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Aural Community and William Barnes as Earwitness.

Central to the dialect poetry of William Barnes (1801-1886) is an evocation of emotion that criticism has for half a century struggled to explain, a discomfiting burden of feeling. Writing in the Oxford Handbook of Victorian Poetry, Marcus Waithe offers an alternative to viewing Barnes as a poet hindered by emotion by arguing that what has been labeled the "sentimentality" of his poetry is in fact the expression of an animating anxiety. There is a tension, Waithe argues, between Barnes's work as a writer and his identity as a member of a rural community where manual work, not poem making, is the common labor. "He cannot step away, into the world of the squire, but neither is he free to lend a hand in the fields," Waithe says, and this tension manifests itself in emotion. (1)

Waithe's thought is persuasive, and my consideration of Barnes likewise originates with an interest in the emotion of his poems; but my argument differs, because I find there is more to say about Barnes's dialect poetry in relation to dominant views of dialect in Victorian culture. My assertions arise from two observations: first, Barnes's poems have a complicated relationship with broader Victorian discourse about dialect. Barnes was involved in such discourse--like many a clergyman in his time, he joined the English Dialect Society, and his work in dialectology has been increasingly well explored--but the operations of his poems, which are my central concern, reveal a dissenting relationship with it. (2) Second, Barnes's poems frequently represent experiences of listening and invite readers to have such experiences, a preoccupation seldom remarked in criticism.

The term "earwitness" is meant to encapsulate these observations and connect them to the burden of feeling in Barnes's work. Barnes's dialect poems, I suggest, assert the dynamism and legitimacy of a community defined by the sounds of its speech--of, that is, an aural community--and this assertion emerges precisely in representation of emotional experience as it connects to acts of listening. Through such representation, his poems challenge a Victorian conception of regional dialect that denuded it of complex, contemporary emotional resonance and regarded it instead as a series of specimens. To help show how the listening and feeling in Barnes's poems articulate this challenge, I draw on the work of another dialect speaker and inveterate listener, the little-known Thomas Hallam (1819-1895), who roamed England creating records of its aural communities. Hallam's work contributed to the scholarship of such philologists as Walter Skeat and Alexander John Ellis, both of whom published on dialect, (3) but his archives reveal a preoccupation that those scholars did not share: a dilation on the mockery and embarrassment experienced by dialect speakers and on the life stories of his informants--on, in short, the experiential aspects of living dialect communities.

Thus, Barnes and Hallam, an unusual poet and an unusual dialectologist, have in common an orientation against what I call a specimen-attitude toward English dialect that dominated within Victorian culture and an orientation toward earwitnessing. (4) Barnes's poetry, like Hallam's work as an itinerant listener, articulates an important late-Victorian argument for local aural communities being not bygone sites in need of preservation but socially dynamic, creative, and emotionally formative worlds. To borrow the words of Daniel Fisher writing on "local sounds" in the South American Andes, Barnes's poetry, as a written testament to aural community, is "intricately involved with the production and elaboration of place-based notions of identity and agency"; its "synaesthetic, place-making engagements" emerge through its investment in feeling and listening.'

It will be useful to explore how feeling, sound, and meditation on sonic experience figure in the "place-making" of several dialect poems by Barnes. "The Wind up the Stream," accomplishing a shift from rural sight to disclosure of feeling in just ten lines, is a primer for emotional revelation in Barnes that shows the intricate interdependencies of sound, feeling, and place for the poet. In one sense, the poem is simple. It draws for eight lines an image of foliage and light around a stream, then offers a revelation about emotional interiority in a closing couplet: how our sense of our own condition can be profoundly misguided:
   The sheaded stream did run below
   Tall elems on the bank, in row,
   That leafy ivy stems did clim'
   In light a-shot vrom limb to limb:
   An' winds did play, now brisk, now slack,
   All up the stream, a-dreven back
   The runnen weaves; an' meake em seem
   To be an upward flowen stream:
   As hope do zometimes meake us think
   Our life do rise, the while do zink. (6)

The instructive tenor of this poem comes not only from its brevity and its turn into almost epigrammatic simile with the "As" at line 9 but also from its apparent impersonality. Instead of referring to a specific experience of the speaker's own in lines 9-10, as Barnes's poems frequently do, it adumbrates a general condition. Thus, in addition to saying, here is an emotional experience that happens to us all, "The Wind up the Stream" implies, here is how a poem works: by attending to the external world, it leads us to an insight about feeling: in this case, about the effects of hope on perception and, more subtly, the dismay of discovering reality to be at odds with our perception. Emotion--as revealed, as probed--is the poetic destination. (7)

Yet if universality in "The Wind up the Stream" contributes to an aura of simplicity, it also signals something complex about the value for Barnes's poems of a reader who is a dialect outsider, especially if we read it with the larger body of Barnes's work in mind. Barnes's habit of using place-specific imagery--and the fact that he is not a poet of visual imagery primarily--invite us to understand this "sheaded stream" as a particular spot that the poet chooses not to identify beyond the locale signaled by dialect itself. The poet mediates no further. Similarly, while Barnes's poems often include their own, internal listeners and soundscapes, "The Wind up the Stream" has neither. The poet switches the audio off, the poem dwells in a visual realm, and the role of listener can be assigned only externally, to the poem's audience. Thus, the same absence of mediation that contributes to a sense of simplicity in "The Wind up the Stream" draws readers right across a threshold that is more energetically marked by many of Barnes's poems, assigning to its audience the role of dialect-listener in dialect-place.

