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Alexander Rodger 1784-1846

Alexander Rodger was born in 1784 in East Calder, Midlothian. By 1797 he had come to Glasgow as apprentice to a weaver and began composing verse around 1800. He married in 1806 and went to live in Bridgeton, then a suburb of Glasgow, and began publishing in The Spirit of the Union whose editor, Gilbert McLeod, was arrested and tried for sedition in 1819. Already in 1816 Rodger had composed a sarcastic piece which was critical of the city council whose members attempted to prevent a meeting of reformers in the city that year. In 1820 Rodger was also arrested and imprisoned because of his association with McLeod and his writings on political reform. While in prison, where he sang out his verses to annoy his jailers, Rodger composed Written in a certain Bridewell, which describes the family left at home to worry without means of support, and also the state of paranoia on the part of the authorities. Eventually released, Rodger later worked as a cloth inspector at Barrowfield and continued to write satirical poems on the reform movement in 1832 and afterwards. He died in 1846 and was buried in Glasgow.

The language of Alexander Rodger’s poems ranges from English with Scots features through to consistently Scots. He often flitted between the two for effect and rhyming scheme.  When in 1816 the provost and baillies intervened to prevent reformers using venues in the city of Glasgow, and threatened to bring in troops if necessary, Rodger wrote a sarcastic poem from the point of view of the corrupt Glasgow council who wished to keep power:


Vile, ‘sooty rabble’, what d’ye mean?

By raising a’ this dreadful din?

Do ye no ken what horrid sin

                      Ye are committing

By haudin’ up your chafts sae thin

                       For sic a meeting?

Vile Black-nebs! Doomed through life to drudge

And howk amang your native sludge,

Wha is’t gives you the right to judge

                         O’ siccan matters,

That ye maun grumble, grunt an’ grudge

                          At us, your betters?

Base Rads! whose ignorance surpasses,

The dull stupidity of asses,

Think ye the privileged classes,

                        Care aught aboot ye?

If ony mair ye daur to fash us,

                        By George! we’ll shoot ye!

We’ve walth o’ sodgers in the toun,

To keep sic ragamuffins doun;

And gin ye dinna settle soon,

                          By a’ that’s guid,

We’ll gar the common sewers rin,

                           Wi’ your base bluid!

Tak’, therefore, this kind admonition:

Recant, repent, be a’ submission:

And, as a proof that your contrition

                          Is frae the heart,

In Gude’s name burn that vile Petition,

                          Before ye part.

Later, in 1820, Alexander Rodger was arrested in a raid and locked up a state prisoner, solely on the basis of his writings and associations, though he took no part in the uprising. He then composed a poem called Written in a certain Bridewell, by a state prisoner, in the month of April 1820. In this Rodger described how his family felt and how he felt the heartless authorities had over reacted. Another example of Rodger’s work is the long satirical poem entitled The Waefu’ Lamentation: of the Provost and Bailies of the Royal Burgh of Blythswood, which describes the anger of the corrupt city councillors at the passage of the 1832 Reform Bill which sought to extend the vote and bring to an end the domination of councils by small self-interested groups and families. Both of these poems are reproduced in the PDF document below.