John Morrison (1782-1853): Land-Surveyor, Artist, and Poet
John Morrison, the son of a small farmer, was born in the Parish of Terregles, Galloway, in 1782. As a boy, he attracted the interest of the philanthropist Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, who paid for his education in Dumfries and Edinburgh. The Earl believed that emigration to America was the only means to relieve the poverty of many of his countrymen. He had Morrison trained as a land-surveyor with a view to employing him on the settlements that he would found on Prince Edward Island (1803) and the Red River (1812-16). While in Edinburgh, however, Morrison also studied painting under the landscape and portrait painter Alexander Nasmyth, and was to remain torn between his profession and his artistic ambitions throughout his working life.
The Sydney surveyor and poet R D Fitzgerald (1902 - 1987) played a major role in leading Australian writers out of the era of the balladeers to achieve maturity and poise in the world community of letters. He enjoyed a long career from the roaring twenties to the swinging sixties, and during the 1930s he shared with Slessor the mantle of "the leading poet in Australia".
And, the final comment is, let us begin with a truism. It is universally admitted that poetry, like each of the fine arts, has a field of its own. To run a surveyor’s line accurately around the borders of this field, determining what belongs to it rather than to the neighboring arts, is always difficult and sometimes impossible. But the field itself is admittedly “there,” in all its richness and beauty, however bitterly the surveyors may quarrel about the boundary lines. (It is well to remember that professional surveyors do not themselves own these fields or raise any crops upon them!) How much map-making ingenuity has been devoted to this task of grouping and classifying the arts: distinguishing between art and fine art, between artist, artificer and artisan; seeking to arrange a hierarchy of the arts on the basis of their relative freedom from fixed ends, their relative complexity or comprehensiveness of effect, their relative obligation to imitate or represent something that exists in nature! No one cares particularly to-day about such matters of precedence–as if the arts were walking in a carefully ordered ecclesiastical procession. On the other hand, there is ever-increasing recognition of the soundness of the distinction made by Lessing in his Laokoon: or the Limits of Painting and Poetry; namely, that the fine arts differ, as media of expression, according to the nature of the material which they employ. That is to say, the “time-arts"–like poetry and music–deal primarily with actions that succeed one another in time. The space-arts–painting, sculpture, architecture–deal primarily with bodies that coexist in space. Hence there are some subjects that belong naturally in the “painting” group, and others that belong as naturally in the “poetry” group. The artist should not “confuse the genres,” or, to quote Whistler again, he should not push a medium further than it will go. Recent psychology has more or less upset Lessing’s technical theory of vision, [Footnote: F. E. Bryant, The Limits of Descriptive Writing, etc. Ann Arbor, 1906.] but it has confirmed the value of his main contention as to the fields of the various arts.