1855 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Finlay

Charles Rogers, in Modern Scottish Minstrel (1855-57) 3:57-58.



JOHN FINLAY, a short-lived poet of much promise, was born at Glasgow in 1782. His parents were in humble circumstances, but they contrived to afford him the advantages of a good education. From the academy of Mr Hall, an efficient teacher in the city, he was sent, in his fourteenth year, to the University. There he distinguished himself both in the literary and philosophical classes; he became intimately acquainted with the Latin and Greek classics, and wrote elegant essays on the subjects prescribed. His poetical talents first appeared in the composition of odes on classical subjects, which were distinguished alike by power of thought and smoothness of versification. In 1802, while still pursuing his studies at college, he published a volume entitled Wallace, or the Vale of Ellerslie, with other Poems, of which a second edition appeared, with considerable additions. Soon after, he published an edition of Blair's Grave, with many excellent notes; produced a learned life of Cervantes; and superintended the publication of a new edition of Smith's Wealth of Nations. In the hope of procuring a situation in one of the public offices, he proceeded to London in 1807, where he contributed many learned articles, particularly on antiquarian subjects, to different periodicals. Disappointed in obtaining a suitable post in the metropolis, he returned to Glasgow in 1808; and the same year published, in two duodecimo volumes, a collection of Scottish Historical and Romantic Ballads. This work is chiefly valuable from some interesting notes, and an ingenious preliminary dissertation on early romantic composition in Scotland. About this period, Professor Richardson, of Glasgow, himself an elegant poet, offered him the advance of sufficient capital to enable him to obtain a share in a printing establishment, and undertook to secure for the firm the appointment of printers to the University; he declined, however, to undergo the risk implied in this adventure. Again entertaining the hope of procuring a situation in London, he left Glasgow towards the close of 1810, with the intention of visiting his college friend, Mr Wilson, at Elleray, in Cumberland, to consult with him on the subject of his views. He only reached the distance of Moffat; he was there struck with an apoplectic seizure, which, after a brief illness, terminated his hopeful career, in the 28th year of his age. His remains were interred in the churchyard of Moffat. Possessed of a fine genius, extensive scholarship, and an amiable heart, John Finlay, had he been spared, would have adorned the literature of his country. He entertained worthy aspirations, and was amply qualified for success; for his energies were coextensive with his intellectual gifts. At the period of his death, he was meditating a continuation of Warton's History of Poetry. His best production is the poem of Wallace, written in his nineteenth year; though not free from defects, it contains many admirable descriptions of external nature, and displays much vigour of versification. His lyrics are few, but these merit a place in the minstrelsy of his country.