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Significant Scots
John Donald Carrick


As the Editor of the First Series of "Whistle-Binkie," and a literary man of considerable reputation, we think some account of this amiable and lamented individual, will be acceptable to our readers.

John Donald Carrick was a native of Glasgow, and was born in April, 1787. His mother is reported to have been a woman of superior powers of mind, and in particular, to have possessed a fund of humour, with great acuteness of observation, qualities for which her son John was very remarkable. Carrick's education was necessarily limited, from the narrow circumstances of his parents ; but in after life, when he had raised himself into a respectable station in society, the activity and vigour of his mind enabled him to supply in a great degree the deficiencies of his early education. When very young, he was placed in the office of Mr. Nicholson, an architect of considerable eminence in Glasgow; and he continued to feel a partiality for that branch of art during his lifetime.

Young Carrick possessed great resolution of character, at times amounting to obstinacy. This quality of mind accompanied him through life, and if it, now and then, communicated a rather too unbending turn to his disposition, was undoubtedly the origin of that vigour and independence of mind which never deserted him. Whether influenced by this feeling, or impatient of the uncertain and cheerless character of his youthful prospects, the rash lad determined on sallying forth alone into the world, to push his fortune, as the phrase is. Accordingly, sometime in the autumn of 1807, without informing any one of his intentions, he set off for London, full of adventurous hope and courage. This, be it remembered, was a journey of four hundred miles, to he performed on foot, for the few shillings which constituted his worldly wealth, precluded any more expensive conveyance; and whatever may be our opinion of the prudence of such a step, we cannot but feel respect for the stout-heartedness of the mere youth who could undertake it. The first night, our youthful adventurer arrived at Irvine, in the county of Ayr, and prudently economizing his limited means, instead of putting himself to expense for a lodging, he took up his abode in the cozie recess of a "whinny knowe," where he was awoke in the morning by the roar of the ocean-tide, which was rapidly advancing on his heathery couch. Strong in the sanguine hopefulness of youth, he pursued his solitary way, living on the poorest fare, and sleeping sometimes in humble road-side hostels ; but more often encamping under the kindly canopy of heaven, amid the sheaves, with which an early harvest had covered the ground, or nestling snugly in some green and leafy nook, on he went, we may be sure, fatigue-worn, and perhaps heart-worn, until he reached the town of Liverpool.

In after life he often reverted to his feelings on entering that town, and meeting with a recruiting party, gay with ribbons, and enlivened by the sound of fife and drum. The animating sight suggested to him the idea of enlisting, and so strong was the temptation, that, unable to decide for himself, he threw up his stick in the air, to be guided in his decision by the direction in which it should fall. As his cudgel fell in the direction of London, he resolved to follow its prudent dictates, and girding up his loins, manfully continued his journey to the metropolis, where he soon after arrived, with only half-a-crown in his pocket. Carrick delighted in after years to refer to this ambitious sally of his wayward youth—his bivouac at night in the snuggest retreat he could find, with the solemn quiet of the green woods above and around him, and the gentle breeze of an autumn evening to lull him to rest,—or sometimes, the doubtful shelter that he found in humble alehouses and bush-taverns.

Arrived in London, the friendless youth offered his services as a shopman. His Scottish accent, and rough appearance after such a journey, with awkward, unformed manners, would no doubt operate against him with the more polished citizens of the capital. At length a shopkeeper, himself a Scotsman, captivated by the music of his mother-tongue, engaged him in his service. He appears to have been employed in this way by various individuals until the spring of 1809, when he obtained a respectable situation in an extensive establishment, in the Staffordshire Pottery business. His stay altogether in the metropolis appears to have been about four years. He returned to Glasgow early in the year 1811, and opened a large establishment in the same line of business, which he understood thoroughly, from having been employed for a considerable time in the great house of Spodes & Co., of London. In this occupation Mr. Carrick continued for fourteen years, with various success. His prospects at one period were of the most flattering kind, but becoming unfortunately involved with a house in the foreign trade, of which a near relative was a partner, these promising hopes were blasted.

The leisure which his business afforded him had, for some years, been diligently and profitably employed by Mr. Carrick in mental culture, to supply the deficiencies of his early education. The bias of his taste led him to cultivate an acquaintance with our older Scottish literature, and in 1825 the fruit of these studies appeared in the "Life of Sir William Wallace," which was published as one of the series of Constable's Miscellany. It has continued a favourite with the public ever since, and has lately been reprinted in a new edition. He began about the same time to throw off some of those humorous songs and pieces which, when sung or recited by himself, used to form the delight of his private friends. In 1825, he commenced business as a travelling agent, and his affairs leading him frequently into the Highlands, he acquired that knowledge of the Gaelic character, in its minuter shades and peculiarities, which overflowed so richly in the conversation of his later years, and gives such a zest to many of his comic and graphic sketches. This business not being so remunerative as he had expected, he finally abandoned mercantile pursuits, and devoted himself to literary composition. He engaged about this time as sub-editor of the Scots Times, at that period a journal of high standing in Glasgow. In 1832, a literary journal called " The Dap" was published in Glasgow, to which he contributed many admirable pieces. One of his co-labourers in this pleasing and popular miscellany was the highly-gifted William Motherwell, a poet of no common elevation, and a person of a genial and kindly temperament. The eccentric and well-known Mr. Andrew Henderson was another intimate friend and associate of Carrick's; and these three richly-endowed individuals, though of characters and habits of mind very opposite to each other, lived in the warm enjoyment of mutual friendship ; and, it is painful to add, followed each other to a premature and lamented grave within the brief space of two years.

