Allan Cunningham 1784 – 1842
October 11, 2009
Allan Cunningham 1784 – 1842 was a Scottish poet and author.
Cunningham was born at Keir, near Dalswinton, Dumfriesshire, and first worked as a stone mason’s apprentice. His father was a neighbour of Robert Burns at Ellisland, and Allan with his brother James visited James Hogg, the “Ettrick shepherd”, who became a friend to both.
Cunningham’s other brothers were the naval surgeon Peter Miller Cunningham and the poet, Thomas Mounsey Cunningham (1776–1834).
Cunningham was apprenticed to a stonemason, but gave his leisure to reading and writing imitations of old Scottish ballads.
Cunningham contributed some songs to Roche’s Literary Recreations in 1807, and in 1809 he collected old ballads for Robert Hartley Cromek’s Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song; he sent in, however, poems of his own, which the editor inserted, even though he may have suspected their real authorship.
In 1810 Cunningham went to London, where he worked as a parliamentary reporter and journalist till 1814, when he became clerk of the works in the studio of the sculptor, Francis Chantrey, a post he kept until Chantrey’s death in 1841.
Cunningham meanwhile continued to write, three novels, a life of Sir D. Wilkie, and Lives of Eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, besides many songs. His prose is often spoiled by its misplaced and too ambitious rhetoric; his verse also is ornate, and both are full of mannerisms.
Some of his songs, however, hold a high place among British lyrics. A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea is one of the best British sea songs, although written by a landsman; and many other of Cunningham’s songs became popular.
He also brought out an edition of Robert Burns’ Works.
He was married to Jean Walker, who had been servant in a house where he lived, and they had five sons and one daughter, all of whom rose to important positions, and inherited in some degree his literary gifts. Among them were Joseph Davey Cunningham, Alexander Cunningham, Peter Cunningham and Francis Cunningham.