Alexander Anderson

1845 - 1909

Poet, who became Chief Librarian to the University of Edinburgh. Born in Kirkconnel (Dumfries and Galloway), the son of a quarrier, he attended the local school but continued his education through reading. He worked as a 'surfaceman' on the Glasgow and South Western Railway and adopted that as his pen name. He learned German, French and Spanish, and read the chief literary works in these languages.

In 1870 he began to get his poems published in the People's Friend magazine, and this was followed be a series of collections Songs of Labour (1873), Two Angels (1875), Songs of the Rail (1878), and Ballads and Sonnets (1879). His most popular poem, was perhaps Cuddle Doon, written in Scots. On the basis of his growing popularity, he was able to leave the railway in 1880 having been appointed Assistant Librarian to the University of Edinburgh. Three years later, he became Secretary to the Philosophical Institution. In 1886, he returned to the University and rose to become its Chief Librarian, a post he held until his death. Anderson never married. He died at his home in Edinburgh and lies buried at Kirkconnel. His Later Poems were published posthumously in 1912.

Anderson had a wide circle of friends, including the Duke of Argyll, author and philosopher Thomas Carlyle (1795 - 1881) and Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir Joseph Noel Paton (1821 - 1901). The African explorer Joseph Thomson (1858 - 1895) lived for a time with Anderson in Edinburgh, as did another painter James Paterson (1854 - 1932). Thomson became the subject of one of his poems, while Paterson painted Anderson's portrait. This painting and other items relating to Anderson were bought in 2013 by Dumfries Museums and Gallery Service, and are displayed in Sanquhar Tolbooth Museum.

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