1855 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Wright

Charles Rogers, in Modern Scottish Minstrel (1855-57) 4:137-38.



A son of genius and of misfortune, John Wright was born on the 1st September 1805, at the farm-house of Auchincloigh, in the parish of Sorn, Ayrshire. From his mother, a woman of much originality and shrewdness, he inherited a strong inclination towards intellectual culture. His school education was circumscribed, but he experienced delight in improving his mind, by solitary musings amidst the amenities of the vicinity of Galston, a village to which his father had removed. At the age of seven, he began to assist his father in his occupation of a coal driver; and in his thirteenth year he was apprenticed to the loom. His master supplied him with books, which he perused with avidity, and he took an active part in the weekly meetings of apprentices for mutual literary improvement; but his chief happiness was still experienced in lonely rambles amidst the interesting scenes of the neighbourhood, which, often celebrated by the poets, were especially calculated to foment his own rapidly developing fancy. He fell in love, was accepted, and ultimately cast off — incidents which afforded him opportunities of celebrating the charms, and deploring the inconstancy of the fair. He composed a poem, of fifteen hundred lines, entitled Mahomet, or the Hegira, and performed the extraordinary mental effort of retaining the whole on his memory, at the period being unable to write. The Retrospect, a poem of more matured power, was announced in 1824. At the recommendation of friends, having proceeded to Edinburgh to seek the counsel of men of letters, he submitted the MS. of his poem to Professor Wilson, Dr M'Crie, Mr Glassford Bell, and others, who severally expressed their approval, and commended a publication. The Retrospect, accordingly, appeared with a numerous list of subscribers, and was well received by the press. The poet now removed to Cambuslang, near Glasgow, where he continued to prosecute his occupation of weaving. He entered into the married state by espousing Margaret Chalmers, a young woman of respectable connexions and considerable literary tastes. The desire of obtaining funds to afford change of climate to his wife, who was suffering from impaired health, induced him to propose a second edition of his poems, to be published by subscription. During the course of his canvass, he unfortunately contracted those habits of intemperance which have proved the bane of so many of the sons of genius. Returning to the loom at Cambuslang, he began to exchange the pleasures of the family hearth for the boisterous excitement of the tavern. He separated from his wife and children, and became the victim of dissipation. In 1843, some of his literary friends published the whole of his poetical works in a duodecimo volume, in the hope of procuring the means of extricating him from his painful condition. The attempt did not succeed. He died in an hospital in Glasgow, of fever, contracted by intemperance. As a poet, he was possessed of a rich fancy, with strong descriptive powers. His Retrospect abounds with beautiful passages; and some of his shorter poems and songs are destined to survive.