That is a rather complex action. Dialect in the poem's "printed voice," to use a term from Eric Griffiths--that "mute polyphony through which we see rather than hear alternatively possible voicings" (8)--says that the scene belongs to Dorset even while creating it and, for the speaker unfamiliar with dialect, generates poetic instruction in being a linguistic outsider. Whatever mediation of the link between sound, place, and reader may occur lies in the bodily work a reader does, silently or out loud, in finding the sounds of the language and discerning where the home of these "elems" may be. In this sense, too, "The Wind up the Stream" is a primer for reading Barnes, for it reveals the "place-making" function of dialect in an unusually stark way. As Alan Chedzoy finds in a telling comparison of this poem with its standard English "translation," dialect is crucial to its "precision" and "immediacy." (9) Without its own language, which cannot be separated from its feeling or its site, the poem fails.

"The Turnstile," one of Barnes's better-known poems, brings its own soundscape, foregrounding an experience of grief over loss of a child as it dwells on a notion of community delineated by sound. First published in Barnes's third collection of dialect poems in 1862, the poem resonates with Barnes's loss of his young son Julius, who died in 1837; T. L. Burton and K. K. Ruthven read it as an instance of "involuntary memory." (10) It assigns intensive emotional significance to a feature of Barnes's local landscape, a stile that his family passed through on the walk to and from church. The poem is a palimpsest of sonic memory, a recounting of an experience hearing church bells "yesterday" that encapsulates as earlier but still recent experience of a son's burial and the tolling of bells then. Its opening line, with its direct revelation of affective condition--"AH! sad wer we as we did peace"---signals that feeling is the matter of the poem, and thematically, "The Turnstile" revolves around a contrast between how it once was to pass through this particular turnstile ("Vor always there"; I. 13) and the new emotional experience of that passage ("But yesterday"; 1. 27), after the burial of "our giddy child" (1. 26). (11) The site of the turnstile, which would have been one of many in the pastures around Dorchester, is specified as by one local inhabitant to another: "On Stean-cliff road, 'ithin the drong" (1. 9; a "drong" being a lane between hedges or walls). As the poem closes, assignment of a masculine pronoun to the turnstile nurtures pathos, and the empty "white earms" of the turnstile that "stood still" (1. 34) after other members of the family have passed through as usual become a figure for the bereft father.

The sonic processes of this poem of sorrow are complex. First, there are the workings of dialect. For a non-Dorset speaker, the sounds of the Dorset dialect in the inner voice of a silent reading foster an emotional attentiveness and nurture a mournful feel. The words are almost but not quite familiar, so that one must read (and listen) carefully; and at moments, the Dorset sounds--"asheaken wild" (1. 25), instead of shaking wildly, "zent" instead of "sent" in "He zent us on our giddy child" (1. 26)--reinforce the sense of the lines. There is the long sound in "mwoan'd" (1.3) and, more generally, the Dorset "oo" throughout the poem, a keening sound. The lost child is not simply a little boy but a "little bwoy" (1. 33), and again for non-Dorset speakers there is an invitation to extra attentiveness and a slowing, a suspension of the moment spent in contemplation of the lost child, who gains specificity in belonging to a dialect community.

As with "The Wind up the Stream," reflecting on what Barnes's language meant (or means) for readers who did or do not know the Dorset dialect, as well as for Dorset speakers, helps to clarify the meaning of aural community in his poems. Many such readers existed in Barnes's time. In the decades after the first book-length appearance of his dialect poems in 1844 (Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect), publication of his dialect poems in many editions, including those of the second and third collections (1858 and 1862), brought him a widening readership. Barnes had a readership outside Dorset, and his awareness of the "dual status" of his 1844 collection as "both a regional and metropolitan publication" caused him "anxiety" (Burton and Ruthven, "General Introduction," p. cvii). As he knew, many of his readers could not speak the Dorset dialect and were not accustomed to hearing it. His use of dialect, moreover, was "uncompromising," as Sue Edney observes; (12) one cannot simply read around Dorset speech in his dialect poems or sideline the idea of aural community they evoke. Waithe, in his work on Barnes's field poems, focuses on barriers to entry: "At best, the reader becomes an honorary or accidental insider. At worst, we are imposters, and the misplaced familiarity is merely a polite mechanism for keeping the intruder at bay" (p. 464). Yet without denying that barriers operate in Barnes's work, I propose that an understanding of earwitnessing in these poems asks us to reverse perspective: readers outside the aural community of Dorset are essential for them, because they mean to issue such readers an invitation.

For such readers, as I have suggested, the Dorset dialect enforces a slowing down. The "mute polyphony" that Griffiths discusses becomes complicated, for what if a poem's "printed voice" presents a reader with an English dialect she or he has never heard or has rarely heard? We might think of this readerly experience as a variety of what Isabel Hofmeyr calls "slow reading." Writing about slow reading as a "Gandhian theory of reading" that is "powerfully bound up with ideas of interiority," Hofmeyr remarks that "[o]ne cannot outsource serious reading or pretend to read more or faster than one's body permits one." (13) Within Barnes's dialect poems, such slowing would entail recognition that one was peripheral, an outsider to that aural community whose members might easily grasp the workings of dialect. The internal soundtrack, that synaesthetic experience of reading that the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics describes as "sounds resonat[ing] in the 'inner ear' of a fully attentive silent reading"--would slow or stop. (14) The need to adjust it--what does the English of Dorset sound like?--invites one to become a student of the dialect: to hear the language, to feel oneself an outsider, to feel the emotion of the poems even so, and in this way to reflect on aural community.

With its internal soundscape of ringing bells, "The Turnstile" contrasts the lively pealing of "yesterday" with the tolling of bells on the child's burial day, creating pathos through a sense that while the sound has changed, the grief of the hearers endures. The opening sentence, extending across six tetrameter lines, introduces the sound of the bells immediately after remarking the feeling of the occasion:
   AH! sad wer we as we did peace
   The wold church road, wi' downcast feace,
   The while the bells, that mwoan'd so deep
   Above our child a-left asleep,
   Wer now a-zingen all alive
   Wi' t'other bells to meake the vive. (11. 1-5)

Working from older to newer, as if to suggest the impossibility of hearing present sound without somehow also hearing past sound, these lines communicate conflict as well as contrast. Besides the difference between the sorrowful tolling of bells "that mwoan'd so deep" upon the child's burial--now part of deep sonic memory--and the animated sound of the five ("vive") bells the day before, there is an emotional disjuncture between these cheerful bells "all alive" and the "sad" mood of the speaker and his family who walk within their sound. Syntactically, the lines intimate how inextricable the layers of sonic memory are, with the appositive phrase describing the earlier sound of mourning bells ("that mwoan'd so deep / Above our child a-left asleep") nestled into the time frame, "The while," of lively ringing the day before.

