn books.

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