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MEMOIR OF THE AUTHOR,
JAMEs GRAHAME, author of “The Sabbath,” was born at Glasgow on the 22d of April 1765. His father followed the profession of a writer or law-agent in that city, and held a most respectable position in society, being alike valued for his business talents and integrity, and esteemed for his private worth. The mother of the subject of our notice is also represented as having been remarkable for the possession of many high qualities both of mind and heart ; and to the training derived from such parents, James Grahame unquestionably owed much of the intellectual distinction which he afterwards attained, as well as that purity of principle and moral rectitude by which he was equally characterised. His regular education commenced at the grammar-school of Glasgow, from which seminary he removed, at a fitting age, to the university of the same city. Here he spent five years in close and studious attendance on the literary and philosophical lectures of the college, and on those, in particular, of Professor Millar, whose prelections on law and government had an important influence in embuing the young student's mind with political opinions verging on extreme or ultra-liberalism. These opinions caused him, on the occurrence of the French Revolution, to give a warm and perhaps imprudent approval of the principles which led to that event, and to anticipate great results therefrom. He, like others, was doomed in this to receive a disappointment, as far as immediate consequences, at least, were concerned. Though much of the youthful life of Grahame was necessarily passed in the crowded walks of his native city, yet he was not deprived of those opportunities of viewing nature in her rural garb, which seem of so much consequence to the early formation of a poetical taste. The elder Grahame had a summer residence on the banks of the little stream called the Cart, and here James used to spend all the leisure time that could be spared from his town occupations. It was at this spot that he pored over the works of Milton, Thomson, and others whose writings proved most congenial to his taste. From these mental recreations, as well as from his graver academical studies, Grahame was called away at the age of nineteen, his father considering that the fitting time had then arrived for his entering on the profession of the law, to which the youth had been long destined by his parent. Accordingly, in the year 1784, James was bound apprentice to Mr Lawrence Hill, a Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh, and a relative of the Grahame family. Though he permitted himself to be articled to the legal profession without offering any opposition, the step was one not at all in consonance with the young man's wishes, nor agreeable to his peculiar tastes and sentiments. He was naturally of gentle temperament and delicate physical organisation, and a violent stroke on the head, which he received ere he left Glasgow, produced such a lasting effect upon his constitution, as to render him ever afterwards more unable than he might otherwise have been, to play an active part on so bustling a stage as that of the law. His father's slightest wish, however, had too much weight with the son to permit him to disclose the adverse bent of his inclinations, even on an occasion of such importance as the choice of a profession for life. After concluding his appointed term of service in Edinburgh with Mr Hill, Grahame underwent the customary trials, and was formally enrolled in the Society of Writers to the Signet. The influence of his family and friends rendered his prospects of success in this profession very flattering; but the death of his father, at the close of 1791, induced the subject of our memoir to enter the Faculty of Advocates, trusting that this
department of the legal profession would yield him greater leisure to indulge the literary propensities which were in him already strong and unchangeable. In March 1795, he became a member of the Scottish bar. For upwards of twelve succeeding years he continued to attend the Court of Session in his capacity of advocate, and would probably have been a well employed one, had not his health prevented him not only from engaging laboriously in the duties of the profession, but even from desiring to attain a high degree of success. What business he did undertake was always well done, and his law papers, in particular, were drawn up with acknowledged ability and elegance; but, under all the circumstances, Grahame never became famous as a practitioner at the bar of his native country. During his term of study at the University of Glasgow, James Grahame had given proof of his early poetical tendencies, by collecting and publishing, at that time, a number of pieces which had been produced by him at various preceding periods. This little volume appears to be now lost to the world, a circumstance the less to be regretted, however, since it is understood to have chiefly contained the first rude draughts of pieces subsequently given to the public in