Prepared for the 1875 Edition.

James Tannahill, the respected head of the family, was chosen Deacon, or Boxmaster, of the Paisley Old Weavers' Society on Monday, the 9th day of October, 1786. The Incorporation of Weavers, at that time, were owners of several pews in the Laigh Kirk of Paisley, and one of them was devoted to the use of the Deacon and Managers of the Society. Like the Bailies, the Deacons of the weavers in these days wore cocked hats to the Church. On Sunday, the 15th of October, 1786, Deacon Tannahill came out of his cottage in Queen Street dressed in his cocked hat, to attend, along with the Managers, the ministrations of the Rev. Colin Gillies in the Laigh Kirk. On the 1st of June, 1788, he was further elevated in being elected one of the Directors of the Paisley Dispensary (now Paisley Infirmary), instituted on 18th April, 1786. Only the intelligent and respectable inhabitants of Paisley have filled these responsible offices, and these appointments at once establish the position and status in society in which the Poet's father was held by his fellow-townsmen.

This upright and intelligent tradesman tried the manufacturing of patent netts (a fancy textile fabric of the period) for a short time, but he had not the dash about him to embark largely and plunge deeply into the business. He brought up a large family respectably, and being an attentive and industrious weaver, and proprietor of the house in which he resided, he was always looked upon as a person in easy circumstances. He followed the even tenor of his way till the day of his death in December, 1801, or January, 1802, in the 69th year of his age. He was interred in the burying ground attached to the Relief Church (now the United Presbyterian Church), Canal Street, Paisley.

Having now spoken of the respectability of the parentage of our Author from authentic documents of easy access in a much fuller manner than other biographers, the atmosphere becomes clearer to enter upon the life of his son. It did not require to be enveloped in the scholastic language and polite literature of one original biographer, or wrapt up in the flowery language of another. It stood out in bold relief among his imperishable songs. Subsequent compilers, without making the smallest enquiry to glean a little new and true information, attempted to improve the former biographies, either by modifying or exaggerating previous statements, while their emendations or inferences were more frequently on the wrong than the right side.



ROBERT TANNAHILL, according to the memorandum note-book of his father and register of baptisms for the Burgh Parish of Paisley, was the fifth child and fourth son of his parents, and was born between the hours of nine and ten o'clock in the morning of June 3rd, 1774. A sickly child during his infant years, with a delicate constitution, he endured considerable pain. The careful attention bestowed in the nursing of his tender frame established his health and strengthened his body. A slight bend in the right foot was straightened, and the slender appearance of the leg overcome by the simple contrivance of wearing additional stockings. During his childhood he was shy in the meeting of strangers, and that bashfulness continued more or less during his whole life.


Both the father and mother had received a liberal education themselves, and they had a strong desire, and were both able and willing, to give all their children a similar advantage. Robert was sent to school when about six years of age, and he continued for several years to receive the usual instruction taught in English schools to the children of parents moving in their position. All his brothers received a good education, and some of them afterwards filled situations which required a superior knowledge of writing and arithmetic. We have read letters written by several of these brothers, and can testify that they had either received a better education, or had applied the instruction they had obtained with great ability. In support of the education of the Tannahills, we may refer to the daughter, Miss Tannahill, having been sent to a ladies' school, to learn sewing, a course of instruction in these days only given to the daughters of the upper classes in town. Miss Tannahill sewed a neatly executed sampler having the letters of the alphabet in roman capital and small letters, the initial letters of the names of her parents and brothers, and the front elevation of her father's cottage in Queen Street, all bearing the imprimatur, “Janet Tannahill sewed this sampler in 13th year of her age” (1782), closing with the 30th verse of the xxxi. chapter of Proverbs, “Favour is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman that feareth the Lord shall be praised.” Robert Tannahill did not distinguish himself in school from the other boys and girls on the forms, but it has been said that at ten years of age he astonished his schoolmates in attempting impromptu rhyming and making verses on the public char­acters in town or on a curious boy in school. After he had left the school, he procured a pocket dictionary to obtain the meaning of words, and from a grammar in the volume he instructed himself in the art of speaking and writing correctly.


