Updated 14 Dec 2005

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

Return to Front Page

John HOWE, from the Reliquary 1865.

A sketch of the Life of John HOWE 1777-1838 of Ashford and Litton
(an ancestor of the author) from the Reliquary, dated April 1865
More information about John HOWE:

    OCRed on 13 Dec 2005 by John Palmer

    from "The Reliquary" No 20. Vol V. April 1865
    Pages 187-192
    "Quarterly Journal and Review;
    A Depository for precious Relics -
    Legendary, Biographical and Historical.
    Illustrative of the Habits, customs, and pursuits of our forefathers."

    Price Half-a-Crown


    I CANNOT conceive any thing more delightful to the mind, than the making note and record of high and noble virtues in the life and actions of a member of the human family-ennobling as well as delightful is the task - cheering as the voice of welcome, as thoughts of a happy home, or the smile of a friend: Charming! yes, truly

                   "Charming as Divine, Philosophy,
                    And musical as is Apollo's Lute!"
    And such is my task in this humble endeavour to preserve from oblivion the name of John Howe, an inhabitant of Ashford-in-the-Water. His name stands high, in my estimation, among the men of genius and worth who are connected with my little favourite village. John Howe was born about the year 1777, at a place called " The Slack," not far from Cressbrook; it is a small row of cottages, standing on a bleak and wild looking moor-like prominence, as if the buildings had been lifted out of the adjoining valley to look about them. At a very early age he was taken by a Mr. Morton, a tallow-chandler of Ashford, and when old enough was apprenticed to him; and he remained there until Mr. Morton retired from his trade and gave the business up to him. Mr. Morton being but a very indifferent writer, John Howe, who before that time had never been to any school, was sent to a Night School, and soon obtained sufficient learning to be able to keep the books of the business. He possessed a very excellent voice, and associated himself with other musical young men and occasionally, with them, visited the houses in the village to sing glees, and furnish a sort of musical entertainment on leisure evenings. Through these meetings John became acquainted with another Ashford celebrity, a most accomplished literary lady, called "Madam Blore;" his superior manners, excellent voice, and his taste for poetry, attracted her notice, and she might be considered ever afterwards as his friend and patron. By Madam Blore John was introduced to Anna Seward, with whose friendship he was afterwards honoured; both these highly talented ladies took much interest in young Howe, and encouraged him to pursue his poetical tastes. That Madam Blore thought very highly of John Howe, is very evident from the fact, that she stood sponsor to one of his daughters, who was named Eliza Dorothy, after her. Soon after this event Madam Blore died. John felt deeply the loss he sustained by her death, and in his lines, "On the Death of a Friend," may be seen how severely he lamented that event. I will insert the first stanza of the lines -
                   "Why ,strike this unexpected blow?
                    0 Death! why whelm me thus in woe?
                    Why rob me of my only friend?
                    Why like a sudden torrent rend
                    My sorrowing heart? Officious tell
                    Me not how good she was-for well
                    I knew her virtues! had I less
                    She'd died and I not known distress."
    William Newton, of Cressbrook, whose portrait has adorned the RELIQUARY," thought very highly of him. I have heard him speak in terms of great respect of his talents and his love of truth. He married in the year 1800, Mary, the daughter of a Mrs. Holmes, a much respected inhabitant of the village, but, alas! Mary died in the year [blank], leaving him with seven children - to one of them, Eliza Dorothy, I am indebted for much of this brief biography; she writes about her father with that deep feeling of respect and reverence for his memory, which proves him to have been a kind and good parent. In one of her letters she writes, "My father could not leave us riches, he left us a good name, which unsullied we still hold for our children. I look back to him with a sigh, and think how little he was understood; he was generous to a fault, and unsuspecting, an easy prey to the crafty and designing." He, continued to carry on the business of a tallow-chandler, until through severe losses, and a fall from his horse, from which fall he never entirely recovered, he was obliged to relinquish it, and went to live at Litton, where he held a small farm; and having married again to a person who enjoyed a small life annuity, he, by the sale of his book, his wife's income, ,and the farm together, was enabled to pass the latter portion of his life in very comfortable circumstances. He died in the year 1838, at Litton, at the age of sixty-two, honoured and respected by all who knew him; his remains were buried at Ashford, near the spot where lay his dearly loved Mary, his first wife. The following lines, written on the death of his Mary - not published in his book, and the last lines he wrote, for the fall from his horse, from which he was taken up as dead, so affected him, that in the words of his intelligent daughter, "He never was himself again - the fine gold became dim, although He gained bodily health and strength."
                             ON THE LOSS OF MARY.
                   Come smiles, come gay attire, and hide
                   The grief which rankles in my breast;
                   I'll lay my sable garb aside,
                   And seem to cold inquirers blest.
                   Yes! I will happy triflers join,
                   As when grief's dart beside me flew
                   When peace and all its joys were mine,
                   And only woe's sad name I knew.
                   Ere death had seal'd that fatal doom,
                   Which call'd thee, Mary, to the Tomb.
                   Hard was the stroke! but oh! I hate
                   The sacred pomp of grief to show;
                   Throned in my breast, in secret state
                   Shall live the reverend form of woe.
                   For observation would degrade
                   The homage to her empire paid.
                   I hate the tear which pity gives,
                   Am jealous of the curious eye
                   The only balm my heart receives,
                   Is from my own unheeded sigh.
                   As veiled in night to sleep - a foe
                   I bend before the throne of woe.
                   A face of smiles - a heart of tears,
                   So in the churchyard realm of death
