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received all that could die of Alexander Sinith. To of no vnlgar rank. Portions of the "Life Drama" the readers of this periodical, so often enriched by made their appearance,' through his mediation, his musings, it cannot be uninteresting to receive in the Critic, then a weekly literary journal of some some short account of his life and works, and some mark. So far, the world and Smith were truly attempt to describe what kind of man he was, indebted to Mr. Gillillan. But the poetry was apart from his writings.
accompanied by so much eulogistic comment, and He was a native of Ayrshire, that birthplace of such a superabundance of italics, not always dis. many poets, and was born at Kilmarnock on the last creetly used, as to lessen rather than increase the day of 1829. He was the first-born of highly re- impression of its real power and beauty. Of both, spectable parents, from whom he inherited his gentle there was in the poem no lack : it glittered with feelings and good sense. His father was a pattern fine imagery, and striking passages. - Considered as drawer: his mother's maiden name was Murray. the work of a very young man, it was indeed a Both survive him. While he was still a child they wonderful production, and all the critical prejudice removed to Paisley, and thence, after a few years, against anything recommended by Mr. Gilfillan, to Glasgow. Alexander having given early indica- was powerless to prevent that fact from being tions of talent was, as usually happens in such cases recognised. Phe young poet had 'realised Byron's in Scotland, intended for the ministry. A severe ill. saying, about wakiog one morning and finding ness combined with some change in his own inclina himself famous. For a time he was quite "the tious to alter that purpose, and he adopted, instead, rage,” his merits were eagerly canvassed in literary the occupation of his father, in which he showed con. circles, and 10 poetically disposed young gevtleman siderable skill and taste. Meantime, his education or lady at that date could be met who was not quite had not been neglected. It is common to speak at home in the “Life Drama." And no wonder, of such men, who have not had the advantage of for with all its youthful imperfections of wapt of a University training, as more or less wonderful | plot, and iteration, and offences against taste, it samples of self-education, and Smith has in this overflows with true passion and beauty. It would way been described as “self-taught.". In the sense be difficult to name a first work of a modern poet in which it is true of every man of any force and entitled to rank above it. What was more remark. originality, he was self-taught. But it would be a able even than the imaginative felicity, though it great mistake to forget that he had received the drew little attention compared with the individual benefit of that wise provision which Scotland images that stud the poem like gems, (such as that has for centuries made for the education of her splendid line describing the Sphynx,children, Sinith's early education, embraced al' « Starine right on with calm eternal eyes,''). good knowledge of English, Arithmetic, and Geo. graphy, some History, and the elements of Mathe- was the intellectual pith and the subtlety of moral matics and Latin. A youth 80 furnished, with the analysis displayed in the poem, giving sure proof of capacity and will to carry on his owu education by a capacity beyond mere sweet singing, in due time the study of the best works in literature, need not to be more largely developed, both in prose and verse, perhaps form any subject of condescending wonder, | Another remarkable thing about this poem was the when it is found that he can write good poetry and almost total absence of any sign of the author's prose, and even prove himself in the kingdom of Scottish birth and training. It was the severest letters the peer of professors and senior wranglers. charge against him, that he too much echoed Keats Smith was not only a great reader, especially of and Tennyson, a criticism sometimes pushed, as in poctry, but he had the advantage in Glasgow of the Atheneum, to the point of absurdity, malignant intimate intercourse with men of cultivated literary comment being fouuded on the similarity of single and poetic powers. Among these were the late Pro- words in a line. It ought to have been reckoned fessor Nichol, Mr. James Hedderwick, and Mr. | more worthy of notice, as some proof of the Hugh Macdonald.
