Kennedy, John (1789-1833) (DNB00)

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KENNEDY, JOHN (1789–1833), Scottish poet, born in Kilmarnock in 1789, was the son of a prosperous handloom weaver. After a sound elementary education under a teacher named Thomson, whom he addresses in a poem, he began work with his father. While at his loom, however, during the day, he had his book conveniently placed for study, and his evenings were occupied with literature or in attending such meetings as those of an ‘essay club,’ to the members of which he inscribes his clever and witty, if somewhat irregular, ‘Thoughts on Horace.’ From 1807 to 1815 he was in the royal Ayrshire militia, serving both in Great Britain and Ireland. Settling again in Kilmarnock he was in frequent collision with the authorities through the vehemence of his political criticisms. At length he qualified himself as a teacher. After a short engagement in Kilmarnock, he was appointed schoolmaster at Chapel Green, near Kilsyth, Stirlingshire, settling there in July 1820 with his young wife, Janet Houston, whom he had married in June. He speedily made a favourable impression as a teacher; while, socially, his frankness of utterance both provoked keen opposition and secured for him much esteem. He died in 1833, leaving a widow and three daughters from a family of six.

Kennedy published in 1826 ‘Fancy's Tour with the Genius of Cruelty, and other Poems.’ In the leading piece he studies ‘what man has made of man,’ drawing upon sacred and profane history from the time of Cain to that of Claverhouse, and producing a series of bold and striking pictures. Several of the other poems are noteworthy: that on Horace for its reminiscences and its critical opinions, while that entitled ‘Andra the Bard’ is practically a defence of Lowland Scotch as a literary instrument. All display native good sense and satirical force rather than poetical grace. Similar characteristics appear in Kennedy's prose romance, ‘Geordie Chalmers, or the Law in Glenbuckie,’ published immediately after his death in 1833. Manifestly based on personal experience, this book is valuable as a vivid, if somewhat caustic, delineation of Scottish rural life as it was early in the century.

[Information from Mrs. Henderson, Kilsyth, Kennedy's eldest daughter, and the Rev. P. Anton, Kilsyth; Contemporaries of Burns.]

T. B.