Sound in these opening lines joins "The Turnstile" to a pattern in Barnes's poetry, the representation of ringing church bells to explore experiences of aural community, experiences always linked to feeling. Barnes's vocation as a clergyman situated him well for perceiving the role of bells in setting sonic mood. Yet to recognize the significance of these soundscapes, we must move beyond facile understanding of bells as the rehearsed motif of a country pastor--a move that Barnes's presentation does not necessarily urge us to make. His poem "The Two Churches," for example, with its simple title apparently trained on visible structures, undertakes an intricate meditation on sonic boundaries and unities as its speaker moves from the terrain of one church's bells to that of another's. As Jennifer Esmail suggests in her work on "deaf poetry," within a poetic culture "that invested poetry with a special relationship to aurality and orality" such as the Victorian, a poet's representation of sound might be expected to have an argumentative aspect, to answer the dominant culture in some way. (15) Barnes is not a deaf poet; but as a dialect poet, he too worked outside the poetic mainstream, consciously writing in an outsider's voice, and he too "mobilized" representation of sound (Esmail, p. 518). We would be right to suppose, further, that bells had a special communicative currency in Barnes's Dorset, the recovery of which requires imagination. "The rural peals of the nineteenth century, which have become for us the sound of another time," writes the historian Alain Corbin, "were listened to, and evaluated according to a system of affects that is now lost to us. They bear witness to a different relation to the world and to the sacred as well as to a different way of being inscribed in time and space.... The reading of the auditory environment would then constitute one of the procedures involved in the construction of identities, both of individuals and of communities." (16) For a perceptive listener such as Barnes, the ringing of bells was singularly available as a form of poetic parley.

"The Two Churches," published in the same collection (1862) as "The Turnstile," is a listening poem. After an opening stanza establishing that the weather is fine and it is Sunday, a day characterized by bell-ringing ("O day o' rest when bells do toll!"; 1. 9), its second stanza places the speaker in a sonically liminal position. From where he stands on a particular bank of flowers, he hears the bells of two communities, sounds that overpower those of the natural world ("Adrownen wi' their holy call, / The goocoo an' the water-vall"; 11. 18-19) to become the sounds of each place. He advances into one soundscape as another fades:
   An' on the cowslip-knap at Creech,
   Below the grove o' steately beech,
   I heard two tow'rs a-cheemen clear,
   Vrom woone I went, to woone drew near,
   As they did call, by flow'ry ground,
   The bright-shod veet vrom housen round,
   A-drownen wi' their holy call,
   The goocoo an' the water-vall.
   Die off, O bells o' my dear pleace,
   Ring out, O bells avore my feace,
   Vull sweet your swells, O ding-dong bells. (11. 12-22; Poems of
      Rural Life
   in the Dorset Dialect, p. 9)

The happening of this stanza is the crossing of a sonic boundary, as represented in line 15 ("Vrom woone I went, to woone drew near") and emphasized with a turn to the imperative in lines 20-21: "Die off, O bells o' my dear pleace, / Ring out, O bells avore my feace."

The next stanza pivots into thought about marriage, depicting it as a merging of sonic spheres. The speaker comes from one bell-world, of Lea church, his wife from another, Noke; and their marriage means they share "woone tower's sound" (1. 28). Marriage is defined as the creation of a sonic unity:
   Ah! then vor things that time did bring
   My kinsvo'k, Lea had bells to ring;
   An' then, agean, vor what bevell
   My wife's, why Noke church had a bell;
   But soon wi' hopevul lives a-bound
   In woone, we had woone tower's sound,
   Vor our high jays all vive bells rung,
   Our losses had woone iron tongue.
   Oh! ring all round, an' never mwoan
   So deep an' slow woone bell alwone,
   Vor sweet your swells o' vive clear bells. (11. 23-33)

Central to this turn toward marriage and its hopeful unity is the notion of aural communities whose emotional life is telegraphed by bells. Celebration sounds one way, with five bells ringing ("Vor our high jays all vive bells rung"; 1. 29), and mourning sounds another, with the tolling of a single bell, "woone iron tongue" (1. 30), for grief; and thus the speaker articulates his wish for the fortunes of his community in terms of the sound that may surround them: "Oh! ring all round, an' never mwoan / So deep an' slow woone bell alwone" (11. 31-32). May we live in this sound, not that one. Aural experience on the cowslip bank and walking onward, in the first stanza, motivates a more abstract meditation on soundscapes and their communal meanings in the second.

Yet Barnes also knew, as he reveals in "The Turnstile," that the feeling communicated by ringing bells may well be--in fact, at any given moment is sure to be--at odds with the private emotional condition of individuals within the community that their sound encapsulates. Memory, likewise, as "The Turnstile" shows, ensures potential for emotional complexity within shared sonic experience. Affective dissonance features in "The Turnstile" from the start, as the speaker and his family "peace" their mournful way within the celebratory peal of Sunday bells. Especially if we read the poem as set at a churchyard entry (17)--so that its distances and time line are short, its sound loud--we can understand all its action, the passage through the turnstile of wife, daughter, and speaker in turn and the stillness then of the empty "earms" that "had noo little bwoy to vill" them at the close, as suspended within the affective dissonance between sound heard and sound felt. Such emotional complexity in listeners' relationships to what is heard does not diminish, is not inimical to, aural community within Barnes's poems but is constitutive of it. The dialect community of these poems is animated. It is "all alive" with complicated feeling, with interiorities, and herein lies a response to dominant Victorian conceptions of dialect. The sonic sphere becomes a source of agency, "a domain of social action and empowerment" (18) in "The Turnstile" and "The Two Churches," as Barnes reveals the animation and emotional complexity of the aural community he represents.

