THIS week sees the 150th anniversary of the death of a Scottish poet whose greatest work is known by children all around the world yet whose name is probably hardly familiar to most Scots.

William Miller was the Glaswegian who penned the immortal poem Wee Willie Winkie and who became known as the Laureate of the Nursery for this and other poems and nursery rhymes he wrote for children about childhood and other subjects.

Born in Glasgow in 1810 and raised in the east end of the city, Miller was the son of Stephen, a master coppersmith, and his wife Margaret. Miller was a well-read child whose teenage desire was to become a surgeon. He was robbed of that ambition by ill health and instead was apprenticed to become a wood turner and cabinet maker.

He was apparently very good at his job but was more fascinated with writing poetry and stories.

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In his twenties he married his wife Isabella Mackay who was five years younger than himself and they had a son Stephen, so it’s possible that he started writing down rhymes and poems for his young bairn.

During the 1830s Miller accumulated a fair number of original poems and lyrics, and other parents who heard his work encouraged him to find a publisher. This he did, bringing out a collection in 1841 under the title Whistle-Binkie: A Collection Of Songs For The Social Circle.

He would later update that volume in 1853, which shows there was some demand for his work.

His other poems include A Wonderful Wean, Gree, Bairnies Gree, The Sleepy Laddie and John Frost.

A particular favourite was an instructional rhyme which contained these lines: “Ye maun gang to the school again summer my bairn, It’s no near sae ill as ye’re thinking to learn, For learning’s a worldly riches aboon –it’s easy to carry and never goes done”

Any of the works that he set to rhyme always used existing Scottish tunes as was the case with Wee Willie Winkie which was first printed in that original ‘Whistle-Binkie’ volume.

The nursery rhyme is probably known to most of us by the English version that appeared in 1844 and certainly I suspect that a lot of people never knew that Miller wrote the original poem in Scots, the language of his everyday use.

I suspect only The National would publish the original Scots version, and we are proud to do so.

Wee Willie Winkie rins through the toun, Up stairs and doon stairs in his nicht-gown, Tirlin’ at the window, cryin’ at the lock, “Are the weans in their bed, for it’s noo ten o’clock?”

“Hey, Willie Winkie, are ye comin’ ben?

The cat’s singin’ grey thrums to the sleepin’ hen, The dog’s spelder’d on the floor, and disna gi’e a cheep, But here’s a waukrife laddie that winna fa’ asleep!”

“Onything but sleep, you rogue! glow’rin’ like the mune, Rattlin’ in an airn jug wi’ an airn spune, Rumblin’, tumblin’ round about, crawin’ like a cock, Skirlin’ like a kenna-what, wauk’nin’ sleeping fock.

“Hey, Willie Winkie -- the wean’s in a creel !

Wambling aff a bodie’s knee like a very eel, Ruggin’ at the cat’s lug, and ravelin’ a’ her thrums-- Hey, Willie Winkie -- see, there he comes!”

“Wearit is the mither that has a stoorie wean, A wee stumpie stoussie, that canna rin his lane, That has a battle aye wi’ sleep before he’ll close an ee --- But a kiss frae aff his rosy lips gies strength anew to me.”

You will notice that the original version speaks of “noo ten o’clock” when later published versions of the 1884 English language poem said it was “past eight o’clock”. This may have been due to the Victorian adage that children should be seen and not heard and dispatched to the Land of Nod as early as possible.

Wee Willie Winkie fast became a favourite, and not just in Scotland. It brought Miller a measure of fame but no fortune and he was never able to become a full-time poet.

William Miller was the Glaswegian who penned the immortal poem Wee Willie Winkie

He continued to work as a cabinetmaker and wrote very little until shortly before his death.

In his early sixties he contracted a severe leg disease which confined him to his bed at his home in Windsor Street off Maryhill Road in Glasgow, so much so that on his death certificate the cause of his death at the age of 62 on August 20th 1872 was given as Spinal Paralysis with bed sores a contributory factor.

He was buried at Townhead but admirers raised money for a memorial which can be found near the Bridge of Sighs in Glasgow Necropolis.

His finest poem has long survived him, and gained a huge boost in popularity when it became the title of the 1937 film Wee Willie Winkie starring a kilt-wearing Shirley Temple, then one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

Under various different names, the character appears in the folklore of countries as diverse as the Netherlands and France. Very few Scots writers can equal that acclaim.