Taken from a book of his poems; Posthumous Rymes, privately printed in 1854, this memoir tells a bit about his life. A link at the foot of the page gives access to the complete digitised version of the book.

John Hannah of Creetown. Poet.

At Creetown — near the mouth of the river from which that town derives its name — in the county of Kirkcudbright, on the north shore of the inlet called Wigton bay, lived, many years ago, John Hannay, a builder in extensive business. His three sons were all brought up to his own trade. Two of them removed: one to a neighbouring town, the other to Glasgow and afterward to the West Indies. John, the eldest, remained at Creetown, where he saw the waning of the prosperity which had brightened his father's path. He married Janet, third daughter of John Brait, farmer of Chapelton; who died while his children were young, leaving the care of them and of the farm to his widow.

A whimsical preference to the duplication or reversibleness of the letters induced Mr. Hannay to change the form of his name to Hannah. He and his wife Janet had nine children. The eldest, JOHN HANNAH, — the subject of this sketch — was born at Creetown on the 10th of November 1802. Much of his early youth was passed with his mother's relatives at Chapelton. That village is situated a mile from Creetown, between two small rivers, or 'burns,' which meet before they reach the bay, and are both excellent fishing streams. In one of them, called Minnipool, salmon and salmon-trout are caught. There is near Creetown, a high fall in the other river, which the salmon cannot leap; but it is better than Minnipool for its native burn trout. It is called, from certain cloth mills, near the falls, the Wauk-mill burn, and also, from places through which it runs, the Ballochanamar or Garrochar burn. For some distance these streams flow through large plantations. South of the Wauk-mill burn lies the way to Larg mountain, and hard by are

'the braes
'Of lang and bonny Cassencarrie.'

Other roads, skirting Minnipool or taking a similar direction, lead to Loch Grenoch — a favourite resort of the disciples of Isaak Walton — and to the lofty heights of Cairnsmuir.

The Brait family at Chapelton consisted, at the period to which we allude, of the widowed mother, her sons, who were engaged in the management of her farm, and several daughters remarkable for their personal attractions. The artlessness and industry which prevailed in the habits of dame Brait's household is sketched at the beginning of the lines intituled 'The Bairnie's Pool.' The task of mending the potato basket — the 'prato creel'—worn by being dragged on the ground when filled by less sturdy gatherers, is assigned to 'Johnny,' the eldest son and the farmer; while the others ply 'ilk ane their task,' and the younger Johnny probably is looking to the condition of his fishing tackle, albeit not unobservant of the group.

Such were the scenes, and such the simple manners which gave their first impression to the warm heart of John Hannah. His father was a town resident and an artisan: the son was nurtured under the influences of rural life, and amidst employments in which natural objects were always prominent.

Among his father's friends was the now venerable captain J. M. Denniston, a retired officer, then an active sportsman as well as a gentleman of some literary taste. He had occasion for a lad to accompany him in his shooting and fishing expeditions; and Mr. Hannah offered the services of his son John. No employment could have been more congenial to the boy's disposition. Fearless and fond of adventure, he would ramble many miles over the wildest moors and mountains, sleeping in some comfortless fishing hut with his gun for his companion and his guard. Frequently taking part in such excursions, he lived several years with captain Denniston. During this period his education was not entirely neglected. It was soon discovered that he had a mind of more than ordinary vigour; and although his studies were but irregularly pursued, his progress, both under private instruction and at the parish school, was rapid and satisfactory. His employer was so much pleased that he offered to give him a classical education; which his father declined on the common, but for the most part mistaken, ground that it would be useless.

Besides the presence and power of external nature in its most picturesque forms, there was another circumstance which tended to foster in John Hannah an inclination towards poetry. Captain Denniston had a sister who, not satisfied by an acquaintance with English and Scotch versifiers, determined to read the Italian poets in their own tongue. She had to acquire the language; but, bringing perseverance to the task, soon learned to render the most difficult passages of Dante and Tasso with correctness and fluency. While she read aloud the most striking lines, translating them, commenting on their merits, and inviting her brother to notice beauties he had overlooked, the eye of their young attendant brightened with interest, his ear bent with patient heed and eagerly drank in the enthusiasm of the poet.

Friends who would by no means have discouraged his love of reading and study, nevertheless deemed it right to check an imaginative bias. Even with a view to ordinary or commercial life his education was imperfect; and his prospects did not warrant a sacrifice of the plain and useful for the elegant and refined.

Not without regret on the part of his kind patron, young Hannah's school learning and his somewhat romantic pursuits were both brought to a close by the resolution of his father to send him to England. In this affair the son appears to have been actuated by a sense of duty rather than by the inclination to migrate which is said to be a second nature with the Scot. He desired, above all things, to avoid the possibility of becoming burdensome to his parents. A son of one of their neighbours was residing in the eastern counties; and thither John Hannah bent his steps. He had arrived at the age of manhood when he settled, as a lodger, at Diss, on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk, and employed himself in perambulating the vicinity on foot, trading from house to house.

