Gray, David (DNB00)

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GRAY, DAVID (1838–1861), Scotch poet, was born on 29 Jan. 1838 at Merkland, Kirkintilloch, Dumbartonshire. He was the eldest of eight, his father being a hand-loom weaver. After leaving the parish school, he became a pupil-teacher in Glasgow, and managed to give himself a university career. His parents wished him to be a Free church minister, but he became a contributor to the poet's corner of the ‘Glasgow Citizen,’ and resolved to devote himself to literature. He made various metrical experiments—some of them in the manner of Keats, and one after the dramatic method of Shakespeare—and then settled to the composition of his idyllic poem, ‘The Luggie,’ named after the stream flowing past his birthplace. An expression of friendly interest in his work by Monckton Milnes (afterwards Lord Houghton) induced Gray to go to London in May 1860. Milnes strongly urged his return to Scotland and his profession, but, finding Gray resolved on staying, gave him some light literary work. Soon his health became troublesome, and a severe cold (probably contracted in Hyde Park, where he spent his first London night) gradually settled on his lungs. After revisiting Scotland, he went south again for the milder climate, sojourning first at Richmond, and then (through the intervention of Milnes) in the hospital at Torquay. Finding his health no better, and becoming hysterically nervous, he determined on going home at all hazards, and he returned finally to Merkland, January 1861. Lingering through that year, he wrote a series of sonnets, with the general title ‘In the Shadows.’ He died on 3 Dec. 1861, having the previous day been gladdened through seeing a proof of a page of ‘The Luggie,’ which was at length being printed. His friend, Mr. Robert Buchanan, who shared in his London hardships, tells his brief, pathetic story in ‘David Gray and other Essays,’ and worthily embalms their friendship in ‘Poet Andrew’ and ‘To David in Heaven.’ Another friend with whom Gray corresponded much, and whose exertions led to the publication of his poems, was Sydney Dobell. Lord Houghton's interest in Gray was generous and practical to the last, and he wrote the epitaph for his monument erected by friends in 1865 over his grave in Kirkintilloch churchyard.

‘The Luggie,’ with its sense of natural beauty, and its promise of didactic and descriptive power, constitutes Gray's chief claim as a poet, but his sonnets are remarkable in substance, and several of them are felicitous in structure and expression. ‘The Luggie and other Poems’ by Gray first appeared in 1862, with a memoir by Dr. Hedderwick of the ‘Glasgow Citizen,’ and a valuable prefatory notice by Lord Houghton. An enlarged edition was published in 1874, but unfortunately the editor, Henry Glassford Bell [q. v.], died before writing his projected introduction to the volume. An appendix contains the speech he delivered at the unveiling of Gray's monument.

[Gray's Works, as above; R. Buchanan's David Gray and other Essays; Wilson's Poets and Poetry of Scotland.]

T. B.