1853 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Struthers

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine NS 40 (September 1853) 319.



Aug. 7. At Gorbals, Glasgow, in his 78th year, Mr. John Struthers, author of The Poor Man's Sabbath, and other poems.

The works of this humble follower of the muses were recently collected by himself in two tasteful volumes and prefixed is an autobiography of rare interest to all who value an authentic contribution towards the still unwritten history of the lowly firesides of Scotland at the close of the last and the early part, of the present century. From that source we find that this estimable, and pious man was born at Forefaulds, a cottage built upon the estate of Longcalderwood, in the parish of East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, on the 18th of July, 1776. His father was a shoemaker: and, like Bloomfield, our poet was for many years a craftsman of St. Crispin. In the earlier sections of his memoir there are many vivid sketches of the scenes of his infancy: and his reminiscences as a "herd" (Anglice shepherd) are dewy and odorous as "Castlemilk and Cathkins bonnie braes" themselves. Throughout the autobiography there are scattered and very pleasing memorials of many saintly individuals in humble life; and also playfully sarcastic, or perhaps we should say humorous notices of his various masters and mistresses and eke of his fellow servants. Altogether it is a plain, unpretending, delightfully simple, chatty, and thoughtful production.

The Poor Man's Sabbath, his earliest and by much his best poem, was first published in 1804, previously to The Sabbath of James Grahame, a fact which it is the more necessary to state from an incidental inadvertency of Lockhart in his Life of Scott in noticing the "third edition" which was printed be Ballantine for Constable, and published under the auspices of Sir Walter and Joanna Baillie. The poet modestly and affectionately acknowledges the kindly attentions of Scott and Miss Baillie. He was a welcome visitor at Castle Street when he happened to he in Edinburgh: and the distinguished poetess sought him out in the Gorbals when on a tour to her native Scotland. The Poor Man's Sabbath met with immediate success and passed through various editions in rapid succession; and now for nearly half a century it has been regarded as a Scotish lowly classic. The entire poem has an autumnal pensiveness flung around it. There is a vein of tender reflection, scintillations of fine fancies, single felicitous images (such as the exquisite one of the Robin Red Breast, that like a "falling leaf" comes "wavering bye,"), a pervading pathos, and, above all, a sweet unction in this poem that must long preserve for it (if we may be allowed to quote from Ferguson) a "far-ben corner" in the Scotish heart. When the Poor Man's Sabbath was published, Struthers was employed as a working shoemaker. In 1806 appeared The Peasant's Death, intended to be a sequel to the Sabbath. It met with the same success as the former. In 1811 appeared The Winter's Day, and in 1816 The Plough. Excepting Dychmont, which was originally published in 1836, this embraces all his longer poems. They have been again and again reprinted, single and collected. In 1817-18 Struthers edited The Harp of Caledonia, in three volumes, a collection of the songs of Scotland. To this collection, Scott, Joanna Baillie, Mr. William Smyth of Cambridge, Mrs. John Hunter, and other famous writers sent various voluntary contributions. The work, now somewhat scarce complete, was undertaken at the request of Mr. Fullarton of the publishing firm of Khull, Blackie, and Co. Glasgow, in whose establishment, by this time, the poet had gotten himself ensconced as a proof corrector, &c.

Besides his poems, Struthers was the author of The History of Scotland from the Union in 1707 to 1827, a work of research and valuable for its materials. He likewise furnished to his employers a great number of biographies which have since been incorporated in Chambers's Lives of Eminent Scotsmen.

In 1832-3 he was appointed to the office of librarian in Stirling's Library, Glasgow, an office held by him till within a few years ago, and which only a change in the constitution of the library, involving more arduous duties than the venerable poet was either able or willing to undertake, caused him to resign. The present writer is not aware how he spent his closing years. It is to be hoped that they did not illustrate the poet's fate: and indeed we have reason to conclude they did not, though the death of his first wife, a fitting "helpmeet," was a bitter sorrow to him; and he was again left a widower in 1847. Lightly lie the turf upon the grave of this not the least of the sacred poets of Scotland.