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Scottish Poets in America
William MacDonald Wood


Though gay as mirth, as curious though sedate;
As elegance polite, as power elate;
Profound as reason, and as justice clear;
Soft as compassion, yet as truth severe.

The Brooklyn Daily Times has enjoyed a prosperous career since it was established in 1848. Its present editor, Mr. William Macdonald Wood, is a native of Edinburgh. He was born in 1847. His father, James Wood, followed the occupation of a printer, and seems to have been possessed of a deeply religious nature, as we learn that, while not an ordained minister, he frequently officiated as a preacher of the gospel in Kirkcaldy. His mother, Susanna Macdonald, was descended from an ancient Highland family. She was a woman of strong intellectual faculties, and our author is said to have inherited many of her distinguished qualities. Mr. Wood, after receiving what in those days was considered an excellent education, began the battle of life on his own account by becoming an apprentice to a publishing firm in his native city. Life, however, in Edinburgh seemed too slow for his ideas. At the age of twenty-one he emigrated to this country, and after travelling somewhat extensively through the South settled in New Orleans. Here he readily obtained employment, and shortly afterward began contributing a series of articles on various subjects to the Edinburgh Review which attracted considerable attention and brought his name prominently before the literary celebrities of the time then domiciled in the Scottish metropolis. He does not seem to have taken kindly to Southern life, however, although one of his friends writes that “the balmy, delicious climate and summer pomp of the South still lingers pleasantly in his memory.” In a few years he came North and took up his residence in Brooklyn. Obtaining a minor position on the Times, his abilities as a journalist were soon recognized, and he was rapidly advanced until at length he was offered and accepted the post of managing editor. Mr. Wood composed verses from his boyhood, and many of his early musings evince considerable talent and skill. Take as a specimen of this:

ACHILLEA MILLEFOLIUM.

Not by the sounding name that science wrote
For thee, fair Yarrow, do I hold thee dear;
Yet that is precious, even as mothers gloat
O’er honors that their darling children wear.

Fair child of summer! with thy thousand leaves
Bordering with living green the dust brown street,
While through the emerald fringe thy blossom weaves,
Thick clustering stars for beauty’s garland meet.

In many a land—beneath the tropic’s blaze,
On Northern hills where snow-fed torrents foam—
Thy flowers have answered back my wearied gaze
And thrilled me with soft memories of home.

And that dear stream, in whose song-honored name
Thou, Yarrow, art baptized and consecrate;
Its steep, birch-shadowed banks remembrance claim
Where rock-throned Newark sits in lonely state.

Oh, fairest stream! Not broader in thy course
Than Bushkill Creek, by amorous willows kissed,
And given to gloom and darkness at the source
By flowerless crags enveiled in tearful mist.

Fond memory hears thy hidden music rise
Through dense wove branches from the deep ravine,
While Newark’s silent towers before me rise
(Not like its Jersey antitype, I ween).

Even there, as here, my wayside blossoms gleam,
Flinging their odors to the hill-born gale,
Drinking their glory of their patron stream,
And giving beauty to the birchen dale.

As in the shell the land-bound sailors hear
The sullen roaring of the distant sea,
So Yarrow’s glen, St. Mary’s lonely mere,
Are pictured, Yarrow, in thy flowers to me.

And if thy flowers, neglected and unsought,
Are crushed beneath the ploughman’s heedless tread
True lover hands shall strew, with tender thought,
Thy blossoms o’er the summer’s dying bed.

As might be expected from one whose abilities have secured for him the responsible position of editor of a daily newspaper, Mr. Wood’s writings prove that he is possessed of highly cultured literary tastes. His poems display marked strength, a fanciful imagination, quiet humor, and keen descriptive powers, while, in addition to these, we find a spirit of true Christian piety hovering over and beautifying the whole of his work. Although the largest number of his pieces are written in the English language, he has given us quite a few which prove that, however cosmopolitan he may have become in his ideas, he still retains a warm place in his heart for his “auld mither tongue” The following lyrical production is a good illustration of this:

OLD AND NEW.

