Prince, John Critchley (DNB00)

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PRINCE, JOHN CRITCHLEY (1808–1866), poet, born at Wigan, Lancashire, on 21 June 1808, was the son of a reed-maker for weavers, a man of drunken habits, careless of his family, and ever immersed in poverty. Young Prince learned to read and write at a baptist Sunday-school, and at nine years of age was set to practise reed-making, as a help to his father. As he grew up his chief solace amid tedious toil and privation was got from the few story and poetry books which he managed to procure. He worked with his father for ten years, living in turn at Wigan and Manchester, and at Hyde in Cheshire; and towards the end of 1826 or beginning of 1827, before he was nineteen, he married a girl named Orme, at Hyde. This step only plunged him into deeper distress. In 1830 he was tempted to go in search of work to St. Quentin in Picardy; but on reaching that place he found that the revolution of July 1830 had paralysed business, and after a stay of two months he made his way by Paris to Mülhausen, where again he was doomed to disappointment. He underwent many hardships on his tramp to Calais, and from Dover to Manchester, where he found his miserable home broken up and wife and children sent to the poorhouse at Wigan.

He began to write verses in 1827, and from the following year he was an occasional contributor to the ‘Phœnix’ and other local periodicals. In 1840 he brought out his first volume, entitled ‘Hours with the Muses,’ which at once attracted much attention, partly by its own merits, and partly on account of the position of its author, who was at that time working as a factory operative at Hyde. He soon after gave up this situation, and for a time kept a small shop in Manchester. Thenceforward he lived chiefly by the sale of his poems. He unfortunately fell into habits of dissipation, and his unthriftiness baffled all the efforts of his friends to help him effectually. He once had a grant of 50l. from the royal bounty.

In 1841 he was one of the leading spirits in the formation of a short-lived ‘Literary Association’ which met at the Sun Inn, Manchester, and next year he undertook a journey on foot to London, recording his impressions and experiences in a series of letters to ‘Bradshaw's Journal,’ edited by George Falkner. From 1845 to 1851 he was editor—at an annual salary of 12l.—of the ‘Ancient Shepherd's Quarterly Magazine,’ published at Ashton-under-Lyne.

Besides the ‘Hours with the Muses,’ of which six editions were issued between 1840 and 1857, Prince published: 1. ‘Dreams and Realities,’ Ashton-under-Lyne, 1847. 2. ‘The Poetic Rosary,’ Manchester, 1850. 3. ‘Autumn Leaves,’ Hyde, 1856. 4. ‘Miscellaneous Poems,’ 1861. A collected edition of his poetical works was published, in two volumes, by Dr. R. A. Douglas Lithgow in 1880. The characteristics of Prince's writings are sweetness and simplicity. Within his limited range he is admirable. His command and flow of language are remarkable when his education and surroundings are considered. He was himself conscious of his own limitations; as he says, ‘the power to think and utter great things belongs to few, and I am not one of them.’

He lost his first wife in September 1858, and married again in March 1862. His second wife, Ann Taylor, was a woman of his own class and of about his own age. He died at Hyde on 5 May 1866, and was buried at St. George's Church in that town; one daughter survived him.

[Life, by R. A. Douglas Lithgow, 1880 (with portrait); Procter's Byegone Manchester, 1880 (with portrait by W. Morton, taken in 1852), and Literary Reminiscences, 1860 (with woodcut of the same portrait); Axon's Cheshire Gleanings, 1884; Evans's Lancashire Authors, 1850; Manchester Weekly Times, Supplement, 7 Jan. 1871 (article by J. Dawson); Ben Brierley's Journal, 1871; Manchester Guardian, 26 May, 2 June, 21 July 1841.]

C. W. S.