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West Country Poets

Portrait of Samuel Wills


The subject of this brief biographical sketch was born at Dodbrooke, near Kingsbridge, in 1837.  His early education was received at a dame school, and afterwards at the local public school.  Here he eventually became a pupil teacher, and, having obtained a Queen's scholarship, he entered the Westminster Training College, remaining there two years.  In 1858 he was appointed master of the Wesleyan Day School, Bingham, Notts, where he remained three years.  Whilst here he contributed short poems to the Nottingham papers, and during this time he published his first volume of poems, entitled 'Devonia and other Poems,' which appeared early in 1862, soon after his marriage and change of residence.

While in charge of a school at Burgh-in-the-Marsh, Lincolnshire, Mr. Wills compiled a Lincolnshire Glossary, and wrote the 'Lincolnshire Labourer' in the county dialect.  He also wrote, and published (1866) 'The British Chief and other Poems,' a tale of ancient British history connected with Grimsby at the time of the Druids.  He had appointments as schoolmaster in various parts of the country, and was for nearly nine years headmaster of the Sailors' Orphan Home and Schools, Hull.  Whilst in that district he prepared a scheme for the establishment of an Orphan Institution for the children of deceased railway servants; this was eventually adopted, and Mr. Wills was appointed organizing secretary.  This has been a great success.  The work of organization being satisfactorily completed, Mr. Wills went again into Devonshire, and opened a private school at Brixham; and here he wrote and published (1882) his 'South Devon Songs and Sonnets,' which was most favourably received by the press.

For a short time he had charge of a school at Leusdon, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, near Ashburton, during which period he contributed poems to the local papers, as well as lists of Devonshire Provincialisms.  He wrote also many political articles, being an advanced Liberal.  Towards the end of the year 1887, Mr. Wills was appointed travelling secretary to the British Seamen's Institute, Rouen, France, leaving Leusdon at Christmas for Bingham, Notts, having decided upon Nottingham as the centre of his operations in Great Britain; but he afterwards removed to Newark, and started a business.  Here he became a member of the School Board and of the Board of Guardians.

In 1893 he endeavoured to found a British Miners' Widow and Orphan Benevolent Fund, but owing to a strike it was indefinitely postponed.  An effort has recently been made to obtain for him a pension from the Civil List, and it is now under consideration.

He at present resides at Bracebridge, a suburb of Lincoln, where he has recently (1896) been elected vice-chairman of the Parish Council.  Whilst here he compiled and completed his latest poetical work, entitled 'Musings in Moorland and Marsh' (1895).  The Lincolnshire papers were unanimous in their praise of this work; and certainly the volume does the author great credit, for many of the poems possess unusual merit.  He is a versatile writer, alternately grave and gay, sublime and flippant, dignified and facile.  His love sonnets are full of human nature and contain no unhealthy sentiments.  His descriptive poems are well written, but the chief charm of his work lies in his praise of his native Devonia, as the following lines on 'Dartmoor' will abundantly prove:


Never a lovelier scene my eye has viewed
Than Dartmoor - that romantic solitude:
There mountain torrents rush through rock-strewed glens,
A hundred springs gush up from secret dens;
There, rock-piled slopes with rugged chasms yawn,
As if by thunderbolts asunder sawn;
There busy bees their soothing lullaby
Hum in the spiral foxglove's speckled eye:
The breeze the purple heath-bloom moves in turn,
With nodding cotton rush and waving fern -
Fit place for those who find in botany
Somewhat to change their life's monotony.

[. . .continues at length . . .]

Transcribed from: Wright, W. H. K.,(1896) West-Country Poets: Their Lives and Works. London: Elliot Stock, pp.48-51

Last updated 22 Jul 2011 - Brian Randell.

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