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A message from my great grandfather, William Hall Burnett

On my sixty-seventh birthday I published ‘A few Specimen Poems and Aphorisms [1] which I dedicated ‘to my children whose love through and in many vicissitudes, changes, troubles, sorrows, and bereavements has never failed me’.  Following the publication of what I described as a ‘meagre collection of poems’, my family and friends pressed me to use my pen which has been employed for fifty-four years on writing for the Press to write something more personal – a memoir or autobiography.  I must confess some reluctance to undertake this somewhat onerous task for I am in my seventieth year and, as the psalmist says, ‘The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away’ [2].

If this prophesy should come to pass to whom should completion be entrusted? Such writing as has been completed I will entrust to my wife’s safe keeping. She has been my support and constant companion for the last ten years and will execute my wishes as she sees fit. In truth whether the task is completed lies in my own hands as there is little doubt that at times my writing has a tendency to verbosity; and that in spite of my own admonition in the introduction to Old Cleveland’ [3], a collection of papers on local writers and worthies, first published in 1877 that ‘to write a long preface is to bore the reader’ I do in practice often break my own rules.  I intend to write first about the opportunities that have come my way as a journalist which have given me the most satisfaction and then if time permits I will maybe begin at the beginning (of my life) and go on till I come to an end: then stop’ [4]


As fate would have it my great grandfather did not reach his eightieth birthday but flew away at the age of 76 – his autobiography apparently unfinished or perhaps not even started. The wife he refers to was his second wife, Fanny, who was twenty years younger than him and died in 1949. How William’s papers came into my father’s possession I am uncertain but it may well have been from his father, Louis Culf Burnett who was William’s second son. Sometime before my father died, he gave me a few photographs and a number of books, pamphlets and some newspaper cuttings in notebooks.  They will be referred to in the text and listed in the bibliography. Sadly, the only extant correspondence consists of two letters written to William by George Hull, the editor of ‘Poets and Poetry of Blackburn’ [5] and additionally there are two notes in his handwriting in a notebook on his visit to John Ruskin (dated 18th February 1899). A knowledge of the pseudonyms my great grandfather used has allowed me to track down from the British Newspaper Archive[6] and other sources many of his writings.

David Burnett

[1] Burnett, William Hall, A few Specimen Poems and Aphorisms, Blackburn: R Denham and Co, Southport:
Shackerley Literary Agency 1907

[2]  Psalm 90:10 King James Version –Old Testament

[3]  Old Cleveland, being a collection of papers compiled and written by W. H. Burnett. Local writers and local
worthies (1877)

[4] Carroll Lewis, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  (1865) – Carroll Lewis was the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
(1832-1898), an English writer, mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon, and photographer

[5]  Hull, George,  Poets and Poetry of Blackburn (1902) Blackburn: J & G Toumlin, printers, “Times” Office,

[6]  British Newspaper Archive [www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk]