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West Country Poets

Portrait of William Crossing


Mr. William CROSSING comes of an ancient family, members of which were mayors and bailiffs of Exeter during several reigns (from 1594 downward), according to IZACKE, WESTCOTE and RISDON.  He was born at Plymouth, November 14, 1847.   From his earliest youth he has always been fond of Dartmoor, his early associations centring around the neighbourhood of Sheepstor, Walkhampton, Meavy, and Yannadon.  He inherited a taste for antiquities from his mother, who was very fond of investigating those in the neighbourhood, and of gleaning from the peasantry bits of legendary lore.  Some friends of hers resided at that time at Place Barton, close to Buckland Abbey - a place of great interest.  Later on, Mr. Crossing became acquainted with Tavistock, Coryton, Lydford, Okehampton, and with the northern borders of the Moor, as well as with South Brent, on its southern verge.  Cann Woods and Bickleigh, the banks of the Tavy about Maristow, Lopwell and Tamerton, were all favourite resorts of our young author.  After leaving school at Plymouth, William CROSSING went to the Independent College at Taunton, and then returned to finish his education at the Mannamead School, then kept by the Rev. Peter HOLMES, D.D.

Mr. CROSSING's earliest literary efforts were in the direction of fiction - 'thrilling romances,' composed for the delectation of his school-fellows. His first essay in  poetry was at the age of fourteen, when a poem written by him appeared in the pages of Young England, December, 1861.   In 1863 he went for a short coasting voyage to Wales, and gained a liking for the sea;  and in 1864 he joined a vessel bound for Canada, having a narrow escape of being crushed by an iceberg during the night. On returning from this voyage, he took to business pursuits in Plymouth, and then recommenced his Dartmoor explorations, which he has systematically continued down to the present time.  In 1868 he wrote several pieces for amateur theatricals; he also contributed topical verses for a member of the stock company (Mr. Charles SEYMOUR), then engaged at the Plymouth Theatre Royal.  Mr. CROSSING was always quick at 'throwing off' doggerel, and has frequently improvised a rhyming account of the day's doings, for the amusement of any company in which he happened to be, when seated round the peat-piled hearth on the Moor.

In 1872 he married and settled down at Brent, taking to Dartmoor explorations with more ardour than ever.  In the previous year he had commenced to make notes of rambles, without, however, any systematic arrangement;  but after his marriage he seems to have become more methodical, and to have determined to write a book descriptive of the moorland district.  At that time he knew nothing of the literature of the Moor, and had never seen Mr. ROWE's 'Perambulation.'  From that time to the present he has continued his explorations, aiming at one day producing a work work which shall be an exhaustive one; but he confesses that the more he has learnt of Dartmoor, the less inclination he has to carry out his early project, unless it can be in a thorough manner.  Although Mr. Crossing has written and published several books about Dartmoor, and many articles and scattered papers, he is still accumulating notes for his greater and more formidable task, which we trust he may be soon able to accomplish.  In 1878, while staying at Hexworthy, on Dartmoor, he taught himself phonetic shorthand, receiving great assistance from his wife, who acted as reader;  this he has found of great service, by enabling him more easily to make notes of his daily explorations.  One of his chief delights is in reading MACPHERSON's Ossian, and in bringing, in imagination the heroes of the poems to Dartmoor, there to enact their deeds of prowess amid the familiar scenes.  He is also a great admirer of Longfellow.  Mr. Crossing is a great lover of books, and despite the troubles and difficulties of life (of which he has had a full share), he says that in the company of his books he never feels dull - they are his constant companions.  He has made a study of Welsh and Gaelic, and has a good knowledge of Wales, more especially the Snowdon district.

Although Mr. CROSSING is very fond of animals, especially dogs, he has no great liking for field sports, his principal recreation, apart from his moorland rambles, being trout fishing.  But his chief delight is in an extended ramble and a chat with the Moor-men, amongst whom he is a great favourite. Mr. CROSSING's wanderings have been mostly on foot' sometimes starting soon after daybreak, and not returning till after midnight.  Sometimes his rambles have extended to two or three days.  He has never set out à la tourist, to 'do' Dartmoor, or gone about 'learning' it in any set fashion; but by constant association his knowledge of the district has gradually grown, until in the course of years he has crossed and recrossed it in every direction.  He is now considered one of the best authorities on Dartmoor and its antiquities, having made it, and them his especial study.  Mr. CROSSING was on of the earliest members of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, joining it immediately on its formation;  he also joined the Devonshire Association in 1881.

Mr. Crossing's chief literary works are as follows:

'Leaves from Sherwood, etc.;' being original poems; published at Plymouth, 1868.
'The Ancient Crosses of Dartmoor; with a Description of their Surroundings'; Exeter, 1887. (This is an expansion of a series of articles which originally appeared in the Western Antiquary.)
'Amid Devonia's Alps; or, Wanderings and Adventures on Dartmoor;' Plymouth, 1888.
'Crockern Tor and the Ancient Stannary Parliament;'  Exeter, 1892.
'The Chronicles of Crazy WEll;' Plymouth, 1893.
'The Ocean Trail;' Plymouth, 1894.
'Widey Court;' Plymnough, 1895.
And among his poems may be mentioned, 'The Moorman's Story,' 'The Legend of Binjie Gear,' 'Trawler, P.H. 304,' and 'Little Flo.'
And sundry topographical and descriptive articles.

The dark'ning shadows filled the vale,
  The way seemed long and drear,
Rough was the track and hard to trace,
  And none to guide was near;

And soon my falt'ring steps were stayed,
  Two paths before me lay,
Oh for a friendly hand to aid
  And show to me the way!

When lo, a rudely fashioned stone
  From out the gloom appeared,
A moss-grown cross, in days long flown
  By pious hands upreared.
It showed a straight and narrow path -
  No more my steps would stray -
And doubts had ceased to trouble now
  That I had found the way

'Twas thus when in the wilderness
  I tried to pierce the gloom,
And find a path to that bright land
  That lies beyond the tomb,
The Promise of the Book shone forth,
  And by its clearing ray
Revealed the Cross of Calvary,
  And then I knew the Way.

Transcribed from:  Wright, W.H.K., (1896) West-Country Poets:  Their Lives and Works. London: Elliot Stock, pp.127-30.

Last updated 22 Jul 2011 - Brian Randell.

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