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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Blind Alick: The "Glasgow Homes"


THIS worthy—Alexander Macdonald by name—was termed by the late Sheriff Strathern the "Glasgow Homer:" as in this city he sang his own lays, and was famous as a street vocalist and fiddler in the early part of the present century. He was born in Cumberland, but judging from both his Christian and surname, and also from his own choice of location, he must have been of Scottish parentage.

He it was who first circulated in Glasgow, among the street public, news of the victory of Camperdown, and the stanza in which the announcement was made will not soon be forgotten:-

"Good news I have got, my lads,
For country and for town;
We have gained a mighty fight
On the sea at Camperdown,

"Our cannon they did rattle, lads,
And we knock’d their topmasts down;
But the particulars you will hear
By the post in the
afternown."

His skill lay not so much in the violin performance as in his improvised verses. He seized events of public moment as they rose, or incidents of local importance, and, inspired partly by natural genius and partly by whisky, he converted the themes into rhyme, which he sang to the melody of his violin to the amusement of passing bystanders. It would be unjust to Alick’s memory to say that he suffered his poetry to gush forth in untrained or untutored flow; he aimed at better finish, and rehearsed. A gentleman who knew him well when serving his apprenticeship as a lawyer, observes:

"My master’s office was then in Hutcheson Street, adjoining the Waterloo Hotel; behind was a very retired court, into which the minstrel, when under inspiration, wandered. And there, screwing up his fiddle, he tortured from the instrument, and expressed by the voice, certain excruciating notes which might, upon rehearsal, have been tolerable, but in their crudeness were ear-piercing and brain-dementing. Many a time and oft was peace purchased, but it was a panic peace, for ere two hours further had elapsed, the bard’s necessity, and the tempting quiet of the court, invited back the faithless Alick to complete the theme."

Then to the Trongate did the now prepared minstrel proceed, to salute the ears of a passing auditory; and as a native bard has expressed it, the performance must have been soul-delighting—

"Oh! let the tuneful cadence, loud and strong,
Run like the sounds from thrilling fiddle-string
That Alick rubs, to charm a listening throng
That gather round to hear him as he sings
His own made martial song, till street or alley rings."

Waterloo was a frequent subject of his muse; and as during the French war the public mind was greatly excited, he earned a tolerable harvest by his poetry. Among the earliest of his subjects was the death of Sir Ralph Abercromby. The song was long, but these lines will suffice to exhibit the strain:

"Now, my heroes, be not disheartened,
But with courage bold let us stand,
Although our noble Abercrornby
Lost his life upon Egyptian land."

The 42nd Regiment of Highianders was a corps much favoured by the minstrel. After the ever-to-be-remembered deeds of daring performed by that distinguished regiment at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, Alick struck his violin afresh, and declared—

"The gallant first battalion,
It never was beat;
And the second battalion
Was like unto it."

After the battle of Badajos, in which a gallant officer, a native of Glasgow, rendered conspicuous service, the minstrel, as usual, advanced the news with an extra flourish of his fiddle-stick, and thus he proceeded:

"True-hearted, loyal citizens,
Great news I’ve got to tell
Of the wars of Spain and Portugal,
And how the town of Badajos fell.
"There was one Alick Pattison,
A man of great renown;
He was the first who mounted the breach,
And the first that did tumble down."

Another famous regiment was alike the favoured subject of Alick’s regard—viz., the gallant Scots Greys, and the admiration he manifested was richly deserved. Many other effusions of the minstrel might be mentioned, such as the well-known lines on the volunteers reviewed on Glasgow Green by Earl Moira, in which Colonel Geddes and Majors Hunter and Paterson figure. Also his lines on Colonel Corbet and his sharpshooters, and his noted stanza—

"I’ve wandered the world all over,
And many a place beside;
But never saw a more beautiful city,
Than this on the river Clyde."

Blind Alick likewise, to his credit be it said, gallantly espoused the cause of Queen Caroline against her royal husband, and invoked the Divine protection and aid on her behalf.

This sketch will give a fair notion of the topics which Alick handled, and it is certain that, whatever opinion may in these days of School Boards be formed, his poetry was highly satisfactory to his street patrons. The style of delivery—the crash of the fiddle, accommodating the music to his hobbly lines—the upturned opaque eye of the artist—his simple, cheerful, contented look and smile—and his meekness when conversed with—all prepossessed the public in his favour. And although now and then his life-long failing for whisky brought him into disgrace with friends who wished to help him and his wife, yet he contrived by an arch simplicity to excuse the failing, and generally to disarm resentment. He died on the 9th of February, 1830, in the 59th year of his age, and was interred in the High Church burying-ground; but "no sculptured urn or animated bust" marks the spot.


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