1876 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Finlay

James Grant Wilson, in Poetry of Scotland (1876) 2:46.



JOHN FINLAY, a man of fine genius and extensive scholarship, was born parents in humble circumstances at Glasgow, December 1782. After receiving a good education at one of the schools in his native city, he entered the university at the age of fourteen, and had for a classmate John Wilson, afterwards the renowned "Christopher North." At college young Finlay was highly distinguished for proficiency in his classes, for the elegance of his essays on the subjects prescribed to the students, as well as the talent shown in the poetical odes which he wrote on classical subjects. In 1802, while only about nineteen and still at college, he published Wallace, or the Vale of Ellerslie, with other Poems, of which a second edition with some additions appeared two years later, and a third was issued in 1817. Of the chief poem in this volume Professor Wilson says: "It is doubtless an imperfect composition, but it displays a wonderful power of versification, and contains many splendid descriptions of external nature. It possesses both the merits and defects which we look for in the early compositions of true genius." In 1807 Finlay went to London in search of employment, and whilst there he contributed to the magazines many articles on antiquarian subjects. He returned to Glasgow in 1808, and in that year published a short collection of Scottish Historical and Romantic Ballads, which secured the favourable notice of Sir Walter Scott. "The beauty of some imitations of the old Scottish ballad," he writes, "with the good sense, learning, and modesty of the preliminary dissertations, must make all admirers of ancient lore regret the early loss of this accomplished young man." Mr. Finlay again left Glasgow in 1810 on a visit to his friend Wilson at Elleray, in Cumberland, but on the way he was seized with illness at Moffat, where he died December 8, 1810, aged only twenty-eight. Besides the works above-mentioned, he edited an edition of Blair's Grave, with excellent notes, wrote a Life of Cervantes, and superintended a new edition of Smith's Wealth of Nations. An affectionate and elegant tribute to Finlay's memory, written by Professor Wilson, appeared in Blackwood's Magazine for November, 1817.