O dinna sing thae jingling sangs
That tempt the graceless feet,
Wi’ solemn words in daft array,
Like guisers on the street;
But to the grand auld measures
That fill the kirks at hame,
Sing the sweet sangs that David sang
To strains that he micht claim.

At least let thae licht sangs be still
On the holy Sabbath day,
Nor thrum sic evil dancin’ rants
When to your God ye pray,
Ill do sic wanton thrains
Become the holy name,
O sound His praise in the grand old strains
That fill the kirks at hame.

O grannie, let the bairnies sing
As fit their lichtsome mood,
Nor let the gloom O Sinai cloud
Their gowan-busket road,
Sweet were the auld kirk amhems,
Where lyait elders knelt; -
Yet thinkna heaven disdain’d to hear
The laverock’s gladsome lilt.

Aft have our torn an’ tempted hearts
Thrill’d to the psalmist’s lyre,
An’ kenned the sins an’ griefs our ain
That did his strains inspire;
But the sangs that pleased the Master,
When this eauld world He trod,
Were the glad hosannas o’ the weans
That hailed Him as their God.

Bethink ye how our faith was wrocht
In persecution’s fires
When on the covenant anvil stern
God fashioned out our sires
The hills that drank their life-bluid
Echo their martyr psalms,
Each misty moor their children till
Their ragged faith embalms.

But they have fa’en on summer days,
Thae slips o’ the auld tree;
Tlio’ covenant bluid is in their veins
Nae covenant fires they dree
Theirs are laucliin’ blossoms,
The fragrant sweet-blown flowers
O’ the faith bedewed wi’ martyr blood
On Scotland’s heathery moors.

Then, grannie, let the bairnies sing
As suits their gleesome mood;
Nor let our Sinai cloud the path
Their God wi’ flowers has strewed.
When David’s waes beset them
 Like us, his psalms they’ll sing;
But let the loud hosannas rise
That hail the children’s king.

Among our author’s various poems we also find a number of what we might term domestic pieces. These are written in simple and choice language, easily understood and long remembered. While they contain some very thoughtful and touching passages, they also possess the rare feature of never soaring into impossibilities. Such a one is “Wedded Love.” It was written many years ago, but it has stood the test of time, and remains one of Mr. Wood’s most admired pieces.

WEDDED LOVE.

Tradition says, when Stradivarius wrought—
The idol of Cremona’s golden days
When Art’s inspired evangels hymned his praise
And as a shrine his dingy workshop sought—

The Master, slowly fashioning piece to piece,
Surveyed with doubt and self-distrustful shame
The unaccorded and untempered frame
Till Time’s acclaim gave to his doubts surcease.

But still he wrought, with patient, tender skill,
Singing his soul into each instrument,
And, as the mellowing seasons came and went,
These, ripening, grew responsive to his will.

For, wedded part to part in union strong,
Veined through with throbbing tides of harmony
The parts forgot their old identity,
Merged in one glorious avalanche of song.

So, wife of mine; returning seasons prove
That year by year our hearts the closer grow,
The old self fades as round our spirits flow
The all suffusing symphonies of love.

Eight years ago, O dearer life of mine!
Alone with God we stood and joined our troth,
Alone, though loving kinsfolk hailed our oath,
No presence felt we, love, save mine and thine.

We loved, as youth and maiden love, when all
Of heaven is essenced in the loved one’s smile,
Nor conscious doubt, nor dream of hidden wile
Bade its dark shadow o’er our nuptial fall.

Yet, looking back across those happy years,
Seemeth not, loved one, fondly as we stood
On that March day, our love unripe and crude,
Waiting the mellowing touch of mingled tears?

Heart grows to heart, and soul to soul,valone
When touched by common joys and common woes,
But self dies hard, and struggles as he goes
Though fading into bliss before unknown.

Our thoughts, 0 wife, are but the thought of one;
Our tears have flowed, our smiles as one flashed forth,
The years but prove to each the other’s worth,
And true love ripens with each rising sun.

