1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Motherwell

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:503.



WILLIAM MOTHERWELL (1797-1835) was born in Glasgow, but, after his eleventh year, was brought up under the care of an uncle in Paisley. At the age of twenty-one, he was appointed deputy to the sheriff-clerk at that town. He early evinced a love of poetry, and in 1819 became editor of a miscellany entitled the Harp of Renfrewshire. A taste for antiquarian research — "Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose" — divided with the muse the empire of Motherwell's genius, and he attained an unusually familiar acquaintance with the early history of our native literature, particularly in the department of traditionary poetry. The results of this erudition appeared in Minstrelsy Ancient and Modern (1827), a collection of Scottish ballads, prefaced by a historical introduction, which must be the basis of all future investigations into the subject. In the following year he became editor of a weekly journal in Paisley, and established a magazine there, to which he contributed some of his happiest poetical effusions. The talent and spirit which he evinced in his editorial duties, were the means of advancing him to the more important office of conducting the Glasgow Courier, in which situation he continued till his death. In 1832 he collected and published his poems in one volume. He also joined with Hogg in editing the works of Burns; and he was collecting materials for a life of Tannahill, when he was suddenly cut off by a fit of apoplexy at the early age of thirty-eight. The taste, enthusiasm, and social qualities of Motherwell, rendered him very popular among his townsmen and friends. As an antiquary, he was shrewd, indefatigable, and truthful. As a poet, he was happiest in pathetic or sentimental lyrics, though his own inclinations led him to prefer the chivalrous and martial style of the old minstrels.