Sunday, January 22, 2012

Remarkable County Court Action, Burslem, Staffordshire - 11 April 1891 – Poetry to order

At the Burslem County Court Judge Jordan heard a remarkable case, in which an old man named Bridge sued Mr. Smith Shirley, the proprietor of Westport Lake, for poetry made to order and duly delivered. The plaintiff, who conducted his own case, said he had been engaged by the defendant, a farmer, at the rate of four shillings a day, to make poetry in praise of his flooded fields as a boating and angling resort in summer, and a fine place for skating in winter.

The defendant accepted the poetry, and had it printed on handbills and extensively distributed, but now he refused payment. One of the poems in praise of Westport Lake was read in court amid convulsions of laughter, in which the judge, who said it was “very sublime," heartily joined. After some preliminary flourishes the summer attractions of the lake were thus described

Live fish will come at any cost,
And in the lake they will be tossed.
The angler then with rod and line
May fish away when the weather's fine.

The poet had been specially instructed to notice that refreshments would be provided at a moderate expense, and he thus fulfilled this part of his contract.

There soon will be upon this spot
Refreshments cold as well as hot
So if the chest with hunger craves,
It shall be refilled close by the waves.

There were a good many more lines like this, and the poem wound up as follows with a reassuring and practical application

This lake is so safe, as all should be knowing,
You can get out and walk, if you are tired of rowing
It's the best place in the Potteries for recreation,
And only five minutes' walk from Longport Station

In reply to the judge, the plaintiff said he “was a member of the Central College, Cambridge," and he could take his solemn oath that the poetry was all out of his own brain, no one had helped him with a syllable, "and that he had done scores of poems before."

Judge Jordan said he had to decide the worth of this poetry, and he confessed it was a difficult task. He felt some diffidence in making the attempt, but "as a rude guess he put it down at ten shillings, and gave a verdict accordingly.

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