Published Poet

Alexander Wilson's first volume of poems appeared in 1790, printed by John Neilson of Paisley.

His earlier meeting with Colonel McDowall of Castle Semple had been influential in making Neilson decide to publish. Hunter (1983) states that we know this fact from a letter from Wilson to James Kennedy, dated 26th January, 1790.

Wilson had contributed to a few periodicals, notably “The Bee”, before this first volume. Also Neilson published a short run of a poem titled “Hollander, or Light Weight”before publishing the collection; the idea being to arouse interest. This work “Hollander, or Light Weight”, a satirical poem, did indeed manage to do just that.

The poem, published in February 1790, amounted to a humourous attack on a local silk manufacturer called William Henry. However Henry found the poem defamatory and took legal action against Wilson. The poet who had enlisted the help of a Paisley lawyer denied that Henry was the subject of the poem. The manufacturer easily proved that this was untrue. A trial was fixed for 23 November 1790 but never took place (Hunter, p.39). Meanwhile Alexander Wilson had been struggling to monetise from the publication of his poems of which “600 copies had been printed for 400 subscribers”.

His first published work could hardly be termed a success. Influenced by an event in Edinburgh in 1791 where he had achieved some measure of notice through the recitation of the poem “The Laurel Disputed” he aspired to bring out a new edition of his poems. He also, anonymously, published “Watty and Meg”, a comical poem on the immortal theme of “The Taming of the Shrew” comprised of many verses of four lines.

For whatever reason Wilson had been fortunate not to have been involved in legal proceedings regarding the content of his poem “Hollander”. In the case of his next satirical poem, “The Shark; or Lang Mills Detected” he was not so lucky. As Clark Hunter points out (p. 47) the real folly was not in the poem itself but the accompanying letter sent to the subject of the poem, William Sharp, maunfacturer in Paisley. The letter demanded money be paid within a short time or the poem would be published, a threat tantamount to blackmail and clearly unacceptable regardless of the circumstances.