This database has been developed from the work of a group of scholars who have been working in the field of labouring-class poetry over the past three decades. In additional to individual research data it holds information compiled by the database editor and other contributors from bibliographical and miscellaneous sources. The database currently includes 2,016 named poets, centrally from the period 1700-1900, who published at least one poem, song or hymn in verse. We also record a small number of unpublished figures of whom there are clear records.
Our aim is to compile key biographical and bibliographic information on each individual, such as vital dates, identity markers, occupations, interactions with other laboring-class writers and institutions, key publications, and secondary and reference sources. Unlike the document format of the database ("Superlist") which this website is based on, Laboring-Class Poets Online does not yet include narrative paragraphs on each poet; if you are looking for biographical or critical summaries, it would be best to consult that resource alongside the advanced searching and filtering features of LCPO. Laboring-Class Poets Online will eventually include fully-formed narrative paragraphs about individual poets, but as of now we have been focusing on representing this data through discrete fields, which better facilitate the searching and rendering capabilities expected from a database-driven website. This information may also extend through references to print or other digital materials into a fuller set of resources and information leads about each individual and their works.
The database catalogues all the poets of humble origins we have discovered who lived within the period anywhere in the British Isles, together with a small number of poets from North America and Europe. It includes some ‘possibly’ or ‘partially’ self-taught labouring-class figures (for example, middle class women who had fallen into poverty and in some sense identified themselves with the labouring-class tradition, or individuals about whom little is known, where there are clues that they may be of humble origins), and a few others who are included for comparative purposes (for example, the fact that they were presented, like many of the labouring-class poets, as poetical ‘novelty acts’—boy poets, blind men and women, ‘wandering minstrels’, etc.). Inclusions that are doubtful, for these or any other reason, are listed as "Laboring-Class Status: Uncertain."
Beyond this caution, we have aimed to be inclusive rather than exclusive, and list many figures who are tentatively identifiable as part of a labouring-class tradition. Our aim is to discover and recover what we regard as an important and extensive tradition that has been hidden or marginalised, and we have purposely cast our nets wide in order to get a full picture of what exists and what may prove relevant. Whilst some of our more extended entries, in particular, aim to appraise individual poets more fully, the overall strength of the database should be rather in bringing together and, in the majority of cases, recovering a great many individuals, a few well-known, most obscure. This serves to provide an overall sense of the varied and fascinating individuals who make up the labouring-class tradition in poetry over two centuries, and helps counter the common idea that these individuals were merely mavericks rather than — as we would see them — representatives of a broad and dynamic movement among those without educational, social or economic advantage, to express themselves through poetry and to communicate this to others.1
There are a small number of pre-1700 and post-1900 figures; otherwise all individuals lived and published in the period 1700-1900. All are published poets (with at least one volume, or periodical publications), apart from a small number of unpublished poets who have made some acknowledged contribution, for example Welsh balladeers included in OCLW or DWB, whose medium was primarily oral. The list currently remains uneven in the amount of detail given, and no doubt still contains errors. The collation process is far from complete, and many of the current entries are simply skeleton entries, serving as basic markers for further research. We recognise that for quite a number of poets fuller information will be available elsewhere, and as far as possible we try and indicate where such information lies. But even the skeleton entries, perhaps giving just a name and the title of a poem or a volume, can add something to the picture. As Roger Sales notes in his 2002 study of John Clare ‘titles are texts in their own right’ (85). We warmly welcome, and will happily acknowledge, corrections and additions, and we shall continue to update this database regularly.
Modified and updated for Laboring-Class Poets Online by Cole Crawford
1 We do not generally prioritise judging the quality of the poetry, though the contributions often include brief comment of an informal kind on this complex and multi-faceted issue. For some useful thoughts about quality around popular, performative and ‘doggerel’ verses see Brian Maidment, ‘Imagining the Cockney University: Humorous Poetry, the March of Intellect, and the Periodical Press, 1820–1860’, Victorian Poetry, 52, no. 1 (Spring 2014), 32-9.