1876 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Struthers

James Grant Wilson, in Poets of Scotland (1876) 1:540-41.



JOHN STRUTHERS, the author of The Poor Man's Sabbath and other pleasant pictures of Scottish life, was born in the parish of East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, July 18, 1776. He was the son of a country shoemaker, who was too poor to send him to school; and to his excellent mother he was indebted for a knowledge of the elementary branches. Mrs. Baillie, mother of the gifted Joanna, then residing in the vicinity, took an interest in the delicate boy, and often invited him to her house to read to her and her daughters. At the early age of eight he was employed on a farm chiefly as a cow-herd, and when at the expiration of several years he was sent to school, his progress was so rapid that his parents were urged to educate him for the ministry. This, however, they resolved not to do, and the boy, after some further service on a farm, was sent to Glasgow for the purpose of learning his father's occupation of shoemaker; and this being fully attained, he returned to East Kilbride and was busily employed in his new calling. During these various changes he had also diligently pursued the task of self-education, in which he made himself acquainted with the best writers of the day.

Having removed once more from his native place to Glasgow, which he now made his permanent home, Struthers in 1803 published his poem entitled Anticipation. The great success of this war ode, issued at the time when the dread of a French invasion was at its height, encouraged him in the year following to publish his principal poetical work, The Poor Man's Sabbath. It appeared several weeks in advance of Grahame's Sabbath, a fact which disposes of the charge of plagiarism which was attempted to be brought against it. The poem was well received, and rapidly passed through several editions, the third, through the instrumentality of Sir Walter Scott and Joanna Baillie, being issued by Archibald Constable of Edinburgh. It made the author well known in Scotland, and obtained for him literary employment, for which he found time while pursuing his vocation of shoemaker. Lockhart remarks that "it made his name and character known, and thus served him for more essentially; for he wisely continued to cultivate his poetical talents, without neglecting the opportunity thus afforded him through them of pursuing his original calling under better advantages."

Struthers' next poem, which was as favourably received as its predecessor, was intended as a sequel to The Poor Man's Sabbath, and was entitled The Peasant's Death. This was followed in 1811 by The Winter, a poem in irregular measure, and in 1814 by a small volume bearing the title of Poems, Moral and Religious. Four years later he published the poem of The Plough, in the Spenserian stanza. This was succeeded in 1819 by a collection of songs, published in three volumes, with the title of The Harp of Caledonia, to which Miss Baillie, Mrs. Anne Hunter, and others contributed original lyrics. Soon after the appearance of this work he obtained employment as a proof-reader in the printing office of Khull, Blackie, & Co. During his connection with this establishment he assisted in preparing an edition of Wodrow's History, and produced a History of Scotland from the union to the year 1827, the date of its publication. He was afterwards employed to prepare a third volume, continuing the narrative until after the Disruption, so that it might be a complete history of the Scottish Church; but he died ere it was quite finished.

In the year 1833 he was appointed to the charge of the Stirling Library in Glasgow, in which situation he remained for fifteen years; and, returning in the sere and yellow leaf of his days to his first love, he resumed his poem entitled Dychmont, begun in early life, which he completed and published in his sixty-third year. He died suddenly in Glasgow, July 30, 1853. In addition to the works already named, Struthers published, in 1816, a pamphlet on the state of the labouring poor, followed some years later by a brochure in favour of National Church Establishments; contributed memoirs of James Hogg, minister of Carnock, and Principal Robertson to the Christian Inquirer, and prepared sketches of deceased worthies for Chambers' Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen. His poetical works, which appeared at various dates, were republished in 1850, in two volumes, accompanied by an interesting biographical sketch. The Scottish Guardian, alluding to Struthers and his writings, says, "They are good works, and the works of a good man, who deserves well of his country, and whose name will not soon pass into oblivion." Another authority, the renowned editor of the Quarterly Review, in his memoir of Sir Walter, remarks, "It is said that the solitary and meditative generation of cobblers have produced a larger list of murders and other crimes than any other mechanical trade except the butchers; but the sons of Crispin have, to balance their account, a not less disproportionate catalogue of poets: and foremost among these stands the pious author of The Poor Man's Sabbath, one of the very few that have had sense and fortitude to resist the innumerable temptations to which any measure of celebrity exposes persons of their class."