Pollok, Robert, Am
Pollok, Robert, A.M.
the noted author of the Course of Time, a Scotch bard of no mean order, and a minister of the Church, was born at Muirhouse, parish of Eaglesham, south-east of Glasgow, Oct. 19, 1798, of humble parentage. In his youth he worked on his father's farm, but evincing more than ordinary mental strength and love for study, he was encouraged to prepare for college, and was entered in the University of Glasgow in 1812. He graduated five years after, and determined upon the life of the holy ministry, for which he then began his studies at the seminary of the United Sessions Church. He was ready for ordination in 1827, and was in that year licensed to preach. His first public discourse, which was delivered on May 3, 1827, is spoken of as a most brilliant and interesting effort, which, while it evinced a mind of extraordinary power and promise, at the same time gave indications that the Church would too soon be deprived of its service. Such was the fatigue occasioned by this single exertion that he was immediately confined to his bed; and although in a few days he was partially restored, he preached only three times afterwards. Just before he had received his license, Pollok had finished the poem on which his great literary reputation rests, the Course of Time. The object of the poet, whose sentiments are strongly Calvinistic, and whose piety is rather of a gloomy cast, is to describe the spiritual life and destiny of man; and he varies his religious speculations with episodical pictures and narrations to illustrate the effects of virtue or vice. A work so ambitious from the hands of a country student, attached to a small body of Dissenters, was not likely to find a patron among publishers. It happened to be shown to Prof. Wilson, of Edinburgh, as a curiosity; but this great man hesitated not to recognize worth even in a young and unknown student, and the work was by him so heartily commended for its great poetic power that its publication was undertaken by Mr. Blackwood, of Edinburgh. The Course speedily passed through several editions. It was a novelty in the class of evangelical religious literature to which it belonged, and besides pleasing those who are partial to that class of religious literature, it was a boon to many who are inclined to read religious books, but are repelled by their general dryness and insipidity, while it was warmly admired by the literary world at large. Pollok's partial admirers expected for him a place on a level with Milton. After the novelty of such a phenomenon had, however, passed off, the book became neglected by purely literary readers; and at this day it may be said that it is estimated too highly by the religious and perhaps too insignificantly by the literary world. It is certainly a work of great power, however meager in fancy. There are many flashes of original genius which light up the crude and unwieldy design, and atone for the narrow range of thought and knowledge, as well as for the stiff pomposity that pervades the diction. There are in it a few passages which are strikingly and most poetically imaginative, and some of which are beautifully touching. It has also, however, a considerable amount of sentiment deeply tinged with religious asceticism, and whole pages of plain and humble prose. These defects, it should be borne in mind, Pollok would in all probability have removed himself, guided by a more ripened judgment, in a careful revision, had Providence been pleased to prolong his life. His mind was evidently imbued with Paradise Lost, and he follows Milton often to the verge of direct imitation; but even as the work stands it is the undoubted production of a poetic genius, and it will always be read with profit and delight. Before the publication of his poem Pollok had undermined his constitution by excessive mental labor, and he scarcely lived to see its success. On the recommendation and through the assistance of the friends his genius had secured him, he was preparing to set out for Italy, there to stay the inroads of consumptive tendencies; but while on the eve of leaving Britain he was so greatly reduced that he tarried at Devonshire Place, Shirley Common, near Southampton. He there expired on Sept. 18, 1827. Although it was painful at his early age to relinquish all the daydreams of honorable fame which his young imagination had with so good reason been led to form, he acquiesced with unmurmuring submission in the will of God. He enjoyed during his last illness in rich abundance the comforts and hopes of the Gospel, and his death was that of the true Christian, characterized by a calm faith in that religion he had preached, and a cheerful hope in that redemption which had been the theme of his song. The reception which the Course of Time has met with from the public is a sufficient testimony to the talents of its lamented author. His name is now recorded among the list of those illustrious Scotsmen who have done honor to their country; who, from obscurity, have secured for themselves an unfading reputation; and who will be remembered by distant generations with enthusiasm and admiration. His earliest productions- Helen of the Glen, Ralph Gunnell, and the Persecuted Family—were in prose, and were issued anonymously. They have been republished, with his name, in one volume, entitled Tales of the Covenanters, and have passed through several editions. A very inadequate memoir of Robert Pollok, by his brother, with extracts from his correspondence, has been published by Messrs. Blackwood (Edinb. 1842), and there is a short memoir prefixed to the Course of Time. One of the best American editions of this poem is by W. C. Armstrong (Cinc. 1846, 12mo). See Chambers, Cyclop. of English Lit. 2, 412 sq.; id. Biog. Dict. of L'Eminent Scotsmen, 6, 138 sq.