William Barnes

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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For the Nottinghamshire and England cricketer, see Billy Barnes. For the Medal of Honor recipient, see William H. Barnes

William Barnes (22nd February 1801 - 7th October 1886) was an English writer, poet, minister, and philologist. He wrote over 800 poems, some in Dorset dialect and much other work including a comprehensive English grammar quoting from more than 70 different languages.


  • 1 Life
  • 2 Example of Dorset dialect poetry
  • 3 See also
  • 4 References


He was born at Rushay, Dorset, the son of a farmer. After being a solicitor's clerk and a schoolmaster, he was ordained into the Church, in which he served various cures, in 1847. He first contributed the Dorset dialect poems for which he is best known to periodicals, including MacMillan's Magazine; a collection in book form Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect, was published in 1844. A second collection Hwomely Rhymes followed in 1858, and a third collection in 1863; a combined edition appeared in 1879. A "translation", Poems of Rural Life in Common English had already appeared in 1868.

His philological works include Philological Grammar (1854), Se Gefylsta, an Anglo-Saxon Delectus (1849). Tiw, or a View of Roots (1862), and a Glossary of Dorset Dialect (1863).

Among his other writings is a slim volume on "the Advantages of a More Common Adoption of The Mathematics as a Branch of Education, or Subject of Study", published in 1834.

He was a friend of Thomas Hardy, Alfred Tennyson and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Barnes had a strong interest in language; he was fluent in Greek, Latin and several modern European languages. He called for the purification of English by removal of Greek, Latin and foreign influences so that it might be better understood by those without a classical education. For example, the word "photograph" (<Gk. light+writing) would become "sun-print" (<Saxon). Other terms include "wortlore" (botany), "welkinfire" (meteor) and "nipperlings" (forceps).

This 'Pure English' resembles the 'blue-eyed English' later adopted by the composer Percy Grainger.

Barnes's poems are characterised by a singular sweetness and tenderness of feeling, deep insight into humble country life and character, and an exquisite feeling for local scenery.

Ralph Vaughan Williams set to music the poem 'My Orcha'd in Lindèn Lea', in the "Common English" version ("Linden Lea").

  • William Barnes' Grave

Example of Dorset dialect poetry

Where the bridge out at Woodley did stride,
Wi' his wide arches' cool sheäded bow,
Up above the clear brook that did slide
By the poppies, befoam'd white as snow;
As the gilcups did quiver among
The white deäsies, a-spread in a sheet.
There a quick-trippèn maïd come along,-
Aye, a girl wi' her light-steppèn veet.
An' she cried "I do praÿ, is the road
Out to Lincham on here, by the meäd?"
An' "oh! ees," I meäde answer, an' show'd
Her the way it would turn an' would leäd:
"Goo along by the beech in the nook,
Where the children do plaÿ in the cool,
To the steppèn stwones over the brook,-
Aye, the grey blocks o' rock at the pool."
"Then you don't seem a-born an' a-bred,"
I spoke up, "at a place here about;"
And she answer'd wi' cheäks up so red
As a pi'ny leäte a-come out,
"No, I liv'd wi' my uncle that died
Back in Eäpril, an' now I'm a-come
Here to Ham, to my mother, to bide,-
Aye, to her house to vind a new hwome."
I'm asheämed that I wanted know
Any more of her childhood or life
But then, why should so feäir a child grow
Where no father did bide wi' his wife;
Then wi' blushes of zunrisèn morn,
She replied "that it midden be known,
"Oh! they zent me awaÿ to be born, -*
Aye, they hid me when some would be shown."
Oh! it meäde me a'most teary-ey'd,
An' I vound I a'most could ha' groan'd-
What! so winnèn, an' still cast azide-
What! so lovely, an' not to be own'd;
Oh! a God-gift a-treated wi' scorn
Oh! a child that a squier should own;
An' to zend her awaÿ to be born!-
Aye, to hide her where others be shown!

* Words once spoken to the writer

"Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect" (published June 1879) p.382

See also

  • Anglish
  • Languages in the United Kingdom
  • British literature
  • West Country dialects
  • This article incorporates public domain text from: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London, J.M. Dent & sons; New York, E.P. Dutton.
  • See The Rebirth of England and the English: The Vision of William Barnes by Andrew Phillips ISBN 1-898281-17-3
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