John Bedford Leno

John Bedford Leno, an old Chartist shoemaker and poet, gave readings of his work round the London clubs in the 1880s, then a hotbed of socialism, and one of whose poems Only A Dreamer still has the power to weave a spell:

Only a dreamer, only a dreamer,
Pass him by, pass him by;
Why should we trouble our heads about him?
You and I.

Let the fool dream that the world will alter,
Get wiser and better, in rhythm and rhyme;
Come away Harry, come away Walter,
The world only moves at its own set time.

Keep to the pathway, keep to the pathway,
It will do, it will do;
Why should we seek for newer and better,
I and you.

Let the poor work out their own salvation,
Get freer and better as best they may,
We will keep step with the bulk of the nation,
Unmindful of those who may fall by the way.

There is no danger, there is no danger,
Let him cry, let him cry;
Why should we trouble our heads about him,
You and I.

Let the fool cherish his visioned tomorrow,
And fill in his pictures with rhythm and rhyme,
Careless of grief, and careless of sorrow,
The world only moves at its own set time.

List to the dreamer: List to the dreamer!
Calling us back! Calling us back!
In tones that are stirred by sudden danger:
Death on your track! Death on your track!

Swift as the wind,for your own salvation,
Fly for your life, as best you may;
The dreamers of dreams are the kings of the nation,
The scorned of the scorners of yesterday.


The Commonwealth, 6 October 1866

Some of Leno’s work was included in a selection of Democratic Readings, given in many clubs by Messrs. Walter Darwood and Albert Jeffries. They toured the clubs giving readings of political prose and poetry, including pieces like Shelley’s Mask of Anarchy and Men of England, Kingsley’s Poacher’s Widow, The Dying Communist by George R. Sims, and the Hymn of the Wiltshire Labourers by Charles Dickens.


2 thoughts on “John Bedford Leno

  1. Faye Plant

    Thank you for sharing this poem. I am the great, great maybe another great grand daughter of John Bedford Leno and it is simply wonderful to have his words resonating still. Faye in Australia.


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