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Robert TANNAHILL

Robert TANNAHILL

Male 1774 - 1810

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  • Born  3 Jun 1774  ,,,Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Gender  Male 
    Residence  1799  Bolton, Lancashire, England, United Kingdom Find all individuals with events at this location 
    The Poet, 25, and his brother, Hugh 19, left Paisley for England about the end of the year 1799. Possibly because of failed love affair or economic distress 
    Residence  1801  Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Robert and Hugh returned to Paisley for the death of their father. 
    Occupation  1802  Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Long walks in the Gleniffer Braes above the town led to poems such as "The Braes of Gleniffer" and "The Flower O' Levern Side". He also wrote about soldiers and war as the loss of life during the Napoleonic Wars affected him. 
    Occupation  1805  Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Robert was the first Clerk of the society.The Preamble is in the handrwriting of Robert Tannahill and occupied the first page of the Minute Book of the Club. 
    Occupation  1807  Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    An edition of his poems was published
    There was an advance subscription of 900. The book made money at least 20 and increased his fame. 
    Occupation  1808  Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Age: 34
    He wrote a comic song, ?Caller Herrin?
     
    Occupation  1810  Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Six other new poems were published in ?Scots Magazine?.  
    Died  17 May 1810  ,Candren Burn,, Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location  [1, 2
    Buried  21 May 1810  West Relief Church, Canal Street, Paisley, Glasgow,, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    • ( now Castlehead Church)
    Notes 
    • The Gleniffer Braes is one of the most frequently mentioned landscapes of Tannahill's work. In late Victorian times Tannahill concerts were performed in the Glen, admission being by Glenfield Lodge. It was as a result of funds raised from these events that the statue, which stands next to Abbey, was erected. Walking on the Braes, especially on the Tannahill walkway, is as popular today as it was in Tannahill's time, perhaps even more so since the Gleniffer Braes is now an attractive country park.

    • Frail and shy, his poetry was often inspired by the countryside around Paisley. Despite having a deformity in his right leg, he would go for long walks in the Gleniffer Braes above the town. Poems such as "The Braes of Gleniffer" and "The Flower O' Levern Side" were about local haunts. He also wrote about soldiers and war as the loss of life during the Napoleonic Wars had an affect on him.
    • Robert, the fourth son, after his paternal uncle, Robert Tannahill Poet.
      John Shaw includes email from Charles Nicol of Greenock.
      "It would appear to me ,however, that the marriage of James T. born 1733 and married to Janet Polick and their progeny are not included in your tree viz Robert 1774 (The Poet) He had a brother Andrew b.1784 who married a Janet Drummond in 1801 and had a son James b.1804 and who had a son James b. 1842 who in turn had two sons James b.1872 and Fred b 1874 with whom I used to stay on his farm at Inverary!!"

      THE FILIAL VOW. 1802. WHY heaves my mother oft the deep drawn sigh?
      Why starts the big tear glistening in her eye?
      Why oft retire to hide her bursting grief?
      Why seeks she not, nor seems to wish, relief?
      'Tis for my Father, mould'ring with the dead,
      My Brother, in bold manhood lowly laid,
      And for the pains which age is doom'd to bear,
      She heaves the deep drawn sigh, and drops the silent tear.
      Yes, partly these her gloomy thoughts employ;
      But mostly this o'erclouds her ev'ry joy--
      She grieves to think she may be burthensome,
      Now feeble, old, and tottering to the tomb.
      Oh, hear me, Heav'n, and record my Vow,
      Its non-performance let thy wrath pursue! I swear--Of what Thy providence may give, My Mother shall her due maintenance have. 'Twas hers to guide me thro Life's early day, To point out Virtue's path, and lead the way; Now, while her pow'rs in frigid langour sleep, 'Tis mine to hand her down Life's rugged steep, With all her little weaknesses to bear, Attentive, kind, to soothe her ev'ry care. 'Tis Nature bids, and truest pleasure flows From lessening an aged parent's woes. [1]