                   The clod increasing verdure wears,
                   While all is cold dead beneath."
    The following little and trifling Impromptu was spoken by him to a friend of his, who gave it to me: it was caused by some anxious thoughts about his second marriage. He said, while in Sheffield, seeking the favour of his wished for wife -
                  "I walk'd by myself,
                   I talk'd to myself,
                   And thus says myself to me,
                   Take care of thy health,
                   Take care of thy wealth,
                   For nobody cares for thee!"
    In 1816 he published the book above referred to - a small volume of poems - which he entitled, "TRIFLES LIGHT AS AIR," and which he dedicated to His Grace the Duke of Devonshire. The book of poems was purchased by the public very freely, and I think, affords sufficient evidence that John Howe, under more favoured circumstances, would have held no mean position among village minstrels. His satirical strictures on hypocritical pretensions to sanctity, caused him to be looked upon by some as enemy to religious truth, and the busy tongue of bigotry poured out its accustomed venom upon him. I remember hearing one of his severe writings, the burthen of which may be gathered from the following words-
                   Oh what a shame for religion to make farce on,
                   Between the congregation and a swearing drunken parson."
    But his was clearly an attack on those who did dishonour to the sacred name of religion, and not against religion itself. It will be found that highly gifted men, especially those imbued with a poetical element, have always been prone to
                   Look through Nature, up to Nature's God."
    Even the "sweet singer of Israel" saw God's glory and greatness in the heavens, and the Divine Teacher taught his most sublime lessons from Nature, and made the lily of the field sacred by his blessed teaching. But to attack evil doers in high places, has always been a dangerous process, yet that glorious rebuke, "Thou art the man," from Nathan's lips, stands a mark of admiration to the world to this time. No doubt John Howe felt indignant at what he saw practised under the name of religion, and only differed from his neighbours in this, that he had the moral courage to attack and condemn the evil. The Poet Laureate writes of one in a similar dilemma-
                  "Perplex'd in faith, but pure in deeds,
                   At last he beat his music out -
                   There lives more faith in honest doubt,
                   Believe me - than in half the creeds."
    I am anxious that the name of John Howe should be freed from any imputations on this head - his little volume is quite sufficient for the purpose - and those who knew him best, and loved him best, may find comfort in the words of Pope -
                  "For modes of faith let furious bigots fight,
                   His can't be wrong, whose life is in the right."
    He was a man of great natural powers; he lived at a time when politics ran high, and he entered into the political questions of the period with great spirit; his masterly advocacy of the side he took of a question - which was of the most liberal character and bearing - silenced or won his opponents; like all strong-minded men, who dare to think for themselves, and who see beyond the passing moment, he dared to express his convictions on all subjects, strongly and decidedly, fearing no consequences. No doubt this open bravery caused him to have many enemies, but that brave outspoken boldness was evidence of the noble daring of a great soul that could brook no shackles - that rebelled against oppression and injustice, and felt strong in the faith that Time, the great revealer, would, under the command of Divine Providence, on some future day, establish on the earth the reign of truth and righteousness and brotherly kindness. England owes much to the unflinching truthfulness of men like John Howe. I have heard him denounce Boroughmongery and Rotten Boroughs, and advocate Reform in Parliament most forcibly. For this he was looked upon as an enemy to the State, and yet I have lived to see the one abolished and the other become the law of the land! Then, for so speaking, he was called a Jacobin - now, for expressing the very same sentiments, he would be considered a true patriot! What a lesson for the honest hearted and right minded! Well says the Poet -
                  "The brave man ne'er despairs,
                   But lives where cowards die."
    I honour his memory; and it affords me much pleasure to think, that from one source or other, principally from his daughter Eliza Dorothy, I have got together sufficient materials to furnish this humble tribute of respect to the genius and worth of so true and well meaning a Man as John Howe.
    The following lines, from the poem called Monsal Dale, in his "Trifles Light as Air," I here introduce, because it contains the story on which I have founded the following Legend of Demon's Dale -
                   Beneath the Hough, where transverse valleys meet,
                   Is Demon's Dale, a dreary lone retreat--
                   Need I relate (what neighbouring peasants say),
                   How Hulac Warren here concealed lay,
                   Surprised and carried to his horrid den,
                   The fairest daughter of the sons of men;
                   An humble shepherdess - her father's flocks
                   She kept amid these mountains, from whose rocks
                   Her tuneful voice oft echoed through the woods,
                   And mingled with the murmur of the floods;
                   Hulac had eyed the virgin from afar,
                   Conceived her beauteous as the morning star,
                   Fixed in his purpose, often would he trace
                   Each secret winding with intention base.
                   Chance led Hedessa through the verdant grove,
                   To spend the evening in the cool alcove,
                   Where from the thicket springing on his prize,
                   His yell triumphant rumbles through the skies
                   Dread imprecations through each cavern roars,
                   She from the Fates and Gods relief implores.
                   With grief o'erpowered she instantly expires
                   The tears dissolved beneath the hill retires
                   Hence rose the Hedess spring.
                   Hulac blasphemed the Gods, and to atone
                   The heinous crime was turned to Warren Stone;
                   The ponderous mass has many a tempest braved,
                   Through many an age the Wye its sides have lav'd,
                   On the huge bulk the trembling oziers grow,
                   Sigh in the wind - expressive of his woe.


