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Scottish Poets in America
McLean, Andrew

Tho’ modest, on his unembarrassed brow
Nature hath written:—Gentleman.

Mr. Andrew McLean, the eminent Brooklyn journalist, is also a poet of sterling merit. He is a native of Renton, in Dumbartonshire, where he was born in 1848. After studying for a few years at the village school of Alexandria he became apprenticed to a carpenter, and remained at this trade until he was nearly fourteen years of age. It cannot be said, however, that he took much interest in this occupation; certainly it did not in any manner harmonize with his tastes; and we may judge from the following verses that it afforded him considerable relief when Saturday night approached and the work of the week was nearly over. Then his thoughts left the bench and the workshop, and he rejoiced that:

The wearisome week is over,
With its burden of fret and toil;
To-morrow I’ll smell the clover
And tread the daisied soil,
And chant a tune as I lightly go
More merry than any the greenwoods know.

Where the streamlets glint and shimmer,
Through shadows of maple gloss,
And strolling sunbeams glimmer
On fern and rambling moss,
An hour I’ll spend and drink the balm
That the brooklets brew in the woodland’s calm.

He began to have a desire for some kind of occupation where energy, determination and ambition were requisite qualities to success, and where the services of one possessing these would command recognition and advancement. We are not surprised therefore to find him at this time eagerly gazing beyond the Atlantic to the shores of the new world and resolving to strike out for himself and begin life anew under the flag of the great republic. He had hardly reached his fifteenth year when he left his home and proceeded to Glasgow. Here he gladly entered into an engagement with the captain of an American vessel to perform certain duties, for which he was to be allowed a free passage across to New York. The recollection many years afterward of this eventful period of his life inspired his muse, and in spirit he became a boy again with a farewell song on his lips to his native land:

Deep crimson heather bloom,
Rich yellow blushing broom,
Sweet, fragrant Scotch bluebell,
Farewell ! farewell !

Song-hearted, throbbing lark,
Gray cushat crooning dark,
Shy, plaintive “bonnet blue,”
Adieu! adieu !

Broad-bosomed, silver lake,
Leven’s rippling, sunny wake,
Grim, grizzly mountains high,
Good-bye ! good-bye !

Scenes that I loved and roved among:
Rocks that echoed my earliest song ;
Birds I knew in the nesting days ;
Flowers I plucked by the woodland ways
Lake of silver and sunny stream—
Beauteous all as a sinless dream ;
I say farewell, good-bye, adieu,
But life shall end ere I part from you ;
Ye are present wheresoever I be,
Thy life is mine; I am part of thee.

Arriving here during the excitement of the war, McLean entered the navy and served with distinction and honor until its close. On his return he took up his residence with some friends in Brooklyn, and after spending some time as a student in a commercial college, he decided to adopt journalism as a profession. He obtained a position on a daily' as a reporter, and it did not take long for the management of the paper to discover that they had made a valuable acquisition to their staff. He proved himself an original and terse writer on all subjects. After serving in one or two other positions he became assistant editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. On the death of Mr. Kinsella he became editor-in-chief; but in 18S6 he severed his connection with the Eagle and started what is now not only the recognized organ of the Democratic party in Brooklyn, but a first-class evening newspaper generally, namely, the Brooklyn Citizen. Mr. McLean is certainly a hard and conscientious worker in the newspaper field, and the public has not been slow to recognize his talents in this respect. “ The true Scottish ‘ grit ’ of McLean is proved by his antecedents,” writes one of his literary friends. “ He is an eloquent and effective public speaker, and the skill and ability he has displayed in conducting an influential daily are generally conceded. Engaged as he is, he has but few leisure hours to devote to poetry; and yet such is the energy of the man that he has actually written much— no small portion of which bears the stamp of poetical genius.” The following is one of his best known poems:


’Tis told us pleasantly, by the simple peasantry
Whose hearts ne'er wander tho’ their words may stray,
How an earl’s daughters into Blarney’s waters
Cast all their jewels on a hapless day ;
There to be pendant till some late descendant,
Finding from war and bigotry release,
Shall bid the fairies on whom the care is,
Bring them to deck his coronet in peace.

There’s another story, presaging glory,
And something better, which the peasants tell :
For witching reasons, in happy seasons,
When the earth is under the new moon’s spell,
Come flocks all white, from the breast of night,
Calmly to graze near the pearly strand ;
So that favored eyes may at least surmise
That a spotless future awaits the land.

