1855 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Pringle

Charles Rogers, in Modern Scottish Minstrel (1855-57) 3:44-47.



THOMAS PRINGLE was born on the 5th of January 1789 at Blaiklaw, in Teviotdale, a farm rented by his father, and of which his progenitors had been tenants for a succession of generations. By an accident in infancy, he suffered dislocation of one of his limbs, which rendered the use of crutches necessary for life. Attending the grammar school of Kelso for three years, he entered as a student the University of Edinburgh. From his youth he had devoted himself to extensive reading, and during his attendance at college he formed the resolution of adopting literature as a profession. In 1808 he accepted the appointment of copying-clerk in the General Register House, occupying his intervals of leisure in composition. He published, in 1811 — in connexion with his ingenious friend, Robert Story, the present minister of Roseneath — a poem entitled, The Institute, which obtained a considerable share of public favour. In 1816 he became a contributor to Campbell's Albyn's Anthology; and produced an excellent imitation of the poetical style of Sir Walter Scott for Hogg's Poetic Mirror. Concurring with Hogg in a proposal to establish a new monthly periodical, in order to supersede The Scots' Magazine, which had much sunk in the literary scale, he united with him in submitting the scheme to Mr. Blackwood, who was then becoming known as an enterprising publisher. By Mr. Blackwood the proposal was well received; a periodical was originated under the title of The Edinburgh Monthly Magazine, and Pringle relinquished his post in the Register House to undertake the editorship. In April 1817 the first number of the magazine appeared, adorned with contributions from Wilson, Lockhart, the Shepherd, and others of literary reputation. An interesting article on Gypsies was Pringle's own contribution, the materials being kindly supplied to him by Sir Walter Scott. The occurrence of serious differences between the editor and publisher, however, soon menaced the continuance of a periodical which had commenced so prosperously; the result was, the withdrawal of Pringle from the concern, and an announcement in the September number that the magazine was discontinued. The discontinuance was merely nominal: a new series, under the title of Blackwood's Magazine, appeared in October, under the literary superintendence of Wilson; while, in the August preceding, Pringle had originated, under the publishing auspices of Mr. Constable, The Edinburgh. Magazine and Literary Miscellany, as a new series of The Scots' Magazine. In the first number of Mr. Blackwood's new series appeared the celebrated "Chaldee MS.," a humorous pasquinade, chiefly directed against Pringle and his literary friend Cleghorn, and which, on account of its evident personalities, was afterwards cancelled.

Besides conducting Constable's magazine, Pringle undertook the editorship of The Star, a bi-weekly newspaper; but he was led soon to renounce both these literary appointments. He now published The Autumnal Excursion, and other Poems; but finding, in spite of every effort, that he was unable to support himself by literature, he resumed, early in 1819, his humble situation in the Register House.

When his literary affairs were prosperous, Pringle had entered into the married state, but his present emoluments were wholly unequal to the comfortable maintenance of his family. He formed the resolution of emigrating to South Africa, then a favourite colony, and a number of his wife's relatives and his own consented to accompany him. In February 1820 he embarked for the Cape, along with his father and other relatives, in all numbering twenty-four persons. The emigrants landed on the 5th of June, and forthwith took possession of the territory assigned them by the home government, extending to 20,000 acres, situate in the upper part of the valley of Baaviars river, a tributary of the Great Fish river. In this place, which the colonists designated Glen-lynden, Pringle remained about two years, till his friends were comfortably settled. He thereafter proceeded to Cape Town, in quest of literary employment. He was appointed keeper of the Government library, with a salary of 75, and soon after found himself at the head of a flourishing educational establishment. He now established a periodical, which he designated the South African Commercial Advertiser, and became editor of a weekly newspaper, originated by an enterprising printer. But misfortune continued to attend his literary adventures: in consequence of certain interferences of the local government, he was compelled to abandon both his periodical and newspaper, while the opposition of the administrative officials led to his seminary being deserted. Leaving the colony for Britain, he arrived in London in July 1826; and failing to obtain from the home government a reparation of his losses in the colony, he was necessitated anew to seek a precarious subsistence from literature. An article which he had written on slavery, in The New Monthly Magazine, led to his appointment as secretary to the Anti-slavery Society. This situation, so admirably suited to his talents and predilections, he continued to hold till the office became unnecessary, by the legislative abolition of slavery on the 27th of June 1834. He now became desirous of returning to the Cape, but was meanwhile seized with a pulmonary affection, which proved fatal on the 5th December 1834, in his forty-sixth year. His remains were interred in Bunhill-field Cemetery, where a tombstone, with an inscription by his poetical friend William Kennedy, has been erected to his memory.

As a poet, Pringle is chiefly remarkable for elegance of versification, perspicuity of sentiment, and deep and generous feeling. A thorough patriot, some of his best songs on subjects connected with Scottish scenery were written on the plains of Africa. Beneficent in disposition, and conciliatory in private intercourse, he was especially uncompromising in the maintenance of his political opinions; and to this peculiarity may be traceable some of his earlier misfortunes. In person he was under the middle height; his countenance was open and benignant, with a well developed forehead. He was much influenced by sincere religious convictions. His poetical works, with a memoir by Mr. Leitch Ritchie, have been published by Mr. Moxon for the benefit of his widow.