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Scottish Poets in America
Massie, Dr. John


I know thee not—I never heard thy voice;
Yet, could I choose a friend from all mankind,
Thy spirit high should be my spirit’s choice,
Thy heart should guide my heart, thy mind my mind.

Dr. John Massie, Colborne, Ontario, has long since established an enviable reputation for himself as the author of a considerable number of poems of a superior order of merit. He is spoken of by one of his friends as a genial, generous, cultivated gentleman, learned and honorable in all his dealings with his fellow-men. His writings prove him to be a perfect master of Doric speech, and, while many of his finest and best-known poems are cast in that mould, there are also those among his English productions which display both talent and skill and entitle him to a foremost position among his brother bards. His style is vigorous, terse and attractive at all times, and his verse is generally musical and rich in true touches of nature. Many exceptionally fine thoughts are woven into his earlier poems, although, on the whole, his latter productions are the best. In connection with this it might be stated that his “Jubilee Poem,” consisting of twenty-five stanzas, and published last year, was widely copied by the Canadian and British press and received the indorsement of many eminent critics as being “ the finest set of verses which appeared on this illustrious occasion.” Two stanzas will give a general idea of the poem:

One wish, one thought intense, one impulse strong,
Hath governed all thy long, eventful reign;
Imbued thy days of sadness and of song
With sweetest sympathy for all thy train;
And strengthened thy strong heart and nerved thy brain
To do the work an empire lays on thee;
Tis love for thine own people doth sustain
The pillars of thy throne. Love makes them free,
And guides thy ship of state o’er Time’s tempestuous sea.

And as a face smile lit, wakes up a smile,
Or bright, contagious laughter glads the eye,
Or joy gets joy, or cheerfulness, like oil,
Lays all the troubled waters, making dry
The cheek tear-dewed; or skylark soaring high
Lifts up man’s heart, impelling him to sing;
We watch the eagle’s flight and wish to fly,
And feel within, the spirit's quivering wing;
So thy kind heart, love lit, lights every living thing.

Dr. Massie was born in Fruzerburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on the eighth of April, 1833. His father's name was also John, and his mother was Isabel Falconer, a native of Strichen. The family emigrated to Canada and settled in Kingston just as our author was entering upon his fourth birthday. A few years later they went out into the wilderness of Canadian woods, settling on a “ bush farm ” in the then new township of Seymour, situated about twenty-five miles northwest from Belleville. But previous to this there were troublesome times in the province. Tne rebellion of 1837 broke out and Mr. Massie, the poet’s father, who removed to Belleville in the autumn of 1837, where he remained for one year and nine months, was the first man to enlist in the militia at Belleville to help maintain law and order. When all was quiet again and peace brooded over the land he returned to Kingston and devoted much of his spare time in aiding those who were anxious to learn vocal music. Among his more prominent pupils was the Hon. Oliver Mowat, Premier of Ontario. On his leaving for his wild wood farm in the new settlement he was the recipient of many gratifying testimonials from his pupils and others. Our author at this time was about nine years of age, and soon had ample experience of the life of a Canadian pioneer in all its phases.

“The country was so wild,” he writes, “and roads so few that we had to follow a ‘blaze,’ i. e., a mark made on the trees, in order to reach the locality of our future home.” Here, however, he gained that knowledge of the lives of the brave, and too often neglected, women who cheerfully accompany their husbands into the wilds of the forests in a noble effort to secure independence and a home. Such women were no doubt in his thoughts—perhaps his own mother, who was a lovable, gentle, devoted woman of quiet patient industry and remarkably strong common sense—when years afterwards in one of his poems he wrote the following truthful lines;

The record of the buried lives
Of helpful, hopeful, patient wives;
Who thoughtful still of every need
Of every creature’s wants took heed,’
With cheerful true self-abnegation,
Content with their laborious station,
Heroic mothers of a nation.

