As you peruse the following verses, your attention will doubtless be drawn
to one thing at least, namely: the simplicity of the language used in their
composition. To be entirely frank with you, this has always been my
intention; because, when I first started to write, I thought it better to
speak in the plain doric or language of the common people. True, it may not
be considered classical Scotch, but is as near to that which is used
generally as I could possibly write it. It has been my effort to strike a
happy average, remembering that “oor ain folk” in some localities in
Scotland have their own peculiar forms of speech and expression. I have also
interjected here and there some poems in English, which it is hoped may lend
a pleasing variety to the book.
I have studiously avoided using words or phrases that might lead one away
from the standard of life with which, I may say, I have always been
It has always been an unwavering principle with me to call things by that
name in which they are best known, and not to inject into this edition of
verses meaningless, high-flown technicalities, which might have a tendency
to mislead some from the true meaning of what it was intended to convey; so
much so, indeed, that in writing, I have never lost sight of the fact that
my humble efforts have been always to please those people who are used to
the plain, every-day, simple life, which is undoubtedly the most beautiful
and beneficial, not only to those who live it, but to the world.
I think the reader will agree with me that, after all, this is best, since
the most of the enclosed verses are woven around the fireside “at hame.” The
scenes I have tried to depict will doubtless appeal to a great number of
people who have “played the part”—especially Scottish people—for I dare say
there are few who have been born in the land o’ cakes that have not been at
a Sabbath Schule Suree, or helped their mothers on washing days; and many of
us can look back with tearful eyes and fancy we are again proudly bearing
aloft a wee white or blue flag in the Sabbath Schule Trip, winding our way
down some flower-scented glen, accompanied by the song of the sky-lark, to
the private grounds of some kind-hearted Scottish laird; there to be regaled
with milk, buns and gooseberries!
I was born of Scottish parents who were, by instinct, hand-loom weavers, in
the village of Cumbernauld, Scotland. When between the age of six and seven
years, I was sent to the public school, and after about three years of the
most strenuous part of my life, with the most exacting and cold-hearted
schoolmaster that ever lived, I emerged at the other end from what was then
known as the eighteen-pence book class, which, I think, would be equivalent
to our modern fifth reader or standard. No dust, if I can remember, was
allowed to accumulate in the seams of any boy’s jacket in this school. The
master, I always thought, claimed the exclusive privilege of attending to
that, so much so, that to this day I have always wondered why some one was
not killed or permanently crippled; not because we committed any
depredation, but simply because we didn’t have our lessons committed to
memory in the most unreasonable time, or failed to solve any problem given
us to do in the shortest time possible.
When 1 reached the age of ten years, my father died, leaving my mother
nearly helpless. 1 was taken from school to try and do something to help
her; and ever since then, the great busy world has been my school house,
where the most of us, of course, have learned more of the world’s ways than
we did at school or around our mother’s knee.
When between the age of sixteen and seventeen years, I was bound to the
trade of clothlapper and pattern book making with Robert Smith & Sons,
Parkvale and Hayford Mills, Stirling.
Leaving my native land in 1878, I turned my footsteps toward the setting
sun, where, 1 am proud to say, I have never been without many kind-hearted
friends in the great Republic of the West.
While our whole duty is toward the land of our adoption, yet, the green
fields, the rushing waters, the beautiful flower-clad valleys of our native
land keep continually rising before the mind’s eye, and often make us think
of that exquisitely beautiful song:—
“Aft, aft, hae I pondered on scenes of my childhood,
The days ance sae happy, O come back again!
When I pu’d the wild daisies that spangled the greenwood,
And gie’d tliem awa’ to my wee lovers then.
O memory's dear.'’
With these few remarks, kind reader, I will leave this volume of verses with
you to judge them as you see fit; content with the thought that, after all,
the plain people shall be, as they should be, the final arbiter.
Glassport, Penna., U. S. A., November, 1911
In all our long experience,
never have we published a book that has given us more pleasure in the doing
of it, than “Lays o’ th’ Hameland.” The Scottish people here and everywhere
are being done a distinct service in the publication of such a volume of
poems, and are to be congratulated that we have in our midst such a gifted
Scottish bard with a mission in life which he is trying to fulfill to the
best of his ability. That this first great work of Mr. Murdoch will be
appreciated by those for whom it is primarily intended, we confidently
predict; not only so, but all those who love really good poetry with an
entertaining and uplifting purpose in it, will revel in these verses.
