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Scottish Poets in America
Alexander Wingfield

Over the harp, from earliest years belov’d,
He threw his fingers hurriedly, and tones
Of melancholy beauty died away,
Upon its strings of sweetness.

“In these days,” writes Mr. Wingfield, “the notion prevails that poetry, like miracles, has ceased, and it requires a certain amount of courage for an individual unknown to fame to come forward and say, varying the memorable expression of a great painter, that he too is a poet. This is the age not only of mechanical invention, supposed to be the very antithesis of poetry, but—more dreadful still—of criticism; the terrors of which makes timorous poets pause. Homer and Milton stood in no dread of reviewers; though, to do justice to our own time, it must be added that they were at certain disadvantages for want of publishers. We are most of us conscious of a belief that poetry was to be looked for as a matter of course in days gone by, when shepherds piped by the banks of classic streams, and when scholars assembled in academic groves; or when in more recent times our own poets found inspiration by lake and mountain, around some

*Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,’

or in meditative quiet and solemn stillness of the country churchyard. But can poetry be born amid the noisy rattle of the loom, the birr of wheels, the clang of hammers, the screaming whistle and thundering rush of the locomotive?” In answer to this we unhesitatingly reply yes, and in confirmation of our opinion we have only to point to the volume which Mr. Wingfield published a few years ago, a volume that is replete with poems and lyrical pieces of a very high order of merit, and all of which were composed amidst the din and clatter of the Great Western Railway boiler shop at Hamilton, Ontario. There are, indeed, many excellent specimens both of Scottish and English verse in this volume, and each piece seems to have been composed with a special purpose in view which necessitated their being carefully thought out before being committed to the world. Mr. Wingfield, however, is very modest in regard to the merit of his different poems. “ If there be poetry in them,” he says, “it is such as comes from homely, natural inspiration, unaided either by varied reading or literary leisure. As I have really felt, or believed, or imagined, so have I written; and whatever faults of expression there may be in my efforts, there is no failure in honesty of intention. Having neither read much nor travelled far, nor been able to put the world of nature and of history under contribution, I have found my subjects chiefly among the familiar scenes and every-day experiences of my own humble walk in life; taking such color and impression of them as residence in a busy city like Hamilton could not fail to present.” His muse has thus dwelt on various subjects and to show the kindly nature of the man and his feelings toward even the smallest of God’s creatures, we present our readers with his well-known address of welcome to the sparrows:

Ye’re welcome, wee sparrows, ye’re welcome to me;
You mak me as happy as e’er I can be;
When I hear you chirp, chirpin’, an’ see ye sae tame,
You just aye look to me like kenn’d faces frae hame.

There are some canna bear ye, an’ say that ye steal,
An’ fecht wi’ your neebors at times like the deil;
An’ they hope ye may meet wi’ a’ sorts o’ ill luck,
But I like ye—ye’re emblems of true British pluck.

D’ye ever turn hame-sick at nicht when at rest
(The lot of an exile is ne’er very blest);
D’ye think o’ the times ye’ve had fleein’ aroun’
Wi’ the cronies you left, baith in kintra an’ toon?

D’ye e’er min’ the hedge-rows, whaur often at e’en,
Ye hae woo’d your blithe mates near whaur Burns woo’d his Jean;
An’ ye heard the sweet sang o’ the lark in the morn,
As he rose up dew-winged frae his nest ’mang the corn?

D’ye min’ the green hawthorns an’ red-shinin’ ha’s,
That you feasted on aft by the auld castle wa’s?
I doubtna, wee birdies, ye whiles mourn like me,
For the hame ye hae left far awa owre the sea.

Ye gar me think o’ days when a bairn at the schule,
I hae hunted an’ chased you wi’ hearty guid-will;
When ye fleed frae my steps away up on the trees,
I hae staned you wi’ vigor—I winna tell lees,

I hae harriet your nests wi’ the rest o’ my chums,
An’, hae often enticed ye wi’ wee bits of crums
To come down frae your young ones, baith early an’ late,
An’ then trapp’d ye wi’ glee wi’ three bricks and a slate.

But those times are changed noo—altho’, to my min’,
I have never seen happier anes e’er sinsyne;
For the wrangs I hae dune ye in life’s early day,
Fain, fain wud I noo wi’ some kindness repay.

I am wae when I think o’ the lang winter days
Ye’ll be happin aroun’ on your wee, frozen taes;
Guid kens whaur ye’ll get your bit pickin’s ava,
When the earth is laid under its mantle o’ sna’. ,

I’m no blest wi’ owre much ; I’ve but little to spare ;
Yet, there’s naethin’ I hae but wi’ you I wud share ;
If ye e'er fin’ your way whaur my wee hoosie stan’s,
You are aye sure o’ something at least frae my han’s.

Thro’ the cauld winter days may ye meet wi’ nae harm ;
May ye aye fin’ a beild to jouk in frae ilk storm ;
May the raven’s Provider tak care of ye a’,
Till the blithe simmer comes an’ the winter’s awa.

