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Scottish Poets in America
Patterson, John

We live in deeds, not years—in thoughts, not breaths—
In feelings, not in figures on a dial;
We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives
Who thinks most—feels the noblest—acts the best.

Mr. John Patterson, the subject of our present sketch, is the author of a number of beautiful poems and lyrical pieces. While he is by no means a voluminous writer of poetry, nor makes any claim to the title of poet, yet the various effusions which he has published from time to time prove him to be possessed of fine intellectual qualities and true poetic gifts. His muse is simple but melodious, full of feeling, pure in expression and deeply imbued with piety and a love for all that is noble and good. Mr. Patterson was born at Inverness in 1831. His father was a seafaring man, and his ancestors had followed the same occupation for many generations. The family consisted of four sons and three daughters, all of whom were early sent to school and received a good common English education. On completing their studies the sons were apprenticed to useful trades, the one selected for our author being that of a compositor or printer. He had no particular liking for this trade at the time, but he applied himself diligently to master it, and before the term of his apprenticeship had expired was complimented on his being a skilful and competent workman. At the age of twenty-two, and with a view of bettering his condition in life, he left Inverness and proceeded to Glasgow, where he took passage for New York. “I left Glasgow,” he writes, “in the autumn of 1853, and after a passage of sixty-six days, in an old packet-ship, with about two hundred others, arrived at Staten Island. During the voyage typhoid fever broke out among the passengers, several of whom died and were buried at sea. About a week before we landed I was stricken with it, and on our arrival had to be taken to Quarantine Hospital, which was then on Staten Island, and where I remained for two months.” On his recovery he readily obtained employment at his trade, and has been in comfortable circumstances ever since. Prosperity, however, never obliterated or dimmed the recollection of his boyhood’s Highland home, and after an absence of nearly twenty years in this country, he composed the following lines in connection with it:


Sweet home of my youth, near the murmuring rills
That are nursed in the laps of the North Scottish hills,
Ere the gray streaks of morning the songster arouse
From his leaf-curtained cot to his matinal vows,
My thoughts cling to thee, and lovingly press,
Sweet home of my youth, on the banks of the Ness.

When the gay king of light doffs his gladdening crown,
And mantles the land with his evening frown;
When night’s sombre cov’ring the earth’s overlaid,
And nature is mourning the day that is dead,
Then lov’d thoughts of thee do I fondly caress,
Sweet home of my youth, on the banks of the Ness.

Though thy little flower-garden twice ten times has lost
Its bright summer garb since thy threshold I’ve cross’d;
Though Atlantic’s wide waters our fortunes divide;
Still, not time nor space from my memory can hide
Or dampen the love I am proud to confess
For the home of my youth, on the banks of the Ness.

These lines were given a prominent place in the columns of the New York Scotsman, and commanded considerable attention from the readers of that paper. In 1856 Mr. Patterson was united in marriage to Miss Mary Gertrude Treanor, an amiable and intelligent young lady who crowned his life with happiness and comfort for eighteen years. She died in 1874, leaving him with a family of six children, three sons and three daughters. How deeply he mourned her loss may be surmised from the tender sentiments expressed in his poem, “ Fireside Reflections,” and from the fact that he has remained faithful to her memory ever since:


Hopes are crushed and hearts are breaking
Every day and every hour;
Prospects blighted—joys forsaking
Those who knew their vital power.

Vacant chairs around the table—
(Household gravestones grim and cold)—
Tell that death in garments sable,
Entered homes that bloomed of old,

And stole away the sweetest flower
In the family bouquet's vase;
Our kind Father’s priceless dower—
The jewel with the brightest rays.

Tones familiar hushed forever;
Form beloved absent here;
But on Mem’ry's mirror ever,
Ever present, ever near—

Near where mildewed hearts are sinking,
Whisp’ring words of hope and love:
If you’d be joys eternal drinking,
Seek them only from above.

Another little poem composed about this time and entitled “To a Dead Pet Canary Bird,” also displays the tender and sympathetic feelings possessed by our author. The little songster had been for many years a special favorite with Mrs. Patterson, and its death awakened many sad memories in the grief-stricken household:


Alas! poor thing,
No more thou’lt fling
To space or time thy notes away;
Thy song, so sweet,
Shall never greet
Expectant ears the livelong day.

When I was sad,
To make me glad,
(A notion wove on Fancy’s loom),
Thy siren voice,
With trills so choice,
Would help dispel the damp’ning gloom.

