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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By William Motherwell (1797–1835)

THE SHORT life of William Motherwell was involved in much that was uncongenial to his nature and obstructive to his talent; else his sensibility and imagination, and his lyric gift, might have found fuller expression. Several of his Scotch ballads are unexcelled for sweetness and pathos. The reflective poems show exquisite delicacy of feeling. ‘The Battle Flag of Sigurd,’ ‘The Sword Chant of Thorstein Raudi,’ ring with manliness. The collection as a whole shows a wide range of poetic power.

His other noteworthy work, ‘Minstrelsy, Ancient and Modern’ (1827), displays his taste and critical ability. The essay upon ancient minstrelsy with which he prefaced the collection attracted the admiring attention of Sir Walter Scott, and remains an authority upon the subject.

But the gifted Scotchman, who was born in Glasgow in 1797, hid under his outward reserve a sensitively artistic nature, that suffered from contact with the practicalities of life. Much of his childhood was passed in Edinburgh, where he spent happy days roaming about the old town; and where, in Mr. Lennie’s private school, he met the pretty Jeanie Morrison of his famous ballad. He was a dreamy, unstudious lad, with little taste for science or the classics, although passionately fond of imaginative literature.

At fifteen he was placed to study law in the office of the sheriff-clerk of Paisley, where he was made in time deputy sheriff-clerk, and principal clerk of the county of Renfrew. But he was always inclined toward a literary career; and beginning very young to contribute poems and sketches to various periodicals, he gradually drifted into journalism, with which he was still connected at the time of his death in 1835. A man peculiarly alive to outside impressions, he was thus for years subjected to the unpoetic details of editorial work; and this, acting upon his constitutional inertia, made the poetic creation of which he was capable especially difficult.