« PreviousContinue »
Memoir of James Montgomery.
Before Montgomery had attained his tenth year, he exhibited his inclination for poetry. The peculiar opinions and discipline of the Moravians were calculated to cherish his propensity
THE little port of Irvine in the county of Ayr-own faith. His instruction was, however, carefully shire, North Britain, was the place where JAMES attended to, and he was taught assiduously the MONTGOMERY first saw the day. He was born on Greek, Latin, French, and German languages, the 4th of November, 1771. His father was one independently of the common and inferior acof that singular and exemplary body of Christians quirements deemed necessary to pupils in every denominated Moravians, a sect by no means nu- station of life. merous in Great Britain, and least of all in Scotland: the religious tenets with which the subject of the present memoir was thus impressed in his earliest youth, have tinged his writings, and been reflected in his subsequent conduct through life. for the Muse. The monotony of his life, the He did not long remain in his native town, for, well-nigh cloistered seclusion of the scholars, and at four years of age, his father took him over the system which inculcated the doctrines of the to Ireland, his parents having fixed their resi- brethren, nurtured that sombre and melancholy dence at Gracehill in the county of Antrim. He bias which is always inherent in the poetical sojourned, however, but a short time in Ireland, temperament. The indulgence of the imagination for his father, most probably with the view of under such circumstances tends to render the affording him the benefits either of a better edu- mind exquisitely susceptible of external imprescation, or one more consistent with his own re- sions. The love of Jesus Christ, to which every ligious tenets, sent him to England, and he was instruction of the Moravian brethren directs placed at a Moravian seminary at Fulnick in the mind of the pupil, and which is the chief Yorkshire, where he remained ten years. awakener of their feelings, they making the
Soon after the establishment of Montgomery at second Person of the Trinity the object of broFulnick, his father and mother left Ireland for the therly affection as well as of adoration, was a West Indies. The elder Montgomery had under-captivating theme for the young poet. The hymns taken the duty of a missionary to instruct the of the Moravians were the seducers of Montnegroes in the doctrines of Christianity. Both gomery into the flowery paths of poesy. Religious father and mother fell victims to that pestilential aspirations, the tender affection, the beauty of climate, the one in Barbadoes, and the other in holiness, kindled the love of sacred song in his Tobago. To their fate it is the poet so beautifully callow bosom. A little volume was soon filled alludes when he writeswith the effusions of his young imagination, and first developed that genius to which the virtuous part of mankind have since not hesitated to do the justice it merits. He knew nothing at this time of the English poets, for they were carefully kept out of sight by his instructors, lest some dangerous passage should give a pruriency for unhallowed and contagious principles. The little
Montgomery was not the only offspring thus left to the wide world; his parents had two other children, who were, it is said, placed under the volume was therefore wholly his own. The father guardianship of the benevolent body of Christians of one of the boys had sent a volume of selected to which their parents had belonged. During poems from Milton, Thomson, and Young, to the time the subject of the present memoir was his son, yet, though the choicest and most moral at Fulnick, he was carefully excluded from the passages only were selected, it was clipt and world. The institutions of the Moravian brethren mangled by the good brethren before it was deare almost monastically rigid. For ten years that livered to its owner. The natural consequence he was in this seminary, he scarcely saw or con- ensued,-Montgomery clandestinely borrowed versed with any individual who was not of their books, and read them by stealth.
My father-mother-parents, are no more!
