Struthers, John (DNB00)

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STRUTHERS, JOHN (1776–1853), Scottish poet, son of William Struthers, shoemaker, and his wife, Elizabeth Scott, was born at Longcalderwood, East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, on 18 July 1776. Joanna Baillie and her mother and her sister, then resident at Longcalderwood, were interested in the child, read and played to him, and heard him reading in turn. After acting as cowherd and farm-servant till the age of fifteen, he learned the trade of shoemaking in Glasgow, and settled at Longcalderwood in 1793 to work for Glasgow employers. He married on 24 July 1798, and in 1801 settled in Glasgow, working at his trade till 1819. Reading widely and writing considerably, he soon gained a high literary reputation, and reluctantly abandoned shoemaking to become editorial reader successively for the firms of Khull, Blackie, & Co. and Archibald Fullarton & Co., Glasgow. Through Joanna Baillie, Scott came to know Struthers, who happily depicts his brilliant friend as ‘possessed of a frank and open heart, an unclouded understanding, and a benevolence that embraced the world’ (Struthers, My own Life, p. cii). Scott aided Struthers in negotiations with Constable the publisher (Scott's Life, ii. 175, ed. 1837). In 1833 he was appointed librarian of Stirling's public library, Glasgow (cf. Lockhart, Life of Scott, ii. 177, ed. 1837). He filled this situation for about fifteen years. He died in Glasgow on 30 July 1853.

Struthers was twice married, in 1798 and in 1819, and had families by both wives.

Struthers early printed a small volume of poems, but, straightway repenting, burnt the whole impression, ‘with the exception of a few copies recklessly given into the hands of his acquaintances.’ In 1803 he published ‘Anticipation,’ a vigorous and successful war ode, prompted by rumours of Napoleon's impending invasion. In 1804 appeared the author's most popular poem, ‘The Poor Man's Sabbath,’ of which the fourth edition, with a characteristic preface, was published in 1824. Somewhat digressive and diffuse, the poem is written in fluent Spenserian stanza, and shows an ardent love of nature and rural life, and an enthusiasm for the impressive simplicity of Scottish church services. Soon after appeared ‘The Sabbath, a poem,’ by James Grahame (1765–1811) [q. v.], whom the ‘Dramatic Mirror’ unjustifiably charged with plagiarism from ‘The Poor Man's Sabbath.’ ‘The Peasant's Death,’ 1806, is a realistic and touching pendant to ‘The Poor Man's Sabbath.’ In 1811 appeared ‘The Winter Day,’ a fairly successful delineation of nature's sterner moods, followed in 1814 by ‘Poems, Moral and Religious.’ In 1816 Struthers published anonymously a discriminating and suggestive ‘Essay on the State of the Labouring Poor, with some Hints for its Improvement.’ About the same date he edited, with biographical preface, ‘Selections from the Poems of William Muir.’ A pamphlet entitled ‘Tekel,’ sharply criticising voluntaryism, is another undated product of this time. ‘The Plough,’ 1818, written in Spenserian stanza, is too ambitiously conceived, but has notable idylic passages. In 1819 appeared ‘The Harp of Caledonia’ (3 vols. 18mo), a good collection of Scottish songs, with an appended essay on Scottish song-writers. For this work the editor received aid from Scott, Joanna Baillie, and Mrs. John Hunter. Two years later appeared a similar anthology called ‘The British Minstrel’ (Glasgow, 1821, 2 vols. 12mo). During his career as publishers' reader Struthers annotated a new edition of Wodrow's ‘History of the Church of Scotland,’ and produced in two volumes, in 1827, a ‘History of Scotland from the Union.’ He was engaged on a third volume at his death. In 1836 appeared his fine descriptive poem ‘Dychmont,’ begun in youth and completed in later life. Besides miscellaneous, ecclesiastical, and other pamphlets, Struthers wrote many of the lives in Chambers's ‘Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen,’ and also contributed to the ‘Christian Instructor.’ His collected poems—in two volumes, with a somewhat discursive but valuable autobiography—appeared in 1850 and again in 1854.

[Struthers's My own Life, prefixed to Poems; Lockhart's Life of Scott; Semple's Poems and Songs of Robert Tannahill, p. 383; Gent. Mag. 1852, ii. 318; Chambers's Biogr. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen.]

T. B.