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Significant Scots
Alexander Balfour


BALFOUR, ALEXANDER, an esteemed miscellaneous writer, was born March 1st, 1767, in the parish of Monikie, Forfarshire. His parents belonged to the humbler rural class. His education was very limited, and he was apprenticed at an early age to a weaver. His first attempts at composition were made when he was twelve years of age. At a somewhat maturer age he contributed verses to a newspaper named the "British Chronicle," to Dr Anderson’s "Bee," and to several provincial miscellanies. At twenty-six he became clerk to a manufacturing house in Arbroath, and married in the following year. From the Arbroath establishment, in which he had for several years been a partner, he removed, in 1814, to Trottick near Dundee, where he formed a connection with a branch of an extensive London house. In the ensuing year, so memorable for calamity in the commercial world, the house in which he had embarked his fortune was suddenly involved in bankruptcy. Till some better employment should occur to him, Balfour resorted to the pen, which had never been altogether laid aside in his busiest and most prosperous days, and, in 1819, he produced a novel entitled, "Campbell, or the Scottish Probationer," which was received by the public in a favourable manner. While the work was in progress, he accepted of a dependent situation at Balgonie in Fife, the emoluments of which were barely sufficient to maintain a family consisting of a wife, two sons, and three daughters. He was at length induced to remove to Edinburgh, where, in 1818, he obtained employment as a clerk from Mr Blackwood the publisher. His health suffered from constant confinement to the desk, and in June, 1819, he was obliged to relinquish his employment by a threatened attack of paralysis. For ten years after the month of October, he was unable to set his foot upon the ground, and spent his days in a wheel-chair. He was, nevertheless, enabled to devote himself, with unimpaired energy, to literary labour. He edited, in 1819, the poetical works of his deceased friend, Richard Gall, adding a biographical preface; and contributed various articles of merit, consisting of tales, sketches, and poems, descriptive of Scottish rural life, to Constable’s Edinburgh Magazine, of which he continued one of the chief literary supporters till its close, in 1826. In this magazine appeared the poetical series, entitled, "Characters omitted in Crabbe’s Parish Register," which was afterwards published in a separate volume. In 1820, he published a volume, under the title of "Contemplation, and other Poems." In 1823 he began to contribute novels to the so-called Minerva Press, his first work being, "The Foundling of Glenthorn, or the Smuggler’s Cave," a tale in three volumes. Amidst the pangs of his disorder, Mr. Balfour continued to enjoy such good general health, that he is said to have not been absent from his family breakfast-table more than twelve times during the long period of ten years. He slept regularly, and generally was able to spend twelve or fourteen hours each day in study and composition. His eyesight was as good, and his intellectual powers continued as vigorous as at any period of his life; but his feelings were morbidly sensitive, and he had little command over their expression. In the year 1827, through the intervention, it is believed, of Mr Joseph Hume, M.P., who presented a number of Mr Balfour’s works to the premier, Mr Canning, a treasury donation of one hundred pounds was obtained for the unfortunate son of genius.

The latest considerable work of Mr Balfour was a novel, entitled, "Highland Mary," in four volumes. It is written with great simplicity and taste, and, as a story, is replete with a mournful pathos. He continued to the last to contribute to the periodical works of the day.

He enjoyed his usual health, till the 1st of September, 1829, when an illness commenced that hurried him to the grave. For some days previous to his death, he was deprived of speech, and communicated with is friends by means of an alphabet which he had occasionally used before. He died September 12th, 1829, in the sixty-third year of his age. A memoir of Balfour was written by the late Mr Moir, of Musselburgh ("Delta"), and prefixed to a posthumous volume of his remains, published under the title of Weeds and Wildflowers.


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