1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Motherwell

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 499.



Motherwell (1797-1835) was a native of Glasgow. After studying Latin and Greek at the University, he was educated for the law. In 1828 he became editor of the Paisley Advertiser, and began to devote himself to literary pursuits. In 1830 he took charge of the Glasgow Courier, editing it with courage and ability. In politics he was a Tory, but a very sincere one. He early showed a taste for poetry; and in his fourteenth year had produced the first draft of his Jeanie Morrison; of which Miss Mitford says, "Let young writers observe that this finish was the result, not of a curious felicity, but of the nicest elaboration. By touching and retouching, during many years, did Jeanie Morrison attain her perfection, and yet how completely has art concealed art! How entirely does that charming song appear like an irrepressible gush of feeling!"

A volume of Motherwell's poems appeared in 1832, and at once gave him rank as a vigorous and genuine writer. It was republished in Boston in 1846. In his Minstrelsy, Ancient and Modern, he earned celebrity as a literary antiquarian. At one period of his life he overstepped some social conventions, and incurred much unhappiness thereby, to which reference is occasionally made in the more personal of his poems. His taste, enthusiasm, and social qualities rendered him very popular among his townsmen and friends. He was suddenly struck down by apoplexy in the thirty-eighth year of his age.