1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Michael Bruce

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 476.



Michael Bruce was born in the parish of Kinneswood, in Kinross-shire, Scotland. His father was by trade a weaver, who out of his scanty earnings had the merit of affording his son an education at the grammar-school of Kinross, and at the university of Edinburgh. Michael was delicate from his childhood, but showed an early disposition for study, and a turn for poetry, which was encouraged by some of his neighbours lending him a few of the most popular English poets. The humblest individuals who have befriended genius deserve to be gratefully mentioned. The first encouragers to whom Bruce showed his poetical productions were a Mr. Arnot, a farmer on the banks of Lochleven, and one David Pearson, whose occupation is not described. In his sixteenth year he went to the university of Edinburgh, where, after the usual course of attendance, he entered on the study of divinity, intending, probably, to be a preacher in the Burgher sect of dissenters, to whom his parents belonged. Between the latter sessions, which he attended at college, he taught a small school at Gairney bridge, in the neighbourhood of his native place, and afterward at Forest-Hill, near Allan, in Clackmannanshire. This is nearly the whole of his sad and short history. At the latter place he was seized with a deep consumption, the progress of which in his constitution had always inclined him to melancholy. Under the toils of a day and evening school, and without the comforts that might have mitigated disease, he mentions his situation to a friend in a touching but resigned manner.—"I had expected," he says, "to be happy here; but my sanguine hopes are the reason of my disappointment." He had cherished sanguine hopes of happiness, poor youth! in his little village-school; but he seems to have been ill encouraged by his employers, and complains that he had no company, but what was worse than solitude. "I believe," he adds, "if I had not a lively imagination I should fall into a state of stupidity or delirium." He was now composing his poem on Lochleven, in which he describes himself,

Amid unfertile wilds, recording thus,
The dear resemblance of his native fields,
To cheer the tedious night; while slow disease
Prey'd on his pining vitals, and the blasts
Of dark December's shook his humble cot.

During the winter he quitted his school, and, returning to his father's house, lingered on for a few months till he expired, in his twenty-first year. During the spring he wrote an elegy on the prospect of his own dissolution, a most interesting relic of his amiable feelings and fortitude.