strength and originality of his poetic inspiration, The young poet was industrious in his vocation, that it betrayed no tracé whatever of his being a but the call to higher work was irresistible. While native of the same kingdom 'and shire as Robert yet in his teens, he felt a mighty ambition stirring Burns, whose poetry niust have been as familiar him to pour forth his soul in song, and to make the to him froin childhood as the Psalms. In con. world hear his voice. He was both fortunate and nection with this much echoed charge, it may be unfortunate in his introduction to public notice. worth mentioning that not only was his poetic Mr. Giltillan was then at the height of his fame as a reading very extensive, but his memory for poetry. discoverer and encourager of poetic genius. How was unusually retentive, and intleed extraordinary. ever faint its dawning, he hailed it with delight, That in this way, thoughts and phrases' might' and lost no time in proclaiming it to the world. sometimes flow to his pen, of which he had for. He made mistakes, and fell into much exaggera- gotten the source, it is not difficult to understand tion. But in the case of Smith he made at least no and to justify. * o mistake in proclaiming to the world, with all pos- The Life Drama" was published by Bogue, in sible emphasis, that here, singing amid the smoke 1852, and has now gone through teu editions. and roar of Glasgow, was a genuine poet, and one Appended to it were some shorter poems, including
several sopnets, some of which will always rauk Secretary was not liable to be burst in upon by among the most perfect in our language. Here is students and others, with all sorts of questions, releone of them, a l i i print, it! Tror fi vant and irrelevant, to ask, sometimes about things
" Beauty still walketh on the earth and air ! quite beyond his duty or his power to answer. Never4. Our present sunsets are as rich in gold i j
theless, though painfully alive to such annoyance, As e'er the Iliad's music was out rolled; . . and sometimes laden with duties which he was not The roses of the Spring are ever fair,
strictly bound to perform, he was always obliging, 'Mong branches green still ring-doves coo and paix, And the deep sea still foams its music old.
cheerful, and alert ; never disposed to complain, So, if we are at all divinely souled,
or to regard himself as a martyr--he was much too *This beanty will unloose our bonds of care.
magnanimous for that. As for composition, it was 'Tis pleasant, when blue skies are o'er us bending Within old starry-gated Poesy,
ont of the question during office hours. No man, in To meet a soul set to no worldly tune,'
fact, could have more heartily and conscientiously Like thine, sweet Friend! Oh, dearer this to me
devoted himself to his work, of which the state of the Than are the dewy trees, the sun, the moon, Or noble music with a golden ending."
books and accounts at the time when he was obliged
to lay them aside afforded the strongest evidence. , * About this time Smith paid a short visit to This attention to duty was one of his noblest England, visiting London and Cambridge, and re- characteristics. Though largely endowed with the turning home, in company with a friend, through poetio sensitiveness and imagination, he was as the Lake country, where he spent a day or two careful, honest, and industrious, in the discharge in the society of Miss Martineau, at Ambleside. of whatever task-work he had to do, as the most Except another short visit to London some time prosaic of men could be, Considering the brilliance after his marriage, this was the whole extent of his of his literary avatar, and the flattering testimonies travels out of Scotland. And yet he describes that greeted his reception into the high circle of English scenery with as much zest, and fidelity as poets, his unaffected humility was not less rare & native, He did so in the Life Drama," before and beautiful. All the pæans of his admirers had he had ever been out of Scotland...!!. t ! no effect whatever in disturbing the screne balance
On his return home he resumed his former occu- of his nature, resting as it did on a solid basis of pation, with no prospect beyond the bustle and din common sense. No ambitious dreams' ever shook of Glasgow life. In 1854 the office of Secretary to his faith in honest work, as the lot of every man, the ['niversity of Edinburgh became vacant, and poet or clown, and the ultimate test of his worth. it occurred to some people ioterested in his career In this respect his life and character are full of that the situation was one which might very fitly instruction to young literary aspirants, especially be bestowed on a young man of acknowledged those who believe themselves poets, with a special zenius, and in other respects perfectly qualified. mission to sing, and that only. They give the There were a good many candidates, but Smith was most emphatic