an improved state. Passing over this early production, we find Mr Grahame next presenting himself in print in the columns of a Kelso newspaper. The compositions which appeared here were afterwards published in a complete and amended shape, under the collective denomination of the “Rural Calendar.” No reputation, of course, resulted to the author from these anonymous contributions to a provincial newspaper. In the year 1801, however, Mr Grahame appealed directly and openly to public favour. He issued from the press a dramatic poem upon the popular subject, and with the popular title, of “Mary Stewart, Queen of Scotland.” The best that can be said of this production is, that it shows the author to be a close observer of nature, and well read in the knowledge of the human heart. To dramatic skill and power the poem has not the most slender pretensions. Mr Grahame was married in the spring of 1802 to Miss Grahame, eldest daughter of a gentleman who filled the respectable situation of town-clerk of Annan, in Dumfriesshire. This lady was in every respect an eligible partner for the subject of our notice, as many after years of mutual happiness satisfactorily proved; but her attachment to her husband, and her consciousness of his talents, did not prevent her from at first taking part with those of his friends who counselled him to forsake poetry, as a field in which he was not fitted to excel. A most pleasing incident relieved Grahame from all domestic opposition, at least, on this score. At the time of his marriage, he had projected the composition of “The Sabbath,” and he pursued the task of writing it in secret, concealing the nature of his occupation from every one, his wife not excepted. The same concealment was observed when the poem was finished. It was sent to the press in 1804, and was published anonymously at the close of that year, the printer and bookseller only being cognisant of the author's name. Grahame took an early opportunity of bringing a copy of the completed work home with him, and left it upon his parlour table, as if for his own leisure reading. Entering the room soon afterwards, he found his wife earnestly engaged in the perusal of “The Sabbath;" and burning with tremulous impatience to know her opinion, he walked up and down for some time in almost breathless silence. At length, unconscious of the hopes and fears that agitated her partner's modest bosom, Mrs Grahame broke forth into a warm eulogy of the book, exclaiming finally, “Ah, James 1 if you could but produce a poem like this!” The pleasure derived by both parties from the acknowledgment What followed must have been ineffable. “The Sabbath” appeared in the form of a small duodecimo volume, and met with such immediate approval from the public, that the whole of the original impression was sold off in a few days. Unknown as the authorship then was, Mr Grahame derived much gratification from the praises bestowed on his work, both by professional critics and by private friends. But he had also to endure no slight mortification from the same cause. The Edinburgh Review noticed the work, and, while conferring considerable applause on it, sprinkled therewith a very liberal admixture of sarcasm and censure. It is but just to both critic and author, however, to state, that the notes appended to the poem received a much more severe judgment than the poem itself. IIeedless of such critical decisions, whether favourable or unfavourable, the public stamped the work at once with the warmest approbation ; nor, from that period to this, has “The Sabbath?” ever declined in popular esteem. A pamphlet, entitled “Thoughts on Trial by Jury,” was composed by Mr Grahame in the year 1806, and his conduct of his argument was able and convincing. The step which he advocated, nevertheless, was not accomplished till many years afterwards. In the following year (1807), he also avowed before his countrymen the authorship of “The Sabbath” and other Poems, which were then collected and published in two volumes by Blackwood. This disclosure rendered his name as much honoured at a distance as it had long been within the elegant circle in which he habitually moved—at least through the winter months of the year. The summer season was almost uniformly passed by him in some agreeable retreat in the country. His health, unhappily, was so often, and, at times, so long unsettled, that such periodical visits to the banks of the Esk, and other rural spots, became absolutely necessary to his comfort. Indeed, he constantly yearned to attain such a position in life as would enable him to pass all his days in the retirement which was most congenial to him both mentally and corporeally. On this account he had never ceased to entertain the hope of entering the clerical profession, by which consummation he thought his every wish would be realised. In the years 1807 and 1808, he employed himself sedulously, but unostentatiously, in preparing for ordination in the church of England. Before adverting to the consequences of these preparations, it ought to be mentioned that, in the course of the same two