Melton prior Institut


Linton- Life in the Collections

Thomas Cooper:

50) The Purgatory of Suicides. A Prison-Ryhme.

London 1845/1847

Thomas Cooper, the poet-shoemaker, was (...) impulsive, hot-headed, and, I doubt not, in his early utterances, sufficiently careless of his words to be considered ‘seditious,’ and so promoted to two years in prison, where in Spenserian stanzas he wrote his ‘prison rhyme,’ the Purgatory of Suicides, a long poem, remarkable if only for being produced under prison difficulties, but also as evincing much thoughtful reading, and not without passages of true poetic beauty. When he came out of prison, the rarity of such a performance gave him a certain notoriety and importance. He came to London, and there took an active part in the Chartist movement, more especially in the endeavour at its revival, when new hopes arose with the February days of France. Chartism at an end, he became an itinerant preacher, I think in the Baptist connection. A simple-hearted, good man, quick-tempered and enthusiastic, he was an eloquent orator and a good writer.” (Memories

The publication of Cooper’s ambitious Prison-Rhyme was launched with the support of Douglas Jerrold and Thomas Carlyle, to whom the book is also dedicated. In over nine hundred verses, Cooper embodies the various radical concepts of the period and discusses the possibilities of a democratic change in Victorian politics. The basic plot,  – Cooper travels through the limbo, guided by the spirit of Milton –, follows the example of Dante’s Divine Comedy. “Given the importance of poets to the cross-fertilization of organization and ideology that made republican politics a viable platform in the short term and that made democratic ideas successful in the longer term, Purgatory of Suicides and Linton’s definitional poems are the most influential Chartist poems of all." (Stefanie Kuduk Weiner)