Beneath the Lion star they sleep
And when the sun's noon glory crests the waves,
The usual result followed. The world had ap peared a fairy picture in his imagination, but it
At fourteen years of age, besides two manu- icile, to plunge into that paradise of honor and script volumes of his verses, he had composed a fame which fancy had so gorgeously depicted. mock-heroic poem of a thousand lines, in three He was not an articled apprentice, and therefore cantos: it was an imitation of "The Frogs and he violated no contract by his elopement. He Mice" of Homer. From his companions and was at this time but sixteen years of age, and thus friends he received praises which excited him to young he cast himself upon fortune, a wild and fresh exertions. He planned several epic poems, inexperienced adventurer. for nothing short of an epic would satisfy his craving desire for literary fame, till after much of resolve and re-resolve, he began one under proved in reality to be just what it is, a region the title of "Alfred the Great." Of this poem he of struggles and disappointments. On the fourth completed two books; the boldness of the attempt day after his departure from Fulnick, he found seems to have alarmed the good fathers of the himself obliged to enter into a situation similar Fulnick academy. Such a flight by a youth des- to that which he had held but a short time pre. tined for the study of divinity (the profession viously, at a place called Wash. From thence which they had in prospect for their pupil being he wrote to his late employer and demanded a that of a minister), was by no means suitable to character, for he had hitherto preserved his their ideas of the fitness of things. The young own without the slightest moral taint. The maspoet panted for the great world, to live among ter consulted his Moravian friends, who respectand study mankind; the brethren strove to stifle ed the virtues and talents of Montgomery, and these desires, and to lead back the erring ima- agreed to give him any character necessary, but gination of their pupil to serious realities, and desired that he might be invited to return to devotional resignation. The world to him was them. The worthy man set off accordingly, and yet a pure mystery, while his longing desire to met Montgomery in an inn-yard, on his arrival mingle in it no discipline could repress. His at Wash, and they rushed at once by a sort of health became affected in the contest. The irre- kindred sympathy into each other's arms. It sistible promptings of genius, however, were was in vain, however, that the master invited ultimately triumphant. The Moravian brethren, his late pupil to return, by the most flattering finding they could not succeed in recalling him offers of profit; the young poet resisted them to the line of conduct and study which they all. The benefactor was not the less kind. He deemed proper for a minister of their persuasion, supplied his wants; sent him the clothes and and seeing that an opposite desire was fixing it-property he had left in his possession, and gave self deeper and deeper in his heart, had the good him a testimonial of his esteem in a written sense to give up their object, and to place him document to exhibit when required. In his new in trade with a brother believer, who was in situation he remained about a year, during which business at Mirfield, near Wakefield, in the same period he punctually fulfilled the duties of his county. station; but nursed at the same time the somMontgomery thus affords another instance of bre character which his peculiar religious educathe triumph of genius over almost insuperable tion, and the bent of his genius, both contributed obstacles. Nature awoke in his bosom those to encourage.
mysterious impulses which have been developed Mr. Harrison, a bookseller of Paternoster-row, in many other minds similarly constituted-in having received a volume of his poems in manumany other master spirits, which have made script, before ho quitted Wash for London, took to themselves immortal names in all ages and him on his arrival into his employ, and recomcountries, breaking the gloom in which the acci-mended him to cultivate his talents, which in dents of birth and fortune may have placed time, he told him, he had no doubt would render them, and becoming shining lights to the world. him distinguished. The toil of a bookseller's In his new situation, little congenial to an aspiring clerk, in the dingy purlieus of the Row, was a mind, Montgomery continued but a year. He complete cure for Montgomery's delusion re had formed in his imagination the most elevated specting the great world, its glorious honors, and erroneous ideas of the great world; he saw and all its bright dreams of immortality. Having it in perspective, all glorious and honorable; he in vain endeavored to induce a bookseller to panted to be distinguished among men; and full treat with him for a prose tale, he left Mr. Harof the delusions of youth in this respect, in which rison's employ at the end of eight months, and we are all more or less prone to indulge in the returned into Yorkshire to the situation he had morning of life, he penned a letter to his master, previously held. It is no slight proof of Montand with a few clothes and three shillings and gomery's excellent character and disposition, that sixpence in money in his pocket, he left his dom- he won the affection of his employers succes
