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John Harris: A Story of Carn Brea (1863) Book 1

John Harris was born in 1820 in Bolenowe, a small village not far from Camborne, in Cornwall. His father was a miner at Dolcoath Tin Mine where young John also started at the age of 10. he began writing poetry as a child, usually in the open air where he was inspired by nature. After 20 years working in the mine, one of his poems was eventually published in a magazine. It attracted notice, and he was encouraged to produce a collection, which was published in 1853. Shortly after, he obtained a position as a Scripture Reader in Falmouth, where he stayed until his death in 1884. He published several volumes of poetry, including his masterpiece, the loco-descriptive poem Carn Brea. None of his poetry is now in print, but I am making a selection available on my Cornish Poetry page. This page contains the full-text of book 1 of A Story of Carn Brea, taken from the first edition of 1863.

Click Here for an image of Carn Brea and mine workings in the surrounding area.





THE Poem opens with an Allusion to bright Gems and noble Minds often shining amid Rubbish and Barrenness—Song of the Moorland Maiden—The Author's Love of Nature—His County his Copy-Book—The Horsemen—Carn Brea—Rain Storm—Cottage on a Rock—Burial of a Christian—Sabbath Evening Bells—The Honeysuckle—Reverie—The Cottage Dame—Her Cornish Courtesy—The simple Meal—The Widow's Story—Her Trials—Her Miner Tributer Husband—His Boy and he descending into the Mine—Perseverence—Bright Fancy—Disappointment—His stricken Household—Distraining for Rent—His Prayer—The mystic Voice—True Benevolence illustrated in the sailor—Soldier—Orphan—Stranger—Pilgrim—Damsel—Labourer—A quiet Fishing Town—Prudence Worth—Her Charity reaching the Fisherman—Farmer—Artisan—The Widow—The Afflicted—The Miner's Journey—His Conversation with Nature and God—His simple Tale—The Lady's Kindness—His Promise.

THE fairest flowers, the richest veins of ore,
The brightest gems, the costliest specimens,
The grandest, greatest, meekest, noblest minds,
Are often shining in this darksome world
Where least expected, and their glory's beams
Remain unnoticed in the general glare.
How many an honest man in homely weeds,
Whose name is odour in his little sphere,
Dwelling in nook obscure by sea or stream,
Or hawthorn lane, or carn, or rushy moor,
On mountain side, or in the listening vale,
Or where the city darkens, many-tongued,
Or in the hamlet's hollow, where the rill
Trickles soft-singing over slippery stones,
Beside the mine, or on the healthy farm,—
How many are there living thus obscure,
Scarce known on earth, but much esteem'd in heaven,
The gems of Adam's race, whose royal names
Are deep engraven in the Book of Life!
So have I heard from some low cottage porch,
Reed-wrapp'd and woodbined over like a bower,
With lattice low, and rude walls, boulder-built,
Sweet-scented mid the mineral of the mine,
What time the milk-maid brush'd the early dews,
A gentle carol warbled from the lips
Of moorland maiden, rarely caught by kings.

Some court "great gluts of people," houses, towns,
And cities drunk with riot; but, for me,
I woo the reedy meadow and the fen,
Where rushes rustle, or the rock where climbs
The shining ivy, and the wild bird sings.
Quaint do ye call me, that I love such scenes,
For evermore with Nature? Be it so;
I am her child, and she my mother is;
And so you must not blame me. Up the hill,
And down the vale, and through the breezy carn,
By the sea-shore, and on the ragged ridge,
I read her legends, living lays of love.
My own old county is my copy-book,
From which I cull my pictures; and its leaves
Are like her mines, exhaustless in their worth.
My hero-miner is no gilt ideal,
Pull'd in to make a poem, but a man
Who really lived, and acted, and expired;
A noble man, a man to imitate.
But, see, two riders and their foaming steeds
Burst from the coppice like a thought of flame.