Such a theorist as Fisher on aurality helps us recognize how and that Barnes's poems bear witness to aural community, but how do they respond to ideas of dialect in their time? There is still work to be done to situate Barnes's poems in relation to the larger "world of Victorian dialectology," as Burton and Ruthven have noted. (19) In Victorian presentations of dialect verse, a key term is "specimen." Typically, the term describes poems that are in some way estranged from the English literary mainstream. Across the nineteenth century, Persian, Sanskrit, Russian, Hungarian, German and Swedish poetry, "early native poetry of Ireland," Polish poetry, Romany poetry, and Hausa poetry, for example, all appear under the designation "specimens" in dedicated volumes, as do English dialect poems such as those in the multiauthored Specimens of the Westmorland Dialect (1872) or the "Devonshire" portion (edited by Frederic Elworthy, 1879) in Skeat's Specimens of English Dialects series, to take but two examples. (20) As this list implies, something, whether the foreignness of its original language, the remoteness--temporal, spatial, or both--of its home, or affiliations with a problematized community within Britain itself, makes the "specimen poem" hard to reconcile with an idealized English literary sphere. In the Victorian collocation "specimen poem," the lexicon of scientific surety subtly signals unknowingness: an uncertainty about what these poems (whose authors in many cases remain unidentified) mean in themselves and about what the literatures they represent mean, could mean, or should mean for the English literary tradition. The evidentiary term "specimen" signals difficulty in contemplating difference.

The dialect poems of Barnes were contemporary, and he oversaw their publication, so the term "specimen" was not generally applied to them; but there are signs of a similar uncertainty in their reception. The editor of the Dorchester County Chronicle placed them initially in the agricultural section instead of the paper's "poetry corner," (21) and Barnes's very interest in newspaper publication aligns him with the path of the "aspiring working class poet," as Kirstie Blair identifies it, though he was not quite that. (22) Some "regional" papers, in praising Barnes's first volume of Poems of Rural Life (1844), edited passages they reproduced into the orthography of standard English (Burton and Ruthven, "General Introduction," p. cviii). Barnes's daughter Lucy Baxter, in her biography of 1887, writes how "in the first instance people looked on Dorset as a foreign tongue," of how some Victorian reviewers of Barnes's dialect poetry "hardly knew whether to review it on artistic or scientific grounds," and of how the poetry was by some understood centrally as a political statement: "Some critics," she writes, "took up the book on very unexpected grounds of its political influence." (23) She notes how one reviewer, considering the poem "Summer Evening Dance," regards Barnes primarily as a class emissary:
   And this, we would trust, may be among the consequences of the
   present publication, to keep alive in some measure the interest in
   the affairs of the poor, which has been largely awakened in this
   neighbourhood of late. If the landlords and upper classes generally
   may thus be led to a more intimate acquaintance with their feelings
   and habits, and to a more sincere sympathy with their wants and
   hopes, and for their homely and household prejudices, which are far
   too frequently violated and despised, we are convinced that Mr.
   Barnes will feel that his poems have aided in a work, whose success
   he would value far above any fame or emolument that may accrue to
   himself, (p. 82)

These comments are not unperceptive, because in several ways Barnes did concern himself directly with the position of the poor. (24) But Baxter's remarks show that because he wrote in dialect, Barnes's poetry was understood to be categorically different in intention from poetry in standard English; its agency was defined and hence constrained by ideas of dialect that nondialect speakers had. A sense of that necessary difference has persisted beyond Victorian times and is part of the reason why Barnes's poems are seldom anthologized, why they have never had a secure place in the canon. (25) Dialect makes them an outsider's poetry.

A near contemporary of Barnes who was deeply aware of the outsider identity of dialect communities was Thomas Hallam. As a member of the English Dialect Society, Hallam spent years creating written records of the speech in various regions of England with great precision, in correspondence with Skeat and Ellis, whose scholarship his investigations supported. Although these scholars credited his assistance, Hallam collected much material that they never published and pondered questions about the relationship between dominant and peripheral speech communities that they never addressed. Journeying around England to collect information about regional dialects, he came to understand England as communities of sounds. Hallam spent his life listening, and his map of England was an aural one. In 1882, for example, he wrote to Skeat about his establishment of a "scientific frontier": "During my holiday tours in 1880 and 1881," Hallam writes, "I have ascertained the approximate boundary line across England, between the Midland forms of short _u_ in up, but, and c ... and the Standard English or Southern form [u]; completing the boundary thru Mid and N. Salop (aka Shropshire) at Xmas and the New Year just commenced." (26) This discovery in regional phonetics was written up in 1881 in the Manchester City News.

For Hallam as for Barnes, a dialect community was the center, instead of a periphery. His profile differed from that of the usual workers in "dialectological fieldwork," characterized by Burton and Ruthven as "Oxbridge-educated clergymen rusticated to parishes in darkest England" (Burton and Ruthven, "Dialect Poetry," p. 318). Born in 1819 in Bowden Edge, Derby, one of eleven children, he lived in the Peak District until 1845, when he was employed by the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway; by 1846, he was living in Manchester. The railway enabled him to pursue his "dialectical investigations," because passenger networks were growing, and as an employee, Hallam traveled at discounted rates.