Dr. Massie remained with his parents until his twenty-sixth year, when he went to the village of Castleton as teacher of the public school. His own education had been acquired by what he terms odds and ends, after leaving Kingston. He had however absorbed knowledge from books, periodicals, newspapers, etc. When other lads were enjoying themselves in the usual youthful pleasures and games he was poring over Burns, Scott, Campbell, Cowley, Milton, Shaks-peare, Moore, etc., and storing his mind with his native country’s history and song. Robertson’s History of Scotland,” “ Rollins’ Ancient History,” other histories and different works as he could obtain them, were all carefully read and studied over, but above all he loved Scotland’s Bard—her Burns—and among both his early and later productions are several very able and readable pieces on the subject of his favorite poet:

Praise to the Bard, whose mighty hand
Has placed our loved, our native land,
On fame’s celestial height,
To be through time’s most distant page
For every dim succeeding age
A blazing beacon light.

Who knits all human hearts as one
And charms all lands beneath the sun
With music from above;
And all our minds with wisdom stored,
And bound us with a golden cord
Of sympathy and love.

Who taught us independence true
And rung the changes through and through
His own immortal rhymes;
And gathers as of kindred blood,
In one fraternal brotherhood
All peoples of all climes.

Who taught the lords of lofty domes
That worth may dwell in lowly homes
And noble patriot pride,
And points the great Creator’s plan
Till man’s humanity to man
Shall stem oppression’s tide.

Shall drain the springs of sorrow dry,
And wipe the tear from every eye,
And raise the drooping soul;
And all the brotherhood of man
Shall bow to God’s and nature’s plan
In one eternal whole.

In the autumn of 1858 our author attended an examination of teachers at the High School of Colborne and succeeded in securing a second-class county certificate, after which he taught school for a year very successfully, quite a number of advance pupils attending his classes. The next year, however, owing to frequent and severe headaches, he left teaching and returned home to the old farm, where he spent a year working, studying, and courting the muses. And this period we may say ended his youthful career or labors as a poet, for after teaching another year he began the study of medicine, and graduated in March, 1865, at Queen’s University, Kingston, with great credit.

His college vacations produced a few stray pieces, but his time was now too much occupied with the actualities, trials and responsibilities of existence to allow even an approach to the state of mind and feeling which finds vent in poetic thought and expression; and for a period extending over many years thereafter he composed not a solitary line of poetry. Indeed it is only within the last few years that he has strung anew his old and long neglected harp, which vibrates now in mellowed and softer, yet richer tones. A number of small poems, odes, songs, addresses and fragmentary pieces have appeared in rapid succession from his pen of late, and so hearty has been the reception accorded to these that he is now seriously contemplating the publication of a selection from his writings in book form at an early date. They are certainly all worthy of the attention which has been bestowed upon them. Take the following piece as a specimen of the peculiar subjects on which his muse sometimes alights, and the simple but expressive manner in which he places his thoughts before us:

DDE TO THE OWL.

Hoot awa houlet alane on the tree
Hout-awa bird! Are you hooting at me?—
Or is it a change in the weather you bring,
Or do you rejoice in the birth o’ the spring,
Or wailing the past sadly mourn o’er thy lot
Till the depths o’ the forest re-echo thy note?
When the music of birds and the humming of bees
Are hushed on the breast of the evening breeze;
When nature is laid on the lap of repose,
And harmony reigns in the bosom of foes;
When the world is asleep and the last ray of light
Is swept from the earth by the besom of night,
Thou art seen on the wing (though we cannot well see,
For thy daylight is darkness, ours darkness to thee),
Thou art seen on the wing, by the pale moonlight,
To flit like a ghost on the shadow of night;
Or, perched on a tree, art heard nightly to croon
Thy sorrowful tale to the wandering moon.

Oh, child of the night! cease to echo along
The mournful “to-whoo” of thy midnight song;
Or the sprites of the night will assemble to hear,
And the elves of the wood will be caught in a tear.
Dost thou mourn in sad numbers a lover's disdain,
And pour out thy passion in amorous stiain?
Ah! surely thy notes are the language of care,
Commingled with tenderness, love and despair!