Mr. Wingfield expresses his sentiments in clear and chaste language, and while through many of his poems there runs a rich vein of innocent humor, or of manly independence which makes them enjoyable at all times, still, it is in his serious pieces we think that his poetical powers are displayed to the greatest advantage. All of these musings are simple and full of words of sympathy. They are written from the heart, and they appeal directly to the heart, and in no instance do we discover in their composition a mere straining after effect. Take his “ Crape on the Door,” for instance. It has truly been said that whoever could compose lines like the following was capable of greater efforts, and we yet look for something from Mr. Wingfield that will place his name among the poets who have achieved a world-wide fame:


There’s a little white cottage that stan’s ’mong the trees,
Whaur the humming-bird conies to sip sweets wi’ the bees,
Whaur the bright morning-glories grow up o’er the eaves,
And the wee birdies nestle among the green leaves.
But there’s something around it to-day that seems sad—
It has’na that look o’ contentment it had;
There is gloom whaur there used to be sunshine before;
Its windows are darkened—there’s crape on the door.

There is crape on the door—all is silent within;
There are nae merry children there making a din;
For the ane that was merriest aye e’ them a'
Is laid out in robes that look white as the sna’.
But yesterday morn, when the sun shone so bright;
Nae step bounded free’er—nae heart was mair light;
When the gloamin’ cam’ round, a’his playing was o’er,
He was drowned in the burn—sae there’s crape on the door.

Nae mair will he skip like a lamb o’er the lea,
Or pu’ the wild flowers, or gang chasin’ the bee;
He’ll be miss’d by the bairns when they come hame frae schule,
For he met them ilk day coming down o’er the hill.
Beside his wee coffin his lone mother kneels,
And she breathes forth a prayer for the sorrow she feels;
Her puir widowed heart has been seared to the core,
For not lang sinsyne there was crape on the door.

Her sobs choke her utt’rance, though she strives, but in vain
To stifle her grief, or her tears to restrain;
Yet she lovingly murmurs, “ I winna repine ;
Thy will be done Father ; Thy will and not mine;
Though my trials are great, yet I winna complain;
For I ken that the Lord has but ta’en back His ain,
To dwell wi’ the angels above evermore
Whaur there’s nae sin nor sorrow, nor crape on the door.”

Among our author’s other serious pieces, “The Last Farewell,” The Widow’s Wail,” “Wee Tot,” “Our Wee Jeannie” and “Not Lost, but Gone Before,” are all poems of a beautiful and touching nature, and prove that he is possessed of a tender and Christian heart. The last named piece was composed on the death of a favorite child, and as it has been considerably spoken of we reprint it here:


We’ve nae wee Lily noo, Maggie,
We’ve nae wee Lily noo;
Death’s laid his cauld, damp, icy, han’
Upon her bonnie broo,
That broo whaur gowden curls played,
Aboon her een o’ blue.

’Twas destined sae to be, Maggie,
’Twas destined sae to be;
That God should tak’ awa the gift
He gied to you and me ;
’Twas hard to part wi’t; sorrow’s aye
A bitter thing to dree.

She looked some like yoursel, Maggie,
She looked some like yoursel ;
How much I lo’ed her, nane but He
Wha kens our hearts can tell.
We will not murmur at His will,
He doeth all things well.

We’ll miss her unco sair, Maggie,
We’ll miss her unco sair ;
But she has gane whaur grief and pain
Will never reach her mair ;
Whaur flowerets bloom and shed perfume
In Heaven’s garden fair.

We will not mourn her noo, Maggie,
We will not mourn her noo;
She isna lost, but gane before—
Just hidden frae our view ;
She’s better aff than she could be,
Were she still here \vi’ you.

We’ll meet wi’ her again, Maggie,
We’ll meet wi’ her again,
When we hae passed thro’ death’s dark vale,
And crossed o’er Jordon’s plain ;
’Mang ither lammies in Christ’s fauld
We’ll see our ain wee wean.

Passing from Mr. Wingfield’s serious pieces, we come upon many displaying a humorous sentiment, to which is not unfrequently combined a little well-directed satire. There is not a word or a line in any of these pieces, however, that could offend the taste or hurt the feelings of any one. This in itself is deserving of note. “ That he has penned nothing,” says the Hamilton Evening Times, “that can lower or vulgarize life in any of its relations, nor even pandered to irreligion or sensuality, is something to feel honestly proud of, for, in these days of sensationism, even poets of mark not unfrequently sacrifice morality and purity in their craving for a certain kind of popular sympathy.” A good specimen of his humorous writings is:


Friendship has charms for the leal an’ the true,
There’s naething can beat it the hale warl thro’,
But ye’ll gey afien fin’ that the best friend ava
Is that white-headed callan a shillin’ or twa’,
Eh, man, it’s a fine thing, a shillin’ or twa,
Hech, man, it’s a gran’ thing, a shillin’ or twa’,
It keeps up your spirits, it adds to your merits,
If ye but inherit a shillin' or twa.

