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Robert Anderson (1770=1833), from Anderson's Cumberland Songs and Ballads, 1911. Courtesy Internet Archive.

Robert Anderson (1 February 1770 - 26 September 1833) was an English poet, known as the "Cumberland Bard."[1]


Anderson was born in Carlisle, 1 February 1770.[2]

He was at sent to a charity school supported by the dean and chapter of his native city, and afterwards he attended the Quaker school of Carlisle taught by Isaac Ritson. This was the sum of his educational advantages.[2]

At 10 years of age he began to earn his living as an assistant to a calico printer, and somewhat later he was bound apprentice to a pattern drawer in Carlisle. In pursuance of his calling he spent 5 years in London.[2] During his time in London, he was exploited terribly, and was "confined to a wretched garret" for several months until a sister came to his aid.[3]

The mock pastoral Scottish-style songs Anderson heard on visiting Vauxhall Gardens both disgusted Anderson and roused his poetic sensibilities. His earliest poem, "Lucy Gray of Allendale, inspired by a tale he heard from a Northumbrian rustic, was performed at the gardens to "great applause," and Anderson was granted free admission to the gardens afterward.[3]

In 1798 Anderson published his debut collection, Poems on Various Subjects, which included "The Slave," conveying his indignation at the slave trade. In 1805 he Anderson published his best-known work, Ballads in the Cumberland Dialect, a selection taken from verse and prose featured in a local newspaper.[3]

Following the death of his father in 1807, Anderson went to work in Belfast via a pilgrimage to the grave of Robert Burns, which affected him greatly, as did the "distressing scenes" of poverty in the countryside outside Belfast.[3]

The 2-volume edition of Anderson’s Poetical Works appeared in 1820, at a time when his local reputation drew subscriptions from Wordsworth and Robert Southey.[3]

The portrait prefixed to a volume of Sidney Gilpin's anthologies of Cumbrian songs shows a refined face of the cast of that of William Wordsworth. [2]

Late in life Anderson fell into habits of intemperance, and eventually into extreme poverty, and was haunted by the fear of ending his days in St. Mary's workhouse. The country people swho remembered Anderson described with a good deal of humour the outbursts of misanthropy that tormented him in his last years. ‘If ye happen'd to say til him, “It's a fine morning, Mr. Anderson,” ten to yan bit his reply wad be, “Dust'e tak me for a fool or a bworn idiot? I kent that lang afooar I saw thee!”’[2]

He died in Carlisle 26 September 1833.[4]


"Lucy Gray"Edit

Anderson's earliest effort was entitled "Lucy Gray," and was a poetic rendering of a story he had heard from a Northumbrian rustic. Lucy had been the village beauty, who died in her 17th year, and was soon followed by her lover. The simple story probably suggested to William Wordsworth the beautiful lines (written in 1799 and published in 1800) beginning: "She dwelt among the untrodden ways.’[2]"

The name and meter of Wordsworth's own "Lucy Gray" seem also to have been taken from Anderson's poem. In 1798 Anderson published this poem in his earliest volume, but it was not until 7 years later that he issued the ballads in the Cumbrian dialect by which his name is known (though he wrote and published his popular ballad, "Betty Brown," in 1801).[2]

Dialect verseEdit

Anderson was by no means the earliest to write verse in the dialect of his district. Thomas Sanderson gives the name of Josiah Relp, of Sebergham, as that of the 1st Cumbrian poet who wrote in the dialect, and Sir F. Madden mentions a Rev. Robert Nelson, of Great Salkeld, as contemporary with Relph. Certainly Susanna Blamire, Ewan Clarke, and Mark Lonsdale, as well as Josiah Relph, were anterior to Anderson. But the humo of Anderson placed him ahead of all competitors in the esteem of the peasantry. Anderson drew his materials from real life, was much feared for his personal attacks, had a keen eye for the ludicrous, and pictured with fidelity the ale-drinking, guzzling, and cock-fighting side of the character of the Cumbrian farm labourer.[2]

Perhaps his best dialect poems are ‘The Impatient Lass,’ ‘King Roger,’ ‘Will and Kate,’ ‘The Bashfu' Wooer,’ ‘Lae Stephen,’ ‘The Lass abuin Thirty,’ and ‘Jenny's Complaint.’ These poems are certainly destitute of those qualities which were supposed to place Anderson by the side of Burns, but some of them are made interesting by a vein of true rustic poetry, and all are valuable for the picture they afford of country manners and customs that are now almost, if not quite, obsolete. [2]


Cumberland bard2-225x300

Memorial to Robert Anderson, Carlisle Cathedral, Carlisle, Cumbria. Courtesy Gravestone Pix.

Anderson was buried in the grounds of Carlisle Cathedral. A memorial was raised there with a medallion likeness and the inscription: "Erected by public subscription to the memory of Robert Anderson, the Cumberland Bard, died in Carlisle, 26 Sept. 1833, aged 63 years".[5]

The centenary edition of Anderson’s Cumberland Ballads and Songs was published in 1904.

His death was marked by a centenary celebration souvenir, Robert Anderson: The Cumberland bard, in 1933.

2 late silhouette portraits of the poet are now in the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery,[6] as is his death mask.[7] There is also a head and shoulders portrait of the poet attributed to John Hazlitt in which he is wearing the same neatly knotted neckcloth as in the silhouettes.[8]



Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[9]

Robert Anderson - The Slave

Robert Anderson - The Slave

See alsoEdit


PD-icon.svg Caine, Thomas Henry Hall (1885) "Anderson, Robert (1770-1833)" in Stephen, Leslie Dictionary of National Biography 01 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 391-392 . Wikisource, Web, Jan. 26, 2019.


  1. Robert Anderson, the Cumberland Bard, Gravestone Pix, The Sportsphysio Group. Web, June 28, 2013.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Hall Caine, 391.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Iain Rowley, Robert Anderson, Laboring-Class Poets Online, May 23, 2013. Web, Jan. 26, 2019.
  4. Hall Cain, 392.
  5. Robert Anderson - The Cumberland Bard, Gravestonepix. Web, Jan. 26, 2020.
  6. Portsmouth University
  7. Treasures of Cumbria
  8. BBC Your Paintings
  9. Search results = au:Robert Anderson 1833, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Apr. 17, 2016.

External linksEdit


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the Dictionary of National Biography (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1885-1900. Original article is at: "Anderson, Robert (1770-1833)"

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