Hallam's private writings, in frequently reflecting on the experiences of dialect speakers, direct us toward the argumentative edge of the feeling and listening in Barnes's poetry. His discussion of his reasons for studying dialect conveys a sense of the alienating experience of being a dialect speaker. Chief among them is the elimination of mockery. In a drafting for an essay on "English provincialisms," he writes,
   The following are among the advantages of the study of
   provincialisms 1 An acquaintance with their etymology would
   effectually prevent a very great portion of the unwarrantable,
   unlearned, sarcastic + sorrowful remarks which are made in
   reference to those speaking the provincial dialects, and therefore,
   prevent a great deal of ill-feeling at present produced in society.
   I believe, there are many having a tolerable education, who think
   that these provincialisms are either mere vulgar corruptions of
   modern English, or so to speak mere barbarisms--words, + c. having
   no authority either historically or etymologically: But a proper
   investigation of the subject would show that they are quite
   mistaken.... I also believe that almost every educated person,
   acquainted with the etymology of the provincial dialects, would
   listen with pleasure to the unhesitating + unfettered--I may even
   say eloquent--conversation of many a country person:--in short,
   instead of his being ashamed or disgusted with that conversation,
   it would be an intellectual, etymological, historical, +
   antiquarian feast. (27)

Writing on the intensity of differences in regional speech, Hallam again notes how dialect speakers are subject to ridicule:

There is scarcely any thing more common in this country than for persons to make remarks, critical, sarcastic, sneering or otherwise, on the speech of those who differ from them.

The educated differ widely from the masses or uneducated; and the mincing or affectedly polite differ still more widely from them.

The masses differ considerably amongst themselves--in some parts of the country there are words, phrases, + modes of pronunciation peculiar to almost every parish or hamlet.

The vowels + diphthongs are variously pronounced in different districts. A difference in the sound of only one vowel or diphthong running through any dialect makes a great alteration or distinction. (MS Eng lang d 22 [32084], p. 7/35)

Hallam's interest in collecting the life stories of his informants, which appear often in his papers, exceeds the bounds of conventional dialectology and enters into a realm of recovery; against the belittlement to which he refers, his records insist on displaying the full subjectivity of dialect speakers.

Hallam's education was in large part an education in sound: orthoepy, more specifically--the study of the correct (or accepted) pronunciation of words--and phonetic orthography, or how to write down the sounds one hears. Hallam practiced this phonography by hand alongside the emergence of the phonograph in the late 1870s. Two volumes at the core of Hallam's sound studies were Walker's Pronouncing Dictionary of the English Language (first published as Walker's Critical Pronouncing Dictionary, 1791) (28) and Isaac Pitman's Shorthand (1837). An early catalyst for Hallam's investigations in orthoepy was a speech impediment that caused him to leave school. Following his departure, he acquired his dictionary, which became a gateway to sound studies, as he explains in autobiographical notes:
   From early childhood I was strongly inclined to books--Learned the
   rudiments of education, Reading, Writing, and a little arithmetic
   at Elnor Lane School in the Township of Fernilee--went there at
   intervals ... to April 1830--I might have gone to school longer,
   but a slight impediment in speech at that time caused me to elect
   to remain at home--as an evidence of my aptitude to learn the
   schoolmaster proposed to my father to teach me without fee if I
   would resume going....

      In June 1840 got Walker's Dictionary--studied his Introduction
   and Principles--notwithstanding Walker's defects, this was no mean
   start in Phonetics--I then systematically examined the words in the
   body of the Dictionary from beginning to end as regards the
   pronunciation--marking every word in pencil whose pronun. differed
   from what I expected--the words so marked were referred to again;
   perhaps 2 or 3 times. (29)

His interest lay in those pencil markings: in the gap between Walker's and his own experience of language, and in how Pitman's writing system--Hallam heard him lecture in the 1830s--might be a tool for crossing it, legitimizing the different voices one heard. His account of his approach to collecting dialect words--he gives his script, which his notebooks show became increasingly refined and elaborate over his years of collecting--communicates his sense of his role as a bridge between two worlds, that of the scholars, here the outsiders, interested in the speech, and that of dialect speakers, who may be suspicious of his motive for talking with them. Hallam's script begins, "I am away from Manchester for a holiday of a fortnight, and this year I am visiting--shire,--shire, & c. When I am away for a holiday I have a curious pursuit, or mode of employing my time; that is, at any village or town which I visit, after making inquiries, I get into conversation with one or two elderly working people who are natives, in order to ask how various words are spoken by working people, when conversing among themselves without 'talking fine,' what we call the dialect of the place or district" (MS Eng lang d 21 [32083]). Hallam then remarks on how dialect is fading. "I next assure them--'This information is not collected for the purpose of putting any squibs or jokes in newspapers, or to make fun of the dialects in any way.'" As he names the scholars for whom he collects material, he implicitly acknowledges the distance between their concerns and those of his subjects, emphasizing his own identity as a dialect speaker. His script continues,
   There's a gentleman in London, AJ Ellis Esq, who has written 4
   parts of an extensive work called (entitled) "Early English
   Pronunciation;" He has traced the pronunc_n of English from the
   time of our Anglo-Saxon forefathers to the present time; and the
   fifth part of the work will contain accounts and specimens of
   Present English Dialects throughout the country (England + part of
   Scotland). He is writing the work gratis for three learned

      I have spent most of my holidays duri[ng] the last (say) 14 years
   in going into various counties to obtain dialectal
   information--taking fresh districts almost every year.

      I was bro_t up in the Peak of Derbyshire, but left there for
   Manchester when I was 26 years of age. In my native district father
   was called (fee;dher); daughter was ...

      By this time, my informants generally feel at home. (MS Eng lang
   d 21 [32083]). (30)

Hallam bridges the gap to his informants with his own dialect words. Those words do not have to be, and generally would not have been, from the same dialect as that of his informants. The point is that he, too, belongs to a dialect community, and he presents his dialect words as a passport to theirs. He may not be in their dialect, but he is in a dialect and so broadly is in an aural community they share, which is distinct from that of "AJ Ellis, Esq" in London.