contradiction also to the opinion, eated by a considerable majority of the Town commonly enough entertained, that the children of Council, who had the patronage. The Lord Provost, genius are essentially wayward, unpractical, and Mr. Maclaren, distinctly avowed, og the part of self-indulgent. No man could deny genius to his supporters, their desire to use this opportunity Smith. As a writer he was truly of imagination for recognising genius, and acquitting their country all compact.” He could hardly write a page of 80 far, from the blame of doing honour only to prose on the most common theme without some the dead. The salary attached to the office was flashes of imagination, some out going of his intense galy 1501., but that was a desirable income for a love of beauty, and his sympathy with man and young man of letters, and the duties at that time nature. But this man' of genius was one of the Fere light. They were afterwards much increased, quietest, most unassuming men that could be met without, however, any addition to the salary, the in any company ; most' diligent and dutiful; slow funds of the University being unfortunately in a to give or take offence ; most tolerant of criticism, | very low condition. Some years afterwards, Smith even when conscious that it was wrong; most was appointed Registrar to the University Council, gentle'' and 'charitable in bis" judgments about for which he received 401. a year; and as Secretary others. One might truly apply to him his favourite to that body he received 102. a year. He had done Chaucer's beautiful character of the knight :the work of the latter office for five years before
" And though that he was worthy, he was wise, the fact became known that he had worked for And of his port as meke as is a mayde... nothing. His total official income was thus latterly He never yet no vilanie ne sarde 30. For that money he gave good value in
In alle his life, unto no manare wiglit, !!! Tork. There were occasions when the preparation
He was a veray parfit gentil knight.”." , of University lists and accounts demanded extra In Edinburgh he soon became the centre of a time in his own house, and that was cheerfully warmly attached circle of friends, chiefly men congiven. At other times the actual labour was com. nected with literature and art. Most of them were paratively light, but the office was always attended associated in a small society, called the "Raleigh with a good deal of worry. There were scarcely Club," which for a few years held weekly meetings five minutes of the day, from 10 to 4, when the for the purpose of social conversation and criticism.
Short papers generally, but not invariably, formed
But with the morning light, the starting point of the evening's talk. To those
That sea again will overflow
With a long weary sound of woe, wlio frequented these little gatherings, the memory
Again to faint in night. of them is most pleasant, and most pleasantly
Wave am I in that sea of woes, of all rises to recollection the frank and genial Which, night and morning, ebbs and flows," aspect of Alexander Smith, the Secretary of the The effect produced on the mind by this poem, as club, and the man whom all the members loved investing the great busy city with a kind of high most. That winter another distinguished young and mysterious individuality; the intimate and poet, Sydney Dobell, took up his residence for solemn relations of the poet to it; the vivid some time in Edinburgh, and with him Smith was picturing of its most striking aspects by day and naturally much associated. In the following year, night; the exquisite and longing appreciation of 1855, they produced an interesting joint work, the charms of rural nature, combined with the consisting of a collection of songs and sonnets on sense of the deeper interest and pathos that lies in topics connected with the Criniean war. At the the heart of that populous home of human life--all same time Smith began to contribute in prose to these things combine to give this poem a wondervarious periodicals, and exhibited in that form of ful charm, and a high place among works of ima. composition so much power and felicity as led gination. If cities were in the habit of erecting many of his critics to favour him with the opinion monuments to the men who have best celebrated that therein lay his strength, and that he should them in song, Alexander Smith should not want his thenceforth devote himself to prose rather than memorial in Glasgow. verse. But though ever open to good advice, and Another lyrical effusion in this volume, the perfectly alive to his own weaknesses, Smith could verses to “Barbara," in the poem called “Horton," no more abandon poetry than the lark cease to soar
claims special notice, as one of the most sweet and sing. To use his own words,
and moving strains in our language. It is difficult He was one
to select from it; but the last two verses may be That could not help it-for it was his nature