Still Onward dash'd the horsemen. Through the mist
Loom'd the grey granite crags and castle-top
Of mineral-mark'd Carn Brea, whose awful head
Was drench'd with rain, and pitted with the storm.
The rabbit cower'd within its mossy cell,
The wild bird sat in silence 'neath the ledge.
With half-shut eye, and beak beneath its wing,
And talons sunk into the sodden mould,
As march'd the winds across the horrid wild,
Hurling the rain-drops on the groaning world.
Still onward dash'd the horsemen. Bank and brier,
And deep morass, and ditch with water drown'd,
And lanes where ruts yawn'd hungry, and dark pits,
Whose open months led into treacherous mines,
And rivers wildly tumbling o'er their brims,
And ruins green with age, or grey with years,
And bogs with torture boiling,—all were pass'd,
And in a cottage clinging to a rock,
Where sat a lonely dame in linen weeds,
They turn'd at last for shelter, while their steeds
Smoked in an outhouse 'neath a roof of straw.

A Christian had been buried, one whose gifts
Were great in secret, whose heart-prayers were made
More in the closet than the crowded church;
Who spoke with pity to the lowest hind,
And wiped the tear from Sorrow's soften'd face;
Who call'd the children round him when the day
Expired in purple o'er the forest falls,
And told them tales, and fed upon their smiles,
Laugh'd with their laugh, and shouted with their shout,
Mingling the lays of age with early life;
Then led them far beyond the reefs of time.
He stood between the oppressor and oppress'd,
Healing the wounds which cruelty had made.
He sought the bed of sickness, and, when found,
Refresh'd the sufferer with his purse and prayer.
With liberal hands he wrought most liberal things.
The widow found in him a constant friend.
The wandering orphan, shivering through the world,
Ne'er stopp'd in vain before the good man's gate.
His bounty, like the sky-lark's joyous song,
Gladden'd the hearts of all within its range.
He stoop'd to wretchedness, and, with kind words
And kinder deeds, lighten'd the grey-hair'd man.
Familiar was he with Dame Nature's laws,
Nor seal'd her book of wonders; but his soul
Held endless converse with the' Eternal Word.
Messiah was his pattern. Morn and eve,
And busy noontide, found him toiling on
In the Redeemer's footprints. By his life
He preach'd the Saviour to the multitude,
And cried to all, "Walk in the narrow way."
He stood among his fellows like a tree,
Of foliage rare and verdure beautiful,
Whose summer greenness never knew decay.

The Sabbath bells are ringing, vale and wood,
And rock, and ridge, and slope with mosses dress'd,
Seem hung with echoes; wandering voices flow
Upon the spirit, lulling it to peace,
And gentle visions fill the mind with heaven.
Beneath this honeysuckle let me sit
In quiet meditation. As for man,
His days are swifter than the eagle's wing,
Or river rushing down the steepest crag.
To-day he rises in his summer prime,
To-morrow bends along the vale of age.
How near the days of happy childhood seem,
Though forty winters block them up with clouds!
I stretch my arms forth with a gush of joy,
And seem to touch my daisy-gathering hours.
Alas! alas! old Time hath hurried on,
And left them far behind the farthest hills,
With king-cups sparkling over all the land:
And now I battle with the storms of life.
But there is peace at last for all our woe,
And comfort for thc weary, if we trust
The kind and loving Saviour, in the home
Of Eden-music higher than the stars.

Peal on, ye gentle preachers. Day is done,
And Eve steals down the vale in garments grey:
I ponder in her shadows. One sweet spot
Is ever with me, as your echoes float
Above the tree-tops, like the sweep of wings.
A little grave it is among the hills,
Beside a Gothic chapel, and I seem
To hear the tread of those who haste to prayer,
Through primrose lanes, although I'm far away.
Here have I long desired to sleep at last,
When life, with all its cares, is at an end,
Among the honest, pious villagers,
Just at the foot of my old granite mount;
That when the cottager, his day's work done,
Sits in the dusk with baby on his knee,
What time the first few tapers gild the pane,
He, listening to the river at his gate,
May think of him who caroll'd through his moors.