In 1832, the First Series of this work was published, which was edited by Mr. Carrick, who also contributed several excellent songs and humorous poetical pieces, as well as an admirably written introduction, in which the etymology of the term "Whistle-Binkie" is pleasantly and humorously set forth. Early in 1833, he became the editor of the Perth Advertiser, a newspaper of liberal principles. For this situation he was admirably fitted, not only from his acquired experience in the Scots Times office, but still more from his extensive general information, the soundness of his judgment, and the calm, clear sense which his writings as a politician always exhibited. He did not, however, long retain this office, for, finding himself subjected to the indignity of being superintended by a committee of management, who interfered in the most summary and vexatious manner with his independence as an editor, he indignantly threw up his engagement, and bade adieu for ever to the Fair City. During his brief sojourn in Perth, Carrick wrote several humorous pieces of various kinds, his kindly and joyous temperament finding always some congenial escapement, notwithstanding the disagreeable circumstances in which he was placed. Of these pieces, one of the best is the well-known letter from "Bob," to his friend in Glasgow, which appears in the last edition of the "Laird of Logan," at page 224. He does not seem to have thought much of the citizens of St. Johnstoun, remarking, with caustic severity, that " the last thing a true man of Perth would show you was the inside of his house."

At this critical period of his fortunes, some individuals in Kilmarnock, of liberal opinions, had projected a newspaper, and were looking out for an editor: immediate application was made by Mr. Carrick's friends, the result of which was successful. He was powerfully supported in this object by his generous friend Motherwell, who, though differing widely in politics, gave a strong, but honest recommendation of his general talents, as well as fitness for the situation, stating at the same time, "He (Motherwell) had never concealed his most rooted hostility to what was called Liberal or Reform principles."

Carrick left Perth in February, 1834, and immediately proceeded to Kilmarnock, to enter on his duties as editor of the Kilmarnock Journal. It was fondly hoped by the friends of this warm-hearted but ill-starred man of genius, that here, at last, he might set up the staff of his rest; but a short period served to dispel these pleasing hopes, and to cast a shadow over his prospects, which was never to pass away till it darkened down into the gloom of the grave. Here, too, Carrick was subjected to the annoyance and torture of a committee of management, many of whom were persons the most incompetent for such a delicate duty as the superintendence of a public journal. The members of this junta were, moreover, divided into parties, in a state of bitter hostility with each other, so that, when, urged by some of them, he had written a few lively, satirical articles, of local application, which severely galled sundry individuals in the town, the parties who had suggested them, alarmed for the consequences, withdrew their countenance equally from the editor and his journal.

Previous to his leaving Perth, there is reason to believe that the disease which brought on his death, had evinced its existence by slow and insidious approaches, at first in the form of partial paralysis of the nerves and muscles of the mouth, issuing finally in tic doloureux, one of the most excruciating diseases to which the human frame is liable. The annoyance to which he was incessantly subjected, induced a severe attack of this complaint, and obliged him to apply for a temporary leave of absence, engaging to find a substitute to do duty for him during its continuance. This reasonable request was refused by the humane and enlightened committee of management, and the wretched state of his health, leaving him no alternative, he resigned his situation, and returned to Glasgow in the month of January, 1835. During his stay in "Auld Killie," notwithstanding the painful visitations of disease, and the annoyances to which he was subjected in the exercise of his editorial duties, he never exhibited more affluence of mind, or a more perfect command over his rich and various powers. Besides various literary compositions, he exercised the duty of editor to the first edition of the "Laird of Logan," which appeared in June, 1835. After this, Carrick went to Rothesay for the benefit of his health, but found it declining so rapidly, that he had given up all hopes of continued activity, and actually had fixed upon a spot in which to lay his weary and worn-out frame. Recovering, however, he returned to Glasgow, and resumed his literary pursuits. He contributed, about this time, some admirable papers to the Scottish Magazine, rich in humour and in happy traits of Scottish habits and peculiarities, entitled, "Nights at Kilcomrie Castle, or the days of Queen Mary." Occupied with these and various other compositions, some of which are still in manuscript, and at times suffering acutely from the attacks of the painful disease, which now seldom, for any length of time, intermitted its visitations, and which, from its effect on his power of speech, was peculiarly obnoxious to a person of his social habits and character, Carrick continued to mix occasionally in society, and enjoy the fellowship of his friends. But a severe attack of inflammation coming on, aggravated by the weakening effects of a recent course of depletion, suggested by his medical attendant, proved too much for his enfeebled frame to resist, and, after a few days' suffering, he expired on the 17th of August, 1835. As a literary man, Carrick's peculiar forte lay in the rich and humorous resources of a lively and salient mind and imagination. In broad humour he was singularly effective, and the edge of his satire was keen and biting. He had a quick perception of the ridiculous, coupled with much observation and knowledge of mankind. As a describer of old manners and customs, he is remarkably happy; and there is a graphic truth and beauty, enchased in a fine vein of drollery, in his descriptive sketches. The excess of his humour was ever ready to overflow in a stream of pleasant waggery, which the kindness of his nature, with his gentlemanly habits and self-respect, prevented from degenerating into broad or offensive caricature. As the editor, and a principal writer in the first series of the "Laird of Logan," he will long be remembered. Of this admired collection of Scottish and Gaelic stories, Carrick was the original projector, and he also contributed the excellent biographical sketch of "the Laird," with the greater part of the anecdotes of that celebrated humourist.

In concluding this brief memoir, we may observe, generally, that as a descriptive painter of the comic and ludicrous aspects of man and society, and as equally skilful in the analysis of human character, combined with a rare and never-failing humour, a pungent but not malicious irony, and great ease and perspicuity of expression, few writers have surpassed John Donald Carrick.


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