Lives of eminent Scotsmen, Poets. Parts 1, 2, and 3. London, 18mo. 2s. 6d. each part.
We are informed by an article printed on the cover of this neat little work, that the plan of giving these memoirs to the public originated with a convivial association, known in the metropolis by the name of the “Ancient Scots,” and composed of a select number of natives of Scotland. Each candidate for admission is required to furnish the society with a memoir of an eminent countryman, written by himself, which must be publicly read previous to his election. The society is asserted to be as ancient as the accession of James the Sixth (of Scotland) to the English throne; but that its records extend at present only to the year 1770. These accumulated memoirs, it was resolved, at a general meeting on St. Andrew's Day, 1820, should be printed in separate classes. In pursuance of this resolution, the present memoirs of the Scottish poets have been commenced, and three parts have already appeared, beautifully printed, with small engravings of the principal characters in each.—No. 1 contains memoirs of James the First, Thomas the Rhymer, Barbour, Wyntoun, Douglas, Ramsay, Meston, Home, Beattie, and Burns.—No. II. James V. Dunbar, Inglis, Henry the Minstrel, Lindsay, Barclay, Montgomery, Stirling, Drummond, Thomson, Oswald.—No. III. contains James VI. Maitland, Johnston, Hamilton of Bangour, Hamilton of Gilbertfield, Colvil, Ross, Armstrong, Ogilvie, Macpherson, and Salmon.
A collection like these lives was a desideratum in our national literature. Perhaps the present contains some names which might have been spared on the ground of the slender title they possess to take rank among the poets of their country, but this is an error on the right side. It is better for the reader to posses them than to find an omission of one name, whose title to the character of Scottish bard was indisputable. The memoir of James the First is highly interesting, and he appears to have outshone all the other royal Scottish claimants to the poetic character. His very history is poetical, and his long captivity at Windsor, which first directed his hand to the lyre, and inspired his strains with a love purer than monarchs in general feel, has a great deal of the romantic in its character. A captive falling in love with an object not unworthy of his passion, from the window where he had pined for eighteen years in durance, marrying the beloved object, mounting a throne, becoming the idol of his people, and being assassinated at last by a vile conspiracy of nobles, even forms a subject for the tragic muse suitable to her highest efforts. The poems of James IV., entitled the “King's Quair,” and “Christ's Kirk on the Green,” are considered his principal works. His style is very free from impurities, considering the age in which he wrote, and abounds with fine feeling. James the Fifth, in whose life there were also touches of the romantic, can hardly lay claim to the character of a poet. Two ballads only are ascribed to him, the “Gaberlunzie man” and the “Jolie Beggar;” and that they are really his is very doubtful. The mean and pusillanimous James the Sixth left nothing that can do honour to Scottish poetry. But it is more refreshing to turn to names with better titles to be honoured in the Republic of Letters. After Thomas the Rhymer, John Barbour, and others, we have an account of the author of the “Gentle Shepherd,” which will be read with great pleasure. We could follow these memoirs one by one, and dwell upon the names and works of some of them until we had perhaps exhausted the reader's patience and our own powers. Equally prized in both kingdoms, Beattie, Burns, Thomson, Home, and one or two besides, are familiar to all persons of good taste in England. They have delighted us from childhood to manhood, and their memory, as well as their works, impart a pleasure to the mind which is permanent in its impressions, because it is grounded in the love of true poetry, nature, and truth. We are persuaded that the public will appreciate this elegant little work at its due rate; for our own parts, we have been much delighted with the entertainment it has afforded us.
Lives of Eminent Scotsmen, Poets. Part 4. London, 12mo. 2s. 6d. each part.
We have already noticed the preceding parts of this work. The lives in the present number are those of Alexander Hume, Bellenden, Boyd, Wilkie, Fergusson, Mickle, Geddes, and Grahame. We must do the writers the justice to say, that the nearer they approach to their own times, the more we feel the advantage they possess from being enabled to procure personal anecdotes and local information as to the subjects of their memoirs. We would mention the lives of Fergusson, Geddes, and Grahame, as instances of this kind; that of Fergusson, in particular, is beautifully and interestingly written.