That Hallam's approach was successful is evident in Skeat's and Ellis's substantial reliance on his work; that it was necessary emerges in his detailed account, in his research journals, of meeting a skeptical young woman in Derbyshire, in the village of Eyam, who tried to prevent her brother from speaking to him in the belief that Hallam was collecting their language for the purposes of mockery. (31) Replete with narration of his encounters with dialect speakers, Hallam's papers show that for him, English dialects are first and centrally languages of lived experience and lived emotional resonance. They also show him defending his ability to hear language accurately while possessing a regional speech of his own. "You seem to take it for granted that my being brought up in the Peak of Db. [Derby] has produced or left in me a certain equation which is in a certain degree prejudiced or detracts from my power to record dialectical speech with correctness--I must very distinctly repudiate this," he asserts to a correspondent. (32) Hallam asserts his ability to do serious work, of scholarly caliber, in dialectology as a dialect speaker.

As an earwitness to the experiential realities and self-knowledge of dialect communities, Hallam had in common with Barnes an orientation against the specimen culture of Victorian dialect studies. His insistence on learning and recording the stories of his informants in this sense parallels Barnes's feeling and listening in dialect poems, and his conscious negotiation of his identity as a dialect speaker resembles the negotiations of Barnes, who, as Edney notes, wrote "in a language he knew well but did not speak publicly" (33) and, as Chedzoy shows, was concerned by the "contempt" with which speakers of the Dorset dialect were regarded (People's Poet, p. 78). Both men navigated suspicion over their reliability and authenticity as witnesses to aural communities, Hallam as a dialectologist who spoke a dialect and Barnes as a poet whom some readers suspected of using dialect in place of poetical skill (Burton and Ruthven, "General Introduction," p. lxxxv). Hallam's papers remind us how the very mode of presentation of dialect in his and Barnes's time could constitute a political statement, and they suggest one answer to a problem that Burton and Ruthven point out, that the combination in Barnes's poetry of politically "conservative" themes with "stylistically subversive" choices has inhibited critics from reading it as a poetry of social action (Burton and Ruthven, "Dialect Poetry," p. 310). Hallam shows that it makes sense to recognize aurality as a Victorian dialect poet's sphere for social agency.

The dilation on emotion in Barnes's poetry plays an intrinsic role in a poetic argument about the status of the very language he employs, an argument for the dynamism of the Dorset dialect as a language of emotional interiority. Barnes's remarks on the dialect poetry of Tennyson--who may have written his dialect poem "The Northern Farmer," an experiment in the dialect of Lincolnshire, after a visit to Barnes--give us evidence that he valued emotional interiority as a response to specimen culture. "He spoke of Tennyson's Northern Farmer," writes Barnes's friend Francis Kilvert of a visit to him in 1874"'Tennyson,' he said, 'even if he did not mean to ridicule the Northern Farmer, at least had no love for him and no sympathy with him.' Which is probably true and a just criticism. The Poet went on to say that in all which he himself had written there was not a line which was not inspired by love for &. kindly sympathy with the things and people described." (34) The "love and kindly sympathy" that Kilvert writes of, manifested in the emotion in Barnes's poems, have an argumentative aspect, as Barnes's complaint against Tennyson hints we might expect.

What is the opposite of a specimen poem? One way of theorizing Barnes's position would be to ask this question. An answer would be, a poem that lays itself open in a different way, that generates a revelation of the emotional interiority of poetic selves, as Barnes's poems do again and again, especially his poems suffused in melancholy. In this reading, the burden of feeling--the sentimentality--that makes some readers feel that Barnes's poems need apology is neither accidental nor extraneous. It is a challenge to the specimen culture to which dialects in Victorian England were generally consigned. The effusion of feeling in Barnes's poetry remakes the identity of dialect in Victorian times, asserting its identity as a creative, contemporary language of emotional intelligence; and so it is in this sense feeling with a mission.

I have drawn on Fisher's work to note the role of dialect in conveying "place-based notions of identity and agency," and this is what Hallam's papers show him elaborating. He exercises there his agency as a dialect speaker, his capacity as someone who speaks dialect to think incisively and critically about it and knowingly to communicate with and through it. Barnes's poems manifest a similar agency. His poetic language makes and remakes not only images from the Dorset community but the aural experience of this world. It does this most intensively when it dilates on emotional interiority.

We find Barnes exercising such agency and meet an instance of the antispecimen poem in "The Wind at the Door," a vignette of emotional apprehension that dramatizes the iterative experience of grief: loss is reenacted and reexperienced in an ordinary, diurnal, aural event, the sound of wind rattling a door. Thematically, the poems tells how grief repeats itself, yet each experiencing of it is somehow singular. Central to communicating this idea is the representation of sonic experience. Emotional vicissitude emerges through a shifting soundscape, culminating in a magical moment when the speaker addresses the natural world in dialect. The first stanza affiliates silence with loss and solitude as it sets the evening scene:
   As day did darken on the dewy grass,
   There still wi' nwone a-come by me
   To stay a while at hwome by me
   Within the house, all dumb by me,
   I zot me sad, as eventide did pass. (11. 1-5) (35)

The connection of loss to silence--encapsulated in the phrase "all dumb by me"--is complicated, for while on the one hand the stanza clearly conveys the idea of the speaker sitting alone and in silence "as eventide did pass," the syntactic connection of "all dumb by me" to "nwone a-come by me"--to the person who is not coming--signals that what the speaker misses is the opportunity to enjoy one kind of silence (a companionable sort that involves sitting quietly with someone) as opposed to another, the silence of utter solitude. In this way, the opening stanza offers an emotional taxonomy of soundscape; what is desired is not this kind of silence but that. In the second stanza, sound enters: caused by the wind yet suggestive of human presence:
   An' there a win'-blast shook the rattlen door,
   An' seem'd, as win' did mwoan without,
   As if my Jeane, alwone without,
   A-stannen on the stwone without,
   Wer there a-come wi' happiness oonce mwore. (11. 6-10)

