Edward Newman, poet of south-east London

Edward Newman picChristopher Adams’s miscellany entitled The Worst English Poets (1958) is a disappointing volume. Though the author may have decided to exclude the universally execrated McGonnigal for reasons of space, there can be no excuse for omitting the work of Amanda McKittrick Ros, arguably the worst poet and the worst novelist in the English language. She was never as prolific a versifier as the Scot.

Still, Adams has managed to include a number of bad poets who were new to me. One ( but by no means the worst ) is Edward Newman, a noted entomologist, whose collection, The Insect Hunters, was undated when a second edition of it appeared around 1855. Here is an extract from the title poem:

Take my hat, my little Laura,

Fix it by the loop elastic;

Let us go to Haddo Villas,

Passing by the church and churchyard,

Now so bright with shortlived flowers,

Apt mementos of the buried;

Passing hand in hand together,

Passing, old and young together,

Gravely walking, gaily tripping,

Through the shady lane of lovers,

Where the railtrain rattles under,

And so on to Haddo Villas.

Let us take a stroll, my Laura,

Down Farm Lane and to the sedge pond,

Where thy father often fishes

For the pretty water beetles,
Graperi and branchiatus,
Hubneri and marginalis,

Agilis and punctulatus,

Ater, Sturmii and fuscus,

Pretty Colymbetes fuscus…

       *          *        *      *

Laura, let us go to Plumstead,

By the well- known North Kent Railway,

Starting from the Blackheath Station,

Passing through the Charlton tunnel,

Through that dank and darksome tunnel,

By the sandy pits at Charlton,

Through the warlike town of Woolwich…

In this large tin case, containing

A few slips of blotting paper,
And a little mass of wadding,

Slightly damped with benzine colas

Stupefying fumes exhaling :

In this case we will imprison

All the two-winged flies we capture.

The first stanza is quite well crafted, reminding us of Betjeman, who also used Longfellows’ Hiawatha measure and may have been familiar with this volume. However, it could be said that Newman let his zeal for communicating the joys of insect-hunting ruin his poem. The catalogue of species offered in the next stanza is overwhelming. Nevertheless, Newman is certainly a pioneer of sorts and has his admirers among the scientific community today. [R.M.Healey]


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