He was not wholly idle. He wrote a number of short pieces of verse in Punch, and two or three in the St. James's Gazette. Other work, no doubt, he planned, but his strength was gone. In 1891 his book, The Scarlet Gown, was published by his friend, Mr. A. M. Holden. The little volume, despite its local character, was kindly received by the Reviews. Here, it was plain, we had a poet who was to St. Andrews what the regretted J. K. S. was to Eton and Cambridge. This measure of success was not calculated to displease our alumnus addictissimus.
Friendship and love, he said, made the summer of 1892 very happy to him. I last heard from him in the summer of 1893, when he sent me some of his most pleasing verses. He was in Scotland; he had wandered back, a shadow of himself, to his dear St. Andrews. I conceived that he was better; he said nothing about his health. It is not easy to quote from his letters to his friend, Mr. Wallace, still written in his beautiful firm hand. They are too full of affectionate banter: they also contain criticisms on living poets: he shows an admiration, discriminating and not wholesale, of Mr. Kipling's verse: he censures Mr. Swinburne, whose Jacobite song (as he wrote to myself) did not precisely strike him as the kind of thing that Jacobites used to sing.
`The faith our fathers fought for, The kings our fathers knew,'
in a different tone in the North.
The perfect health of mind, in these letters of a dying man, is admirable. Reading old letters over, he writes to Miss -, `I have known a wonderful number of wonderfully kind-hearted people.' That is his criticism of a world which had given him but a scanty welcome, and a life of foiled endeavour, of disappointed hope. Even now there was a disappointment. His poems did not find a publisher: what publisher can take the risk of adding another volume of poetry to the enormous stock of verse brought out at the author's expense? This did not sour or sadden him: he took Montaigne's advice, `not to make too much marvel of our own fortunes.' His biographer, hearing in the winter of 1893 that Murray's illness was now considered hopeless, though its rapid close was not expected, began, with Professor Meiklejohn, to make arrangements for the publication of the poems. But the poet did not live to have this poor gratification. He died in the early hours of 1894.
Of the merits of his more serious poetry others must speak. To the Editor it seems that he is always at his best when he is inspired by the Northern Sea, and the long sands and grey sea grasses. Then he is most himself. He was improving in his art with every year: his development, indeed, was somewhat late.
It is less of the writer than the man that we prefer to think. His letters display, in passages which he would not have desired to see quoted, the depth and tenderness and thoughtfulness of his affections. He must have been a delightful friend: illness could not make him peevish, and his correspondence with old college companions could never be taken for that of a consciously dying man. He had perfect courage, and resolution even in his seeming irresoluteness. He was resolved to be, and continued to be, himself. `He had kept the bird in his bosom.' We, who regret him, may wish that he had been granted a longer life, and a secure success. Happier fortunes might have mellowed him, no fortunes could have altered for the worse his admirable nature. He lives in the hearts of his friends, and in the pride and sympathy of those who, after him, have worn and shall wear the scarlet gown.
The following examples of his poetry were selected by Murray's biographer from a considerable mass, and have been seen through the press by Professor Meiklejohn, who possesses the original manuscript, beautifully written.