Arthur Edward Nicholas
Arthur Edward Nicholas was in his day a highly rated poet. Born in Kingston in 1875, Arthur was taught by T B Stephenson at the Calabar School, and then later, at the Collegiate School, by William Morrison, who encouraged his writing talent. At fifteen Arthur was the editor of the school’s magazine. Three years later, shortly after his father’s death, the Gleaner published his poem ‘Sorrow’, clearly inspired by that event; this appears to be just the first of many poems to appear in the press.
To earn his living, Arthur, like his brothers, found a career in the government service. He worked as an assistant Clerk of Courts in St Elizabeth, Portland and Kingston, and later was a clerk at the Asylum. Poor health forced him to give up working in the later years of his life. But the important part of his life was dedicated to books and writing poetry. His enthusiasm for books is illustrated by an anecdote related by his sister: he was sent, with some money, by one of his brothers to the auction of the possessions of a recently deceased old Englishman. The family was hoping to acquire some nice pieces of china, glass and silverware. When a laden cart arrived ahead of Arthur’s return, it was found to contain books, books and more books, and one telescope! The family could only laugh, and feel grateful that he had not given the money away to some needy person he had met, for his unrestrained generosity was an innate characteristic. His wife, Helen, was well accustomed to welcoming the waifs and strays he brought home.
Arthur Nicholas drew part of his inspiration from ordinary Jamaicans such as the fishermen and their families with whom he spent much of his time; ‘Sir Arth’ was an expected guest at weddings, funerals and nine nights. On one occasion he told his family of being honoured by being allowed to drink chocolate from a china mug which had belonged to ‘Aunt Betsey’s uncle’ who had been hanged in 1865 during the Morant Bay rebellion. He presented his knowledge acquired from his friends in talks such as that on ‘The customs and manners of old Jamaica’ for the Moravian Men’s Guild which he gave in February 1918. He was also, like many of his generation, devoted to the Royal Family, writing verses for the death of Edward VII, and an Ode of Welcome to Edward, Prince of Wales, and his brother, Prince George, Duke of Kent, when they visited Kingston briefly in 1931.
Most of his poetry, however, drew inspiration from nature, and was often melancholy and contemplative in tone. In 1897 he wrote in ‘Long Ago’ -
Oft in the silent evening,
Day’s many duties done,
I sit in blissful silence
To watch the setting sun.
I love the melancholy
That fills my spirit then,
As I commune with Nature,
Away from noise and men.
Lines from his most admired poem, ‘September’, written in 1923, echoed the same feeling –
Deep in the silent glade
I seek from human company a rest
And breathe in sacred solitude so blest,
’Mid scenes that watched strong August’s manhood fade.
A collection of his poems, Arcadia, was published in 1949, with a foreword by J E Clare McFarlane and a biographical note by Eva Nicholas. He wrote in a very traditional style, but to his own generation he was a poet to be ranked with Tom Redcam, and above Claude McKay, who was relatively unknown in Jamaica after he left the island in 1912.
Arthur Nicholas died in February 1934, after several years of ill-health. His funeral at the Wesley Church, and at the May Pen Cemetery, was attended by a large gathering of family, friends and representatives of many sections of the community.