He was born at the farm of Little Tullybeltane, in the parish of Auchtergaven, Perthshire. When Robert was five years old his father was reduced to poverty. He became a day-labourer, and was able to give his son only a very slight education.
At 16 the boy was apprenticed to a grocer and wine-merchant at Perth. In 1833 he began to contribute to Johnstone's Magazine (later Tait's Magazine), and in the next year his apprenticeship was cancelled. He visited Edinburgh, and was kindly received there, but obtained no employment. He opened a circulating library at Dundee, and in 1836 he became editor of the Leeds Times. He was a member of the provisional committee of the Leeds Working Men's Association, and of the Leeds Radical Association.
He held pronounced Radical opinions, and overtaxed his slender physical resources in electioneering work for Sir William Molesworth in the summer of 1837. He was obliged to resign his editorship and died at the house of his friend William Tait, at Trinity, near Edinburgh.
He had published a volume of Poems in 1835; and in 1844 appeared a further volume, Poems and Lyrics, with an anonymous memoir of the author by Christian Isobel Johnstone. The best of his lyrics are those written in the Scottish dialect.
An appreciation of his character and his poetry was included in Charles Kingsley's article on Burns and his School in the North British Review for November 1851. See also Peter Robert Drummond, Life of Robert Nicholl, Poet (1884).
Robert Nicoll is buried in the North Leith Parish Churchyard.
- Robert Nicoll biography and selected works at gerald-massey.org
- Smiles, Samuel. " Robert Nicoll." Brief Biographies New York: American Book Exchange, 1881. (pp. 186-195) googlebooks Accessed May 17, 2009
- Robert Nicoll's grave
- Works by or about Robert Nicoll in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
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