Sweet honeysuckle! let me linger here,
Among thy fragrance issued in a shower.
How blissful thus to muse where Nature pours
Her incense forth in hollows watch'd with hills,
And roof'd with stars, and floor'd with living flowers!
0 what a temple is the leafy wood,
The rude old carn, the ocean's solemn shore,
The valley's bosom, and the meadow's lap!
I love thee, Nature, with a fire unfeign'd,
And ever at thy feet thy child would sit
In pleasant meditation, where the eye
Of selfish man beholds not my retreat,
In storm or calm, when heaven is blue or black,
Learning thy lore, and treasuring up thy truth.
Could I have had my choice, my home would be
Among the rocks and rivers, fens and ferns,
From human hives as lonely as a crag.
Here, hermit-like, I'd pass away my hours,
Drinking at Nature's fountain, undisturb'd
By trump or tumult, writing simple song,
With wife and bonny bairns, until life's last
Long evening shadow fell upon the plain.
But Providence has given me other work,
And other wonders, and I bless His name.
Now to our story mid the spreading thyme.

The dame heap'd up the fuel on the hearth,
Which crack'd a joyous carol, while the blast
Drove the rude rain-drops shrieking on the thatch,
And hissing on the casement. Then she spoke,
With much of love and Cornish courtesy.
"I give you greeting to my lowly home,
Ye storm-caught strangers. Nearer draw you now
My fir-wood fire, and dry your weltering weeds.
I have a turf-baked cake upon the shelf,
And milk and cream upon the pantry board:
Pray let me fetch them for you." So she placed
Before her guests these simple elements.
They ate, and drank, and chatted each with each,
Giving their hostess space to speak between.

She told of trials past, and tempests near;
Of storms blown over, and of gales to come;
Of blank bereavement, like the rush of war;
Of kindred lost, and relatives betray'd;
Of beauty blighted in her summer morn;
Of tear-drops shed upon the infant's grave;
Of Hunger sitting with the household flowers,
As still as Death, amid the charnel dews;
Of sickness entering with its fever-face,
And laying low a loving family;
Of harvest-time, when earth was wet with rain;
Of noise and show acquiring shouts of praise,
And meekness pining in its empty shed;
Of Horror, stalking through the heavy night;
Of Desolation, coming like the sea,
With blacken'd breakers, bearing with a roar
The hopes of man upon the rocks of doom.
But more than all were they intent to hear
How first she walk'd the way of widowhood.

Her husband was a miner, toiling where
The light of morning never found its way,
Or star-beam gilt the gloom; where night remain'd,
Blacker than Boreas when he hides the hills,
And shrouds the valleys with his dismal wings.
His eldest boy strove with him, twelve springs old;
A bud in shade, a blossom in the dark.
And they were wont the ladders to descend,
Tied in a rope. At one end was his sire
Going down before, and after him the lad
Came clinging to the staves. Around their waists
The cord was fasten'd; so that, if the child
Fell, he might save him as he downward dropp'd,
And bring him to his mother and his home.
He was a tributer; a man who work'd
On speculation, digging through the ground
In search of ore, the sweetener of his toil.
If found, he flourish'd; if not found, he fell;
Nor fell alone, fell wife and family.

But much of misery was he doom'd to feel.
Long months of disappointment, nights of woe,
And days of strife, and mental agony:
He dug, and found not; dug and dug again,
Again to be the loser—all was dead.
He ventured till his clothes were heavy rags,
And the last shilling glided from his purse.
Yet hope sang with him in the sulphur-rifts,
And pictured bright to-morrows. And when green
Tinctured the rock, or copper stain'd the stone,
In fancy he beheld his stores increase,
His pile of mineral levell'd on the floors.
His debts discharged, his wife in new attire,
His household songsters warmly clothed and fed,
His new home rising by the running brook,
His farm enclosed, his pretty meadows till'd,
Poultry and pigs rejoicing in the stye,
And Molly 'neath the hawthorn by the gate
Chewing her cud in quiet. So he dug,
With eyes the home of tears, and heart in heaven:
But when men elbow'd him along the street,
And frown'd upon him in his patch'd-up vest,
And cries of hunger echoed in his home,
His heart sank in him, and the angel Hope
For a short season travell'd from his side.

