Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lowe, John (1750-1798)

LOWE, JOHN (1750–1798), Scottish poet, was born in 1750 at Kenmure, parish of Kells, East Galloway, his father being gardener at Kenmure Castle. After leaving the parish school he was apprenticed in New Galloway with John Heron, handloom weaver, father of Robert Heron (1764–1807) [q. v.] He improved his education at Carsphairn parish school, and with the help of friends entered Edinburgh University in 1771 to prepare for the church. He studied for two sessions, being tutor in the interval in the family of Mr. M'Ghie of Airds on the Dee, East Galloway. He became attached to one of the Misses M'Ghie, and found the subject for ‘Mary's Dream,’ his chief lyric, in the grief of her sister, whose lover, a ship surgeon, had been recently drowned. Near the house he had constructed an arbour in which he studied, and which, known as ‘Lowe's seat,’ Burns piously visited when he was in the neighbourhood in 1793 (Chambers, Burns, iv. 18).

Doubtful of success in the Scottish church, Lowe in 1773 went to the United States as tutor to the family of a brother of George Washington. Afterwards he conducted for a time a private school at Fredericksburgh, Virginia, where he presently took orders and obtained a living as a clergyman of the church of England. For a time he was, at least poetically, faithful to Miss M'Ghie, but he was at length fascinated by a beautiful Virginian lady, whose indifference impelled him to marry her more accommodating sister ‘from a sentiment of gratitude.’ The marriage was unhappy, Lowe became dissipated and died in 1798.

The remaining fragments of his poems (quoted from manuscript by Gillespie and Murray in their notices of Lowe) show a true, though undeveloped, love of natural beauty, and a vein of deep genuine feeling. His command of pathos is fully displayed in ‘Mary's Dream,’ his only complete lyric, which seems to have circulated in Galloway in a printed form before appearing in any collection. It has kinship with the story of Ceyx and Alcyone (as told from Ovid in Chaucer's ‘Deth of Blaunche’), and with Gay's ‘'Twas when the seas were roaring.’ When Robert Hartley Cromek [q. v.] was preparing his ‘Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song,’ 1810, Allan Cunningham foisted upon him as an antique an ingenious Scottish paraphrase of ‘Mary's Dream.’ Cromek gives both versions, and discourses with amusing seriousness on the superior merits of the pseudo-legendary strains.

[Gillespie's Life of Lowe in Cromek's Remains; Anderson's Scottish Nation, ii. 702; Grant Wilson's Poets and Poetry of Scotland; Murray's Literary Hist. of Galloway.]

T. B.