Aird, Thomas (DNB00)

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AIRD, THOMAS (1802–1876), Scottish poet, the second son of James Aird and his wife Isabella Paisley, was born 28 Aug. 1802 at Bowden, Roxburghshire. He was educated at the parish school of Bowden, and evinced a striking love of literature and much enthusiasm for boyish sports. In 1816 he was thought by his teachers promising enough to proceed to Edinburgh University. There he made the acquaintance of Thomas Carlyle. While still a student he became private tutor in the family of a Mr. Anderson, farmer, of Crosscleugh, Selkirkshire, where he frequently met James Hogg, the Ettrick shepherd. His friends desired him to enter the church of Scotland, but he preferred to devote himself at Edinburgh to the profession of letters. In 1826 he published his first work, ‘Martzoufle, a tragedy in three acts, with other poems.’ The lines entitled ‘My Mother's Grave’ have much genuine poetic feeling; but the volume did not attract much notice. In the following year he contributed several articles to ‘Blackwood's Magazine,’ and also produced his ‘Religious Characteristics,’ a series of prose essays charged with much religious fervour, which Professor Wilson reviewed, in very laudatory terms, in ‘Blackwood's Magazine’ for June 1827. The critic was soon afterwards introduced to Aird, and proved of great service to him. In 1830 appeared Aird's ‘Captive of Fez,’ a long narrative poem in five cantos. In 1832 James Ballantyne died, and Aird was chosen to succeed him in the editorship of the ‘Edinburgh Weekly Journal;’ but he held the post for only a year. In 1835 he left Edinburgh for Dumfries, to undertake the editorship of the ‘Dumfriesshire and Galloway Herald,’ to which Wilson had recommended him, and he continued in that office for twenty-eight years. He performed his editorial duties with great vigour, ardently supporting the conservative interest in politics and church matters; but he was able to write at the same time a variety of poems, many of which he published in his paper. In 1845 appeared his ‘Old Bachelor in the Scottish Village,’ a prose delineation of Scottish character, with descriptive sketches of the seasons. The book attained great popularity in Scotland, and reached a second edition in 1857. In 1848 Aird prepared for press a collected edition of his poems, which greatly strengthened his reputation. Many of them appealed to the religious instincts of his countrymen, and others showed a weird imagination. But the longer narrative poems lack plot and construction, and are therefore deficient in interest. In 1852 Aird edited, with a memoir, the works of his friend, David Macbeth Moir; but after that date he suffered much ill-health, and his literary efforts were confined to contributions to his newspaper. In 1863 he retired from his post of editor of the ‘Herald;’ but he survived for thirteen years, dying 25 April 1876. He was buried in St. Michael's churchyard, Dumfries.

Aird, who was never married, lived a very simple life, rarely quitting Dumfries, except to visit his brother James at Dundee. His chief recreation he found in taming and tending his birds. Throughout his literary career he had a large number of friends, who always referrred to him in enthusiastic terms. With Carlyle he maintained an intimacy until his death; and so long as Carlyle paid his annual visit to his friends near Dumfries, Aird met him year by year. Carlyle wrote of his poetry, that ‘he found everywhere a healthy breath as of mountain breezes; a native manliness, veracity, and geniality, which … is withal so rare just now as to be doubly and trebly precious.’ Other of Aird's friends were Motherwell, De Quincey, and Lockhart. In 1856 he received a visit from A. P. Stanley, afterwards Dean of Westminster. Aird was a devoted admirer of Burns and Scott. In 1841 he presided at the annual dinner given at Dumfries by the Burns Club, and in 1859 took an active part in organising the celebration of Burns's centenary. In 1871 he presided at Dumfries at the banquet given in honour of the centenary of Sir Walter Scott. Aird's poems reached a fifth edition in 1878, and to that edition the Rev. Jardine Wallace contributed a full memoir of the author.

[Wallace's Memoir prefixed to the fifth edition of Aird's Poems.]

S. L. L.