1855 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Doyne Sillery

Charles Rogers, in Modern Scottish Minstrel (1855-57) 4:174-76.



Though a native of Ireland, Charles Doyne Sillery has some claim to enrolment among the minstrels of Caledonia. His mother was a Scotchwoman, and he was himself brought up and educated in Edinburgh. He was born at Athlone, in Ireland, on the 2d of March 1807. His father, who bore the same Christian and middle names, was a captain of the Royal Artillery. He distinguished himself in the engagements of Talavera on the 27th and 28th of July 1809; but from his fatigues died soon after. His mother, Catherine Fyfe, was the youngest daughter of Mr. Barclay Fyfe, merchant in Leith. She subsequently became the wife of James Watson, Esq., now of Tontley Hall, Berkshire.

Of lively and playful dispositions, Sillery did not derive much advantage from scholastic training. His favourite themes were poetry and music, and these he assiduously cultivated, much to the prejudice of other important studies. At a subsequent period he devoted himself with ardour to his improvement in general knowledge. He read extensively, and became conversant with the ancient and some of the modern languages. Disappointed in obtaining a commission in the Royal Artillery, on which he had calculated, he proceeded to India as midshipman in a merchant vessel. Conceiving a dislike to a seafaring life, after a single voyage, he entered on the study of medicine in the University of Edinburgh. From early youth he composed verses. In 1829, while only in his twenty-second year, he published, by subscription, a poem, in nine cantos, entitled Vallery; or, the Citadel of the Lake. This production, which refers to the times of Chivalry, was well received; and, in the following year, the author ventured on the publication of a second poem, in two books, entitled Eldred of Erin. In the latter composition, which is pervaded by devotional sentiment, the poet details some of his personal experiences. In 1834 he published, in a small duodecimo volume, The Exiles of Chamouni; a Drama, a production which received only a limited circulation. About the same period, he became a contributor of verses to the Edinburgh Literary Journal. He ultimately undertook the editorial superintendence of a religious periodical.

Delicate in constitution, and of a highly nervous temperament, Sillery found the study of medicine somewhat uncongenial, and had formed the intention of qualifying himself for the Church. He calculated on early ecclesiastical preferment through the favour of Her Majesty Queen Adelaide, to whom he had been presented, and who had evinced some interest on his behalf. But his prospects were soon clouded by the slow but certain progress of an insidious malady. He was seized with pulmonary consumption, and died at Edinburgh on the 16th May 1836, in his twenty-ninth year.

Of sprightly and winning manners, Sillery was much cherished in the literary circles of the capital. He was of the ordinary height, and of an extremely slender figure; and his eye, remarkably keen and piercing, was singularly indicative of power. Poetry, in its every department, he cherished with the devotion of an enthusiast; and though sufficiently modest on the subject of his own poetical merits, he took delight in singing his own songs. Interested in the history of the Middle Ages, he had designed to publish an Account of Ancient Chivalry. Latterly, his views were more concentrated on the subject of religion. Shortly before his death, he composed a Discourse on the Sufferings of Christ, the proof-sheets of which he corrected on his deathbed. As a poet, with more advanced years, he would have obtained a distinguished place. With occasional defects, the poem of Vallery is possessed of much boldness of imagery, and force and elegance of expression.