1859 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Knox

William Anderson, in Scottish Nation (1859-66) 6:623-24.



William Knox, a minor poet, was born in 1789, in Roxburgshire, where his father was a respectable farmer. Sir Walter Scott, in his Diary, says that "he himself, succeeding to good farms under the duke of Buccleuch, became too soon his own master, and plunged into dissipation and ruin. His talent then showed itself in a fine strain of pensive poetry, far superior to that of Michael Bruce. I wished to do what I could for this lad, whose talent I really admired. I had him at Abbotsford (about 1815), but found him unfit for that sort of society. I tried to help him, but there were temptations he could never resist. He scrambled on, writing for the booksellers and magazines, and living like the Otways, and Savages, and Chattertons of former days, though I do not know that he was in extreme want. His connexion with me terminated in begging a subscription of a guinea, now and then. His last works were spiritual hymns, which he wrote very well. In his own line of society he was said to exhibit infinite humour; but all his works are grave and pensive." (Lockhart's Life of Scott, p. 584.) His chief forte lay in writing sacred pieces, which were for the most part paraphrases of the Scriptures; but though they abound in spiritual simplicity and tenderness, none of them exhibits either the genius or the promise of Michael Bruce. The opening verses of The Songs of Israel are in Knox's best manner, and express his feelings, as regards his domestic relations, with great truth and beauty [verses omitted]. To habits of the most deplorable dissipation, Knox unfortunately gave way, and in consequence was never out of difficulties. In his necessities, Sir Walter Scott showed him great kindness, generously sending him money, ten pounds at a time. He died at Edinburgh on 12th November, 1825, aged 36, his latter years being spent under the roof of his father, who, on retiring from farming, had taken a grocer's shop in that city.