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Jul. 29, 1854

    Poems by James Macfarlan (Hardwicke)—Mr. Macfarlan is a reader of Tennyson.  We find the optimistic rhapsodies of 'Locksley Hall'; but his imitation is not slavish imitation,—and he is naturally graphic and colours brightly and vividly wherever he can sufficiently forget what he has read to be original.  This, however, is not often the case.—We quote a 'Jester's Song' [Ed.—from 'The Eve of the Bridal'].—

The skies are blue, and the fields are green,
     Merrily on the river is flowing,
 And like a fine spirit that sports unseen
     The wind through the leaves of the wood is
                                Blow away,
 The world to-morrow forgets to-day.




No. 1459, Oct. 13, 1855 [p. 1183]

........ we may receive with welcome City Songs, and other Poetical Pieces, by James Macfarlan, (Murray & Son, Glasgow).  A self-taught man, this author, an operative by circumstance, becomes a workman in a higher form, as the greatest of all doers, a true poet, by dint of persevering practice.  We recognize in him already a fine taste and a musical appreciation of beauty in the choice of his diction and the lilt of his verse.  He has an excellent ear, and has cultivated it with diligence.  An ambitions mind has been in him taught humility; and by reverence of the bards of old, as well as by the stern teaching of the world, he has been made submissive to the necessities of his position, without surrendering his desire for the Beautiful and the True.  Such feelings he has expressed in a free and flowing lyric called 'The Aspirant,' some stanzas of which have much beauty.  'A Summer Song' is not without its delicious passages.—

Past the broil of the town, past the long stony street,
    Past the suburbs that sink to a dim smoky haze;
O now, the sweet grass groweth green at my feet,
    And I see the glad waters with light all a-blaze;
The town is behind, with its traffic and din,
Shrouded deep in its smoke, like a soul in its sin.

Morn climbs tip the sky with her burden of gold,
    And the leaves and the blossoms are dipt in the dew;
And the joy of the Earth in rich music is told,
    As she looks to the heaven with a smile ever new.
The sun, golden-armoured, comes up in his might,
And the lark is afloat in an ocean of light.

Deep joy in the woods that are throbbing with song;
    And a green light is glancing where rivulets run;
There's a wild leafy thrill the glad branches among,
    And the waters leap up to the kiss of the sun;
The dew-drops are dancing on flowers as I pass,
Then leap from their couches and die in the grass.

—There are animation and joyousness in these I verses; such as, after having been long immured in town, we all feel at the sight of green fields and the country.  Reminiscences of similar stray pleasures, similar chance opportunities, abound, showing in what degree the poet, born to labour and bred to commerce, still loved Nature by a wise and original instinct of the heart.  Other experiences of the good in man and woman likewise dwell with him, and find enduring memorials in such high-sounding lines as those which compose the "portrait" of one,

In whose rich presence poverty had wealth,
And saw the angel thoughts serenely move
Within the grand Elysium of her eyes.

We may also refer with satisfaction to those melodies "long-drawn out" that so fitly describe "The Syren Isle"; and, with still more emphasis, to those quaint fancies which celebrate "An Angel's Visit" to "the green-haired Earth," alighting so happily—

Where Summer sat 'mong flowers, like drops of gold
Spilt from the sunset,

but soon to meet with much of wrong and suffering, until the celestial messenger came to the chamber of the meditating scribe, despairing of his work and crying hungrily for power, whom, compassionating, she touched as she passed,—

    and his nerves at once were strung
Into a mighty lyre, on which his heart
Beat out a glorious marching tune for time.

But mingled with these bright pictures are traces of sorrow and melancholy reflection, together with repinings of sin and punishment; —the outcast dying on the doorstep, and the guilty slain by the public executioner:—still the figure of Hope is ever visible, even in the gloomiest background, soaring upward in lines of light.  Images and golden words lake those we have cited or referred to, bear witness for Mr. Macfarlan, that he is no inarticulate or stammering poet, but one to whom the muse has imparted a gift of language, to be cautiously and fruitfully employed; not recklessly wasted on unworthy themes or in profuse description.


