HENRY BAIRD (‘NATHAN HOGG’) (c. 1829-1881)
‘The name of Henry BAIRD will not be found in the pages of the Dictionary of National Biography, or in any published list of local celebrities. Nevertheless, when the literary history of this county (Devonshire) during the present century is written, he will occupy an important position in it with respect to the dialect’. Thus writes Dr. T. N. BRUSHFIELD in the Western Antiquary for 1893-94; and from the same article we glean the following particulars:
Under the nom de plume of ‘Nathan Hogg’ he contributed to local newspapers but chiefly to the Western Times, a number of humorous sketches in rhyme, entitled ‘Letters in the Devonshire Dialect,’ as well as a number of poems. The former were issued in a separate volume in 1847, and again in 1850, the latter also containing some ‘miscellaneous pieces’ of poetry, serious and humorous, in ordinary English.
About that period, Prince Louis Lucien Bonaparte, who had devoted much time and attention to the subject of dialects, was so much struck with Baird’s ‘Letters’ that he visited the author in Exeter. One result of this visit was the publication of a new series of Nathan Hogg’s poems, including ‘Mucksy Lane: a Short Story in the Devonshire Dialect,’ with a dedication to the Prince by the author, dated ‘Exeter, June 9, 1863.’
The last edition of his works appeared in two series in 1888, and was published by a Mr. A. IREDALE, of Torquay. It contains a short biographical sketch of the author by the late Mr. Robert DYMOND, of Exeter, but omits some of the shorter poetical pieces. From this sketch we learn that Henry Baird was born about the year 1829, and early in life became a clerk in the office of an Exeter attorney. While so engaged, he probably wrote some lines to be found only in the 1850 edition of his works – lines that are as forcibly penned as some of the compositions of Thomas Hood.
At a later period he carried on the business of a bookseller in St. Martin’s Lane, Exeter, and continued a connection with the local newspaper press which he had commenced some time before. With a view to improve his prospects, he subsequently went to London, but died shortly after his arrival, at the age of about fifty-two (ob. May 3, 1881). If the statement as to his age be correct, he was not twenty years old when his celebrated ‘Letters’ were collected and published in 1847. Mr DYMOND records that he had ‘a depressed manner,’ and this may have been due partly to poverty, and partly to another cause, alluded to by him in the opening verse of some lines forming the epilogue to his first printed work in 1847:
‘Reader, if thy mirth be vanish’d,
Bear thee in the calm of thought;
Let not pity’s tear be banish’d,
Shed it for the poor untaught.’
Apart from ‘the genuine humour and poetical genius’ displayed in the ‘Letters’ and poems, they are of great philological value in serving to point out the pronunciation of Devonshire words nearly fifty years ago. Dr. BRUSHFIELD gives, as an appendix to his article, two poetical pieces, asserted to be the composition of this author, but not included in any of his published works. As they are too long to be given in full, and as they will not bear curtailing, we venture to append a shorter piece to illustrate the writer’s style. From a recent letter (dated August 20, 1894), written by Mr. S.H.B. GLANVILLE, Editor of the Western Times, Exeter, we glean some additional particulars, which will add considerably to the interest of this sketch.
Mr. GLANVILLE writes: ‘ I first became acquainted with Mr. Henry Baird when I was at Plymouth where he joined the reporting staff of the Plymouth Mail. I learnt from him that he was a native of Starcross, his parents having been engaged, as I understand in farming. He was placed in a solicitor’s office in this city [Exeter]; I believe it was at the office of Messrs. KENNAWAY and BUCKINGHAM. At all events, he was engaged there as a clerk when he began writing his letters in verse in the Devonshire dialect, which first brought him into notice. These letters were addressed to “Brither Jan,” and were signed “Nathan Hogg”, the name by which he was most generally known thereafter They appeared, or some of them, in the columns of the Western Times, then being edited by the celebrated journalist, Thomas LATIMER. Through communicating poems to the press, Baird turned his attention to journalism as a means of livelihood. It was after some experience of reporting upon the press of Exeter that he took the engagement at Plymouth to which I have referred. While on the Plymouth Mail he contributed to that journal several smart satires in verse, which you would very likely find in the files of that journal in the Plymouth Library.
‘He remained about a year or two at Plymouth, and then returned to Exeter, when I again met him, and assisted him to get an engagement as reported on the Western Times. He had continued his devotion to versification, and about this time he published in a volume his pieces which had appeared in various journals. The volume was much sought after, on account of the extremely clever reproduction of the Devonshire dialect.
‘Prince Lucien, anxious to add to his collection specimens of the Devonshire dialect, sent for Mr. Baird, and had a long conversation with him at the New London Hotel in this city with the result that he commissioned Baird to write the Song of Solomon in the Devonshire dialect. Mr. Baird set out his special work with intense interest and completed his task within a very short time. On presenting the result to the Prince, he received highly commendatory letters in return.
‘Mr. Baird left the Western Times, married, and conducted a second-hand bookshop in St. Martin’s Lane. But it was commercially not a success, and he moved to London, where he obtained an engagement with a news agency , and was appointed its reporter at the Old Bailey. In this position he remained until ill health prevented him from doing any work. The illness proved fatal, and he died several years ago. Mr. Baird was a bright and witty conversationalist.’
The above was extracted from: Wright, W.H.K., (1896) West-Country Poets: Their Lives and Works. London: Elliot Stock., pp. 16-19, as transcribed by Sandra Windeatt. To see the original go to: West Country Poets
The following dedication appears in the book by Henry Baird – The New Series of Poems in the Devonshire Dialect:
To His Highness Prince Louis Lucien Bonaparte
In seeking the honor which your Highness has so readily and courteously conferred upon me by granting me permission to dedicate to you the following pages I feel assured that you will better appreciate my object in so doing when I admit that while entertaining full respect for your exalted rank a recollection of the Prince becomes lost in my admiration of the Linguist.
Remembering the many interviews which I have been privileged to have with your Highness during your study of the Devonshire Dialect and your extraordinary mastery of its general peculiarities and most difficult idioms I can well understand how highly you have deserved the honourable mention which has been made of you as a Linguist by the European Press.
My testimony to that already so universally given may seem to savour somewhat of egotism I cannot however imagine that I have committed any great breach of modesty in seeking as the humble student of one dialect the appreciation of a perfect master of hundreds.