This idea makes the speaker move in the third stanza, leading there to a visual and tactile experience connected to his loss:
   I went to door, an' out vrom trees above
   My head, upon the blast by me,
   Sweet blossoms wer a-cast by me,
   As if my love a-pass'd by me,
   Did fling em down, a token of her love. (11. 11-15)

In the fourth stanza, the speaker addresses these falling flowers.
   Sweet blossoms o' the tree where I do mum,
   I thought, if you did blow vor her,
   Vor apples that should grow vor her,
   A-vallen red below vor her,
   Oh: then how happy I should zee you kern. (11. 16-20)

The final stanza retrospectively defines the experiences of the third and fourth as fleeting and magical:
   But no: too soon I vound my charm a-broke.
   Noo comely soul in white like her,
   Noo wife a-steppen light like her,
   Noo wife o' comely height like her
   Went by, but all my keenest grief awoke. (11. 21-25)

The direct speech to the blossoms in stanza 4, with its revelation of longing, cannot be sustained, and the poem thus narrates a return to mourning.

Of special interest is the work of stanza 4, the poem's passage of deepest interiority, where internal speech, that of "thought" (1. 17), is rendered almost as if it were spoken dialogue and so is highlighted, brought forward, and given in dialect. The speaker addresses the blossoms "in thought," in dialect that is rendered as direct speech. (Some subsequent publications place the address to the flowers in quotation marks.) He imagines how glad he would be to see the flowers "kern"--set, turn to fruit--if his beloved could be there to enjoy the apples thus created. The Dorset dialect here becomes a potent language of the interior life as it simultaneously reaches out to a community of Dorset speakers who share this language of heart and of thought. This gesture makes "The Wind at the Door" the inverse of a specimen poem, a poem of intensive earwitnessing.

While Hallam discloses the anxiety that, he tells us, characteristically beset dialect speakers, particularly in relation to counterparts from outside their dialect communities, Barnes's poems present those very counterparts with--in contrast--sustained and liberal disclosure of feeling. By making his listening poems emotion rich, Barnes creates a world in which the aural community of dialect speakers is distinguished not by self-consciousness or fear but by emotional profusion. This is not dialect in a state of discomfort, wound tightly, but dialect on the unwind, promiscuous with sound and feeling both, and issuing a challenge to the specimen culture with which dialects in Victorian England were generally affiliated. Sound and feeling in Barnes's poetry lie at the core of a project to recast the identity of dialect communities: to establish dialect's identity as a literary language of emotional revelation--as, precisely, an insider's language.


I am grateful to the William Barnes Society and its secretary, Marion Tait, and to the Dorset County Museum, Dorchester, for granting me access to Barnes's papers and permission to publish from them here; to the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, for access to and permission to publish from Hallam's Dialect Collections; to the Archives and Special Collections at King's College, London, for access to and permission to publish from the papers of Walter William Skeat; and to Anne DeWitt for advice on an early draft of this essay. Research and writing of this article were supported by a Dean's Research Enhancement Grant in the Division of Arts and Humanities, Queens College, CUNY, and by a PSC-CUNY Award, jointly funded by the Professional Staff Congress and the City University of New York.


(1) Marcus Waithe, "William Barnes: Views of Field Labour in Poems of Rural Life" in The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Poetry, ed. Matthew Bevis (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2013), p. 466.

(2) For an account of Barnes's work in dialectology and philology, see T. L. Burton and K. K. Ruthven, "General Introduction," in Complete Poems of William Barnes, vol. 1, Poems in the Broad Form of the Dorset Dialect, ed. T. L. Burton and K. K. Ruthven (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2013), pp. xxxvii-lxxi.

(3) Skeat's work in dialect includes studies of place names, the Etymological English Dietionary (1879-82), Specimens of English Dialects (1879), and Nine Specimens of English Dialects (1895); he contributed significantly to the English Dialect Dictionary (ed. Joseph Wright, 1898-1905), the creation of which was the aim of the English Dialect Society, which he founded in 1876. Ellis authored English Dialects--Their Sounds and Homes (1890). Hallam's correspondence with Skeat and Ellis is in the Walter William Skeat Collection at King's College, London, and in Thomas Hallam's Dialect Collections at the Bodleian, Univ. of Oxford. Accounts of "Mr. Hallam's Dialectological Investigations" appear in annual reports of the English Dialect Society between 1879 and 1886.

(4) Hallam and Barnes apparently never met, though Hallam records owning books by Barnes. A parallel between them lies in their affiliation with the English Dialect Society, where their work was undervalued or met with disconcertion. Burton and Ruthven observe as much of Barnes ("General Introduction," p. lxi). Hallam, despite his extensive work for and correspondence with the society, published only one article of his own (Four Dialect Words: Clem, Lake, Nesh, and Oss [London: Triibner, 1885])--and this with some difficulty, his papers suggest. In letters of 1885, Hallam sought a meeting with Skeat, who advised him that Ellis would be the better scholar to meet, but it seems no such call ever occurred. MS Eng lang d37 (32099), Hallam's Dialect Collections.

(5) Daniel Fisher, "Local Sounds, Popular Technologies: History and Historicity in Andean Radio," in Aural Cultures, ed. Jim Drobnick (Montreal and Banff: Walter Phillips Gallery / YYZ Books, 2004), p. 208.

(6) My text comes from MS Book no. 7, p. 51, in the William Barnes Archive, Dorset County Museum, Dorchester, U.K., where it is noted that the poem was published in a local journal, the Hawk, probably in 1864; for lines 3 and 4, struck out in the MS, 1 have relied on Alan Chedzoy, The People's Poet: William Barnes of Dorset (Stroud, U.K.: History Press, 2010), p. 167. A standard English version appears in Poems of Rural Life in Common English (London: Macmillan, 1868), p. 82.

(7) In another reading, the poem delineates the visual world as it does precisely because of its speaker's emotional state. But the poem's treatment of feeling as revelation remains the key point.

