1876 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Knox

James Grant Wilson, in Poetry of Scotland (1876) 2:106-07.



WILLIAM KNOX, the author of the pathetic poem which was so great a favourite with the late President Lincoln, beginning, "Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud!" was born at Firth, in the parish of Lilliesleaf, Roxburghshire, August 17, 1789. His parents were in comfortable circumstances, and he received a liberal education, first at the parish school of Lilliesleaf, and afterwards at the grammar-school of Musselburgh. In 1812 he became lessee of a farm near Langholm, but he was so unsuccessful as a farmer that at the end of five years he gave up his lease, and commenced that precarious literary life which he continued to the close. From his early youth he had composed verses, and in 1818 he published The Lonely Hearth, and other Poems, followed six years later by The Songs of Israel. In 1825 appeared a third volume of lyrics, entitled The Harp of Zion. Knox's poetic merits attracted the attention of Sir Walter Scott, who afforded him kindly countenance and occasional pecuniary assistance. Professor Wilson also thought highly of his poetical genius, and was ever ready to befriend him. He was a kind and affectionate son, and a man of genial disposition; but he unwisely squandered his resources of health and strength, and died of paralysis at Edinburgh, November 12, 1825, in his thirty-sixth year.

Knox's poetry is largely pervaded with pathetic and religious sentiment. In the preface to his Songs of Israel he says — "It is my sincere wish that, while I may have provided a slight gratification for the admirer of poetry, I may also have done something to raise the devotional feelings of the pious Christian." A new edition of his poetical works was published in London in 1847. Besides the volumes mentioned above, he also wrote A Visit to Dublin, and a Christmas tale entitled Marianne, or the Widower's Daughter. Much of his authorship, however, was scattered over the periodicals of the day, and especially the Literary Gazette. As a prose writer his works are of little account, but the same cannot be said of his poetry, which possesses a richness and originality that insure for it a more lasting popularity. Sir Walter Scott, alluding to our poet, remarks — "His talent then showed itself in a fine strain of pensive poetry, called, I think, The Lonely Hearth, far superior to that of Michael Bruce, whose 'consumption,' by the way, has been the 'life' of his his verses." He was keenly alive to his literary reputation, and could not but have been greatly gratified had he known that a poem of his would one day to the rounds of the American press and that of the Canadas as the production of a president of the United States.