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Davidson, Thomas (1838-1870) (DNB00)


DAVIDSON, THOMAS (1838–1870), Scottish poet, was of English extraction, his father, a shepherd, being a native of the neighbourhood of Wooler, and his mother of Belford. He was born at Oxnam Row, near Oxnam Water, a tributary of the Teviot, about four miles from Jedburgh, 7 July 1838. He was educated at various village schools, and, having displayed in his early years a passionate love of books, was sent in 1854 to the Nest Academy at Jedburgh, with the view of preparing for the university of Edinburgh, which he entered in 1855. In 1859 he became a student of theology in the united presbyterian church, and was licensed as a preacher 2 Feb. 1864, but never was settled in a charge. A cold caught in June 1866 seriously affected his health, and he died of consumption at Bank End, Jedburgh, 29 April 1870. Before he entered the university Davidson was in the habit of amusing himself in the composition of verses. In 1859 he obtained the second prize in the rhetoric class for a poem on ‘Ariadne at Naxos.’ His friends discerned in the poem a finish and grace which seemed to entitle it to higher consideration, and one of them without his knowledge sent it to Thackeray, who inserted it with an illustration in the ‘Cornhill Magazine’ for December 1860. Davidson's enthusiasm for Scottish poetry and Scottish song had made him a centre of attraction to many kindred spirits at the university, and he was in the habit of composing verses which he sang to the old Scotch airs, to the ‘great delight of all.’ Occasionally he sent songs and short poems to the ‘Scotsman.’ Most of his verses have a touch of pathos in them, relieved, however, by the never-failing humour which was one of his strongest characteristics. The song ‘Myspie's Den’ is worthy almost to rank with the love ballads of Burns, and the ‘Auld Ash Tree,’ with its weird refrain, ‘To weary me, to weary me,’ strikes the minor key in tones the mournful charm of which cannot be resisted. On the other hand, he exhibited the prodigality of his humour in the ‘Yang-Tsi-Kiang,’ an extravaganza, which, after being made use of by the supporters of Carlyle in the contest for the lord rectorship of the university, has continued to retain its popularity as a students' song.

[The Life of a Scottish Probationer, being a Memoir of Thomas Davidson, by John Brown, 1877, contains with his poems extracts from his letters, displaying that peculiar union of wit and genial sympathy which gave also an indescribable charm to his conversation and won him the ‘strong affection’ of many friends.]

T. F. H.