1855 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Atkinson of Glasgow

Charles Rogers, in Modern Scottish Minstrel (1855-57) 4:122-23.



THOMAS ATKINSON, a respectable writer of prose and verse, was born at Glasgow about the year 1800. Having completed an apprenticeship to Mr. Turnbull, bookseller, Trongate, he entered into a copartnership with Mr. David Robertson, subsequently King's publisher in the city. Of active business habits, he conducted, along with his partner, an extensive bookselling trade, yet found leisure for the pursuits of elegant literature. At an early age he published The Sextuple Alliance, a series of poems on the subject of Napoleon Bonaparte, which afforded considerable promise, and received the commendation of Sir Walter Scott. In 1827, he published The Ant, a work in two volumes, one of which consists of entirely original, and the other of selected matter. The Chameleon, a publication of the nature of an annual, commenced in 1831, and extended to three octavo volumes. Of this work, a melange of prose and poetry, the contents for the greater part were of his own composition. The last volume appeared in September 1833, shortly before his death.

Deeply interested in the public affairs, Atkinson was distinguished as a public speaker. At the general election, subsequent to the passing of the Reform Bill, he was invited to become a candidate in the liberal interest for the parliamentary representation of the Stirling burghs, in opposition to Lord Dalmeny, who was returned. Naturally of a sound constitution, the exertions of his political canvass superinduced an illness, which terminated in pulmonary consumption. During a voyage he had undertaken to Barbadoes for the recovery of his health, he died at sea on the 10th October 1833. His remains, placed in an oaken coffin, which he had taken along with him, were buried in the deep. He bequeathed a sum, to be applied, after accumulation, in erecting a building in Glasgow for scientific purposes. A monument to his memory has been erected in the Glasgow Necropolis. The following stanzas were composed by the dying poet at the outset of his voyage, and less than three weeks prior to his decease; they are dated the "River Mersey," 21st September 1833:—

I could not, as I gazed my last — there was on me a spell,
In all its simply agony — breathe that lone word — "Farewell,"
Which hath no hope that clings to it, the closer as it dies,
In song alone 'twould pass the lips that loved the dear disguise.

I go across a bluer wave than now girds round my bark,
As forth the dove went trembling — but to my Father's ark
Shall I return? I may not ask my doubting heart, but yet
To hope and wish in one — how hard the lesson to forget....

But drooping head and feeble limbs — and, oh! a beating heart,
Remind the vow'd to sing no more of all his weary part;
Yet, with a voice that trembles as the sounds unloose the spell,
In this, his last and rudest lay, he now can breathe — "Farewell."

In the Chameleon several of Mr. Atkinson's songs are set to music, but, with the exception of "Mary Shearer," none of them are likely to obtain popularity.