years, he produced the “Birds of Scotland,” and the “British Georgics,” of which poems the first was composed at Kirkhill on the Esk, and the second at a sweet retreat near his wife's native town of Annan. The “Birds” and the “Georgics” have not enjoyed so lasting a popularity as “The Sabbath,” but they were poems calculated to sustain the author's fame. In 1809, a poem on the subject of Slavery, from the pen of our author, made its appearance, in conjunction with two others, the one produced by James Montgomery, and the other by Miss Eliza Benger. These three pieces were published in one splendidly embellished volume, the expense of issuing which was borne by Mr Bowyer, a London citizen who was patriotically zealous for the commemoration, in a fitting form and manner, of the recent abolition of the traffic in slaves. All of these poems were compositions of high merit. In the same year (1809), on the 28th of May, Mr Grahame, having purposely visited England, was admitted to orders in the English church, by Dr Henry Bathurst, Bishop of Norwich. The Bishop of Norwich kindly pressed the newly ordained clergyman to reside within his diocese; but the health of the Scottish
poet was then so much shaken that he was anxious to get some settlement in the most southerly, or rather south-western, parts of England. He obtained his wish to a certain extent, being appointed to fulfil the duties of a curacy at Shipton Mayne in Gloucestershire. Here he remained from the July following his ordination till March of the succeeding year, when some domestic affairs compelled him to return for the time to Scotland. While residing in Edinburgh, in the summer of 1810, he became a candidate for the charge of St George's Chapel, but was unsuccessful, to the great and lasting regret of his friends. This circumstance carried him once more to England, where he obtained the office of sub-curate in the chapelry of St Margaret's, Durham. He entered on the duties of his sub-curacy in August 1810, and, on the 1st of May 1811, was transplanted to the parochial charge of Sedgewick, in the same diocese. This was the last of Grahame's clerical removes, and though his whole career in the Durham district had been brief, and his employments humble, he earned a high reputation as a preacher, and wherever he went drew crowds to hear him. It is to be feared that his zealous and irrepressible exertions in this respect injured his health deeply, rendering the clerical office by no means that place of calm and tranquil repose which he had long pictured it to be. Severe headaches were the form in which his malady displayed itself, and these were usually accompanied by stupor and temporary insensibility. In August of the same year he came to Edinburgh, and received very encouraging opinions from his medical friends there; but after removing to Whitehill, his brother's residence near Glasgow, his fits of stupor increased, and he expired on the 14th of September 1811. He had reached the age of forty-seven, and left behind him a family of two sons and a daughter.
In private life, James Grahame was a man of many virtues. Gentle in manners, and refined in taste, his conversation and company were delightful to all who had the happiness of knowing him, and seldom did any man possess more tenderly attached friends than the author of “The Sabbath.” He was tall in person, and on his dark and expressive features there sat, at moments of repose, a degree of gravity which might at first have called to one's mind the epithet “sepulchral” Grahame; but the thought would soon have been dispelled on beholding the cheerful, and even mirthful, glow which lighted up the same countenance, in the midst of friends, when wit and wisdom were bandied from lip to lip. Gloom was no ingredient in our poet's temperament. Nor, indeed, can he be justly charged with having infused a morose or “sepulchral tone” into his writings generally, though, in particular passages (to use the words of Sir Walter Scott), “his views of society are more gloomy than the truth warrants.” Sir Walter's further remarks upon Grahame's poems may be introduced here, as calculated to give a fairer idea of his merits as a poet, than any other critique which could be presented to the reader. “The most remarkable feature of Grahame's poetical character, is his talent for describing Scottish scenery, in a manner so true and lively, as at once to bring the picture to the recollection of his countrymen. The ardent love of nature, in which this power of description has its source, is uniformly combined with virtuous and amiable feeling. Accordingly, his poetry exhibits much of these qualities. In his moral poetry, he occasionally unites, with the nakedness of Wordsworth’s diction, a flatness which is all his own. In his landscapes, on the other hand, he is always at home, and more fortunate than most of his contemporaries. He has the art of being minute without being confused, and circumstantial without being tedious. His Sabbath Walks are admirable specimens of this his principal excellence.” These observations were written in 1808.