There is no doubt whatever that these “Lays” will very soon permeate
“wherever Scotsmen gather,” and that they will reap increment with the
passing years—a reasonable prediction. Indeed, many of them will in due
season be household words among our people. There is no Scottish poet living
to-day, that we know of, who can approach Mr. Murdoch in his incomparable,
simple, homely style, which reaches the heart; and there is no book
published at present just like this one, depicting the sweet, pure, natural
life of the Scottish people and their beautiful country. When the merits of
these poems are more understood and appreciated (and this is sure to happen)
there will spring up a demand for them that will be hard to keep pace with.
Like all other really worthy Scots, Mr. Murdoch is modest; but the urgent
solicitation of his many friends prevailed with him to set these poems
before the people in book form. There should be no qualms as to the result,
and it is to be hoped that he will be induced and encouraged to keep on
edifying and entertaining us in his own happy and gifted way.
This collection will make a very suitable Christmas present to send a
brother or sister Scot anywhere; indeed, is suitable as a gift at any time.
The pleasure these beautiful poems will afford cannot be computed. We ask
for the author a generous supply of that encouragement which true Scots
everywhere, of ^whatever station in life, never were known to withhold to a
worthy thing or cause, and that they will do all in their power to help
along the sale of the book. Mr. Murdoch, like many others who have benefited
the world by their presence and work, is not a rich man, so far as this
world goes, and cannot hope to make anything out of this volume except the
appreciation of his grateful fellow-countrymen, for whom he has labored so
long and earnestly in this special field for which his natural gifts are so
eminently fitted. Yet, financial stimulus is also a necessary thing in this
world; and such a form of encouragement, along with the heart’s
appreciation, should make a combination that would go far towards
perpetuating and even further enlarging his (work among and for us.
In Mr. Murdoch we have a helper. He is trying to benefit the world by his
labors. Shall we not also do our part by him?
A REVIEW OF THE “LAYS” By A.
By courtesy of Mr. Murdoch, it has been my good
fortune to read these poems before going to press. I never like to rush into
print unless I have a reason for doing so. In this instance I feel impelled
to make some brief comment on what is surely a wonderful collection of pure,
uplifting verse, and which will undoubtedly be hailed as such by
English-speaking people everywhere, when the book is properly brought before
First of all, I must state emphatically that the
subjects written on, and the manner of depicting them, reveal a depth of
knowledge of Scottish life and character that is remarkable on the part of
Mr. Murdoch. No nation can bast of a purer, sweeter, more wholesome
life than that of the plain, old-fashioned Scottish people and their
progeny—than whom there are no finer in all the world. Scotland has given to
humanity’s service sons and daughters whose rugged and fearless
honesty, grandeur of character, and brains and brawn, have blessed any
locality in the broad universe in which they have located. Poets may well
sing the praises of Scotland and her people, past and present, for in that
field they have an inexhaustible mine of riches. Mr. Murdoch himself is an
apt illustration of what Scotland has produced and still produces. His is
the impressionable nature which marks the true poet. He can see, as
Shakespeare has written, “books in the running brooks, sermons in stones,
and good in everything.” He has lived among those scenes so graphically
portrayed in his “Lays” —been- a part of them. The friends of the long ago
are with him still, though many of them have fallen asleep. He has the
brains to comprehend, the ready pen, and the happy faculty of putting into
words the superabundance of exalted thoughts that course quickly through
his active mind. Above all, he is true to Nature—and that’s what counts!
While ably depicting past scenes and people, the
author doesn’t forget the present busy, throbbing world and its tireless
makers of history—especially the Scotch. True to the land of his adoption,
he gives us some choice specimens of his skill about portions of America
familiar alike to himself and all of us.
In addition to his quaint dialect poetry he has
given us in this collection some very fine work in choice English diction on
themes that are edifying. They will live—they are classics.
