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The Modern Scottish Minstrel

The following is from Volume V of The Modern Scottish Minstrel; Or, The Songs of Scotland of the Past Half Century in Six Volumes:

Alexander Smart

Alexander Smart was born at Montrose on the 26th April 1798. His father was a respectable shoemaker in the place. A portion of his school education was conducted under the care of one Norval, a teacher in the Montrose Academy, whose mode of infusing knowledge he has not unjustly satirised in his poem, entitled "Recollections of Auld Lang Syne." Norval was a model among the tyrant pedagogues of the past; and as an illustration of Scottish school life fifty years since, we present our author's reminiscences of the despot. "Gruesome in visage and deformed in body, his mind reflected the grim and tortuous aspects of his person. The recollection of his monstrous cruelties,--his cruel flagellations,--is still unaccountably depressing. One day of horrors I shall never cease to remember. Every Saturday he caused the pupils to repeat a prayer which he had composed for their use; and in hearing which he stood over each with a paper ruler, ready, in the event of omission of word or phrase, to strike down the unfortunate offender, who all the while drooped tremblingly before him. On one of these days of extorted prayer, I was found at fault in my grammar lesson, and the offence was deemed worthy of peculiar castigation. The school was dismissed at the usual time, but, along with a few other boys who were to become witnesses of my punishment and disgrace, I was detained in the class-room, and dragged to the presence of the tyrant. Despite of his every effort, I resisted being bound to the bench, and flogged after the fashion of the times. So the punishment was commuted into 'palmies.' Horrible commutation! Sixty lashes with leather thongs on my right hand, inflicted with all the severity of a tyrant's wrath, made me scream in the anguish of desperation. My pitiless tormentor, unmoved by the sight of my hand sorely lacerated, and swollen to twice its natural size, threatened to cut out my tongue if I continued to complain; and so saying, laid hold on a pair of scissors, and inflicted a deep cut on my lip. The horrors of the day fortunately emancipated me from the further control of the despot."

At another seminary Smart completed his education. He was now apprenticed to a watchmaker in his native town, his hours of leisure being sedulously devoted to the perusal of the more distinguished British poets. It was his delight to repeat his favourite passages in solitary rambles on the sea beach. In 1819, on the completion of his apprenticeship, he proceeded to Edinburgh, where, during a period of six months, he wrought at his trade. But the sedentary life of a watchmaker proving injurious to his health, he was led to seek employment in a printing-office. Soon after, he became editor, printer, and publisher of the Montrose Chronicle, a newspaper which was originated in his native town, but which proved unsuccessful. He thereafter held an appointment in the office of the Dundee Courier. Returning to Edinburgh, he accepted employment as a pressman in a respectable printing-office, and afterwards attained the position of press overseer in one of the most important printing establishments of the city.

In his twentieth year Smart adventured on the composition of verses, but being dissatisfied with his efforts, he consigned them to oblivion. He subsequently renewed his invocation of the Muse, and in 1834 published a small duodecimo volume of poems and songs, entitled "Rambling Rhymes." This publication attracted considerable attention, and secured for the author the personal favour of Lord Jeffrey. He also received the commendation of Thomas Campbell, Charles Dickens, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Charles Mackay, and other literary and poetical celebrities. A new and enlarged edition of his volume appeared in 1845, and was dedicated by permission to Lord Jeffrey.

Smart was one of the principal contributors to "Whistle Binkie." At different periods he has composed excellent prose essays and sketches, some of which have appeared in Hogg's Instructor. Those papers entitled "Burns and his Ancestors," "Leaves from an Autobiography," and "Scenes from the Life of a Sufferer," may be especially enumerated. Of a peculiarly nervous temperament, he has more than once experienced the miseries of mental aberration. Latterly he has completely recovered his health, and living in Edinburgh with his wife and family, he divides his time between the mechanical labours of the printing-office and the more congenial pursuits of literature.


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