Ballads and Sonnets

Ballads and Sonnets - Alexander Anderson If one must give in to the temptation to classify minor poets by schools, Anderson is a Wordsworthian by temperament, a Burnsian by life history. His nom-de-plume was "Surfaceman," and he was a self-educated manual labourer with the railway in Scotland. Knowing this puts an unnatural patina on what is, when all is said and done, some pleasant but rather conventional nineteenth century poetry. Anderson seems to be happiest in the sonnet form; there are several examples of sonnet sequences in this collection, although I'd call them less sequences than single long poems in which each sonnet is a stanza. There is much of foreign places, much of nature and its relation to the emotions, and a fair bit of domestic joys in Mr. Anderson's subject matter. He seems to have been an extremely good absorber of conventions both of matter and of form. One word in the glowingly patronizing reviews (printed at the end) struck me: earnest. Perhaps because of that earnestness of tone, it was the Scots ballads that I enjoyed most; they seemed to have something of a stamp of individuality to them. Only one dealt directly with railways, but they all had a touch of homeliness & truth which the more "refined" musings - and all credit to Anderson for having acquired that refinement - did not. Incidentally, the DNB says that Anderson ended up as Head Librarian at the University of Edinburgh! [These notes made in 1989:].