Greenshields One Name Study and their Kin

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  • ID: I03656
  • Sex: M
  • Birth: 29 Sep 1794 in Lesmahagow, Lanark, Scotland
  • Death: ABT. 24 Apr 1835 in Willans, Lesmahagow
  • Christening: 5 Oct 1794 Lesmahagow, Lanark, Scotland
  • MISC: Friend of Sir Walter Scott, his statue of him stands in George Square, Glasgow
  • MISC: Sculptor; formerly stonemason
  • Text: FR378
  • Note:
    Batch #: C116494, Source Call #: 1066597, 102955
    Batch #: C116494, Source Call #: 1066597, 102955
    Lesmahagow OPR

    Extract from The Kilmarnock Standard, Oct 8th 1932:

    An Interesting Scott Relic

    (Editorial note:- We are indebted to the Rev. James Greenshields, formerly of Muirkirk and now living in retirement at Prestwick, for the following interesting article on a little known Scottish sculptor, whose early death cut short a career of brilliant promise. The model of Sir Walter Scott, illustrated here, was made by the sculptor, John Greenshields, as a design for a monument in George Square, Glasgow. His design was accepted, but he died before he could execute the full size statue, and this was completed by other hands. The model is now in the possession of the Rev. James Greenshields, who is grand-nephew of the sculptor. The subject of the article was born at Lesmahagow, in 1795, his father being a farmer at Willans, in Carluke parish. He was trained as a mason, and when 28 years of age gave up that work to devote himself to sculpture. He was responsible for much of the carving on Hamilton Palace. "Betty" Greenshields, the sculptors mother, it may be said, was the great- grandmother of the writer of this article.)


    To Glasgow belongs the credit of having been the first city to erect a monument in memory of Sir Walter Scott. The photo here (not reproduced in the papers I was sent) is of the model from which the sculptor wrought in carving the statue which surmounts the lofty column which stands in George Square. A peculiar interest attaches to the model from the fact that it was the work of a remarkable man, a self taught sculptor, who enjoyed the friendship of Sir Walter Scott, and who, after less than eight years devoted to the production of statuary, died at the early age of 40 just when he was coming into fame. Although the monument in George Square was not erected until 1837, it may be said that the initial impulse which led to the production of the model was received as far back as 1829. In the Journal of Sir Walter Scott, under date 18th January, we read:- "We went , the two Lockharts and I, to William's new purchase of Milton. We found on his ground a cottage, where a man called Greenshields, a sensible, powerful-minded person, had at the age of 28 (rather too late a work) taken up

    The Art of Sculpture

    He had disposed of the person of the King most admirably, according to my poor thoughts, and had attained a wonderful expression of ease and majesty at the same time. He was desirous of engaging on Burns 'Jolly Beggars' which I dissuaded. Caricature is not the subject of sculpture."

    In his life of Sir Walter Scott, Lockhart refers at some length to the incident. After telling how the attention of Sir Walter had been drawn to Greenshields by the representation of Sir James Stewart of Allanbank and the Earl of Elgin, both of whom had formed a high opinion of the genius and the character of the sculptor, he goes on to say- "Just at the time , as it happened, the sculptor had been invited to spend a day or two at his lordship's seat in Fife, but learning that Sir Walter was about to visit Clydesdale, Greenshields would not lose the opportunity of being presented to him on his native spot, and left Broomhill without having finished his inspection of Lord Elgin's marbles.... Sir Walter went in the middle of January to Milton- Lockhart and there saw the sculptor in his paternal cottage and was delighted with him and some of the works he had on hand, particularly a statue of George IV. Greenshields then walked with us for several hours by the river side and among the woods. His conversation was asy and manly, and many of his sagacious remarks on life as well as art lost nothing to the poet's ear by being delivered as

    Broad and Unsophisticated

    as Tom Purdie's. John had a keen sense of humour and his enjoyment of Sir Walter's lectures on planting, and jokes on everything, was rich. He had exactly that way of drawing his lips into a grim involuntary whistle, when a sly thing occurred, which the author of 'Rob Roy' assigns to Andrew Fairservice. After he left us Scott said,'There is much about that man that reminds me of Burns."

    Dr Rankin in his book on "Carluke" adds some entertaining details. "The workshed where Greenshields toiled and the low thatched cottage, the home of his parents, were on the opposite side of the Clyde, almost within speaking distance of the point where a ferry boat plied. Sir Walter , eager to meet the artist on his own hearth, suggested a visit at once. A signal was accordingly made for the boat. This conveyance was usually managed by Betty, the sculptor's mother, known to all the country around, and, strictly speaking, the guiding spirit of the family, and it would have been useless to have tried to subvert her rights and privileges on a day to her so auspicious. Betty was soon at her post, let off the boat, and with a few strokes of the oars shot across to the opposite bak. The tall, comely hale-hearted dame, decked in the whitest squinty mutch ever worn by any of her sex, secured by a black ribbon, was at all times a remarkable woman. On the present occasion the only one of the party who saw her for the first time so occupied and so dressed was pleased with her appearance and frankness, and the two strangers became close friends before the boat, leisurely plied, touched the little possession of the cracky boatwife.