Probably the finest of all Mr. Wood’s productions, however, is his poem on the famous Scottish divine, Thomas Guthrie, who died in 1873. The subject afforded him considerable scope for the exercise of his poetical powers, and he certainly made good use of the same. There is not a verse in the poem which could not stand as a true picture of Dr. Guthrie in some phase, and altogether they form, in our judgment, one of the finest eulogies ever pronounced on this noble and God-serving hero.

THOMAS GUTHRIE.

Here is one whom ye may mourn,
A man, whatever title others claim,
This ever shall his name adorn—
In every fibre of his burly frame;
In his broad, vehement speech, ablaze with thought
In every noble work his strong hands wrought,
Staunch, stubborn manhood, fit expression sought.

What was he? this gray-haired man,
Lying so still, though wet with burning tears,
Washed with orphan tears, yet wan—
Scarred with the hurricanes of storm-filled years?
An iron veteran, battle-worn and grim,
Yet love bends over him with soft eyes dim,
And hosts of homeless children weep for him.

He was a prophet of the Lord,
His lips aglow with coal from God’s own altar,
And all the gold of fashion’s horde
Was vain to tempt his steps to swerve or falter
From the steep path alone by duty lighted,
Bravely he went to seek the souls benighted,
Till even his tempters followed him delighted.

A man of wondrous eloquence,
Melting proud schoolmen with his glowing zeal,
And shaping intellect and sense,
As on his forge the workman shapes the steel;
Yet, scorning, like the Galilean Chief, the praise
And costly offerings of the host lie sways
And caring more the outcast poor to raise.

Even as his wandering Master took
Lepers and thieves and others in His care,
Unheeding Pharisee's rebuke,
So Guthrie trod dark alley and vile stair,
And vice shrank withered from his words of fire,
And men, uplifted, shunned the drunkard’s mire,
And the neglected children found a sire.

Honor to Thomas Guthrie’s namel
His hearty voice is heard no more on earth,
But we are richer with his fame,
And heaven is richer with his love and mirth.
Write on his tomb that Scotland never gave
To earth a man more noble, kindly, brave,
Than this who rests from toil in Gulhrie’s grave.

Among the other notable poems of .this talented Scottish poet we might mention “My Joy is Taken,” “The Gaelic Race,” “The Children’s Festival,” and his much admired tribute to the genius of John Howard Payne, the author of that imperishable lyric, “ Home, Sweet, Home.” One of his most cherished aspirations is the desire to compose a set of words to the air of Yankee Doodle, as he considers that by its audacious aggressive unconventional measure, this air constitutes itself the true American national anthem. He has “tried his hand,” as he says, on this once or twice, with more or less success. The following will give an idea of his work in this direction:

Hail, O Fatherland, to thee!
Hail, thou restless giant!
Marching on from sea to sea,
Strong and self-reliant.
Laurelled with a hundred years
Whence no shames assail thee,
Proudly still with songs and cheers
We, thy children, hail thee.

With a thousand tongues we come
In one anthem blended;
Faction’s feeble voice is dumb,
Ancient feuds are ended.
Gothic force and Gaelic fire
Mingling here unhindered;
One and all we hail thee, sire,
Clasping hands of kindred.

Hail to thee, America!
Lift thy banner stainless;
Land of freedom, land of law,
Kingless land and chainless.
Lo! the nations far that bear
Brand of fetters feudal,
Lift their hearts in hope to hear
The song of Yankee Doodle.

Mr. Wood commands the respect of a very large circle of literary and other friends. In his pleasant home at Manhasset, L. I., the surroundings of which he likens to “a region transplanted from the Lothian uplands,” he lives at peace with the world, and serene and happy in the midst of his family and his books. Mr. Thomas C. Latto writes that “under a very gentle exterior there is a true manliness, a tender feeling, a warm love of country, native and adopted, and a genial wit and humor that would hardly be suspected by those who do not know him thoroughly.” He has never ventured on the publication of a volume, but it would afford his numerous friends a sincere pleasure were they to see the announcement made that he was about to issue a collection of his poems in book form.


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