1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. James Grahame

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:303-04.



The REV. JAMES GRAHAME was born in Glasgow in the year 1765. He studied the law, and practiced at the Scottish bar for several years, but afterwards took orders in the Church of England, and was successfully curate of Shipton, in Gloucestershire, and of Sedgefield, in the county of Durham. Ill health compelled him to abandon his curacy when his virtues and talents had attracted notice and rendered him a popular and useful preacher; and on revisiting Scotland, he died on the 14th of September 1811. The works of Grahame consist of "Mary Queen of Scotland," a dramatic poem published in 1801; "The Sabbath," "Sabbath Walks," "Biblical Pictures," "The Birds of of Scotland," and "British Georgics," all in blank verse. The "Sabbath" is the best of his productions, and the "Georgics" the least interesting; for though the latter contains some fine descriptions, the poet is too minute and too practical in his rural lessons. The amiable personal feelings of the author constantly appear. He thus warmly and tenderly apostrophises his native country:—

How pleasant came thy rusting, silver Tweed!
Upon my ear, when, after roaming long
In southern plains, I've reached thy lovely bank!
How bright, renowned Sark! thy little stream,
Like ray of columned light chasing a shower,
Would cross my homeward path; how sweet the sound,
When I, to hear the Doric tongue's reply,
Would ask thy well-known name!
And must I leave,
Dear land, thy bonny braes, thy dales,
Each haunted by its wizard stream, o'erhung
With all the varied charms of bush and tree!
And must I leave the friends of youthful years,
And mould my heart anew, to take the stamp
Of foreign friendships in a foreign land,
And learn to love the music of strange tongues!
Yes, I may love the music of strange tongues,
And mould my heart anew to take the stamp
Of foreign friendships in a foreign land
But to my parched month's roof cleave this tongue,
My fancy fade into the yellow leaf,
And this oft-pausing heart forget to throb,
If, Scotland! thee and thine I e'er forget.

An anecdote is related of the modest poet connected with the publication of the "Sabbath," which affords an interesting illustration of his character. He had not prefixed his name to the work, nor acquainted his family with the secret of its composition, and taking a copy of the volume home with him one day, he left it on the table. His wife began reading it, while the sensitive author walked up and down the room; and at length she broke out into praise of the poem, adding, "Ah, James, if you could but produce a poem like this!" The joyful acknowledgment of his being the author was then made, no doubt with the most exquisite pleasure on both sides. Grahame in some respects resembles Cowper. He has no humour or satire, it is true, but the same powers of close and happy observation which the poet of Olney applied to English scenery, were directed by Grahame to that of Scotland, and both were strictly devout and national poets. There is no author, excepting Burns, whom an intelligent Scotsman, resident abroad, would read with more delight than Grahame. The ordinary features of the Scottish landscape he portrays truly and distinctly, without exaggeration, and often imparting to his descriptions a feeling of tenderness or solemnity. He has, however, many poor prosaic lines, and his versification generally wants ease and variety. He was content with humble things; but he paints the charms of a retired cottage life, the sacred calm of a Sabbaths morning, a walk in the fields, or even a bird's nest, with such unfeigned delight and accurate observation, that the reader is constrained to see and feel with his author, to rejoice in the elements of poetry and meditation that are scattered around him existing in the humblest objects, and in those humane and pious sentiments which impart to external nature a moral interest and beauty. The religion of Grahame was not sectarian; he was equally impressed with the lofty ritual of the English church and the simple hill worship of the Covenanters. He is sometimes gloomy in his seriousness, from intense religious anxiety or sympathy with his fellow-men suffering under oppression or misfortune, but he has less of this harsh fruit, "Picked from the thorns and briers of reproof," than his brother poet Cowper. His prevailing tone is that of implicit trust in the goodness of God, and enjoyment in his creation.