Maxton Scotland
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John Davidson

John Davidson was born at Maxton, in which village his father and brothers were joiners, on the 2nd of October 1825. From his infancy upwards he was a reserved and studious boy. When of an age he went to the parish school, taught by Mr Chisholm, a gentleman of a well-stored and richly cultured mind - one of the good old type of parochial schoolmasters who can revel in all the luxuries of Homer, Theocritus, Virgil, and Tibullus, and appreciate their manifold beauties. Mr Chisholm says of him that he was a good scholar, somewhat slow in learning, but possessed of a very retentive memory, which enabled him to retain all he could lay hold on. He left school at the age of thirteen, and entered the service of a neighbouring farmer, and while there he first began to write verses, to learn to play on the violin, and to cultivate singing, to all of which recreations he devoted his attention assiduously. In after life he became precentor in the Free Church, St Boswells. Leaving farm work, he returned home to learn his father's trade, and having served his apprenticeship, and wrought at home several years, he went as a journeyman to work at Arbroath in 1853. He remained in that town for a year, and during that time he was continually improving himself in many ways, one of which was the department of drawing useful to his occupation, and in which he ultimately became very skilful. He again bent his steps to Maxton, and settled down to work with his brothers, relieving the monotony of his daily toil by writing verses and prose essays, and paying frequent visits to the celebrated John Younger of Lessudden. The two were of kindred literary tastes, and John Davidson held many and prolonged communings with the gifted shoemaker, whose essay on the Sabbath gained him wide renown, and the publication of whose autobiography is anticipated with interest as one of the most curious and original contributions to Border literature. The two often submitted, for the friendly criticism of each other, their latest effusions, and we may well fancy how very pleasant and congenial their 'cracks' on poetical, social and political (for both took a lively interest in politics) topics would be. In his leisure hours at this time, he tried his pen at essay-writing, and the fruits of his labours, which are before us, are a great credit to this son of toil. Like all poets, John Davidson fell in love, the object of his affections, which were of the sincerest nature, being one in a social sphere corresponding to his own, and in whose praise he wrote many an ode, in which he describes her as possessing a fair and rosy face, 'deep brown, soft, shaded hair,' with teeth like ' rows of ivory ware,'

'Large blue bewitching eyes,
Which glanced bright darts with deadly aim,
And tilled the vale with fruitless sighs.'

However, he had a rival who was a favoured suitor, and who along with his wife ( for his suit resulted in marriage ), are still or were lately living in New Zealand. John was of course deeply piqued at the unfavourable turn affairs took for him, and the circumstances provoked him to write 'Jim Bouncer's Ride', a piece abounding in many trenchant strokes of satire most unsparingly dealt out. He fell into ill health in 1857, and the cruel malady of consumption soon developed itself; and during his 'long march to the grave,' his love of reading and his intelligent acquaintance with the writings of some of the best authors both of Scotland and England often dispelled sad and dispirited forebodings, and cheered and lightened his heart; and when the shadows of death were gradually closing round him, his favourite books were his unfailing solace. He died on the 13th of September 1860, and his remains were buried in the quiet churchyard of his native village, under the shade of an ash tree, which in summer waves its green and leaf-clad branches over the grave.

His life was a blameless and industrious one, and his death was peace. Such was his life. Uneventful it was; but it was the counterpart of the life of many who had lived and died before him. The publication of his poems was the last earthly concern that interested him. The volume - a thin, small octavo - which was published in 1860, shortly after his death, contains thirty pieces. Most of them, and many more besides, first appeared in the columns of the Kelso Chronicle, to which journal he was an occasional contributor on various subjects.

( A copy of this volume is in the SBC Library Headquarters.)

This is taken from a much longer appreciation published in the Kelso Chronicle of 12th November 1875.


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