1771–1854

Introduction

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Born: No­vem­ber 4, 1771, Ir­vine, Ayr­shire, Scot­land.

Died: Ap­ril 30, 1854, Mount, Shef­field, Eng­land.

Buried: Shef­field Ca­thed­ral, Eng­land. A sta­tue was erect­ed in his me­mo­ry in the Shef­field ce­me­te­ry, a stained glass win­dow was in­stalled in the par­ish church, and a pub­lic hall was named af­ter him.

Pseudonym: Alæus.

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Biography

When Mont­go­me­ry was five years old, his fa­mi­ly moved to the Mo­ra­vi­an set­tle­ment at Grace­hill, near Bal­ly­me­na, Coun­ty An­trim.

Two years lat­er, he was sent to the Ful­neck Se­mi­na­ry in York­shire. He left Ful­neck in 1787 to work in a shop in Mir­field, near Wake­field. Soon tir­ing of that, he se­cured a sim­i­lar po­si­tion at Wath, near Roth­er­ham, on­ly to find it as un­sui­t­able as his pre­vi­ous job.

A trip to Lon­don, hop­ing to find a pub­lish­er for his youth­ful po­ems, end­ed in fail­ure. In 1792, he glad­ly left Wath for Shef­field to be as­sist­ant to Mr. Gales, auc­tion­eer, book­sell­er, and print­er of the Shef­field Re­gis­ter.

In 1794, Gales left Eng­land to avoid po­li­tic­al pro­se­cu­tion. Mont­go­me­ry took the Shef­field Re­gis­ter in hand, changed its name to the Shef­field Iris, and con­tin­ued to ed­it it for 32 years. Dur­ing the next two years he was im­pris­oned twice, first for re­print­ing a song in com­mem­o­ra­tion of the fall of the Bas­tille, then for giv­ing an ac­count of a ri­ot in Shef­field.

The ed­it­ing of his pa­per, the com­po­si­tion and pub­li­ca­tion of his po­ems and hymns, the de­liv­e­ry of lec­tures on po­e­try in Shef­field and at the Roy­al In­sti­tu­tion, Lon­don, and the ad­vo­ca­cy of for­eign mis­sions and the Bi­ble Soc­i­ety, gave him great va­ri­e­ty, but lit­tle of stir­ring in­ci­dent in his life.

How­ev­er, he did find time to write 400 hymns. In 1833, Mont­go­me­ry re­ceived a roy­al pen­sion of £200 per year.

Publications

Poem

Human Life

How few and evil are thy days,
Man, of a woman born!
Trouble and peril haunt thy ways—
Forth like a flower at morn,
The tender infant springs to light,
Youth blossoms with the breeze,
Age, withering age, is cropt ere night—
Man like a shadow flees.

And dost Thou look on such an one?
Will God to judgment call
A worm, for what a worm hath done
Against the Lord of all?
As fail the waters from the deep,
As summer brooks run dry,
Man lieth down in dreamless sleep—
Our life is vanity.

Man lieth down, no more to wake,
Till yonder arching sphere
Shall with a roll of thunder break,
And nature disappear—
Oh! hide me, till Thy wrath be past,
Thou, who canst kill or save;
Hide me, where hope may anchor fast,
In my Redeemer’s grave.

James Montgomery
Greenland, and Other Po­ems, 1819

Sources

Lyrics