James Maxwell 1719 - 1801

James Maxwell was born in 1719 and was a contemporary of both Burns and Lapraik.

He lived in Paisley, near the head of the River Clyde, and appears to have worked as a weaver.

He was a conservative and religious man who published a number of books during his life which included material relating to religious poems, songs and other issues such as the morality of the Slave Trade.

His dislike of both Burns and Lapraik is evident:

Here lie the Poems of L--,
Which neither pleas’d the saint nor rake.
Which neither made us laugh nor weep;
But strange – they lull’d us fast asleep!
Dulness appear’d in every line,
Who then shall call the Bard divine?
Who e’er shall deck his brow with bays,
Or tell posterity his praise?
In dark oblivion’s blackest cave,
His stupid rhimes have found a grave:
Nor e’er shall from their cavern rise,
To snatch Fame’s bright and envied prize.
Ye Poets then all warning take,
From the sad fate of poor L--,...

And he rejoices in the fact that the publication of Lapraik's poems had not been a commercially profitable exercise:

To L-----------‘s Subscribers.

If for a prize you’ve got a blank,
You well may know whom you should thank.
Your fav’rite B------ you took to be
A dext’rous judge of poetry.
His M—k Poet he befriended,
And much his genius he commended.
You thought what he could recommend,
Would sure be most sublimely penn’d.
L—you took upon his word,
In hopes he would good sense afford.
Now you have got him, you may know
Whether he yields good sense or no.

His final verdict on the fate of Lapraik's books is unequivocal:

For some devoted theirs unto the flame;
Bumfodder also others made of them.
Some turn’d to dung, and others they were burn’d,
And so to dirt and ashes all were turn’d.

This site includes further extracts from his book: Animadversions on R----t B---s and J--n L-----k that includes the lines Burns is said to have scrawled on the window of his room beginning: "Here Stewarts once in triumph reigned." (Burns's Jacobite sympathies having been aroused by seeing the ruined state of the former home of Scotland's kings while visiting Stirling.)

Maxwell's own poems also had little success - although some have a certain charm and, like those of John Lapraik, their content is interesting in giving an insight into life at that time.

As someone who lived in Paisley he witnessed the impact on the local economy of the opening of the world's first man-made, sea-to-sea ship canal in 1790 (linking the River Clyde on the west coast of Scotland to the Firth of Forth and Edinburgh on the east).

This is his description of one of the canal passenger boats:

For here a cabin in each end is found,
That doth with all conveniences abound,
One in the head, for ladies nine or ten,
Another at the stern, for gentlemen,
With fires and tables, seats to sit at ease;
They may regale themselves with what they please.
For all utensils here are at command,
To eat and drink whate'er they have at hand.

James Maxwell died in 1800, aged 81.

© John Lapraik www.lapraik.com