Biography Evan MacColl

Evan MacColl

photo of Evan MacColl
  • Time Period1808 - 1898
  • Place
  • CountryScotland

Poet Biography

Evan MacColl, who has gained a wide celebrity both as a Gaelic and an English poet, was born at Kenmore, Loch Fyne-side, Scotland, on the 21st of September, 1808, in which neighbourhood he was known as "Clarsair-nam-beann" or the Mountain Minstrel.

He was the child of parents in a humble walk of life, though boasting a long lineage his paternal ancestors being the MacColls of.Glasdruim Glencreran. His mother belonged to the Clan Cameron and the poetic faculty of MacColl was inherited from her. Evan received a fair education, his father, though ill able to afford the expense, engaging a tutor for him in order that he might have advantages superior to those which the village school could afford. He soon acquired a decided taste for literature and read with avidity such books as came in his way. The perusal of Burns’ poems and some of the standard English classics give a marked impetus to the literary bent of his mind and when hardly out of his boyhood, he began to compose poetry.

He was during his youth employed in farming and fishing, but though the nature of his avocations retarded they did not suppress his intellectual development. Evan MacColl was not destined to be a mute inglorious Milton, and chill penury did not "freeze the genial current of his soul." In 1837 he became a contributor to the Gaelic Magazine then published in Glasgow. His poems excited much interest and speedily won a reputation for the youthful author. Before long a collection of his Gaelic poems was published under the title, of "Clarsach nam Beann," or "Poems and Songs in Gaelic." This was followed by another collection under the title of "The Mountain Minstrel, or Poems and Songs in English." This publication won him fresh laurels and many competent literary authorities were loud in his praise. Dr. Norman McLeod, editor of Good Words, wrote as follows: "Evan MacColl’s poetry is the product of a mind impressed with the beauty and the grandeur of the lovely scenes in which his infancy has been nursed. We have no hesitation in saying that the work is that of a man possessed of much poetic genius. Wild indeed and sometimes rough are his rhymes and epithets, yet there are thoughts so new and striking—images and comparisons so beautiful and original—feelings so warm and fresh that stamp this Highland peasant as no ordinary man."

Mr. MacColl’s family emigrated to Canada in 1831 but he remained behind, and in 1837 procured a clerkship in the customs at Liverpool. Here he remained until 1850, when his health having became impaired he visited his friends in Canada. Here he met with Hon. Malcolm Cameron, then in office and was by him offered a position in the Canadian Customs at Kingston which he gladly accepted. He remained in this post for thirty years being superannuated about the year 1880.

He had written numerous poems, mainly of a lyrical character, during his residence in Canada, one of the most noted of which is his "Robin", written for the occasion of the Burns Centennial celebration in Kingston. The easy and melodious expression of which is in excellent imitation of Burns’ own style. He had been for many years the bard of the St. Andrew’s Society of Kingston, and his anniversary poems are greatly appreciated by all Scotsmen.
Mr. MacColl is a thorough Scot in his tastes, sympathies and characteristics. His nature simple and sincere and his many amiable qualities have won the sympathy and esteem of a wide circle of friends. His poetic gifts have been transmitted to his daughter, Miss Mary J. MacColl, who recently published a meritorious little volume of poems entitled "Bide a wee," highly commended for their sweetness and delicacy.