    Here stood her son, the stalwart mason, uncovered, his fair hair tossed by the breeze, clad in a rough home-spun home-made gensy just as he had thrown down the mallet ready to welcome his visitors. The meeting was homely and undemonstrative on all sides Having reached the rustic studio, a thatch-covered wooden shed, where the latest productions of Greenshields' chisel, well placed, at once met the eyes of the visitors. As yet, words were few; but after a survey of the statue Sir Walter seated himself on a rough bench, seemingly much gratified, and without direct praise said enough to satisfy the designed of his entire approval. All were now in talking trim. There was some allusion to the short visit to Broomhall and consequent loss to Greenshields, who, to waive the subject, said with rapid utterance as was his manner 'No loss at a', Sir Walter, I saw everything, and I see everything yet'. 'Indeed,' remarked the baronet. 'Yes', said in a droll way- 'ye maun min' I've a deivilish greedy e'e' - an assertion which involved the whole party in the first merry laugh- and laughing hearty enough and loud followed.

    Sir Walter spoke of the 'Jolly Beggars' as something which might, he hoped, not be carried out- the subject being grotesque and altogether unfit for statuary. "Ah, but you 're wrang there, Sir Walter. I frankly tell you- an' if we baith live twa'three months, ye'll be on my side. Fitness, Sir? The picture's matchless.' It would appear that Sir Walter modified hos opinion if he did not come altogether round to the sculptor's way of thinking for afterwards, when the 'Jolly Beggars' were exhibited in Edinburgh, Sir Walter, having seen them, said to the brother of the culptor, 'Tell John that he has taught me to read Burns in my old age. Say to him that the group is faultless.' "

    On his return to Edinburgh from Milton- Lockhart , Scott addressed a long letter to the Earl of Elgin in reply to one he had received from that nobleman. Both letters have been preserved- that of Lord Elgin in the pages of Rankin; and that of Sir Walter Scott in

    The Pages of Lockhart

    The former is interesting as showing that already the sculptor was finding in the works of Scott subjects for delineation in stone. A sentence or two may be quoted:- " I hesitate- and yet I cannot refrain,under whatever risk of your displeasure to say,in one word, that his chisel is the offspring of your pen- indeed he regrets that he had not rather taken up a painter's brush - for he can never weary in dwelling upon upon the enchanting pictures with which your writings abound. And, when rising in this train of thought, he exclaimed that Sir Walter could not fail to be an admirablr painter himself - ay, and as good a sculptor too."

    The reply of Sir Walter, in which he expresses his opnion with regard to Greenshields and his work and offers suggestions as to what should be done for the development of his genius, is characteristic of the writer. It speaks volumes for the generosity of Sir Walter that at a time when his health was anything but good, and when he was engaged in the enormous task of liquidating his debt he should have taken so much trouble to advance the interests of a struggling sculptor.

    A period of two years and a half elapsed before Greenshields felt the urge to make Sir Walter himself the subject of his work. On 19th July 1831, when the great novelist paid what proved to be his last visit to the West of Scotland, Greenshields was one of a small company who were invited to meet him at Milton-Lockhart. John Gibson Lockhart, who accompanied Sir Walter, has a poignant chapter in which he gives an account of the meeting and of its sudden and sad termination. "Greenshields" he says, "was at hand and he (Sir Walter) talked with him cheerfully while the sculptor devoured his features as under a solemn sense that they were before his eyes

    For the Last Time"

    And so it was: for next morning Sir Walter, having learned of the sudden and serious illness of his old friend, Mr Elliott Lockhart of Borthwickbrae, who had been one of the company the previous evening, resolved to return at once to Abbotsford. "He would listen to no persuasions," says Lockhart. "No," he said, "this is a sad warning. I must home to work while it is called day, for the night cometh when no man can work. I put that text many a year ago upon my dial-stone , but it often preached in vain ."

    Greenshields had many commissions to execute at the time, but every moment he could spare was devoted to the production of a statue of Scott as the sculptor had last seen him sitting in the library at Milton-Lockhart. It was the only life size statue executed in Sir Walter's lifetime, and so faithfully were the form and features reproduced that an early companion of Scott, Mr Thomas Thompson, D.C.S., on seeing it, exclaimed, "A petrification of Scott." It may be seen today in the Advocate's Library, Edinburgh with the words "Sic Sedebat" cut on the pedestal.

    In 1834 Greenshields was urgently solicited to design a model of an erect figure for the Glasgow monument. Somewhat hurriedly and not without reluctance he produced a model in which the head and features were repeated from the "Sic Sedebat" statue. This last effort of his genius he transmitted to the committee, and shortly after, when he was on his deathbed, he received notice that it had been adopted. The work was completed by Messrs Handyside and Ritchie, of Musselburgh, who with the model before them which Greenshields had produced, cut out the statue in stone.

    Father: James GREENSHIELDS b: ABT. 18 Sep 1757 in Abbeygreen,Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, Scotland c: 18 Sep 1757 in Lesmahagow, Lanark, Scotland
    Mother: Betty JACK b: 1774 in Culter, Lanark
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