One weary day he labour'd in the smoke,
Pale with prostration, while vex'd Fortune's wheel
Turn'd round and round in utter emptiness.
He left his working-place a clouded man,
And in his white-wash'd home among the stacks
A wail o'ercame him such as Misery yells
Among the famish'd in her shatter'd shed.
His darling children, cold and hunger-pale,
Cower'd in his hovel, crying much for food.
On a small stool, scour'd white with straw and sand,
His eldest boy bent, broken in the bud,
Weeping aloud with redness in his eyes.
A little girl sat sobbing on her chair,
With hunger-marks upon her lovely cheek.
In the wood-cradle baby found a voice,
Thrusting his faded hands in empty air.
The mother's face, beneath her apron hid,
Appear'd a sky of drops; while through the gloom
Words wander'd woful, "Father, give us bread."

Meanwhile the moon's face blush'd behind a cloud;
Strange foot-falls echoed on the threshold-stone;
The door was rudely open'd; when at once
Two men rush'd in, with wildness in their looks,—
The landlord and a towering officer,
Who, spite of tears, and sighs, and hunger-moans,
Took an inventory of their furniture,—
Clock, dresser, table, settle, stools, and chairs,
Bed, bedding, clothes-press, pewter pans and plates,
Old faded pictures, jostled much by time,
The hour-glass, and the cage without the lark,
And other items, such as knives and spoons,
With numerous tin cans shining on the shelf,—
And, scowling on the good man, left his home.
O God of Jacob, succour the distress'd!

Sleep came at last, and bound them in their tears,
When he, with many arrows in his soul,
Knelt in his chamber, with uplifted voice,
Praying and sobbing, "Father, hear Thy child,
O hear Thy child! Have mercy on a worm!
Yes, I have sinn'd against Thee; with high hands
And outstretch'd arms defied Thy just commands.
Yet, 0, have mercy on me, for the sake
Of Thy dear Son, who tasted death for me.
Give me Thy Holy Spirit, gracious Lord,
To lead me in the path of rectitude,
And fill my erring soul with light Divine.
Thou seest my wasting household: all day long
Have they been pining in my breadless home;
The stamp of famine is upon their face;
Weakness in every limb, mist o'er their eyes.
And untold gnawings shake through all their frame.
Have mercy on us, Father; let our cry
Bring down Thy bounty on our shrouded hearth,
All-gracious Benefactor. Thou art He
Who ever feed'st the raven of the rock,
The wild bird of the wood, and all the forms
Of unseen life that throng this wondrous world;
And Thou hast promised, those that trust in Thee
Shall feel no lack of anything that's good.
O, Father, Father, shield us from the woe
Of wasting hunger; let my little ones,
And her that bare them, speedily be saved
From creeping down to death with feet of bone.
Be merciful, 0 God, to sinners vile;
Open a door of hope, a path of life,
That we may bless and praise Thy mighty name.
But if, by Thy inscrutable decree,
My poor petition may not move Thine heart,
And we all die, Thy righteous will be done."
lie wiped the hot drops from his eyes, and heard
A voice of sweetness, "Go to Widow Worth."

The shipwreck'd sailor, rescued from the deep
Moaning in mountains round its struggling prey,
And toss'd half-naked on a stranger shore,
Clothed, warm'd, and fed, and guided to his home;
The limb-lopp'd soldier, hunted by the foe,
And hidden with the mercy of the good,
Whose sons and daughters he had sworn to kill,
Until the howl of murder droop'd and fell,
And he in safety reach'd his friends and fire;
The friendless orphan on a winter's night,
Blue with the blast, and crying with the cold,
Snatch'd from his doom, and shelter'd from his fate,
By those who never knew his father's name;
The hungry man, in valleys not his own,
Fed from the table he had never seen;
The thirsty pilgrim, o'er life's burning sands,
Refresh'd with waters from the limpid brook,
A little girl the cheering minister;
A starving labourer, borrowing precious loans
From one whose dwelling tower'd above his own,
Which saved his feeble wife, and feebler ones,
From rushing o'er the rapids of despair;—
These know the worth of true benevolence.