given here :-
“ Yet, love, I am unblest;
With many doubts oppressed, s too sensible, however, to despise the warn- I wander like a desert wind, without a place of rest. ings that had been addressed to bim, on the neces- Could I but win you for an hour from off that starry sity of tuning his lyre to a more subdued key, and
The hunger of my soul were stilled, for Death hath told devoting greater pains to the sbaping of his themes,
you more the perfection of his versification, and his choice of Than the melancholy world doth know; things deeper
than all lore words. No critic, in fact, was so intensely con
You could teach me, Barbara. scious of that necessity as he was himself ; for as his mind grew, his sense of his distance from the In vain, in vain, in vain, ideal at which he aimed grew with it. But his next
You will never come again,
There droops upon the dreary hills á mournful fringe of publication clearly showed the effects of increased
learly showed the effects of increased rain ; discipline and improved taste. This was the "City The gloaming closes slowly round, loud winds are in the
tree, Poems,” published by Macmillan in 1857. While
Round selfish shores for ever moans the hurt and wounded quite equal to the “Life Drama” in the expression
sea, of passion and imaginative description, this volume There is no rest upon the earth, peace is with Death and indicates a great advance both in thinking and
Barbara !” in artistic power. In each of the pieces there is a distinct and well-wrought-out purpose ; and the Has the reader felt it necessary to pause at that it expression, always musical, is never bombastic or unspeakably sad close ? I know no other that so il forced. Some of these poems rise to a very high compels silence. standard. Tried by any test of poetry received ' For some time after this he was engaged on an among critics, that on Glasgow is probably the historical poem, selecting his theme in early English finest poem on a city that has ever been written. history. The result appeared in “Edwin of Deira," It may be compared among works of art to such published in 1861 by Macmillan. Uufortunately for a picture as Turner's “Carthage.”
its popularity, it was immediately preceded by the How nobly it opens after the verse quoted above : “ Idylls of the King,” wbich led many to suppose
that the choice of subject had been suggested by " City! I am true son of thine : Ne'er dwelt I wilere great mornings shine
that work. This was not the case, however, Smith Around the bleating pens;
having chosen his subject and worked at it for at Ne'er by the rivulets I strayed,
least two years before he heard of the Laureate's And ne'er upon my childhood weighed The silenee of the glens.
forthcoming work. The tidings greatly disheartened Instead of shores where ocean bcats,
him, for he knew well what the result would be, I hear the ebb and flow of streotis.
imitation of Teonyson having been one of the Black Labour draws his weary waves
stock-complaints brought against him from the beInto their secret-moaning caves;
Iginning. But though “Edwin of Deira" dever
attained the popularity of Smith's previous poems, work was gone through in the last seven years of it was recognised by all competent critics as a work his life. For in addition to all the periodical work, in advance of them in constructive power, and en he also produced several books. In 1863 appeared titled to rank among the best poetical productions “Dreamthorp," published by Strahan, a collection of this generation. The character of Bertha in it is of Essays, for the most part new. This volume very beautifully conceived. She is worthy, as a | alone would entitle Smith to a place among the best good critic has remarked, "to claim a niche be- writers of English prose. It was well received ; tween Miranda and Hermione.”
but will probably be more read and admired now that In the spring of 1858 the poet married Miss he is dead. Many things seem less weighty and Flor Macdonald, eldest daughter of Mr. Mac. admirable from the lips of a living man, especially donald of Ord, in Skye, and soon after he took a a young man, than they do afterwards, when house at Wardie, on the sea coast near Edinburgh. he has joined the immortals, and will speak to us There he thenceforth lived, and there he died. no more. Some of the essays in this volume are The readers of this periodical cannot have forgotten worthy of comparison with those of our most the beautiful verses in which he has commemorated classical authors. The " Lark's Flight” might the scenery and associations connected with that have been owned by De Quincey, and "Dreampleasant home. It now became necessary for him thorp" by Washington Irving : but each of them to increase his income by literary labour. On prose has a character of its own, belonging to the author composition, therefore, he was obliged to concen- alone, and