Christian Milne’s Simple Poems on Simple Subjects contains fifty-six poems, including autobiographical poems, fictional narratives, and songs, all created by the working-class Scottish poet who was born in Inverness in 1773. Milne’s collection was published in 1805 by J. Chalmers and Co., in Aberdeen, Scotland. Little is known about the distribution of the volume, but, in the final poem in the volume, Upon Seeing the List of Subscribers to this Little Work, Milne includes the list of the volume’s extensive financial supporters, consisting of 523 individual subscribers. The poems appear to be in no particularly significant order, but most of the songs and “tales” are included together while the autobiographical poems are scattered throughout the volume. Most of the poems in the volume are written in the form of pentameter couplets, tetrameter couplets, or stanzas of “common meter,” or hymn meter.
Milne’s poetry has received little critical attention largely due to its scarcity. According to the Worldcat Database, only six copies of Milne’s collection exist in libraries worldwide: Glasgow University, Harvard, New York Public Library, University of Alberta, University of Western Ontario, and University of California-Davis. The UC-Davis copy has recently been made available electronically in two databases: the open website British Women Romantic Poets, 1789-1832, sponsored by the Shields Library at UC-Davis since 1999, and the commercial database Scottish Women Poets of the Romantic Period, issued by the Alexander Street Press in collaboration with the University of Chicago in 2002. This electronic availability of rare archival materials provided the opportunities to research Milne’s work for this thesis. The one piece of published criticism on Milne’s poetry to date is Bridget Keegan’s introduction to Milne’s collection in the Scottish Women Poets database.
Milne, as revealed through her autobiographical Preface, Introductory Verses, and through her array of autobiographical poems, began life as one of ten children, her father a successful cabinet maker. Following the deaths of her mother and eight of her siblings, Milne and her father travelled by foot from Stonehaven, near Aberdeen, to Edinburgh, where the two lived, suffering through poverty and illness. Milne supported her father monetarily, by working as a servant, and emotionally, as he battled consumption and bouts of depression. Her autobiographical introductory sections, as well as her autobiographical poems, reveal a woman who describes her tumultuous past from the relative comfort and security of a seemingly happy marriage back in Aberdeen, enjoying her roles as the wife of a ship’s carpenter, Patrick Milne, as the mother of four children, and her role as a writer, as well. All of her poems work together to reveal the complexities of her identity as a working-class mother, wife, and writer.
In this thesis, I focus on eleven of Milne’s poems and divide them into three chapters, titled, 1) Humble Confidence: Poems of Address to Members of the Upper-Classes; 2) Negotiations of Womanhood, Writing, and Self; and 3) A Scottish Briton: War, Peace, and Nationality. These three groupings specifically examine several crucial elements of Milne’s poetry: her negotiation of her own gender and class identity as revealed through her addresses to other women and men, particularly those in the upper classes; her self-reflection and self-analysis as a working-class wife, mother, and writer; and her unique perspective on war, peace, nation and empire as a working-class Scottish woman.