Nov. 14, 1862.

Dear Mr. Dixon.

To procure insertion of the enclosed in the Athenæum.  I think that it will only be necessary to point out two or three facts.  Macfarlan's little books have received highly favourable notice in your columns; Macfarlan himself was an object of interest to very many discerning men, including Mr. Dickens; and the poor fellow's widow & child are nearly, if not absolutely, starving!  It is important that the case should be noticed at once.

Very faithfully

Williams Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.


22 November, 1862, No. 1830 (p.669)


James Macfarlan. — A Correspondent sends us the following:— “Nations have their poets, and so have small communities; and the poets of each class are too often compelled (in the words of Pamphlet, in ‘Love and a Bottle’) “to write themselves into a consumption before they gain reputation.”  To flutter away a butterfly life in the Poet’s Corner of a provincial newspaper, and to have in prospect the epigrammatic epitaph of a small editor, is the destiny of the humble muse; but it now and then happens that a local rhymester passes away unnoticed, less from deficiency of mental power than from the impossibility of comparing his power with that of less restricted intellects.  To James Macfarlan, a young writer famous in Glasgow and the surrounding district, and who has just died in indigence, belonged an amount of spontaneous genius which, under more favourable circumstances, might have produced verses of not ephemeral worth.  The son of an itinerant pedlar, and without education or intelligent companionship, Macfarlan managed to write such lyrics as the following:—



The sunset burns, the hamlet spire
Gleams grandly, sheathed in evening fire,
            The river rolleth red.
The flowers are drenched in floating haze,
The churchyard brightens, and old days
            Seem smiling on the dead.

From pendent boughs, like drops of gold,
The peaches hang; the mansion old,
            From out its nest of green,
Looks joyful through its golden eyes
Back on the sunset-burnished skies
            A smile o’er all the scene.

The running child, whose wavy hair
Takes from the sunset’s level glare
            A purer, brighter tinge,
Rolls on the grass; the evening star
Above yon streak of cloudy bar
            Hangs on Day’s purple fringe.

Where latest sunshine slanting falls,
Above the ivied orchard walls,
            The tall tree-shadows lean,
In waving lines of shade, that nod
Like dusky streams across the road
            With banks of light between.

The streams are gilt, the towering vane
Stands burnished; and the cottage pane
            Seems melting in the sun;
The lost lark wavers down the sky,
The husky crow slides careless by,
            The golden day is done.

The above is not first-class, and it is one of the poorest pieces produced by its author; but it is the only piece which I can lay hands on in time to procure an early insertion of these lines, and it is at least vastly superior to the ordinary contributions to Poet’s Corner.  Among the ‘City Poems’ and the ‘Lyrics of Life’ (two small volumes published some years ago), and among numerous contributions to All the Year Round, there are many really fine poems,—extraordinarily fine as emanating from the mind of a man who for many years trudged about as a common pedlar, whose days were spent in hardship and poverty, and who was destined to die, when only thirty years of age, a pauper.  On the causes of Macfarlan’s misfortunes, apart from the serious misfortunes of a low birth and a wretched education, it would be tedious to dwell; but it has now become necessary to point out the fact that his wife and child are without a penny, and that they have a certain claim on the benevolence of all men and women who love letters.  I am sorry that this brief obituary resolves itself into an appeal to private sympathy.  The local poet, however, being useful in his way, and the humble kinsman of the poet of a nation, deserves some little kindly recognition.  Some few of your readers will be satisfied with the fact that Mr. Charles Dickens believed in Mr. Macfarlan and assisted him most cheerfully; and these few may regard favourably the subscription, at present being raised in Glasgow, for the benefit of widow and child.


ED. ― our thanks go to Patrick Regan for sending in the above piece from the Athenæum.



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