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The Scottish Nation

MAYNE, JOHN, author of ‘The Siller Gun,’ and other poems, was born in Dumfries, 26th March 1759, and received his education at the Grammar school of that town, under the learned Dr. Chapman, whose memory he has eulogized in the third canto of his principal poem. On leaving school, he was sent at an early age to learn the business of a printer, and was for some time in the office of the Dumfries Journal. He afterwards removed to Glasgow, with his father’s family, who went to reside on a property they had acquired at the head of the Green, near that city. While yet a mere youth, “ere care was born,” he began to court the muses, and he had earned a poetical reputation before the publication of the poems of Burns, who, to a little piece of Mayne’s, entitled ‘Hallow-een,’ is understood to have been indebted for the subject of his inimitable poem under the same name.

In 1777 the original of ‘The Siller Gun’ was written, with the object of describing the celebration of an ancient custom, revived in that year, of shooting for a small silver gun at Dumfries on the king’s birth-day. The poem consisted at first of only twelve stanzas, printed at Dumfries on a small quarto page. It was shortly after extended to two cantos, and then to three, and became so popular that it was several times reprinted. In 1808 it was published in four cantos, with notes and a glossary. Another elegant edition, enlarged to five cantos, was published by subscription in 1836. It exhibits many exquisitely painted scenes and sketches of character, drawn from life, and described with the ease and vigour of a true poet. For some time after its first publication, Mr. Mayne contributed various pieces to Ruddiman’s Weekly Magazine, among the chief of which was his ‘Hallow-een.’ He also exchanged verses in print with Telford, the celebrated engineer, like himself a native of Dumfries, who, in his youth, was much attached to the rustic muse.

While he resided at Glasgow, he passed through a regular term of service with the Messrs. Foulis, the printers, of the Glasgow University press, with whom he remained from 1782 to 1787; on the expiry of which he proceeded to London, where he was for many years the printer, editor, and joint proprietor of the Star evening paper, in which not a few of his beautiful ballads were first published. He also contributed lyrical pieces to various of the Magazines, particularly to the Gentleman’s Magazine, from 1807 to 1817. His only other poem of any length is one of considerable merit, entitled ‘Glasgow,’ illustrated with notes, which appeared in 1803, and has gone through several editions. In the same year he printed ‘English, Scots, and Irishmen,’ a patriotic address to the inhabitants of the united kingdom. He excelled principally in ballad poetry, and his ‘Logan Braes,’ and ‘Helen of Kirkconnell Lea.’ Are inferior to no poems of their kind in the language. In private life Mr. Mayne was very unassuming. Allan Cunningham says of him, that “a better or warmer-hearted man never existed.” He died at London, at an advanced age, March 14, 1836. He left a son. W. H. Mayne, who held an official situation in the India house.

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