      In a former part of the this letter I said I would give you, before I close, some account of our brother Robert. I shall at present, only notice that from his youth upward, his principal amusement was the writing of songs and other poetical pieces which from time to time made their appearance in newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals. They seemed to be well liked by the public. He was encouraged to publish a volume of poems in 1808. They met with considerable success, far beyond what he expected and at his death, he had a second edition ready for the press. A considerable time after his death, we sold the copyright to a respectable bookseller in Paisley. Since that time his works have gone through several editions. If you have not seen any of them, let us know when you write and we will send you a copy. After his death, several likenesses of him were given to the public but the one enclosed is I think the best. It is not a perfect likeness, but I consider it a tolerably good resemblance. Enclosed also is a short printed notice of his life. With respect to his death, I shall at this time shortly notice that for a day or two before that lamentable event, he showed symptoms of derangement, and on the morrow of the 17th of May 1810, he was found drowned in the Paisley Canal. Perhaps in another letter I may give you some further particulars with regard to his life and death, but I see that my paper is nearly done.
    • Information on the Scottish composer Robert Tannahill, based on David Semple's "The Poems and Songs and Correspondence of Robert Tannahill, with Life and Notes." Paisley: Alex Gardner, 1876.
      Robert Tannahill's family had been weavers for several generations at Kilmarnock, Ayrshire. They moved to Paisley in 1756, which a that time had more than 1300 working looms and only about 4000 people. They did well, married, raised large families, served their church, and owned their houses.

      In 1786 James Tannahill, Robert's father, was chosen Deacon or Boxmaster of the Paisley Old Weavers' Society. Family connections have a bearing on Tannahill's work, not only because prosperity made possible both the education and the leisure to pursue the arts, but more specifically because his mother, Janet Pollick, was related to the Brodie family, which had produced several poets and actors among its farmers and weavers. One of her cousins, Robert Brodie, was a poet of some local renown, and a frequent visitor to the Tannahill home.
      Robert was the 5th child and 4th son, born June 3, 1774, and was sickly from the start. Through careful nursing, he survived, and "a slight bend in the right foot was straightened." His constitution remained delicate throughout his life, however, and he endured considerable pain and embarrassment from a lifelong limp. He wore extra stockings on his thin right leg to make it look more like his other leg, and all his life was bashful of meeting strangers.
      Both Robert's parents had had a liberal education, and the children were sent to school from the age of 6 to 12. Robert did not distinguish himself at school, though by age 10 he was entertaining his friends with verses about public figures in the town. After leaving school he bought a dictionary with a grammar included and continued to instruct himself in his chosen avocation.
      In 1786, aged 12, he was apprenticed to his father, working in the relatively light trade of muslin, linen and silk weaving. Apparently some biographers have asserted that this was a sign of family poverty, but Semple asserts it was the custom of the town for boys to go to work at that age, and that wages were good. Robert also spent a good deal of time walking, to strengthen his leg and his constitution, though it also increased his pain. The "woods of Craigielee" were but a 3 minute walk from his father's house, and the countryside around Paisley served as setting and material for many of his later songs.
      Robert's apprenticeship ended in 1791, the year Tam O'Shanter was published (expensively). It came out cheaply in 1794, and folks in Paisley felt especially attached to the story because of the reference to a "cutty sark o Paisley harn." Robert and his friends walked from Paisley to Alloway Kirk & spent six weeks in Burns' country..
      At this time, when he was about 20, Robert seems to have begun a conscious self-education by reading and correspondence, toward the "treating of poetry and music". His declared purpose in this period was to restore the popularity of old Scottish airs by writing new words for them. He must have been working feverishly (perhaps literally so, given his health) for he attached an inkpot to the frame of his loom so he could write down whatever came to him as he worked. (Which makes one wonder to what extent the rhythm of weaving affected the rhythms of his poems.)

      In 1795, the poet met Jenny Tennant, a girl about 4 years older than himself, who had come with her mother to Paisley from Dunblane to seek employment. They "walked out together" for 3 years but she married another in 1798. How much this disappointment contributed to Robert's later despondency is of course a favourite topic of speculation.

      By the end of the century, the population of Paisley had ballooned to nearly 24,000, and when a widespread crop failure in 1799 caused a stagnation in trade throughout the UK, the town was thrown into a crisis. Provisions rose to famine prices and committees were formed to operate soup kitchens. Robert, then 26, and his youngest brother, Hugh, then 20, went to England looking for work, but found the "distress" there equally severe. In Bolton, Lancashire, they were taken in by a former Paisley weaver and through him were able to find work. They were called home, however, by the end of 1801, to attend their father's death bed. Robert moved back in with his mother and returned to his loom and his poems. The correspondence included in Semple's collection begins in the spring of 1802.

