1852 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Allan Cunningham

William Jerdan, in Autobiography of William Jerdan (1852-53) 2:161-62.



With Allan Cunningham I had been acquainted from his advent to the capitol, I think about 1810, and the first poetry he published in London was under my auspices. His signature of Hid-allen was both appropriate to his name and poetical in sound; but he had previously acquired a provincial fame in his native Dumfries, where some curious productions, covered with an incognito almost equal to Chatterton's at Bristol, as well as some sweet specimens of Scottish song, had settled the destiny of the worthy and gifted stonemason for a literary life. Nature was bountiful to Cunningham. He was a fine manly specimen of the genus homo; had a massive head, and a countenance impressed with intelligence, and a softened air, fine and, when not animated, rather melancholy eye, very rarely found united to so much strength of character; and he was what he looked, a combination of sound judgment, masculine firmness, and that gentler nature in which the feeling of simple and plaintive poetry was enthroned. His genius and his literary labours, aided by an adjutancy to Sir Francis Chantry, to whom to whose studio he was an invaluable ally, happily sufficed for the wants of a comfortable, unaspiring, domesticity, and kept him above the severer trials, though not some of the disappointments which usually attend the class to which he pertained. The friendship of Walter Scott and Mr. Lockhart also contributed much to this fortunate result.

I remember the little piece to which I have alluded gave rise to the exhibition of a laughable trait in my stalwart countryman's disposition, and his sense of dignity of the independent muse. There occurred in it a grammatical error, in which "that" was used instead of "who," or something of equal note, but decidedly ungrammatical. This I pointed out to Cunningham, and was proceeding to correct it, when he snatched the paper out of my hand, with "Na, na, I will allow nae man to alter ma poetry; be it grammar or no grammar, it shall joost stand as it is!" and stand it did.