constituting that which is called origitrate his powers, poetry not being always a paying nality. The essay “On Death and Dying” reminds article, even in the case of popular poets. The one of Sir Thomas Browne, in the pepsive music of whole pecopiary benefit he derived from “Edwin of the sentences, freighted, for all the triteness of the Deira," to compensate the labour of four years, was theme, with true and deep thought. The essay 15.531. For his prose articles he found a ready “On the Literary Character” is full of grave and market; latterly, indeed, he was rather oppressed keen reflection, much of it drawn from personal by the calls made upon his power of production, experience, and invested now with a touching inHe contributed at one time or other to Blackwood, terest. The same remark applies to the essay "On Macmillan, The North British Revieto, The Museum,' the Importance of a Man to himself.” Of all his The West of Scotland Magazine, Good Words, The best essays, indeed, it may be said, that they comArgosy, and The Quiver. To Good Words his con- bine the charms of poetry with the advantages of tributions were most frequent, both in prose and prose. When collected they will take a secure verse. He wrote several biographies for the last position among the choice works of that class, in slition of The Encyclopædia Britannica, and for virtue alike of the quality of the thought, the beauty Mackenzie's Biographical Dictionary, and a large of the style, and the unaffected exhibition of the onmber of articles for Chambers's Encyclopædia. writer's personality. In so far as his own memory He also contributed more or less regularly to several is concerned, it can be no matter of regret, but the Detapapers, including The London Review, The opposite, that his energies were so much put forth Glejor Citizen, The Courant, and The Caledonian in that form of composition, which brings the Nacurg. In the last-mentioned paper he wrote for reader most directly and closely into sympathy two or three years the notices of the Royal Scottish with the author. Academy's Exhibition-a branch of criticism for To justify these remarks, let me quote a passage which he was admirably qualified. He knew what at hazard from the essay last mentioned :ww good and bad in art, and he could give the “Nature rolls on in her eternal course, repeating reason why, in language that had the merit of being her tale of spring, summer, autumn, winter ; but both intelligible and eloquent, not a common accom- life in man and beast is transitory, and other living plishment. His papers were always worth reading, creatures, take their places. It is quite certain that , always genial and picturesque, worth any amount one or other of the next twenty springs will come
d mere connoisseur eant. They were indeed the unseen by me-will awake no throb of transport only good artieles of the kind that have latterly in my veins. But will it be less bright on that appeared in Edinburgh.
account? Will the lamb be saddened in the field ? The above list of publications will sufficiently in | Will the lark be less happy in the air? The sundicate the extent of his literary labours. He was, sbine will draw the daisy from the mound under in fact, never idle if he could help it. Not that he which I sleep, as carelessly as she draws the cow. didn't appreciate leisure, and would not gladly have slip from the meadow by the river side. The enjoyal more of it. But his sense of duty was seasons have no ruth, uo compunction. They care streng, and he felt the claims on his exertions to be not for our petty lives. The light falls sweetly on parannount over all considerations of personal enjoy- graveyards, and on brown labourers among the hay ment. Bearing in mind that his literary work had swathes. Were the world depopulated to-morrow, all to be done in the evening hours, and that a man next spring would break pitilessly bright, flowers of lås attractive and social disposition could not, would bloom, fruit-tree boughs wear pink and white; however fond of home, avoid some mingling in and although there would be no eye to witness, society, it may easily be imagined how much hard Summer would not adorn herself with one blossom the less. It is curious to think how important a' gets to the end of the first volume of “ Alfred creature man is to himself. We cannot help think- | Hagart” must be a very phlegmatic one; if his heart ing that all things exist for our particular selves. | is not moved as he reads, and his best sympathies ... I think it cruel that the sun should shine and roused, it must be because he has none, The birds sing, and I lying in my grave. People talk | character of Miss Kate Macquarrie is entitled to of the age of the world! So far as I am concerned, rank among original creations as truly as any of it began with my consciousness, and will end with Mr. Dickens. The latter part is not so good as the my decease.”
