1903 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Finlay

George Eyre-Todd, in The Glasgow Poets (1903) 168.



JOHN FINLAY is remembered rather as a collector and preserver of old Scottish folksongs than as a maker of original poetry. He was possessor, nevertheless, of a true poetic vein, and has left more than one addition to the ballad and lyric minstrelsy of Scotland.

Born of parents in humble life at Glasgow, he entered the University at the age of fourteen, and distinguished himself there not only by proficiency, but by the elegance of his prose essays, and the spirit of his classical odes. While still at college, in 1802, he published Wallace, or the Vale of Ellerslie, with other poems. Of this Professor Wilson, his class-fellow and friend, afterwards said, "It possesses both the merits and defects which we look for in the early compositions of true genius." A third edition was issued in 1817. Choosing a life of letters, Finlay went to London in 1807, and contributed to the press many articles on antiquarian subjects. Next year, having returned to Glasgow, he published his collection of Scottish Historical and Romantic Ballads, which was highly praised by Sir Walter Scott. During his short life he also wrote a Life of Cervantes, and produced editions of Blair's Grave and Smith's Wealth of Nations. He refused, on account of the risk, the generous offer of Professor Richardson of Glasgow University to set him up as a printer, and, still hoping to establish himself as a man of letters, planned a continuation of Warton's History of English Poetry. But in 1810, on his way to visit Wilson at Elleray, he was seized with apoplexy at Moffat, and died there on 8th December. A tribute to his memory, from Wilson's pen, appeared in Blackwood's Magazine on the publication of the new edition of Wallace in 1817.