It’s surprisin’ how much you’ll be thocht o’ by men,
You’ll get credit for wisdom altho’ ye hae nane,
Tho’ ye’r but a dunce ye’ll be honored by a’,
When they ken that ye hae a bit shillin’ or twa.
Eh, man, it’s a fine thing, a shillin’ or twa,
Hech, man, it’s a gran’ thing, a shillin’ or twa,
Ye’ll ne’er ken what it means to want plenty of fricn’s
Gin ye glamour their e’en wi’ a shillin’ or twa.

But it alters the case when your pouches are toon,
An’ your credit’s a’ gane an’ nae wab in the loom,
Be sure then ye’ll get the cauld shoulder frae a’,
If ye ask for the lend o' a shillin’ or twa.
Eh, man, it’s a fine thing, a shillin’ or twa,
Hech, man, it’s a gran’ thing, a shillin’ or twa,
But there’s no mony then that will haud out their han’
An’ say, “here, my man, there’s a shillin’ or twa.”

There are some that for siller wud swap their auld shoon,
There are some that wud cheat for’t it and ne’er ca’t a sin,
An’ there are some sae devoid o’ morality’s law.
Wud shake han’s wi’ the deil for a shillin’ or twa.
Eh, man, it's a fine thing, a shillin’ or twa,
Hech, man, it’s a gran’ thing, a shillin' or twa,
To become rich an' great, an’ hae flunkeys to wait,
When ye drive out in state alF your shillin’ or twa.

But we scorn the fause loon that for vain worldly pelf
Wud wrang ither folks to get riches himself,
Aye live an’ let live, an’ do justice by a’,
An’ may you ne’er want for a shillin’ or twa.
Eh, man, it’s a fine thing, a shillin’ or twa,
Hech, man, it’s a gran’ thing, a shillin’ or twa,
I’ve aften been scant o’t, and weel ken’t the want o’t,
But now, Gude be thank’t for’t, I’ve a shillin’ or twa.

From a poet like Mr. Wingfield we naturally look for many pieces chronicling the deeds or extolling the virtues of his native land, and our expectations in this respect are largely realized. He is continually singing of her hills and glens, woods and streams, people, history and reiigion. While he says:

Oh, Canada! I Io’e thee weel!
Altho’ nae son o’ thine
Within thy wide domain there beats
Nae truer heart than mine.

Yet the home of his infancy is ever in his thoughts, and it seems impossible for him to resist the temptation to write about her. Here is one of his numerous pieces on this subject:


There’s a land where the heather and thistle wave,
Where the foot of a slave ne’er trod,
Where the blue bells bloom o’er her martyrs’ grave
And hallowed is that sod.
There’s a land whose sons are staunch and brave,
Whose hills are lofty and grand,
Whose shores are kissed by the blue sea wave,
And Scotia is that land.
’Tis an honored place that same proud land,
The home of the Caledonian.

There’s a land whose bards have struck their lyres
To none but the loftiest strains,
Whose inspiring tones would call forth fire
From the dullest coward’s veins.
There’s a land where noble Wallace fell,
The first in freedom’s van,
Whose name still sounds like a magic spell—
And Scotia is that land.
'Tis teaming with heroes that mountain land,
The home of the Caledonian.

All other lands the palm must yield
To Scotia’s daughters fair;
And in the tented battle-field
Her sons are foremost there;
Her tartan-plaided warriors
Have climbed the steeps of fame;
Their daring deeds the wide world o’er
Have earned a deathless name.
’Tis a nation of heroes—deny it who can,
The home of the Caledonian.

The Scotsman need not blush to own
The land that gave him birth -
For her name is known from zone to zone
As the noblest spot on earth.
Should the foot of a foe e’er dare to tread
On that little land of the free,
The thistle would raise his stately head
Saying “You mauna meddle wi’ me.”
It’s a sturdy plant that guards our land
The pride of the Caledonian.

Alexander H. Wingfield was born in 1828, at Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland, in a house situated a few doors from the one in which Dr. Livingston, the celebrated African traveller, first saw the light. His parents removed to Glasgow when he was six weeks old, and he received little or no education, as he was sent to work in a cotton factory before he had reached his tenth birthday. He may therefore claim, and deserves credit for being in all respects a self-made man. In 1847 he emigrated to America and settled in Auburn, N. Y., but three years later he went to Hamilton, Ont., where he worked as a mechanic for eighteen years on the Great Western Railway. For the past eleven years he has held a responsible position in the Canadian Customs Department. His name is now a familiar one throughout Canada. That his muse had long been appreciated by the public may be surmised when we state that within ten days after the first copy of his book was ready the expense of the whole work was paid out of the sale of it, and the entire edition, consisting of fifteen hundred copies, was disposed of in the short space of seven weeks. The book is now out of print, and stray copies are eagerly picked up at advanced prices wherever they are offered for sale. He does not seem to have composed much of late, and in concluding our sketch we would say to him in the words of his illustrious friend, Mr. Andrew Wanlass:

“Though grief has racked you to the core,
Take up your harp—sing as in yore;
Ye still hae monie joys in store—
I hope and pray That crape may ne’er hang on your door
For monie a day!”

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