    YE mountains, how lovely ye are! The day-gods' rays fall lightly on your summits, and ye shine in beauty! Ye valleys besprinkled with flowers, rich in green verdure, the sighing wind passes over you, gathers your perfume, and breathes sweetness! Ye stately rocks, rearing your majestic fronts as if fixed on settled and eternal foundations! And thou, fair pellucid streamlet, laving the feet of the everlasting hills, hurrying on over thy rocky pebbled bed, as if in haste to reach some far-off ocean of calmness and quiet! I greet ye all. Your echoes seem to mock my lamentations, and to be indifferent to my sorrow .but oh! ye do sweetly discourse to me of the past, and give comfort to a heart now, alas! sad, childless, widowed ! Ye - dear, loved, cherished scenes - bore witness to my bereavement, to the cause of my grief; within this dell which ye encircle, my child, my Hedessa, poured out her soul! on your lap of flowers, may yet be traced her footprints; the melodious tones of her sweet voice still lingers in your caves and ravines; her pure spirit yet haunts your woods and solitary places! the murmur among your trees, the gurgles of the passing river, the evening's silence., and the morning's dawn, all breathe out salutations once dear to the heart of my loved, my lost one! Shall I repeat the tale of my complaining, the cause of my sorrow and my tears? yes! majestic, dearly-cherished, but silent companions, I will! Listen! oh listen to my wail of sadness! The hunter's horn sounded loudly into our chambers, still nearing our dwelling-place. Surprised, we looked around for the cause of the disturbance - Hedessa ran to yon peak to witness the approach of the hunters - she was seen by them, alas! for her fate! Hector Warren, their leader, saw her face! she was very beautiful! oh, treacherous beauty! from that moment he used every device to possess her - a fatal opportunity soon presented itself, and seizing her fair hand, He poured forth his request, high in pretences, rich in promises! With tears and entreaties Hedessa pleaded a settled love! she pleaded in vain! Hector Warren persisted in his unholy suit! Hedessa yielded not! firm to her first made vows she remained true and unsubdued, spurning his entreaties, promises, and pretensions. Enraged at her unflinching fidelity, promises and pretensions failing, Hector attempted to secure her by force. He seized her gentle form - stifling her cries, he bore her away. and in his arms carried her to the peak of yon cavernous Tors. Standing on that overhanging ledge, where the honey-flower and the wild rose twine in undisturbed possession, the frenzy of despair came to the soul of Hedessa. A power superhuman was bestowed upon her by the Gods, and with one desperate bound she freed herself from the arm that encircled her! but, oh! sad to tell! her life was the penalty of the struggle, for she fell from that fearful height. After long and anxious searching, we found her mangled body at the foot of that rock. There her spirit pure and untainted left her! Yes! there my child, my loved one, breathed her last sigh, but ere it passed away she related the story of her seizure and her escape. Above yon rocky prominence, covered over with the branches of hazel and the leaves of the oak, on a bed of the sacred plant, in her last resting-place, lie the remains of my Hedessa. The wall of grief, in loud and hallowed lays, long resounded its outpouring of sadness in the valley, and on the appearance of each new moon - fair goddess of the night! until this heart break, and this bosom ceases to heave, the solemn dirge and wail shall be repeated. Fragments of the rock from which my Hedessa fell, form the circle round the spot on which the body lies, securing the inclosure (now sacred ground) from the intrusion of whatever is impure. Near the place where my loved one fell, a stream of water, pure as her own soul, yea! pure as innocence itself, gushed forth into being; and while these mountains, and these woods and valleys remain, the spirit of my Hedessa will visit the scenes, and bless with its presence the flowing water of the Hedess Spring.

    But of Hulac Warren? The dye of guilt glared in his eyes! Baffled in his unholy attempt on my child, a deadly destroying rage burned its fires into his heart. He wandered about these beautiful places, unconscious of their loveliness. Abandoned and avoided, a stranger to repose, condemned and uncared-for, his days and nights were filled with bitter moanings and savage denunciations - no moment's quiet cheered him, no word of sympathy or pity fell on his ear. At last reason forsook him! he became a maddened maniac, a ferocious monster. The wild cat and the he-wolf fled at his approach. At the foot of the dale, washed by the water of the river, lies a huge stone! that stone bears his name, and there will remain, as the only record to all future generations of the fate of the unblest and wicked Demon - HULAC WARREN!


Compiled, formatted, hyperlinked, encoded, and copyright © 2005, John Palmer All Rights Reserved.