sively, who all treated him like a son. So strong quitted England, was unluckily published from was the attachment of his master at Wash, his office. It was written by a clergyman to that even in the future troubles of the poet's commemorate the destruction of the Bastile in life he supported him, not merely with empty 1789, and was sung openly at Belfast in 1792. consolation, but with more solid and substantial The war broke out nine months after it was writaid. The master sought out his former servant ten, and half the newspapers in the kingdom when he was on the point of being tried in a had printed it; yet the unlucky ballad-singer, at court of law for libel, and comforted and con- whose suggestion it was carried to the press to soled him. strike off a few copies, was arrested selling them at Wakefield, became evidence against the printer, and in 1795 Montgomery was found "guilty of publishing." This would not do for the ser
The bent of Montgomery's mind was still towards literature. A newspaper which had been very popular, published at Sheffield by a Mr. Gales, had received many of the young poet's vile judges, who made the jury re-consider their contributions. This paper was called the "Shef- verdict, and, after an hour's hesitation, they field Register." It does not appear that Mont- brought in a verdict of guilty. Montgomery gomery contributed any political writing to its was fined twenty pounds, and imprisoned for pages, his communications being chiefly poetical; three months in the Castle of York. As always but he assisted Mr. Gales in his occupation, and happens in a country like England, when freedom removed to Sheffield for that purpose in 1792. of mind is interfered with, the sufferer is borne In the following year Montgomery was assailed above persecution by those honest sympathizing by illness, during which he was nursed, and spirits that step forward to his support. Montgomost kindly treated, in the family of Mr. Gales, mery found his newspaper and business carefully having been, as usual, successful in winning the superintended by a friend, and he was welcomed sympathies of those around him. It was not from prison as the victim of an unjust sentence. long after this that a political prosecution was in- On his deliverance from his incarceration, he stituted against the proprietor of the "Sheffield resumed his professional labors, and avoided Register," and Mr. Gales left England to avoid a every extreme in politics. He printed numerous prosecution. At that time the quailing cause of essays in his paper, under different heads; some arbitrary authority, and divine political right, was humorous, others serious, but all agreeable and making its last struggles against freedom and entertaining. These essays were published in a common sense. Libels were sought for, and pros-volume, long out of print, and now not easily ecuted with rigor, and not even the most cau- attainable. tious individual of honest principles could be When the emissaries of the law lie in wait deemed safe from attack. Montgomery, on the to entangle a victim, they never fail to discover departure of Mr. Gales, being assisted by a friend, some charge, that may be twisted to bear them became the publisher of the newspaper himself; out in their object. Montgomery had scarcely the name of which he changed to that of the resumed his duties, when two men were killed "Iris." It was now conducted with less party in a riot in the streets of Sheffield by the solviolence than before, while a greater variety of diery. He gave a narrative of the circumstances, miscellaneous matter was to be found in its col- correct enough, there is no doubt; but a volunums. The cause supported by Montgomery was teer officer, who was also a magistrate, feeling always that of political independence, humanity, his dignity or honor hurt by the statement, and freedom. The tone of his paper was ex-preferred a bill of indictment for libel against ceedingly temperate, but firm: indeed it was so the printer. It was tried at Doncaster in January moderate as to give offence to all violent party 1796. The defence made justified the truth of men who dealt in extremes, and imagined the the statement on very satisfactory testimony; cause of liberty could only be supported by but in vain-Montgomery was found guilty, and noisy declamation. In his newspaper he had a sentenced to six months' imprisonment and a series of articles inserted under the title of "The fine of thirty pounds. It is remarkable, that Enthusiast," which attracted particular attention before the death of the individual who was the from being pictures of his own mind. There were cause of this prosecution, he seemed conscious other articles which drew much notice, from the of the injustice he had done Montgomery, by impress of genius they exhibited. treating him with sedulous attention after the Notwithstanding the moderation of our poet-expiration of his term of imprisonment; and editor, it was not long before the fangs of the har- once, when presiding in a court of justice, callpies of the law were upon him. A song written ing him from among the crowd to sit by his and prepared for publication before Mr. Gales side on the bench, that he might be kept from