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West Country Poets


This writer may be aptly termed 'the Railway Poet of the West,'  he being now employed as a porter at Teignmouth railway-station.  Mr. Aggett was born at Saltash, in Cornwall, in July, 1863, his father then working under Brunel at the famous Royal Albert Bridge.  On the completion of that work the family removed to Torquay.  After passing through many  vicissitudes of fortune, Thomas, at the age of ten, wen out as farmer's boy, and remained in that capacity for five years; then , after living at Torquay for a year or two in different occupations, he went, in October, 1880, to the Isle of Wight.  He served as a footman for two years in the household of an invalid widow lady, who spent most of her time in her own room.  Under these circumstances the young man was left pretty much to his own resources, and there being a fine library in the house, he determined to employ his spare hours in a careful and critical examination of the books it contained.  This he was able to do, in spite of the constant watchfulness of an elderly lady's-maid, whom he describes as 'a perfect virago,' who apparently thought that it was her bounden duty to preserve the bindings of the books by preventing them being read.  However, by a little strategy he was able to circumvent this dragon, substituting another volume on the shelf when he had occasion to take one away for private perusal.  Thus he kept himself in a regular supply of literature, and it was then that he first became acquainted with the works of Burns and Byron.  These became his favourite authors, and he read them again and again until he knew nearly the whole of their poems by heart, and felt sorry that they had not written more.

Mr. Aggett left his situation in the Isle of Wight in August, 1882, very reluctantly relinquishing the library from which he had derived so much pleasure, and in the following October obtained an appointment on the Great Western Railway, which he has held ever since.  In October, 1883, he says, 'I paid a visit to the "Land o'Burns," having a week's leave, with a free pass to Manchester and back.  I started on my pilgrimage as devoutly as ever good Mussulman started for the shrine of Mohammmed at Mecca, and never have I so thoroughly enjoyed myself s I did that week in visiting the places of interest connected with Scotland's national bard.'

Like Pope, he seems to have 'lisped in numbers,' for he remembers that when very young he used to hum over his favourite tunes, adding words of his own that would suit his particular fancy fat the moment.

It may be readily understood that a man employed at a busy railway-station can have but little leisure for the cultivation of the Muses, and this fact must condone many imperfections in the published works of our railway poet.  His little work, the 'Demon Hunter,' although sketched out previously, was mostly written during a fortnight's leisure.  His aim has been, and still is, notwithstanding the imperfections of his poems yet published, to produce something carefully conceived and carefully executed, that will not only be a credit to himself, but will also show that Devonshire can produce something besides clotted cream.  We trust he may speedily realize his fondest desires in this respect.

Now to speak of his published works.  Mr. Aggett published a little volume, entitled 'Vagabond Verses,' about two years ago, and in 1889, he issued another little brochure entitled the 'Demon Hunter, a Legend of Torquay'.  An extract from the preface to his first volume, which is inserted in the later work in an introductory note by Mr. J. TAYLOR, of Paddington, will at once explain the author's modesty and the aims of his little book.  He says:

' I do not aspire to genius, neither do I pretend to have written anything exceptionally good, and if the reader derives the same amount of pleasure in reading as I have in writing the poems, I shall consider it sufficient recompense, and feel justified in having printed them; if, on the other hand, they are found incapable of affording any pleasure, I can only excuse myself, by saying they never would have been printed had it not been for the hope of benefiting the Widows and Orphans' Fund of the Great Western Railway.'  Both the volumes were issued with the same laudable purpose, and it is to be hoped that in this respect also the author's enterprise proved successful.

Some of the pieces in the little volume, such as the title-poem - the 'Demon Hunter' - 'The Parson and the Clerk,' 'The Mayor of Bodmin,' and others, deal exclusively with local legends, and they are happily and rhythmically told.  Amongst his shorter poems are several pretty little conceits.  We append some selections, in order that our readers may judge of the merits of this man whom we have dubbed 'the Railway Poet of the West':


[ . . . a religious poem in two verses . . .]


To win a husband long she tried,
Nor in despair at last she died,
She heard that marriages were made
In heaven, so this world she bade
Good-bye, to try, since hopeless here,
Her fortune in another sphere.

Transcribed by Sandra Windeatt from: Wright, W.H.K., (1896) West-Country Poets:  Their Lives and Works. London: Elliot Stock, pp.2-4.

Last updated 22 Jul 2011 - Brian Randell.

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