      Tradesmen of Paisley had been forming reading clubs and other societies for "mental culture" since about 1770. Robert and his friends formed a new one in 1803 devoted exclusively to music, poetry, and literature. Its 15-20 members "considered themselves the cream of the intellectual tradesmen of the town," and their meetings included the vociferous and detailed critique of various poems and publications, including Robert's poems. The proceedings were in general well lubricated, and Robert endured a lot of ridicule for abstaining from liquor--whether for moral or health reasons is not clear. Robert valued the opinions of these men (and at least one woman, who hosted them when they travelled from Paisley to meet with like-minded men in Kilmarnock) and continued to court their good opinion until the day of his death. He wrote "The Soldier's Return," a "dramatic interlude," on request from a local actor (who died before he finished it), and submitted it to the club for critique. They disliked it, and apparently told Tannahill the reasons in some detail, and with a deal of drunken enthusiasm, when he inquired. The poet was crushed by this reaction, and sullenly continued to believe the drama was his "complete masterpiece".
      The "interlude" did include some good songs, however. John Ross of Aberdeen had been employed to write the music for "Our Bonnie Scots Lads" (a song on the Paisley recruits) and "The Dusky Glen," and the performance of one of these songs brought Tannahill together with another composer, R.A. Smith, who, along with William McLaren became a close friend. (Smith was the son of an English weaver who relocated to Paisley. Unlike Tannahill, he had no aptitude for a weaver's life and hated the work.) McLaren wrote an early biography of Tannahill, and described him in these years as a staid, quiet, inoffensive man, about 5'4", with a halt in his walk, not a fine dresser (some of his siblings were the setters of fashion in Paisley), who spent most of his money on books, stationery, postage, and occasional traveling expenses". He was not strong, and had a permanent dry cough (He and the rest of his club were heavy smokers).

      Tannahill's first publication was in 1804 or 1805 in a literary magazine in Edinburgh -- its title has never (at least to 1876) been satisfactorily identified. His next publication seems to have been in another unidentified magazine in England. It seems logical that he must have published more extensively than this in 1804, as 17 of his poems were included in a pair of Glasgow publications of 1805 and 1806--"The Selector" and "The Glena," both of which, as their names suggest, were "gleanings" from other publications. In any case, from then on Tannahill was published regularly, in "The Paisley Repository", "The Nightingale", "The Caledonian Musical Repository" and other publications.

      Tannahill's fame and popularity were growing. Many of his poems had been put to music by Smith and by Ross, and their lyrics were easily memorised. Women singers were fond of his songs, and those from "The Soldier's Return" had an added patriotic appeal. But his first audience remained his most cherished one, and he continued to show new pieces to his club and to other friends--the careful saving of these copies by his acquaintance subsequently saved many poems from oblivion. In 1806 he was instrumental in opening a lending library for tradesmen in Paisley (there already was one for gentlemen), and he remained a working weaver and full member of his community.
      In May 1807 an edition of his poems was published, with an advance subscription of 900. The "interlude" and the songs received the same reception from critics as they had in Paisley--they hated the play and loved the songs--and once again the poet was cast into despair. The drama was his masterpiece, he insisted again, and his songs "commonplace", elevated to greater interest only by the music supplied by others.

      Still, the book made money, at least 20 pounds, and increased his fame. It allowed him to pursue his next desire, the collection of Irish airs--a project that proved far more problematic than his similar use of Scottish sources. Judging from one of his letters, he apparently collected unpublished songs from the Irish, had them translated or just talked to the singer about what the song was about, and then wrote verses in what he believed to be the same vein--often using people or events around Paisley as models for a song's situation. In 1808 a number of these new songs were rejected by George Thomson for publication, and in 1810 two other publishers refused a new edition of his poems. All was not discouragement in these years--in 1808 he wrote a comic song, "Caller Herrin," to the air of "The Cameronian Rant," and by 1810 six other new poems had been published in "Scots Magazine"-- but economic times were hard in Paisley, and the three major publication refusals were hard on Tannahill's spirits.

      In March, 1810, just before he received the second refusal on his new edition, Tannahill received a visit at Paisley from James Hogg. The visit was arranged by Smith, the composer, and the three of them spent a "convivial evening" with other friends in the club room of a tavern. This was the last great event of Tannahill's life. Shortly afterward, friends began to recognize symptoms of mental disturbance: he was despondent and sometimes incoherent. On several occasions he was escorted home by friends afraid to let him go into the streets alone. Wading through the Semple's elevated and euphemistic language, (the only direct phrase is "aberration of mind") one concludes that Tannahill probably suffered from an organic mental illness. On the night of May 16, 1810, he was seen to bed by his mother, but got up later and left the house. When his absence was discovered, a search party was organized and his watch and other effects were found by a canal. His body was recovered shortly thereafter.
    Person ID  I2952  Brian's Family Tree
    Last Modified  24 Jan 2011 