Within a quiet, pious fishing-town,
Snug in the west, resided Prudence Worth;
A lady famous for her charity,
Both in her native place, and far beyond.
The unsuccessful, striving fisherman,
Who in his little boat went paddling forth,
Singing his hymns, and looking up to heaven
With net, and hook, and bait, to lure his prey,
On the blue fields of ocean wonder-fill'd,
Where the great gull rode kingly, and the winds
Spoke in a language heard not on the shore;
Returning when the moon twined her chaste rays
O'er the white billows breaking on the sand,
With not a single fish for all his pains,
To creep into his shed, distress'd, and sad;
Emptied his sorrows in the widow's ear,
And felt his wants abundantly supplied.
The failing farmer in the western vales,
Craving her bounty, drank it like a stream
Of living waters, healing greedy woe;
The toiling artisan who sigh'd for help,
Found help in her, when other helpers fail'd;
The pale mechanic and the delving hind,
The heart-crush'd struggler sighing on through clouds,
The weeping widow and the orphan slim,
All found in her an angel of relief.
In the sick chamber, and the home of pain,
She sat, like Love, with honey on her lips,
Dispensing bounty with a smile of joy.
Like Him, who left the glory of the heavens
And stoop'd to suffering manhood, walking o'er
This woful world with healing in His heart,
Both for the bodies and the souls of men;
So Widow Prudence pass'd her pilgrimage:
Her goodness, like an odour wafted far,
Had reach'd the honest miner; and he took
His staff in hand to travel to her bower.

The morning light was wooing the green earth
To wake from slumber, when he kiss'd his babes,
And westward turn'd his face toward the hills,
Whose blue peaks caught the sunshine, while they seem'd
To roll him welcomes from their rocky tongues.
He walk'd along, conversing with his thoughts,
Which rose in mystic phases, many-hued;
Now wing'd with hope, now blank with rayless doubt.
Through long, rude lanes he travell'd, charm'd with birds,
That trill'd sweet measures on the fresh free air;
Or awed with Nature's wonders, mount and main,
And forest high, and river rushing clear,
And carn, where quiet slumber'd, hid in moss;
Or farm, or cottage, peering through the trees,
With apple-blossom laden; and his soul
Discoursed, meanwhile, in silent speech with God.

He reach'd the lady's residence, and told
His simple story,—how in a dark mine
"Bad speed" pursued him; though he labour'd long,
And toil'd with zest unchanging, nothing came;
And now his goods were all distrain'd for rent,
Which would be sold at once, unless a friend
Would lend him money to escape the blight.
'T was a great trouble which had touch'd his soul,
And so he pray'd she'd help him. "Where's your home?"
Ask'd Mrs. Worth; "pray tell me,—and your friends?
For aught I know, you are a wicked man,
A drunkard or impostor; tell me all."

"0, Madam, I am neither," he replied;
"But what I say is honest, simple truth.
No bread is in my cupboard, and the cry
Of fainting hunger pierces through my frame.
My neighbours know, but will not heed, my woe.
If you will kindly lend me this small sum,
I promise that, when four short months are flown,
I'll come and pay you, as I hope for heaven."
"How much do you require?" ask'd Widow Worth.
"Three guineas," said the miner; "this would make
The world a glory and my life a joy."
Her heart, unused to anything but love,
Yielded to his entreaty: so she placed
The money in his hand, saying, meanwhile,
"Here, take it, though I never see it more."
And he, o'ercome with gratitude, retired,
Sobbing between his thanks, "I'll come again
In four short moons, and each bright guinea pay."


| BOOK TWO ----->

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