But deeper cause
Than sensual laws
Endear’d to me that form of thine;
Thou loved that one,
Now dead and gone,
Whose life was long entwined with mine.

Her winning words
E’en little birds
Could never hear and timid be;
No covert net
Their footsteps met
When they alighted on her knee.

Prompt at her call
Thou’d forfeit all
The comforts of thy wire-bound land;
And food and drink
Seem’d best, I think,
To thee when taken from her hand.

Alas! alas!
All pleasures pass,
All earthly joys must have an end;
On Death’s long scroll
All names enroll;
Man, beast, and bird all there are penn’d.

Each of our author’s sons now occupies a position of trust in New York city. His eldest daughter, Mary Gertrude, acts as housekeeper, while the second one, Isabella Forbes, being a graduate of the Normal College of the class of 1884, is a teacher in one of the public schools of this city, and the third one, Catherine, having a particular taste for music, has acquired considerable success as a teacher of the piano-forte. Many of Mr. Patterson’s musings are of a religious character and prove that he received a very careful religious training in his youth. As a specimen of these pieces we quote:


God help the poor! when sleet and snow
Around their dwellings fold
Their cheerless garb, and rough winds blow
Into their homes so cold.

God help the poorl when children cry
For bread and there is none;
Oh! listen to their hungry sigh
And hear their feeble moan.

God help the poor! with hunger press’d,
When Want’s repeated knocks
The bolted door of the wealth-caress’d
With haughty silence mocks.

God help the poor! whose naked feet
Pursue their weary tread
Throughout the cold and dreary street
In quest of daily bread.

God help the poor of every land,
Of every sect and clime;
Supply, Lord, with Thy loving hand,
Their wants from time to time.

God help the poor! for Thou art kind,
Thy love doth never end;
In Thee, oh Lord, they’ll always find
An ever-faithful friend.

There are few more patriotic American citizens than our present author, and yet he has a warm heart for everything pertaining to Scotland. He has been an active member of the New York Caledonian Club for over twenty years, and in addition to this he contributes occasional letters and poems to the home papers, thus keeping up his connection and his interest in the welfare of the fatherland. In his poem entitled “ Dreaming,” he says:

The love of a Scot for the land of his birth
Is not like a skiff that’s upset by a squall;
’Tis like the stanch ship that sails ’round the earth,
And sets at defiance the Storm King’s thrall.

’Tis a well-spring of joy in far-away lands;
A bright ray of hope in a cycle of gloom;
A pyramid firm ’mid life’s shifting sands;
’Mong affection’s green leaves a rose-bush in bloom.

“Dreaming” is one of the longest, and, in our opinion, the finest of all Mr. Patterson’s productions. Taken altogether it is an excellent poem, containing numerous fine passages and many pleasing pictures of home. It was first published in the New York Scotsman, and is dedicated, “To George Gilluly, Esq., President of the Greenpoint (L. I.) Burns Club, a townsman and school fellow of the author, as a token and manifestation of the uniform friendship that has always existed between them.”

The cruelties inflicted by the late evictions throughout the Highlands of Scotland have not escaped the notice of Mr. Patterson. “I was brought up,” he writes, “at my mother’s knee to believe that God was just, that all men were equal in His sight, and that He made the earth for the children of men.” He was greatly incensed some time since on reading the following extract from a lecture on the “Leck-melm Evictions ” by the Rev. Mr. McMillan, Free Church minister of Ullapool: “ To strike terror into their hearts, first of all two houses were pulled down, I might say, about the ears of their respective occupants, without any warning whatever, except one of the shortest kind. The first was occupied by a deaf pauper woman, about middle life, living alone for years in a bothy of her own, apart from the other houses altogether. * * * Act the second is this: Mrs. Campbell was a widow with two children. After the decease of her husband she tried to support herself by serving in families as a servant. * * * She returned to Leckmelm in failing health. Her father had died since she left, and the house in which he lived and died, and in which in all likelihood he reared his family, was now ten-antless. Here widow Campbell turned aside for a while, until something else would, in kind providence, turnup. But the inexorable edict had gone forth to erase her habitation from the ground. Her house was pulled down about her ears.” This latter incident formed the subject of one of our author’s most touching poems:


Wild cries of distress from the Highlands are ringing
In the ears of humanity, plaintive but shrill;
As their echoes resound, in despair they are bringing
To the warm heart of manhood a blood-chilling thrill.
A widow, in anguish, her dire case is pleading—
Her weak knees impressing the frost-bitten moss;
But no look of pity, he listens, unheeding—
The Laird of Leckmelm, in the county of Ross.

