Gilfillan, Robert (DNB00)

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GILFILLAN, ROBERT (1798–1850), Scotch poet, was born 7 July 1798 at Dunfermline, and was the son of a master weaver. In 1811, on the removal of the family to Leith, Gilfillan was there apprenticed to a cooper, whom he served, with a somewhat languid interest, for seven years. For three years after 1818 he was a grocer's shopman in Dunfermline, mingling freely with contemporaries interested like himself in literature, and receiving generous appreciation of his growing poetical gift. This time he considered the happiest part of his life. Returning to Leith he was successively clerk to a firm of oil and colour merchants, confidential clerk to a wine merchant, and collector of police rates. This last post he held from 1837 till his death, 4 Dec. 1850. During the same period he was grand bard to the grand lodge of freemasons in Scotland, being in this respect a successor of Burns. Gilfillan never married, and a niece reared under his care kept house for him in his latter years.

Beginning his poetical career in local newspapers while still an apprentice, Gilfillan speedily came to be recognised as a genuine Scottish singer. Favourable references to him in the ‘Noctes Ambrosianæ,’ and especially to his ‘Peter m'Craw,’ a clever humorous satire of 1828, induced him to publish, and he issued a small volume of ‘Original Songs’ in 1831. Two other enlarged editions appeared in his lifetime, and several of his best songs were aptly set to music by Peter m'Leod. Gilfillan contributed in his later years to the ‘Dublin University Magazine’ and the ‘Scotsman,’ and also to the Scottish anthology, ‘Whistle-Binkie.’ After his death a collective edition of his works (1851), with a prefatory biography, was prepared by William Anderson (1805–1866) [q. v.] Besides ‘Peter m'Craw,’ Gilfillan's best songs are his touching ‘Fare thee well’ and his plaintive and melodious emigrant's song, ‘Why left I my Hame?’ which instantly won and retained a wide popularity.

[Anderson's Scottish Nation, and edition of Gilfillan's Poems; Whistle-Binkie; Wilson's Poets and Poetry of Scotland.]

T. B.