I have always contended that anyone who has a
message—something good to bequeath to the worlds—-is guilty of woeful and
lasting negligence if he does not give it, and with all the power that’s in
him. It is to his eternal credit, therefore, that Mr. Murdoch, a
working man, has evolved these beautiful poems, often amidst harassing
circumstances and in the necessarily limited time at his disposal. I am
sincerely glad, as very many others doubtless will be, to see him publishing
this first edition of his works—a lifetime’s labor of love—though hard beset
by the trials and sorrows which enter into life, and of which he has had his
full share. These poems will surely brighten existence for many—bringing
back scenes of the past, and entertaining the younger element with sentiment
that is for their enlightenment and good. There is not an impure thought in
the whole collection; but this, is only to be expected of such a man,
whose private life is in keeping with his exalted verse.
Many people (especially Americans) rush through
Scotland and come back with impressions, so-called; but they don't get,
somehow, into the inner life of the Scottish people, nor understand the
romance that lies, behind the vales, mountains, lakes and rivers of
that beautiful land. This book will help all such to understand things about
Scotland and her people they never knew. Scotland is not a rich country, in
a material way—but she has an inheritance that money cannot duplicate. Hers
are a peculiar people, always to the front in freedom’s cause, and who have
contributed more to the world’s progress than any nation under the sun. They
are a kindly sort, when you break through their natural though
becoming reserve—with a droll sense of humor—and when they like you,
anything you want is yours. “The heights of Highland hospitality” is no mere
figure of speech in Scotland. The natural, simple life of our forefathers is
not yet extinct, thank God. “Kind hearts are more than coronets.”
To write poetry that will attract and hold the
attention of various-minded readers—as these will surely do— is a task
calling for extraordinary qualities of mind and observation, and these this
gifted man possesses. True poetry must be spontaneous—a part of one’s very
existence. Anyone with an average brain can write common rhyme or
“doggerel.” But poetry with a soul and a purpose is a different matter; it
comes only to those whose natures are surcharged with poetic melody and who
feel and see things that average people do not experience. The Muse, like
Fortune, is a fickle jade, and it is not given to everyone to court her
successfully. “It’s juist like this,” said a worthy old Scottish poet
once to the writer: “Ye may coort the Muse for days or weeks, and deevil1 a
haet wull she respond; for the simple reason that you’re not en
rapport (have I got it richt?) wi’ her. She is capreecious, ye ken. But at
ither times, when she’s willing and ye feel the poetic fire yersel’, ye may
set the Thames a-bleezin. But ye maun hae in your soul the proper humility
and reverence; there’s nae royal road tae her affections. When ye catch her,
haud on tae her. Efter a’, it depends a guid deal on yer ain sei’.” True, O
king. But I think in Mr. Murdoch’s case it’s no great effort for him to
catch the wandering Muse, because his soul seems always en rapport He has
composed poetry, as I have stated, amid harassing circumstances—amid the
whirl of machinery or in the quiet of God’s temple in the woods—with a
preference, of course, like all true poets, for the more natural places. He
is an inspired man; no one could write such poetry if he wasn’t. The fact
that he devotes his spare hours—outside of the busy workshop and his many
family cares, as well as the other countless duties devolving upon any good
citizen—stamp him as a man with a purpose, an ideal, in the pursuit of which
he is giving unstinted ly of the best that’s in him—his life, in fact. When
you remember the limited time at his disposal, it is a wonderful feat for
this son of toil to produce such a splendid collection of poems—portraying
various themes and people and places in language that lifts one out of
himeslf and transports him to the places written about. Mr. Murdoch may not
be rich in this world's goods, but he has in his make-up treasures greater
far than sordid, material wealth. As a good steward of God’s manifold gifts,
he is giving the best that’s in him, in order that many may Ibe edified and
led to see the beauty of life and character, as well as Nature’s grandeur.
His heart is big, open and sympathetic—anyone who reads these poems can see
that—and responds eagerly to any cause or duty that is worthy. Things that
are natural always appeal to him. This book cannot help being a very great
success, and this assurance will be made doubly sure when his legion of
friends and the Scottish, public generally do their part, as they are bound
to do. The poems will speak for themselves, once they are introduced to the
attention of the people for whom they are written, as well as all others who
enjoy pure English diction.
