1855 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Knox

Charles Rogers, in Modern Scottish Minstrel (1855-57) 3:112-13.



WILLIAM KNOX, a short-lived poet of considerable merit, was born at Firth, in the parish of Lilliesleaf, Roxburghshire, on the 17th August 1789. His father, Thomas Knox, espoused Barbara Turnbull, the widow of a country gentleman, Mr Pott of Todrig, in Selkirkshire; and of this marriage, William was the eldest son. He was educated at the parish school of Lilliesleaf, and, subsequently, at the grammar school of Musselburgh. In 1812, he became lessee of the farm of Wrae, near Langholm, Dumfriesshire; but his habits were not those of a thriving farmer, and, at the expiry of five years, he was led to abandon his lease. His parents had, meanwhile, removed to the farm of Todrig, and he returned thither to the shelter of the parental roof. In 1820, the family, who had fallen into straitened circumstances, proceeded to Edinburgh, where they opened a lodging-house. William now devoted his attention to literature, contributing extensively to the public journals. From his youth he had composed verses. In 1818, he published The Lonely Hearth, and other Poems, 12mo; in 1823, The Songs of Israel, 12mo; and in April 1820, a third duodecimo volume of lyrics, entitled The Harp of Zion. His poetical merits attracted the notice of Sir Walter Scott, who afforded him kindly countenance and occasional pecuniary assistance. He likewise enjoyed the friendly encouragement of Professor Wilson, and other men of letters.

Of amiable and benevolent dispositions, Knox fell victim to the undue gratification of his social propensities; he was seized with paralysis, and died at Edinburgh on the 12th of November 1826, at the early age of thirty-six. His poetry, always smooth and harmonious, is largely pervaded with pathetic and religious sentiment. Some of his Scriptural paraphrases arc exquisite specimens of sacred verse. A new edition of his poetical works was published at London, in 1847. Besides his poetical works, he published A Visit to Dublin, and a Christmas tale entitled Marianne' or the Widower's Daughter. He left several compositions in prose and verse, but these have not been published by his executors.

Knox was short in stature, but handsomely formed; his complexion was fair, and his hair of a light colour. Subject to a variation of spirits in private, he was generally cheerful in society. He sang or repeated his own songs with much enthusiasm, and was keenly alive to his literary reputation. Possessing a fund of humour, he excelled in relating curious anecdotes.