1859 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. James Grahame

William Anderson, in Scottish Nation (1859-66) 2:357-58.



JAMES GRAHAME, the author of The Sabbath, and other poems, was the son of a writer of Glasgow, where he was born April 22, 1765. He received the rudiments of his education at the grammar-school of his native city; and after passing through a regular academical course at the university there, he was removed to Edinburgh, in 1784, and apprenticed to his cousin, Mr. Lawrence Hill, writer to the signet. On the expiration of his apprenticeship, he became, in 1791, a member of the Society of writers to the signet; but the confinement of the writing desk being found injurious to his constitution, which was naturally weak, he turned his attention to the bar, and, in March 1795, was admitted advocate. In March 1802 he married the eldest daughter of Mr. James Grahame, town-clerk of Annan.

While at the university, he had printed and circulated a collection of poetical pieces, which, in an amended form, appeared in 1797, and in 1801 he published Mary Stuart, an Historical Drama. The poem on which his reputation rests, The Sabbath, made its appearance in 1804, and at first was published anonymously. So cautious was he that he should not be known as the author of this beautiful production, that we are told he exacted a promise of secrecy from the printer he employed, and used to meet him clandestinely, at obscure coffee-houses, in order to correct the proofs, but never twice in the same house, for fear of attracting observation. The work soon became popular: and on his wife expressing her high admiration of it, he acknowledged himself the author, much, as may be supposed, to her gratification. In 1805 he brought out a second edition of The Sabbath, to which he added Sabbath Walks, and such was the demand for the book, that three editions were called for in the same year. In 1806 he published Birds of Scotland, and other Poems; in 1807 he brought out his Poems in 2 vols; in 1809 appeared the British Georgics, 4to; and, in 1810, Poems on the Abolition of the Slave Trade, embellished with engravings from designs by Smirke.

From early life, Mr. Grahame had entertained a strong prepossession for the church, and his father's death having released him from all wish to continue in the law, in May 1809 he went to London, where he was ordained by the Bishop of Norwich, and soon after obtained the curacy of Shefton Mayne, in Gloucestershire, which he held till the succeeding April, when he resigned it, owing to some family matters requiring his presence in Scotland. While in Edinburgh, he was an unsuccessful candidate for St. George's Episcopal chapel in that city. In the following August he was engaged for some time as sub-curate of St. Margaret's, Durham, where his eloquence as a preacher soon collected a large congregation. Through the interest of Mr. Barrington, the nephew of the bishop of Durham, he obtained the curacy of Sedgfield in the same diocese, where he commenced his duties on the 1st of May 1811; but the decline of his health soon compelled him to revisit Edinburgh for medical advice. After staying a short time there, he proceeded with his wife to Glasgow, but died at Whitehall, the seat of his eldest brother, Mr. Robert Grahame, on September 14, 1811, in the 47th year of his age, leaving two sons and a daughter.