Such a pursuit gained for him few introductions to the reading circle which even a country town can sometimes furnish. Its fashions and frivolities he could afford to hold very cheap. In his long and solitary rambles he found resources in books and nature, in quiet thought and pure feeling. History and poetry,— Hume and Robertson, Shakspeare, Allan Ramsay and Burns, the Ettrick shepherd, and the then 'great unknown' — were his companions. He read, alternately, some favourite author and, with a not less intelligent eye, the simple beauties of the country; or he murmured his own rhymes to the hedgerows, and then beguiled the evening hour by writing them down.

In person he was, at that time, athletic, but comparatively slender. His general aspect was unassuming and grave, with occasional gleams of intelligence and vivacity falling away into that pensive expression which is traceable in the portrait prefixed to this volume. Though retiring, he was not morose; and if his manners wanted refinement, he never failed in that politeness which consists in habitual deference to the comfort and gratification of others. A society of three or four young men, who met for mutual improvement, elicited proof of his natural talent and of his real modesty. Some of his essays were full of good sense. An extract from one of them is given by way of appendix to his 'Rhymes,' as a specimen of his style and manner of thinking in plain prose.

It was while he lived at Diss that the greater part of the verses contained in the subjoined pages were written. They relate to scenes and occurrences which passed around him, or upon which memory lingered; to the claims of friendship and sympathy; and sometimes to themes of higher moment.

The first and longest of the poems here printed was an expression of his firm faith in the progress of knowledge and improvement, uttered at a period when that faith was not so general as it is now. Steam had not yet been commonly applied to 'iron roads.' Public health was disregarded, or it was partially secured in defiance of arrangements which are now understood to be fatal to its full enjoyment. Many looked with distrust upon the spread of education among the poor, lest they should be unduly elevated by those efforts which have been found, alas! totally inadequate to uphold on the level of civilization the accumulating millions. It may be curious, now that a quarter of the century to which the 'Vision' attributes so marvellous a change has elapsed, to note how far and in what form the predictions of the seer are fulfilling or fulfilled in the locality to which they refer. Upon the bosom of the 'sluggard Waveney' improvement has not come; nor have the borders of 'the lake' realized the poet's dream of beauty; neither destruction nor architecture has accomplished literally all that was foretold.

Yet there, as elsewhere, buildings have been re-erected, and streets macadamized; and 'the power of steam' has been introduced in the most efficient manner. Measures have been suggested for abating the injurious effects of a large stagnant pool, and even for constructing ' public walks entirely around it, which,' it is said, and said officially, 'would probably be unequalled in the country for beauty!' On its 'western shore' has been built, in sober truth, one of the villas

'such as gaily rise Beneath Italia's genial skies.'

Better than all, it may be hoped that bigotry of every shape, by a slower but not less sure process, has been wearing away, and a more genuine sympathy introduced among individuals of every grade.

The poem on 'Time' is a meditation in one of its author's walks to Framlingham, the site of the ruined castle of the Bigods, earls of Norfolk. That building was afterwards in the hands, successively, of the Mowbrays and Howards; and finally of Sir Robert Hitcham, who devised it to the Master and Fellows of Pembroke hall, Cambridge, with the ruthless stipulation that the interior should be pulled down and applied to other purposes. It might seem a bitter sarcasm upon such a proceeding, that, in 1724, a parish workhouse was built in the vacant area.

The rest of the verses printed are lyrical or miscellaneous. Except the song intituled 'The Orwell' and the lines on ‘Freston Tower,' it is not probable that any one of the pieces was written with a view to publication. They were the free effusions of a heart full of rich and right feeling. And as they were intended to gratify the eye of friendship they may well serve to foster its memory.

Nor let it pass unnoticed that, in the full vigour of life, before the deep furrow of care had been traced across his brow, John Hannah sometimes gave a thought to other than earthly themes: while he never yielded to sickly melancholy or was guilty of hypocrisy, he
'Could pause an hour to pen a serious rhyme.'

In April 1829 he was induced to enter upon a commercial engagement at Ipswich. The claims of business and, at length, domestic duties and cares gradually diverted his attention, not entirely from intellectual pursuits, but from the rhyming mood.

The joys and the cares of life came to him, as to all, hand in hand. His hearth was cheered by the smile of conjugal and infantile affection. But sorrow waited before the door, and a leaden cloud at length settled over his prospects. With many a painful thought, but with integrity unscathed, he left Ipswich, and went to reside at Burton upon Trent, where he ended his days.

Coming griefs had 'cast their shadows before.' Other and more bitter calamity awaited him. After a few years, during which his commercial position had been more encouraging, he found himself a widower with four small children. His friends rallied around him with their sympathy, their counsel, and their aid.

