AN EXTRACT FROM
Jul. 29, 1854
Poems by James Macfarlan (Hardwicke)—Mr. Macfarlan is a reader of
Tennyson. We find the optimistic rhapsodies of 'Locksley Hall'; but
his imitation is not slavish imitation,—and he is naturally graphic and
colours brightly and vividly wherever he can sufficiently forget what he
has read to be original. This, however, is not often the case.—We
quote a 'Jester's Song' [Ed.—from 'The Eve of the Bridal'].—
are blue, and the fields are green,
Merrily on the river is flowing,
And like a fine spirit that sports unseen
The wind through the leaves of the wood is
The world to-morrow forgets to-day.
AN EXTRACT FROM
No. 1459, Oct. 13, 1855 [p. 1183]
........ we may
receive with welcome City Songs, and other Poetical Pieces, by
James Macfarlan, (Murray & Son, Glasgow). A self-taught man, this
author, an operative by circumstance, becomes a workman in a higher form,
as the greatest of all doers, a true poet, by dint of persevering
practice. We recognize in him already a fine taste and a musical
appreciation of beauty in the choice of his diction and the lilt of his
verse. He has an excellent ear, and has cultivated it with
diligence. An ambitions mind has been in him taught humility; and by
reverence of the bards of old, as well as by the stern teaching of the
world, he has been made submissive to the necessities of his position,
without surrendering his desire for the Beautiful and the True. Such
feelings he has expressed in a free and flowing lyric called 'The
Aspirant,' some stanzas of which have much beauty. 'A Summer Song'
is not without its delicious passages.—
Past the broil of the town, past the long stony
Past the suburbs that sink to a dim smoky haze;
O now, the sweet grass groweth green at my feet,
And I see the glad waters with light all a-blaze;
The town is behind, with its traffic and din,
Shrouded deep in its smoke, like a soul in its sin.
Morn climbs tip the sky with her burden of gold,
And the leaves and the blossoms are dipt in the dew;
And the joy of the Earth in rich music is told,
As she looks to the heaven with a smile ever new.
The sun, golden-armoured, comes up in his might,
And the lark is afloat in an ocean of light.
Deep joy in the woods that are throbbing with song;
And a green light is glancing where rivulets run;
There's a wild leafy thrill the glad branches among,
And the waters leap up to the kiss of the sun;
The dew-drops are dancing on flowers as I pass,
Then leap from their couches and die in the grass.
animation and joyousness in these I verses; such as, after having been
long immured in town, we all feel at the sight of green fields and the
country. Reminiscences of similar stray pleasures, similar chance
opportunities, abound, showing in what degree the poet, born to labour and
bred to commerce, still loved Nature by a wise and original instinct of
the heart. Other experiences of the good in man and woman likewise
dwell with him, and find enduring memorials in such high-sounding lines as
those which compose the "portrait" of one,
In whose rich presence poverty had wealth,
And saw the angel thoughts serenely move
Within the grand Elysium of her eyes.
We may also
refer with satisfaction to those melodies "long-drawn out" that so fitly
describe "The Syren Isle"; and, with still more emphasis, to those quaint
fancies which celebrate "An Angel's Visit" to "the green-haired Earth,"
alighting so happily—
Where Summer sat 'mong flowers, like drops of gold
Spilt from the sunset,
but soon to
meet with much of wrong and suffering, until the celestial messenger came
to the chamber of the meditating scribe, despairing of his work and crying
hungrily for power, whom, compassionating, she touched as she passed,—
and his nerves at once were strung
Into a mighty lyre, on which his heart
Beat out a glorious marching tune for time.
with these bright pictures are traces of sorrow and melancholy reflection,
together with repinings of sin and punishment; —the outcast dying on the
doorstep, and the guilty slain by the public executioner:—still the figure
of Hope is ever visible, even in the gloomiest background, soaring upward
in lines of light. Images and golden words lake those we have cited
or referred to, bear witness for Mr. Macfarlan, that he is no inarticulate
or stammering poet, but one to whom the muse has imparted a gift of
language, to be cautiously and fruitfully employed; not recklessly wasted
on unworthy themes or in profuse description.
