Alexander Smith lived from 31 December 1830 to 5 January 1867. He was a Scottish poet who is best remembered for some of the prose he wrote, and who died at the tragically early age of 37. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Alexander was born in Kilmarnock, the oldest child of John Smith, a Lowlander who worked as a textile designer and printer, and Christina Murray Smith, a Highlander who introduced him to Gaelic songs and Highland legends. After a fairly basic education, Alexander was sent to work in a textile mill.
He soon began to have his poetry published in the Glasgow Citizen, and in 1853 at the age of 23, his first collection of poetry was published, "A Life Drama and other Poems". This met with moderate success and allowed Smith to gain appointment to the post of Secretary of Edinburgh University in 1854.
Smith later formed a collaboration with Sydney Dobell resulting a in a book of War Sonnets (1855), inspired by the Crimean War. He also published City Poems (1857) and Edwin of Deira (1861), a Northumbrian epic poem.
Alexander Smith later poetry was less well received than his initial work, and he became regarded as a leading member of what was disdainfully called "The Spasmodic School" of Poetry. As a result he largely turned to prose, producing two novels; a book of essays on assorted subjects, Dreamthorp: Essays written in the Country, published in 1863; and what became by far his most successful and enduring book, A Summer in Skye published in 1865. The book recounts Smith's travels during the Summer of 1864, much of which he spent on the Isle of Skye.
A Summer in Skye is a wonderful evocation of a time now lost forever. Alexander Smith fell ill in 1865, the year this book was published, and died in 1867, at the age of 37 at Wardie, near Edinburgh. This gives a certain poignancy to the book, as with hindsight we know it describes what was to be his last visit, certainly in good health, to areas of Scotland he knew well, and loved deeply.