    Father  James TANNAHILL,   b. 9 May 1733, ,,,Kilmarnock, Ayr, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 9 May 1801, ,,,Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Mother  Janet POLLOCK,   b. 1738,   d. 19 Aug 1822 
    Married  29 Aug 1763  ,,,Lochwinnoch, Renfrewshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Family ID  F911  Group Sheet

  • Photos

    » Slide Show
    Robert Tannahill, poet
    Robert Tannahill, poet
    Tannahill statue Paisley
    Tannahill statue Paisley
    Tannahill cottage plaque
    Tannahill cottage plaque
    Castle St Paisley
    Castle St Paisley

    Documents

    » Slide Show
    The Soldier's Return - Tannahill 1807 - titlepage
    The Soldier's Return - Tannahill 1807 - titlepage
    Tannahills Hole
    Tannahills Hole
    The Poetical Works of Robert Tannahill 1825-title
    The Poetical Works of Robert Tannahill 1825-title
    Jessie o'Dunblane
    Jessie o'Dunblane

    Headstones

    » Slide Show
    Tannahill gravestone close up
    Tannahill gravestone close up
    Tannahill gravestone West Relief Church Paisley now Castlehead Church
    Tannahill gravestone West Relief Church Paisley now Castlehead Church
    Tannahill monument
    Tannahill monument

    Recordings
    The Complete Songs of Robert Tannahill Vol. 1
    The Complete Songs of Robert Tannahill Vol. 1
    1. Fly We To Some Desert Isle (Emily Smith)
    2. Hey Donald, How Donald (Wendy Weatherby)
    3. Rob Roryson's Bannet (Gillian MacDonald)
    4. The Braes o Balquhidder (John Croall)
    5. The Five Friends (Jim Reid)
    6. Coggie Thou Heals Me (Ross Kennedy)
    7. Meg o the Glen (John Croall)
    8. When John and I were Married (Gillian MacDonald)
    9. Jessie, The Flow'r o Dunblane (Ross Kennedy)
    10. O Are Ye Sleeping Maggie (Jim Reid)
    11. Barrochan Jean (John Morran)
    12. Och Hey! Johnny Lad (Emily Smith)
    13. The Dear Highland Laddie O (Gillian MacDonald)
    14. Yon Burn Side (Ian Anderson)
    15. With Waefu' Heart (Wendy Weatherby)
    16. I'll Hie Me To The Shieling Hill (Ross Kennedy)
    17. Molly My Dear (Ross Kennedy)
    18. Eild (Fred Freeman)
    19. I'll Lay Me On The Wintry Lea (Emily Smith)

    Accompanying musicians include: Corrina Hewat (Harp) and Sandy Brechin (Accordian).
    The Complete Songs of Robert Tannahill Vol. 2
    The Complete Songs of Robert Tannahill Vol. 2
    1. My Mary (Jim Malcolm)
    2. Gloomy Winter's Noo Awa (Emily Smith)
    3. One Night in my Youth (Brian O' Headhra)
    4. Brave Lewie Roy (Nick Keir)
    5. The Soldier's Adieu (Steve Byrne)
    6. While the Grey Pinioned Lark (Emily Smith)
    7. Fragment of a Scottish Ballad (Lucy Pringle)
    8. Bonnie Winsome Mary (Brian O' Headhra)
    9. Come Hame Tae Yer Lingels (Jim Malcolm)
    10. Oor Bonnie Scots Lads (Lucy Pringle)
    11. Hey Donald, How Donald (original version) (Marieke McBean)
    12. The Lomond (Steve Byrne)
    13. Peggy O'Rafferty (Brian O' Headhra)
    14. Mine Ain Dear Somebody (Emily Smith)
    15. O Lassie Will Ye Tak a Man? (Steve Byrne)
    16. Kitty Tyrell (Brian O' Headhra)
    17. O Sair I Rue the Witless Wish (Steve Byrne)
    18. Noo Winter Wi His Cloody Broo (Nick Keir)
    19. Poem: On Seeing a Spider... (Fred Freeman)
    20. The Soldier's Widow (Lucy Pringle)
    21. Bonnie Hielan Laddie (Jim Malcolm)

  • Sources 
    1. [S677] The Poems and Songs of Robert Tannahill by Robert Tannahill and FSA David Semple (Hardcover - 1874).

    2. [S678] http://www.paisleyonline.co.uk/html/tannahill.html.