John Davidson, First of the Moderns: A Literary Biography

By John R. Sloan | Go to book overview

1
Early Life, 1857-1888

I

John Davidson was apt to deny the influence of his ancestors in declaring his own freedom of mind, but the spirit of rebelliousness ran in his family. In 1784, Hugh Mitchell, his greatgrandfather on his father's maternal side, was 'exceedingly unacceptable' as parish minister to the people of Eaglesham in Lanarkshire, because he supported the French Revolution and opposed state interference in the affairs of the Church.1 Mitchell, for some years Master of the first academy of Greenock, had served as tutor in the family of Archibald Nisbet of Carphin after graduating from the University of Glasgow, and in 1774 had married Nisbet's daughter Amelia. He was later Master of an English and French academy in Glasgow, and on the Peace of Amiens in 1802, visited France with his wife and daughter, when all three were made prisoner by Bonaparte and carried to Verdun before being liberated.

Jane Mitchell married John Davidson, a tenant farmer at Craighead in the parish of Dailly in her father's native Ayrshire. They had five sons and two daughters. The fifth son, Alexander, was the father of the poet. He spent his boyhood in Ayrshire, where he attended the local parish school, first at Kirkoswald, where the mother and father of Robert Burns were buried, and then at Girvan. But it was a time of great change in the farming communities of Scotland, and his father, now elderly, and presumably with none of his sons willing to carry on farming, gave

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1
Although the genealogical record is incomplete, Hugh Mitchell can be identified from comments made in Fergus Ferguson reliable ' Biographical Sketch' of Alexander Davidson, in Sermons by the Late Rev. Alexander Davidson ( Edinburgh, 1893), which also provides much of the information about Alexander Davidson and Helen Crocket. Mitchell was the author of Scotticisms, Vulgar Anglicisms and Grammatical Improprieties Corrected ( Glasgow, 1799). The main facts of his life are recorded in Hew Scott Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae: The Succession of Ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation, iii ( Edinburgh, 1920).

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John Davidson, First of the Moderns: A Literary Biography
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xiii
  • List of Plates xiv
  • Abbreviations xv
  • 1 - Early Life, 1857-1888 1
  • 2 - London 1889-1893 44
  • 3 - Success 1894-1896 99
  • 4 - Breakdown 1897-1898 156
  • 5 - The Lure of the Theatre 1898-1901 174
  • 6 - Facing the New 1901-1907 198
  • 7 - Penzance 1907-1909 255
  • Select Bibliography 287
  • Index 291
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