1835 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Motherwell

W. B. Morgan, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine NS 4 (December 1835) 659.



Nov. 1. At Glasgow, in his 38th year, William Motherwell, esq.

This pleasing poet was born in the Barony Parish of Glasgow, and at a very early age placed under the care of an uncle in Paisley, from whom he received his education.

When a youth he obtained a situation in the Sheriff Clerk's office at Paisley, where he remained till within the few last years of his life. His first appearance in the literary world was in 1819, when he contributed to, and directed, a poetical publication entitled the "Harp of Renfrewshire." From this time he was busily employed in the compilation of a very interesting and valuable collection of ballads, which he published in 1827 under the title "Minstrelsy, Ancient and Modern," illustrated by an ably written historical introduction, and notes.

In 1828 he became editor of the "Paisley Magazine" and "Paisley Advertiser;" and after having conducted the latter journal about two years, he was offered the editorship of the "Glasgow Courier," which he accepted, and continued to direct to the time of his death. In 1833 was published a collected edition of his own delightful Poems, lyrical and narrative; and the same year he contributed a humorous and chastely comic series of papers called, "Memoirs of a Paisley Bailie" to "The Day," a periodical work then publishing in Glasgow. Within the last year he had superintended an elegant edition of Burns; and such time as he could spare from necessary duties was employed in collecting materials for a Life of that unfortunate but truly exquisite song-writer, Robert Tannerhill of Paisley, whose biography might furnish a volume of great interest. He has also left unfinished the greater portion of an intended prose work, embodying the old wild legends of the Norsemen.

Mr. Motherwell was a poet of no common genius, spirit, and pathos. Amidst the infinite variety of his style, we prefer his simplest ballad compositions; our special favourite is "Jeanie Morrison." This piece we never read without a tear; it is pure in spirit, and for intensity of feeling, akin to the sweetest poetry of Robbie Burns himself.

His love for chivalrous old ballads was exceedingly great; indeed, he never was more happy than when poring over those sugared sweets, with a friend at his elbow to hear and appreciate his exquisite manner of delivering them. The many hours spent in this delightful recreation were of late years unavoidably given up to politics.

The afternoon previous to his death was spent in the society of a few friends, when he was in perfect health, and displayed all his usual cheerfulness and vivacity: about three o'clock on the morning following (Sunday) he was seized with an apoplectic fit, and in less than three hours, during which he scarcely spoke, his lamp of life was for ever extinguished.