"To let me remain in the home of my fathers,
Is all that I ask in the land of my birth;
And I’ll save from the pence my industry gathers
Enough for the rental you think it is worth.
Then change your decree, and I’ll bless you forever,
And your kindness for aye on my heart will engross—”
Her words might have softened his blood-hound, but never
The Laird of Leckmelm, in the county of Ross.

‘’Look there!”—to the churchyard she pointed a finger—
"It’s there where my husband, my Donald, is laid,
And oft, while the shadows of evening linger,
There mourning I sit by his grass-covered bed.
Oh, then, from his grave causc me not to be parted;
To be near him, though dead, slightly deadens my loss.”
All who heard were in tears but that stony-hearted
Rich Laird of Leckmelm, in the county of Ross.

“ Oh, stop for a minute! there’s one plea remaining—
If that is unheeded, no more will I say—
My children! my children!—my courage is gaining—
My fatherless children you’ll not drive away.
Your features bespeak that your heart has relented;
Oil, thanks be to Him who lias died on tlie cross.”
“ My fiat is published, nor have I repented,”
Hiss’d the Laird of Leckmelm, in the county of Ross.

As a specimen of Mr. Patterson’s intimate acquaintance with the Doric and the appropriate manner in which he makes use of it, we quote a few verses from his “Auld Rabbie Hard:”

There lived ae man in oor guid toon
Wham I, a ’cute, auld-farrant loon,
Observit weel,
Whase creed an’ deed were wide asunder,
An’ are, nae doot, ’less Death did hinder,
Divergent still.

This man was rich in warldly good,
An’ he amang his cronies stood
In estimation;
For base-born churls roun’ rich folks bum,
As bees roun’ hawthorn blossoms hum,
In ev’ry nation.

Gie me the frien’ that’s nae amiss,
When Fortune taks her fareweel kiss
An’ coorts anither;
That frien’ to me will aye be dear,
Tho’ life’s wee day be dark or clear,
Aye dear as brither.

The carl was ca’d Auld Rabbie Hard,
Which was nae joke, if we regard
His miser habits;
But when a wean—years lang gane hame—
The parson to him gied the name—
Robert Grabbits.

* * * *

When Rabbie up life’s brae did lair,
An’ on the way twal milestanes mair
Had left behind,
He found himsel’ a thrifty miller,
Wi’ walie pouches fill’d wi’ siller—
An’ mair to grind.

Siller, siller, was a* he socht,
An’ when he got it, a’ his thocht
Was then to haud it;
His hainin’, hairtless, selfish life,
E’en if I were the miser’s wife,
I couldna laud it.

Robert Waters, Esq., Principal of the West Hoboken public school, writes: “I made the acquaintance of Mr. John Patterson while I was yet a lad working, like himself, at ‘the case ’ in a New York printing office, and, strange enough to me, he has remained all these years at the same business, while I have wandered away from the craft, running over various foreign countries and striking out into an entirely different sphere of life. * * * I never suspected him of dabbling in poetry until one day, while visiting him at his house, he said to me, ‘ What do you think of this? here are some rhymes which I have been stringing together,’ and he read to me a poem written in the Scottish dialect, which I remember as strongly reminding me of Burns, both in manner and spirit, and which was so good that it at once gave me a higher opinion of the man. The poem showed me that he had some talent in the rhyming line, so I advised him to study and try to bring to bear whatever power lay in him. What strikes me as a prominent trait of the man is his over humble estimate of his own abilities, which is the reason that he has always filled so humble a position in the world. But in this I am perhaps wrong, for what position in the world is, in reality, superior to that of an American workman? * * But if he has not been active in advancing his own interests he has not been backward in furthering those of others. I recollect it was he that first set me agoing in a literary or lecturing way, for when I returned from Europe he induced me to give an account of my wanderings to the Caledonians in the New York Caledonian club-house, and I well remember his glee and kindly greeting after my half successful performance was done. John Patterson has an open hand and a waim heart to every Scotsman that comes in his way, and I am only afraid that his generous hospitality and brotherly kindness are not always appreciated as they ought to be.”

Among Mr. Patterson’s published poems not already referred to, “My Native Land,” “Lines on First-footing Mr. Donald Grant,” “Santa Claus,” “The Coming Morrow” and “Christmas is Coming,” are well worthy of special notice. He has also numerous pieces in manuscript, and we trust that he will continue to exercise his talents until he produces something that will entitle him to a prominent place among modern Scottish poets.

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