There is a delightful swing to Mr. Murdoch’s
poetry that reminds one alternately of Thomas Campbell, Robert Burns,
Tennyson, and other great poets. Many of them will be recited and sung in
public—indeed, that is already the case. They carry you back to the “auld hameland”
again. Take “The Mountain Torrent,” for instance: it is a classic, with its
beautiful rhythm and phraseology, as well as the theme itself.
“Shattered Hopes” is one of the finest poems I have ever read, reminding one
of the poet Whittier’s lines:
The saddest are these—it might have been.”
You can in imagination see the queer auld “Candy
Man,” a happy conception, in the author’s best style, quaint and unique,
carrying us back to childhood days, and which the Scottish people are now
Auld grannie and grandfather are fittingly shown
—typical of that grand Scottish old age, the most beautiful thing of its
kind in the world. In the delineation of boyhood experiences, our poet is
unrivaled. You will agree with me after you read “The Sabbath School Suree,”
“The Wee Show,” “Oor Wee Jock,” “Early Vows,” “My First Pair o’ Breeks,”
“The Wat Cloot,” “Memories o’ Youth.” They could easily be, and doubtless
have been, a part of your life, dear reader.
Mr. Murdoch strikes the right chord in his
dissertations on love. Where will you find anything to-day like “Mother’s
Love,” “Have You Seen My Lassie?” “What Is Love?” “My First Valentine,”
“Parted,” “I Wonder If We’ll Meet Again,” “Nae Love at Hame,” etc.
In describing the seasons, you will find it hard, indeed, to locate anything
better than “Spring Time,” Come, Gentle May,” “October,” “Cauld, Dreary
Winter,” and “The Soochin’ of the Wind.”
In describing familiar places he is very
successful. These poems will carry the heart by storm: “The Quiet
Inglenook,” “New Year in the Country,’’ “Doon By Yon Dyke Side,” “Sailing Up
the Clyde,” etc. His “Wandering With the Muse” is rich in sentiment; and, as
if to illustrate the poet’s kindly heart, he has given us a very choice
morsel in “Let the Wee Doug Alane.”
Natural scenes—such as woods, braes, mountains,
rivers and landscapes— are given the real color; you can see, as you read,
the various domestic and wild flowers, the hawthorn hoar, and the rose. In
describing the song-birds he is at his best. What is more humorous than “The
Craws and the Tattie Bogle,” and have you ever seen such glorious effusions
as he has penned to the wee linnet, the robin, bluebird and thrush—one
of which had “lost its mate” and sang its mournful lay? The pees weep with
its sorrowful dirge is vividly portrayed.
The author has a natural gift in describing
persons. Mayor Arthur, of McKeesport, William Congalton, Chief John Rae,
Samuel Gibb, Wm. B. Kay (managing editor of the McKeesport Times), and Mr.
and Mrs. Millar, of Cambusbarron, are among those who receive warm eulogies.
He helps the cause of the Scottish Clans by his fervent verse, being a good
clansman himself and believing in the Order.
The “Bannocks” and “Pease Meal” have suitable
recognition in splendid effusions, as they well deserve, for they have done
much for Scotland. In patriotism you have “The Scottish Patriot” and in
friendship the “Rale Guid Freen” strikes a responsive chord. The bagpipes
and the heather are not forgotten. There is something grand in “The Wee Cozy
Kirk in the Glen,” and in “The Fisherwife’s Lullaby” the beautiful sentiment
is very touching. “Dinna Craw” is very refreshing as a warning to the
boastful. In “The Prayer” we have a very fine example of what the writer can
do in this line, written amid the whirr of machinery at his daily
toil. Reverence to the Creator is exemplified in a beautiful poem.
I would fain dilate further on the other poems
of this truly great collection, but space forbids, and your patience, dear
reader, may be tried by this time. The whole book is full of good things.
Seek them out for yourself. These poems should be circulated far and wide.
They will help you to see things you never saw before, and will touch the
heart by their greatness and simplicity.
Let us not make the mistake so often made in
times past, of waiting until one is dead ere we place the laurel wreaths of
our appreciation upon him. Murdoch deserves the best that can be said
and done for him. And we’ll say and do it, too.
Lays O' The
By James H. Murdoch (1911) (pdf)