James Pittendrigh Macgillivray was a leading sculptor who became a member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1901, and was appointed King’s Sculptor in Ordinary in 1921. He was also a poet and painter, printmaker and photographer. Born near Inverurie, at the age of fourteen Macgillivray was apprenticed to a sculptor in Edinburgh. He later studied with Glasgow sculptor John Mossman, and became the only sculptor member of the Glasgow Boys school of artists. Settling in Edinburgh in the 1890s, he designed the house called Ravelston Elms on Murrayfield Road, as both residence and studio, and lived there to the end of his life. He is best known for his public pieces, such as the Robert Burns statue in Irvine, and, in Edinburgh, the statue of John Knox in St Giles and the Gladstone memorial in Coates Crescent Gardens.
With his lively poetry in the Scots of his native North-East, Macgillivray was an early proponent of the Scottish Literary Renaissance, and Hugh MacDiarmid included several of his poems in the anthology Northern Numbers. Pro Patria, Macgillivray’s first collection, published in 1915, includes poems written during both Boer Wars as well as in the lead up to and the early months of the First World War. ‘Fratricide’, from 1912, records growing animosity between Britain and Germany:
Hating as brothers hate, they stand at bay,
Those blue-eyed wardens of the grey North Sea,
Stark alike in their might – steel-mailed, soul-free,
In fair-matched pride, hating, for right of way.
When war did come, Macgillivray joined the ranks of other older poets who put their yearning to be young enough to join the action into words, as here in ‘The Dandy Ninth’ (the Royal Scots, seen marching down Murrayfield Road in September 1914):
What would I not give to be going your way,
Though it led to my kingdom-come!
It is life, where the days are slow and stuck–
Fire, where the ashes are grey–
The Tartan again and one hour of pluck! –
Have I lived till the fates say ‘Nay’?
The striking poem ‘A Woman in the Street’ was published in Bog-myrtle and Peat Reek (1922).