1877 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Pringle

James Grant Wilson, in Poetry of Scotland (1877) 2:100-01.



THOMAS PRINGLE, a poet and miscellaneous writer, was born at Blacklaw, in Roxburghshire, January 5, 1789. When young he met with an accident by which his right hip-joint was dislocated, and he was obliged ever after to use crutches. In his fourteenth year he was sent to the grammar-school at Kelso, and three years afterwards entered the University of Edinburgh. In the year 1808 he obtained a situation in the General Register House, and in 1811, in conjunction with his friend Robert Story, published a satirical poem entitled The Institute, which obtained for its young authors great praise but small profit. In 1816 he became a contributor to Campbell's Albyn's Anthology; he also composed an excellent imitation of Sir Walter Scott's poetical style for the Ettrick Shepherd's Poetic Mirror.

In the following year he assumed the editorship of The Edinburgh Monthly Magazine, projected by James Hogg and himself, and published by William Blackwood, as a rival to The Scots Magazine. Brewster, Cleghorn, Lockhart, the Shepherd, and Professor Wilson were among the contributors to this periodical, which afterwards became the famous Blackwood's Magazine. Pringle soon withdrew from its management, but he continued to be the conductor of The Edinburgh Star newspaper and editor of Constable's Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany. Before this time he had married, and finding the emoluments from these literary sources insufficient to maintain his family, he was fain to abandon them and return in 1819 to his old place in the Register House.

Pringle, published during the same year The Autumnal Excursion, and other Poems, but the poetical field at that season was so pre-occupied by greater singers, that his little volume, though appreciated by the judicious few, brought him but small profit. In 1820, in company with his brothers and other relatives and friends, in all twenty-four persons, he embarked for South Africa, where they landed in safety, and took possession of a tract of twenty thousand acres assigned to them by the government, which they named Glen Lynden. The poet afterward removed to Cape Town, where he filled the position of government librarian, and kept a large boarding-school. Here, after some difficulty, he established the South African Journal, a magazine which appeared in Dutch and English, and he also assumed the editorship of a weekly newspaper. But ere long he had disagreements with the governor, Lord Charles Somerset, and weary of his Caffreland exile he returned to England in 1826, and obtained the appointment of secretary to the Anti-Slavery Society, a post which he retained until the abolition of slavery in the colonies of Great Britain rendered the society unnecessary. Meantime he was a constant contributor of prose and verse to the chief periodicals of the day; edited an annual, Friendship's Offering; and published a Narrative of his Residence in South Africa, also Ephemerides, or Occasional Poems. Failing health induced him to decide to remove to a warmer climate as the only means of saving his life, and he was preparing to return to the Cape with his wife and sister-in-law, when he became worse, and died December 5, 1834. His remains were interred in Bunhill Fields, and a tombstone with an elegant inscription marks the spot where they lie.

Pringle's poetical works, with a memoir written by Leitch Ritchie, were published in 1839. Many of his compositions exhibit a highly cultivated taste, combined with deep and generous feeling. The fine pastoral lyric O, the Ewe-bughting's bonnie, left unfinished by Lady Grizzel Baillie (see vol. i. p. 91), was completed by our author. Allan Cunningham wrote: — "Thomas Pringle is a poet and philanthropist: in poetry he has shown a feeling for the romantic and the lovely, and in philanthropy he has laboured to introduce liberty, knowledge, and religion, in the room of slavery and ignorance." Another Scottish poet says: — "His poetry has great merit. It is distinguished by elegance rather than strength, but he has many forcible passages. The versification is sweet, the style simple and free from all superfluous epithets, and the descriptions are the result of his own observations. His African Sketches, which consist of poetical exhibitions of the scenery, the characteristic habits of animals, and the modes of native life in South Africa, are alone sufficient to entitle him to no mean rank as a poet." The first of our selections was greatly admired by Sir Walter Scott and many other distinguished poets of Pringle's period. Coleridge was so highly delighted that he did little else for several days than read and recite it.