This blog post is about Thomas Aird, the poet and journalist, who was the first cousin of my maternal 4 x great-grandfather James Tullie.
Thomas was born in Bowden, Roxburghshire in August 1802 to James Aird and Isabella Paisley. I’ve been unable to find Thomas in the 1841 census. In the 1851 census Thomas was a newspaper editor living at Irish Street, Dumfries, in 1861 Thomas was still a newspaper editor now living at Mountainhall, Dumfries and in 1871 Thomas was retired and living at Castlebank, Dumfries. Thomas died in April 1876 at Castlebank, Dumfries from Bright’s disease (ie kidney disease), dropsy (ie fluid retention) and diarrhoea and was buried in St Michael’s church-yard in Dumfries. Thomas Aird never married.
This is Thomas:
Thomas was initially educated in the parish schools in Bowden and Melrose where his love of books was noticed when he took books to his teachers and when he also started a library of books in Bowden. He wasn’t just a bookworm when young though, he also excelled in all outdoor sports when he was young which he believed brought him ill-health in the form of varicose veins and rheumatic pains when he was older. The parish school teachers recognised Thomas’ potential – he attended Edinburgh University from 1816 and was to live in Edinburgh for nearly twenty years.
In his poetry he looked back on his time around Bowden with great fondness:
‘Oh to be a boy once more,
Curly-headed, sitting singing
Midst a thousand flowerets springing,
In the sunny days of yore,
In the sunny world remote,
With feelings opening in their dew,
And fairy wonders ever new,
And all the budding quicks of thought!
Oh to be a boy, yet be
From all my early follies free!
But were I skilled in prudent lore,
The boy were then a boy no more.’
Thomas’ parents both died at the age of 86 having been married for 60 years and this scene penned by Thomas in ‘Old Bachelor in the Scottish Village’ describes the domestic scene at his father’s home:
‘To see the old men, on a bright evening of the still Sabbath, in their light-blue coats and broad-striped waistcoats, sitting in their southern gardens on the low beds of chamomile, with the Bible in their hands, their old eyes filled with mild seriousness, blent with the sunlight of the sweet summer-tide, is one of the most pleasing pictures of human life. And many a time with profound awe have I seen the peace of their cottages within, and the solemn reverence of old and young, when some grey-haired patriarch has gathered himself up in his bed, and, ere he died, blessed his children.”
During Thomas’ education and afterwards he made many literary friends: whilst tutoring for a family in Crosscleugh, Selkirkshire Thomas met James Hogg ‘The Etrrick Shepherd’, the Scottish poet and novelist, at university Thomas met John Wilson of Elleray, the Scottish advocate, literary critic and author, and Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish historian, writer and philosopher. and after university Thomas developed friendships with Thomas Penson De Quincey, the English writer, essayist and literary critic, John Gibson Lockhart, the Scottish writer and editor, Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, the English Anglican priest and ecclesiastical historian, and William Motherwell, the Scottish poet, antiquary and journalist.
Professionally, his relatives tried persuading Thomas to become a Church of Scotland minister but instead Thomas edited newspapers whilst writing and publishing his poetry separately. Thomas edited the Edinburgh Weekly Journal from 1832 to 1833 and then edited the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Herald from 1835 until 1863.
Thomas published poetry and writings are as follows:
1826 – Martzoufle, a tragedy in three acts
1827 – several articles published in ‘Blackwood’s Magazine’ and Religious Characteristics published, a series of essays (topics were: Worldly-Mindedness, Indecision, Pride of Intellect, Antipathy, Christian Principles, The Attainment of Christian Principles, Charity of Education Enforced, Need of Earliest Christian Education, Man’s Intellectual Character, Habits of Intellectual and Moral Power, Application of Knowledge and General Instruction, First Points of Christian Discipline, Christian Discipline Continued and General Christian Education – Millennial Hopes)
1830 – Captive of Fez, a long narrative poem in 5 cantos
1840 – A Mother’s Blessing, a dramatic poem
1840 – Outhuriel, and other poems
1845 – Old Bachelor in the Scottish Village, a prose description of Scottish character
1848 – a collated edition of Thomas’s poems
1852 – Thomas edited a memoir of works by his friend David Macbeth Moir
1866 – Summer Scenes
Thereafter Thomas was too ill to publish anything apart from newspaper contributions.
When not writing, Thomas rarely left Dumfries apart from to visit his brother James in Dundee. Thomas spent much time taming and tending to his birds and was a great admirer of Robert Burns and Walter Scott. In 1841 Thomas presided at the annual Burns Club dinner in Dumfries, in 1859 he took an active part in organising the celebration of Burns’ centenary and in 1871 he presided at the banquet in Dumfries commemorating Scott’s centenary.
To finish, I am going to quote the obituary published in the Southern Reporter on Thomas’ death as it gives more of a flavour of the man than a list of poems:
‘The Late Thomas Aird
Fugitive poetry! Alas! the phrase has more senses than one. The poetry disappears like last year’s dead leaves, swept away by autumn winds; and the poets, too, they are as fugitive as their verses. Sibylline leaves borne off into the dust-bin of of oblivion, and the Sibyl herself swept after them. Another of these fugitive verse-makers has passed away, and will soon be forgotten. Thomas Aird, one of the Border Bards, second only to Scott, and worthy to rank with Hogg, Leyden, Allan, Cunningham, and Moir – he too has joined the majority. Aird too, was something more than a mere bard. For thirty years he was man on the press such as any country might be proud of. His conception of the newspaper was high. He used to say of it that the press was the Gospel of God’s daily providence working in man’s world. Such a man deserves a passing memorial from the press, and as such I hasten to lay a chaplet on his grave. He died at Castlebank, near Dumfries where he had retired some twelve years ago to spend his declining years.’
Sources: Census and death records from Scotland’s People website, ‘The Poetical Works of Thomas Aird’ by Reverend Jardine Wallace, Dictionary of National Biography and the Southern Reporter dated 11 May 1876 accessed via the British Newspaper Archive website.