These old traditions and superstitions
Yield a moral that fits our time and place—
They’ve a counterpart in each human heart
That throbs with the heat of an ancient race ;
The Bigot’s word and Oppression’s sword
Made a lake far deeper than Blarney knows,
And in its water Good Will’s fair daughters
Once buried jewels more rare than those.

Clancarty's earl ne’er owned a pearl
To compare with the gem of brotherhood ;
Nor in any mine doth a diamond shine
Like the soul that longs for another’s good.
No glittering schist, or soft amethyst
Can rival the beams of a friendly eye ;
The emerald fades and the topaz shades
In the flashing light of a purpose high.

On a new made plain I observe again
The Blarney flocks with their spotless dress,
And a shepherd near, from the fairy sphere,
Maketh signs which my heart is swift to guess:
Our Age is the heir to the jewels fair
That Good Will buried in evil days,
And we shall see in our own land free
The diadem on his forehead blaze.

Let us sing old songs and bury old wrongs,
And draw from the past, not gloom but cheer ;
The angry moods of our fathers’ feuds
Should be given no place in our gatherings here :
Let our children boast when our healths they toast
At the festal boards of the years to come,
That their fathers’ choice was for friendship’s voice,
And in favor of striking rancor dumb.

Mr. McLean is a poet of excellent fancy and power. His compositions, as a rule, evince a true sympathy with nature, and there is a tenderness and melody, besides a quaint simplicity, displayed in all of them. Many of them also contain pleasing and thoughtful ideas, expressed in the choicest of language. Take for instance his poem entitled:


Sweet songs of old ! they thrill to-dajr,
With undiminished gladness,
Our hearts beneath their heads of gray
And under brows of sadness.

Again they bring the bounding joy
We knew among the heather
When, sunny girl and ardent boy,
We roved and sang together.

What Ponce de Leon sought in vain,
Youth’s sparkling, never failing fountain,
We find in every witching strain
Of lightsome deeds by vale and mountain.

Oh youth behind the mask of years !
Oh subtle singing rare magician,
When e’er thy voice the spirit hears,
She conquers age and scorns transition.

Away the latter sorows flee
And hither troop to take their places,
The radient eyes the fleckless glee
Of garnered days and gathered graces.

In every note a glory lives;
In every cord pure love vows tremble ;
At every call the singing gives
A thousand happy thoughts assemble.

To age we give the meed of age,
But when the tuneful breeze is blowing
Affection leaves the wrinkled cage,
And, eagle like, her pinions showing,

Out soars the dusk, the gray of grief,
The changing winds of seasons rolling
To revel in the high relief
Of spheres beyond the world’s controlling

Thrice blessed be the songs of old,
And blessed be the tongues that sing them,
And blessed be the hearts that fold
Their sweetness when the minstrels bring them.

In 1878 Mr. McLean published a small volume of his poems. The principal poem in the collection is the one entitled “Tom Moore.” This was written for and read by the author, at the celebration, by the St. Patrick’s Society of Brooklyn, of the ninety-ninth anniversary of the poet’s birth. According to the “ argument ” the poem proceeds to disclose a council held in Elysium by Irishmen before the birth of Moore, at which, Heaven having signified a willingness to grant their country whatever single gift they should agree upon, it was resolved to ask for a poet, who should win the admiration of the world and glorify the Emerald Isle. In the course of the debate the qualities and purposes of his song are determined by various speakers. It is also shown that the misapprehensions of this life so cease in the light of the upper world that old enemies find themselves one in sympathy. Taken altogether the poem is certainly a very able and spirited one. It is, of course, too long for quotation here and it has to be read through to thoroughly appreciate its many beautiful passages and similies. Among the smaller poems in the volume “A Glimpse of April Sun ” is particularly fine.

Hail, gladsome gleam of April sun !
Thou glance from Nature’s kindly eye ;
Bright pledge of boisterous weather done ;
Fair flowery fragrant prophecy.

Thy radiance to the bluebird shows
The gentleness he loves to sing,
When winds that wanton with the rose
Forsake the rose to fan his wing.

The various creatures of the woods
Are gladdened by thy early grace,
As I am glad when angry moods,
Pass cloud-like from an old friend’s face.

Socially, Mr. McLean is one of the best of men. He is possessed of a warm, confiding and generous nature, and he has won the esteem and friendship of all parties with whom he has come in contact. While he is the author of nearly one hundred poems, not one of which he may be ashamed to own, still he is extremely modest in his own estimation of his poetical abilities, and it is seldom that his poems when printed for the first time have the proper signature attached to them.

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