1830
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lines composed over Robert Fergusson's Grave.

The Retrospect; or Youthful Scenes. With other Poems and Songs. By John Wright.

John Wright


Two Spenserians: the concluding poem in the volume bemoans the poverty and early death of the Scottish poet Robert Fergusson (1750-74). John Wright, a Scottish carpet-weaver with a flaming romantic temperament, was not a happy man and is said to have drunk himself to death.

Edinburgh Literary Journal: "It is a saying among farmers in the earlier part of the year, that 'as the day lengthens, the cold strengthens.' So it is with poets: the more the list increases, the greater the number of candidates that present themselves. There came to us, not many weeks ago, a simple son of song, John Wright by name, who had travelled all the way from Galston to Edinburgh, with little else but a manuscript poem in his pocket. His great ambition was to see the Editor of Blackwood's Magazine and the Editor of the Literary Journal; and he saw us both. He published a prospectus of his poem, which he is to bring out by subscription, and which he is to call The Retrospect; or, Youthful Scenes. Most of his manuscripts passed through our hands, and we have pleasure in subjoining, as a favourable specimen of his abilities, the following [Anacreontic Song]" (3 July 1830) 10.

David McAllister: "Early in life, and but poorly educated, he was apprenticed to the weaving trade with a good and intelligent Christian named George Brown, well versed in religious literature. Wright's mind, however, soared off into the realms of poetry, which he cultivated by lonely walks among the woods and streams which surround the old Castle of Cessnock, once the seat of a truly noble family — the Campbells — mentioned in Knox's History of the Reformation, and attached to the Covenanting party 'till the Revolution of 1688. Improving his education and cultivating poetry, Wright, in 1828, published "The Retrospect," a lengthy poem in two cantos, which was reviewed and praised by Professor Wilson in Blackwood's Magazine. It is sad to think that the success of his volume threw him off his balance, and that becoming addicted to drink, he parted with his wife and became a wanderer and an outcast" Poets and Poetry of the Covenant (1894) 232-33.



Bright was thy short career, ill-fated Bard!
Too bright to last — martyr of song! to me
Dear for thy woes; thy comeliness was marr'd
In the worst blight of bitter penury;
And cold neglect came heavily o'er thee,
Shrouding thy soul in phrenzy's darkest gloom!
Shamed be thy leaden townsmen, that could see
Such beauty die, and not revoke the doom—
They brought thee, child of song! to this untimely tomb.

Thus, bending o'er thee — not fate's sternest frown,
Nor fortune's smile could grieve or gladd in me;
Thus, bending o'er thee, I could lay me down,
And weep my soul away, and sleep with thee:
There hovers round, a spell, a witchery,
That more than loveliest scene or loftiest song,
Dissolves the heart to tearful ecstacy
And pleasing sadness: Poetry more strong
Burns o'er thee dead, than could to living Bard belong.

[p. 169]