Nov. 14, 1862.
Dear Mr. Dixon.
To procure insertion of the
enclosed in the Athenæum. I
think that it will only be necessary to point out two or three facts.
Macfarlan's little books have received highly favourable notice in your
columns; Macfarlan himself was an object of interest to very many
discerning men, including Mr. Dickens; and the poor fellow's widow &
child are nearly, if not absolutely, starving! It is important that
the case should be noticed at once.
Hepworth Dixon Esq.
22 November, 1862, No. 1830 (p.669)
James Macfarlan. — A Correspondent sends us the following:— “Nations
have their poets, and so have small communities; and the poets of
each class are too often compelled (in the words of Pamphlet, in
‘Love and a Bottle’) “to write themselves into a consumption before
they gain reputation.” To flutter away a butterfly life in the
Poet’s Corner of a provincial newspaper, and to have in prospect the
epigrammatic epitaph of a small editor, is the destiny of the humble
muse; but it now and then happens that a local rhymester passes away
unnoticed, less from deficiency of mental power than from the
impossibility of comparing his power with that of less restricted
intellects. To James Macfarlan, a young writer famous in
Glasgow and the surrounding district, and who has just died in
indigence, belonged an amount of spontaneous genius which, under
more favourable circumstances, might have produced verses of not
ephemeral worth. The son of an itinerant pedlar, and without
education or intelligent companionship, Macfarlan managed to write
such lyrics as the following:—
The sunset burns, the hamlet spire
Gleams grandly, sheathed in evening fire,
The flowers are drenched in floating haze,
The churchyard brightens, and old days
on the dead.
From pendent boughs, like drops of gold,
The peaches hang; the mansion old,
From out its
nest of green,
Looks joyful through its golden eyes
Back on the sunset-burnished skies
A smile o’er
all the scene.
The running child, whose wavy hair
Takes from the sunset’s level glare
Rolls on the grass; the evening star
Above yon streak of cloudy bar
Day’s purple fringe.
Where latest sunshine slanting falls,
Above the ivied orchard walls,
In waving lines of shade, that nod
Like dusky streams across the road
With banks of
The streams are gilt, the towering vane
Stands burnished; and the cottage pane
in the sun;
The lost lark wavers down the sky,
The husky crow slides careless by,
day is done.
The above is not first-class, and it is one of the poorest pieces
produced by its author; but it is the only piece which I can lay
hands on in time to procure an early insertion of these lines, and
it is at least vastly superior to the ordinary contributions to
Poet’s Corner. Among the ‘City Poems’ and the ‘Lyrics of Life’
(two small volumes published some years ago), and among numerous
contributions to All the Year Round, there are many really
fine poems,—extraordinarily fine as emanating from the mind of a man
who for many years trudged about as a common pedlar, whose days were
spent in hardship and poverty, and who was destined to die, when
only thirty years of age, a pauper. On the causes of
Macfarlan’s misfortunes, apart from the serious misfortunes of a low
birth and a wretched education, it would be tedious to dwell; but it
has now become necessary to point out the fact that his wife and
child are without a penny, and that they have a certain claim on the
benevolence of all men and women who love letters. I am sorry
that this brief obituary resolves itself into an appeal to private
sympathy. The local poet, however, being useful in his way,
and the humble kinsman of the poet of a nation, deserves some little
kindly recognition. Some few of your readers will be satisfied
with the fact that Mr. Charles Dickens believed in Mr. Macfarlan and
assisted him most cheerfully; and these few may regard favourably
the subscription, at present being raised in Glasgow, for the
benefit of widow and child.
ED. ― our thanks go to Patrick Regan for sending in the above
piece from the Athenæum.