Mayhap the sole friend of thy bosom hath fled
And left thee to mourn o’er the bones of the dead;
Or the feathery brood that so often were prest
With a motherly tenderness clo'-e to th}r breast,
Have fled thee ungrateful and left thee to mourn
O’er tliy woes and thy sorrows alone and forlorn.

Hoot awa houlet—thv song on the tree,
Is woe to my soul, and is tears to my e’e,
For my lot may be dark, and like thee I may mourn,
O’er the joys of the past that can never return;
Forsaken by friends and forgotton by foes,
I may sink in the arms of unconcious repose;
May read the last lesson of life’s rugged page,
With no one to soothe in the sorrow of age.

Oh, child of the night, on thy sentinei tree;
Why not take a lesson of patience from thee!
Why pine o’er the blights of ephemeral clay!
Why weep o’er the transient woes of a day!
For tho’ dark be my youth yet my end may be calm,
And the evening of life bathe my sorrows in balm,
And the spirit long pent in its casket of clay,
Spread its pinions aloft, and go smiling away.

“Wedded Love,” “On the Visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada in 1S60” (one hundred and eighty lines), “The Old Maid’s Complaint” and the epistle to Kingston’s bard (Mr. Evan MacColl) are excellent poems on their several subjects, and display true poetic inspiration in their composition. Nor can we omit to refer in the very highest terms to the Doctor’s numerous lyrical pieces. These include “The Willow Tree,” “Aggie’s Tryst,” “Will ye Gang to the Highland Hills,” “Jenny’s Resolve,” “Annie’s Awa,” etc. Had he written nothing else, these alone would have entitled him to a prominent place among living Scottish poets. We quote the last-named piece to show how eminently qualified he is for this style of composition:

ANNIE’S AWA.

There’s wae hearts for Annie; but less that she’s gane,
Than just that we never may see her again;
Frae the hame o’ her childhood, kind neighbors and a’,
And the leal hearts that lo’ed her, she’s far, far awa’:
Oh! Annie’s awa’, kind Annie’s awa’;
We’ll ne’er see anither like Annie awa’.

The tentless wee lammies now toyte o’er the lea,
Wi’ a waesome-like face, and a pityfu’ e’e;
E’en Collie seems lost-like, “ his back’s to the wa’,”
They’ve a’ lost a frien’ in young Annie awa’;
Sweet Annie awa’, kind Annie awa’;
We’ll ne’er see anither like Annie awa’.

The poor little birdies, sae wont to be gay,
Now sit ’mang the branches, a’ sangless and wae;
Nae mair their saft warblings are heard i’ the shaw,
Their wee hearts are burstin’ for Annie awa’:
Young Annie awa’, kind Annie awa’;
We’ll ne’er see anither like Annie awa’.

At kirk, and at bridals, nae mair can we see
The light and the love o’ her bonnie black e’e
But the tear may be seen, o’ hearts broken in twa,
And the calm o’ deep sorrow for Annie awa’.
Young Annie awa’, kind Annie awa’;
We’ll ne’er see anither like Annie awa’.

Ah! life’s blythest morning may darken ere noon,
And the sun o’ it’s simmer gang wearily doon;
The fairest o’ flow’rets be mantled in snaw;
O! Fortune! deal kindly wi’ Annie awa’:
Young Annie awa’, kind Annie awa’;
We’ll ne’er see anither like Annie awa’,

In April, 1866, our poet Doctor was united in marriage to Miss Ada J. Marvyn, niece and adopted daughter of the Rev. James Hughes and wife, of Colborne. She is a woman of good education and fine literary ability. One daughter, now seventeen, and one son, now twelve years of age, remain to them out of a family of five. The daughter, Edith Falconer Massie, seems to inherit her parents’ literary talents, as she was awarded the first prize in 1887 for an original work of fiction offered by the proprietor of the Montreal Witness. And so we leave our author happy in the enjoyment of a comfortable home and a large circle of friends. He is now in possession of that peace and leisure required for the exercising of his poetic gifts, and we look forward with sincere pleasure to the publication of a collection of his poems in book form. He certainly deserves to be successful in such an undertaking, and we have no hesitancy in predicting a favorable reception of his volume at the hands of the public and the press.


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