30 January 1813|
Comrie, Perthshire, Scotland
|Died||13 August 1878
Arnhalt, Brechin, Angus, Scotland
|Occupation||preacher, author and poet|
George Gilfillan (30 January 1813 – 13 August 1878) was a Scottish author and poet.
Gilfillan was one of the spasmodic poets, and an editor and commentator, with memoirs, critical dissertations in many editions of earlier British poetry. He was born at Comrie, Perthshire, where his father, the Rev. Samuel Gilfillan, the author of some theological works, was for many years minister of a Secession congregation. After an education at the University of Glasgow, in March 1836 he was ordained pastor of a Secession congregation in Dundee.
Gilfillan published a volume of his discourses in 1839, and shortly afterwards another sermon on Hades, which brought him under the scrutiny of his co-presbyters, and was ultimately withdrawn from circulation.
Gilfillan next contributed a series of sketches of celebrated contemporary authors to the Dumfries Herald, then edited by Thomas Aird; these, with several new ones, formed his first Gallery of Literary Portraits, which appeared in 1846 and had a wide circulation. It was quickly followed by a Second and a Third Gallery.
In 1851 his most successful work, the Bards of the Bible, appeared. His aim was that it should be a poem on the Bible and it was far more rhapsodical than critical, being in Gilfillan's words 'a Prose Poem, or Hymn, in honour of the Poetry and Poets of the inspired volume with occasional divergence into the analysis of Scripture characters, and cognate fields of literature or of speculation '. His Martyrs and Heroes of the Scottish Covenant appeared in 1832, and in 1856 he produced a partly autobiographical, partly fabulous, History of a Man. From 1853 to 1860 he was occupied with editing Cassell's 48-volume Library Edition of the British Poets.
In 1858 he published a 3-volume edition of Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, consisting of old heroic ballads, songs, and other pieces from our earlier poets, authoring a prefatory 'Memoir and Critical Dissertation' entitled 'Life of Thomas Percy, Bishop of Dromore; with Remarks on Ballad Poetry.' Although Gilfillan and Charles Cowden Clarke published the Reliques for Cassell in 1877, Gilfillan's 1858 edition was simultaneously published by James Nichol in Edinburgh, in London by James Nisbet, and in Dublin by W. Robertson, appealing to ready markets in Scotland and Ireland. As a lecturer and as a preacher he drew large crowds, but his literary reputation proved exceptionally temporary. He died, aged 65, having just finished a new life of Burns designed to accompany a new edition of the works of that poet.
For thirty years he was engaged upon a long poem, on Night, which was published in 1867, but its theme was too vast, vague and unmanageable, and the result was then considered a failure. This, Gilfillan's major work is in ten parts, he described in his preface (advertisement )thereto 'to an extent miscellaneous in its materials, following thus a type which once extensively prevailed in poetry'
Support for Working Class Poets
Gilfillan was a supporter of working class poets, believing them to be less influenced by the works of others than better educated writers. In a preface to a book of poems by Janet Hamilton he wrote:
The self-taught have usually greater freshness of feeling in beholding nature, and a keener sympathy with men, than the better instructed. Having read fewer descriptions, they look at the thing described more exactly as it is. Many see not nature's thunderstorm, but Thomson's or Byron's; not Bruar-water itself, but Burns' picture of it; Scott's Trossachs, not the beautiful place itself; and hence, often when they try to describe such scenes, they merely dilute the descriptions of others and produce shadows of shades. The self-taught simply record the contact between their own genius and Nature's works.
This support backfired somewhat when one of his proteges, William McGonagall, gained a reputation as the worst poet in the English language. McGonagall's Address to the Rev. George Gilfillan, the first poem he ever wrote, is arguably the only reason modern readers remember Gilfillan - though modern adherents have attempted to revive his memory.
Gilfillan Memorial Church was erected at the foot of Whitehall Street, Dundee, in 1888 to a design by Malcolm Stark. The congregation the church houses was formed by members of School Wynd Church who had elected the radical David McCrae of Greenock to succeed Gilfillan as minister. However, McCrae, whose views against the concept of eternal damnation Gilfillan had supported, had been declared to no longer be a minister by the UP Church. The majority of the School Wynd congregation ignored this edict and left the UP church to set up their own independent church under McCrae, taking the name of their popular minister.
A biography of Gilfillan by Aileen Black was published in 2006.
- Gilfillan, George (1855). The Poetical Works of Johnson, Parnell, Gray, and Smollett. Edinburgh: James Nichol.
- Ebsworth, Joseph Woodfall (1890). "Gilfillan, George". In Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 21. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Gilfillan, George (1845). Gallery of Literary Portraits. Edinburgh: William Tait. ISBN 9781116727029.
- Gilfillan, George (1853). The Bards of the Bible. New York: Harper & Bros.
- Gilfillan, George (1867). Night: A Poem. London: Jackson, Walford & Hodder.
- Hamilton, Janet (1868). Poems and Ballads. Glasgow: James Maclehose. p. xii.
- McGonagall, William (1877). "An Address to the Reverend George Gilfillan". McGonagall Online. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
- Strand, Brian (2012). George Gilfillan - an appraisal (Kindle). ASIN B002MCZ52M.
- McKean, Charles and Whatley Patricia, with Baxter, Kenneth (2008). Lost Dundee: Dundee's Lost Architectural Heritage. Edinburgh: Birlinn. p. 152. ISBN 978-1-84158-562-8.
- McCraw, Ian (2000). The Kirks of Dundee Presbytery 1558–1999. Dundee: Friends of Dundee City Archives. p. 149. ISBN 0-9536553-2-6.
- Black, Aileen (2006). Gilfillan of Dundee 1813-1878. Dundee: Dundee University Press. ISBN 9781845860066.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- Works related to George Gilfillan at Wikisource
- Quotations related to George Gilfillan at Wikiquote
- Night: A poem by George Gilfillan at Online archive
- Works by George Gilfillan at Project Gutenberg