1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Cunningham

Anonymous, Memoir in Cunningham, Poems (1808) 5-6.



William Cunningham, the author of the following poems, was born at Maharabeg, in the parish of Dromore, on the 19th of March 1781; and while he was a poor weaver boy, having received the first rudiments of education at one of the Bishop of Dromore's sunday schools, had by reading such books as he could borrow, made so considerable a program, that in the autumn of 1800 he presented his Lordship with a copy of verses requesting the loan of books. The Bishop being struck with the marks of genius displayed in this poem, (which is unfortunately lost) rescued him from the loom, and placed him at the Diocesan school of Dromore, where his application was so diligent, that in about three years he read the principal Latin and Greek classicks.

Being thus qualified to superintend the education of youth, which had been the object of his wishes, he was received early in the year 1804 as an assistant teacher in the academy of the Rev. Doctor Bruce of Belfast, where he was distinguished for his diligence and skill in preparing the boys under his care to be examined before the summer vacation in that year. But by this time such strong symptoms of a consumption had appeared in his tall, thin, and slender frame, that he could not any more return to his charge; and his declining health confined him to the house of his poor mother, near the turnpike gate between Hillsborough and Dromore, where he continued to experience the kindness of his former patron, and was most generously attended by Sir George Atkinson, an eminent physician in the adjoining town of Hillsborough; but his case was beyond the reach of medical aid, and terminated fatally on Thursday the 27th December, he was interred in Dromore churchyard on the Saturday following, having nearly completed his 24th year.

Cunningham, tho' very unlike in his bodily frame to Dr. Goldsmith, who was short and not slender, so strongly resembled him in the face; that when he stood near a profile portrait of the doctor, copied from a painting by Joshua Reynold, and now in the possession of the Bishop of Dromore, the portrait seemed to be drawn for himself.

A selection of his poetical compositions, some of which have occasionally appeared in the newspapers and magazines, are now presented to the public in a collected form, and are printed for the benefit of his aged mother.