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West Country Poets

WILLIAM BURT (1778-1826)

Mr. William BURT, solicitor, was born at Plymouth (at Frankfurt Buildings) in 1778, and died there in 1826, aged forty-eight years and some days, and was buried in a vault in St. Andrew's Church.  He married in 1800, and had an only son, who entered the Royal Navy.  William BURT was educated at a grammar-school at Exeter, and was then articled to a banker and solicitor of Bridgwater, Somerset.  Returning to Plymouth, he became a frequent lecturer at the Athenaeum, in connection with the Plymouth Institution and he commenced also to write for the public.  He was the author of several prose works which we need not particularize, except one which deals with the trade and commerce of Plymouth, and is still regarded as a valuable text-book on the subject.  This work was dedicated to the chairman of the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce, the Earl of Morley.  Mr. BURT was the first secretary of the Plymouth Chamber.

For some years he acted as editor of the Plymouth and Dock Telegraph; for a short time he served in the army, but sold out, and joined the Greenway Volunteers at the period of the projected invasion of Napoleon.  He was secretary of the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway Company, and in this capacity he gained so intimate a knowledge of that romantic region that he was able to add much erudite information to CARRINGTON's 'Dartmoor', the preface and notes in the first edition having been mainly by him.  These portions were unfortunately omitted in some of the later editions.

Mr. BURT was at one time possessed of considerable private means; but he was induced to speculate, and lost from £15,000 to £20,000, chiefly owing to the failure of a country bank.  For a short time he practised his profession at Colyton, but spent the greater part of his life at Plymouth.  He was an able advocate, and often appeared in the local courts.  He is described as 'extremely generous, kind, and affectionate, and performed his duties to all persons, in all things, as a Christian and a gentleman'.

Amongst other poetical pieces, he was the author of 'Christianity, a Poem', edited by his nephew, Major. T. Seymour BURT, dedicated to the Duchess of Kent, and published in 1835.  It is to Major BURT that we are indebted for the preservation and publication of the excellent poem from which the following extract is taken:

FROM 'CHRISTIANITY, A POEM'

O 'Lord our Righteousness', beyond all praise,
Wise and unsearchable in all Thy ways,
Whose word, and will, and mercy could transmute
To 'bread of life' each wrathful attribute,
When shall the tendrils of ONE PARENT VINE
The world encircle, every land entwine?
Earth's folded kindreds, when restored to health
In faith confederate, form One Commonwealth?
Thy certain oath to no one race confined,
Truth, hope, salvation, proffers to mankind.
SHEPHERD OF SOULS, MAN'S e'er enduring friend,
Of love the Source, the Centre, and the End,
Sole Fount of knowledge, in all breasts engraft
They cleansing word, - oh speed Thy 'polish'd shaft'!
Lead on to Bethlehem each heart unbend
To Christian discipline, with grace befriend!
The tenor of Thy laws let reason scan,
Their self-apparent truths apply to man,
And when the unlicensed, weak, unstable soul
Rebellion adds to sin, oh, make her whole!

Entrench'd in prejudice, yet sophists say,
Why haste the progress of Christ's wider sway?
Why from deceptive haze man's mind release?
Why ope to heathen realms the gates of peace?
Oh, void of counsel, enemies to light,
Zealous for sin and death's e'erlasting night,
Who eyes have yet to see, and ears to hear,
Without seeing eye or audient ear,
Cease your unhallow'd course; no more retard
With circumscribing arts, God's high regard!
'Go forth,' Messiah cries; my Gospel preach
To every soul in habitable reach.'
Raise every valley, cover every hill,
And earth's whole space with fruitful blossoms fill!
Oh that, as spreads the wide immeasured sea,
May Christ's pure waters universal be!
Oh may , the same as day's refulgent orb,
His mighty glories meaner lights absorb!

Transcribed by Sandra Windeatt from: Wright, W.H.K., (1896) West-Country Poets:  Their Lives and Works. London: Elliot Stock pp.69-70.

Last updated 22 Jul 2011 - Brian Randell.

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