Scotsman, 9 December 1890, p. 6

HDR’s volume will be read with interest by lovers of poetry in general, and with a particular delight by those who know the scenes and characters that are to be met with in the rural parts of Lincolnshire. Most of the pieces in the book draw their subject from the fen country. Those which do not are ballads or odes founded upon heroic actions done in quite recent times. These are celebrated in a stately line, which, however, is usually too coldly dignified to have much life. On the other hand, the pieces in the Lincolnshire dialect are lively both in theme and treatment. They naturally suggest a comparison with the Laureate’s poems in the same dialect. Some notion of their quality may be conveyed when it is said that they bear the comparison without disparagement to themselves.

Stamford Mercury, 2 January 1891, p. 7

This is a collection of poems by the Vicar of Crosthwaite, Keswick, Cumberland, some of which have already appeared in contemporary periodicals. The ballads for the most part record heroic deeds done in Great Britain and America during the past few years. The bucolics are sketches from real life in Lincolnshire in the language made familiar by the Poet Laureate. There are alterations, however, in the diction which Mr Rawnsley explains are due to the change which has taken place in the dialect during the last fifty years. The dialect and folk-lore, he further reminds his readers, is that of the old Danish colony, whose children live between Horncastle, Louth, and Boston. Many of the poems are of considerable merit, and that portion in the Lincolnshire dialect will be read with interest in these parts of the country where it prevails.

Pall Mall Gazette, 27 August 1891, p. 3

The Vicar of Crosthwaite has long been as well known for his industry in verse as for the village industries and other good works inspired by him in his own parish. He has written sonnets on the English lakes and on other picturesque subjects, and on almost every imaginable public event of any note during recent years, and he proves himself equally contemporary in these ballads and bucolics. Since “Poet” Close died, he might be called the last of the Lake poets, if the last but one has not for ever spoilt that title; and the present book shows that he accepts in full those theories of the poetic uses of common life and common speech which Wordsworth and the so-called Lake poets maintained so vigorously. His prose preface states very invitingly his subject-matter: “The ballads, for the most part, record heroic deeds done in Great Britain and America during the past few years. The bucolics are sketches from real life In Lincolnshire.” Further, he explains of these rustic pieces that their dialect, “made familiar by the Poet Laureate, is that of the old Danish colony whose children live between Horncastle, Louth, and Boston.” His preface in verse sounds still more inviting:--

Here are ballads! who will buy?
Not on dainty shelves to lie,
But for pockets plain enough,
Honest homespun in the rough;
Fit for lord of labourer’s hand,
Up in rocky Cumberland,
Fit for villager and squire,
Down in breezy Lincolnshire;

Unfortunately, the bucolics are written in the most uncompromising of Doric dialects, and not according to its idiom and spirit only, which might be tolerable, but to its very letter, which only a genius like Tennyson’s can make poetically effective. The reader, remembering his Burns and his Barnes, who turns eagerly enough to what is promised him here, is likely to feel a little dismayed accordingly when, in the first verse of the first bucolic—“Grand-dad’s Annie,”—he encounters a line like the following”—

So gev’ hoäver to meä, and grawing ay sich pääce!

It is true that read in the rough, so to speak, these Lincolnshire pieces may be understood with a little conning, and found to be often worth the understanding; but the interest they have is philological first, and matter-of-fact second, and only poetical, third and last, if at all. It should be added, however, that they often possess humour, which is a rare thing, as we know, in even great poets; while sometimes, in seeking an effect of humour or pathos, they become merely banale, as in “A Sad Letter”:--

He will not keeäp, his corp’s that bad,
     We bury ’im at threea to-morrow

In other pieces there are touches of native humour which redeem what is prosaic in them. In the “Fox and Hound”, which is a temperance philippic, taking for subject a village inn, one finds and remembers, amid much that is not inspired, one or two admirable touches. For example:--

Theer’s a shackulty noise in carts when carts is droonk—
     Tha can tell.

In the main, though, these bucolics impress the reader as not poetical, but prosaic. Told in prose they might be made into most striking folk-sketches, in rhyme they only fail of their effect.

Turning to the heroic ballad of the book, one is not more convinced. Mr. Rawnsley has a stirring perception of the great heroic situations in contemporary life, and he turns them into ballads with a rare facility, but not, alas! with sufficient force or finesse of style. As it is, indeed, he affords the reader, very unwisely, the means of testing his success by appending to many of these ballads the prose reports upon which they are based. It says a great deal for contemporary journalism that these reports, taken in some cases from the newspapers, are often really poetical, much more so than the ballads which here embody them. In “A Woman Saviour” Mr. Rawnsley takes a report from the New York Tribune of a woman who saved a train, the White Mountain Express, at North Wakefield, in August 1890, a report concise, dramatic, poetic indeed; and it is instructive to find how its brief picturesque touches fail in their versified and expanded form, though that has a certain stirring effect of its own. Similarly Mr. Rawnsley writes of the Johnstown disaster, of Father Damien, od Sister Rose Gertrude, and other subjects of the kind: and always with fine feeling and rhetorical effect, but never quite convincingly, with the finer breath that can make such things live in our ears and our hearts. Like Mr Alfred Austin, Mr Lewis Morris, and other contemporary verse-writers of some reputation, who would keep up the great traditions of English poetry, he has all the inclination and industry need for the task, but he has not the genius, alack! If he had, Mr Rawnsley might be also that Poet Laureate of the newspaper which he aims to be, but which is a kind of thing, unfortunately, born and not made.