1858 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. David Macbeth Moir

Cyrus Redding, in Fifty Years' Recollections (1858) 3:231-32.



I have mentioned Mr. Moir of Musselburg, the Delta of "Blackwood's Magazine," under Wilson's editorship. When I heard of his death, I began to re-peruse his natural and beautiful verses. There is a fascination about some writers, which in spite of himself, holds the reader within a circle of enchantment, from which, if he extricate himself from their pages, laying them aside, the mind will not be so easily freed from their influence. Moir's poetry was to me precisely of this class. His lines remained impressed on the sensorium, and were continually repeated amid busy scenes in crowded streets, and even in the social circle, as if they would claim a corner of the soul to themselves, come what might in the way to divert attention from them. Many are full of truth and unaffectedness. Moir had no mannerism, none of the verbiage of hackneyed versifiers, who make rhyme, and call it poetry. He was not one of the favourites of mystery, who treat poetry as an enigma, to be disclosed by the initiated only, while the majority of his avowed admirers applauded the obscurity their vision could not penetrate, valuing most that which they least comprehended. He was full of true feeling. Pleasure or pain, grandeur or beauty, were really felt by him, not simulated, and he showed great gentleness and tenderness of soul. It was impossible not to enter into sympathy with such a writer. He sought not to amaze by startling trickery. Like Shakspeare, nature was his guide, and he read men and things in her book. He cultivated the flowers that she presented, and like the judicious florist, sought in this to make them more agreeable, by adding the advantage of a better site and soil, rather than change that by efforts at improvement, which it was beyond the power of art to effect. Thus in an age when to adhere to nature, and to the chaste in poetry is too transcendant for the time, Moir's poetry will still be treasured by the judicious few, and will be more admired when true taste in poetry returns to us. That such a writer should have fit audience, though few, is natural when Shakspeare and Milton are neglected. Moir was the last striking poet whom Scotland has produced. I regret not having preserved all his letters.

The death of this mild, meek man was worthy of his life and genius. He, too, is departed with that galaxy of names which for so many years were prized by cultivated minds. Moir's merit has not been more acknowledged, because only the few have the power of comprehending similar works of genius. The many once lived upon the opinions of the qualified and discriminating few. Now, all are self-constituted judges in everything, from the kitchen to the attic. Taste is supposed to be everywhere, coming to man by nature, in place of proceeding from high intellectual cultivation, combined with natural gifts, hence the present multiplication of mediocrity, and the want of taste for the best things.