1894 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Struthers

David McAllister, in Poets and Poetry of the Covenant (1894) 255-57.



Mr. Struthers is the author of The Poor Man's Sabbath, and numerous other meritorious works. He was born at Forefaulks in the parish of East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, 15th July, 1776. His father was a shoemaker there for the space of forty years. His mother, an eminently Christian woman, taught him to read from the Proverbs of Solomon, and the Shorter Catechism; and when very young, he could read any chapter in the Bible, a knowledge of, a love for, and an obedience to which he manifested throughout all his after life. In the higher branches of his education he, was much assisted by Mrs. Baillie, and her daughter Miss Joanna Baillie, the celebrated poetess, who lived near by, and took a warm interest in the bright little boy. When only seven years of age he was sent to a farmer to herd cows. Mrs. Baillie soon after sold off her effects and removed to London, to her son, the celebrated Dr. Matthew Baillie; and when the little lad returned home at the end of the summer, and found that his kind friends were gone, not to return, the vexation of mind threw him into a fever for six weeks. The next year, his eighth, was spent at school, where he made remarkable progress. After this, and for another three and a half years, he again acted as cowherd to his grandmother, on a small upland farm in the neighbourhood. His books then, which he read in the fields, were the histories of Wodrow, Knox and Calderwood; the Apologetical Declaration, Naphtali, Hind Let Loose, Causes of God's Wrath, and the like. He was afterward engaged, and while yet young, to work on a farm in the parish of Cathcart. The servants here, as he relates, "were brutally ignorant, filthy in conversation, and swore horribly." The "Gudeman" was not much better, although "he always said grace to their meals, but it was uniformly in the same words. He sometimes made worship in the evening, when the whole family commonly fell asleep, and he himself sometimes along with them." In a cottage close by, however, lived a godly couple where the future poet was welcome; and on their clean hearth-stone he read a chapter of the Bible in the forenights; this, then, being the only book he had. To this couple he owed it, he always said, that the manifold temptations, and the ill example to which he was subjected, did not sweep entirely away all the good he had previously acquired.

In his fourteenth year he sat himself down beside his father to learn shoe-making, and afterwards perfected himself at the trade in Glasgow. At the age of twenty-two he married, settling for three years in East Kilbride, when he removed to Glasgow. Having read much during these latter years, he, in 1803, published a poem entitled Anticipation, on the threatened invasion of Britain by Bonaparte, which was well received. In 1804, a few weeks before the appearance of The Sabbath, by James Grahame — he published The Poor Mail's Sabbath, a poem of over one hundred stanzas in the Spenserian measure, which was at once recognized as a noble production, and has since passed through numerous editions. Next appeared, The House of Mourning, or, The Peasant's Death; also an excellent and impressive poem, but less popular than The Poor Man's Sabbath, or than The Plough, Dychmont, and others by which it was followed.

In 1819, Mr. Struthers entered the printing office of Khull, Blackie and Co., Glasgow, as corrector of the press. Here he assisted in editing an excellent edition of Wodrow's History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland. He also wrote several prose works of much merit.

In 1834, he was appointed Librarian of the Stirling Institution, and continued in it for fifteen years. We need not follow Mr. Struthers farther. He died suddenly in 1853, in the 78th year of his age, and as has been well said of him. — "He was a man of strong sense, clear intellect, fine imagination, of warm sympathies, strong feelings, generous sentiments, and powerful emotions, controlled, subdued and regulated by the fear of God, and love of his Redeemer and fellow-men. He was truly a remnant of the Scottish mind and heart, cast in the mould of the best days of her intellectual and religious elevation."