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Robert Pollok (1798-1827). Courtesy Portal to the Past.

Robert Pollok
Born 19 October 1798[1]
Renfrewshire, Scotland
Died 15 September 1827
Shirley, Hampshire, England
Occupation Poet
Nationality Scottish

Robert Pollok (19 October 1798 - 15 September 1827) was a Scottish poet.



Pollok was born in Refrewshire, and studied for the ministry of a Scottish dissenting communion. After leaving the University of Glasgow he published anonymously Tales of the Covenanters, and in 1827, the year of his untimely death from consumption, appeared his poem, The Course of Time, which contains some fine passages, and occasionally faintly recalls Milton and Young. The poem went through many editions in Britain and America. He died at Shirley, near Southampton, where he had gone in search of health.[2]

Youth and education[]

Pollock, son of a small farmer, and 7th of a family of 8 children, was born at North Moorhouse, in the parish of Eaglesham, Renfrewshire, on 19 October 1798.[3]

In 1805 the family settled at Mid Moorhouse, about a quarter of a mile from their previous residence, and this is the Moorhouse of Pollok's letters.[3]

He received his elementary education at South Longlee, a neighboring farm, and at Mearns parish school, Renfrewshire, where, by excessive indulgence in athletic exercise, he permanently weakened his health.[3]

In the spring of 1815 he tried cabinet-making under his brother-in-law, but relinquished the trade after constructing 4 chairs. Pollok worked on his father's farm till the autumn of 1815, when he and his elder brother, David, decided to become secession ministers, and were prepared for the university at the parish school of Fenwick, Ayrshire. Pollok's general reading had already embraced the works of various standard English poets, and he began poetical composition, specially affecting blank verse.[3]

In 1817 Pollok went to Glasgow University, where he earned an M.A. in 1822. He was a good student, gaining distinction in logic and moral philosophy.[3] He read widely; composed many verses; founded a college literary society; began a commonplace book; and gave evidence of an acute critical gift in a letter, entitled "A Discussion on Compositional Thinking" (Life, by his brother, 76).[4] During this time, he anonymously published 3 stories: Helen of the Glen, The Persecuted Family, and Ralph Gemmell.[5] After Pollok's death, these would be published together under his name as Tales of the Covenanters.

From 1822 to 1827 he studied theology, both at the United Secession Hall and at Glasgow University. In spite of bad health, he devoted his leisure to literature.[4]


Pollok began in 1825 the work which developed into the Course of Time. It was prompted by Byron's "Darkness," which he found in a miscellany. John Blackwood, supported by the opinion of Professor Wilson and David Macbeth Moir (Delta), published the poem in the spring of 1827.[4]

After 2 years of preparation at Dunfermline, Pollok received his qualification as a probationer under the United Association Synod on 2 May 1827. He preached once in Edinburgh, and 3 times at Slateford, in the neighborhood, but his health disallowed any permanent engagement.[4]

Dr. Belfrage of Slateford befriended him, consulted Dr. Abercrombie and other eminent physicians in his interest, and agreed with them that he should visit Italy. Among his many visitors at Slateford was Henry Mackenzie, author of the Man of Feeling, then 84 years of age.[4]

At length he made (with his sister, Mrs. Gilmour) the voyage from Leith to London, where the doctors pronounced him unfit for further travel. His sister settled with him at Shirley Common, near Southampton, where he died 18 September 1827. He was buried in the neighboring churchyard of Millbrook.[4]


The Course of Time, Edinburgh, 1827, 8vo, is Pollok's permanent contribution to literature. It is in 10 books, the blank verse in which it is written recalling Cowper and Young, whose harmonies Pollok regarded as the language of the gods. Concerned with the destiny of man, the poem is conceived on a stupendous scale, which baffled the writer's artistic resources. Never absolutely feeble, it tends to prolixity and discursiveness, but is relieved by passages of sustained brilliance. It reached its 4th edition in 1828, and its 25th in 1867. An edition, with illustrations by Birket Foster and John Tenniel appeared in 1857 (London, 8vo), and the 78th thousand appeared at Edinburgh in 1868.[4]

Of Pollok's other experiments in verse, published in the Life by his brother, the most remarkable is his contemplative "Thoughts on Man," in chap. vi.[4]

The 3 Tales of the Covenanters, written in 1824-1825, "Helen of the Glen," "Ralph Gemmell," and "The Persecuted Family," were published anonymously, in a time of stress, for what they would bring, and Pollok never acknowledged them. After his death the publishers issued them with his name.[4]

His wide reading and discrimination are displayed in his comprehensive "Survey of Christian Literature."[4]



The Poet Robert Pollok 1798 - 1827, Centenary Memorial

A granite obelisk over his grave bears the inscription, "His immortal Poem is his monument."[4]

His portrait, painted by Sir Daniel Macnee, P.R.S.A., is in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.[4]



  • The Course of Time: A poem, in ten books. Edinburgh: Blackwood / London: Caddell, 1827; Boston: Crocker & Brewster / New York: J. Leavitt, 1828.
  • Poetical Works of Crabbe, Heber, and Pollok. (1 volume), Philadelphia : Grigg & Elliott, 1839.


  • Apocalyptic Regeneration: A series of lectures on the Book of Revelation, with a dissertation on prophetic time. Glasgow: Thomas Murray & Son, 1858.


  • Helen of the Glen: A tale for youth. Glasgow: Chalmers & Collins / Edinburgh: Waugh & Innes / Wm. Oliphant / Dublin: R.M. Tims / London: G. & W.B. Whittaker / F. Westley / J. Nisbet, 1824.
  • The Persecuted Family. Edinburgh: J. Robertson, 1825; 4th edition, 1829; New York: J. Leavitt et al, 1829.
  • Ralph Gemmell: A tale for youth. Edinburgh: James Robertson / Glasgow: Maurice Ogle / Chalmers & Collins / London Baldwin Cradock & Joy / John Hatchard and Son / William Booth / Newcastle,UK: James Finlay / Colchester, UK: Swinborne & Walter, 1825
    • also published as Ralph Gemmell; or, The banks of the Irvine. New York: R. Carter, 1842.
  • Tales of the Covenanters. Edinburgh: W. Oliphant, 1833.
    • also published as Tales of the Scottish Covenanters. New York: R. Carter, 1845.

Collected editions[]

  • James Scott, Life, Letters and Remains of the Rev. Robert Pollok. New York: Robert Carter, 1848.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[6]

See also[]


  •  Bayne, Thomas Wilson (1896) "Pollok, Robert" in Lee, Sidney Dictionary of National Biography 46 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 69-70 . Wikisource, Web, Feb. 20, 2018.
  • David Pollok, The Life Of Robert Pollok: Author Of "The Course Of Time. Blackwood, 1843


  1. Rosaline Masson, Pollok & Aytoun, Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier (Famous Scots Series'), 1898: 11.
  2. John William Cousin, "Pollok, Robert," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 304. Wikisource, Web, Feb. 20, 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Bayne, 69.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 Bayne, 70.
  5. Schaff, Philip. Pollok, Robert. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge.
  6. Search results = au:Robert Pollok, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Feb. 20, 2018.

External links[]


This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the Dictionary of National Biography (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1885-1900. Original article is at: Pollok, Robert