After leaving school, he was bound, in 1786, apprentice to his father at the weaving trade for the space of five years. It was the custom at that time to bind all apprentices whether they learned the trade with their parents or other parties. In the Minute Book of the Weavers' Society, now called the Old Weavers' Society, the following entry occurs,—“7th December, 1786, Robert Tannahill, son of James Tannahill, weaver in Queen Street, Paisley, is entered apprentice with his father.”

Muslin, linen, and silk gauze weaving, was a very light employment, and a child could have wrought at it. Robert Tannahill being brought up with his father and two elder brothers who were all weavers before him, and the weaving shop and dwelling house being a but and ben, he would occasionally try his hand at the shuttle, and very naturally and early took to the weaving. Twelve years of age was then a very common age for boys to be sent to the weaving, and they were not subjected to long confinement. It was neither from necessity nor poverty, as insinuated by some of the Poet's biographers that he was thus early sent to the loom, but from the industrious habits of the family, the lightness of the manual labour, and the high remunerative wages derived from the employment. The Weavers' Society, when they entered ROBERT TANNAHILL, then twelve and a-half years of age, an apprentice, must have considered him quite fit to learn the trade at his age, and we think it must be admitted the managers in 1786 would be better judges of the capacities of the young lads engaging in the trade of the period, than the Biographers of TANNAHILL giving their opinions thirty years afterwards, when a generation had passed away, and new kinds of weaving carried on altogether.


During the schoolboy days of ROBERT TANNAHILL, he rambled much in the grounds of Fairy Woodside and the lands of Sweet Ferguslie, which were within three minutes' walk from his father's cottage—up Queen Street and down King Street, into the dark waving plantings and green shady bowers of Craigilee. As he grew older he extended his rambles to Meikleriggs Muir, Newton Woods, the Braes of Gleniffer, Stanley Castle, Cruickston Castle, Neilston, Kilbarchan, Lochwinnoch, and Beith. During these delightful excursions he was storing his mind with material, which afterwards broke forth into lyric strains which astonished his companions. These walks would also be taken to strengthen his delicate constitution that it might endure greater fatigue, although in long walks he felt pain in the necessary exertion.

The five brothers of ROBERT TANNAHILL were all brought up to the trade of weaving, as the textile manu­factures of Paisley, whither of linen, silk gauze, or cotton lawn, had maintained their superiority both at home and abroad. With the view of still further encouraging the weavers and manufacturers of the town, the ladies of the Court of Queen Charlotte all appeared in Paisley Silk Gauze on l9th May, 1790, Her Majesty's anniver­sary of her birthday. From a leaf of the shipping ledger of Messrs. Fulton and Pollocks of Maxwelton, Paisley, dated 15th October, 1790, and pasted on one of the boards of the Minute Book of the Paisley Burns Club to form a pocket for pens, pencils, and papers, it appeared that goods of that extensive house had been shipped, per the Mediterranean Packet, of the following patterns :—Spider Nett, Clermont, Corded, Soft Lawn, Gauze, Patent Nett, Inkle Spots, Silk Spots, Tiffany, Figure, Italian Tiffany, Chain Figure, Cut Chain Figure, Stripes, Black Soft Turkey Gauze.

It was customary for the youths of both sexes in Paisley in these days to acquire the art of dancing. The teacher of dancing, during the life of TANNAHILL, was William Banks, whose school was situated in the Wangaitend (No. 5 Moss Street). Previous to 1767 the Flesh Market was situated there, when it was removed to the opposite side of the street, on the ground now occupied by the Exchange Rooms. The under flat of the old Flesh Market was then converted into the Custom-Booth, and, in 1771, the upper flat into an Assembly Hall, and let to William Banks, who continued to occupy it till the Building was taken down in 1807, and the present range of four storey houses erected. The young people were afterwards in the habit of attending the dancing halls, of which there were several throughout the town, to enjoy the exhilarating exercise and practice for the annual ball. It was also a common practice for several companions to unite themselves into convivial parties, and invite their sweethearts to a night's enjoy­ment when the song, innocent conversation, the jest and banter served to pass many a tedious winter's evening.