Burns Centenary Competition (1858)

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The Burns Centenary Competition.

SPONSORED BY THE DIRECTORS

OF THE

CRYSTAL PALACE COMPANY.

(1858)

 

1.

The Competition: the Preface to Burns Centenary Poems: A Collection of Fifty of the Best published by the Competition Judges in 1859.

2.

Press comment on the Competition entries (The Living Age) and the awarding ceremony held at the Crystal Palace (The Scotsman).

3.

Isa Craig's winning entry; the six runners-up; and other unplaced entries by the Scottish artisan poet James Macfarlan and the pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais.  [Ed.―some entries are untitled.]

 

See also . . . .


Isa Craig: biographical sketch, poetry and prose.

 

Ebenezer Elliott (The "Corn Law Rhymer"): "The Character of Burns."

 

Joseph Skipsey (The "Pitman Poet"): essay on Robert Burns.

_______________________________



Littells' Living Age

OCTOBER, NOVEMBER, DECEMBER, 1859.

The Burns Centenary Poems.

Selected and Edited by George Anderson and John Finlay.

London Hall, Virtue, and Co.


    This collection contains poems by Gerald Massey, Stanyan Bigg, Mrs. Norton, Mr. Cayley, and Mr. Millais, to which the public have probably referred with some interest and curiosity.  On the whole, however, we must say that, as far as this collection is concerned, the award of the judges is sustained.  Mr. Massey’s verses, though full of fine thoughts, are harsh and unmusical, and not sufficiently appropriate.  The latter defect is also the one most conspicuous in Mr. Bigg’s otherwise meritorious performance.  The following lines are some of the best in the entire collection—

And in his verse we hear her wild winds moan,
      The rapid rustle of her brooks, and roll
Of her rude rivers, as they dash and foam
In tawny fury round the shepherd’s home.

Mrs. Norton’s poem is written in heroics, a measure of which she is not mistress, and it is besides too vague and pointless for the object with which it was composed.  Mr. Cayley's poem, and that of Mr. Millais, possess nothing to distinguish them from the mass of contributions.  Among the remaining poems we have discovered none equal to Miss Craig’s; but in saying this we must add an expression of regret that no simpler, manlier, and juster portraiture of the poet was elicited by “the celebration.”  Burns was habitually guilty of drunkenness and fornication.  No fine words can disguise that fact.  We may express the result of these propensities by saying that “his regal vestments were soiled, and his crown of half its jewels spoiled,” if we like.  That is a question of taste. But such is not the puny, finicking way to do justice to a grand human being like Burns.  No allusion at all should, in our opinion, have been made to these faults—”a man’s a man for a’ that.” But if they were mentioned at all, it should have been in a totally different manner, and not under a mass of unmeaning imagery about crowns and jewels.—The Press.

______________

 

The Scotsman

27th January, 1859

LONDON

At the Crystal Palace, the Burns Centenary was celebrated on Tuesday with much enthusiasm.  Upwards of 14,000 persons were present during the day.  There was a grand concert and great interest was imputed to the proceedings by the unveiling of Calder Marshall's bust of Burns, and the exhibition of a number of relics of the poet. The recitation of the prize poem, however, was the chief attraction, and at three o'clock the scene from nave to transept, and orchestra to orchestra, and gallery to gallery, presented an imposing amphitheatre of listeners riveted to the spot, until Mr Phelps appeared upon the platform and enjoined silence.  He opened the envelope with the mottos of the author of the successful poem, and announced it to be "Isa Craig, Ranelagh Street, Pimlico."  He then recited the poem with much taste and elocutionary power.  The Morning Herald, in noticing this stage of the proceedings, says:—"At the close of the recitation of the poem by Mr Phelps, a proclamatory placard was hoisted over the orchestra, the name of the successful competitor not having been caught by multitudes around, with the inscription in large black rubrics on a white ground of 'The author of the poem is Ian Craig.'  Calls then arose for Isa Craig to come before the scenes, and multitudinous and mysterious were the conjectures indulged in by the bystanders as to who Isa Craig could really be.  Some suggested that it was a mistake for 'Ailsa Craig;' others read it Esau Craig; while many pronounced the whole affair to be a mystery and a myth, seeing that the fortunate prizeholder did not make her appearance to be complimented.  The crowd indulged in these dreamy disquisitions and conjectures until the scene and the subject were altogether changed by the striking up of the band for the supplemental concert.  From all that we could ascertain, however, from the most reliable sources, we find that Isa Craig is a young Scots lady, and that the mysterious monosyllable 'Isa' is a breviate or nomme de plume for Isa-bella; that she belongs to the single sisterhood, and has been a contributor to Chambers' Journal, the Scotsman, and the Englishwomen's Magazine, and is said to have published a small volume of poems.  From feelings either of timidity or poetical delicacy and pride, Miss Craig neither came before the curtain, nor did she pay a visit to the Company's treasury to receive the fifty guineas, although the check had been waiting for her acceptance all day.  Speaking of the prize poem and its author, the Morning Star says:— "speculation has been rife as to who was the author of the above very beautiful composition, and the name of more than one distinguished person has been confidently mentioned.  There is even now a shrewd suspicion that 'Isa Craig' hides a name much less obscure."—The Caledonian Society celebrated the Centenary by a dinner at the London Tavern—Mr R Marshall in the chair.  The Times states that during the dinner (which included a huge haggis) the company were solaced with the sounds of the bagpipe, and when it is mentioned that not fewer than five pipers, blowing might and main, marched at one times round the tables, some idea of the harmony that prevailed will be conveyed to the readers.—A banquet also took place at the Guildhall Coffee House, at which Mr James Hannay presided and proposed, in felicitous terms, "The Memory of Robert Burns."

The Centenary was celebrated by banquets at Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, and Bristol.  These demonstrations appear to have been mostly hearty and successful.  At Manchester, the Mayor presided, and the toast of the evening was proposed, in an elegant speech, by Professor Scott of Owens College.

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THE WINNING ENTRY:

THE SIX BEST RUNNERS-UP:

also some unplaced entries, including those submitted by the
Scottish artisan poet

JAMES MACFARLAN,

the pre-Raphaelite artist

JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS, A.R.A.,

and the poets

GEORGE JOHN CAYLEY and ROBERT WILLIAM THOM.
_____________

1.    MISS ISA CRAIG

2.    FREDERIC W. H. MYERS, CHELTENHAM

3.    "Gaudente terrâ, vomere laureato, et trinmphali aratore,"

4.    GERALD MASSEY

5.    MRS HENRY W. PHILLIPS

6.    ARTHUR J. MUNBY, TRIN. COLL., CAMBRIDGE

7.    J. STANYAN BIGG

JAMES MACFARLAN [see also Macfarlan web pages]

JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS, A.R.A.

THE HON. MRS NORTON

GEORGE JOHN CAYLEY 

ROBERT WILLIAM THOM [see also Robert Wm. Thom web page]



ED.— readers interested in this topic might also wish to read VERSES SUGGESTED BY A VISIT TO THE TOMB OF BURNS by the Blackburn poet HUGH GARDINER GRAHAM, which is of this period.

 



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