1855 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Struthers

Charles Rogers, in Modern Scottish Minstrel (1855-57) 2:235-38.



JOHN STRUTHERS, whose name is familiar as the author of The Poor Man's Sabbath, was born on the 18th July 1776, in the parish of East Kilbride, Lanarkshire. His parents were of the humbler rank, and were unable to send him to school; but his mother, a woman of superior intelligence, was unremitting in her efforts to teach him at home. She was aided in her good work by a benevolent lady of the neighbourhood, who, interested by the boy's precocity, often sent for him to read to her. This kind-hearted individual was Mrs Baillie, widow of the Rev. Dr Baillie of Hamilton, who was then resident at Longcalderwood, and whose celebrated daughter, Joanna Baillie, afterwards took a warm interest in the fame and fortunes of her mother's protege. From the age of eight to fourteen, young Struthers was engaged as a cowherd and in general work about a farm; he then apprenticed himself to a shoemaker. On the completion of his indenture, he practiced his craft several years in his native village till September 1801, when he sought a wider field of business in Glasgow. In 1804, he produced his first and most celebrated poem, The Poor Man's Sabbath, which, printed at his own risk, was well received, and rapidly passed through two editions. On the recommendation of Sir Walter Scott, to whom the poem was made known by Joanna Baillie, Constable published a third edition in 1808, handing the author thirty pounds for the copyright.

Actively employed in his trade, Struthers continued to devote his leisure hours to composition. In 1816 he published a pamphlet On the State of the Labouring Poor. A more ambitious literary effort was carried out in 1819; he edited a collection of the national songs which was published at Glasgow, under the title of The Harp of Caledonia, in three vols. 18mo. To this work Joanna Baillie, Mrs John Hunter, and Mr William Smyth of Cambridge contributed songs, while Scott and others permitted the re-publication of such of their lyrics as the author chose to select.

Struthers married early in life. About the year 1818 his wife and two of his children were snatched from him by death, and these bereavements so affected him, as to render him unable to prosecute his labours as a tradesman. He now procured employment as a corrector of the press, in the printing-office of Khull, Blackie, & Co. During his connexion with this establishment he assisted in preparing an edition of Wodrow's History, and produced a History of Scotland from the political Union in 1707 to the year 1827, the date of its publication. These works — the latter extending to two octavo volumes —were published by his employers. On a dissolution of their co-partnership, in 1827, Struthers was thrown out of employment till his appointment, in 1832, to the Keepership of Stirling's Library, a respectable institution in Glasgow. This situation, which yielded him a salary of about 50 a-year, he retained till 1847, when he was led to tender his resignation. In his seventy-first year he returned to his original trade, after being thirty years occupied with literary concerns. He died suddenly on the 30th July 1853, at the advanced age of seventy-seven.

A man of strong intellect and vigorous imagination, John Struthers was industrious in his trade, and persevering as an author, yet he failed to obtain a competency for the winter of life; his wants, however, were few, and he never sought to complain. Inheriting pious dispositions from his parents, he excelled in familiarity with the text of Scripture, and held strong opinions on the subject of morality. Educated in the communion of the Original Secession Church, he afterwards joined the Establishment, and ultimately retired from it at the Disruption in 1843. He was a zealous member of the Free Church, and being admitted to the eldership, was on two occasions sent as a representative to the General Assembly of that body. An enthusiast respecting the beauties of external nature, he was in the habit of undertaking lengthened pedestrian excursions into the country, and took especial delight in rambling by the sea-shore, or climbing the mountain-tops. His person was tall and slight, though abundantly muscular, and capable of undergoing the toil of extended journeys. Three times married, he left a widow, who has lately emigrated to America; of his children two sons and two daughters survive.

Besides the works already enumerated, Struthers was the author of other compositions, both in prose and verse. He wrote an octavo pamphlet of 96 pages in favour of National Church Establishments; contributed memoirs of James Hogg, minister of Carnock, and Principal Robertson to the Christian Instructor, end prepared various lives of deceased worthies, which were included in the Illustrious and Distinguished Scotsmen, edited by Mr Robert Chambers. At the period of his death, he was engaged in preparing a continuation of his History of Scotland, to the era of the Disruption; he also meditated the publication of a volume of essays. His poetical works, which appeared at various intervals, were re-published in 1850, in two duodecimo volumes, with an interesting autobiographical sketch. Of his Poems those most deserving of notice, next to the "Sabbath," are The House of Mourning, or the Peasant's Death, and The Plough, both evincing grave and elevated sentiment, expressed in correct poetical language.