1894 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Wright

David McAllister, in Poets and Poetry of the Covenant (1894) 232-33.



In the year 1805 this poet was born at Auchincloigh, the birthplace of the Covenanter, Peden, in the parish of Sorn, which lies high up among the Ayrshire hills. When but a child his parents removed into the town of Galston in the valley of the Irvine. Early in life, and but poorly educated, he was apprenticed to the weaving trade with a good and intelligent Christian named George Brown, well versed in religious literature. Wright's mind, however, soared off into the realms of poetry, which he cultivated by lonely walks among the woods and streams which surround the old Castle of Cessnock, once the seat of a truly noble family — the Campbells — mentioned in Knox's History of the Reformation, and attached to the Covenanting party 'till the Revolution of 1688. Improving his education and cultivating poetry, Wright, in 1828, published The Retrospect, a lengthy poem in two cantos, which was reviewed and praised by Professor Wilson in Blackwood's Magazine. It is sad to think that the success of his volume threw him off his balance, and that becoming addicted to drink, he parted with his wife and became a wanderer and an outcast. He continued, however, to write, and at times tried to struggle back into the paths of virtue and sobriety, when he would launch terrible and powerful poetical imprecations against intemperance. But his self-control was gone. At last one night about the year 1846, he was found in the streets of Glasgow in a deplorable and unconscious state of intoxication, and was carried to the Infirmary, seemingly dying. A Galston man was then employed there who recognized him; but in spite of all medical efforts he died next day. The Galston men then resident in Glasgow, sad and sorrowful at the melancholy end of one so gifted, gave him a decent burial, even among the great where so many poets lie — in the Necropolis. A cast of his finely intellectual head was taken, which, however, came to a disastrous end, like the poet's self. For a while it was kept in the Infirmary. Ultimately it came into the possession of a Galston man, and was taken to that town. Meeting with an accident after sundry repairs, it was at last "used up," as the mistress of the house said, "in scorin the kitchen floor!" His works had reached a third edition before his sad and melancholy end. When we think of what he was, what he might have become, and what he became, by tampering with the demon drink, well may we exclaim, with that fine moral poet, the Rev. George Crabbe—

Ah! fly temptation, youth, refrain, refrain!
Nor let me preach for ever and in vain!