The esteem in which he was held was even more conspicuous when, towards the close of 1852, a painful and alarming disease attacked his apparently robust frame. The best surgical advice was obtained. There was no hope. He returned home with the full conviction that he had only to resign himself to the will of an all-wise Creator and to prepare for a greater change than had hitherto befallen him. Disabled from active service, he was cheered by exemplary liberality and kindness on the part of his employer and others. But his motherless children were around him. There was one thought which his generous heart could not brook: it seemed probable that he might live to exhaust the slender provision he had made for them, and then leave them in indigence; and for their sakes he wished to die.

— To DIE. That thought opened a still deeper source of anxiety; and its flood rushed back upon his spirit with overwhelming power. He had been a sincere admirer of Christianity as exhibited in the persons and lives of its true disciples; but he felt that he had failed to act up to his convictions, or to submit himself unreservedly to its requirements. The heart had too much lingered amid earthly fascinations and had been too closely bound to temporal pursuits. He had not — how frequent the case! — thrown himself in wilful and determined rebellion into the ranks of the scoffer and the depraved: he had never neglected altogether the claims of the sabbath, the reading of the holy Scriptures, or to offer his petitions at the throne of mercy. But the period had arrived when he needed consolation such as neither the kindness of friends nor the consciousness of moral rectitude and outward propriety could yield.

During his last illness he received many welcome visits from an excellent clergyman in Burton and, by his conversation, was induced to resort with increased eagerness to that best source of hope which is 'a well of water springing up to everlasting life.' As the eternal world drew near he regarded his entrance upon its dread realities with a solemnity unknown to him before. He now placed no reliance upon the fine moral instinct which had seemed to others so beautiful. Those hours of his past life which had been given to grave reflections and religious engagements and companionships now seemed to him to have been, above all others, well spent: the rest almost unmingled 'vanity and vexation,' or sinful negligence and folly. Earnest and constant in prayer for divine mercy, he declared that he looked for pardon and sought salvation only through the great sacrifice for sin. Nor did he seek in vain. But his humble trust was mingled with intense anxiety. And there is reason to believe he would have deprecated, with his whole heart, the thought that any individual should be tempted, by his example, to postpone life's greatest concern to an hour of pain and weakness, in the rash expectation that he would at last
'Improve the remnant of his wasted span,

And, having lived a trifler, die a man.'

Mr. Hannah was not the subject of that delusive hope of recovery which often helps to support the timid spirit. Throughout his illness he had a vivid apprehension of its fatal ending. He looked back with warm affection and gratitude; and onward with steady, but not with reckless gaze. Three days before his death, his kind spiritual adviser having come early into his room and inquired how he was, he answered, with emphatic and characteristic firmness and seriousness—in a poet's words — ' Passing away, passing away!' The spirit was hovering, with awful poise, over the brink of eternity; but the light and the colouring of other days were still bright upon its wing.

On the morning of the 2nd of February 1854, with great calmness of mind and less of bodily suffering than had been expected, the intelligent, generous, and true-hearted John Hannah expired.

Many who knew and appreciated his sterling moral qualities may prefer to think of him in this aspect, and may, at first feel it an intrusion to find interposed between their minds and this idea, his sense of the beautiful and poetic. However, they will recognize in the following pages so many lineaments of his mind and heart, of his character and history, that none, probably, will regret to find himself the possessor of such a memorial.

One other mode there remains in which those who knew him have been prompt to honour his memory: they have not failed to regard with kind and active interest the chief objects of bis earthly anxiety. The children of a man so truly unselfish, though orphans in a world of storms and darkness, will find friends for their father's sake, as well as a secure refuge in the almighty 'Helper of the fatherless.'

These 'Posthumous Rhymes' are the product of a vigorous mind and a guileless heart, not of careful cultivation or of taste artificially refined. They appeal to the eye of friendship, not of criticism. A few wild flowers are here scattered on the grave of him who gathered them.

If they are of too stinted growth to win the notice of a stranger, they possess enough beauty and fragrance to indicate how much is lost when a soil of promise is left to spontaneous productiveness or scanty tillage. Who can estimate the worth to society of a character such as John Hannah would have exhibited if he had been brought under the influence of education, mental, moral, and religious, in its best and most efficient forms, and trained to high purposes and worthy scenes of action? On the other hand, it is sad to think that, in the absence of such preparation, many a neglected Watt, many a discouraged Howard, many a 'mute inglorious Milton' may be even now growing up to an unprofitable manhood. Noble faculties and moral greatness too often fail to yield appropriate fruit, where it is impossible not to believe that the adoption of proper means of culture would have led to a very different result. Men spend life in feeble, unavailing efforts or in 'laboriously doing nothing,' and then pass away and are forgotten who, under more favourable auspices, would have become bright centres of ever extending and multiplying good, and might have justly occupied a far larger 'space in the world's thought.'

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