Description of a Sabbath morning in the country.—The labourer at home.—The town mechanic's morning walk;-his meditation.—The sound of bells.-Crowd proceeding to church.-Interval before the service begins.—English service.—Scriptures read.—The organ, with the voices of the people.—The sound borne to the sick man's couch.-His wish.-The worship of God in the solitude of the woods.-The shepherd boy among the hills.-People seen on the heights returning from church.Contrast of the present times with those immediately preceding the Revolution.—The persecution of the Covenanters-A Sabbath conventicle.—Cameron.—Renwick,-Psalms.-Night conventicles during storms.—A funeral according to the rites of the Church of England.—A female character.—The suicide. —Expostulation.—The incurable of an hospital.—A prison scene.—Debtors.—Divine service in the prison hall.–Persons under sentence of death.-Appeal on the indiscriminate severity of criminal law.—Comparative mildness of the Jewish law— The year of Jubilee—Description of the commencement of the Jubilee.—The sound of the trumpets through the land— The bondman and his family returning from their servitude to take possession of their inheritance.—Emigrants in the wilds of America—Their Sabbath worship.–The whole inhabitants of Highland districts who have emigrated together, still regret their country.—Even the blind man regrets the objects with which he had been conversant.—An emigrant's contrast between the tropical climates and Scotland.—The boy who had been born on the voyage.—Description of a person on a desert island.—His Sabbath.-His release.—Missionary ship.– The Pacific Ocean.—Defence of missionaries.—Effects of the conversion of the primitive Christians.—Transition to the slave trade.—The Sabbath in a slave ship.–Appeal to England on the subject of her encouragement to this horrible complication of crimes.—Transition to war.—Unfortunate issue of the late war—in France—in Switzerland.—Apostrophe to TELL–The attempt to resist too late.—The treacherous foes already in possession of the passes—Their devastating progress.-Desolation.—Address to Scotland.—Happiness of seclusion from the world.—Description of a Sabbath evening in Scotland.—Psalmody.—An aged man.—Description of an industrious female reduced to poverty by old age and disease.—Disinterested virtuous conduct to be found chiefly in the lower walks of life.— Test of charity in the opulent.—Recommendation to the rich to devote a portion of the Sabbath to the duty of visiting the sick.-Invocation to health—to music.—The Beguin nuns.— Lazarus.—The resurrection.—Dawnings of faith—Its progress— Consummation.
How still the morning of the hallow'd day !
With dove-like wings Peace o'er yon village broods: The dizzying mill-wheel rests; the anvil's din Hath ceased; all, all around is quietness. Less fearful on this day, the limping hare Stops, and looks back, and stops, and looks on man, Her deadliest foe. The toil-worn horse, set free, Unheedful of the pasture, roams at large; And, as his stiff unwieldy bulk he rolls, His iron-arm'd hoofs gleam in the morning ray.
But chiefly man the day of rest enjoys. Hail, Sabbath ! thee I hail, the poor man's day. On other days, the man of toil is doom'd To eat his joyless bread, lonely, the ground Both seat and board, screen’d from the winter's cold And summer's heat by neighbouring hedge or tree; But on this day, embosom'd in his home, He shares the frugal meal with those he loves; With those he loves he shares the heart-felt joy Of giving thanks to God—not thanks of form, A word and a grimace, but rev'rently, With cover'd face and upward earnest eye.
Hail, Sabbath! thee I hail, the poor man's day: The pale mechanic now has leave to breathe The morning air pure from the city's smoke, While wandering slowly up the river side, He meditates on Him whose power he marks In each green tree that proudly spreads the bough, As in the tiny dew-bent flowers that bloom Around the roots; and while he thus surveys With elevated joy each rural charm, He hopes (yet fears presumption in the hope) To reach those realms where Sabbath never ends.
But now his steps a welcome sound recalls: Solemn the knell, from yonder ancient pile, Fills all the air, inspiring joyful awe : Slowly the throng moves o'er the tomb-paved ground; The aged man, the bowed down, the blind Led by the thoughtless boy, and he who breathes With pain, and eyes the new-made grave, well-pleased; These, mingled with the young, the gay, approach The house of God—these, spite of all their ills, A glow of gladness feel; with silent praise They enter in ; a placid stillness reigns, Until the man of God, worthy the name, Opens the book, and reverentially The stated portion reads. A pause ensues. The organ breathes its distant thunder-notes, Then swells into a diapason full: The people rising sing, “with harp, with harp, And voice of psalms;” harmoniously attuned The various voices blend; the long-drawn aisles, At every close, the lingering strain prolong. And now the tubes a soften’d stop controls; In softer harmony the people join, While liquid whispers from yon orphan band, Recall the soul from adoration's trance, And fill the eye with pity's gentle tears. Again the organ-peal, loud, rolling, meets The hallelujahs of the choir. Sublime A thousand notes symphoniously ascend, As if the whole were one, suspended high In air, soaring heavenward: afar they float, Wafting glad tidings to the sick man’s couch: