Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.
Critical and Biographical Essay by Alfred H. Miles
Robert Pollok (17981827)
ROBERT POLLOK, the author of The Course of Time, was born at North Muirhouse, Eaglesham, Renfrewshire, on the 19th of October, 1798. He entered Glasgow University, and also studied for five years in the Divinity Hall of the United Secession Church at Glasgow with a view to the Presbyterian Ministry. While still a student, he wrote and published anonymously a series of Tales of the Covenanters, which became popular and reached a second edition, in issuing which he acknowledged the authorship. He commenced the poem with which his name is indissolubly associated in the month of December 1824, and completed it in July 1826. It was published in March 1827, and became immediately popular. Two months after the issue of his poem, Pollok was licensed for the Ministry. He preached, however, but four times. Symptoms of a pulmonary disease, which rapidly developed, compelled rest during the following summer, and before its close he visited London, en route for Italy, but was too ill to pursue his intentions. Acting on advice he went to Shirley Common, near Southampton, to winter, but died there on the 18th of September, 1827.
The Course of Time, said Professor Spalding, much overlauded on its first appearance, is the immature work of a man of genius, who possessed very imperfect cultivation. It is clumsy in plan, tediously dissertative, and tastelessly magniloquent, but it has passages of good and genuine poetry. This doubtless is true. Whether the poet would have produced more perfect work had time been given him it is vain to speculate. Professor Wilson said of him: Pollok had much to learn in composition, and had he lived, he would have looked almost with humiliation on much that is at present eulogised by his devoted admirers. But, he added, the soul of poetry is there, and many passages there are, and long ones too, that heave, and hurry, and glow along in a divine enthusiasm. To adequately represent such a work within possible limits is difficult, but the selected passages given here are sufficient to show the style and power of the poet, and to justify the criticisms already quoted. That the poem owed its popularity largely to its subject, and to its consistence with the theology of the time and place of its publication there can be little doubt, but that it has merits which entitle it to more respectful recognition than it has sometimes received is also beyond dispute. No one can deny its author the possession of a powerful imagination and a fluent pen; and if the work as a whole cannot be regarded as a complete success, it may fairly be contended that very few poets can be named who would have been equal to so vast a theme.