(8) Eric Griffiths, The Printed Voice of Victorian Poetry (Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon, 1989), p. 66.

(9) Chedzoy, People's Poet, p. 167.

(10) Burton and Ruthven, Complete Poems of William Barnes, l:374n90.

(11) William Barnes, "The Turnstile," in Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect: Third Collection (London: John Russell Smith, 1862), p. 124.

(12) Sue Edney, "William Barnes's Place and Dialects of Connection," in Class and the Canon: Constructing Labouring Class Poetry and Poetics, 1750-1900, ed. Kirstie Blair and Mina Gorji (New York: Palgrave, 2013), p. 192.

(13) Isabel Hofmeyr, Gandhi's Printing Press (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 2013), pp. 125, 161.

(14) Fabian Gudas and Michael Davidson, "Voice," in New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Alex Preminger and T. V. F. Brogan (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1993), p. 1366.

(15) Jennifer Esmail, '"Perchance my hand may touch the lyre': Orality and Textuality in Nineteenth-Century Deaf Poetry," VP 49, no. 4 (2011): 509.

(16) Alain Corbin, Village Bells: Sound and Meaning in the Nineteenth-Century French Countryside, translated by Martin Thom (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1998), p. xix.

(17) Burton and Ruthven read the poem this way: Complete Poems, p. 374n90.

(18) Jim Drobnick, "Listening Awry," in Drobnick, Aural Cultures, p. 14.

(19) T. L. Burton and K. K. Ruthven, "Dialect Poetry, William Barnes and the Literary Canon," ELH 76, no. 2 (2009): 310.

(20) For example, Alexander Chodzko, Specimens of the Popular Poetry of Persia, as Found in the Adventures and Improvisations of Kurroglou ... (London: Oriental Translation Fund, 1842); Ralph T. H. Griffith, Specimens of Old Indian Poetry, Translated from the Original Sanskrit (London: A. Hall, Virtue, 1852); John Bowring, Specimens of the Russian Poets (London, 1821-1823); Zsigmond Vekey, A Grammar of the Hungarian Language, with Appropriate Exercises, a Copious Vocabulary and Specimens of Hungarian Poetry (London: T. Saunders, 1852); John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune, Specimens of Swedish and German Poetry (London: J. Murray, 1848); Henry R. Montgomery, Specimens of the Early Native Poetry of Ireland, in English Metrical Translations, by Miss Brooke, Sir S. Ferguson ... (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent, 1892); John Bowring, Specimens of the Polish Poets, with Notes and Observations on the Literature of Poland (London, 1827); George Henry Borrow, Romano lavo-lil: Word-book of the Romany, or, English Gypsy Language, with ... Specimens of Their Poetry ... (London: John Murray, 1874); Charles H. Robinson, Specimens of Hausa Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1896); Thomas Clarke, William Bowness, and Robert Southey, Specimens of the Westmorland Dialect (Kendal, U.K.: Atkinson & Pollitt, 1872); F. T. Elworthy, ed., Specimens of English Dialects: I. Devonshire, An Exmoor Scolding and Courtship ... (London: Triibner, 1879).

(21) Alan Chedzoy, "A Poem for Winter: The Vrost," Dorset Life, December 2014, http://

(22) Kirstie Blair, "The Newspaper Press and the Victorian Working Class Poet," in A History of British Working Class Literature, ed. John Goodridge and Bridget Keegan (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2017), p. 266.

(23) Lucy Baxter, The Life of William Barnes, Poet and Philologist (London: Macmillan, 1887), pp. 81, 82.

(24) Barnes lectured without pay in an evening school for workers from the mid-1850s and gave "much of his spare time to the education of working men," with whom he identified (Chedzoy, People's Poet, pp. 138, 141). His Views of Labour and Gold (1859), while peculiar in expression, makes a "polemical" argument focused on the fair valuing of labor, as Chedzoy discusses (People's Poet, pp. 142-143).

(25) A situation explored by Burton and Ruthven in "Dialect Poetry," 309-341.

(26) Walter William Skeat Collection, King's College London Archives, K/PP 144 Skeat, 1/7.

(27) MS Eng lang d 22 (32084), Hallam's Dialect Collections, pp. 42-43 (alternative pagination pp. 64-65).

(28) John Walker, A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary and Expositor of the English Language (London: G. Robinson, 1791); many editions followed. Walker's Pronouncing Dictionary of the English Language (Boston: Charles Ewer, 1828) purported to offer "the best guide to a correct and elegant pronunciation of our language" (p. iii).

(29) Autobiographical notes in MS Eng lang d 21 (32083), Hallam's Dialect Collections. These notes are headed, "Mode of introduction to working people to obtain dialectical information," and dated 24 November 1887.

(30) I have omitted Hallam's phonetical spellings of "daughter" and "die" in dialect because of difficulties re-creating his handwritten orthography in type.

(31) MS Eng lang d 2 (32064), Hallam's Dialect Collections, pp. 6-8/18-20.

(32) A page numbered (30) in MS Eng lang d 21 (32083), in Hallam's Dialect Collections. It is not clear to whom this defense is addressed, but Hallam follows it with some of the account given in his autobiographical sketch. Context suggests he addresses Ellis, Skeat, or another university-educated dialectologist.

(33) Sue Edney, '"Times be baddish vor the Poor': William Barnes and His Dialect of Disturbance in the Dorset Eclogues," English: The Journal of the English Association 58, no. 222 (2009): 213.

(34) Francis Kilvert, Kilvert's Diary 1870-79: Selections from the Diary of the Rev. Francis Kilvert, ed. William Plomer (London: Cape, 1944), pp. 242-243.

(35) My text is from MS Book no. 7, p. 71, in the William Barnes Archive, where it is noted that the poem was published in the Dorset County Chronicle in August 1864. Where the handwriting raised questions, I have transcribed with Barnes's habits of capitalization and punctuation in mind.
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Date:Dec 22, 2018
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