| first, having been composed under. disadvantages, In 1865 he produced another original work, " A when the writer was much fagged and out of sorts, Summer in Skye, which soon passed into a second needing repose in fact, which the exigencies of pubedition. There is much at the beginning and end lication did not allow. But taken as a whole, the of this book having no connection with Skye; but story is a charming one, and it gave distinct proof except for the sake of the artistic symmetry of the that, with longer life and leisure, its author had the work, no reader can' regret its being there. To possibility in him of still higher things. to Vive s write about Skye was for Sinith a labour of love ; . That, however, was not to be. The illness which for the happiest portion of his time, "the Sabbath temporarily incapacitated him in 1865, accompanied of the year," as he called it, was spent there with with giddiness, and other symptoms of an unstrung his wife and children in the autumn holidays. / and over-wrought system, left its effects in the sucThese seldom extended beyond a month, and in ceeding year; for his autumu rest was broken by that month in Skye there must have been many the demand for "copy," and he had to face the rainy days. But to that month the tired poet winter unrecruited. : At the close of the summer be looked forward every summer with intensest longiug, felt much exhausted.' He took his holiday with and when it was 'over, the retrospect was full of his family, not in Skye, but in, a pleasant place in charmn. That island, with its grand misty peaks, the neighbourhood of Dingwall. On his return; its far-stretching lochs, its old traditions and super- to town he looked well, aud seemed to be quite stitions, its still surviving vestiges of an ancient strong again. But it was only in appearance, He: and picturesque life, completely entered into his did not feel well, and had a somewhat depressed
study of imagination ;" and the “wonderful air, as if burdened by the impending shadow of mountain of Blaavin," 'with his great shoulders calamity. Shortly after the opening of the Unimantled in mist, or glistening in sunshine, became versity Session in November, the fatiguing work as familiar to his mental vision as the countenance | incident to the season began to tell on him, and he of a friend. His book on Skye is a vivid repro went homé daily, dull and ja led. At length on the duction of his experiences and observations there, | 20th of November, a notice appeared on the door of modified, necessarily, in some things by the hues of his office, stating that the Secretary was unwell, and imagination. It has already taken its place as a would be absent for a few days. He had taken to poetical guidebook for Skye, though the descriptions his bed, and from it never rose, save, to be carried embrace but a portion of the scenery of that re- to an upper room for change of air. His illness markable island."
proved to be gastric fever, complicated soon, after In the same year he produced a new edition of with a severe attack of diphtheria. The latter was Burns for Macmillan, with a memoir, and a glossary, overcome, and in about three weeks he had so far on which he bestowed immense pains. This edition recovered that the most sanguine hopes were enter, of Burns will always be a favourite one, for its tained by his friends. In the course of another neatness and accuracy; and difficult as it was, after week, however, a relapse took place, and after vas Lockhart, and Wilson, and Carlyle, to write a life of rious altervations of progress and doeline, the disa Burus with any pretensions to new interest, the ease assumed a typhoid form. During his illness simple gad story is told by Smith' with a tender truth, he was assiduously atteuded by the family phyfulness and grace that leave nothing to be desired. sician, Dr. Malcolm; latterly Dr. Christison was
In that year also he made his first essay in fiction, called in as consulting physician, Nothing was in the pages of this periodical." Even to some of wanting that the most tender care and the highest Smith's intimate friends the story of “Alfred skill could do ; but in vain. He was never a talkaHagart's Household" was a surprise, showing, as it tive man, and during his illness he spoke little. He did, a hitherto undeveloped poweť. Out of very had intervals of delirium, in which his thoughts simple elements, and 'somewhat 'hackneyed ma- went back to the College, and the work that had to terials, he had woven an exquisite and pathetic tale. be done; but for the most part he was calm and Tlie quietness and simplicity of it have probably quiet. Expressions of tender solicitude for his family misled some readers into thinking less of it than it were heard by the watcher in his silent room. The deserves, especially at a time when hardly any day and evening before his death he was thought to stery is reckoned complete without a fair seasoning be wonderfully better, and the hopes of his friends of mystery and crime. The art of this tale is of a began to revive. It was but the ticker of the exhigher order, and differs from the violent kind as a piring flame. Towards morning a change cane, landscape of Lionell from the “Last Judgment” and in the dawning light of the 5th of January, his of Martin. The reader who can pause before he gentle spirit passed serenely away. Five days be